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Title: Heart of the Sunset
Author: Beach, Rex, 1877-1949
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Heart of the Sunset" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



HEART OF THE SUNSET

By Rex Beach

Author of "THE SILVER HORDE" "THE SPOILERS" "THE IRON TRAIL" Etc.



CONTENTS

     I.   THE WATER-HOLE

    II.   THE AMBUSH

   III.   WHAT HAPPENED AT THE WATER-HOLE

    IV.   AN EVENING AT LAS PALMAS

     V.   SOMETHING ABOUT HEREDITY

    VI.   A JOURNEY, AND A DARK MAN

   VII.   LUIS LONGORIO

  VIII.   BLAZE JONES'S NEMESIS

    IX.   A SCOUTING TRIP

     X.   A RANGER'S HORSE

    XI.   JUDGE ELLSWORTH EXACTS A PROMISE

   XII.   LONGORIO MAKES BOLD

  XIII.   DAVE LAW BECOMES JEALOUS

   XIV.   JOSE SANCHEZ SWEARS AN OATH

    XV.   THE TRUTH ABOUT PANFILO

   XVI.   THE RODEO

  XVII.   THE GUZMAN INCIDENT

 XVIII.   ED AUSTIN TURNS AT BAY

   XIX.   RANGERS

    XX.   SUPERSTITIONS AND CERTAINTIES

   XXI.   AN AWAKENING

  XXII.   WHAT ELLSWORTH HAD TO SAY

 XXIII.   THE CRASH

  XXIV.   DAVE LAW COMES HOME

   XXV.   A WARNING AND A SURPRISE

  XXVI.   THE WATER-CURE

 XXVII.   LA FERIA

XXVIII.   THE DOORS OF PARADISE

  XXIX.   THE PRIEST FROM MONCLOVA

   XXX.   THE MAN OF DESTINY

  XXXI.   A SPANISH WILL

 XXXII.   THE DAWN



HEART OF THE SUNSET


I

THE WATER-HOLE


A fitful breeze played among the mesquite bushes. The naked earth,
where it showed between the clumps of grass, was baked plaster hard. It
burned like hot slag, and except for a panting lizard here and there,
or a dust-gray jack-rabbit, startled from its covert, nothing animate
stirred upon its face. High and motionless in the blinding sky a
buzzard poised; long-tailed Mexican crows among the thorny branches
creaked and whistled, choked and rattled, snored and grunted; a dove
mourned inconsolably, and out of the air issued metallic insect
cries--the direction whence they came as unascertainable as their
source was hidden.

Although the sun was half-way down the west, its glare remained
untempered, and the tantalizing shade of the sparse mesquite was more
of a trial than a comfort to the lone woman who, refusing its deceitful
invitation, plodded steadily over the waste. Stop, indeed, she dared
not. In spite of her fatigue, regardless of the torture from feet and
limbs unused to walking, she must, as she constantly assured herself,
keep going until strength failed. So far, fortunately, she had kept her
head, and she retained sufficient reason to deny the fanciful
apprehensions which clamored for audience. If she once allowed herself
to become panicky, she knew, she would fare worse--far worse--and now,
if ever, she needed all her faculties. Somewhere to the northward,
perhaps a mile, perhaps a league distant, lay the water-hole.

But the country was of a deadly and a deceitful sameness, devoid of
landmarks and lacking well-defined water-courses. The unending mesquite
with its first spring foliage resembled a limitless peach-orchard sown
by some careless and unbelievably prodigal hand. Out of these false
acres occasional knolls and low stony hills lifted themselves so that
one came, now and then, to vantage-points where the eye leaped for
great distances across imperceptible valleys to horizons so far away
that the scattered tree-clumps were blended into an unbroken carpet of
green. To the woman these outlooks were unutterably depressing, merely
serving to reveal the vastness of the desolation about her.

At the crest of such a rise she paused and studied the country
carefully, but without avail. She felt dizzily for the desert bag swung
from her shoulder, only to find it flat and dry; the galvanized
mouthpiece burned her fingers. With a little shock she remembered that
she had done this very thing several times before, and her repeated
forgetting frightened her, since it seemed to show that her mind had
been slightly unbalanced by the heat. That perhaps explained why the
distant horizon swam and wavered so.

In all probability a man situated as she was would have spoken aloud,
in an endeavor to steady himself; but this woman did nothing of the
sort. Seating herself in the densest shade she could find--it was
really no shade at all--she closed her eyes and relaxed--no easy thing
to do in such a stifling temperature and when her throat was aching
with drought.

At length she opened her eyes again, only to find that she could make
out nothing familiar. Undoubtedly she was lost; the water-hole might be
anywhere. She listened tensely, and the very air seemed to listen with
her; the leaves hushed their faint whisperings; a near-by cactus held
its forty fleshy ears alert, while others more distant poised in the
same harkening attitude. It seemed to the woman that a thousand ears
were straining with hers, yet no sound came save only the monotonous
crescendo and diminuendo of those locust-cries coming out of nowhere
and retreating into the voids. At last, as if satisfied, the leaves
began to whisper softly again.

Away to her left lay the yellow flood of the Rio Grande, but the woman,
though tempted to swing in that direction, knew better than to yield.
At least twenty miles of barrens lay between, and she told herself that
she could never cover such a distance. No, the water-hole was nearer;
it must be close at hand. If she could only think a little more
clearly, she could locate it. Once more she tried, as she had tried
many times before, to recall the exact point where she had shot her
horse, and to map in her mind's eye the foot-weary course she had
traveled from that point onward.

Desert travel was nothing new to her, thirst and fatigue were old
acquaintances, yet she could not help wondering if, in spite of her
training, in spite of that inborn sense of direction which she had
prided herself upon sharing with the wild creatures, she were fated to
become a victim of the chaparral. The possibility was remote; death at
this moment seemed as far off as ever--if anything it was too far off.
No, she would find the water-hole somehow; or the unexpected would
happen, as it always did when one was in dire straits. She was too
young and too strong to die yet. Death was not so easily won as this.

Rising, she readjusted the strap of the empty water-bag over her
shoulder and the loose cartridge-belt at her hip, then set her dusty
feet down the slope.

Day died lingeringly. The sun gradually lost its cruelty, but a partial
relief from the heat merely emphasized the traveler's thirst and
muscular distress. Onward she plodded, using her eyes as carefully as
she knew how. She watched the evening flight of the doves, thinking to
guide herself by their course, but she was not shrewd enough to read
the signs correctly. The tracks she found were old, for the most part,
and they led in no particular direction, nowhere uniting into anything
like a trail. She wondered, if she could bring herself to drink the
blood of a jack-rabbit, and if it would quench her thirst. But the
thought was repellent, and, besides, she was not a good shot with a
revolver. Nor did the cactus offer any relief, since it was only just
coming into bloom, and as yet bore no fruit.

The sun had grown red and huge when at last in the hard-baked dirt she
discovered fresh hoof-prints. These seemed to lead along the line in
which she was traveling, and she followed them gladly, encouraged when
they were joined by others, for, although they meandered aimlessly,
they formed something more like a trail than anything she had as yet
seen. Guessing at their general direction, she hurried on, coming
finally into a region where the soil was shallow and scarcely served to
cover the rocky substratum. A low bluff rose on her left, and along its
crest scattered Spanish daggers were raggedly silhouetted against the
sky.

She was in a well-defined path now; she tried to run, but her legs were
heavy; she stumbled a great deal, and her breath made strange,
distressing sounds as it issued from her open lips. Hounding the steep
shoulder of the ridge, she hastened down a declivity into a knot of
scrub-oaks and ebony-trees, then halted, staring ahead of her.

The nakedness of the stony arroyo, the gnarled and stunted thickets,
were softened by the magic of twilight; the air had suddenly cooled;
overhead the empty, flawless sky was deepening swiftly from blue to
purple; the chaparral had awakened and echoed now to the sounds of
life. Nestling in a shallow, flinty bowl was a pool of water, and on
its brink a little fire was burning.

It was a tiny fire, overhung with a blackened pot; the odor of
greasewood and mesquite smoke was sharp. A man, rising swiftly to his
feet at the first sound, was staring at the new-comer; he was as alert
as any wild thing. But the woman scarcely heeded him. She staggered
directly toward the pond, seeing nothing after the first glance except
the water. She would have flung herself full length upon the edge, but
the man stepped forward and stayed her, then placed a tin cup in her
hand. She mumbled something in answer to his greeting and the hoarse,
raven-like croak in her voice startled her; then she drank, with
trembling eagerness, drenching the front of her dress. The water was
warm, but it was clean and delicious.

"Easy now. Take your time," said the man, as he refilled the cup. "It
won't give out."

She knelt and wet her face and neck; the sensation was so grateful that
she was tempted to fling herself bodily into the pool. The man was
still talking, but she took no heed of what he said. Then at last she
sank back, her feet curled under her, her body sagging, her head
drooping. She felt the stranger's hands beneath her arms, felt herself
lifted to a more comfortable position. Without asking permission, the
stranger unlaced first one, then the other of her dusty boots, seeming
not to notice her weak attempt at resistance. Once he had placed her
bare feet in the water, she forgot her resentment in the intense relief.

The man left her seated in a collapsed, semi-conscious state, and went
back to his fire. For the time she was too tired to do more than refill
the drinking-cup occasionally, or to wet her face and arms, but as her
pores drank greedily her exhaustion lessened and her vitality returned.

It was dark when for the first time she turned her head toward the
camp-fire and stared curiously at the figure there. The appetizing odor
of broiling bacon had drawn her attention, and as if no move went
unnoticed the man said, without lifting his eyes:

"Let 'em soak! Supper'll be ready directly. How'd you like your
eggs--if we had any?"

Evidently he expected no reply, for after a chuckle he began to whistle
softly, in a peculiarly clear and liquid tone, almost like some
bird-call. He had spoken with an unmistakable Texas drawl; the woman
put him down at once for a cowboy. She settled her back against a
boulder and rested.

The pool had become black and mysterious, the sky was studded with
stars when he called her, and she laboriously drew on her stockings and
boots. Well back from the fire he had arranged a seat for her, using a
saddle-blanket for a covering, and upon this she lowered herself
stiffly. As she did so she took fuller notice of the man, and found his
appearance reassuring.

"I suppose you wonder how I--happen to be here," she said.

"Now don't talk 'til you're rested, miss. This coffee is strong enough
to walk on its hands, and I reckon about two cups of it'll rastle you
into shape." As she raised the tin mug to her lips he waved a hand and
smiled. "Drink hearty!" He set a plate of bread and bacon in her lap,
then opened a glass jar of jam. "Here's the dulces. I've got a sort of
sweet tooth in my head. I reckon you'll have to make out with this,
'cause I rode in too late to rustle any fresh meat, and the
delivery-wagon won't be 'round before morning." So saying, he withdrew
to the fire.

The woman ate and drank slowly. She was too tired to be hungry, and
meanwhile the young man squatted upon his heels and watched her through
the smoke from a husk cigarette. It was perhaps fortunate for her peace
of mind that she could not correctly interpret his expression, for had
she been able to do so she would have realized something of the turmoil
into which her presence had thrown him. He was accustomed to meeting
men in unexpected places--even in the desert's isolation--but to have a
night camp in the chaparral invaded by a young and unescorted woman, to
have a foot-sore goddess stumble out of the dark and collapse into his
arms, was a unique experience and one calculated to disturb a person of
his solitary habits.

"Have you had your supper?" she finally inquired.

"Who, me? Oh, I'll eat with the help." He smiled, and when his flashing
teeth showed white against his leathery tan the woman decided he was
not at all bad-looking. He was very tall and quite lean, with the long
legs of a horseman--this latter feature accentuated by his high-heeled
boots and by the short canvas cowboy coat that reached only to his
cartridge-belt. His features she could not well make out, for the fire
was little more than a bed of coals, and he fed it, Indian-like, with a
twig or two at a time.

"I beg your pardon. I'm selfish." She extended her cup and plate as an
invitation for him to share their contents. "Please eat with me."

But he refused. "I ain't hungry," he affirmed. "Honest!"

Accustomed as she was to the diffidence of ranch-hands, she refrained
from urging him, and proceeded with her repast. When she had finished
she lay back and watched him as he ate sparingly.

"My horse fell crossing the Arroyo Grande," she announced, abruptly.
"He broke a leg, and I had to shoot him."

"Is there any water in the Grande?" asked the man.

"No. They told me there was plenty. I knew of this charco, so I made
for it."

"Who told you there was water in the arroyo?"

"Those Mexicans at the little-goat ranch."

"Balli. So you walked in from Arroyo Grande. Lord! It's a good ten
miles straightaway, and I reckon you came crooked. Eh?"

"Yes. And it was very hot. I was never here but once, and--the country
looks different when you're afoot."

"It certainly does," the man nodded. Then he continued, musingly: "No
water there, eh? I figured there might be a little." The fact appeared
to please him, for he nodded again as he went on with his meal. "Not
much rain down here, I reckon."

"Very little. Where are you from?"

"Me? Hebbronville. My name is Law."

Evidently, thought the woman, this fellow belonged to the East outfit,
or some of the other big cattle-ranches in the Hebbronville district.
Probably he was a range boss or a foreman. After a time she said, "I
suppose the nearest ranch is that Balli place?"

"Yes'm."

"I'd like to borrow your horse."

Mr. Law stared into his plate. "Well, miss, I'm afraid--"

She added, hastily, "I'll send you a fresh one by Balli's boy in the
morning."

He looked up at her from under the brim of his hat. "D'you reckon you
could find that goat-ranch by star-light, miss?"

The woman was silent.

"'Ain't you just about caught up on traveling, for one day?" he asked.
"I reckon you need a good rest about as much as anybody I ever saw. You
can have my blanket, you know."

The prospect was unwelcome, yet she reluctantly agreed. "Perhaps-- Then
in the morning--"

Law shook his head. "I can't loan you my horse, miss. I've got to stay
right here."

"But Balli's boy could bring him back."

"I got to meet a man."

"Here?"

"Yes'm."

"When will he come?"

"He'd ought to be here at early dark to-morrow evening." Heedless of
her dismay, he continued, "Yes'm, about sundown."

"But--I can't stay here. I'll ride to Balli's and have your horse back
by afternoon."

"My man might come earlier than I expect," Mr. Law persisted.

"Really, I can't see what difference it would make. It wouldn't
interfere with your appointment to let me--"

Law smiled slowly, and, setting his plate aside, selected a fresh
cigarette; then as he reached for a coal he explained:

"I haven't got what you'd exactly call an appointment. This feller I'm
expectin' is a Mexican, and day before yesterday he killed a man over
in Jim Wells County. They got me by 'phone at Hebbronville and told me
he'd left. He's headin' for the border, and he's due here about
sundown, now that Arroyo Grande's dry. I was aimin' to let you ride his
horse."

"Then--you're an officer?"

"Yes'm. Ranger. So you see I can't help you to get home till my man
comes. Do you live around here?" The speaker looked up inquiringly, and
after an instant's hesitation the woman said, quietly:

"I am Mrs. Austin." She was grateful for the gloom that hid her face.
"I rode out this way to examine a tract of grazing-land."

It seemed fully a minute before the Ranger answered; then he said, in a
casual tone, "I reckon Las Palmas is quite a ranch, ma'am."

"Yes. But we need more pasture."

"I know your La Feria ranch, too. I was with General Castro when we had
that fight near there."

"You were a Maderista?"

"Yes'm. Machine-gun man. That's a fine country over there. Seems like
God Almighty got mixed and put the Mexicans on the wrong side of the
Rio Grande. But I reckon you haven't seen much of La Feria since the
last revolution broke out."

"No. We have tried to remain neutral, but--" Again she hesitated. "Mr.
Austin has enemies. Fortunately both sides have spared La Feria."

Law shrugged his broad shoulders. "Oh, well, the revolution isn't over!
A ranch in Mexico is my idea of a bad investment." He rose and, taking
his blanket, sought a favorable spot upon which to spread it. Then he
helped Mrs. Austin to her feet--her muscles had stiffened until she
could barely stand--after which he fetched his saddle for a pillow. He
made no apologies for his meager hospitality, nor did his guest expect
any.

When he had staked out his horse for the night he returned to find the
woman rolled snugly in her covering, as in a cocoon. The dying embers
flickered into flame and lit her hair redly. She had laid off her felt
Stetson, and one loosened braid lay over her hard pillow. Thinking her
asleep, Law stood motionless, making no attempt to hide his expression
of wonderment until, unexpectedly, she spoke.

"What will you do with me when your Mexican comes?" she said.

"Well, ma'am, I reckon I'll hide you out in the brush till I tame him.
I hope you sleep well."

"Thank you. I'm used to the open."

He nodded as if he well knew that she was; then, shaking out his
slicker, turned away.

As he lay staring up through the thorny mesquite branches that roofed
him inadequately from the dew he marveled mightily. A bright,
steady-burning star peeped through the leaves at him, and as he watched
it he remembered that this red-haired woman with the still, white face
was known far and wide through the lower valley as "The Lone Star."
Well, he mused, the name fitted her; she was, if reports were true,
quite as mysterious, quite as cold and fixed and unapproachable, as the
title implied. Knowledge of her identity had come as a shock, for Law
knew something of her history, and to find her suing for his protection
was quite thrilling. Tales of her pale beauty were common and not tame,
but she was all and more than she had been described. And yet why had
no one told him she was so young? This woman's youth and attractiveness
amazed him; he felt that he had made a startling discovery. Was she so
cold, after all, or was she merely reserved? Red hair above a pure
white face; a woman's form wrapped in his blanket; ripe red lips
caressing the rim of his mean drinking-cup! Those were things to think
about. Those were pictures for a lonely man.

She had not been too proud and cold to let him help her. In her fatigue
she had allowed him to lift her and to make her more comfortable. Hot
against his palms--palms unaccustomed to the touch of woman's flesh--he
felt the contact of her naked feet, as at the moment when he had placed
them in the cooling water. Her feeble resistance had only called
attention to her sex--to the slim whiteness of her ankles beneath her
short riding-skirt.

Following his first amazement at beholding her had come a fantastic
explanation of her presence--for a moment or two it had seemed as if
the fates had taken heed of his yearnings and had sent her to him out
of the dusk--wild fancies, like these, bother men who are much alone.
Of course he had not dreamed that she was the mistress of Las Palmas.
That altered matters, and yet--they were to spend a long idle day
together. If the Mexican did not come, another night like this would
follow, and she was virtually his prisoner. Perhaps, after all--

Dave Law stirred nervously and sighed.

"Don't this beat hell?" he murmured.



II

THE AMBUSH


Alaire Austin slept badly. The day's hardships had left their traces.
The toxins of fatigue not only poisoned her muscles with aches and
pains, but drugged her brain and rendered the night a long succession
of tortures during which she experienced for a second time the agonies
of thirst and fatigue and despair. Extreme physical ordeals, like
profound emotional upheavals, leave imprints upon the brain, and while
the body may recover quickly, it often requires considerable time to
rest exhausted nerves. The finer the nervous organism, the slower is
the process of recuperation. Like most normal women, Alaire had a
surprising amount of endurance, both nervous and muscular, but, having
drawn heavily against her reserve force, she paid the penalty. During
the early hours of the night she slept hardly at all, and as soon as
her bodily discomfort began to decrease her mind became unruly. Twice
she rose and limped to the water-hole for a drink, and it was not until
nearly dawn that she dropped off into complete unconsciousness. She was
awakened by a sunbeam which pierced her leafy shelter and with hot
touch explored her upturned face.

It was still early; the sun had just cleared the valley's rim and the
ground was damp with dew. Somewhere near by an unfamiliar bird was
sweetly trilling. Alaire listened dreamily until the bird-carol changed
to the air of a familiar cowboy song, then she sat up, queerly startled.

David Law was watering his horse, grooming the animal meanwhile with a
burlap doth. Such attention was unusual in a stock country where horses
run wild, but this horse, Mrs. Austin saw, justified unusual care. It
was a beautiful blood-bay mare, and as the woman looked it lifted its
head, then with wet, trembling muzzle caressed its owner's cheek.
Undoubtedly this attention was meant for a kiss, and was as daintily
conferred as any woman's favor. It brought a reward in a lump of sugar.
There followed an exhibition of equine delight; the mare's lips
twitched, her nose wrinkled ludicrously, she stretched her neck and
tossed her head as the sweetness tickled her palate. Even the nervous
switching of her tail was eloquent of pleasure. Meanwhile the owner
showed his white teeth in a smile.

"Good morning," said Mrs. Austin.

Law lifted his hat in a graceful salute as he approached around the
edge of the pool, his spurs jingling musically. The mare followed.

"You have a fine horse, there."

"Yes'm. Her and me get along all right. I hope we didn't wake you,
ma'am."

"No. I was too tired to sleep well."

"Of course. I heard you stirring about during the night." Law paused,
and the mare, with sharp ears cocked forward, looked over his shoulder
inquisitively. "Tell the lady good morning, Bessie Belle," he directed.
The animal flung its head high, then stepped forward and, stretching
its neck, sniffed doubtfully at the visitor.

"What a graceful bow!" Mrs. Austin laughed. "You taught her that, I
presume."

"Yes'm! She'd never been to school when I got her; she was plumb
ignorant. But she's got all the airs of a fine lady now. Sometimes I go
without sugar, but Bessie Belle never does."

"And you with a sweet tooth!"

The Ranger smiled pleasantly. "She's as easy as a rockin'-chair. We're
kind of sweethearts. Ain't we, kid?" Again Bessie Belle tossed her head
high. "That's 'yes,' with the reverse English," the speaker explained.
"Now you just rest yourself, ma'am, and order your breakfast. What 'll
it be--quail, dove, or cottontail?"

"Why--whatever you can get."

"That ain't the kind of restaurant we run. Bessie Belle would sure be
offended if she understood you. Ever see anybody call a quail?"

"Can it really be done?"

Law's face brightened. "You wait." He led his mare down the arroyo,
then returned, and, taking his Winchester from its scabbard, explained:
"There's a pair of 'top-knots' on that side-hill waitin' for a drink.
Watch 'em run into my lap when I give the distress signal of our secret
order." He skirted the water-hole, and seated himself with his heels
together and his elbows propped upon his spread knees in the military
position for close shooting. From where he sat he commanded an
unobstructed view of the thicket's edge. Next he moistened his lips and
uttered an indescribable low whistle. At intervals he repeated the
call, while the woman looked on with interest. Suddenly out of the
grass burst a blue quail, running with wings outstretched and every
feather ruffled angrily. It paused, the man's cheeks snuggled against
the stock of his gun, and the bark of the thirty-thirty sounded loudly.
Mrs. Austin saw that he had shot the little bird's head off. She spoke,
but he stilled her with a gesture, threw in a second shell, and
repeated his magic call. There was a longer wait this time, but finally
the performance was repeated. The marksman rose, picked up the two
birds, and came back to the camping-place.

"Kind of a low-down trick when they've just started housekeeping, ain't
it?" he smiled.

Mrs. Austin saw that both crested heads had been cleanly severed. "That
is quite wonderful" she said. "You must be an unusually good shot."

"Yes'm. You can fool turkeys the same way. Turkeys are easy."

"What do you say to them? What brings them out, all ruffled up?" she
asked, curiously.

Law had one of the birds picked by this time. "I tell 'em a snake has
got me. I reckon each one thinks the other is in trouble and comes to
the rescue. Anyhow, it's a mighty mean trick."

He would not permit her to help with the breakfast, so she lay back
enjoying the luxury of her hard bed and watching her host, whose
personality, now that she saw him by daylight, had begun to challenge
her interest. Of late years she had purposely avoided men, and
circumstances had not permitted her to study those few she had been
forced to meet; but now that fate had thrown her into the company of
this stranger, she permitted some play to her curiosity.

Physically Law was of an admirable make--considerably over six feet in
height, with wide shoulders and lean, strong limbs. Although his face
was schooled to mask all but the keenest emotions, the deftness of his
movements was eloquent, betraying that complete muscular and nervous
control which comes from life in the open. A pair of blue-gray,
meditative eyes, with a whimsical fashion of wrinkling half-shut when
he talked, relieved a countenance that otherwise would have been a
trifle grim and somber. The nose was prominent and boldly arched, the
ears large and pronounced and standing well away from the head; the
mouth was thin-lipped and mobile. Alaire tried to read that bronzed
visage, with little success until she closed her eyes and regarded the
mental image. Then she found the answer: Law had the face and the head
of a hunter. The alert ears, the watchful eyes, the predatory nose were
like those of some hunting animal. Yes, that was decidedly the
strongest impression he gave. And yet in his face there was nothing
animal in a bad sense. Certainly it showed no grossness. The man was
wild, untamed, rather than sensual, and despite his careless use of the
plains vernacular he seemed to be rather above the average in education
and intelligence. At any rate, without being stupidly tongue-tied, he
knew enough to remain silent when there was nothing to say, and that
was a blessing, for Mrs. Austin herself was not talkative, and idle
chatter distressed her.

On the whole, when Alaire had finished her analysis she rather resented
the good impression Law had made upon her, for on general principles
she chose to dislike and distrust men. Rising, she walked painfully to
the pond and made a leisurely toilet.

Breakfast was ready when she returned, and once more the man sat upon
his heels and smoked while she ate. Alaire could not catch his eyes
upon her, except when he spoke, at which time his gaze was direct and
open; yet never did she feel free from his intensest observation.

After a while she remarked: "I'm glad to see a Ranger in this county.
There has been a lot of stealing down our way, and the Association men
can't seem to stop it. Perhaps you can."

"The Rangers have a reputation in that line," he admitted. "But there
is stealing all up and down the border, since the war. You lost any
stuff?"

"Yes. Mostly horses."

"Sure! They need horses in Mexico."

"The ranchers have organized. They have formed a sort of vigilance
committee in each town, and talk of using bloodhounds."

"Bloodhounds ain't any good, outside of novels. If beef got scarce,
them Greasers would steal the dogs and eat 'em." He added,
meditatively, "Dog ain't such bad eatin', either."

"Have you tried it?"

Mr. Law nodded. "It was better than some of the army beef we got in the
Philippines." Then, in answer to her unspoken inquiry, "Yes'm, I served
an enlistment there."

"You--were a private soldier?"

"Yes'm."

Mrs. Austin was incredulous, and yet she could not well express her
surprise without too personal an implication. "I can't imagine
anybody--that is, a man like you, as a common soldier."

"Well, I wasn't exactly that," he grinned. "No, I was about the most
UNcommon soldier out there. I had a speakin' acquaintance with most of
the guard-houses in the islands before I got through."

"But why did you enlist--a man like you?"

"Why?" He pondered the question. "I was young. I guess I needed the
excitement. I have to get about so much or I don't enjoy my food."

"Did you join the Maderistas for excitement?"

"Mostly. Then, too, I believed Panchito Madero was honest and would
give the peons land. An honest Mexican is worth fightin' for, anywhere.
The pelados are still struggling for their land--for that and a chance
to live and work and be happy."

Mrs. Austin stirred impatiently. "They are fighting because they are
told to fight. There is no PATRIOTISM in them," said she.

"I think," he said, with grave deliberateness, "the majority feel
something big and vague and powerful stirring inside them. They don't
know exactly what it is, perhaps, but it is there. Mexico has outgrown
her dictators. They have been overthrown by the same causes that
brought on the French Revolution."

"The French Revolution!" Alaire leaned forward, eying the speaker with
startled intensity. "You don't talk like a--like an enlisted man. What
do you know about the French Revolution?"

Reaching for a coal, the Ranger spoke without facing her. "I've read a
good bit, ma'am, and I'm a noble listener. I remember good, too. Why, I
had a picture of the Bastille once." He pronounced it "Bastilly," and
his hearer settled back. "That was some calaboose, now, wasn't it?" A
moment later he inquired, ingenuously, "I don't suppose you ever saw
that Bastille, did you?"

"No. Only the place where it stood."

"Sho! You must have traveled right smart for such a young lady." He
beamed amiably upon her.

"I was educated abroad, and I only came home--to be married."

Law noted the lifeless way in which she spoke, and he understood. "I'll
bet you hablar those French and German lingoes like a native," he
ventured. "Beats me how a person can do it."

"You speak Spanish, don't you?"

"Oh yes. But I was born in Mexico, as near as I can make out."

"And you probably speak some of the Filipino dialects?"

"Yes'm, a few."

There was something winning about this young man's modesty, and
something flattering in his respectful admiration. He seemed, also, to
know his place, a fact which was even more in his favor. Undoubtedly he
had force and ability; probably his love of adventure and a happy lack
of settled purpose had led him to neglect his more commonplace
opportunities and sent him first into the army and thence into the
Ranger service. The world is full of such, and the frontier is their
gathering-place. Mrs. Austin had met a number of men like Law, and to
her they seemed to be the true soldiers of fortune--fellows who lived
purely for the fun of living, and leavened their days with adventure.
They were buoyant souls, for the most part, drifting with the tide,
resentful of authority and free from care; meeting each day with
enthusiastic expectancy for what it held in store. They were restless
and improvident; the world counted them ne'er-do-wells, and yet she
knew that at least their hours were full and that their names--some of
them--were written large in the distant places. Alaire Austin often
told herself that, had she been born a man, such a life as this might
have been hers, and she took pleasure in dreaming sometimes of the
experience that fate, in such a case, would have brought to her.

Being a woman, however, and being animated at this particular moment by
a peculiarly feminine impulse, she felt urged to add her own touch to
what nature had roughed out. This man had been denied what she termed
an education; therefore she decided to put one in his way.

"Do you like to read?" she asked him.

"Say! It's my favorite form of exercise." Law's blue-gray eyes were
expressionless, his face was bland. "Why?"

"I have a great many books at Las Palmas. You might enjoy some of them."

"Now that's nice of you, ma'am. Mebbe I'll look into this
cattle-stealin' in your neighborhood, and if I do I'll sure come
borrowin'."

"Oh, I'll send you a boxful when I get back," said Alaire, and Dave
thanked her humbly.

Later, when he went to move his mare into a shady spot, the Ranger
chuckled and slapped his thigh with his hat. "Bessie Belle, we're going
to improve our minds," he said, aloud. "We're going to be literary and
read Pilgrim's Progress and Alice in Wonderland. I bet we'll enjoy 'em,
eh? But--doggone! She's a nice lady, and your coat is just the same
color as her hair."

Where the shade was densest and the breeze played most freely, there
Dave fixed a comfortable couch for his guest, and during the heat of
the forenoon she dozed.

Asleep she exercised upon him an even more disturbing effect than when
awake, for now he could study her beauty deliberately, from the loose
pile of warm, red hair to the narrow, tight-laced boots. What he saw
was altogether delightful. Her slightly parted lips offered an
irresistible attraction--almost an invitation; the heat had lent a
feverish flush to her cheeks; Dave could count the slow pulsations of
her white throat. He closed his eyes and tried to quell his unruly
longings. He was a strong man; adventurous days and nights spent in the
open had coarsened the masculine side of his character, perhaps at
expense to his finer nature, for it is a human tendency to revert. He
was masterful and ruthless; lacking obligations or responsibilities of
any sort, he had been accustomed to take what he wanted; therefore the
gaze he fixed upon the sleeping woman betrayed an ardor calculated to
deepen the color in her cheeks, had she beheld it.

And yet, strangely enough, Dave realized that his emotions were
unaccountably mixed. This woman's distress had, of course, brought a
prompt and natural response; but now her implicit confidence in his
honor and her utter dependence upon him awoke his deepest chivalry.
Then, too, the knowledge that her life was unhappy, indeed tragic,
filled him with a sort of wondering pity. As he continued to look at
her these feelings grew until finally he turned away his face. With his
chin in his hands he stared out somberly into the blinding heat. He had
met few women, of late years, and never one quite like this--never one,
for instance, who made him feel so dissatisfied with his own
shortcomings.

After a time he rose and withdrew to the shelter of another tree, there
to content himself with mental images of his guest.

But one cannot sleep well with a tropic sun in the heavens, and since
there was really nothing for her to do until the heat abated, Alaire,
when she awoke, obliged the Ranger to amuse her.

