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Two Trails Converge








From: Shoe Bar Stratton

Mrs. Archer sat alone in the ranch-house living-room, doing absolutely
nothing. As a matter of fact, she had little use for those minor solaces
of knitting or crocheting which soothe the waking hours of so many elderly
women. More than once, indeed, she had been heard to state with mild
emphasis that when she was no longer able to entertain herself with human
nature, or, at the worst, with an interesting book, it would be high time
to retire into a nunnery, or its modern equivalent.

Sitting there beside one of the sunny southern windows, her small, faintly
wrinkled hands lying reposefully in her lap, she made a dainty, attractive
picture of age which was yet not old. Her hair was frankly gray, but
luxuriant and crisply waving. No one would have mistaken the soft, faded
pink of her complexion, well preserved though it was, for that of a young
woman. But her eyes, bright, eager, humorous, changing with every mood,
were full of the fire of eternal youth.

Just now there was a thoughtful retrospection in their clear depths.
Occasionally she glanced interestedly out of the window, or turned her
head questioningly toward the closed door of her niece's bedroom. But for
the most part she sat quietly thinking, and the tolerant, humorous curve
of her lips showed that her thoughts were far from disagreeable.

"Astonishing!" she murmured presently. "Really quite amazing! And yet
things could scarcely have turned out more--" She paused, a faint wrinkle
marring the smoothness of her forehead. "Really, I must guard against this
habit of talking to myself," she went on with mild vexation. "They say
it's one of the surest signs of age. Come in!"

The outer door opened and Buck Stratton entered. Pausing for an instant on
the threshold, he glanced eagerly about the room, his face falling a
little as he walked over to where Mrs. Archer sat.

She looked up at him for a moment in silence, surveying with frank
approval his long length, his wide chest and lean flanks, the clean-cut
face which showed such few signs of fatigue or strain. Then her glance
grew quizzical.

"You give yourself away too quickly," she smiled. "Even an old woman
scarcely feels complimented when a man looks downcast at the sight of
her."

"Rubbish!" retorted Buck. "You know it wasn't that." Bending swiftly, he
put an arm about her shoulders and kissed her. "You brought it on
yourself," he told her, grinning, as he straightened up. "You've no
business to look so--pretty."

The pink in Mrs. Archer's cheeks deepened faintly. "Aren't you rather
lavish this morning?" she murmured teasingly. "Hadn't you better save
those for--" Suddenly her face grew serious. "I do understand, of course.
She hasn't come out yet, but she's dressing. I made her eat her breakfast
in bed."

"Good business," approved Buck. "How is she?"

"Very much better, physically. Her nerves are practically all right again;
but of course she's very much depressed."

Stratton's face clouded. "She still persists--"

Mrs. Archer nodded. "Oh, dear me, yes! That is, she thinks she does. But
there's no need to look as if all hope were lost. Indeed, I'm quite
certain that a little pressure at the right moment--" She broke off,
glancing at the bedroom door. "I've an idea it would be better for me to
do a little missionary work first. Suppose you go now and come back later.
Come back," she finished briskly, "when you see my handkerchief lying here
on the window-ledge."

He nodded and was half way across the room when she called to him
guardedly:

"Oh, Buck! There's a phrase I noticed in that rather lurid magazine Bud
brought me two or three weeks ago." Her eyes twinkled. "'Cave-man stuff,'
I think it was." Coming from her lips the words had an oddly bizarre
sound. "It seemed descriptive. Of course one would want to use
refinements."

"I get you!" Stratton grinned as he departed.

His head had scarcely passed the window before the inner door opened and
Mary Thorne appeared.

Her face was pale, with deep shadows under the eyes, and her slim, girlish
figure drooped listlessly. She walked slowly over to the table, took up a
book, fluttered the pages, and laid it down again. Then a pile of mail
caught her eyes, and picking up the topmost letter, she tore it open and
glanced through it indifferently.

