Two Trails Converge





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





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