Although she was in fact younger than he, married life had matured her,
and she treated him therefore like a boy. Law did not object. Mrs.
Austin's position in life was such that most men were humble in her
presence, and now her superior wisdom seemed to excite the Ranger's
liveliest admiration. Only now and then, as if in an unguarded moment,
did he appear to forget himself and speak with an authority equaling
her own. What he said at such times indicated either a remarkably
retentive memory or else an ability to think along original lines too
rare among men of his kind to be easily credited.

For instance, during a discussion of the Mexican situation--and of
course their talk drifted thither, for at the moment it was the one
vitally interesting topic along the border--he excused the barbarous
practices of the Mexican soldiers by saying:

"Of course they're cruel, vindictive, treacherous, but after all there
are only a hundred and forty generations between us and Adam; only a
hundred and forty lifetimes since the Garden of Eden. We civilized
peoples are only a lap or two ahead of the uncivilized ones. When you
think that it takes ten thousand generations to develop a plant and
root out some of its early heredities, you can see that human beings
have a long way yet to go before they become perfect. We're creatures
of environment, just like plants. Environment has made the Mexican what
he is."

Certainly this was an amazing speech to issue from a sun-browned cowboy
sitting cross-legged under a mesquite-tree.

From under her hat-brim Alaire Austin eyed the speaker with a curiosity
into which there had come a vague hostility. For the moment she was
suspicious and piqued, but Law did not appear to notice, and as he
talked on her doubts gradually subsided.

"You said, last night, that you were born on the other side?" She
inclined her ruddy head to the west.

"Yes'm. My father was a mining man, and he done well over there until
he locked horns with the Guadalupes. Old Don Enrique and him had a
run-in at the finish, over some land or something. It was when the Don
was gobbling all the property in the state, and laying the foundation
for his big fortune. You know he had permission from the president to
steal all the land he cared to, just like the rest of those local
governors had. Well, Guadalupe tried to run my people out."

"Did he succeed?"

"No'm. He killed 'em, but they stayed."

"Not--really?" The listener was shocked. "American citizens, too?"

"Times wasn't much different then than now. There's plenty of good
Americans been killed in Mexico and nothing done about it, even in our
day. I don't know all the details--never could get 'em, either--for I
was away at school; but after I came back from the Philippines the
Madero fuss was just brewing, so I went over and joined it. But it
didn't last long, and there wasn't enough fighting to suit me. I've
been back, off and on, since, and I've burned a good deal of Guadalupe
property and swum a good many head of Guadalupe stock."

As the morning progressed Law proved himself an interesting companion,
and in spite of the discomforts of the situation the hours slipped past
rapidly. Luncheon was a disagreeable meal, eaten while the arroyo baked
and the heat devils danced on the hills; but the unpleasantness was of
brief duration, and Law always managed to banish boredom. Nor did he
seem to waste a thought upon the nature of that grim business which
brought him to this place. Quite the contrary, in the afternoon he put
his mare through her tricks for Alaire's edification, and gossiped idly
of whatever interested his guest.

Then as the sun edged to the west and Mrs. Austin became restless, he
saddled Bessie Belle and led her down the gulch into a safer covert.

Returning, he carefully obliterated all traces of the camp. He watered
the ashes of the fire, gathered up the tell-tale scraps of paper and
fragments of food, and then when the place suited him fell to examining
his rifle.

Alaire watched him with interest. "Where shall I go," she asked, "and
what shall I do?"

"You just pick out a good cover beyond the water-hole and stay there,
ma'am. It may be a long wait, for something may have happened. If so
we'll have to lie close. And don't worry yourself none, ma'am; he won't
make no trouble."

The afternoon drew to a close. Gradually the blinding white glare of
the sun lessened and yellowed, the shadow of the bluffs began to
stretch out. The shallow pool lay silent, deserted save for furtive
little shapes that darted nervously out of the leaves, or for winged
visitors that dropped out of the air.

With the sunset there came the sound of hoofs upon loose stones,
branches rustled against breasting bodies, and Mrs. Austin cowered low
in her hiding-place. But it was only the advance-guard of a bunch of
brush cattle coming to water. They paused at a distance, and nothing
except their thirst finally overcame their suspicions. One by one they
drifted into sight, drank warily at the remotest edge of the tanque,
then, alarmed at some imaginary sight or sound, went clattering up the
ravine.

Once again the water-hole lay sleeping.

Alaire's retreat was far from comfortable; there was an ants' nest
somewhere near her and she thought of moving; but suddenly her breath
caught and her heart jumped uncontrollably. She crouched lower, for
directly opposite her position, and outlined against the sky where the
sharp ridge cut it, was the figure of a mounted man. Rider and horse
were silhouetted against the pearl-gray heaven like an equestrian
statue. How long they had been there Alaire had no faintest notion.
Perhaps it was their coming which had alarmed the cattle. She was
conscious that a keen and hostile pair of eyes was searching the
coverts surrounding the charco. Then, as silently as it had appeared,
the apparition vanished beyond the ridge, and Alaire wondered if the
rider had taken alarm. She earnestly hoped so; this breathless vigil
was getting on her nerves, and the sight of that threatening figure had
set her pulses to throbbing. The rider was on his guard, that was
plain; he was armed, too, and probably desperate. The ominous
possibilities of this ambush struck her forcibly.

Alaire lay close, as she had been directed, praying that the horseman
had been warned; but shortly she heard again the rustle of stiff
branches, and out into the opening rode a Mexican. He was astride a
wiry gray pony, and in the strong twilight Alaire could see his every
feature--the swarthy cheeks, the roving eyes beneath the black felt
hat. A carbine lay across his saddle-horn, a riata was coiled beside
his leg, a cartridge-belt circled his waist. There was something
familiar about the fellow, but at the moment Alaire could not determine
what it was.

After one swift appraising glance the new-comer rode straight to the
verge of the water-hole and dismounted; then he and his horse drank
side by side.

It was the moment for a complete and effective surprise, but nothing
happened. Why didn't Law act? Alaire bent low, straining eyes and ears,
but no command came from the Ranger. After a while the traveler rose to
his feet and stretched his limbs. Next he walked to the ashes of the
fire and looked down at them, stirring them with his toe. Apparently
satisfied, he lit a cigarette.

Could it be that something had gone wrong with the Ranger's plan? Had
something happened to him? Alaire was startled by the possibility; this
delay was beyond her comprehension.

Then, as if in answer to her perplexity, a second horseman appeared,
and the woman realized how simply she had been fooled.



III

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE WATER-HOLE


The new-comers exchanged a word or two in Spanish, then the second
rider flung himself from his saddle and made for the water. He was
lying prone and drinking deeply when out of nowhere came a sharp
command.

"Oiga! Hands up, both of you!"

The first arrival jumped as if a rattlesnake had buzzed at his back,
the second leaped to his feet with an oath; they stared in the
direction whence the voice had come.

"Drop your gun, companero!" The order was decisive; it was directed at
the man who had first appeared, for the other had left his Winchester
in its scabbard.

Both Mexicans cried, as if at a cue, "Who speaks?"

"A Ranger."

The fellow Law had addressed let fall his rifle; two pairs of dark
hands rose slowly. Then the Ranger went on in Spanish:

"Anto, lower your left hand and unbuckle your belt." Anto did as he was
told, his revolver and cartridge-belt dropped to the ground. "And you,
compadre, do the same. Mind you, the left hand! Now face about and walk
to the charco, both of you. Good!"

Law stepped into view, his Winchester in the crook of his arm. He
emptied the three discarded weapons, then, walking to Anto's horse, he
removed the second carbine from beneath the saddle-flap and ejected its
shells into his palm.

This done, he addressed the stranger. "Now, friend, who are you, and
why are you riding with this fellow?"

"My name is Panfilo Sanchez, señor. Before God, I have done nothing."
The speaker was tremendously excited.

"Well, Panfilo, that will take some proving," the Ranger muttered.

"What do you say?"

The gist of this statement having been repeated in Spanish, both
prisoners burst into clamorous explanation of their presence together.
Panfilo, it seemed, had encountered his companion purely by chance, and
was horrified now to learn that his newly made friend was wanted by the
authorities. In the midst of his incoherent protestations Mrs. Austin
appeared.

"He is telling you the truth, Mr. Law," she said, quietly. "He is one
of my men."

Both Mexicans looked blank. At sight of the speaker their mouths fell
open, and Panfilo ceased his gesticulations.

Mrs. Austin went on: "He is my horse-breaker's cousin. He couldn't have
had any part in that murder in Jim Wells County, for he was at Las
Palmas when I left."

Panfilo recovered from his amazement, removed his sombrero, and blessed
his employer extravagantly; then he turned triumphantly upon his
captor. "Behold!" cried he. "There you have the truth. I am an
excellent, hard-working man and as honest as God."

"Surely you don't want him," Alaire appealed to Law. "He was probably
helping his countryman to escape--but they all do that, you know."

"All right! If he's your man, that's enough," Dave told her. "Now then,
boys, it will soon be dark and we'll need some supper before we start.
It won't hurt Anto's horse to rest a bit, either. You are under
arrest," he added, addressing the latter. "You understand what that
means?"

"Si, señor!"

"I won't tie you unless--"

"No, señor!" Anto understood perfectly, and was grateful.

"Well, then, build a fire, and you, Panfilo, lend a hand. The señora
will need a cup of tea, for we three have a long ride ahead of us."

No time was lost. Both Mexicans fell to with a will, and in a
surprisingly short time water was boiling. When it came Law's turn to
eat, Alaire, who was eager to be gone, directed her employee to fetch
the Ranger's horse. Panfilo acquiesced readily and buckled on his
cartridge-belt and six-shooter. He was about to pick up his rifle, too,
but finding Law's eyes inquiringly fixed upon him, he turned with a
shrug and disappeared down the arroyo. It was plain that he considered
his friendly relations well established and resented the Ranger's
suspicion.

"How long has that fellow been working for you?" Law jerked his head in
the direction Panfilo had taken.

"Not long. I--don't know much about him," Alaire confessed. Then, as if
in answer to his unspoken question, "But I'm sure he's all right."

"Is he looking up range for you?"

"N--no! I left him at the ranch. I don't know how he came to be here,
unless--It IS rather strange!"

Dave shot a swift, interrogatory glance at Panfilo's traveling
companion, but Anto's face was stony, his black eyes were fixed upon
the fire.

With an abrupt gesture Law flung aside the contents of his cup and
strode to Panfilo's horse, which stood dejectedly with reins hanging.

"Where are you--going?" Alaire rose nervously.

It was nearly dark now; only the crests of the ridges were plain
against the luminous sky; in the brushy bottom of the arroyo the
shadows were deep. Alaire had no wish to be left alone with the
prisoner.

With bridle-rein and carbine in his left hand, the Ranger halted, then,
stooping for Anto's discarded cartridge-belt, he looped it over his
saddle-horn. He vaulted easily into the seat, saying:

"I hid that mare pretty well. Your man may not be able to find her."
Then he turned his borrowed horse's head toward the brush.

Anto had squatted motionless until this moment; he had not even turned
his eyes; but now, without the slightest warning, he uttered a loud
call. It might have served equally well as a summons or as an alarm,
but it changed the Ranger's suspicions into certainty. Dave uttered an
angry exclamation, then to the startled woman he cried:

"Watch this man! He can't hurt you, for I've got his shells." To his
prisoner he said, sharply: "Stay where you are! Don't move!" The next
instant he had loped into the brush on the tracks of Panfilo Sanchez,
spurring the tired gray pony into vigorous action.

It was an uncomfortable situation in which Alaire now found herself.
Law was too suspicious, she murmured to herself; he was needlessly
melodramatic; she felt exceedingly ill at ease as the pony's hoof-beats
grew fainter. She was not afraid of Anto, having dealt with Mexican
vaqueros for several years, yet she could not forget that he was a
murderer, and she wondered what she was expected to do if he should try
to escape. It was absurd to suppose that Panfilo, her own hired man,
could be capable of treachery; the mere suspicion was a sort of
reflection upon her.

Alaire was startled by hearing other hoof-beats now; their drumming
came faint but unmistakable. Yes, there were two horses racing down the
arroyo. Anto, the fugitive, rose to his feet and stared into the dusk.
"Sit down!" Alaire ordered, sharply. He obeyed, muttering beneath his
breath, but his head was turned as if in an effort to follow the sounds
of the pursuit.

Next came the distant rattle of loosened stones--evidently one horse
was being urged toward the open high ground--then the peaceful quiet
evening was split by the report of Law's thirty-thirty. Another shot
followed, and then a third. Both Alaire and her prisoner were on their
feet, the woman shaking in every limb, the Mexican straining his eyes
into the gloom and listening intently.

Soon there came a further echo of dry earth and gravel dislodged, but
whether by Law's horse or by that of Sanchez was uncertain. Perhaps
both men had gained the mesa.

It had all happened so quickly and so unexpectedly that Alaire felt she
must be dreaming, or that there had been some idiotic mistake. She
wondered if the Ranger's sudden charge had not simply frightened
Panfilo into a panicky flight, and she tried to put her thoughts into
words the Mexican would understand, but his answer was unintelligible.
His black scowl, however, was eloquent of uncertainty and apprehension.

Alaire had begun to feel the strain of the situation and was trying to
decide what next to do, when David Law came riding out of the twilight.
He was astride the gray; behind him at the end of a lariat was Bessie
Belle, and her saddle was empty.

Mrs. Austin uttered a sharp cry.

Law dismounted and strode to the prisoner. His face was black with
fury; he seemed gigantic in his rage. Without a word he raised his
right hand and cuffed the Mexican to his knees. Then he leaped upon
him, as a dog might pounce upon a rabbit, rolled him to his face, and
twisted the fellow's arms into the small of his back. Anto cursed, he
struggled, but he was like a child in the Ranger's grasp. Law knelt
upon him, and with a jerk of his riata secured the fellow's wrists;
rising, he set the knot with another heave that dragged the prisoner to
his knees. Next he booted Anto to his feet.

"By God! I've a notion to bend a gun over your head," Law growled.
"Clever little game, wasn't it?"

"Where--? Did you--kill him?" the woman gasped.

Alaire had never beheld such a demoniac expression as Law turned upon
her. The man's face was contorted, his eyes were blazing insanely, his
chest was heaving, and for an instant he seemed to include her in his
anger. Ignoring her inquiry, he went to his mare and ran his shaking
hands over her as if in search of an injury; his questing palms covered
every inch of glistening hide from forelock to withers, from shoulder
to hoof, and under cover of this task he regained in some degree his
self-control.

"That hombre of yours--didn't look right to me," he said, finally.
Laying his cheek against Bessie Belle's neck, as a woman snuggles close
to the man of her choice, he addressed the mare: "I reckon nobody is
going to steal you, eh? Not if I know it. No, sir; that hombre wasn't
any good, was he?"

Alaire wet her lips. "Then you--shot him?"

Law laughed grimly, almost mockingly. "Say! He must be a favorite of
yours?"

"N-no! I hardly knew the fellow. But--did you?"

"I didn't say I shot him," he told her, gruffly. "I warned him first,
and he turned on me--blew smoke in my face. Then he took to the brush,
afoot, and--I cut down on him once more to help him along."

"He got away?"

"I reckon so."

"Oh, oh!" Alaire's tone left no doubt of her relief. "He was always a
good man--"

"Good? Didn't he steal my horse? Didn't he aim to get me at the first
chance and free his compadre? That's why he wanted his Winchester. Say!
I reckon he--needs killin' about as much as anybody I know."

"I can't understand it." Alaire sat down weakly. "One of my men, too."

"This fellow behaved himself while I was gone, eh?" Law jerked his head
in Anto's direction. "I was afraid he--he'd try something. If he had--"
Such a possibility, oddly enough, seemed to choke the speaker, and the
ferocity of his unfinished threat caused Mrs. Austin to look up at him
curiously. There was a moment of silence, then he said, shortly: "Well,
we've got a horse apiece now. Let's go."

The stars had thickened and brightened, rounding the night sky into a
glittering dome. Anto, the murderer, with his ankles lashed beneath his
horse's belly, rode first; next, in a sullen silence, came the Ranger,
his chin upon his breast; and in the rear followed Alaire Austin.

In spite of her release from a trying predicament, the woman was
scarcely more eager to go home than was the prisoner, for while Anto's
trail led to a jail, hers led to Las Palmas, and there was little
difference. These last two days in the open had been like a glimpse of
freedom; for a time Alaire had almost lost the taste of bitter
memories. It had required an effort of will to drug remembrance, but
she had succeeded, and had proven her ability to forget. But now--Las
Palmas! It meant the usual thing, the same endless battle between her
duty and her desire. She was tired of the fight that resulted neither
in victory nor defeat; she longed now, more than ever, to give up and
let things take their course. Why could not women, as well as men,
yield to their inclinations--drift with the current instead of
breasting it until they were exhausted? There was David Law, for
instance; he was utterly carefree, no duties shackled him. He had his
horse, his gun, and his blanket, and they were enough; Alaire, like
him, was young, her mind was eager, her body ripe, and her veins full
of fire. Life must be sweet to those who were free and happy.

But the object of her envy was not so completely at peace with himself
as she supposed. Even yet his mind was in a black turmoil from his
recent anger, and of late, be it said, these spells of temper had given
him cause for uneasiness. Then, too, there was a lie upon his lips.

Under the stars, at the break of the arroyo, three hundred yards below
the water-hole, a coyote was slinking in a wide circle around the body
of Panfilo Sanchez.



IV

AN EVENING AT LAS PALMAS


Although the lower counties of southwest Texas are flat and badly
watered, they possess a rich soil. They are favored, too, by a kindly
climate, subtropic in its mildness. The days are long and bright and
breezy, while night brings a drenching dew that keeps the grasses
green. Of late years there have been few of those distressing droughts
that gave this part of the state an evil reputation, and there has been
a corresponding increase in prosperity. The Rio Grande, jaundiced,
erratic as an invalid, wrings its saffron blood from the clay bluffs
and gravel cañons of the hill country, but near its estuary winds
quietly through a low coastal plain which the very impurities of that
blood have richened. Here the river's banks are smothered in thickets
of huisache, ebony, mesquite, oak, and alamo.

Railroads, those vitalizing nerve-fibers of commerce, are so scarce
along this division of the border that even in this day when we boast,
or lament, that we no longer have a frontier, there remain in Texas
sections larger than some of our Eastern states which hear the sound of
iron wheels only on their boundaries. To travel from Brownsville north
along the international line one must, for several hundred miles, avail
oneself of horses, mules, or motor-cars, since rail transportation is
almost lacking. And on his way the traveler will traverse whole
counties where the houses are jacals, where English is a foreign
tongue, and where peons plow their fields with crooked sticks as did
the ancient Egyptians.

That part of the state which lies below the Nueces River was for a time
disputed territory, and long after Texans had given their lives to
drive the Eagle of Mexico across the Rio Grande much of it remained a
forbidden land. Even to-day it is alien. It is a part of our Southland,
but a South different to any other that we have. Within it there are no
blacks, and yet the whites number but one in twenty. The rest are
swarthy, black-haired men who speak the Spanish tongue and whose
citizenship is mostly a matter of form.

The stockmen, pushing ahead of the nesters and the tillers of the soil,
were the first to invade the lower Rio Grande, and among these "Old Ed"
Austin was a pioneer. Out of the unmapped prairie he had hewed a
foothold, and there, among surroundings as Mexican as Mexico, he had
laid the beginnings of his fortune.

Of "Old Ed's" early life strange stories are told; like the other
cattle barons, he was hungry for land and took it where or how he
could. There are tales of fertile sections bought for ten cents an
acre, tales of Mexican ranchers dispossessed by mortgage, by monte, or
by any means that came to hand; stories even of some, more stubborn
than the rest, who refused to feed the Austin greed for land, and who
remained on their farms to feed the buzzards instead. Those were crude
old days; the pioneers who pushed their herds into the far pastures
were lawless fellows, ruthless, acquisitive, mastered by the
empire-builder's urge for acres and still more acres. They were the
Reclaimers, the men who seized and held, and then seized more,
concerning themselves little or not at all with the moral law as
applicable to both Mexican and white, and leaving it to the second
generation to justify their acts, if ever justification were required.

As other ranches grew under the hands of such unregenerate owners, so
also under "Old Ed" Austin's management did Las Palmas increase and
prosper. The estate took its name from a natural grove of palms in
which the house was built; it comprised an expanse of rich river-land
backed by miles of range where "Box A" cattle lived and bred. In his
later years the old man sold much land, and some he leased; but when he
handed Las Palmas to his son, "Young Ed," as a wedding gift, the ranch
still remained a property to be proud of, and one that was known far
and wide for its size and richness. Leaving his boy to work out of it a
fortune for himself and his bride, the father retired to San Antonio,
whither the friends and cronies of his early days were drifting. There
he settled down and proceeded to finish his allotted span exactly as
suited him best. The rancher's ideal of an agreeable old age comprised
three important items--to wit, complete leisure, unlimited freedom of
speech, and two pints of rye whisky daily. He enjoyed them all
impartially, until, about a year before this story opens, he died
profanely and comfortably. He had a big funeral, and was sincerely
mourned by a coterie of gouty old Indian-fighters.

Las Palmas had changed greatly since Austin, senior, painfully scrawled
his slanting signature to the deed. It was a different ranch now to
what the old man had known; indeed, it was doubtful if he would have
recognized it, for even the house was new.

Alaire had some such thought in mind as she rode up to the gate on the
afternoon following her departure from the water-hole, and she felt a
thrill of pride at the acres of sprouting corn, the dense green fields
of alfalfa so nicely fitted between their fences. They were like clean,
green squares of matting spread for the feet of summer.

A Mexican boy came running to care for her horse, a Mexican woman
greeted her as she entered the wide, cool hall and went to her room.
Alaire had ridden far. Part of the night had been spent at the Balli
goat-ranch, the remainder of the journey had been hot and dusty, and
even yet she was not wholly recovered from her experience of the
outward trip.

The house servants at Las Palmas were, on the whole, well trained, and
Mrs. Austin's periodic absences excited no comment; in the present
instance, Dolores fixed a bath and laid out clean clothes with no more
than a running accompaniment of chatter concerned with household
affairs. Dolores, indeed, was superior to the ordinary servant; she was
a woman of some managerial ability, and she combined the duties of
personal maid with those of housekeeper. She was a great gossip, and
possessed such a talent for gaining information that through her
husband, Benito, the range boss, she was able to keep her mistress in
fairly intimate touch with ranch matters.

Alaire, however, was at this moment in no mood to resume the tiresome
details of management; she quickly dismissed her servitor and proceeded
to revel in the luxury of a cool bath, after which she took a nap.
Later, as she leisurely dressed herself, she acknowledged that it was
good to feel the physical comforts of her own house, even though her
home-coming gave her no especial joy. She made it a religious practice
to dress for dinner, regardless of Ed's presence, though often for
weeks at a time she sat in solitary state, presiding over an empty
table. Nevertheless, she kept to her custom, for not only did the
formality help her to retain her own self-respect, but it had its
influence upon the servants. Without companionship one needs to be ever
upon guard to retain the nice refinements of gentle breeding, and any
one who has exercised authority in savage countries soon learns the
importance of leaving unbridged the gulf of color and of class.

But Alaire looked forward to no lonely dinner to-night, for Ed was at
home. It was with a grave preoccupation that she made herself ready to
meet him.

Dolores bustled in for a second time and straightway launched herself
into a tirade against Juan, the horse-boy.

"Devil take me if there was ever such a shameless fellow," she cried,
angrily. "He delights in tormenting me, and--Dios!--he is lazier than a
snake. Work? Bah! He abhors it. All day long he snaps his revolver and
pretends to be a bandido, and when he is not risking hell's fire in
that way he is whirling his riata and jumping through it. Useless
capers! He ropes the dog, he ropes the rose-bushes, he ropes fat
Victoria, the cook, carrying a huge bowl of hot water to scald the
ants' nest. Victoria's stomach is boiled red altogether, and so painful
that when she comes near the stove she curses in a way to chill your
blood. What does he do this morning but fling his wicked loop over a
calf's head and break off one of its little horns. It was terrible; but
Señor Austin only laughed and told him he was a fine vaquero."

"Has Mr. Austin been here all the time?"

"Yes."

"Has he--drunk much?"

"Um-m. No more than common. He is on the gallery now with his
cocktails."

"He knows I am at home?"

"I told him."

Alaire went on dressing. After a little she asked: "Has Benito finished
branding the calves in the south pasture?"

"He finished yesterday and sent the remuda to the Six Mile. José
Sanchez will have completed the rodeo by this afternoon. Benito rode in
last night to see you."

"By the way, you know José's cousin, Panfilo?"

"Si."

"Why did he leave Las Palmas?"

Dolores hesitated so long that her mistress turned upon her with a look
of sharp inquiry.

"He went to La Feria, señora." Then, in a lowered tone: "Mr. Austin
ordered it. Suddenly, without warning, he sent him away, though Panfilo
did not wish to go, Benito told me all about it."

"Why was he transferred? Come! What ails your tongue, Dolores?"

"Well, I keep my eyes open and my ears, too. I am no fool--" Dolores
paused doubtfully.

"Yes, yes!"

Dolores drew closer. "Rosa Morales--you know the girl? Her father works
the big pump-engine at the river. Well, he is not above anything, that
man; not above selling his own flesh and blood, and the girl is no
better. She thinks about nothing except men, and she attends all the
bailes for miles around, on both sides of the river. Panfilo loved her;
he was mad about her. That's why he came here to work."

"They were engaged, were they not?"

"Truly. And Panfilo was jealous of any man who looked at Rosa. Now you
can understand why--he was sent away." Dolores's sharp eyes narrowed
meaningly. "Señor Ed has been riding toward the river every day,
lately. Panfilo was furious, so--"

"I see! That is all I care to hear." Alone, Alaire stood motionless for
some time, her face fixed, her eyes unseeing; but later, when she met
her husband in the dining-room, her greeting was no less civil than
usual.

Ed acknowledged his wife's entrance with a careless nod, but did not
trouble to remove his hands from his pockets. As he seated himself
heavily at the table and with unsteady fingers shook the folds from his
napkin, he said:

"You stayed longer than you intended. Um-m--you were gone three days,
weren't you?"

"Four days," Alaire told him, realizing with a little inward start how
very far apart she and Ed had drifted. She looked at him curiously for
an instant, wondering if he really could be her husband, or--if he were
not some peculiarly disagreeable stranger.

Ed had been a handsome boy, but maturity had vitiated his good looks.
He was growing fat from drink and soft from idleness; his face was too
full, his eyes too sluggish; there was an unhealthy redness in his
cheeks. In contrast to his wife's semi-formal dress, he was
unkempt--unshaven and soiled. He wore spurred boots and a soft shirt;
his nails were grimy. When in the city he contrived to garb himself
immaculately; he was in fact something of a dandy; but at home he was a
sloven, and openly reveled in a freedom of speech and a coarseness of
manner that were sad trials to Alaire. His preparations for dinner this
evening had been characteristically simple; he had drunk three dry
cocktails and flung his sombrero into a corner.

"I've been busy while you were gone," he announced. "Been down to the
pump-house every day laying that new intake. It was a nasty job, too. I
had Morales barbecue a cabrito for my lunch, and it was good, but I'm
hungry again." Austin attacked his meal with an enthusiasm strange in
him, for of late his appetite had grown as errant as his habits. Ed
boasted, in his clubs, that he was an outdoor man, and he was wont to
tell his friends that the rough life was the life for him; but as a
matter of fact he spent much more time in San Antonio than he did at
home, and each of his sojourns at Las Palmas was devoted principally to
sobering up from his last visit to the city and to preparing for
another. Nor was he always sober even in his own house; Ed was a heavy
and a constant drinker at all times. What little exercise he took was
upon the back of a horse, and, as no one knew better than his wife, the
physical powers he once had were rapidly deteriorating.

By and by he inquired, vaguely: "Let's see, ... Where did you go this
time?"

"I went up to look over that Ygnacio tract."

"Oh yes. How did you find it?"

"Not very promising. It needs a lot of wells."

"I haven't been out that way since I was a boy. Think you'll lease it?"

"I don't know. I must find some place for those La Feria cattle."

Austin shook his head. "Better leave 'em where they are, until the
rebels take that country. I stand mighty well with them."

"That's the trouble," Alaire told him. "You stand too well--so well
that I want to get my stock out of Federal territory as soon as
possible."

Ed shrugged carelessly. "Suit yourself; they're your cows."

The meal went on with a desultory flow of small talk, during which the
husband indulged his thirst freely. Alaire told him about the accident
to her horse and the unpleasant ordeal she had suffered in the mesquite.

"Lucky you found somebody at the water-hole," Ed commented. "Who was
this Ranger? Never heard of the fellow," he commented on the name. "The
Rangers are nothing like they used to be."

"This fellow would do credit to any organization." As Alaire described
how expeditiously Law had made his arrest and handled his man, her
husband showed interest.

"Nicolas Anto, eh?" said he, "Who was his companero?"

"Panfilo Sanchez."

Ed started. "That's strange! They must have met accidentally."

"So they both declared. Why did you let Panfilo go?"

"We didn't need him here, and he was too good a man to lose, so--" Ed
found his wife's eyes fixed upon him, and dropped his own. "I knew you
were short-handed at La Feria." There was an interval of silence, then
Ed exclaimed, testily, "What are you looking at?"

"I wondered what you'd say."

"Eh? Can't I fire a man without a long-winded explanation?" Something
in Alaire's expression warned him of her suspicion; therefore he took
refuge behind an assumption of anger. "My God! Don't I have a word to
say about my own ranch? Just because I've let you run things to suit
yourself--"

"Wait! We had our understanding." Alaire's voice was low and vibrant.
"It was my payment for living with you, and you know it. You gave me
the reins to Las Palmas so that I'd have something to do, something to
live for and think about, except--your actions. The ranch has doubled
in value, every penny is accounted for, and you have more money to
spend on yourself than ever before. You have no reason to complain."

Austin crushed his napkin into a ball and flung it from him; with a
scowl he shoved himself back from the table.

"It was an idiotic arrangement, just the same. I agreed because I was
sick. Dad thought I was all shot to pieces. But I'm all right now and
able to run my own business."

"Nevertheless, it was a bargain, and it will stand. If your father were
alive he'd make you live up to it."

"Hell! You talk as if I were a child," shouted her husband; and his
plump face was apoplectic with rage. "The title is in my name. How
could he make me do anything?"

"Nobody could force you," his wife said, quietly. "You are still enough
of a man to keep your word, I believe, so long as I observe my part of
our bargain?"

Ed, slightly mollified, agreed. "Of course I am; I never welched. But I
won't be treated as an incompetent, and I'm tired of these eternal
wrangles and jangles."

"You HAVE welched."

"Eh?" Austin frowned belligerently.

"You agreed to go away when you felt your appetite coming on, and you
promised to live clean, at least around home."

"Well?"

"Have you done it?"

"Certainly. I never said I'd cut out the booze entirely."

"What about your carousals at Brownsville?"

Austin subsided sullenly. "Other men have got full in Brownsville."

"No doubt. But you made a scandal. You have been seen with--women, in a
good many places where we are known."

"Bah! There's nothing to it."

Alaire went on in a lifeless tone that covered the seething emotions
within her. "I never inquire into your actions at San Antonio or other
large cities, although of course I have ears and I can't help hearing
about them; but these border towns are home to us, and people know me.
I won't be humiliated more than I am; public pity is--hard enough to
bear. I've about reached the breaking-point."

"Indeed?" Austin leaned forward, his eyes inflamed. His tone was
raised, heedless of possible eavesdroppers. "Then why don't you end it?
Why don't you divorce me? God knows I never see anything of you. You
have your part of the house and I have mine; all we share in common is
meal-hours, and--and a mail address. You're about as much my wife as
Dolores is."

Alaire turned upon him eyes dark with misery. "You know why I don't
divorce you. No, Ed, we're going to live out our agreement, and these
Brownsville episodes are going to cease." Her lips whitened. "So are
your visits to the pumping-station."

"What do you mean by that?"

"You transferred Panfilo because he was growing jealous of you and
Rosa."

Ed burst into sudden laughter. "Good Lord! There's no harm in a little
flirtation. Rosa's a pretty girl."