"From Stella," she commented aloud, dropping it on the table. "They got
home all right. She says she had a wonderful time, and asks after--"

"After me, I suppose," said Mrs. Archer, as Mary paused. "Give her my love
when you write." She hesitated, glancing shrewdly at the girl. "Don't you
want to hear the news, dear?" she asked.

Mary turned abruptly, her eyes widening with sudden interest. "News? What
news?"

"Why, about everything that's happened. They caught all of the men except
that wretch, Pedro. The sheriff's taken them to Perilla for trial. He says
they'll surely be convicted. Better yet, one of them has turned State's
evidence and implicated a swindler named Draper, who was at the bottom of
everything."

"Everything?" repeated the girl in a slightly puzzled tone, as she
dropped listlessly into a chair beside her aunt. "What do you mean, dear,
by--everything?"

"How dull I am!" exclaimed Mrs. Archer. "I hope that isn't another sign of
encroaching age. I quite forgot you hadn't heard what it was all about. It
seems there's oil in the north pasture. Lynch found it and told this man
Draper, and ever since then they've been trying to force you to sell the
ranch so they could gobble it up themselves."

"Oil?" questioned Mary. "You mean oil wells, and that sort of thing?"

"There'll be wells in time, I presume; just now it's merely in the ground.
I understand it's quite valuable."

She went on to explain in detail all she knew. Mary listened silently,
head bent and hands absently plucking at the plaiting of her gown. When
Mrs. Archer finally ceased speaking, the girl made no comment for a time,
but sat quite motionless, with drooping face and nervously moving
fingers.

"Did you hear about--about--" she began in an uncertain voice, and then
stopped, unable to go on.

"Yes, dear," returned Mrs. Archer simply. "Bud told me. It's a--a terrible
thing, of course, but I think--" She paused, choosing her words. "You
mustn't spoil your life, my dear, by taking it--too seriously."

Mary turned suddenly and stared at her, surprise battling with the misery
in her face.

"Too seriously!" she cried. "How can I possibly help taking it seriously?
It's too dreadful and--and horrible, almost, to think of."

"It's dreadful, I admit," returned the old lady composedly. "But after
all, it's your father's doings. You are not to blame."

The girl made a swift, dissenting gesture with both hands. "Perhaps not,
in the way you mean. I didn't do the--stealing." Her voice was bitter. "I
didn't even know about it. But I--profited. Oh, how could Dad ever have
done such an awful thing? When I think of his--his deliberately robbing
this man who--who had given his life bravely for his country, I could die
of shame!"

Her lips quivered and she buried her face in her hands. Mrs. Archer
reached out and patted her shoulder consolingly.

"But he didn't die for his country," she reminded her niece practically.
"He's very much alive, and here. He's got his ranch back, with the
addition of valuable oil deposits, or whatever you call them, which, Bud
tells me, might not have been discovered for years but for this." She
paused, her eyes fixed intently on the girl. "Do you--love him, Mary?" she
asked abruptly.

The girl looked up at her, a slow flush creeping into her face. "What
difference does that make?" she protested. "I could never make up to him
for--for what--father did."

"It makes every difference in the world," retorted Mrs. Archer positively.
"As for making up-- Why, don't you know that you're more to him than
ranches, or oil wells, or--anything on earth? You must realize that in
your heart."

Placing her handkerchief on the window-ledge, she rose briskly.

"I really must go and change my shoes," she said in quite a different
tone. "These slippers seem to--er--pinch a bit."

If they really did pinch, there was no sign of it as she crossed the room
and disappeared through a door at the farther end. Mary stared after her,
puzzled and a little hurt at the apparent lack of sympathy in one to whom
she had always turned for comfort and understanding. Then her mind flashed
back to her aunt's farewell words, and her brow wrinkled thoughtfully.

A knock at the door made her start nervously, and for a long moment she
hesitated before replying. At the sight of Buck Stratton standing on the
threshold, she flushed painfully and sprang to her feet.

