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Where the Trail Divides by Will Lillibridge

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there a second too quick."

"Too quick!" caught up the Irishman for the last time. "We couldn't get
there quick enough if we had wings. It's all over before this, take my
word for it."

* * * * *

And it was. Though the men ran every step of the mile back they were too
late. As O'Reilly had anticipated, the ranch house was empty, deserted.
Similarly the stables hard by. Likewise the adjoining tool shed. Though
they searched every nook, until a mouse could not have escaped
detection, they found not a trace of him for whom they looked, nor a
clue to his disappearance. Though they shouted his name until they were
hoarse not an answer came back from the surrounding darkness. Within the
ranch house itself, or upon the dooryard without, there was no sign of a
struggle or of aught unusual. The living-room was precisely as it had
been at that last moment when O'Reilly had left. Craig's cap and topcoat
were on a chair as he had thrown them down. At the stable every horse
was within its own stall: every piece of saddlery was intact. While the
three men were looking, attracted by the blaze, the distant cowboys one
by one began drifting in; and when they had heard the tale joined in
the search. All through the night, in ever-widening circles, lanterns,
like giant fireflies, played around the premises until they covered a
radius of a half mile; but ever the report was the same. With the coming
of morning not the home force alone but men from distant ranches
appeared. The reflection of fire on the sky reaches far indeed on the
prairie, and ere the sun shone again a goodly company was assembled.
Then it was that the real search began and a swarm of riders scoured the
country for miles and miles. And once more, from all, the testimony was
as before. There was not a clue to the disappearance, nor the semblance
of a clue. As out of the darkness of night surrounding, a great horned
owl swoops down upon its prey, and as mysteriously disappears, so the
Indian had come and gone; and satisfied at last, irresistibly awed as
well into an unwonted quiet, one by one, as they had arrived, the
ranchers dispersed--and the search was over.

And to this day that disappearance remains a mystery unsurmountable. One
morning a week later, after Mead and O'Reilly had gone, when the new
master of the ranch arose it was to find a wicked-looking mouse-coloured
cayuse standing motionless by the stable door. Upon him was neither
saddle nor bridle nor mark of any kind. Somewhere out on that limitless
waste he had been released, and, true to an unerring homing instinct, he
had returned; but from where no man could do more than speculate. He
could not speak, and his rider was seen no more. Somewhere out there
amid that same solitude a thing of mystery had come to pass; but what it
was only Nature and Nature's God, who alone were witness, could ever

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