His wife uttered a breathless, smothered exclamation; her hands, as
they lay on the table-cloth, were tightly clenched. "She's your
tenant--almost your servant. What kind of a man are you? Haven't you
any decency left?"

"Say! Go easy! I guess I'm no different to most men." Austin's
unpleasant laughter had been succeeded by a still more unpleasant
scowl. "I have to do SOMETHING. It's dead enough around here--"

"You must stop going there."

"Humph! I notice YOU go where YOU please. Rosa and I never spent a
night together in the chaparral--"

"Ed!" Alaire's exclamation was like the snap of a whip. She rose and
faced her husband, quivering as if the lash had stung her flesh.

"That went home, eh? Well, I'm no fool! I've seen something of the
world, and I've found that women are about like men. I'd like to have a
look at this David Law, this gunman, this Handsome Harry who waits at
water-holes for ladies in distress." Ed ignored his wife's outflung
hand, and continued, mockingly: "I'll bet he's all that's manly and
splendid, everything that I'm NOT."

"You'd--better stop," gasped the woman. "I can't stand everything."

"So? Well, neither can I."

"After--this, I think you'd better go--to San Antonio. Maybe I'll
forget before you come back."

To this "Young Ed" agreed quickly enough. "Good!" said he. "That suits
me. It's hell around Las Palmas, anyhow, and I'll at least get a little
peace at my club." He glowered after his wife as she left the room.
Then, still scowling, he lurched out to the gallery where the breeze
was blowing, and flung himself into a chair.



V

SOMETHING ABOUT HEREDITY


It had required but one generation to ripen the fruits of "Old Ed"
Austin's lawlessness, and upon his son heredity had played one of her
grimmest pranks. The father had had faults, but they were those of his
virtues; he had been a strong man, at least, and had "ridden herd" upon
his unruly passions with the same thoroughness as over his wild cattle.
The result was that he had been universally respected. At first the son
seemed destined to be like his father. It was not until "Young Ed" had
reached his full manhood that his defects had become recognizable evil
tendencies, that his infirmity had developed into a disease. Like
sleeping cancers, the Austin vices had lain dormant in him during
boyhood; it had required the mutation from youth to manhood, and the
alterative effect of marriage, to rouse them; but, once awakened, their
ravages had been swift and destructive. Ed's marriage to Alaire had
been inevitable. They had been playmates, and their parents had
considered the union a consummation of their own lifelong friendship.
Upon her mother's death, Alaire had been sent abroad, and there she
remained while "Young Ed" attended an Eastern college. For any child
the experience would have been a lonesome one, and through it the
motherless Texas girl had grown into an imaginative, sentimental
person, living in a make-believe world, peopled, for the most part,
with the best-remembered figures of romance and fiction. There were, of
course, some few flesh-and-blood heroes among the rest, and of these
the finest and the noblest had been "Young Ed" Austin.

When she came home to marry, Alaire was still very much of a child, and
she still considered Ed her knight. As for him, he was captivated by
this splendid, handsome girl, whom he remembered only as a shy,
red-headed little comrade.

Never was a marriage more propitious, never were two young people more
happily situated than these two, for they were madly in love, and each
had ample means with which to make the most of life.

As Las Palmas had been the elder Austin's wedding-gift to his son, so
Alaire's dowry from her father had been La Feria, a grant of lands
across the Rio Grande beyond the twenty-league belt by which Mexico
fatuously strives to guard her border. And to Las Palmas had come the
bride and groom to live, to love, and to rear their children.

But rarely has there been a shorter honeymoon, seldom a swifter
awakening. Within six months "Young Ed" had killed his wife's love and
had himself become an alcoholic. Others of his father's vices revived,
and so multiplied that what few virtues the young man had inherited
were soon choked. The change was utterly unforeseen; its cause was
rooted too deeply in the past to be remedied. Maturity had marked an
epoch with "Young Ed"; marriage had been the mile-post where his whole
course veered abruptly.

To the bride the truth had come as a stunning tragedy. She was
desperately frightened, too, and lived a nightmare life, the while she
tried in every way to check the progress of that disintegration which
was eating up her happiness. The wreck of her hopes and glad imaginings
left her sick, bewildered, in the face of "the thing that couldn't."

Nor had the effect of this transformation in "Young Ed" been any less
painful to his father. For a time the old man refused to credit it, but
finally, when the truth was borne in upon him unmistakably, and he saw
that Las Palmas was in a fair way to being ruined through the boy's
mismanagement, the old cattleman had risen in his wrath. The ranch had
been his pride as Ed had been his joy; to see them both go wrong was
more than he could bear. There had been a terrible scene, and a
tongue-lashing delivered in the language of early border days. There
had followed other visits from Austin, senior, other and even bitterer
quarrels; at last, when the girl-wife remained firm in her refusal to
divorce her husband, the understanding had been reached by which the
management of Las Palmas was placed absolutely in her hands.

Of course, the truth became public, as it always does. This was a new
country--only yesterday it had been the frontier, and even yet a
frontier code of personal conduct to some extent prevailed.
Nevertheless, "Young Ed" Austin's life became a scorn and a hissing
among his neighbors. They were not unduly fastidious, these neighbors,
and they knew that hot blood requires more than a generation to cool,
but everything Ed did outraged them. In trying to show their sympathy
for his wife they succeeded in wounding her more deeply, and Alaire
withdrew into herself. She became almost a recluse, and fenced herself
away not only from the curious, but also from those who really wished
to be her friends. In time people remarked that Ed Austin's
metamorphosis was no harder to understand than that of his wife.

It was true. She had changed. The alteration reached to the very bone
and marrow of her being. At first the general pity had wounded her,
then it had offended, and finally angered her. That people should
notice her affliction, particularly when she strove so desperately to
hide it, seemed the height of insolence.

The management of Las Palmas was almost her only relief. Having sprung
from a family of ranchers, the work came easy, and she grew to like
it--as well as she could like anything with that ever-present pain in
her breast. The property was so large that it gave ample excuse for
avoiding the few visitors who came, and the range boss, Benito
Gonzales, attended to most of the buying and selling. Callers gradually
became rarer; friends dropped away almost entirely. Since Las Palmas
employed no white help whatever, it became in time more Mexican than in
the days of "Old Ed" Austin's ownership.

In such wise had Alaire fashioned her life, living meanwhile under a
sort of truce with her husband.

But Las Palmas had prospered to admiration, and La Feria would have
prospered equally had it not been for the armed unrest of the country
across the border. No finer stock than the "Box A" was to be found
anywhere. The old lean, long-horned cattle had been interbred with
white-faced Herefords, and the sleek coats of their progeny were
stretched over twice the former weight of beef. Alaire had even
experimented with the Brahman strain, importing some huge, hump-backed
bulls that set the neighborhood agog. People proclaimed they were
sacred oxen and whispered that they were intended for some outlandish
pagan rite--Alaire by this time had gained the reputation of being
"queer"--while experienced stockmen declared the venture a woman's
folly, affirming that buffaloes had never been crossed successfully
with domestic cattle. It was rumored that one of these imported animals
cost more than a whole herd of Mexican stock, and the ranchers
speculated freely as to what "Old Ed" Austin would have said of such
extravagance.

It was Blaze Jones, one of the few county residents granted access to
Las Palmas, who first acquainted himself with the outcome of Alaire's
experiment, and it was he who brought news of it to some visiting
stock-buyers at Brownsville.

Blaze was addicted to rhetorical extravagance. His voice was loud; his
fancy ran a splendid course.

"Gentlemen," said he, "you-all interest me with your talk about your
prize Northern stock; but I claim that the bigger the state the bigger
the cattle it raises. That's why old Texas beats the world."

"But it doesn't," some one contradicted.

"It don't, hey? My boy"--Blaze jabbed a rigid finger into the speaker's
ribs, as if he expected a ground-squirrel to scuttle forth--"we've got
steers in this valley that are damn near the size of the whole state of
Rhode Island. If they keep on growin' I doubt if you could fatten one
of 'em in Delaware without he'd bulge over into some neighboring
commonwealth. It's the God's truth! I was up at Las Palmas last month--"

"Las Palmas!" The name was enough to challenge the buyers' interest.

Blaze nodded. "You-all think you know the stock business. You're all
swollen up with cow-knowledge, now, ain't you?" He eyed them from
beneath his black eyebrows. "Well, some of our people thought they did,
too. They figured they'd inherited all there was to know about live
stock, and they grew plumb arrogant over their wisdom. But--pshaw! They
didn't know nothing. Miz Austin has bred in that Brayma strain and made
steers so big they run four to the dozen. And here's the remarkable
thing about 'em--they 'ain't got as many ticks as you gentlemen."

Some of the cattlemen were incredulous, but Blaze maintained his point
with emphasis. "It's true. They're a grave disappointment to every kind
of parasite."

But Alaire had not confined her efforts to cattle; she had improved the
breed of "Box A" horses, too, and hand in hand with this work she had
carried on a series of agricultural experiments.

Las Palmas, so people used to say, lay too far up the river to be good
farming-land; nevertheless, once the pumping-plant was in, certain
parts of the ranch raised nine crops of alfalfa, and corn that stood
above a rider's head.

There was no money in "finished" stock; the border was too far from
market--that also had long been an accepted truism--yet this woman
built silos which she filled with her own excess fodder in scientific
proportions, and somehow or other she managed to ship fat beeves direct
to the packing-houses and get big prices for them.

These were but a few of her many ventures. She had her hobbies, of
course, but, oddly enough, most of them paid or promised to do so. For
instance, she had started a grove of paper-shelled pecans, which was
soon due to bear; the ranch house and its clump of palms was all but
hidden by a forest of strange trees, which were reported to ripen
everything from moth-balls to bicycle tires. Blaze Jones was perhaps
responsible for this report, for Alaire had shown him several thousand
eucalyptus saplings and some ornamental rubber-plants.

"That Miz Austin is a money-makin' piece of furniture," he once told
his daughter Paloma. "I'm no mechanical adder--I count mostly on my
fingers--but her and me calculated the profits on them
eucher--what's-their-name trees?--and it gave me a splittin' headache.
She'll be a drug queen, sure."

"Why don't you follow her example?" asked Paloma. "We have plenty of
land."

Blaze, in truth, was embarrassed by the size of his holdings, but he
shook his head. "No, I'm too old to go rampagin' after new gods. I
'ain't got the imagination to raise anything more complicated than a
mortgage; but if I was younger, I'd organize myself up and do away with
that Ed Austin. I'd sure help him to an untimely end, and then I'd
marry them pecan-groves, and blooded herds, and drug-store orchards.
She certainly is a heart-breakin' device, with her red hair and red
lips and--"

"FATHER!" Paloma was deeply shocked.

Complete isolation, of course, Alaire had found to be impossible, even
though her ranch lay far from the traveled roads and her Mexican guards
were not encouraging to visitors. Business inevitably brought her into
contact with a considerable number of people, and of these the one she
saw most frequently was Judge Ellsworth of Brownsville, her attorney.

It was perhaps a week after Ed had left for San Antonio that Alaire
felt the need of Ellsworth's counsel, and sent for him. He responded
promptly, as always. Ellsworth was a kindly man of fifty-five, with a
forceful chin and a drooping, heavy-lidded eye that could either blaze
or twinkle. He was fond of Alaire, and his sympathy, like his
understanding, was of that wordless yet comprehensive kind which is
most satisfying. Judge Ellsworth knew more than any four men in that
part of Texas; information had a way of seeking him out, and his head
was stored to repletion with facts of every variety. He was a good
lawyer, too, and yet his knowledge of the law comprised but a small
part of that mental wealth upon which he prided himself. He knew human
nature, and that he considered far more important than law. His mind
was like a full granary, and every grain lay where he could put his
hand upon it.

He motored out from Brownsville, and, after ridding himself of dust,
insisted upon spending the interval before dinner in an inspection of
Alaire's latest ranch improvements. He had a fatherly way of walking
with his arm about Alaire's shoulders, and although she sometimes
suspected that his warmth of good-fellowship was merely a habit
cultivated through political necessities, nevertheless it was
comforting, and she took it at its face value.

Not until the dinner was over did Ellsworth inquire the reason for his
summons.

"It's about La Feria. General Longorio has confiscated my stock,"
Alaire told him.

Ellsworth started. "Longorio! That's bad."

"Yes. One of my riders just brought the news. I was afraid of this very
thing, and so I was preparing to bring the stock over. Still--I never
thought they'd actually confiscate it."

"Why shouldn't they?"

Alaire interrogated the speaker silently.

"Hasn't Ed done enough to provoke confiscation?" asked the Judge.

"Ed?"

"Exactly! Ed has made a fool of himself, and brought this on."

"You think so?"

"Well, I have it pretty straight that he's giving money to the Rebel
junta and lending every assistance he can to their cause."

"I didn't know he'd actually done anything. How mad!"

"Yes--for a man with interests in Federal territory. But Ed always does
the wrong thing, you know."

"Then I presume this confiscation is in the nature of a reprisal. But
the stock is mine, not Ed's. I'm an American citizen, and--"

"My dear, you're the first one I've heard boast of the fact," cynically
affirmed the Judge. "If you were in Mexico you'd profit more by
claiming allegiance to the German or the English or some other foreign
flag. The American eagle isn't screaming very loudly on the other side
of the Rio Grande just now, and our dusky neighbors have learned that
it's perfectly safe to pull his tail feathers."

"I'm surprised at you," Alaire smiled. "Just the same, I want your help
in taking up the matter with Washington."

Ellsworth was pessimistic. "It won't do any good, my dear," he said.
"You'll get your name in the papers, and perhaps cause another
diplomatically worded protest, but there the matter will end. You won't
be paid for your cattle."

"Then I shall go to La Feria."

"No!" The Judge shook his head decidedly.

"I've been there a hundred times. The Federals have always been more
than courteous."

"Longorio has a bad reputation. I strongly advise against your going."

"Why, Judge, people are going and coming all the time! Mexico is
perfectly safe, and I know the country as well as I know Las Palmas."

"You'd better send some man."

"Whom can I send?" asked Alaire. "You know my situation."

The Judge considered a moment before replying. "I can't go, for I'm
busy in court. You could probably accomplish more than anybody else, if
Longorio will listen to reason, and, after all, you are a person of
such importance that I dare say you'd be safe. But it will be a hard
trip, and you won't know whether you are in Rebel or in Federal
territory."

"Well, people here are asking whether Texas is in the United States or
Mexico," Alaire said, lightly, "Sometimes I hardly know." After a
moment she continued: "Since you know everything and everybody, I
wonder if you ever met a David Law?"

Ellsworth nodded. "Tell me something about him."

"He asked me the same thing about you. Well, I haven't seen much of
Dave since he grew up, he's such a roamer."

"He said his parents were murdered by the Guadalupes."

The Judge looked up quickly; a queer, startled expression flitted over
his face. "Dave said that? He said both of them were killed?"

"Yes. Isn't it true?"

"Oh, Dave wouldn't lie. It happened a good many years ago, and
certainly they both met a violent end. I was instrumental in saving
what property Frank Law left, but it didn't last Dave very long. He's
right careless in money matters. Dave's a fine fellow in some
ways--most ways, I believe, but--" The Judge lost himself in frowning
meditation.

"I have never known you to damn a friend or a client with such faint
praise," said Alaire.

"Oh, I don't mean it that way. I'm almost like one of Dave's kin, and
I've been keenly interested in watching his traits develop. I'm
interested in heredity. I've watched it in Ed's case, for instance. If
you know the parents it's easy to read their children." Again he lapsed
into silence, nodding to himself. "Yes, Nature mixes her prescriptions
like any druggist. I'm glad you and Ed--have no babies."

Alaire murmured something unintelligible.

"And yet," the lawyer continued, "many people are cursed with an
inheritance as bad, or worse, than Ed's."

"What has that to do with Mr. Law?"

"Dave? Oh, nothing in particular. I was just--moralizing. It's a
privilege of age, my dear."



VI

A JOURNEY, AND A DARK MAN


Alaire's preparations for the journey to La Feria were made with little
delay. Owing to the condition of affairs across the border, Ellsworth
had thought it well to provide her with letters from the most
influential Mexicans in the neighborhood; what is more, in order to
pave her way toward a settlement of her claim he succeeded in getting a
telegram through to Mexico City--no mean achievement, with most of the
wires in Rebel hands and the remainder burdened with military business.
But Ellsworth's influence was not bounded by the Rio Grande.

It was his advice that Alaire present her side of the case to the local
military authorities before making formal representation to Washington,
though in neither case was he sanguine of the outcome.

The United States, indeed, had abetted the Rebel cause from the start.
Its embargo on arms had been little more than a pretense of neutrality,
which had fooled the Federals not at all, and it was an open secret
that financial assistance to the uprising was rendered from some
mysterious Northern source. The very presence of American troops along
the border was construed by Mexicans as a threat against President
Potosi, and an encouragement to revolt, while the talk of intervention,
invasion, and war had intensified the natural antagonism existing
between the two peoples. So it was that Ellsworth, while he did his
best to see to it that his client should make the journey in safety and
receive courteous treatment, doubted the wisdom of the undertaking and
hoped for no practical result.

Alaire took Dolores with her, and for male escort she selected, after
some deliberation, José Sanchez, her horse-breaker. José was not an
ideal choice, but since Benito could not well be spared, no better man
was available. Sanchez had some force and initiative, at least, and
Alaire had no reason to doubt his loyalty.

The party went to Pueblo by motor--an unpleasant trip, for the road
followed the river and ran through a lonesome country, unpeopled save
for an occasional goat-herd and his family, or a glaring-hot village of
some half-dozen cubical houses crouching on the river-bank as if
crowded over from Mexican soil. This road remained much as the first
ox-carts had laid it out; the hills were gashed by arroyos, some of
which were difficult to negotiate, and in consequence the journey was,
from an automobilist's point of view, decidedly slow. The first night
the travelers were forced to spend at a mud jacal, encircled, like some
African jungle dwelling, by a thick brush barricade.

José Sanchez was in his element here. He posed, he strutted, he
bragged, he strove to impress his countrymen by every device. José was,
indeed, rather a handsome fellow, with a bold insolence of bearing that
marked him as superior to the common pelador, and, having dressed
himself elaborately for this journey, he made the most of his
opportunities for showing off. Nothing would do him but a baile, and a
baile he had. Once the arrangements were made, other Mexicans appeared
mysteriously until there were nearly a score, and until late into the
night they danced upon the hard-packed earth of the yard. Alaire fell
asleep to the sounds of feet scuffling and scraping in time to a wheezy
violin.

Arriving at Pueblo on the following day, Alaire secured her passports
from the Federal headquarters across the Rio Grande, while José
attended to the railroad tickets. On the second morning after leaving
home the party was borne southward into Mexico.

Although train schedules were uncertain, the railroad journey itself
was similar to many Alaire had taken, except for occasional evidences
of the war. The revolution had ravaged most of northern Mexico; long
rows of rusting trucks and twisted car skeletons beside the track
showed how the railway's rolling-stock had suffered in this particular
vicinity; and as the train penetrated farther south temporary trestles
and the charred ruins of station-houses spoke even more eloquently of
the struggle. Now and then a steel water-tank, pierced with loop-holes
and ripped by cannon balls, showed where some detachment had made a
stand. There was a military guard on the train, too--a dozen unkempt
soldiers loaded down with rifles and bandoliers of cartridges, and
several officers, neatly dressed in khaki, who rode in the first-class
coach and occupied themselves by making eyes at the women.

At its frequent stops the train was besieged by the customary crowd of
curious peons; the same noisy hucksters dealt out enchiladas,
tortillas, goat cheeses, and coffee from the same dirty baskets and
pails; even their outstretched hands seemed to bear the familiar grime
of ante-bellum days. The coaches were crowded; women fanned themselves
unceasingly; their men snored, open-mouthed, over the backs of the
seats, and the aisles were full of squalling, squabbling children.

As for the country itself, it was dying. The ranches were stripped of
stock, no carts creaked along the highways, and the roads, like the
little farms, were growing up to weeds. Stores were empty, the people
were idle. Over all was an atmosphere of decay, and, what was far more
significant, the people seemed content.

All morning the monotonous journey continued--a trial to Alaire and
Dolores, but to José Sanchez a red-letter experience. He covered the
train from end to end, making himself acquainted with every one and
bringing to Alaire the gossip that he picked up.

It was not until midday that the first interruption occurred; then the
train pulled in upon a siding, and after an interminable delay it
transpired that a north-bound troop-train was expected.

José brought this intelligence: "Soon you will behold the flower of the
Mexican army," he told Alaire. "You will see thousands of Longorio's
veterans, every man of them a very devil for blood. They are returning
to Nuevo Pueblo after destroying a band of those rebels. They had a
great victory at San Pedro--thirty kilometers from La Feria. Not a
prisoner was spared, señora."

"Is General Longorio with them?" Alaire inquired, quickly.

"That is what I came to tell you. It is believed that he is, for he
takes his army with him wherever he goes. He is a great fighter; he has
a nose for it, that man, and he strikes like the lightning--here,
there, anywhere." José, it seemed, was a rabid Potosista.

But Dolores held opposite sympathies. She uttered a disdainful sniff.
"To be sure he takes his army with him, otherwise the
Constitutionalistas would kill him. Wait until Pancho Gomez meets this
army of Longorio's. Ha! You will see some fighting."

José blew two fierce columns of cigarette smoke from his nostrils.
"Longorio is a gentleman; he scorns to use the tricks of that bandit.
Pancho Gomez fights like a savage. Think of the cowardly manner in
which he captured Espinal the last time. What did he do then? I'll tell
you. He laid in wait and allowed a train-load of our troops to pass
through his lines toward Chihuahua; then he took possession of the
telegraph wires and pretended to be the Federal commander. He sent a
lying message back to Espinal that the railway tracks were torn up and
he could not reach Chihuahua, and so, of course, he was ordered to
return. That was bad enough, but he loaded his bandits upon other
trains--he locked them into freight-cars like cattle so that not a head
could be seen--and the devil himself would never have guessed what was
in those cars. Of course he succeeded. No one suspected the truth until
his infamous army was in Espinal. Then it was too late. The carnage was
terrible. But do you call that a nice action? It was nothing but the
lowest deceit. It was enough to make our soldiers furious."

Dolores giggled. "They say he went to his officers and told them:
'Compadres, we are now going into Espinal. I will meet you at the
Plaza, and I will shoot the last man who arrives there.' Dios! There
ensued a foot-race."

"It is well for him to train his men how to run fast," said José,
frowning sternly, "for some day they will meet Luis Longorio, and
then--you will see some of the swiftest running in all the world."

"Yes! Truly!" Dolores was trembling with excitement, her voice was
shrill. "God will need to lend them speed to catch this army of
Longorio's. Otherwise no human legs could accomplish it."

"Bah! Who can argue with a woman?" sneered José.

Alaire, who had listened smilingly, now intervened to avert a serious
quarrel.

"When the train arrives," she told her horse-breaker, "I want you to
find General Longorio and ask him to come here."

"But, señora!" José was dumfounded, shocked. "He is a great general--"

"Give him this note." Quickly writing a few lines on a page from her
note-book, she gave him the scrap of paper, which he carefully placed
in his hat; then, shaking his head doubtfully, he left the car.

Flushed with triumph, Dolores took the first occasion to enlarge upon
her theme.

"You will see what a monster this Longorio is," she declared. "It was
like him to steal your beautiful cattle; he would steal a crucifix.
Once there was a fine ranch owned by a man who had two lovely
daughters--girls of great respectability and refinement. But the man
was a Candelerista. Longorio killed him--he and his men killed
everybody on the hacienda except the daughters, and those he captured.
He took them with him, and for no good purpose, either, as you can
imagine. Naturally the poor creatures were nearly dead with fright, but
as they rode along the elder one began talking with Longorio's
soldiers. She made friends with them. She pretended to care nothing
about her fate; she behaved like a lost person, and the soldiers
laughed. They liked her spirit, God pity them! Finally she declared she
was a famous shot with a pistol, and she continued to boast until one
of her guards gave her his weapon with which to show her skill. Then
what? Before they could hinder her she turned in her saddle and shot
her younger sister through the brain. Herself she destroyed with a
bullet in her breast. Every word is the sacred truth, señora.
Longorio's soul is stained with the blood of those two innocents."

"I've heard many stories like that, from both sides," Alaire said,
gravely.

In the course of time the military train came creaking along on the
main track and stopped, to the great interest of the southbound
travelers. It was made up of many stock cars crowded with cavalry
horses. Each animal bore its equipment of saddle and bridle, and penned
in with them were the women and the children. The soldiers themselves
were clustered thickly upon the car roofs. Far down at the rear of the
train was a rickety passenger-coach, and toward this José Sanchez made
his way.

There began a noisy interchange of greetings between the occupants of
the two trains, and meanwhile the hot sun glared balefully upon the
huddled figures on the car tops. A half-hour passed, then occurred a
commotion at the forward end of Alaire's coach.

A group of officers climbed aboard, and among them was one who could be
none other than Luis Longorio. As he came down the passageway Alaire
identified him without the aid of his insignia, for he stood head and
shoulders above his companions and bore himself with an air of
authority. He was unusually tall, at least six feet three, and very
slim, very lithe; he was alert, keen; he was like the blade of a
rapier. The leanness of his legs was accentuated by his stiff, starched
riding-breeches and close-fitting pigskin puttees, while his face,
apart from all else, would have challenged prompt attention.

Longorio was a young man; his cheeks were girlishly smooth and of a
clear, pale, olive tint, which sun and weather apparently were
powerless to darken; his eyes were large, bold, and brilliant; his
nostrils thin and sensitive, like those of a blooded horse. He seemed
almost immature until he spoke, then one realized with a curious shock
that he was a man indeed, and a man, moreover, with all the ardor and
passion of a woman. Such was Alaire's first hasty impression of Luis
Longorio, the Tarleton of Potosi's army.

Disdain, hauteur, impatience, were stamped upon the general's
countenance as he pushed briskly through the crowd, turning his head
from side to side in search of the woman who had summoned him.

Not until she rose did he discover Alaire; then he halted; his eyes
fixed themselves upon her with a stare of startled amazement.

Alaire felt herself color faintly, for the man seemed to be scanning
her from head to foot, taking in every detail of her face and form, and
as he did so his expression remained unaltered. For what seemed a full
minute Longorio stood rooted; then the stiff-vizored cap was swept from
his head; he bowed with the grace of a courtier until Alaire saw the
part in his oily black hair.

"Señora! A thousand apologies for my delay," he said. "Caramba! I did
not dream--I did not understand your message." He continued to regard
her with that same queer intensity.

"You are General Longorio?" Alaire was surprised to note that her voice
quavered uncertainly, and annoyed to feel her face still flushing.

"Your obedient servant."

With a gesture Mrs. Austin directed Dolores to vacate her seat, and
invited the General to take it. But Longorio checked the maid's
movement; then with a brusque command he routed out the occupants of
the seat ahead, and, reversing the back, took a position facing Alaire.
Another order, and the men who had accompanied him withdrew up the
aisle. His luminous eyes returned once more to the woman, and there was
no mistaking his admiration. He seemed enchanted by her pale beauty,
her rich, red hair held him fascinated, and with Latin boldness he made
his feelings crassly manifest.



VII

LUIS LONGORIO


"You probably know why I wished to see you," Alaire began.

Longorio shook his head in vague denial.

"It is regarding my ranch, La Feria." Seeing that the name conveyed
nothing, she explained, "I am told that your army confiscated my
cattle."

"Ah yes! Now I understand." The Mexican nodded mechanically, but it was
plain that he was not heeding her words in the least. All his mental
powers appeared to be concentrated in that disconcerting stare which he
still bent upon her. "We confiscate everything--it is a necessity of
war," he murmured.

"But this is different. The ranch is mine, and I am an American."

There was a pause. The General made a visible effort to gather his
wits. It was now quite patent that the sight of Alaire, the sound of
her voice, her first glance, had stricken him with an odd
semi-paralysis. As if to shut out a vision or to escape some dazzling
sight, he dosed his eyes. Alaire wondered if the fellow had been
drinking. She turned to Dolores to find that good woman wearing an
expression of stupefaction. It was very queer; it made Alaire extremely
ill at ease.

Longorio opened his eyes and smiled. "It seems that I have seen you
before--as if we were old friends--or as if I had come face to face
with myself," said he. "I am affected strangely. It is unaccountable. I
know you well--completely--everything about you is familiar to me, and
yet we meet for the first time, eh? How do you explain that, unless a
miracle--"

"It is merely your imagination."

"Such beauty--here among these common people! I was unprepared."
Longorio passed a brown hand across his brow to brush away those
perverse fancies that so interfered with his thoughts.

In moments of stress the attention often centers upon trivial things
and the mind photographs unimportant objects. Alaire noticed now that
one of Longorio's fingers was decorated with a magnificent
diamond-and-ruby ring, and this interested her queerly. No ordinary man
could fittingly have worn such an ornament, yet on the hand of this
splendid barbarian it seemed not at all out of keeping.

"Dios! Let me take hold of myself, for my wits are in mutiny," Longorio
continued. Then he added, more quietly: "I need not assure you, señora,
that you have only to command me. Your ranch has been destroyed; your
cattle stolen, eh?"

"Yes. At least--"

"We will shoot the perpetrators of this outrage at once. Bueno! Come
with me and you shall see it with your own eyes."

"No, no! You don't understand."

"So? What then?"

"I don't want to see any one punished. I merely want your government to
pay me for my cattle." Alaire laughed nervously.

"Ah! But a lady of refinement should not discuss such a miserable
business. It is a matter for men. Bother your pretty head no more about
it, and leave me to punish the guilty in my own way."

She endeavored to speak in a brisk, business-like tone. "La Feria
belongs to me, personally, and I have managed it for several years,
just as I manage Las Palmas, across the river. I am a woman of affairs,
General Longorio, and you must talk to me as you would talk to a man.
When I heard about this raid I came to look into it--to see you, or
whoever is in charge of this district, and to make a claim for damages.
Also, I intend to see that nothing similar occurs again. I have delayed
making representations to my own government in the hope that I could
arrange a satisfactory settlement, and so avoid serious complications.
Now you understand why I am here and why I wished to see you."

"Valgame Dios! This is amazing. I become more bewildered momentarily."

"There is nothing extraordinary about it, that I can see."

"You think not? You consider such a woman as yourself ordinary? The men
of my country enshrine beauty and worship it. They place it apart as a
precious gift from God which nothing shall defile. They do not discuss
such things with their women. Now this sordid affair is something for
your husband--"

"Mr. Austin's business occupies his time; this is my own concern. I am
not the only practical woman in Texas."

Longorio appeared to be laboriously digesting this statement. "So!" he
said at last. "When you heard of this--you came, eh? You came alone
into Mexico, where we are fighting and killing each other? Well! That
is spirit. You are wonderful, superb!" He smiled, showing the whitest
and evenest teeth.

Such extravagant homage was embarrassing, yet no woman could be wholly
displeased by admiration so spontaneous and intense as that which
Longorio manifested in every look and word. It was plain to Alaire that
something about her had completely bowled him over; perhaps it was her
strange red hair and her white foreign face, or perhaps something
deeper, something behind all that. Sex phenomena are strange and varied
in their workings. Who can explain the instant attraction or repulsion
of certain types we meet? Why does the turn of a head, a smile, a
glance, move us to the depths? Why does the touch of one stranger's
hand thrill us, while another's leaves us quite impassive? Whence
springs that personal magnetism which has the power to set the very
atoms of our being into new vibrations, like a highly charged electric
current?

Alaire knew the susceptibility of Mexican men, and was immune to
ordinary flattery; yet there was something exciting about this martial
hero's complete captivation. To have charmed him to the point of
bewilderment was a unique triumph, and under his hungry eyes she felt
an adventurous thrill.

It is true that Luis Longorio was utterly alien, and in that sense
almost repellent to Alaire; moreover, she suspected him of being a
monster so depraved that no decent woman could bring herself to accept
his attentions. Nevertheless, in justice to the fellow, she had to
acknowledge that externally, at least, he was immensely superior to the
Mexicans she had met. Then, too, his aristocracy was unmistakable, and
Alaire prided herself that she could recognize good blood in men as
quickly as in horses. The fellow had been favored by birth, by
breeding, and by education; and although military service in Mexico was
little more than a form of banditry, nevertheless Longorio had
developed a certain genius for leadership, nor was there any doubt as
to his spectacular courage. In some ways he was a second Cid--another
figure out of Castilian romance.