"Good morning," he said gently, as he came quickly over to her. "I hope
you're feeling a lot better."

"Oh, yes," she answered briefly. "I'm really quite all right now."

He had taken her hand and still held it, and somehow the mere pressure of
his fingers embarrassed her oddly and seemed to weaken her resolution.

"You don't quite look it," he commented. "I reckon it'll take some time to
get rid of those--those shadows and hollows and all."

He was looking down at her with that same tender, whimsical smile that
quirked the corners of his mouth unevenly, and the expression in his eyes
set Mary's heart to fluttering. She could not bear it, somehow! To give
him up was even harder than she had expected, and suddenly her lids
drooped defensively to hide the bright glitter that smarted in her eyes.

Suddenly he broke the brief silence. "When are you going to marry me,
dear?" he asked quietly.

Her lids flew up and she stared at him through a blurring haze of tears.
"Oh!" she cried unsteadily. "I can't! I--can't. You--you don't know how I
feel. It's all too--dreadful! It doesn't seem as if I could ever--look you
in the face again."

Swiftly his arms slid about her, and she was drawn gently but irresistibly
to him.

"Don't try just now, dear, if you'd rather not," he murmured, smiling down
into her tear-streaked face. "You'll have a long time to get used to it,
you know."

Instinctively she tried to struggle. Then all at once a wave of incredible
happiness swept over her. Abruptly nothing seemed to matter--nothing on
earth save this one thing. With a little sigh like that of a tired child,
her arm stole up about his neck, her head fell gently back against his
shoulder.

* * * * *

"Oh!" Mary said abruptly, struck by a sudden recollection. It was an hour
later, and they sat together on the sofa. "I had a letter from Stella
to-day." A faintly mischievous light sparkled in her eyes. "She sent her
love--to you."

Buck flushed a little under his tan. "Some little kidder, isn't she, on
short acquaintance?" he commented.

"Short!" Mary's eyes widened. "Why, she knew you before I did!"

"Maybe so, but I didn't know her."

Buck had rather dreaded the moment when he would have to tell her of that
beastly, vanished year, but somehow he did not find it hard.

"As long as you don't ever let it happen again, I sha'n't mind," she
smiled, when he had finished. "I simply couldn't bear it, though, if you
should lose your memory--now."

"No danger," he assured her, with a look that deepened the color in her
radiant face.

For a moment she did not speak. Then all at once her smile faded and she
turned quickly to him.

"The--the ranch, dear," she said abruptly. "There's something, isn't
there, I should do about--about turning it over--to you?"

He drew her head down against his shoulder. "No use bothering about that
now," he shrugged. "We're going to be made one so soon that-- How about
riding to Perilla to-morrow and--"

"Oh, Buck!" she protested. "I--I couldn't."

His arm tightened about her. "Well, say the day after," he suggested. "I'm
afraid we'll have to spend our honeymoon right here getting things to
rights, so you won't have to get a lot of new clothes and all that.
There's nothing unlucky about Thursday, is there?"

She hid her face against his coat. "No-o; but I don't see how--I can--so
soon. Well, maybe--perhaps--"




The greatest pleasure in life is that of reading. Why not then
own the books of great novelists when the price is so small

Of all the amusements which can possibly be imagined for a hard-working
man, after his daily toil, or, in its intervals, there is nothing like
reading an entertaining book. It calls for no bodily exertion. It
transports him into a livelier, and gayer, and more diversified and
interesting scene, and while he enjoys himself there he may forget the
evils of the present moment. Nay, it accompanies him to his next day's
work, and gives him something to think of besides the mere mechanical
drudgery of his every-day occupation--something he can enjoy while absent,
and look forward with pleasure to return to.

Ask your dealer for a list of the titles
in Burt's Popular Priced Fiction

In buying the books bearing the A. L. Burt Company imprint you
are assured of wholesome, entertaining and instructive reading





Next: The Coming Of The Sheep

Previous: The Dead Heart



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