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Where the Trail Divides   By: (1878-1909)

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WHERE THE TRAIL DIVIDES

By WILL LILLIBRIDGE

Author of "BEN BLAIR," Etc.

With Frontispiece in Colors By The Kinneys

1907

CONTENTS

I. PRESENTIMENT

II. FULFILMENT

III. DISCOVERY

IV. RECONSTRUCTION

V. THE LAND OF LICENCE

VI. THE RED MAN AND THE WHITE

VII. A GLIMPSE OF THE UNKNOWN

VIII. THE SKELETON WITHIN THE CLOSET

IX. THE VOICE OF THE WILD

X. THE CURSE OF THE CONQUERED

XI. THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE

XII. WITHIN THE CONQUEROR'S OWN COUNTRY

XIII. THE MYSTERY OF SOLITUDE

XIV. FATE, THE SATIRIST

XV. THE FRUIT OF THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE

XVI. THE RECKONING

XVII. SACRIFICE

XVIII. REWARD

XIX. IN SIGHT OF GOD ALONE

CHAPTER I

PRESENTIMENT

The man was short and fat, and greasy above the dark beard line. In addition, he was bowlegged as a greyhound, and just now he moved with a limp as though very footsore. His coarse blue flannel shirt, open at the throat, exposed a broad hairy chest that rose and fell mightily with the effort he was making. And therein lay the mystery. The sun was hot with the heat of a cloudless August sun at one o'clock of the afternoon. The country he was traversing was wild, unbroken uninhabited apparently of man or of beast. Far to his left, just visible through the dancing heat rays, indistinct as a mirage, was a curling fringe of green trees. To his right, behind him, ahead of him was not a tree nor a shrub nor a rock the height of a man's head; only ungrazed, yellowish green sun dried prairie grass. The silence was complete. Not even a breath of wind rustled the grass; yet ever and anon the man paused glanced back the way he had come, listened, his throat throbbing with the effort of repressed breathing, in obvious expectation of a sound he did not hear; then, for the time relieved, forged ahead afresh, one hand gripping the butt of an old Springfield rifle slung over his shoulder, the other, big, unclean, sunbrowned, swinging like a pendulum at his side.

Ludicrous, unqualifiedly, the figure would have been in civilisation, humorous as a clown in a circus; but seeing it here, solitary, exotic, no observer would have laughed. Fear, mortal dogging fear, impersonate, supreme, was in every look, every action. Somewhere back of that curved line where met the earth and sky, lurked death. Nothing else would have been adequate to arouse this phlegmatic human as he was now aroused. The sweat oozed from his thick neck in streams and dripped drop by drop from the month old stubble which covered his chin, but apparently he never noticed it. Now and then he attempted to moisten his lips; but his tongue was dry as powder, and they closed again, parched as before.

No road nor trail, nor the semblance of a trail, marked the way he was going; the hazy green fringe far to the east was his only landmark; yet as hour after hour went by and the sun sank lower and lower he never halted, never seemed in doubt as to his destination. The country was growing more rolling now, almost hilly, and he approached each rise cautiously, vigilantly. Once, almost at his feet a covey of frightened prairie chickens sprang a wing, and at the unexpected sound he dropped like a stone in his tracks, all but concealing himself in the tall grass; then, reassured, he was up again, plodding doggedly, ceaselessly on.

It was after sundown when he paused; and then only from absolute physical inability to go farther. Outraged nature had at last rebelled, and not even fear could suffice longer to stimulate him. The grass was wet with dew, and prone on his knees he moistened his lips therefrom as drinks many another of the fauna of the prairie. Then, flat on his back, not sleeping, but very wide awake, very watchful, he lay awaiting the return of strength. Upon the fringe of hair beneath the brim of his hat the sweat slowly dried; then, as the dew gathered thicker and thicker, dampened afresh. Far to the east, where during the day had appeared the fringe of green, the sky lightened, almost brightened; until at last, like a curious face, the full moon, peeping above the horizon, lit up the surface of prairie... Continue reading book >>




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