While he and Alaire were talking the passengers had returned to their
seats; they were shouting good-byes to the soldiers opposite; the
engine-bell was clanging loudly; and now the conductor approached to
warn Longorio that the train was about to leave. But the railway
official had learned a wholesome respect for uniforms, and therefore he
hung back until, urged by necessity, he pushed forward and informed the
general of his train orders.

Longorio favored him with a slow stare. "You may go when I leave," said
he.

"Si, señor. But--"

The general uttered a sharp exclamation of anger, at which the
conductor backed away, expressing by voice and gesture his most hearty
approval of the change of plan.

"We mustn't hold the train," Alaire said, quickly. "I will arrange to
see you in Nuevo Pueblo when I return."

Longorio smiled brilliantly and lifted a brown hand. "No, no! I am a
selfish man; I refuse to deprive myself of this pleasure. The end must
come all too soon, and as for these peladors, an hour more or less will
make no difference. Now about these cattle. Mexico does not make war
upon women, and I am desolated that the actions of my men have caused
annoyance to the most charming lady in the world."

"Ah! You are polite." Knowing that in this man's help alone lay her
chance of adjusting her loss, Alaire deliberately smiled upon him. "Can
I count upon your help in obtaining my rights?" she asked.

"Assuredly."

"But how? Where?"

Longorio thought for a moment, and his tone altered as he said:
"Señora, there seems to be an unhappy complication in our way, and this
we must remove. First, may I ask, are you a friend to our cause?"

"I am an American, and therefore I am neutral."

"Ah! But Americans are not neutral. There is the whole difficulty. This
miserable revolt was fostered by your government; American money
supports it; and your men bear arms against us. Your tyrant President
is our enemy; his hands itch for Mexico--"

"I can't argue politics with you," Alaire interrupted, positively. "I
believe most Americans agree that you have cause for complaint, but
what has that to do with my ranch and my cattle? This is something that
concerns no one except you and me."

Longorio was plainly flattered by her words, and took no trouble to
hide his pleasure. "Ah! If that were only true! We would arrange
everything to your satisfaction without another word." His admiring
gaze seemed to envelop her, and its warmth was unmistakable. "No one
could have the cruelty to deny your slightest wish--I least of all."

"Why did you take my cattle?" she demanded, stubbornly.

"I was coming to that. It is what I meant when I said there was a
complication. Your husband, señora, is an active Candelerista."

For a moment Alaire was at a loss; then she replied with some spirit:
"We are two people, he and I. La Feria belongs to me."

"Nevertheless, his conduct is regrettable," Longorio went on. "Probably
evil men have lied to him--San Antonio is full of rebels conspiring to
give our country into the hands of outlaws. What a terrible spectacle
it is! Enough to bring tears to the eyes of any patriot!" He turned his
melancholy gaze from Alaire to her companion, and for the first time
Dolores stirred.

She had watched her countryman with a peculiar fascination, and she had
listened breathlessly to his words. Now she inhaled deeply, as if freed
from a spell; then she said:

"Pah! Nobody pays heed to Señor Ed. We do not consider him."

Dolores lacked diplomacy; her bluntness was often trying. Alaire turned
upon her with a sharp exclamation, conscious meanwhile that the woman's
tone, even more than her words, had enlightened Longorio to some
extent. His lifted brows were eloquent of surprise and curiosity, but
he held his tongue.

"Am I to understand, then, that you rob me because of my husband's
action?" Alaire asked.

"No. But we must combat our enemies with the weapons we have--not only
those who bear arms with Candeleria, but those who shelter themselves
beyond the Rio Grande."

Alaire's face fell. "I had hoped that you would understand and help me,
but I shall go to Mexico City and demand my rights, if necessary."

"Wait! I SHALL help." Longorio beamed enthusiastically. "It shall be
the object of my life to serve you, and you and I shall arrange this
matter satisfactorily. I have influence, believe me. A word from Luis
Longorio will go further with my chief than a protest from your
President. General Potosi is a man of the highest honor, and I am his
right hand. Very well, then! Duty calls me to Nuevo Pueblo, and you
shall return with me as the guest of my government. Dios! It is a
miserable train, but you shall occupy the coach and travel as befits a
queen of beauty--like a royal princess with her guard of honor." He
rose to his feet, but his eagerness soon gave place to disappointment.

"Thank you," said Alaire, "but I must first go to La Feria and get all
the facts."

"Señora! It is a wretched journey. See!" He waved a contemptuous
gesture at the car, crowded to congestion. "There is no food; you have
no one to wait upon you. In my company you will be safe. Upon my honor
you will enjoy the highest courtesy--"

"Of course. But I must go on. I have Dolores and José to look after
me." Alaire indicated Sanchez, who had edged his way close and now
stood with admiring eyes fixed upon his hero.

"Yes, 'mi General," José exclaimed, eagerly, "I am here."

Longorio scrutinized the horse-breaker critically. "Your name is--?"

"José Sanchez."

"You look like a brave fellow."

José swelled at this praise, and no doubt would have made suitable
answer, but his employer held out her hand, and General Longorio bent
over it, raising it to his lips.

"Señora, one favor you can grant me. No! It is a right I shall claim."
He called one of his subordinates closer and ordered that a lieutenant
and six soldiers be detached to act as an escort to Mrs. Austin's
party. "It is nothing," he assured her. "It is the least I can do. Have
no uneasiness, for these men are the bravest of my command, and they
shall answer with their lives for your safety. As for that
teniente--ah, he is favored above his general!" Longorio rolled his
eyes. "Think of it! I could be faithless to duty--a traitor to my
country--for the privilege he is to enjoy. It is the sacred truth!
Señora, the hours will drag until I may see you again and be of further
service. Meanwhile I shall be tortured with radiant dreams. Go with
God!" For a second time he bowed and kissed the hand he held, then,
taking José Sanchez intimately by the arm, he turned to the door.

Dolores collapsed into her seat with an exclamation. "Caramba! The man
is a demon! And such eyes. Uf! They say he was so furious at losing
those two sisters I told you about that he killed the soldier with the
very weapon--"

Dolores was interrupted by Longorio's voice beneath the open window.
The general stood, cap in hand, holding up to Alaire a solitary wild
flower which he had plucked beside the track.

"See!" he cried. "It is the color of your adorable eyes--blue like a
sapphire gem. I saw it peeping at me, and it was lonely. But now,
behold how it smiles--like a star that sees Paradise, eh? And I, too,
have seen Paradise." He placed the delicate bloom in Alaire's fingers
and was gone.

"Cuidado!" breathed Dolores. "There is blood on it; the blood of
innocents. He will burn for a million years in hell, that man."

Longorio made good his promise; soon a grizzled old teniente, with six
soldiers, was transferred as a bodyguard to the American lady, and
then, after some further delay, the military train departed. Upon the
rear platform stood a tall, slim, khaki-clad figure, and until the car
had dwindled away down the track, foreshortening to a mere rectangular
dot, Luis Longorio remained motionless, staring with eager eyes through
the capering dust and the billowing heat waves.

José Sanchez came plowing into Alaire's car, tremendously excited.
"Look, señora!" he cried. "Look what the general gave me," and he
proudly displayed Longorio's service revolver. Around José's waist was
the cartridge-belt and holster that went with the weapon. "With his own
hands he buckled it about me, and he said, 'José, something tells me
you are a devil for bravery. Guard your mistress with your life, for if
any mishap befalls her I shall cut out your heart with my own hands.'
Those were his very words, señora. Caramba! There is a man to die for."

Nor was this the last of Longorio's dramatic surprises. Shortly after
the train had got under way the lieutenant in command of Alaire's guard
brought her a small package, saying:

"The general commanded me to hand you this, with his deepest regard."

Alaire accepted the object curiously. It was small and heavy and
wrapped in several leaves torn from a notebook, and it proved to be
nothing less than the splendid diamond-and-ruby ring she had admired.

"God protect us, now!" murmured Dolores, crossing herself devoutly.



VIII

BLAZE JONES'S NEMESIS


Blaze Jones rode up to his front gate and dismounted in the shade of
the big ebony-tree. He stepped back and ran an approving eye over
another animal tethered there. It was a thoroughbred bay mare he had
never seen, and as he scanned her good points he reflected that the
time had come when he would have to accustom himself to the sight of
strange horses along his fence and strange automobiles beside the road,
for Paloma was a woman now, and the young men of the neighborhood had
made the discovery. Yes, and Paloma was a pretty woman; therefore the
hole under the ebony-tree would probably be worn deep by impatient
hoofs. He was glad that most of the boys preferred saddles to soft
upholstery, for it argued that some vigor still remained in Texas
manhood, and that the country had not been entirely ruined by motors,
picture-shows, low shoes, and high collars. Of course the youths of
this day were nothing like the youths of his own, and yet--Blaze let
his gaze linger fondly on the high-bred mare and her equipment--here at
least was a person who knew a good horse, a good saddle, and a good gun.

As he came up the walk he heard Paloma laugh, and his own face
lightened, for Paloma's merriment was contagious. Then as he mounted
the steps and turned the corner of the "gallery" he uttered a hearty
greeting.

"Dave Law! Where in the world did you drop from?"

Law uncoiled himself and took the ranchman's hand. "Hello, Blaze! I
been ordered down here to keep you straight."

"Pshaw! Now who's giving you orders, Dave?"

"Why, I'm with the Rangers."

"Never knew a word of it. Last I heard you was filibustering around
with the Maderistas."

Blaze seated himself with a grateful sigh where the breeze played over
him. He was a big, bearlike, swarthy man with the square-hewn,
deep-lined face of a tragedian, and a head of long, curly hair which he
wore parted in a line over his left ear. Jones was a character, a local
landmark. This part of Texas had grown up with Blaze, and, inasmuch as
he had sprung from a free race of pioneers, he possessed a splendid
indifference to the artificial fads of dress and manners. It was only
since Paloma had attained her womanhood that he had been forced to
fight down his deep-seated distrust of neckwear and store clothes and
the like; but now that his daughter had definitely asserted her rights,
he had acquired numerous unwelcome graces, and no longer ventured among
strangers without the stamp of her approval upon his appearance. Only
at home did he maintain what he considered a manly independence of
speech and habit. To-day, therefore, found him in a favorite suit of
baggy, wrinkled linen and with a week's stubble of beard upon his chin.
He was so plainly an outdoor man that the air of erudition lent him by
the pair of gold-rimmed spectacles owlishly perched upon his sunburned
nose was strangely incongruous.

"So you're a Ranger, and got notches on your gun." Blaze rolled and lit
a tiny cigarette, scarcely larger than a wheat straw. "Well, you'd
ought to make a right able thief-catcher, Dave, only for your
size--you're too long for a man and you ain't long enough for a snake.
Still, I reckon a thief would have trouble getting out of your reach,
and once you got close to him--How many men have you killed?"

"Counting Mexicans?" Law inquired, with a smile.

"Hell! Nobody counts them."

"Not many."

"That's good." Blaze nodded and relit his cigarette, which he had
permitted promptly to smolder out. "The Force ain't what it was. Most
of the boys nowadays join so they can ride a horse cross-lots, pack a
pair of guns, and give rein to the predilections of a vicious ancestry.
They're bad rams, most of 'em."

"There aren't many," said Paloma. "Dave tells me the whole Force has
been cut down to sixteen."

"That's plenty," her father averred. "It's like when Cap'n Bill
McDonald was sent to stop a riot in Dallas. He came to town alone, and
when the citizens asked him where his men was, he said, 'Hell! 'Ain't I
enough? There's only one riot.' Are you workin' up a case, Dave?"

"Um-m--yes! People are missing a lot of stock hereabouts."

"It's these blamed refugees from the war! A Mexican has to steal
something or he gets run down and pore. If it ain't stock, it's
something else. Why, one morning I rode into Jonesville in time to see
four Greasers walkin' down the main street with feed-sacks over their
shoulders. Each one of those gunnie's had something long and flat and
heavy in it, and I growed curious. When I investigated, what d'you
suppose I found? Tombstones! That's right; four marble beauties fresh
from the cemetery. Well, it made me right sore, for I'd helped to start
Jonesville. I was its city father. I'd made the place fit to live in,
and I aimed to keep it safe to die in, and so, bein' a sort of
left-handed, self-appointed deppity-sheriff, I rounded up those ghouls
and drove 'em to the county-seat in my spring wagon. I had the evidence
propped up against the front of our real-estate office--'Sacred to the
Memory' of four of our leading citizens--so I jailed 'em. But that's
all the good it did."

"Couldn't convict, eh?"

Blaze lit his cigarette for the third time. "The prosecuting attorney
and I wasn't very good friends, seeing as how I'd had to kill his
daddy, so he turned 'em loose. I'm damned if those four Greasers didn't
beat me back to Jonesville." Blaze shook his head ruminatively. "This
was a hard country, those days. There wasn't but two honest men in this
whole valley--and the other one was a nigger."

Dave Law's duties as a Ranger rested lightly upon him; his instructions
were vague, and he had a leisurely method of "working up" his evidence.
Since he knew that Blaze possessed a thorough knowledge of this section
and its people, it was partly business which had brought him to the
Jones home this afternoon.

Strictly speaking, Blaze was not a rancher, although many of his acres
were under cultivation and he employed a sizable army of field-hands.
His disposition was too adventurous, his life had been too swift and
varied, for him to remain interested in slow agricultural pursuits;
therefore, he had speculated heavily in raw lands, and for several
years past he had devoted his energies to a gigantic colonization
scheme. Originally Blaze had come to the Rio Grande valley as a
stock-raiser, but the natural advantages of the country had appealed to
his gambling instinct, and he had "gone broke" buying land.

He had located, some fifteen miles below the borders of Las Palmas, and
there he had sunk a large fortune; then as a first step in his
colonization project he had founded the town of Jonesville. Next he had
caused the branch line of the Frisco railroad to be extended until it
linked his holdings with the main system, after which he had floated a
big irrigation company; and now the feat of paying interest on its
bonds and selling farms under the ditch to Northern people kept him
fully occupied. It was by no means a small operation in which he was
engaged. The venture had taken foresight, courage, infinite hard work;
and Blaze was burdened with responsibilities that would have broken
down a man of weaker fiber.

But his pet relaxation was reminiscence. His own experience had been
wide, he knew everybody in his part of the state, and although events
in his telling were sometimes colored by his rich imagination, the
information he could give was often of the greatest value--as Dave Law
knew.

After a time the latter said, casually, "Tell me something about Tad
Lewis."

Blaze looked up quickly. "What d'you want to know?"

"Anything. Everything."

"Tad owns a right nice ranch between here and Las Palmas," Blaze said,
cautiously.

Paloma broke out, impatiently: "Why don't you say what you think?" Then
to Dave: "Tad Lewis is a bad neighbor, and always has been. There's a
ford on his place, and we think he knows more about 'wet' cattle than
he cares to tell."

"It's a good place to cross stock at low water," her father agreed,
"and Lewis's land runs back from the Rio Grande in its old Spanish
form. It's a natural outlet for those brush-country ranchos. But I
haven't anything against Tad except a natural dislike. He stands well
with some of our best people, so I'm probably wrong. I usually am."

"You can't call Ed Austin one of our best people," sharply objected
Paloma. "They claim that arms are being smuggled across to the Rebels,
Dave, and, if it's true, Ed Austin--"

"Now, Paloma," her father remonstrated mildly. "The Regulars and the
River Guards watched Lewis's ranch till the embargo was lifted, and
they never saw anything."

"I believe Austin is a strong Rebel sympathizer," Law ventured.

"Sure! And him and the Lewis outfit are amigos. If you go pirootin'
around Tad's place you're more'n apt to make yourself unpopular, Dave.
I'd grieve some to see you in a wooden kimono. Tad's too well fixed to
steal cattle, and if he runs arms it's because of his sympathy for
those noble, dark-skinned patriots we hear so much about in Washington.
Tad's a 'galvanized Gringo' himself--married a Mexican, you know."

"Nobody pays much attention to the embargo," Law agreed. "I ran arms
myself, before I joined the Force."

When meal-time drew near, both Jones and his daughter urged their guest
to stay and dine with them, and Dave was glad to accept.

"After supper I'm going to show you our town," Blaze declared. "It's
the finest city in South Texas, and growing like a weed. All we need is
good farmers. Those we've got are mostly back-to-nature students who
leaped a drug-counter expecting to 'light in the lap of luxury. In the
last outfit we sold there wasn't three men that knew which end of a
mule to put the collar on. But they'll learn. Nature's with 'em, and so
am I. God supplies 'em with all the fresh air and sunshine they need,
and when they want anything else they come to Old Blaze. Ain't that
right, Paloma?"

"Yes, father."

Paloma Jones had developed wonderfully since Dave Law had last seen
her. She had grown into a most wholesome and attractive young woman,
with an unusually capable manner, and an honest, humorous pair of brown
eyes. During dinner she did her part with a grace that made watching
her a pleasure, and the Ranger found it a great treat to sit at her
table after his strenuous scouting days in the mesquite.

"I'm glad to hear Jonesville is prosperous," he told his host. "And
they say you're in everything."

"That's right; and prosperity's no name for it. Every-body wants Blaze
to have a finger in the pie. I'm interested in the bank, the
sugar-mill, the hardware-store, the ice-plant--Say, that ice-plant's a
luxury for a town this size. D'you know what I made out of it last
year?"

"I've no idea."

"Twenty-seven thousand dollars!" The father of Jonesville spoke
proudly, impressively, and then through habit called upon his daughter
for verification. "Didn't I, Paloma?"

Miss Paloma's answer was unexpected, and came with equal emphasis: "No,
you didn't, father. The miserable thing lost money."

Blaze was only momentarily dismayed. Then he joined in his visitor's
laughter. "How can a man get along without the co-operation of his own
household?" he inquired, naively. "Maybe it was next year I was
thinking about." Thereafter he confined himself to statements which
required no corroboration.

Dave had long since learned that to hold Blaze Jones to a strict
accountability with fact was to rob his society of its greatest charm.
A slavish accuracy in figures, an arid lack of imagination, reduces
conversation to the insipidness of flat wine, and Blaze's talk was
never dull. He was a keen, shrewd, practical man, but somewhere in his
being there was concealed a tremendous, lop-sided sense of humor which
took the form of a bewildering imagery. An attentive audience was
enough for him, and, once his fancy was in full swing, there was no
limit to his outrageous exaggerations. A light of credulity in a
hearer's eye filled him with prodigious mirth, and it is doubtful if
his listeners ever derived a fraction of the amusement from his
fabrications that he himself enjoyed. Paloma's spirit of contradiction
was the only fly in his ointment; now that his daughter was old enough
to "keep books" on him, much of the story-teller's joy was denied him.

Of course his proclivities occasionally led to misapprehensions; chance
acquaintances who recognized him as an artful romancer were liable to
consider him generally untruthful. But even in this misconception Blaze
took a quiet delight, secure in the knowledge that all who knew him
well regarded him as a rock of integrity. As a matter of fact, his
genuine exploits were quite as sensational as those of his manufacture.

When, after supper, Blaze had hitched a pair of driving-mules to his
buckboard, preparatory to showing his guest the glories of Jonesville,
Dave said:

"Paloma's getting mighty pretty."

"She's as pretty as a blue-bonnet flower," her father agreed. "And she
runs me around something scandalous. I 'ain't got the freedom of a
peon." Blaze sighed and shook his shaggy head. "You know me, Dave; I
never used to be scared of nobody. Well, it's different now. She rides
me with a Spanish bit, and my soul ain't my own." With a sudden
lightening of his gloom, he added: "Say, you're going to stay right
here with us as long as you're in town; I want you to see how I
cringe." In spite of Blaze's plaintive tone it was patent that he was
inordinately proud of Paloma and well content with his serfdom.

Jonesville proved to be a typical Texas town of the modern variety, and
altogether different to the pictured frontier village. There were no
one-storied square fronts, no rows of saloons with well-gnawed
hitching-rails, no rioting cowboys. On the contrary, the larger
buildings were of artificial stone, the sidewalks of concrete, and the
store fronts of plate-glass. Arc-lights shed a bluish-white glare over
the wide street-crossings, and all in all the effect was much like that
of a prosperous, orderly Northern farming town.

Not that Jonesville would have filled an eye for beauty. It was too new
and crude and awkward for that. It fitted loosely into its clothes, for
its citizens had patterned it with regard for the future, and it
sprawled over twice its legitimate area. But to its happy founder it
seemed well-nigh perfect, and its destiny roused his maddest
enthusiasm. He showed Dave the little red frame railroad station,
distinguished in some mysterious way above the hundred thousand other
little red frame railroad stations of the identical size and style; he
pointed out the Odd Fellows Hall, the Palace Picture Theater, with its
glaring orange lights and discordant electric piano; he conducted Law
to the First National Bank, of which Blaze was a proud but somewhat
ornamental director; then to the sugar-mill, the ice-plant, and other
points of equally novel interest.

Everywhere he went, Jones was hailed by friends, for everybody seemed
to know him and to want to shake his hand.

"SOME town and SOME body of men, eh?" he inquired, finally, and Dave
agreed:

"Yes. She's got a grand framework, Blaze. She'll be most as big as Fort
Worth when you fatten her up."

Jones waved his buggy-whip in a wide circle that took in the miles of
level prairie on all sides. "We've got the whole blamed state to grow
in. And, Dave, I haven't got an enemy in the place! It wasn't many
years ago that certain people allowed I'd never live to raise this
town. Why, it used to be that nobody dared to ride with me--except
Paloma, and she used to sleep with a shot-gun at her bedside."

"You sure have been a responsibility to her."

"But I'm as safe now as if I was in church."

Law ventured to remark that none of Blaze's enemies had grown fat in
prosecuting their feuds, but this was a subject which the elder man
invariably found embarrassing, and now he said:

"Pshaw! I never was the blood-letter people think. I'm as gentle as a
sheep." Then to escape further curiosity on that point he suggested
that they round out their riotous evening with a game of pool.

Law boasted a liberal education, but he was no match for the father of
Jonesville, who wielded a cue with a dexterity born of years of
devotion to the game. In consequence, Blaze's enjoyment was in a fair
way to languish when the proprietor of the Elite Billiard Parlor
returned from supper to say:

"Mr. Jones, there's a real good pool-player in town, and he wants to
meet you."

Blaze uttered a triumphant cry. "Get him, quick! Send the brass-band to
bring him. Dave, you hook your spurs over the rung of a chair and watch
your uncle clean this tenderfoot. If he's got class, I'll make him
mayor of the town, for a good pool-shooter is all this metropolis
lacks. Why, sometimes I go plumb to San Antone for a game." He
whispered in his friend's ear, "Paloma don't let me gamble, but if
you've got any dinero, get it down on me." Then, addressing the
bystanders, he proclaimed, "Boys, if this pilgrim is good enough to
stretch me out we'll marry him off and settle him down."

"No chance, Uncle Blaze; he's the most married person in town," some
one volunteered. "His wife is the new dressmaker--and she's got a
mustache." For some reason this remark excited general mirth.

"That's too bad. I never saw but one woman with a mustache, and she
licked me good. If he's yoked up to that kind of a lady, I allow his
nerves will be wrecked before he gets here. I hope to God he ain't
entirely done for." Blaze ran the last three balls from a well-nigh
impossible position, then racked up the whole fifteen with trembling
eagerness and eyed the door expectantly. He was wiping his spectacles
when the proprietor returned with a slim, sallow man whom he introduced
as Mr. Strange.

"Welcome to our city!" Blaze cried, with a flourish of his glasses.
"Get a prod, Mr. Strange, and bust 'em, while I clean my wind-shields.
These fellow-townsmen of mine handle a cue like it was an ox-gad."

Mr. Strange selected a cue, studied the pyramid for an instant, then
called the three ball for the upper left-hand corner, and pocketed it,
following which he ran the remaining fourteen. Blaze watched this
procedure near-sightedly, and when the table was bare he thumped his
cue loudly upon the floor. He beamed upon his opponent; he appeared
ready to embrace him.

"Bueno! There's art, science, and natural aptitude! Fly at 'em again,
Mr. Strange, and take your fill." He finished polishing his spectacles,
and readjusted them. "I aim to make you so comfortable in Jonesville
that---" Blaze paused, he started, and a peculiar expression crept over
his face.

It seemed to Law that his friend actually turned pale; at any rate, his
mouth dropped open and his gaze was no longer hypnotically following
the pool-balls, but was fixed upon his opponent.

Now there were chapters in the life of Blaze Jones that had never been
fully written, and it occurred to Dave that such a one had been
suddenly reopened; therefore he prepared himself for some kind of an
outburst. But Blaze appeared to be numbed; he even jumped nervously
when Mr. Strange missed a shot and advised him that his chance had come.

As water escapes from a leaky pail, so had Jones's fondness for pool
oozed away, and with it had gone his accustomed skill. He shot blindly,
and, much to the general surprise, missed an easy attempt.

"Can't expect to get 'em all," comfortingly observed Mr. Strange as he
executed a combination that netted him two balls and broke the bunch.
After that he proved the insincerity of his statement by clearing the
cloth for a second time. The succeeding frames went much the same, and
finally Blaze put up his cue, mumbling:

"I reckon I must have another chill coming on. My feet are plumb dead."

"Cold feet are sure bad." Strange favored the crowd with a wink.

"I'm sort of sick."

"That's tough!" the victor exclaimed, regretfully. "But I'll tell you
what we'll do--we'll take a little look into the future."

"What d'you mean?"

"Simply this: Nature has favored me with second sight and the ability
to read fortunes. I foretell good an' evil, questions of love and
mattermony by means of numbers, cards, dice, dominoes, apple-parings,
egg-shells, tea-leaves, an' coffee-grounds." The speaker's voice had
taken on the brazen tones of a circus barker. "I pro'nosticate by
charms, ceremonies, omens, and moles; by the features of the face,
lines of the hand, spots an' blemishes of the skin. I speak the
language of flowers. I know one hundred and eighty-seven weather signs,
and I interpet dreams. Now, ladies and gents, this is no idle boast.
Triflin' incidents, little marks on the cuticle, although they appear
to be the effect of chance, are nevertheless of the utmost consequence,
an' to the skilled interpeter they foretell the temper of, an' the
events that will happen to, the person bearin' 'em. Now let us take
this little deck of common playing-cards---"

The monologist, suiting the action to the word, conjured a deck of
cards from somewhere, and extended them to Blaze. "Select one; any
one---"

"Hell!" snorted Jones, slipping into his coat.

"You are a skeptic! Very well. I convince nobody against his will. But
wait! You have a strong face. Stand where you are." Extracting from
another pocket a tiny pair of scissors and a sheet of carbon paper, Mr.
Strange, with the undivided attention of the audience upon him, began
to cut Blaze's silhouette. He was extraordinarily adept, and despite
his subject's restlessness he completed the likeness in a few moments;
then, fixing it upon a plain white cardboard, he presented it with a
flourish.

Blaze accepted the thing and plunged for the open air.



IX

A SCOUTING TRIP


"What ails you?" Law inquired as he and Blaze rolled away in the
buckboard.

"Serves me right for leaving my six-shooter at home," panted the
rancher. "Well, I might have known they'd find me some day."

"'They'? Who?"

"That hombre and his wife--the woman with the mustache. They swore
they'd get me, and it looks like they will, for I daresn't raise my
hand to protect myself."

This was very mystifying to Dave, and he said so.

"The woman'll recognize me, quick enough," Blaze asserted, and then,
"God knows what Paloma will do."

"Really! Is it that bad?"

"It's a vile story, Dave, and I never expected to tell anybody; but
it's bound to come out on me now, so you better hear my side. Last
summer I attended a convention at Galveston, and one hot day I decided
to take a swim, so I hired a suit and a room to cache my six-shooter
in. It was foolish proceedings for a man my age, but the beach was
black with people and I wasn't altogether myself. You see, we'd had an
open poker game running in my room for three days, and I hadn't got any
sleep. I was plumb feverish, and needed a dip. Well, I'm no water-dog,
Dave; I can't swim no better than a tarrapin with its legs cut off, but
I sloshed around some in the surf, and then I took a walk to dreen off
and see the sights. It was right interesting when I got so I could tell
the women from the men--you see I'd left my glasses in the bath-house.

"Now I'd sort of upheld the general intemperance of that poker game for
three days and nights--but I don't offer my condition as an excuse for
what follows. No gentleman ought to lay his indecencies onto John
Barley corn when they're nothing more nor less than the outcroppin's of
his own orneriness. Liquor has got enough to answer for without being
blamed for human depravities. I dare say I was friendlier than I had
any right to be; I spoke to strangers, and some of the girls hollered
at me, but I wouldn't have harmed a soul.

"Well, in the course of my promenade I came to a couple of fellers
setting half-buried in the sand, and just as I was passing one of them
got up--sort of on all-fours and--er--facing away from me--sabe? That's
where the trouble hatched. I reached out and, with nothing but
good-will in my heart, I--sort of pinched this party-sort of on the
hip, or thereabouts. I didn't mean a thing by it, Dave. I just walked
on, smiling, till something run into me from behind. When I got up and
squared around, there was that man we just left cutting didos out of
black paper.

"'What d'you mean by pinching my wife?' he says, and he was r'arin' mad.

"'Your WIFE?' I stammers, and with that he climbs me. Dave, I was weak
with shame and surprise, and all I could do was hold him off. Sure
enough, the man I'd pinched was a long, ga'nt woman with a little black
mustache, and here she came!

"We started in right there. I never saw such a poisonous person as that
woman. She was coiled, her head was up, and her rattles agoing, and so
I finally lit out But I'm sort of fat, and they over-ran me. They bayed
me against the sea-wall, and all I had the heart to do was to hold 'em
off some more. Soon as I got my wind I shook 'em off a second time and
run some more, but they downed me. By that time we'd begun to gather
quite a crowd. ...

"Dave, was you ever treed by wild hogs? That's how them two people kept
after me. You'd have thought I'd deprived 'em of their young. I didn't
want to hurt 'em, but whenever I'd run they'd tangle my legs. By and by
I got so short of breath that I couldn't run, so I fell on top of the
man. But the woman got me by the legs and rolled me under. I busted out
and hoofed it again, but they caught me and down we went, me on top.
Then that man's helpmate grabbed my legs and rolled me over, like she
did before. Finally I got too tired to do anything but paw like a
puppy. It seems like we must have fought that way all the morning,
Dave. Anyhow, people gathered from long distances and cheered the
woman. I got desperate toward the last, and I unraveled the right hip
of my bathing suit grabbing for my gun. I couldn't see the bath-house
for the sand in my eyes, so I must have led 'em up across the boulevard
and into the tent colony, for after a while we were rolling around
among tent-pegs and tangling up in guy-ropes, and all the time our
audience was growing. Dave, those tent-ropes sounded like guitar
strings."

Blaze paused to wipe the sweat from his brow, whereupon his listener
inquired in a choking voice:

"How did you come out?"

"I reckon I'd have got shed of 'em somehow, for I was resting up on top
of my man, but that stinging lizard of a woman got her claws into the
neck of my bathing-suit and r'ared back on it. Dave, she skinned me out
of that garment the way you'd skin out an eel, and--there I was! You
never heard such a yelling as went up. And I didn't hear all of it,
either, for I just laid back my ears and went through those sight-seers
like a jack-rabbit. I never knew a man could run like I did. I could
hear people holler, 'Here he comes,' 'There he goes,' 'Yonder he went,'
but I was never headed. I hurdled the sea-wall like an antelope, and
before they got eyes on me I was into my bath-house.

"When I'd got dressed, I sneaked up to the Galvez for a drink. In the
bar were a lot of stockmen, and they asked me where I'd been. I told
'em I'd been nursing a sick lodge member, and they said:

"'Too bad! You missed the damnedest fight since Custer was licked. We
couldn't get very close, for the jam, but it was great!'

"The story went all over Galveston. The husband swore he'd kill the man
who attacked his wife, and the newspapers called on the police to
discover the ruffian."

There was a protracted silence; then Law controlled his voice
sufficiently to say: "It's fortunate he didn't recognize you to-night."

"Maybe he did. Anyhow, his wife is the new dressmaker Paloma's hired. I
'ain't got a chance, Dave. That story will ruin me in the community,
and Paloma will turn me out when she learns I'm a--a lady-pincher."

"What are you going to do about it?"

Blaze sighed. "I don't know, yet. Probably I'll end by running from
those scorpions, like I did before."

 The next morning at breakfast Paloma announced, "Father, you must
help Dave hunt down these cattle thieves."

"Ain't that sort of a big order?" Blaze queried.

"Perhaps, but you're the very man to do it. Ricardo Guzman is the only
person who knows the Lewis gang as well as you do."

Jones shook his head doubtfully. "Don Ricardo has been working up his
own private feud with that outfit. If I was the kind that went looking
for a fight, I wouldn't have paid freight on myself from the Panhandle
down here. I could have got one right at home, any morning before
breakfast."

"Ricardo Guzman is something of a black sheep himself," Law spoke up.

"Pshaw! He's all right. I reckon he has changed a few brands in his
time, but so has everybody else. Why, that's how 'Old Ed' Austin got
his start. If a cowman tells you he never stole anything, he's either a
dam' good liar or a dam' bad roper. But Ricardo's going straight enough
now."

"He has lost his share of stock," Paloma explained, "and he'll work
with you if father asks him. You go along with Dave---"

"I'm too busy," Blaze demurred, "and I ain't feeling good. I had bad
dreams all night."

"I don't want you around here this morning. That new dressmaker is
coming."

Jones rose abruptly from the table. "I reckon my business can wait.
Hustle up, Dave." A few moments later, as they were saddling their
horses, he lamented: "What did I tell you? Here I go, on the dodge from
a dressmaker. I s'pose I've got to live like a road-agent now, till
something happens."

 Don Ricardo Guzman was an American, but he spoke no English. An
accident of birth had made him a citizen of the United States--his
father having owned a ranch which lay north instead of south of the Rio
Grande. Inasmuch as the property had fallen to Ricardo, his sons, too,
were Yankees in the eyes of the law. But in all other respects Don
Ricardo and his family differed not at all from the many Guzmans who
lived across the border. The Guzman ranch comprised a goodly number of
acres, and, since live stock multiply rapidly, its owner had in some
sort prospered. On the bank of a resaca---a former bed of the Rio
Grande--stood the house, an adobe structure, square, white, and
unprotected from the sun by shrub or tree. Behind it were some brush
corrals and a few scattered mud jacals, in which lived the help.

Ricardo had just risen from a siesta when his two visitors rode up, and
he made them welcome with the best he had. There followed a
complimentary exchange of greetings and the usual flow of small talk.
Ricardo had suffered a severe toothache--the same abominable affliction
that had lost Porfirio Diaz an empire. It had been a dry spring, but,
praise God, the water still held in the resaca--his two sons were
branding calves in one of the outer pastures--and there had been a very
good calf crop indeed. Blaze recounted his own doings; Law told of
Ranger activities along the lower border. In the cool of the afternoon
Ricardo rode with his visitors, and then, cordial relations being now
established, he began to divulge information of value to Law.

Yes, he had endured many depredations from thieves. It was shameful,
but doubtless God willed that a certain amount of stealing should go on
in the world. The evil-doers were certainly favored by nature, in this
locality, for the great expanse of brush country to the north and east
offered almost perfect security, and the river, to the south, gave
immunity from pursuit or prosecution. The beeves were driven north into
the wilderness, but the horses went to Mexico, where the war had
created a market for them. The Federals had plenty of money to buy
mounts.

Whom did Don Ricardo suspect?

The old man was non-committal. Suspicion was one thing, proof was quite
another; and conviction was difficult under the best of circumstances.
Why, even a cow's recognition of her own calf was not evidence for a
court, and alibis were easily proven. Unless the thieves were caught in
the very act there was no case against them, and--por Dios!--one could
not be for ever on guard. Who could tell where the malefactors would
strike next? Now, in Mexico one could afford to kill an undesirable
neighbor without so much formality. But, thank God! Don Ricardo was not
a Mexican. No, he was a good American citizen. It was something to make
him sleep well in these war-times.

"Just the same, I'll bet he'd sleep better if the Lewis outfit was
cleaned up," Dave ventured, and Blaze agreed.

Guzman caught his enemy's name and nodded.

"Ah! That sin verguenza! He sells arms to the Candeleristas and horses
to the Potosistas. Perhaps he steals my calves. Who knows?"

"Señor Lewis doesn't need to steal. He has money," Jones argued.

"True! But who is so rich that he would not be richer? Lewis employs
men who are poor, and he himself is above nothing. I, too, am a friend
of the Rebels. Panchito, the Liberator, was a saint, and I give money
to the patriots who fight for his memory. But I do not aid the tyrant
Potosi with my other hand. Yes, and who is richer, for instance, than
Señor Eduardo Austin?"

"You surely don't accuse him of double-dealing with the Rebels?" Blaze
inquired, curiously.

"I don't know. He is a friend of Tad Lewis, and there are strange
stories afloat."

Just what these stories were, however, Ricardo would not say, feeling,
perhaps, that he had already said too much.

The three men spent that evening together, and in the morning Blaze
rode home, leaving the Ranger behind for the time being as Guzman's
guest.

Dave put in the next two days riding the pastures, familiarizing
himself with the country, and talking with the few men he met. About
all he discovered, however, was the fact that the Guzman range not only
adjoined some of Lewis's leased land, but also was bounded for several
miles by the Las Palmas fence.

It was pleasant to spend the days among the shy brush-cattle, with
Bessie Belle for company. The mare seemed to enjoy the excursions as
much as her owner. Her eyes and ears were ever alert; she tossed her
head and snorted when a deer broke cover or a jack-rabbit scuttled out
of her path; she showed a friendly interest in the awkward calves which
stood and eyed her with such amazement and then galloped stiffly off
with tails high arched.

Law had many times undertaken to break Bessie Belle of that habit of
flinging her head high at sudden sounds, but she was nervous and
inquisitive, and this was the one thing upon which she maintained a
feminine obstinacy.

On the second evening the Ranger rode home through a drizzle that had
materialized after a long, threatening afternoon and now promised to
become a real rain. Ricardo met him at the door to say:

"You bring good fortune with you, señor, for the land is thirsty.
To-morrow, if this rain holds, we shall ride together--you, Pedro, and
I. Those thieves do their stealing when they leave no tracks."

Raoul, the younger son, volunteered to go in place of his father, but
Ricardo would not hear of it.

"Am I so old that I must lie abed?" he cried. "No! We three shall ride
the fences, and if we encounter a cut wire--diablo!--we shall have a
story to tell, eh?"

The sky was leaden, the rain still fell in the morning when Dave and
his two companions set out. Until noon they rode, their slickers
dripping, their horses steaming; then they ate an uncomfortable lunch
under the thickest hackberry-tree they could find, after which they
resumed their patrol. Ricardo's tongue at length ran down under this
discomfort, and the three riders sat their saddles silently, swaying to
the tireless fox-trot of their horses, their eyes engaged in a watchful
scrutiny.

At last Pedro, who was ahead, reined in and pointed; the others saw
where the barbed-wire strands of the fence they had been following were
clipped. A number of horse and calf tracks led through the opening, and
after an examination Ricardo announced:

"There are two men. They have come and gone, with the calves tied neck
and neck."

"That is Las Palmas, isn't it?" Law indicated the pasture into which
the trail led.

Father and son answered, "Si, señor."

For a time the Ranger lounged sidewise in his saddle, studying the
country before him. The land was open and comparatively flat; it was
broken by tiny clumps of mesquite and low, sprawling beds of cactus.
Perhaps a half-mile away, however, began a long, narrow patch of woods,
with the tops of occasional oaks showing, and this ran parallel with
the fence for a considerable distance.

"They took them in yonder, to brand," he said, straightening himself.
"Maybe we'll be in time."

Side by side the three men rode off Guzman's land, following the tracks
to the nearest point of woods; there Law stopped to give his directions.

"Pedro, you ride down this side; Ricardo, you skirt the outside. I
shall keep to the middle. Walk your horses, for I shall go slowly." He
slipped his carbine from its scabbard; the others did the same.

But Dave's plan did not commend itself to Ricardo; the old man's face
puckered into an expression of doubt, and, removing his hat, he ran a
hand over his wiry, short-cropped, white hair.

"Señor," he protested, "I know something about these men, and they will
not wait to learn that you are an officer. Perhaps I had better ride
with you."

But Law declined the well-meant offer, and with a dubious shake of the
head Ricardo rode away, while Dave guided Bessie Belle into the grove.

The mare seemed to know that something unusual was afoot. Perhaps some
nervous tensity of her rider made itself felt, perhaps with equine
sagacity she had understood from the first the nature of this scouting
expedition. Dave was inclined to believe the latter--he had often
averred that Bessie Belle knew quite as much as or more than he. At any
rate she picked her way with admirable care, her hoofs made almost no
sound upon the wet soil; only the complaint of the saddle leathers or
the swish of a wet branch rose above the steady patter of the
raindrops. It was not necessary to guide her; she selected the openings
of her own free will, her small, sharp ears were alert, and her eyes
searched the glades intently.

Dave smiled at this excess of caution and stroked Bessie Belle's wet
neck encouragingly, whereupon she turned her head and it seemed to the
rider that she nodded her complete understanding. Law could have kissed
her.



X

A RANGER'S HORSE


Onward through the dense foliage the two friends wound. Now and then
they stopped to listen, but the rain was heavy enough to drown all
other noises. Encountering fresh tracks finally, Dave leaned from his
saddle and studied them. What he saw caused him to push forward with no
diminution of stealth.

He had gone perhaps half a mile when Bessie Belle raised her head, and
he noted that her nostrils were working sensitively. A few yards
farther on Law fancied that he could detect the smell of a wood fire.
Almost without a signal from him the mare halted in her tracks until he
had satisfied himself. Still farther along they came to a place where
the brush was low, and there, rising through the tree-tops beyond, they
saw a wavering plume of blue smoke.

The Ranger rode into sight of the branding-fire with his Winchester
across his saddle-horn and his thumb upon the hammer; what followed
came with almost the blinding suddenness of a lightning crash, though
afterward the events of that crowded moment lingered as a clear-cut
memory. First there was the picture of a sandy glade in the center of
which burned a fire with branding-irons in it, and a spotted calf tied
to a tree, but otherwise no sign of life. Then, without warning, Bessie
Belle threw up her head in that characteristic trick of hers, and
simultaneously Dave saw a figure rise out of the grass at his left with
rifle leveled. The Ranger remembered afterward the odd foreshortening
of the weapon and the crooked twist of the face behind it. With the
first jerk of his horse's head his own gun had leaped to his
shoulder--he was not conscious of having willed it to do so--and even
as he pressed the trigger he beheld a jet of smoke spurt from the
muzzle aimed at him. With the kick of his carbine he felt Bessie Belle
give way--it seemed to Dave that he shot while she was sinking. The
next instant his feet, still in the stirrups, were on the ground and
his horse lay between them, motionless. That nervous fling of her head
had saved Dave's life, for the rustler's bullet had shattered her skull
in its flight, and she lay prone, with scarcely a muscular twitch, so
sudden had been her end. The breath escaped slowly from her lungs; it
was as if she heaved a lingering sigh; one leg contracted and then
relaxed.

For a moment the Ranger was dazed. He stood staring down at his pet;
then the truth engulfed him. He realized that he had ridden her to her
death, and at the thought he became like a woman bereft of her child,
like a lover who had seen his sweetheart slain.

A shout--it was a hoarse, inarticulate cry; a swift, maddened scrutiny
that searched the sodden scene of the ambush; then he was down beside
the mare, calling her name heartbrokenly, his arms around her neck, his
face against her warm, wet, velvet hide.

Law knew that two men had entered the thicket, and therefore one still
remained to be reckoned with, but he gave no thought to that. Nor did
he rise to look after the grotesquely huddled figure that had been a
cattle thief only a moment before--both he and his assailant had been
too close to miss. From the corner of his eye he could see a pair of
boot-soles staring at him out of the grass, and they told him there was
no need for investigation. Near the body he heard a calf stirring, but
he let it struggle.

Bessie Belle's bright eyes were glazing; she did not hear her lover's
voice. Her muzzle, softer than any satin, was loose, her lips would
never twitch with that clumsy, quivering caress which pleased her
master so. One front hoof, washed as clean as agate, was awkwardly bent
under her, the other had plowed a furrow in the soft earth as she sank,
and against this leg her head lay tipped.

Don Ricardo and his son burst out of the brush from opposite directions
almost at the same moment, to find the Ranger with his face buried in
his horse's mane.

"Caramba! What is this?" The old man flung himself from the saddle and
came running. "You are injured?"

Pedro, too, bent over the officer, his brown face pale with
apprehension. "Mother of God!" breathed the latter. "It was a wild
thing to do, to ride alone---"

"I'm all right," Law said, rising stiffly, whereupon both Mexicans
voiced their relief.

"The saints be praised!"

"Si! What happened? There was a shot! Did you see nothing?"

Law jerked his head in the direction of the fallen man at his back, and
Pedro uttered a loud cry.

"Look!" Father and son ran through the grass, then recoiled and broke
into a jargon of oaths and exclamations.

Law followed them with his eyes. "Is he dead?" he inquired, coldly.

"God! Yes."

"Right in the mouth! The fellow was in hell before he realized it."

"See! It is as we thought, Pedro; one of Lewis's! Tse! Tse! Tse! What a
sight!"

"Who is he?" queried the officer.

"Pino Garza, one of the worst!" chimed the two Guzmans.

Ricardo was dancing in his excitement. "I told you that Lewis knew
something. The other one got past me, but he rode like the devil, and I
cannot shoot like--this."

"Wait!" exclaimed Pedro. "This is beyond my understanding. I heard but
one shot from here, then after an instant my father's gun. And yet here
is a dead horse and a dead man."

"This fellow and I fired at about the same instant," Dave explained,
but even when he had related the history of the encounter his
companions could scarcely believe that such quick shooting was possible.

It was difficult to secure a connected story from Ricardo, but he
finally made it plain that at the first report the other thief had
fled, exposing himself only long enough for the old man to take a quick
shot in his direction. Ricardo had missed, and the miscreant was
doubtless well away by this time. He had ridden a sorrel horse, that
was all Ricardo could remember.

Law looked only briefly at the gruesome results of his marksmanship,
then he turned back to the body of his beloved mare. Ricardo noticed at
length that he was crying; as the Ranger knelt beside the dead
thoroughbred the old Mexican whispered to his son:

"Valgame Dios! This is a strange fellow. He weeps like a woman. He must
have loved that horse as a man loves his wife. Who can understand these
Gringos?" After a time he approached cautiously and inquired: "What
shall we do with this hombre, señor? Pedro has found his horse."

Law roused himself. With his own hands he gently removed Bessie Belle's
saddle, bridle, and blanket, then he gave his orders.

"I'll take your horse, Ricardo, and you take--that fellow's. Get a
wagon and move him to Jonesville."

"And you?"

"I'm going to follow that man on the sorrel."

The dead man's saddle was left beside the body; then when the exchange
of mounts had been effected and all was ready, Law made a request that
amazed both father and son.

"If I'm not back by morning, I want you to bury my mare." His voice
broke; he turned away his face. "Bury her deep, Ricardo, so--the
coyotes can't dig her up; right here where she fell. I'll be back to
see that it's done right. Understand?"

"Bueno! I understand perfectly. She was a pretty horse. She was
your--bonita, eh? Well, you have a big heart, señor, as a brave man
should have. Everything shall be done as you wish; I give you my hand
on it." Ricardo reached down and gripped Law's palm. "We will name our
pasture for her, too, because it is plain you loved her dearly. So,
then, until to-morrow."

Law watched his two friends ride away, then he wiped his Winchester and
saw to his cinch. This done he raised Bessie Belle's head and kissed
the lip that had so often explored his palm for sugar. With a miserable
ache in his throat he mounted and rode off to pick up the trail of the
man on the sorrel pony.

Fortunately this was not difficult, for the tracks of a running horse
are plain in soft ground. Finding where his quarry had broken cover,
Law set out at a lope.

The fellow had ridden in a wide semicircle at first, then, finding he
was not pursued, he had slackened pace, and, in consequence, the signs
became more difficult to follow. They seemed to lead in the direction
of Las Palmas, which Dave judged must be fully twelve miles away, and
when they continued to maintain this course the Ranger became doubly
interested. Could it be, he asked himself, that his quarry would have
the audacity to ride to the Austin headquarters? If so, his
identification promised to become easy, for a man on a sorrel cow-pony
was more than likely to be observed. Perhaps he thought himself secure
and counted upon the assistance of some friend or confederate among the
Las Palmas ranch-hands in case of pursuit. That seemed not
unreasonable, particularly inasmuch as he could have no suspicion that
it was a Ranger who was on his trail.

Dave lost the hoof-prints for a time, but picked them up again at the
pasture gate a few miles farther on, and was able to trace them far
enough to assure himself that his quarry was indeed headed for the
Austin house and had no intention of swinging southward toward the
Lewis headquarters.

By this time the rain had done its work, and to follow the tracks
became a matter of guesswork. Night was coming on also, and Dave
realized that at this rate darkness would find him far from his goal.
Therefore he risked his own interpretation of the rider's intent and
pushed on without pausing to search out the trail step by step. At the
second gate the signs indicated that his man was little more than an
hour ahead of him.

The prospect of again seeing the ruddy-haired mistress of Las Palmas
stirred Law more deeply than he cared to admit. Alaire Austin had been
seldom out of his thoughts since their first meeting, for, after the
fashion of men cut off from human society, he was subject to insistent
fancies. Dave had many times lived over those incidents at the
water-hole, and for the life of him he could not credit the common
stories of Alaire's coldness. To him, at least, she had appeared very
human, and after they had once become acquainted she had been
unaffected and friendly.

Since that meeting Dave had picked up considerable information about
the object of his interest, and although much of this was palpably
false, it had served to make her a still more romantic figure in his
eyes. Alaire now seemed to be a sort of superwoman, and the fact that
she was his friend, that something deep within her had answered to him,
afforded him a keen satisfaction, the greater, perhaps, because of his
surprise that it could be so. Nevertheless, he was uncomfortably aware
that she had a husband. Not only so, but the sharp contrast in their
positions was disagreeable to contemplate; she was unbelievably rich,
and a person of influence in the state, while he had nothing except his
health, his saddle, and his horse---

With a desperate pang Law realized that now he had no horse. Bessie
Belle, his best beloved, lay cold and wet back yonder in the weeping
mesquite. He found several cubes of sugar in his pocket, and with an
oath flung them from him. Don Ricardo's horse seemed stiff-gaited and
stubborn.

Dave remembered how Mrs. Austin had admired the mare. No doubt she
would grieve at the fate that had befallen her, and that would give
them something to talk about. His own escape would interest her, too,
and--Law realized, not without some natural gratification, that he
would appear to her as a sort of hero.

The mist and an early dusk prevented him from seeing Las Palmas itself
until he was well in among the irrigated fields. A few moments later
when he rode up to the out-buildings he encountered a middle-aged
Mexican who proved to be Benito Gonzalez, the range boss.

Dave made himself known, and Benito answered his questions with
apparent honesty. No, he had seen nothing of a sorrel horse or a
strange rider, but he had just come in himself. Doubtless they could
learn more from Juan, the horse-wrangler, who was somewhere about.

Juan was finally found, but he proved strangely recalcitrant. At first
he knew nothing, though after some questioning he admitted the
possibility that he had seen a horse of the description given, but was
not sure. More pressure brought forth the reluctant admission that the
possibility was almost a certainty.

"What horse was it?" Benito inquired; but the lad was non-committal.
Probably it belonged to some stranger. Juan could not recollect just
where or when he had seen the pony, and he was certain he had not laid
eyes upon the owner.

"Devil take the boy! He's half-witted," Benito growled.

But Dave changed his tactics. "Oiga!" he said, sternly. "Do you want to
go to jail?" Juan had no such desire. "Then tell the truth. Was the
horse branded?"

"Yes."

"With what brand?"

Juan had not noticed.

"With the 'K.T.' perhaps?" That was the Lewis brand.

"Perhaps!"

"Where is it now?"

Juan insolently declared that he didn't know and didn't care.

"Oh, you don't, eh?" Law reached for the boy and shook him until he
yelled. "You will make a nice little prisoner, Juanito, and we shall
find a way to make you speak."

Gonzalez was inclined to resent such high-handed treatment of his
underling, but respect for the Rangers was deep-rooted, and Juan's
behavior was inexplicable.

At last the horse-boy confessed. He had seen both horse and rider, but
knew neither. Mr. Austin and the stranger had arrived together, and the
latter had gone on. That was the truth.

"Bueno!" Law released his prisoner, who slunk away rubbing his
shoulder. "Now, Benito, we will find Mr. Austin."

A voice answered from the dusk: "He won't take much finding," and Ed
Austin himself emerged from the stable door. "Well, what do you want?"
he asked.

"You are Mr. Austin, I reckon?"

"I am. What d'you mean by abusing my help?" The master of Las Palmas
approached so near that his threatening scowl was visible. "I don't
allow strangers to prowl around my premises."

Amazed at this hostile greeting, Law explained in a word the reason for
his presence.

"I don't know anything about your man. What d'you want him for, and who
are you?"

Dave introduced himself. "I want him for stealing Guzman calves. I
trailed him from where he and his partner cut into your south pasture."

Benito stirred and muttered an oath, but Austin was unmoved. "I reckon
you must be a bad trailer," he laughed. "We've got no thieves here.
What makes you think Guzman lost any calves?"

Dave's temper, never too well controlled at best, began to rise. He
could not imagine why a person of Ed Austin's standing should behave in
this extraordinary manner, unless perhaps he was drunk.

"Well, I saw the calves, and I left the fellow that was branding them
with a wet saddle-blanket over his face."

"Eh? What's that?" Austin started, and Gonzalez uttered a smothered
exclamation. "You killed him? He's dead?"

"Dead enough to skin. I caught him with his irons in the fire and the
calves necked up in your pasture. Now I want his companero."

"I--hope you don't think we know anything about him," Ed protested.

"Where's that man on the sorrel horse?"

Austin turned away with a shrug.

"You rode in with him," Dave persisted.

Ed wheeled quickly. "How do you know I did?"

"Your boy saw you."

The ranchman's voice was harsh as he said: "Look here, my friend,
you're on the wrong track. The fellow I was with had nothing to do with
this affair. Would you know your man? Did you get a look at him?"

"No. But I reckon Don Ricardo could tell his horse."

"Humph!" Austin grunted, disagreeably. "So just for that you come
prowling around threatening my help, eh? Trying to frame up a case,
maybe? Well, it don't go. I was out with one of Tad Lewis's men."

"What was his name?" Dave managed to inquire.

"Urbina. He had a sorrel under him, but there are thousands of sorrel
horses."

"What time did you meet him?"

"I met him at noon and--I've been with him ever since. So you see
you're wrong. I presume your man doubled back and is laughing at you."

Law's first bewilderment had given place to a black rage; for the
moment he was in danger of disregarding the reason for "Young Ed's"
incivility and giving free rein to his passion, but he checked himself
in time.

"Would you mind telling me what you and this Urbina were doing?" he
inquired, harshly.

Austin laughed mockingly. "That's my business." said he.

Dave moistened his lips. He hitched his shoulders nervously. He was
astonished at his own self-control, though the certainty that Austin
was drunk helped him to steady himself. Nevertheless, he dared not
trust himself to speak.

Construing this silence as an acknowledgment of defeat, Ed turned to
go. Some tardy sense of duty, however, prompted him to fling back,
carelessly:

"I suppose you've come a good ways. If you're hungry, Benito will show
you the way to the kitchen." Then he walked away into the darkness,
followed by the shocked gaze of his range boss.

Benito roused himself from his amazement to say, warmly: "Si, compadre.
You will enjoy a cup of hot coffee."

But Law ground out fiercely: "I'm not used to kitchen hand-outs. I
reckon I can chew my bridle-reins if I get too hungry." Walking to his
horse, he vaulted into the saddle.

Benito laid a hand upon his thigh and apologized. "Señor Ed is a
strange man. He is often like this, lately. You understand me? Will you
come to my house for supper?"

"Thank you, but I think I'll ride on to Tad Lewis's and see Urbina."

At this the Mexican shook his head as if apprehensive of the result,
but he said nothing more.

Law hesitated as he was about to spur out of the yard. "By the way," he
ventured, "you needn't mention this to Mrs. Austin."

"She is not here," Gonzalez told him. "She has gone to La Feria to see
about her affairs. She would not permit of this occurrence if she were
at home. She is a very fine lady."

"Yes. Good night, Benito."

"Good night, señor."

When the Ranger had gone, Gonzalez walked slowly toward his house with
his head bowed thoughtfully.

"It is very strange," he muttered. "How could Don Eduardo have met this
Garza at noon when, with my own eyes, I saw him ride away from Las
Palmas at three o'clock in the afternoon? It is very strange."



XI

JUDGE ELLSWORTH EXACTS A PROMISE


On his way to the Lewis ranch Dave Law had a struggle with himself. He
had earned a reputation as a man of violent temper, and the time was
not long past when a fraction of the insult Ed Austin had offered him
would have provoked a vigorous counterblast. The fact that on this
occasion he had managed to restrain himself argued an increase of
self-control that especially gratified him, because his natural
tendency to "fly off the handle" had led more than once to regrettable
results. In fact, it was only since he had assumed the duties of a
peace officer that he had made a serious effort at self-government. A
Ranger's work calls for patience and forbearance, and Dave had begun to
realize the perils of his temperament. Normally he was a level-headed,
conservative fellow, but when angered a thousand devils sprang up in
him and he became capable of the wildest excess. This instability,
indeed, had been largely to blame for his aimless roaming. Deep inside
himself he knew that it was nothing but his headstrong temper which had
brought on all his misfortunes and left him, well along in his
thirties, a wanderer, with nothing he could call his own. As with most
men of his turbulent disposition, fits of fury were usually followed by
keen revulsions of feeling. In Dave these paroxysms had frequently been
succeeded by such a sense of shame as to drive him from the scene of
his actions, and in the course of his rovings he had acquired an ample
store of regrets--bitter food for thought during the silent hours when
he sat over his camp-fire or rode alone through the mesquite. His
hatreds were keen and relentless, his passions wild, and yet, so far as
he knew, they had never led him to commit a mean or a downright evil
deed. He had killed men, to be sure, but never, he was thankful to say,
in one of his moments of frenzy.

The killing of men in the fierce exultation of battle, the slaying of a
criminal by an officer under stress of duty, even the taking of life
under severe personal provocation, were acts that did not put one
beyond the pale. Such blood washes off. But there were stains of a
different kind.

Dave was glad that he had swallowed "Young Ed's" incivility, not only
for his own sake, but for the sake of Alaire.

After all, he argued, it was barely possible that Ed had spoken the
truth. There WERE many sorrel horses; the evidence of those rain-washed
hoof-prints was far from conclusive; even the fact that Urbina belonged
to the Tad Lewis outfit was no more than a suspicious circumstance. And
yet, earnestly as he strove to convince himself of these possibilities,
the Ranger could not down the conviction that the rancher had lied and
that he himself was on the right track.

It was late when he arrived at his destination, but Lewis's house was
dark, and it required some effort to awaken the owner. When Tad at last
appeared, clad in undershirt and trousers, he greeted the Ranger with a
leveled Winchester; but when Dave had made known his identity he
invited him in, though with surly reluctance.

Lewis was a sandy-complexioned man of about forty, with colorless brows
and a mean, shifty eye. Formerly a cowboy, he had by the exercise of
some natural ability acquired a good property--and a bad reputation.
Just how or why he had prospered was a mystery which his neighbors
never tired of discussing.

Tad, it seemed, resented any interruption of his rest, and showed the
fact plainly.

Yes, he employed a fellow named Urbina. What was wanted of him?

Law explained briefly.

"Why, he's one of my best men!" laughed the rancher. "He wouldn't steal
nothing."

"Well, I had to shoot another good man of yours," Dave said, quietly.

Lewis fell back a step. "Which one? Who?" he inquired, quickly.

"Pino Garza." Dave told of the meeting at the branding-fire and its
outcome. He was aware, meanwhile, that Lewis's family were listening,
for behind a half-open bedroom door he could hear an excited whispering.

"Killed him the first shot, eh?" Tad was dumfounded. "Now I never
thought Pino was that bad. But you never can tell about these Greasers,
can you? They'll all steal if they get a chance. I let Pino go, 'bout a
week back; but he's been hangin' around, aimin' to visit some of his
relatives up in the brush country. It was probably one of them old
Guzman saw. Anyhow, it couldn't of been Adolfo Urbina; he was over to
Las Palmas all the afternoon."

"Did you send him there?"

"Sure. Ed Austin can tell you."

"Where is Urbina now?"

"I reckon he's asleep somewhere. We'll dig him up and talk to him, if
you say so."

"Good."

Tad's willingness to cooperate with the officer, now that he understood
the situation, was in marked contrast to the behavior of Austin. In
fact, his offer to help was almost too willingly given to suit Dave,
who expected him to protest at being dragged out on such a night. No
protest came, however; Lewis slipped into his boots and slicker,
explaining meanwhile:

"I'm sorry this play came up, for I don't want folks to think I got a
gang of thieves workin' for me."

But Adolfo Urbina was nowhere to be found. No one had seen him since
about seven o'clock, nor could it be discovered where he was spending
the night. Dave remembered that it had been about seven when he left
Las Palmas, and ascertained, indirectly, that Tad had a telephone. On
his way from Austin's Law had stopped at a rancho for a bite to eat,
but he could forgive himself for the delay if, as he surmised, Urbina
had been warned by wire of his coming.

"That's too bad, ain't it?" Lewis said. "But he'll be around again in
the morning, and I'll get him for you. You leave it to me."

There was plainly nothing to do but accept this offer since it could
avail nothing to wait here for Urbina's return. Unless the fellow gave
himself up, he probably could not be found, now that the alarm was
given, without a considerable search--in view of which Dave finally
remounted his borrowed horse and rode away in the direction of
Jonesville.

It was after daylight when he dismounted stiffly at Blaze's gate. He
was wet to the skin and bespattered with mud; he had been almost
constantly in the saddle for twenty-four hours, and Don Ricardo's
cow-pony was almost exhausted.

Blaze and Paloma, of course, were tremendously interested in his story.

"Say, now, that's quick work," the latter exclaimed, heartily. "You're
some thief-buster, Dave, and if you'll just stay around here little
calves can grow up with some comfort."

When Dave rode to Jonesville, after breakfast, he found that the body
of his victim had been brought in during the night, and that the town
was already buzzing with news of the encounter. During the forenoon Don
Ricardo and his sons arrived, bringing additional information, which
they promptly imparted to the Ranger. The Guzmans were people of
action. All three of them had spent the night on horseback, and Pedro
had made a discovery. On the day previous Garza had been seen riding in
company with a man astride a sorrel pony, and this man had been
recognized as Adolfo Urbina. Pedro's witness would swear to it.

Their distance from Las Palmas at the time when they had been seen
together proved, beyond question, that unless Urbina had flown he could
not have arrived at the place in question by noon, the hour Ed Austin
had fixed.

This significant bit of information, however, Dave advised the Guzmans
not to make public for the time being.

Toward midday Tad Lewis and three of his men arrived with the news that
Urbina had left for Pueblo before they could intercept him.

"He's got a girl up there, and he's gone to get married," Tad
explained. "I'm sure sorry we missed him."

Dave smiled grimly at the speaker.

"Are you sure he didn't cross to the other side?" he asked.

Lewis retorted warmly: "Adolfo's an all-right hombre, and I'll back
him. So 'll Ed Austin, I guess me an' Ed are responsible, ain't we?"
Some skeptical expression in his hearer's face prompted him to inquire,
brusquely, "Don't you believe what I'm telling you about his goin' to
Pueblo?"

"I guess he's gone--somewhere."

Tad uttered an angry exclamation. "Looks to me like you'd made up your
mind to saddle this thing onto him whether he done it or not. Well,
he's a poor Mexican, but I won't stand to see him railroaded, and
neither will 'Young Ed.'"

"No?"

"You heard me! Ed will alibi him complete."

Law answered, sharply: "You tell Ed Austin to go slow with his alibis.
And you take this for what it's worth to you: I'm going to get all the
cattle-rustlers in this county--ALL of them, understand?"

Lewis flushed redly and sputtered: "If you make this stick with Adolfo,
nobody 'll be safe. I reckon Urbina's word is as good as old Ricardo's.
Everybody knows what HE is."

Later when Dave met the Guzmans, Ricardo told him, excitedly, "That
horse Tad Lewis is riding is the one I saw yesterday."

"Are you sure?"

"Listen, señor. Men in cities remember the faces they see; I have lived
all my life among horses, and to me they are like men. I seldom forget."

"Very well. Tad says Urbina has gone to Pueblo to get married, so I'm
going to follow him, and I shall be there when he arrives."

"Bueno! Another matter"--Ricardo hesitated--"your bonita--the pretty
mare. She is buried deep."

"I'm glad," said Dave. "I think I shall sleep better for knowing that."

Since the recent rain had rendered the black valley roads impassable
for automobiles, Dave decided to go to Pueblo by rail, even though it
was a roundabout way, and that afternoon found him jolting over the
leisurely miles between Jonesville and the main line. He was looking
forward to a good night's sleep when he arrived at the junction; but on
boarding the north-bound through train he encountered Judge Ellsworth,
who had just heard of the Garza killing, and of course was eager for
details. The two sat in the observation-car talking until a late hour.

Knowing the judge for a man of honor and discretion. Dave unburdened
himself with the utmost freedom regarding his suspicions of Ed Austin.

Ellsworth nodded. "Yes, Ed has thrown in with the Rebel junta in San
Antone, and Tad Lewis is the man they use to run arms and supplies in
this neighborhood. That's why he and Ed are so friendly. Urbina is
probably your cattle thief, but he has a hold over Ed, and so he rode
to Las Palmas when he was pursued, knowing that no jury would convict
him over Austin's testimony."

"Do you think Ed would perjure himself?" Dave asked.

"He has gone clean to the bad lately; there's no telling what he'll do.
I'd hate to see you crowd him, Dave."

"They call you the best lawyer in this county because you settle so
many cases out of court." The judge smiled at this. "Well, here's a
chance for you to do the county a good turn and keep Ed Austin out of
trouble."

"How?"

"The prosecuting attorney is a new man, and he wants to make a
reputation by breaking up the Lewis gang."

"Well?"

"He intends to cinch Urbina, on Ricardo's and my testimony. You're a
friend of Austin's; you'd better tip him to set his watch ahead a few
hours and save himself a lot of trouble. The prosecuting attorney don't
like Ed any too well. Understand?"

The judge pondered this suggestion for a moment. "'Young Ed' is a queer
fellow. Once in a while he gets his neck bowed."

"So do I," Law declared, quietly. "He treated me like a hobo--sent me
to the kitchen for a hand-out. That sticks. If I hadn't tamed down
considerably these late years, I'd have--wound him up, right there."

From beneath his drooping lids Ellsworth regarded the Ranger curiously.
"You HAVE a bad temper, haven't you?"

"Rotten!"

"I know. You were a violent boy. I've often wondered how you were
getting along. How do you feel when you're--that way?"

It was the younger man's turn to hesitate. "Well, I don't feel anything
when I'm mad," he confessed. "I'm plumb crazy, I guess. But I feel
plenty bad afterwards."

There was a flicker of the judge's eyelids.

Dave went on musingly: "I dare say it's inherited. They tell me my
father was the same. He was--a killer."

"Yes. He was all of that."

"Say! WAS he my father?"

Ellsworth started. "What do you mean?"

Dave lifted an abstracted gaze from the Pullman carpet. "I hardly know
what I mean, Judge. But you've had hunches, haven't you? Didn't you
ever KNOW that something you thought was true wasn't true at all? Well,
I never felt as if I had Frank Law's blood in me."

"This is interesting!" Ellsworth stirred and leaned forward. "Whatever
made you doubt it, Dave?"

"Um-m. Nothing definite. That's what's so unsatisfactory. But, for
instance, my mother was Mexican---"

"Spanish."

"All right. Am I Spanish? Have I any Spanish blood in me?"

"She didn't look Spanish. She was light-complexioned, for one thing. We
both know plenty of people with a Latin strain in them who look like
Anglo-Saxons. Isn't there anything else?"

"Nothing I can lay my finger on, except some kid fancies and--that
hunch I spoke about."

Ellsworth sat back with a deep breath. "You were educated in the North,
and your boyhood was spent at school and college, away from everything
Mexican."

"That probably accounts for it," Law agreed; then his face lit with a
slow smile. "By the way, don't tell Mrs. Austin that I'm a sort of
college person. She thinks I'm a red-neck, and she sends me books."

Ellsworth laughed silently. "Your talk is to blame, Dave. Has she sent
you The Swiss Family Robinson?"

"No. Mostly good, sad romances with an uplift--stories full of lances
at rest, and Willie-boys in tin sweaters. Life must have been mighty
interesting in olden days, there was so much loving and killing going
on. The good women were always beautiful, too, and the villains never
had a redeeming trait. It's a shame how human nature has got mixed up
since then, isn't it? There isn't a 'my-lady' in all those books who
could bust a cow-pony or run a ranch like Las Palmas. Say, Judge, how'd
you like to have to live with a perfect lady?"

"Don't try your damned hog-Latin on me," chided the lawyer. "Alaire
Austin's romance is sadder than any of those novels."

Dave nodded. "But she doesn't cry about it." Then he asked, gravely:
"Why didn't she pick a real fellow, who'd kneel and kiss the hem of her
dress and make a man of himself? That's what she wants--love and
sacrifice, and lots of both. If I were Ed Austin I'd wear her glove in
my bosom and treat her like those queens in the stories. Incense and
adoration and---"

"What's the matter with you?" queried the judge.

"I guess I'm lonesome."

"Are you smitten with that girl?"

Dave laughed. "Maybe! Who wouldn't be? Why doesn't she divorce that
bum--she could do it easy enough--and then marry a chap who could run
Las Palmas for her?"

"A man about six feet three or four," acidly suggested the judge.

"That's the picture I have in mind."

"You think you could run Las Palmas?"

"I wouldn't mind trying."

"Really?"

"Foolish question number three."

"You must never marry," firmly declared the older man. "You'd make a
bad husband, Dave."

"She ought to know how to get along with a bad husband, by this time."

Both men had been but half serious. Ellsworth knew his companion's
words carried no disrespect; nevertheless, he said, gravely:

"If you ever think of marrying I want you to come to me. Promise?"

"I'll do it--on the way back from church."

"No. On the way to church. I'll have something to tell you."

"Tell me now," urged Law.

"There's nothing to tell, yet."

"I'll have no old ruffians kissing my brand-new bride," Dave averred.

The judge's face broadened in a smile. "Thank Heaven 'Young Ed' has the
insides of a steel range, and so my pet client is safe from your
mercenary schemes for some years. Just the same, if you ever do think
of marrying--remember--I want you to come to me--and I'll cure you."



XII

LONGORIO MAKES BOLD


Upon her arrival at La Feria Alaire discovered that the Federal
depredations had been even greater than she had feared. Not only had
the soldiers taken a great many head of cattle, but they had
practically cleared the ranch of horses, leaving scarcely enough with
which to carry on the work.

Alaire's hacienda comprised a hundred thousand acres or more--lacking a
thorough survey, she had never determined exactly how much land she
really owned--and the property fronted upon a stream of water. In any
other country it would have been a garden of riches, but agriculture
was well-nigh impossible in northern Mexico. For several years now the
instability of the government had precluded any plan of development,
and, in consequence, the fields were out of cultivation and cattle
grazed over the moist bottom lands, belly deep in grass. The entire
ranch had been given over to pasture, and even now, after Alaire had
sold off much of her stock because of the war, the task of accurately
counting what remained required a longer time than she had expected,
and her visit lengthened.

However, life in the roomy, fortress-like adobe house was pleasant
enough. Dolores saw to her mistress's wants, and the regular
inhabitants of La Feria were always extravagantly glad to make their
employer welcome. They were a simple, mirth-loving, industrious people,
little concerned over the war, so long as they were unmolested, but
obviously relieved to see Alaire because of their recent fright at the
incursion of Longorio's troops.

In the work that now went forward José Sanchez took a prominent part.
For once in his life he was a person of recognized importance. Not only
was he the right hand of the owner of La Feria, but the favor of that
redoubtable general, the hero of a hundred tales, rested upon his
shoulders like a mantle. José's extravagant praises of the Federal
commander, together with the daily presence of the military guard,
forcibly brought home to the ranch-dwellers the fact that war was
actually going on, and that Luis Longorio was indeed a man of flesh and
blood, and no myth. This realization caused a ripple of excitement to
stir the peons' placid lives.

And yet in the midst of his satisfaction Sanchez confessed to one
trouble. He had expected to find his cousin, Panfilo, here, and the
fact that nothing whatever had been heard from him filled him with
great uneasiness. Of course he came to Alaire, who told him of seeing
Panfilo at the water-hole on the day after her husband had discharged
him; but that information gave José little comfort, since it proved
nothing as to his cousin's present whereabouts. Alaire thought best not
to tell him the full circumstances of that affair. Believing that
Panfilo would turn up at La Feria in due time, she gave little heed to
José's dark threats of vengeance for any injury to his relative.

The horse-breaker's concern increased as the days passed, and to the
lieutenant and members of the guard he repeated his threats. Truly, he
declared, if any evil had fallen upon his beloved cousin Panfilo, he,
José, would exact a terrible reckoning, a revenge befitting a man of
his character and a friend of Luis Longorio.

These soldiers, by the way, were something of a trial to Alaire, for
they were ever in her way. She could not ride a mile over her own
pastures without the whole martial squad following at her heels.
Protest was unavailing; the lieutenant was mulishly stubborn. He had
been ordered to keep the señora in sight at all times, so he said, and
that ended the matter as far as he was concerned. His life and the
lives of his six followers depended entirely upon her safety and
happiness, for General Longorio was a man of his word.

Of course the lieutenant would not offend for the world--the object of
his solicitude was at liberty to tread upon his worthless old
carcass--but orders were orders, especially when they came from a
certain source. He besought Alaire to exercise forbearance toward him,
and, above all, to use the extremest caution in regard to her own
well-being, for if aught befell her, if even a despicable rattlesnake
should rise out of the grass to sting her--caramba! The teniente, in
that case, would better destroy himself on the spot. Otherwise he would
surely find himself, in a short time, with his back to a stone wall and
his face to a firing-squad. That was the sort of man Longorio was.

The speaker wondered if Mrs. Austin really understood his chief's
nature; how determined he was; how relentless he could be. General
Longorio was a remarkable person. Opposition of any sort he could not
brook. His discipline was rigorous and his punishments were severe;
being utterly without fear himself, he insisted upon implicit obedience
in others at whatever cost. For instance, during the battle of San
Pedro, just south of here, a handful of Rebels had taken refuge in a
small, one-roomed adobe house, where they resisted all efforts at
dislodgment. Time and again the Federals had charged, only to meet a
fire too murderous to face. The slaughter had been terrific. The
lieutenant, veteran of many revolutions, vowed he had never seen a
street so full of dead and wounded as the one in front of this house.
Finally the soldiers had refused to advance again, and their captain
had sent for a cannon. During the wait Longorio had ridden up.

"'Come! Make haste!' said he, 'That house obstructs my view.'"

Seeing that Alaire was deeply interested in this recital, the old
lieutenant paused dramatically.

"Well, the capitan explained that an army was insufficient to take that
house; that it meant death to all who approached. I was not
present--God be praised!--but others told me what happened. General
Longorio dismounted and embraced the capitan--he kissed him on the
cheek, saying:

"'Adios, my dear good friend. I fear I have seen the last of you.'

"Then what? Señora, you would never guess." The speaker shook his head.
"Longorio took two dynamite grenades, and, laughing like a boy, he ran
forward before any one knew what he was about. It is nothing but the
truth, señora, and he a general! This capitan loved him dearly, and so
his bones turned to rope when the windows of that accursed house began
to vomit fire and the dust began to fly. They say that the dead men in
the street rose to their knees and crossed themselves--I only repeat
what I was told by those who looked on. Anyhow, I have seen things
quite as remarkable.

"Never was such courage, señora! God must have been moved to
astonishment and admiration, for He diverted those bullets, every one.
When our general came to the house he lit the fuses from his cigarette,
then he cried, 'Viva Potosi!' and hurled one bomb to the roof; the
other he flung through a window into the very faces of his enemies.
Those Rebels were packed in there like goats in a corral, and they say
such a screaming you never heard. Doubtless many of them died from
sheer terror the rest were blown through each other." The lieutenant
breathed an admiring oath. "Truly, it must have been a superb
spectacle."

"General Longorio must be very brave indeed," Alaire agreed.

"But wait! That is not all. After we had taken the town and destroyed
what Rebel officers we found--"

"You mean--your prisoners?"

"Si. But there were only a few, and doubtless some of them would have
died from their wounds. Well then, after that General Longorio called
his old friend--that capitan--out before his troops and with his own
hand he shot him. Then every fifth man among those who had refused to
charge he ordered executed. It effected much good, I assure you."

For a moment Alaire and her companion rode in silence, but the teniente
was not content with this praise of his leader.

"And yet General Longorio has another side to his character," he
continued. "He can be as mild as the shyest señorita, and he possesses
the most beautiful sentiments. Women are mad over him. But he is hard
to please--strangely so. Truly, the lady who captivates his fancy may
count herself fortunate." The old soldier turned in his saddle and,
with a grace surprising in one of his rough appearance, removed his hat
and swept Alaire a bow the unmistakable meaning of which caused her to
start and to stammer something unintelligible.

Alaire was angry at the fellow's presumption, and vexed with herself
for showing that she understood his insinuation. She spurred her horse
into a gallop, leaving him to follow as he could.

It was absurd to take the man's word seriously; indeed, he probably
believed he had paid her a compliment. Alaire assured herself that
Longorio's attentions were inspired merely by a temporary extravagance
of admiration, characteristic of his nationality. Doubtless he had
forgotten all about her by this time. That, too, was characteristic of
Latin men. Nevertheless, the possibility that she had perhaps stirred
him more deeply than she believed was disturbing--one might easily
learn to fear Longorio. As a suitor he would be quite as embarrassing,
quite as--dangerous as an enemy, if all reports were true.

Alaire tried to banish such ideas, but even in her own room she was not
permitted entirely to forget, for Dolores echoed the teniente's
sentiments.

In marked contrast to José Sanchez's high and confident spirits was the
housekeeper's conviction of dire calamity. In the presence of these
armed strangers she saw nothing but a menace, and considered herself
and her mistress no more nor less than prisoners destined for a fate as
horrible as that of the two beautiful sisters of whom she never tired
of speaking. Longorio was a blood-thirsty beast, and he was saving them
as prey for his first leisure moment--that was Dolores's belief.
Abandoning all hope of ever seeing Las Palmas again, she gave herself
up to thoughts of God and melancholy praises of her husband's virtues.

In spite of all this, however, Alaire welcomed the change in her daily
life. Everything about La Feria was restfully un-American, from the
house itself, with its bare walls and floors, its brilliantly flowering
patio, and its primitive kitchen arrangements, to the black-shawled,
barefooted Indian women and their naked children rolling in the dust.
Even the timberless mountains that rose sheer from the westward plain
into a tumbling purple-shadowed rampart were Mexican. La Feria was
several miles from the railroad; therefore it could not have been more
foreign had it lain in the very heart of Mexico rather than near the
northern boundary.

In such surroundings, and in spite of faint misgivings, it was not
strange that, after a few days, Alaire's unhappiness assumed a vaguely
impersonal quality and that her life, for the moment, seemed not to be
her own. Even the thought of her husband, Ed Austin, became indistinct
and unreal. Then all too soon she realized that the purpose of her
visit was accomplished and that she had no excuse for remaining longer.
She was now armed with sufficient facts to make a definite demand upon
the Federal government.

The lieutenant took charge of the return journey to the railroad, and
the two women rode to the jingling accompaniment of metal trappings.
When at last they were safely aboard the north-bound train, Alaire
mildly teased Dolores about her recent timidity. But Dolores was not to
be betrayed into premature rejoicing.

"Anything may happen at a moment's notice," she declared. "Something
tells me that I am to meet a shocking fate. I can hear those ruffianly
soldiers quarreling over me--it is what comes from good looks." Dolores
mechanically smoothed the wrinkles from her dress and adjusted her
hair. "Mark you! I shall kill myself first. I have made up my mind to
that. But it is a great pity we were not born ugly."

Alaire could not forbear a smile, for she who thus resigned herself to
the penalties of beauty had never been well favored, and age had
destroyed what meager attractions she may have once possessed.

Dolores went on after a time. "My Benito will not long remain
unmarried. He is like all men. More than once I have suspected him of
making eyes at young women, and any girl in the country would marry him
just for my fine silver coffee-pot and those spoons. There is my
splendid silk mantilla, with fringe half as long as your arm, too. Oh,
I have treasures enough!" She shook her head mournfully. "It is a
mistake for a wife to lay up pretty things, since they are merely
temptations to other women."

Alaire tried to reason her out of this mood. "Why should any one molest
us? Who could wish us harm?" she asked.

"Ha! Did you see that general? He was like a drunken man in your
presence; it was as if he had laid eyes upon the shining Madonna. I
could hear his heart beating."

"Nonsense! In the first place, I am an old married woman."

Dolores sniffed. "Vaya! Old, indeed! What does he care for a husband?
He only cares that you have long, bright hair, redder than rust, and
eyes like blue flowers, and a skin like milk. An angel could not be so
beautiful."

"Ah, Dolores, you flatterer! Seriously, though, don't you realize that
we are Americans, and people of position? An injury to us would bring
terrible consequences upon General Longorio's head. That is why he sent
his soldiers with us."

"All the same," Dolores maintained stubbornly, "I wish I had brought
that shawl and that silver coffee-pot with me."

The homeward journey was a repetition of the journey out; there were
the same idle crowds, the same displays of filthy viands at the
stopping-places, the same heat and dust and delays. Longorio's
lieutenant hovered near, and José, as before, was news-gatherer. Hour
after hour they crept toward the border, until at last they were again
laid out on a siding for an indefinite wait.

The occasion for this was made plain when an engine drawing a single
caboose appeared. Even before it had come to a pause a tall figure in
spotless uniform leaped to the ground and strode to the waiting
coaches. It was Luis Longorio. He waved a signal to the conductor, then
swung aboard the north-bound train.

The general was all smiles as he came down the and bowed low over
Alaire's hand.

Dolores gasped and stiffened in her seat like a woman of stone.

"God be praised! You are safe and well!" said the new-comer. "I have
blamed myself for allowing you to take this abominable journey! I have
been in torment lest something befall you. Every night I have prayed
that you might be spared all harm. When I received word that you were
coming I made all speed to meet you."

"Dolores and I are greatly in your debt," Alaire told him.

"But you stayed so long!"

"There was more work than I thought. General, you have ruined me."

Longorio was pained; his face became ineffably sad. "Please! I beg of
you," he entreated. "I have arranged for reparation of that miserable
mistake. You shall see what I have done. With your own eyes you shall
read the furious correspondence I have carried on with the minister.
Together you and I shall manage a settlement, and you will find that I
am a friend indeed!"

"I hope so."

"Have I not proved it? Am I not ready to give you my life?" the general
queried, earnestly. "Fix the damages at your own figure and I shall see
that you receive justice. If the government will not pay, I will. I
have means; I am not a poor man. All I possess would be too little to
buy your happiness."

"You embarrass me. I'm afraid you don't realize what you say." Alaire
remained cool under the man's protestations. "I have lost more than a
thousand head of cattle."

"We shall say two, three thousand, and the government will pay,"
Longorio asserted, brazenly. "I will vouch for your figures, and no one
will question them, for I am a man of honor."

"No! All I want--"

"It is done. Let us say no more about the affair. Señora, I have
thought of you every hour; the duties that held me in Nuevo Pueblo were
like irksome chains. I was in madness. I would have flown to La Feria
but--I could not."

"My husband will thank you for your great courtesy to me," Alaire
managed to say.

But the mention of husbands was not agreeable to one of Longorio's
sensitiveness, and his face betrayed a hint of impatience.

"Yes, yes," he agreed, carelessly. "Señor Austin and I must know each
other better and become friends."

"That is hardly possible at present. When the war is over--"

"Bah! This war is nothing. I go where I please. You would be surprised
to greet me at Las Palmas some day soon, eh? When you tell your husband
what a friend I am he would be glad to see me, would he not?"

"Why--of course. But surely you wouldn't dare--"

"And why not? Las Palmas is close to the river, and my troops are in
Romero, directly opposite. Mexico is not at war with your country, and
when I am in citizen's clothes I am merely an ordinary person. I have
made inquiries, and they tell me Las Palmas is beautiful, heavenly, and
that you are the one who transformed it. I believe them. You have the
power to transform all things, even a man's heart and soul. No wonder
you are called 'The Lone Star.' But wait. You will see how constantly I
think of you." Longorio drew from his pocket several photographs of the
Austin ranch-house.

"Where did you get those?" Alaire asked in astonishment.

"Ah! My secret. See! They are badly worn already, for I keep them next
my bosom."

"We entertain very few guests at Las Palmas," she murmured,
uncomfortably.

"I know. I know a great deal."

"It would scarcely be safe for you to call; the country is full of
Candeleristas--"

"Cattle!" said the officer, with a careless shrug. "Did not that great
poet Byron swim an ocean to see a lovely lady? Well, I, too, am a poet.
I have beautiful fancies; songs of love run through my mind. Those
Englishmen know nothing of passion. Your American men are cold. Only a
Mexican can love. We have fire in our veins, señora."

To these perfervid protestations Dolores listened with growing fright;
her eyes were wide and they were fixed hypnotically upon the speaker;
she presented much the appearance of a rabbit charmed by a serpent. But
to Longorio she did not exist; she was a chattel, a servant, and
therefore devoid of soul or intelligence, or use beyond that of serving
her mistress.

Thinking to put an end to these blandishments, Alaire undertook to
return the general's ring, with the pretense that she considered it no
more than a talisman loaned her for the time being. But it was a task
to make Longorio accept it. He was shocked, offended, hurt; he declared
the ring to be of no value; it was no more than a trifling evidence of
his esteem. But Alaire was firm.

"Your customs are different to ours," she told him. "An American woman
is not permitted to accept valuable presents, and this would cause
disagreeable comment."

At such a thought the general's finest sensibilities were wounded, but
nothing, it seemed, could permanently dampen his ardor, and he soon
proceeded to press his attentions with even more vehemence than before.
He had brought Alaire candies of American manufacture, Mexican
sweetmeats of the finest variety, a beautiful silken shawl, and at
midday the grizzled teniente came with a basket of lunch containing
dainties and fruits and vacuum bottles with hot and cold drinks.

When invited to share the contents, the general was plainly overjoyed,
but he was so enthralled by his companion's beauty that he could eat
but little.

It was a most embarrassing situation. Longorio kept Alaire for ever
upon the defensive, and it sorely taxed her ingenuity to hold the
conversation in safe channels. As the journey proceeded it transpired
that the man had made use of his opportunities to learn everything
about her, even to her life with Ed. His information was extensive, and
his deductions almost uncanny in their correctness. He told her about
Austin's support of the Rebel cause and her own daily doings at Las
Palmas; he intimated that her unhappiness was almost more than he could
bear.

This intimate knowledge and sympathy he seemed to regard as a bond that
somehow united them. He was no longer a new acquaintance, but a close
and loyal friend whose regard was deathless.

Undoubtedly the man had a way with him. He impressed people, and his
magnetism was potent. Moreover, he knew the knack of holding what
ground he gained.

It was an odd, unreal ride, through the blazing heat of the long
afternoon. Longorio cast off all pretense and openly laid siege to the
red-haired woman's heart--all without offering her the smallest chance
to rebuff him, the slightest ground for open resentment, so respectful
and guarded were his advances. But he was forceful in his way, and the
very intensity of his desires made him incapable of discouragement. So
the duel progressed--Alaire cool and unyielding, he warm, persistent,
and tireless. He wove about her an influence as difficult to combat as
the smothering folds of some flocculent robe or the strands of an
invisible web, and no spider was ever more industrious.

When the train arrived at its destination his victim was well-nigh
exhausted from the struggle. He helped her into a coach with the
gentlest and gravest courtesy, and not until the vehicle rolled away
did Alaire dare to relax. Through her fatigue she could still hear his
soft farewell until the morrow, and realized that she had committed
herself to his further assistance. His palms against hers had been
warm, his adoring eyes had caressed her, but she did not care. All she
wished now was to reach her hotel, and then her bed.

After a good night's rest, however, Alaire was able to smile at
yesterday's adventure. Longorio did not bulk so large now; even these
few hours had greatly diminished his importance, so that he appeared
merely as an impulsive foreigner who had allowed a woman to turn his
head. Alaire knew with what admiration even a moderately attractive
American woman is greeted in Mexico, and she had no idea that this
fellow had experienced anything more than a fleeting infatuation. Now
that she had plainly shown her distaste for his outlaw emotions, and
convinced him that they awoke in her no faintest response, she was
confident that his frenzy would run its brief course and die.
Meanwhile, it was not contrary to the standards of feminine ethics to
take advantage of the impression she had made upon him and with his
help push through a fair financial settlement of her loss.

Once back across the river, however, she discovered that there were
obstacles to a prompt adjustment of her claim. The red tape of her own
government was as nothing to that of Mexico. There were a thousand
formalities, a myriad of maddening details to be observed, and they
called for the services of an advocate, a notary, a jefe politico, a
jefe de armas--officials without end. All of these worthies were
patient and polite, but they displayed a malarial indifference to
delay, and responsibility seemed to rest nowhere. During the day Alaire
became bewildered, almost lost in the mazes of official procedure, and
was half minded to telegraph for Judge Ellsworth. But that again meant
delay, and she was beginning to long for home.

Longorio by no means shared her disappointment. On the contrary, he
assured her they were making splendid progress, and he was delighted
with her grasp of detail and her knowledge of business essentials. At
his word all Nuevo Pueblo bowed and scraped to her, she was treated
with impressive formality, and even the military guards at the various
headquarters presented arms when she passed. The general's official
business waited upon Alaire's convenience, and to spare her the
necessity of the short ride back to American soil he arranged for her
an elaborate luncheon in his quarters.

As on the day before, he assumed the privileges of a close friend, and
treated his guest as a sort of fellow-conspirator working hand in hand
with him for some holy cause.



XIII

DAVE LAW BECOMES JEALOUS


"You can never know what these two days have been for me," the general
said as he and Alaire lingered over their meal. "They will afford me
something to think about all my life! It is a delicious comfort to know
that you trust me, that you do not dislike me. And you do not dislike
me, eh?"

"Why, of course not. I have a great deal for which to thank you."

General Longorio fingered his wineglass and stared into it. "I am not
like other men. Would to God I were, for then I could close my eyes
and--forget. You have your great tragedy--it is old to you; but mine,
dear lady, is just beginning. I can look forward to nothing except
unhappiness." He sighed deeply.

"I'm sorry you are unhappy," Alaire parried. "Surely you have every
pleasant prospect."

"It would seem so. I am young, rich, a hero, I serve my country in
glorious fashion, but what is all that if there is no pretty one to
care? Even the meanest peon has his woman, his heart's treasure. I
would give all I have, I would forego my hope of heaven and doom myself
to eternal tortures, for one smile from a pair of sweet lips, one look
of love. I am a man of iron--yes, an invincible soldier--and yet I have
a heart, and a woman could rule me."

"You say you have a heart." Alaire studied her vis-avis curiously as he
met her eyes with his mournful gaze. "How is it that I hear such
strange stories about you, general?"

"What stories?"

"Stories--too terrible to mention. I wonder if they can be true."

"Lies, all of them!" Longorio asserted.

"For instance, they tell me that you shoot your prisoners?"

"Of course!" Then, at her shocked exclamation, he explained: "It is a
necessity of war. Listen, señora! We have twelve million Indians in
Mexico and a few selfish men who incite them to revolt. Everywhere
there is intrigue, and nowhere is there honor. To war against the
government is treason, and treason is punishable by death. To permit
the lower classes to rise would result in chaos, black anarchy,
indescribable outrages against life and property. There is but one way
to pacify such people--exterminate them! Mexico is a civilized nation;
there is no greater in the world; but she must be ruled with an iron
hand. Soldiers make rulers. I am still a young man, and--at present
there is but one other capable of this gigantic task. For the time
being, therefore, I permit myself to serve under him, and--I salute
him. Viva Potosi!" The speaker lifted his glass and drank. "Madero was
a wicked believer in spells and charms; he talked with the dead. He,
and those who came after him, fired the peons to revolt and despoiled
our country, leaving her prone and bleeding. We of the Cientificos have
set ourselves to stop her wounds and to nourish her to life again. We
shall drive all traitors into the sea and feed them to the sharks. We
shall destroy them all, and Mexico shall have peace. But I am not a
bloodthirsty man. No, I am a poet and a lover at heart. As great a
patriot as I am, I could be faithless to my country for one smile from
the woman I adore."

Alaire did not color under the ardent glance that went with this
declaration. She deliberately changed the subject.

"This morning while we were in the office of the jeje de armas," she
said, "I saw a poor woman with a baby--she was scarcely more than a
child herself--whose husband is in prison. She told me how she had come
all the way from the country and is living with friends, just to be
near him. Every day she goes to the carcel, but is denied admission,
and every day she comes to plead with the jefe de armas for her
husband's life. But he will not see her, and the soldiers only laugh at
her tears."

"A common story! These women and their babies are very annoying,"
observed the general.

"She says that her husband is to be shot."

"Very likely! Our prisons are full. Doubtless he is a bad man."

"Can't you do something?"

"Eh?" Longorio lifted his brows in the frankest inquiry.

"That poor girl with her little, bare, brown-eyed baby was pitiful."
Alaire leaned forward with an earnest appeal in her face, and her host
smiled.

"So? That is how it is, eh? What is her name?"

"Inez Garcia. The husband's name is Juan."

"Of course. These peladors are all Juans. You would like to appear as
an angel of mercy, eh? Your heart is touched?"

"Deeply."

"Bastante! There is no more to be said." Longorio rose and went into
the next room where were certain members of his staff. After a time he
returned with a paper in his hand, and this he laid before Alaire. It
was an order for the release of Juan Garcia. "The salvo conducto which
will permit Juan and his Inez and their Juanito to return to their farm
is being made out," he explained. "Are you satisfied?"

Alaire looked up wonderingly, "I am deeply grateful. You overwhelm me.
You are--a strange man."

"Dear lady, I live to serve you. Your wish is my law. How can I prove
it further?" As he stood beside her chair the fervor of his gaze caused
her eyes to droop and a faint color to come into her cheeks. She felt a
sudden sense of insecurity, for the man was trembling; the evident
desire to touch her, to seize her in his arms, was actually shaking him
like an ague. What next would he do? Of what wild extravagance was he
not capable? He was a queer mixture of fire and ice, of sensuality and
self-restraint. She knew him to be utterly lawless in most things, and
yet toward her he had shown scrupulous restraint. What possibilities
were in a man of his electric temperament, who had the strength to
throttle his fiercest longings?

The strained, throbbing silence that followed Longorio's last words did
more to frighten the woman than had his most ardent advances.

After a time he lifted Alaire's hand; she felt his lips hot and damp
upon her flesh; then he turned and went away with the document.

When he reappeared he was smiling. "These Garcias shall know who
interceded for them. You shall have their thanks," said he.

"No, no! It is enough that the man is free."

"How now?" The general was puzzled. "What satisfaction can there be in
a good deed unless one receives public credit and thanks for it? I am
not like that."

He would have lingered indefinitely over the table, but Alaire soon
rose to go, explaining:

"I must finish my disagreeable task now, so that I can go home
to-morrow."

"To-morrow!" her host cried in dismay. "No, no! You must wait--"

"My husband is expecting me."

This statement was a blow; it seemed to crush Longorio, who could only
look his keen distress.

As they stepped out into the street Alaire was afforded that treat
which Longorio had so thoughtfully arranged for her. There in the
gutter stood Inez Garcia with her baby in her arms, and beside her the
ragged figure of a young man, evidently her Juan. The fellow was
emaciated, his face was gaunt and worn and frightened, his feet were
bare even of sandals, the huge peaked straw hat which he clutched over
his breast was tattered, and yet in his eye there was a light.

They had waited patiently, these Garcias, heedful of Longorio's orders,
and now they burst into a torrent of thanks. They flung themselves to
their knees and kissed the edge of Alaire's dress. Their instructions
had been plain, and they followed them to the letter, yet their
gratitude was none the less genuine for being studied. The little
mother's hysteria, for instance, could not have been entirely assumed,
and certainly no amount of rehearsals could have taught the child to
join his cries so effectively to his parents'. Between them all they
made such a racket as to summon a crowd, and Dolores, who had also
awaited her mistress, was so deeply stirred that she wept with them.

General Longorio enjoyed this scene tremendously, and his beaming eyes
expressed the hope that Alaire was fully satisfied with the moment. But
the Garcias, having been thoroughly coached, insisted upon rendering
full measure of thanks, and there seemed to be no way of shutting them
off until the general ordered them to their feet.

"That is enough!" he declared. "Hombre, you are free, so go about your
business and fight no more with those accursed rebels."

Juan, of course, was ready at this moment to fight for any one he was
told to fight for, particularly Longorio himself, and he so declared.
His life was at the service of the benefactor who had spared him; his
wife and baby lived only to bless the illustrious general.

"They look very poor," said Alaire, and opened her purse; but Longorio
would not permit her to give. Extracting a large roll of paper money
from his own pocket, he tossed it, without counting, to Juan, and then
when the onlookers applauded he loudly called to one of his officers,
saying:

"Oiga! Give these good friends of mine two horses, and see that they
are well cared for. Now, Juan," he addressed the dazed countryman, "I
have one order for you. Every night of your life you and your pretty
wife must say a prayer for the safety and happiness of this beautiful
lady who has induced me to spare you. Do you promise?"

"We promise!" eagerly cried the pair.

"Good! See that you keep your word. On the day that you forget for the
first time Luis Longorio will come to see you. And then what?" He
scowled at them fiercely.

"We will not forget," the Garcias chorused.

There was a murmur from the onlookers; some one cried: "VIVA LONGORIO!"

The general bowed smilingly; then, taking Alaire's arm, he waved the
idlers out of his path with a magnificent gesture.

When, later in the day, Mrs. Austin came to say good-by and thank the
Mexican for his courtesies, he humbly begged permission to pay his
respects that evening at her hotel, and she could not refuse.

As the coach went bouncing across the international bridge, Dolores
said, spitefully: "It will take more than the pardon of poor Juan
Garcia to unlock Heaven for that bandit. He is the wickedest man I ever
met--yes, probably the wickedest man in the world."

"He has been kind to us."

"Bah! He has a motive. Do you notice the way he looks at you? It is
enough to damn him for all eternity."

Upon her arrival at the hotel Alaire received an agreeable surprise,
for as her vehicle paused, at the curb David Law stepped forward, hat
in hand.

"What bloodthirsty business brings you to Pueblo?" she queried, when
they had exchanged greetings.

Law smiled at her. "I came to offer free board and lodging to a poor
Greaser. But he ain't here. And you, ma'am?"

Alaire briefly outlined the reasons that had taken her to La Feria and
the duties that had kept her busy since her return, while Dave nodded
his understanding. When, however, he learned that she was counting upon
General Luis Longorio's aid in securing justice, his expression
altered. He regarded her with some curiosity as he inquired:

"Isn't Longorio the very man who robbed you?"

"Yes."

"And now he offers to square himself?"

"Precisely. You don't seem to put much faith in him."

"Mexicans are peculiar people," Law said, slowly. "At least we consider
them peculiar--probably because they are different to us. Anyhow, we
don't understand their business methods or their habits of mind; even
their laughter and their tears are different to ours, but--from my
experience with them I wouldn't put much confidence in this Longorio's
word. I say this, and I'm supposed to have a little Mexican blood in
me."

During this brief conversation they had entered the hotel, and now the
lobby idlers took quick cognizance of Mrs. Austin's presence. The
lanky, booted Ranger excited no comment, for men of his type were
common here; but Alaire was the heroine of many stories and the object
of a wide-spread curiosity; therefore she received open stares and
heard low whisperings. Naturally resenting this attention, she gave her
hand to Law more quickly than she would have done otherwise.

"I hope we shall see each other again," she murmured.

"That's more'n likely; I'm located in your neighborhood now," he
informed her. "I'm leaving for Jonesville in the morning."

"By train?"

"No'm. I'm goin' to follow the river road if I can get an automobile."

Mindful of the Ranger's courtesy to her on their previous meeting,
Alaire said: "Won't you go with us? We intend to start early."

"I'd love to, ma'am--but I'll have to make a few inquiries along the
line."

"Good! It is a large car and"--she smiled at him--"if we have tire
trouble I may need your help. José, my man, is a splendid
horse-breaker, but he seems to think a tire tool is some sort of a
fancy branding-iron. His mechanical knowledge is limited to a
bridle-bit and a cinch, and I'm almost certain he believes there is
something ungodly about horseless wagons."

Dave was nearly speechless with delight, and when the mistress of Las
Palmas had gone up-stairs he felt inclined to pinch himself to see if
he were dreaming. He had pursued a fruitless quest during the past few
days, and his resentment had grown as he became certain that Tad Lewis
had sent him on a wild-goose chase; but the sight of Alaire
miraculously restored his good spirits, and the prospect of a long,
intimate ride in her company changed the whole trend of his thoughts.
His disappointment at not seeing her upon his visit to Las Palmas had
only served to enhance his memories of their first meeting, and time,
now, had deepened his interest tenfold. Yes, she was "The Lone Star,"
the estrella brillante of his empty sky.

When the supper-hour came he managed by carefully watching the
dining-room to time his meal with Mrs. Austin's. He even ventured to
hope that they might share the same table, but in this he was
disappointed. However, from where he sat he could see her profile and
worship her to his heart's content, and when she favored him with a
smile and a nod he was happy.

All without his knowledge, Dave realized, this woman had secured an
amazing hold over him. He had thought a great deal about her, of
course, but his thoughts had been idle, and it had required this second
encounter to make him know the truth. Now, however, there could be no
doubt about his feelings; he was more than romantically interested, the
mere sight of her had electrified him. The discovery distressed him,
and he very properly decided that the affair should end here, since it
could lead to nothing except disappointment.

But who can govern a wayward fancy? One moment Law promised himself to
see no more of this married woman; the next he wondered how she would
occupy the evening, and ventured to hope that he might have a chance to
talk with her.

After supper, however, she was nowhere to be found. When his first
chagrin had passed he decided that this was exactly as it should be. He
didn't like to see women make themselves conspicuous in hotels.

At the time of this story relations between the United States and the
established government of Mexico were at such high tension that a
hostility had sprung up between the troops fronting each other along
the Rio Grande, and in consequence their officers no longer crossed the
boundary, even when off duty. It created a flurry of suppressed
excitement, therefore, when Luis Longorio, the autocrat of the
Potosista forces, boldly crossed the bridge, traversed the streets of
Pueblo, and entered the Hamilton Hotel.

From his seat in the lobby Law heard the general inquire for Mrs.
Austin, and then saw him ascend in the direction of the parlor. What
the devil could Longorio want with "The Lone Star" at such an hour? the
Ranger asked himself. Why should he presume to call upon her unless--he
was interested? Mexican officers, in these parlous times, were not
given to social courtesies, and Longorio's reputation was sufficiently
notorious to render his attentions a cause for gossip under any
circumstances.

Dave rose and strolled restlessly about the hotel. A half-hour passed
and Longorio did not reappear; an hour dragged by, and then Dave took
occasion to go to his room. A glance through the open parlor door
showed the foreigner in closest conversation with Mrs. Austin. They
were laughing; they were alone; even Dolores was nowhere to be seen.

When Dave returned to his big rocking-chair he found it uncomfortable;
he watched the clock anxiously; he chewed several cigars viciously
before realizing that he was jealous--yes, madly, unreasonably jealous.

So! His divinity was not as unapproachable as he had imagined.
Doubtless Longorio was mad over her, which explained the fellow's
willingness to help her exact reparation from his government. Fine
doings for a respectable married woman! It was wrong, scandalous,
detestable!

After a time Dave rose impatiently. What had come over him, anyhow? He
must be crazy to torture himself in this fashion. What went on
up-stairs certainly was none of his business, and he had better far
amuse himself. In accordance with this excellent reasoning, he went to
a picture-show. But he could not become interested. The flat images on
the screen failed to divert him, and the only faces he saw were those
of Luis Longorio and the lone mistress of Las Palmas.

Had Dave only known the truth, he would have gained a grim comfort from
it, for Alaire Austin was not enjoying herself this evening. Her caller
stayed on interminably and she became restive under the flow of his
conversation. For some reason or other Longorio was not the romantic
figure he had been; in his citizen's clothes he was only a dandified
Mexican gallant like any number of others. The color was gone from the
picture; this quixotic guerrilla hero, this elegant Ruy Blas, was
nothing more than a tall, olive-skinned foreigner whose ardor was
distasteful. Longorio was tiresome.



XIV

JOSE SANCHEZ SWEARS AN OATH


On this same evening a scene of no little significance was taking place
at Las Palmas. Ed Austin was entertaining callers, and these were none
other than Tad Lewis and Adolfo Urbina.

The progress of events during the last few days had shaped this
conference, for, as Dave had forecast during his conversation with
Judge Ellsworth, the local prosecuting attorney saw in the Guzman
cattle case an opportunity to distinguish himself, and was taking
action accordingly. He had gathered considerable evidence against
Urbina, and was exerting himself to the utmost for an indictment. He
had openly declared that the testimony of Ricardo Guzman and his other
witnesses would convict the suspect, and the fact that his politics
were opposed to Ed Austin's complicated matters still further. It was
the unwelcome news of all this which had brought Tad Lewis and his
Mexican helper to Las Palmas under cover of darkness. Having gone over
the circumstances in detail, Lewis concluded:

"We're depending on you, Ed. You got to stand pat."

But Austin was lukewarm. He had experienced a change of heart, and the
cause appeared when he read aloud a letter that day received from Judge
Ellsworth, in which the judge told of his meeting with Dave Law, and
the Ranger's reasons for doubting Ed's word.

"I've got to take water," "Young Ed" told his visitors, "or I'll get
myself into trouble." Then querulously he demanded of Adolfo: "Why in
hell did you come here, anyhow? Why didn't you keep to the chaparral?"

Adolfo shrugged. "I thought you were my friend."

"Sure!" Tad agreed. "Urbina's been a friend to you, now you got to
stick to him. We got to hang together, all of us. My evidence wouldn't
carry no weight; but there ain't a jury in South Texas that would
question yours. Adolfo done the right thing."

"I don't see it," Ed declared, petulantly. "What's the use of getting
me into trouble? There's the river; they can't follow you across."

But Urbina shook his head.

"You know he can't cross," Tad explained. "His people would shoot him
if he ever went to Mexico."

"Well, he'll be caught if he stays here. You daren't send that damned
Ranger on another blind trail. If Adolfo can't go south he'll have to
go north."

"Not on your life," affirmed Lewis. "If he runs it'll prove his guilt
and look bad for me. I'm the one they're after, and I don't stand any
too good, as you know. You got to go through with this, Ed."

"I won't do it," Austin asserted, stubbornly. "I won't be dragged into
the thing. You've no business rustling stock, anyhow. You don't have
to."

Urbina exhaled a lungful of cigarette smoke and inquired, "You won't
help me, eh?"

"No, I won't."

"Very well! If I go to prison you shall go, too. I shall tell all I
know and we shall be companions, you and I."

Austin's temper rose at the threat. "Bah!" he cried, contemptuously.
"There's nothing against me except running arms, and the embargo is off
now. It's a joke, anyhow. Nobody was ever convicted, even when the
embargo was in effect. Why, the government winks at anybody who helps
the Rebels."

"Oh, that is nothing!" Urbina agreed; "but you would not wish to be
called a cattle thief, eh?"

"What d'you mean?"

"You knew that the stealing went on."

"Huh! I should say I did. Haven't I lost a lot of horses?"

Lewis interposed, impatiently: "Say! Suppose Adolfo tells what he knows
about them horses? Suppose he tells how you framed it to have your own
stock run across, on shares, so's you could get more money to go
hifalutin' around San Antone without your wife knowing it? I reckon you
wouldn't care to have that get out."

"You can't prove it," growled "Young Ed."

"Oh! I reckon it can be proved all right," confidently asserted Lewis.

"Nobody'd believe such a thing."

"Folks are ready to believe 'most anything about you. Your wife would
believe it. Ain't Las Palmas in her name, and don't she give you so
much a month to spend? If them ain't facts, you lied to me."

"Yes!" Urbina supplemented. "I can swear to all that. And I can swear
also that you knew about those calves the other day."

"What!" Ed started.

"Why not? We were together; your own people saw us. Well, then, if you
would steal your wife's horses, why would you not steal your neighbor's
cattle? The relatives of poor Pino Garza--God rest his soul!--will bear
me out. I have arranged for that. Suppose I tell the jury that there
were three of us in that pasture of yours, instead of two? What then? I
would be lonely in prison without a good compadre to bear me company."
Urbina grinned in evil triumph.

"This is the damnedest outrage I ever heard of," gasped "Young Ed."
"It's a fairy story--"

"Prove it," chuckled Lewis. "The prosecuting attorney'd eat it up, Ed.
It sounds kind of crazy, but you can't ask Adolfo to take to the brush
and live like a javelin just for your sake, when you could square him
with a word."

There was a moment or two of silence, during which the visitors watched
the face of the man whose weakness they both knew. At last Ed Austin
ventured to say, apologetically:

"I'm willing to do almost anything to help Adolfo, but--they'll make a
liar of me if I take the stand. Isn't there some other way out?"

"I don't know of any," said Lewis.

"Money'll square anything," Ed urged, hopefully, whereupon Urbina waved
his cigarette and nodded.

"This Ricardo Guzman is the cause of it all. He is a bad man."

"No doubt of that," Lewis agreed. "He's got more enemies than I have.
If he was out of the way there wouldn't be nothin' to this case, and
the country'd be a heap better off, too."

"What about that other witness?" Ed queried.

"If Ricardo were gone--if something should happen to him"--Urbina's
wicked face darkened--"there would be no other witness. I would see to
that."

The color receded from Ed Austin's purple cheeks, and he rose abruptly.
"This is getting too strong for me," he cried. "I won't listen to this
sort of talk. I won't be implicated in any such doings."

"Nobody's goin' to implicate you," Tad told him. "Adolfo wants to keep
you out of trouble. There's plenty of people on both sides of the river
that don't like Guzman any better'n we do. Me an' Adolfo was talkin' it
over on the way up."

"Well, you can talk it over some more, but I'm going for a drink," Ed
declared, and left the room, nervously mopping his face. He knew only
too well the character of his two visitors; he had learned much about
Tad Lewis during the past few months, and, as for the Mexican, he
thought the fellow capable of any crime. At this moment Ed bitterly
regretted his acquaintance with these neighbors, for both men knew more
about his affairs than he cared to have made public. He was angry and
resentful at Tad for taking sides against him, and more than a little
fearful of Adolfo's enmity if he refused assistance. The owner of Las
Palmas still retained a shred of self-respect, a remnant of pride in
his name; he did not consider himself a bad man. He was determined now
to escape from this situation without loss of credit, no matter what
the price--if escape were possible--and he vowed earnestly to himself
that hereafter he would take ample pains never to become similarly
involved.

Austin remained out of the room for some time; when he returned his
visitors appeared to have reached some determination.

"I reckon we can fix things if you'll help," Lewis announced.

"And that's just what I won't do," Ed impatiently declared. "Do you
think I'm going to be tangled up in a--murder? I've got nothing against
Don Ricardo."

"Who said anything about murder? Things ain't like they was when your
father owned Las Palmas; he done his share of killin', but nowadays
there's too dam' much law layin' around loose. All you've got to do is
give me about a thousand dollars."

"What for?" Ed asked, suspiciously.

"So's we can handle ourselves. It's up to you to do something, ain't
it?"

Austin demurred. "I haven't that much that I can lay hands on," he
said, sullenly. "I'm broke. And, anyhow, I don't see what good it'll
do."

"You better dig it up, somehow, just for your own sake."

The two men eyed each other for a moment; then Austin mumbled something
about his willingness to try, and left the room for a second time. The
money which Alaire kept on hand for current expenses was locked in her
safe, but he knew the combination.

It was with an air of resignation, with a childish, half-hearted
protest, that he counted out the desired amount into Lewis's hand,
salving his conscience with the statement: "I'm doing this to help
Adolfo out of his trouble, understand? I hope it'll enable you to
square things."

"Maybe it will and maybe it won't," sneered Lewis. "Anyhow, I ain't
scared of tryin'. I got the guts to make a battle, even if you haven't."

Ed Austin was greatly relieved when his unwelcome callers rode away; as
he composed himself for sleep, an hour later, he refrained from
analyzing too deeply the motives behind this forced loan, and refused
to speculate too long upon the purpose to which it might be put. The
whole occurrence was unfortunate. Ed Austin sincerely hoped he had
heard the last of it.

José Sanchez made use of the delay at Pueblo to institute further
inquiries regarding his missing cousin, but nowhere could he find the
slightest trace. Panfilo had set out to ride to this point and thence
to La Feria, but the last seen of him had been at the water-hole, one
day's ride from the home ranch. At that point the earth had opened and
swallowed him. If he were alive why had he not written to his
sweetheart, Rosa?

José swore an oath that he would learn the truth if it required his
whole lifetime, and, if it should turn out that his sainted relative
had indeed met with foul play--well! José told his friends they could
judge, by looking at him, the sort of man he was. He proudly displayed
Longorio's revolver, and called it his cousin's little avenger. The
weapon had slain many; it had a duty still to perform, so he said.

José intended to confide his purpose to Mrs. Austin, but when it came
time to start for Las Palmas there was a fourth passenger in the
automobile, and he was obliged to hold his tongue for the moment.

A motor trip along the lower Rio Grande would prove a novel and not
altogether agreeable experience to the average automobilist, for there
are few improved roads and the rest offer many difficulties, not the
least of which are frequent fords, some deep, some shallow. So it was
that Alaire considered it necessary to make an early start.

In spite of the unhealthy fancies that Dave Law had taken to bed with
him, he arose this morning in fine spirits and with a determination to
put in a happy day. Alaire, too, was in good humor and expressed her
relief at escaping from everything Mexican.

"I haven't seen a newspaper for ages, and I don't know what is going on
at Jonesville or anywhere else," she confided.

Dave told her of the latest developments in the Mexican situation, the
slow but certain increase of tension between the two governments, and
then of home happenings. When she asked him about his own doings, he
informed her of the affair which had brought him to Pueblo.

Of course all three of his companions were breathlessly interested in
the story of Pino Garza's death; Dolores and José did not allow a word
to escape them.

"So they cut our fence and ran the calves into our pasture to brand!"
Alaire said. "It's time somebody like you came to Jonesville, Mr. Law."

"Caramba! It required bravery to ride alone into that rincon," José
declared. "I knew Pino Garza well, and he could shoot like the devil."

"You said your horse saved your life," Mrs. Austin went on. "How do you
mean?" When Dave had explained, she cried, quickly, "You weren't
riding--Bessie Belle?"

"Yes. She's buried where she dropped."

"Oh-h!" Alaire's exclamation was eloquent of pity, and Law smiled
crookedly.

"I've been right lonesome since she went away. 'Most every day I find
myself stealing sugar for her, the way I used to do. See!" He fumbled
in the pocket of his coat and produced some broken lumps. "Probably you
don't understand how a man gets to love his horse. Now we used to talk
to each other, just like two people. Of course, I did most of the
talking, but she understood. Why, ma'am, I've awakened in the night to
find her standing over me and my cheek wet where she'd kissed it. She'd
leave the nicest grass just to come and visit with me."

Alaire turned a quick glance upon the speaker to find his face set and
his eyes miserable. Impulsively she laid her hand upon his arm, saying:

"I know how you must feel. Do you know what has always been my dearest
wish? To be able to talk with animals; and to have them trust me. Just
think what fun it would be to talk with the wild things and make
friends of them. Oh, when I was a little girl I used to dream about it!"

Law nodded his vigorous appreciation of such a desire. "Dogs and horses
sabe more than we give them credit for. I've learned a few bird words,
too. You remember those quail at the water-hole?"

"Oh yes."

Dave smiled absent-mindedly. "There's a wonderful book about birds--one
of the keenest satires ever written, I reckon. It's about a
near-sighted old Frenchman who was cast away on a penguin island. He
saw the big birds walking around and thought they were human beings."

"How did you happen to read Anatole France?" Alaire asked, with a sharp
stare of surprise.

The Ranger stirred, but he did not meet her eyes. "Well," said he, "I
read 'most anything I can get. A feller meets up with strange books
just like he meets up with strange people."

"Not books like--that." There was a brief silence. "Mr. Law, every now
and then you say something that makes me think you're a--rank impostor."

"Pshaw!" said he. "I know cowboys that read twice as good as I do."

"You went to school in the East, didn't you?"

"Yes'm."

"Where?" The man hesitated, at which she insisted, "Where?"

Dave reluctantly turned upon her a pair of eyes in the depths of which
there lurked the faintest twinkle. "Cornell," said he.

Alaire gasped. After a while she remarked, stiffly, "You have a
peculiar sense of humor."

"Now don't be offended," he begged of her. "I'm a good deal like a
chameleon; I unconsciously change my color to suit my surroundings.
When we first met I saw that you took me for one thing, and since then
I've tried not to show you your mistake."

"Why did you let me send you those silly books? Now that you have begun
to tell the truth, keep it up. How many of them had you read?"

"We-ll, I hadn't read any of them--lately."

"How disagreeable of you to put it that way!" The car leaped forward as
if spurred by Alaire's mortification. "I wondered how you knew about
the French Revolution. 'That Bastilly was some calaboose, wasn't it'?"
She quoted his own words scornfully. "I dare say you've had a fine
laugh at my expense?"

"No!" gravely denied the man.

They had come to an arroyo containing a considerable stream of muddy
water, and Law was forced to get out to plug the carburetor and stop
the oil-intakes to the crankcase. This done, Alaire ran the machine
through on the self-starter. When José's "Carambas!" and Dolores's
shrieks had subsided, and they were again under way, Mrs. Austin, it
seemed, had regained her good humor.

"You will receive no more of my favorite authors," she told Dave,
spitefully. "I'll keep them to read myself."

"You like knights and--chivalry and such things, don't you?"

"Chivalry, yes. In the days when I believed in it I used to cry over
those romances."

"Don't you still believe in chivalry?"

Alaire turned her eyes upon the questioner, and there were no girlish
illusions in them. "Do you?" she queried, with a faint curl of her lip.

"Why--yes."

She shook her head. "Men have changed. Nowadays they are all selfish
and sordid. But--I shouldn't generalize, for I'm a notorious man-hater,
you know."

"It seems to me that women are just as selfish as men--perhaps more
so--in all but little things."

"Our definitions of 'little things' may differ. What do you call a big
thing?"

"Love! That's the biggest thing in the world," Law responded, promptly.

"It seems to be so considered. So you think women are selfish in love?"
He nodded, whereupon she eyed him speculatively. "Let us see. You are a
man--how far would you go for the woman you loved?"

"The limit!"

Mrs. Austin frowned at this light-seeming answer. "I suppose you mean
that you would make any sacrifice?"

"Yes; that's it."

"Would you give up the woman herself, if you considered it your duty?"

"No. There couldn't be any duty higher than love--to my way of
thinking. But you shouldn't take me as a specimen. I'm not a good
representative of my sex."

"I think you are a very good one," Alaire said, quietly, and Dave
realized that no flattery was intended. Although he was willing to talk
further on this subject, Mrs. Austin gave him no opportunity of airing
his views. Love, it appeared, was a thing she did not care to discuss
with him on their footing of semi-intimacy.

Despite the rough roads, they made fair time, and the miles of cactus
and scrawny brush rolled swiftly past. Occasionally a lazy jack-rabbit
ambled out of his road-side covert and watched them from a safe
distance; now and then a spotted road-runner raced along the dusty ruts
ahead of them. The morning sun swung higher, and by midday the metal of
the automobile had become as hot as a frying-pan. They stopped at
various goat-ranches to inquire about Adolfo Urbina, and at noon halted
beside a watercourse for lunch.

Dave was refilling the radiator when he overheard José in conversation
with Mrs. Austin.

"Nowhere a trace!" the horse-breaker was saying. "No one has seen him.
Poor Rosa Morales will die of a broken heart."

Alaire explained to her guest: "José is worried about his cousin
Panfilo. It seems he has disappeared."

"So! You are Panfilo's cousin?" Dave eyed the Mexican with new interest.

"Si!"

"You remember the man?" Alaire went on. "He was with that fellow you
arrested at the water-hole."

"Oh yes. I remember him." With steady fingers Dave shook some tobacco
into a cigarette-paper. He felt Alaire's eyes upon him, and they were
eloquent of inquiry, but he did not meet them.

José frowned. "No one at La Feria has seen him, and in Pueblo there was
not a word. It is strange."

"Panfilo was in bad company when I saw him." Law finished rolling his
cigarette and lit it, still conscious of Alaire's questioning gaze. "He
may have had trouble."

"He was a good man," the horse-breaker asserted. "If he is dead--" The
Mexican's frown deepened to a scowl.

"What then?"

José significantly patted the gift revolver at his hip. "This little
fellow will have something to say."

Dave looked him over idly, from head to heel, then murmured: "You would
do well to go slow, compadre. Panfilo made his own quarrels."

"We were like brothers, and I do not know of any quarrels. But I shall
find out. It begins to look bad for somebody. After he left that charco
there is--nothing. Where did he go? Whom did he encounter? Rosa will
ask me those questions. I am not given to boasting, señor, but I am a
devilish bad man in my way."



XV

THE TRUTH ABOUT PANFILO


Nothing more was said during the luncheon, but when Alaire had finished
eating and her two employees had begun their meal, she climbed the bank
of the arroyo ostensibly to find a cool spot. Having succeeded, she
called to Dave:

"There is a nice breeze up here."

The Ranger's face set; rising slowly, he climbed the bank after her.
When they stood face to face in the shade of a gnarly oak-tree, Alaire
asked him point-blank:

"Where is Panfilo Sanchez?"

Dave met her eyes squarely; his own were cold and hard. "He's where he
dropped at my second shot," said he.

He could hear his companion's sharp inhalation. He did not flinch at
the look she turned upon him.

"Then--you killed him?"

"Yes'm!"

"God! He was practically unarmed! What do you call--such an act?"

Dave's lips slowly whitened, his face became stony. He closed his eyes,
then opened them upon hers. "He had it coming. He stole my horse. He
took a chance."

Mrs. Austin turned away. For a time they were silent and Dave felt
himself pitilessly condemned.

"Why didn't you tell me at the time?" she asked. "Why didn't you report
it?"

"I'll report it when you give me permission."

"I--? What--?" She wheeled to face him.

"Think a moment. I can't tell half the truth. And if I tell everything
it will lead to--gossip."

"Ah! I think I understand. Mr. Law, you can be insulting--"

For the first time the man lost muscular control of his features; they
twitched, and under their tan his cheeks became a sickly yellow.

"You've no right to say that," he told her, harshly. "You've plumb
overstepped yourself, ma'am, and--I reckon you've formed quite a wrong
opinion of me and of the facts. Let me tell you something about that
killing and about myself, so you'll have it all straight before you
bring in your verdict. You say Panfilo was unarmed, and you call
it--murder. He had his six-shooter and he used it; he had the darkness
and the swiftest horse, too. He intended to ambush me and release his
companion, but I forced his hand; so it ain't what _I'd_ call murder.
Now about myself: Panfilo isn't the first man I've killed, and he may
not be the last, but I haven't lost any sleep over it, and I'd have
killed him just as quick if I hadn't been an officer. That's the kind
of man I am, and you may as well know it. I--"

"You are utterly ruthless."

"Yes'm!"

"You left him there without burial."

Law shrugged impatiently. "What's the difference? He's there to stay;
and he's just as dead under the stars as he'd be under the sand. I'd
rather lie facing the sky than the grass roots."

"But--you must have known it would get out, sometime. This puts both of
us in a very bad light."

"I know. But I stood on my cards. I'd have preferred to report it,
but--I'd keep still again, under the same circumstances. You seem to
consider that an insult. If it is, I don't know how to compliment you,
ma'am."

Alaire pondered this statement briefly before saying, "You have a
strange way of looking at the affair--a strange, careless, unnatural
way, it seems to me."

"Perhaps that's the fault of my training. I'm not what you would
consider a nice person; the death of Panfilo Sanchez means nothing
whatever to me. If you can grasp that fact, you'll see that your own
reputation weighed heavier in my mind than the lives of a dozen
Mexicans--or whites, for that matter. People know me for what I am,
and--that may have had something to do with my decision."

"I go anywhere, everywhere. No one has ever had the effrontery to
question my actions," Alaire told him, stiffly.

"And I don't aim to give 'em a chance." Dave was stubborn.

There was another interval of silence.

"You heard what José said. What are you going to do?"

Dave made a gesture of indifference. "It doesn't greatly matter. I'll
tell him the truth, perhaps."

Such an attitude was incomprehensible to Alaire and brought an
impatient frown to her brow. "You don't seem to realize that he will
try to revenge himself."

"You might warn him against any such foolishness. José has some sense."

The woman looked up curiously. "Don't you know how to be afraid?
Haven't you any fear?" she asked.

Dave's gray eyes were steady as he answered: "Yes'm! I'm afraid this
thing is going to spoil our friendship. I've been desperately afraid,
all along, that I might have hurt your reputation. Even now I'm afraid,
on your account, to make public Panfilo Sanchez's death. Yes'm, I know
what it is to be afraid."

"I presume the law would hold you blameless," she said, thoughtfully.

"If there was any doubt about that it would be another matter entirely.
A Ranger can get away with a heap more than killing a Mexican. No! It's
up to you to say what I shall do."

"Let me think it over. José mustn't know to-day, that's certain."

"I'm in your hands."

They returned to the automobile in silence, but as they took their
seats Dave said:

"You're tired, ma'am. Won't you let me drive?"

"Can you?"

When he smiled his answer, Alaire was only too glad to give up the
wheel, for her nerves were indeed unsteady and she was grateful for an
opportunity to think out the best course to pursue in this unexpected
difficulty. Later, as she listened to Law's inconsequential talk with
Dolores and José, and watched the way he handled the car, she marveled
at his composure. She wondered if this man could have a heart.

It became evident to Dave, as the afternoon progressed, that they would
be very late in arriving at Las Palmas; for although he drove as
rapidly as he dared over such roads, the miles were long and the going
heavy. They were delayed, too, by a mishap that held them back for an
hour or two, and he began to fear that his hostess would feel in duty
bound to insist upon his spending the night at her home. To accept,
after his clash with Ed Austin, was of course impossible, and he
dreaded another explanation at this particular crisis.

That a crisis in their relations had arisen he felt sure. He had tried
to make plain his attitude of mind toward the killing of Panfilo
Sanchez, and the wisdom of his course thereafter, but he doubted if
Alaire understood the one or agreed with the other. Probably she
considered him inhuman, or, what was worse, cowardly in attempting to
avoid the consequences of his act. And yet he could not explain his
full anxiety to protect her good name without confessing to a deeper
interest in her than he dared. And his interest was growing by leaps
and bounds. This woman fascinated him; he was infatuated--bewitched by
her personality. To be near her affected him mentally and physically in
a way too extraordinary to analyze or to describe. It was as if they
were so sympathetically attuned that the mere sound of her voice set
his whole being into vibrant response, where all his life he had lain
mute. She played havoc with his resolutions, too, awaking in him the
wildest envy and desire. He no longer thought of her as unattainable;
on the contrary, her husband's shortcomings seemed providential.
Absurd, impossible ways of winning her suggested themselves. To risk a
further estrangement, therefore, was intolerable.

But as if his thoughts were telepathic messages, she did the very thing
he feared.

"We won't be in before midnight," she said, "but I'll send you to
Jonesville in the morning."

"Thank you, ma'am--I'll have to go right through."

"I'll get you there in time for business. We've gained a reputation for
inhospitableness at Las Palmas that I want to overcome." In spite of
their recent clash, in spite of the fact that this fellow's
ruthlessness and indifference to human life shocked her, Alaire was
conscious of her obligation to him, and aware also of a growing
friendship between them which made the present situation all the more
trying. Law was likable, and he inspired her with a sense of security
to which she had long been a stranger. "Mr. Austin ought to know," she
added, "about this--matter we were discussing, and I want him to meet
you."

"He has!" Dave said, shortly; and at his tone Alaire looked up.

"So!" She studied his grim face. "And you quarreled?"

"I'd really prefer to go on, ma'am. I'll get to Jonesville somehow."

"You refuse--to stay under his roof?"

"That's about it."

"I'm sorry." She did not ask for further explanation.

Evening came, bringing a grateful coolness, and they drove through a
tunnel of light walled in by swiftly moving shadows.

The windows of Las Palmas were black, the house silent, when they
arrived at their journey's end; Dolores was fretful, and her mistress
ached in every bone. When José had helped his countrywoman into the
house Alaire said:

"If you insist upon going through you must take the car. You can return
it to-morrow."

"And--about Panfilo?" Dave queried.

"Wait. Perhaps I'll decide what is best to do in the mean time. Good
night."

Law took her extended hand. Alaire was glad that he did not fondle it
in that detestable Mexican fashion of which she had lately experienced
so much; glad that the grasp of his long, strong fingers was merely
firm and friendly. When he stepped back into the car and drove off
through the night she stood for some time looking after him.

Blaze Jones had insisted that Dave live at his house, and the Ranger
had accepted the invitation; but as it was late when the latter arrived
at Jonesville, he went to the hotel for a few hours' rest. When he
drove his borrowed machine up to the Jones house, about breakfast-time,
both Blaze and Paloma were delighted to see him.

"Say, now! What you doing rolling around in a gasoline go-devil?" the
elder man inquired, and Law was forced to explain.

"Why, Mrs. Austin must have experienced a change of heart!" exclaimed
Paloma. "She never gave anybody a lift before."

Blaze agreed. "She's sure poisonous to strangers." Then he looked over
the car critically. "These automobiles are all right, but whenever I
want to go somewhere and get back I take a team of hay-burners. Mules
don't puncture. The first automobile Paloma had nearly scared me to
death. On the road to Brownsville there used to be a person who didn't
like me--we'd had a considerable unpleasantness, in fact. One day
Paloma and I were lickety-splittin' along past his place when we had a
blow-out. It was the first one I'd ever heard, and it fooled me
complete--comin' right at that particular turn of the road. I sure
thought this party I spoke of had cut down on me, so I r'ared up and
unlimbered. I shot out three window-lights in his house before Paloma
could explain. If he'd been in sight I'd have beefed him then and
there, and saved six months' delay. No, gas-buggies are all right for
people with strong nerves, but I'm tuned too high."

"Father has never learned to drive a car without yelling 'Gee' and
'Haw,'" laughed Paloma. "And he thinks he has title to the whole road,
too. You know these Mexicans are slow about pulling their wagons to one
side. Well, father got mad one day, and when a team refused him the
right of way he whipped out his revolver and fired."

Blaze smiled broadly. "It worked great. And believe me, them Greasers
took to the ditch. I went through like a hot wind, but I shot up
sixty-five ca'tridges between here and town."

"Why didn't Mrs. Austin ask you to stay all night at Las Palmas?" the
girl inquired of Dave.

"She did."

"Wonderful!" Paloma's surprise was evidently sincere. "I suppose you
refused because of the way Ed treated you? Well, I'd have accepted just
to spite him. Tell me, is she nice?"

"She's lovely."

This vehement declaration brought a sudden gleam of interest into the
questioner's eyes.

"They say she has the most wonderful gowns and jewels, and dresses for
dinner every night. Well"--Paloma tossed her head--"I'm going to have
some nice clothes, too. You wait!"

"Now don't you start riggin' yourself up for meals," Blaze said,
warningly. "First thing I know you'll have me in a full-dress suit,
spillin' soup on my shirt." Then to his guest he complained, feelingly:
"I don't know what's come over Paloma lately; this new dressmaker has
plumb stampeded her. Somebody'd ought to run that feline out of town
before she ruins me."

"She is a very nice woman," complacently declared the daughter; but her
father snorted loudly.

"I wouldn't associate with such a critter."

"My! But you're proud."

"It ain't that," Blaze defended himself. "I know her husband, and he's
a bad hombre. He backed me up against a waterin'-trough and told my
fortune yesterday. He said I'd be married twice and have many children.
He told me I was fond of music and a skilled performer on the organ,
but melancholy and subject to catarrh, Bright's disease, and ailments
of the legs. He said I loved widows, and unless I was poisoned by a
dark lady I'd live to be eighty years old. Why, he run me over like a
pet squirrel lookin' for moles, and if I'd had a gun on me I'd have
busted him for some of the things he said. 'A dark lady!' That's his
wife. I give you warnin', Paloma, don't you ask her to stay for meals.
People like them are dangerous."

"You're too silly!" said Paloma. "Nobody believes in such things."

"They don't, eh? Well, he's got all of Jonesville walkin' around
ladders, and spittin' through crossed fingers, and countin' the spots
on their nails. He interprets their dreams and locates lost articles."

"Maybe he can tell me where to find Adolfo Urbina?" Dave suggested.

"Humph! If he can't, Tad Lewis can. Say, Dave, this case of yours has
stirred up a lot of feelin' against Tad. The prosecutin' attorney says
he'll sure cinch him and Urbina, both. One of Lewis's men got on a
bender the other night and declared Adolfo would never come to trial."

"What did he mean?"

"It may have been mescal talk, but witnesses sometimes have a way of
disappearin'. I wouldn't put anything past that gang."

Not long after breakfast Don Ricardo Guzman appeared at the Jones house
and warmly greeted his two friends. To Dave he explained:

"Last night I came to town, and this morning I heard you had returned,
so I rode out at once. You were unsuccessful?"

"Our man never went to Pueblo."

"Exactly. I thought as much."

"He's probably safe across the river."

But Ricardo thought otherwise. "No. Urbina deserted from this very
Colonel Blanco who commands the forces at Romero. He would scarcely
venture to return to Federal territory. However, I go to meet Blanco
to-day, and perhaps I shall discover something."

"What takes you over there?" Blaze inquired.

"Wait until I tell you. Señor David, here, brings me good fortune at
every turn. He honors my poor thirsty rancho with a visit and brings a
glorious rain; then he destroys my enemies like a thunderbolt. No
sooner is this done than I receive from the Federals an offer for fifty
of my best horses. Caramba! Such a price, too. They are in a great
hurry, which looks as if they expected an attack from the Candeleristas
at Matamoras. I hope so. God grant these traitors are defeated. Anyhow,
the horses have gone, and to-day I go to get my money, in gold."

"Who's going with you?" asked Law.

Ricardo shrugged. "Nobody. There is no danger."

Blaze shook his head. "They know you are a red-hot Rebel. I wouldn't
trust them."

"They know, also, that I am an American, like you gentlemen," proudly
asserted Guzman. "That makes a difference. I supported the
Liberator--God rest his soul!--and I secretly assist those who fight
his assassins, but so does everybody else. I am receiving a fine price
for those horses, so it is worth a little risk. Now, señor," he
addressed himself to the Ranger, "I have brought you a little present.
Day and night my boys and I have worked upon it, for we know the good
heart you have. It was finished yesterday. See!" Ricardo unwrapped a
bundle he had fetched, displaying a magnificent bridle of plaited
horsehair. It was cunningly wrought, and lavishly decorated with silver
fittings. "You recognize those hairs?" he queried. "They came from the
mane and tail of your bonita."

"Bessie Belle!" Law accepted the handsome token, then held out his hand
to the Mexican. "That was mighty fine of you, Ricardo. I--You couldn't
have pleased me more."

"You like it?" eagerly demanded the old man. "That is good. I am repaid
a thousandfold. Your sentiment is like a woman's. But see! I am famous
for this work, and I have taught my boys to use their fingers, too.
That mare will always guide you now, wherever you go. And we handled
her gently, for your sake."

Dave nodded. "You're a good man, Ricardo. We're going to be friends."

Guzman's delight was keen, his grizzled face beamed, and he showed his
white teeth in a smile. "Say no more. What is mine is yours--my house,
my cattle, my right hand. I and my sons will serve you, and you must
come often to see us. Now I must go." He shook hands heartily and rode
away, waving his hat.

"There's a good Greaser," Blaze said, with conviction, and Dave agreed,
feelingly:

"Yes! I'd about go to hell for him, after this." Then he took the
bridle in for Paloma to admire.



XVI

THE RODEO


It was with a feeling of some reluctance that Dave drove up to Las
Palmas shortly after the lunch hour, for he had no desire to meet
"Young Ed." However, to his relief, Austin did not appear, and inasmuch
as Alaire did not refer to her husband in any way, Dave decided that he
must be absent, perhaps on one of his notorious sprees.

The mistress of the big ranch was in her harness, having at once
assumed her neglected duties. She came to welcome her caller in a short
khaki riding-suit; her feet were encased in tan boots; she wore a
mannish felt hat and gauntlet gloves, showing that she had spent the
morning in the saddle. Dave thought she looked exceedingly capable and
business-like, and not less beautiful in these clothes; he feasted his
eyes covertly upon her.

"I expected you for luncheon," she smiled; and Dave could have kicked
himself. "I'm just going out now. If you're not in too great a hurry to
go home you may go with me."

"That would be fine," he agreed.

"Come, then I have a horse for you." As she led the way back toward the
farm buildings she explained: "I'm selling off a bunch of cattle.
Benito is rounding them up and cutting out the best ones."

"You keep them, I reckon."

"Always. That's how I improve the grade. You will see a splendid herd
of animals, Mr. Law--the best in South Texas. I suppose you're
interested in such things."

"I'd rather watch a good herd of stock than the best show in New York,"
he told her.

When they came to the corrals, an intricate series of pens and chutes
at the rear of the outbuildings, Law beheld two thoroughbred horses
standing at the hitching-rail.

"I'm proud of my horses, too," said Alaire.

"You have reason to be." With his eyes alight Dave examined the fine
points of both animals. He ran a caressing hand over them, and they
recognized in him a friend.

"These beauties were raised on Kentucky blue grass. Brother and sister,
aren't they?"

"Yes. Montrose and Montrosa are their names. The horse is mine, the
mare is yours." Seeing that Dave did not comprehend the full import of
her words, she added: "Yours to keep, I mean. You must make another
Bessie Belle out of her."

"MINE? Oh--ma'am'" Law turned his eyes from Alaire to the mare, then
back again. "You're too kind. I can't take her."

"You must."

Dave made as if to say something, but was too deeply embarrassed.
Unable to tear himself away from the mare's side, he continued to
stroke her shining coat while she turned an intelligent face to him,
showing a solitary white star in the center of her forehead.

"See! She is nearly the same color as Bessie Belle."

"Yes'm! I--I want her, ma'am; I'm just sick from wanting her,
but--won't you let me buy her?"

"Oh, I wouldn't sell her." Then, as Dave continued to yearn over the
animal, like a small boy tempted beyond his strength, Alaire laughed.
"I owe you something, Mr. Law, and a horse more or less means very
little to me."

He yielded; he could not possibly continue his resistance, and in his
happy face Alaire took her reward.

The mare meanwhile was doubtfully nosing her new master, deciding
whether or not she liked him; but when he offered her a cube of sugar
her uncertainties disappeared and they became friends then and there.
He talked to her, too, in a way that would have won any female heart,
and it was plain to any one who knew horses that she began to consider
him wholly delightful. Now, Montrosa was a sad coquette, but this man
seemed to say, "Rosa, you rogue, if you try your airs with me I will
out-flirt you." Who could resist such a person? Why, the touch of his
hands was positively thrilling. He was gentle, but masterful, and--he
had a delicious smell. Rosa felt that she understood him perfectly, and
was enraptured to discover that he understood her. There was some
satisfaction in knowing such a man.

"You DO speak their language," Alaire said, after she had watched them
for a few minutes. "You have bewitched the creature." Dave nodded
silently, and his face was young. Then half to herself the woman
murmured, "Yes, you have a heart."

"I beg pardon?"

"Nothing. I'm glad you like her."

"Do you mind if I call her something else than Rosa, just to myself?"

"Why, she's yours! Don't you like the name?"

"Oh yes! But--see!" Dave laid a finger upon Montrosa's forehead. "She
wears a lone star, and I'd like to call her that--The Lone Star."

Alaire smiled in tacit assent; then when the two friends had completely
established their intimacy she mounted her own horse and led the way to
the round-up.

Dave's unbounded delight filled the mistress of Las Palmas with the
keenest pleasure. He laughed, he hummed snatches of songs, he kept up a
chatter addressed as much to the mare as to his companion, and under it
Montrosa romped like a tomboy. It was gratifying to meet with such
appreciation as this; Alaire felt warm and friendly to the whole world,
and decided that out of her abundance she must do more for other people.

Of course Dave had to tell of Don Ricardo's thoughtful gift, and
concluded by saying, "I think this must be my birthday, although it
doesn't fit in with the calendar."

"Don Ricardo has his enemies, but he is a good-hearted old man."

"Yes," Dave agreed. Then more gravely: "I'm sorry I let him go across
the river." There was a pause. "If anybody harms him I reckon I'll have
a feud on my hands, for I'm a grateful person."

"I believe it. I can see that you are loyal."

"I was starved on sentiment when I was little, but it's in me bigger
than a skinned ox. They say gratitude is an elemental, primitive
emotion--"

"Perhaps that's why it is so rare nowadays," said Alaire, not more than
half in jest.

"You find it rare?" Dave looked up keenly. "Well, you have certainly
laid up a store of it to-day."

Benito and his men had rounded up perhaps three thousand head of cattle
when Alaire and her companion appeared, and they were in the process of
"cutting out." Assembled near a flowing well which gave life to a
shallow pond, the herd was held together by a half-dozen horsemen who
rode its outskirts, heading off and driving back the strays. Other men,
under Benito's personal direction, were isolating the best animals and
sending them back to the pasture. It was an animated scene, one fitted
to rouse enthusiasm in any plainsman, for the stock was fat and
healthy; there were many calves, and the incessant, rumbling complaint
of the herd was blood-stirring. The Las Palmas cowboys rode like
centaurs, doubling, dodging, yelling, and whirling their ropes like
lashes; the air was drumming to swift hoof-beats, and over all was the
hoarse, unceasing undertone from countless bovine throats. Out near the
grub-wagon the remuda was grazing, and thither at intervals came the
perspiring horsemen to change their mounts.

Benito, wet, dusty, and tired, rode up to his employer to report
progress.

"Dios! This is hot work for an old man. We will never finish by dark,"
said he, whereupon Law promptly volunteered his services.

"Lend me your rope, Benito, till I get another caballo."

"Eh? That Montrosa is the best cutting horse on Las Palmas."

But Dave shook his head vigorously. "I wouldn't risk her among those
gopher-holes." He slid out of his seat and, with an arm around the
mare's neck, whispered into her ear, "We won't have any broken legs and
broken hearts, will we, honey girl?" Rosa answered by nosing the
speaker over with brazen familiarity; then when he had removed her
equipment and turned away, dragging her saddle, she followed at his
heels like a dog.

"Diablo! He has a way with horses, hasn't he?" Benito grinned, "Now
that Montrosa is wilder than a deer."

Alaire rode into the herd with her foreman, while Dave settled his loop
over a buckskin, preparatory to joining the cowboys.

The giant herd milled and eddied, revolving like a vast pool of deep,
swift water. The bulls were quarrelsome, the steers were stubborn, and
the wet cows were distracted. Motherless calves dodged about in
bewilderment. In and out of this confusion the cowboys rode, following
the animals selected for separation, forcing them out with devious
turnings and twistings, and then running them madly in a series of
breakneck crescent dashes over flats and hummocks, through dust and
brush, until they had joined the smaller herd of choice animals which
were to remain on the ranch. It was swift, sweaty, exhausting work, the
kind these Mexicans loved, for it was not only spectacular, but held an
element of danger. Once he had secured a pony Dave Law made himself one
of them.

Alaire sat her horse in the heart of the crowding herd, with a sea of
rolling eyes, lolling tongues, and clashing horns all about her, and
watched the Ranger. Good riding she was accustomed to; the horses of
Las Palmas were trained to this work as bird dogs are trained to
theirs; they knew how to follow a steer and, as Ed Austin boasted,
"turn on a dime with a nickel to spare." But Law, it appeared, was a
born horseman, and seemed to inspire his mount with an exceptional
eagerness and intelligence. In spite of the man's unusual size, he rode
like a feather; he was grace and life and youth personified. Now he sat
as erect in his saddle as a swaying reed; again he stretched himself
out like a whip-lash. Once he had begun the work he would not stop.

All that afternoon the cowboys labored, and toward sundown the depleted
herd was driven to the water. It moved thither in a restless, thirsty
mass; it churned the shallow pond to milk, and from a high knoll, where
Alaire had taken her stand, she looked down upon a vast undulating
carpet many acres in extent formed by the backs of living creatures.
The voice of these cattle was like the bass rumble of the sea, steady,
heavy-droning, ceaseless.

Then through the cool twilight came the drive to the next pasture, and
here the patience of the cowboys was taxed to the utmost, for as the
stronger members of the herd forged ahead, the wearied, worried,
littlest members fell behind. Their joints were limber, and their legs
unsteady; one and all were orphaned, too, for in that babel of sound no
untrained ears could catch a mother's low. A mile of this and the whole
rear guard was composed of plaintive, wet-eyed little calves who made
slower and slower progress. Some of them were stubborn and risked all
upon a spirited dash back toward the homes they were leaving and toward
the mothers who would not answer. It took hard, sharp riding to run
them down, for they fled like rabbits, bolting through prickly-pear and
scrub, their tails bravely aloft, their stiff legs flying. Others, too
tired and thirsty to go farther, lay down and refused to budge, and
these had to be carried over the saddlehorn until they had rested. Some
hid themselves cunningly in the mesquite clumps or burrowed into the
coarse sagauista grass.

But now those swarthy, dare-devil riders were as gentle as women; they
urged the tiny youngsters onward with harmless switches or with
painless blows from loose-coiled riatas; they picked them up in their
arms and rode with them.

Once through the gate and safe inside the restraining pasture fence,
the herd was allowed to settle down. Then began a patient search by
outraged mothers, a series of mournful quests that were destined to
continue far into the night; endless nosings and sniffings and
caressings, which would keep up until each cow had found her own, until
each calf was butting its head against maternal ribs and gaining that
consolation which it craved.

A new moon was swinging in the sky as Alaire and Dave rode back toward
Las Palmas. The dry, gray grass was beginning to jewel with dew; the
paths were ribbons of silver between dark blots of ink where the bushes
grew. Behind rose the jingle of spurs and bridles, the creak of
leather, the voices of men. It was an hour in which to talk freely, an
environment suited to confidences, and Dave Law was happier than he had
been for years. He closed his eyes to the future, he stopped his ears
to misgivings; with a song in his heart he rode at the stirrup of the
woman he adored.

How or when Alaire Austin came to feel that this man loved her she
never knew. Certainly he gave no voice to his feeling, save, perhaps,
by some unconscious tone or trick of speech; rather, the knowledge came
to her intuitively as the result of some subconscious interchange of
thought, some responsive vibration, which only a psychologist could
analyze. However it was, Alaire knew to-night that she was dear to her
companion, and, strange to say, this certainty did not disturb her.
Inasmuch as the thing existed, why deny its right to exist? she asked
herself. Since it was in no wise dishonorable, how could it be wrong,
provided it went no further? Alaire had been repelled by Luis
Longorio's evident love for her, but a similar emotion in this man's
breast had quite the opposite effect. She was eager for friendship,
hungry for affection, starved for that worship which every woman lives
upon. Having a wholesome confidence in her own strength of character,
and complete faith in Law's sense of honor, she was neither alarmed nor
offended.

For the first time in years she allowed her intimate thoughts free
expression, and spoke of her hopes, her interests, and her efforts;
under the spell of the moonlight she even confided something about
those dreams that kept her company and robbed her world of its
sordidness. Dave Law discovered that she lived in a fanciful land of
unrealities, and the glimpse he gained of it was delightful.

Supper was waiting when they arrived at Las Palmas, and Dolores
announced that "Young Ed" had telephoned from the Lewis ranch that he
would not be home. Yielding to a sudden impulse, Alaire said to her
companion:

"You must dine with me. Dolores will show you to a room. I will be
ready in half an hour."

Dave hesitated, but it was not in human nature to refuse. Later, as he
washed himself and combed his hair, he had a moment of misgivings; but
the next instant he asked himself wherein he was doing wrong. Surely
there was no law which denied him the right to love, provided he kept
that love a secret. The inner voice did not argue with him; yet he was
disquieted and restless as he paced the big living-room, waiting for
his hostess.

The Austin ranch-house offered a contrast to the majority of Texas
country homes. "Young Ed" had built almost a mansion for his bride, and
in the latter years Alaire had remodeled and changed it to suit her own
ideas. The verandas were wide, the rooms large and cool and open;
polished floors, brilliant grass mats, and easy wicker furniture gave
it a further airiness. The place was comfortable, luxurious; yet it was
a home and it had an atmosphere.

Not for many years had Dave Law been a guest amid such surroundings,
and as the moments dragged on he began to feel more and more out of
place. With growing discomfort he realized that the mistress of this
residence was the richest woman in all this part of Texas, and that he
was little better than a tramp. His free life, his lack of care and
responsibility, had bred in him a certain contempt for money;
nevertheless, when through the door to the dining-room he saw Alaire
pause to give a final touch to the table, he was tempted to beat an
ignominious retreat, for she was a radiant vision in evening dress. She
was stately, beautiful; her hair was worn high, her arms were bare
underneath a shimmer of lace, her gown exposed a throat round and
smooth and adorable. In reality, she was simply clad; but to the
Ranger's untrained eye she seemed regal, and his own rough clothes
became painfully conspicuous by contrast.

Alaire knew how to be a gracious and winning hostess; of course she did
not appear to notice her guest's embarrassment. She had rather welcomed
the thought that this man cared for her, and yet, had she deliberately
planned to dampen his feeling, she could hardly have succeeded better
than by showing him the wide disparity in their lives and situations.
Dave was dismayed; he felt very poor and ridiculous. Alaire was no
longer the woman he had ridden with through the solitudes; her very
friendliness seemed to be a condescension.

He did not linger long after they had dined, for he wished to be alone,
where he could reach an understanding with himself. On the steps he
waited just a moment for Alaire to mention, if she chose, that subject
which they had still left open on the night before. Reading his
thought, she said:

"You are expecting me to say something about Panfilo Sanchez."

"Yes."

"I have thought it over; in fact, I have been thinking about it all
day; but even yet I don't know what to tell you. One moment I think the
truth would merely provoke another act of violence; the next I feel
that it must be made public regardless of consequences. As for its
effect upon myself--you know I care very little what people say or
think."

"I'm sorry I killed the fellow--I shouldn't have done it, but--one sees
things differently out in the rough and here in the settled country.
Laws don't work alike in all places; they depend a good deal
upon--geography. There are times when the theft of a crust of bread
would warrant the punishment I gave Panfilo. I can't help but feel that
his conduct, under the circumstances, called for--what he got. He
wasn't a good man, in spite of what José says; Anto confessed to me
that they were planning all sorts of deviltry together."

"That is hardly an excuse." Alaire smiled faintly.

"Oh, I know!" Dave agreed. "But, you see, I don't feel the need of one.
The sentimental side of the affair, which bothers you, doesn't affect
me in the least."

Alaire nodded. "You have made me understand how you look at things, and
I must confess that I tolerate actions that would have shocked me
before I came to know this country. Panfilo is dead and gone--rightly
or wrongly, I don't know. What I dread now is further consequences."

"Don't weaken on my account."

"No! I'm not thinking of the consequences to you or to me. You are the
kind of man who can protect himself, I'm sure; your very ability in
that direction frightens me a little on José's account. But"--she
sighed and lifted her round shoulders in a shrug--"perhaps time will
decide this question for us."

Dave laughed with some relief. "I think you've worried yourself enough
over it, ma'am," he said; "splitting hairs as to what's right and
what's wrong, when it doesn't matter much, in either case. Suppose you
continue to think it over at your leisure."

"Perhaps I'd better. And now"--Alaire extended her hand--"won't you and
Montrosa come to see me once in a while? I'm very lonesome."

"We'd love to," Dave declared. He had it on his lips to say more, but
at that moment an eager whinny and an impatient rattle of a bridle-bit
came from the driveway, and he smiled. "There's her acceptance now."

"Oh no! She merely heard your voice, the fickle creature."

Alaire watched her guest until he had disappeared into the shadows,
then she heard him talking to the mare. Benito's words at the rodeo
recurred to her, and she wondered if this Ranger might not also have a
way with women.

The house was very still and empty when she re-entered it.



XVII

THE GUZMAN INCIDENT


Ricardo Guzman did not return from Romero. When two days had passed
with no word from him, his sons became alarmed and started an
investigation, but without the slightest result. Even Colonel Blanco
himself could not hazard a guess as to Guzman's fate; the man had
disappeared, it seemed, completely and mysteriously. Meanwhile, from
other quarters of the Mexican town came rumors that set the border
afire.

Readers of this story may remember the famous "Guzman incident," so
called, and the complications that resulted from it, for at the time it
raised a storm of indignation as the crowning atrocity of the Mexican
revolution, serving further to disturb the troubled waters of diplomacy
and threatening for a moment to upset the precariously balanced
relations of the two countries.

At first the facts appeared plain: a citizen of the United States had
been lured across the border and done to death by Mexican soldiers--for
it soon became evident that Ricardo was dead. The outrage was a casus
belli such as no self-respecting people could ignore; so ran the
popular verdict. Then when that ominous mailed serpent which lay coiled
along the Rio Grande stirred itself, warlike Americans prepared
themselves to hear of big events.

A motive for Ricardo Guzman's murder was not lacking, for it was
generally known that President Potosi had long resented Yankee enmity,
particularly as that enmity was directed at him personally. A
succession of irritating diplomatic skirmishes, an unsatisfactory
series of verbal sparring matches, had roused the old Indian's anger,
and it was considered likely that he had adopted this means of
permanently severing his relations with Washington.

Of course, the people of Texas were delighted that the long-delayed
hour had struck; accordingly, when the State Department seemed
strangely loath to investigate the matter, when, in fact, it manifested
a willingness to allow Don Ricardo ample time in which to come to life
in preference to putting a further strain upon international relations,
they were both surprised and enraged. Telegraph wires began to buzz;
the governor of the state sent a crisply sarcastic message to the
national capital, offering to despatch a company of Rangers after
Guzman's body just to prove that he was indeed dead and that the
Mexican authorities were lying when they professed ignorance of the
fact.

This offer not only caught the popular fancy north of the Rio Grande,
but it likewise had an effect on the other side of the river, for on
the very next day General Luis Longorio set out for Romero to
investigate personally the rancher's disappearance.

Now, throughout all this public clamor, truth, as usual, lay hidden at
the bottom of its well, and few even of Ricardo's closest friends
suspected the real reason for his murder.

Jonesville, of course, could think or talk of little else than this
outrage, and Blaze Jones, as befitted its leading citizen, was loudest
in his criticism of the government's weak-kneed policy.

"It makes me right sore to think I'm an American," he confided to Dave.
"Why, if Ricardo had been an Englishman the British consul at Mexico
City would have called on Potosi the minute the news came. He'd have
stuck a six-shooter under the President's nose and made him locate Don
Ricardo, or pay an indemnity and kiss the Union Jack." Blaze's
conception of diplomacy was peculiar. "If Potosi didn't talk straight
that British consul would have bent a gun-bar'l over the old ruffian's
bean and telephoned for a couple hundred battle-ships. England protects
her sons. But we Americans are cussed with notions of brotherly love
and universal peace. Bah! We're bound to have war, Dave, some day or
other. Why not start it now?"

Dave nodded his agreement. "Yes. We'll have to step in and take the
country over, sooner or later. But--everybody has the wrong idea of
this Guzman killing. The Federal officers in Romero didn't frame it up."

"No? Who did?"

"Tad Lewis."

Jones started. "What makes you think that?"

"Listen! Tad was afraid to let Urbina come to trial--you remember one
of his men boasted that the case would never be heard? Well, it won't.
Ricardo's dead and the other witness is gone. Now draw your own
conclusions."

"Gone? You mean the fellow who saw Urbina and Garza together?"

"Yes. He has disappeared, too--evidently frightened away."

Jones was amazed. "Say, Dave," he cried, "that means your case has
blown up, eh?"

"Absolutely. Lewis has been selling 'wet' stock to the Federals, and he
probably arranged with some of them to murder Ricardo. At any rate,
that's my theory."

Blaze cursed eloquently. "I'd like to hang it on to Tad; I'd sure clean
house down his way if I was positive."

"I sent a man over to Romero," Dave explained further. "He tells me
Ricardo is dead, all right; but nobody knows how he died, or why.
There's a new grave in the little cemetery above the town, but nobody
knows who's buried in it. There hasn't been a death in Romero lately."
The speaker watched his friend closely. "Ricardo's family would like to
have his body, and I'd like to see it myself. Wouldn't you? We could
tell just what happened to him. If he really faced a firing-squad, for
instance--I reckon Washington would have something to say, eh?"

"What are you aimin' at?" Blaze inquired.

"If we had Ricardo's body on this side it would put an end to all the
lies, and perhaps force Colonel Blanco to make known the real facts. It
might even mean a case against Tad Lewis. What do you think of my
reasoning?"

"It's eighteen karat. What d'you say we go over there and get Ricardo?"

Dave smiled. "That's what I've been leading up to. Will you take a
chance?"

"Hell, yes!"

"I knew you would. All we need is a pair of Mexicans to--do the work. I
liked Ricardo; I owe him something."

"Suppose we're caught?"

"In that case we'll have to run for it, and--I presume I'll be
discharged from the Ranger service."

"I ain't very good at runnin'--not from Mexicans." Blaze's eyes were
bright and hard at the thought. "It's more'n possible that, if they
discover us, we can start a nice little war of our own."

That evening Dave managed to get his Ranger captain by long-distance
telephone, and for some time the two talked guardedly. When Dave rang
off they had come to a thorough understanding.

It had been an easy matter for José Sanchez to secure a leave of
absence from Las Palmas, especially since Benito was not a little
interested in the unexplained disappearance of Panfilo and work was
light at this time. Benito did not think it necessary to mention the
horse-breaker's journey to his employer; so that Alaire knew nothing
whatever about the matter until José himself asked permission to see
her on a matter of importance.

The man had ridden hard most of the previous night, and his excitement
was patent. Even before he spoke Alaire realized that Panfilo's fate
was known to him, and she decided swiftly that there must be no further
concealment.

"Señora! A terrible thing!" José burst forth. "God knows, I am nearly
mad with grief. It is about my sainted cousin. It is strange,
unbelievable! My head whirls--"

Alaire quieted him, saying in Spanish, "Calm yourself, José, and tell
me everything from the beginning."

"But how can I be calm? Oh, what a crime! What a misfortune! Well,
then, Panfilo is completely dead. I rode to that tanque where you saw
him last, and what do you think? But--you know?"

Alaire nodded. "I--suspected."

José's dark face blazed; he bent forward eagerly. "What did you
suspect, and why? Tell me all. There is something black and hellish
here, and I must know about it quickly."

"Suppose you tell me your story first," Alaire answered, "and remember
that you are excited."

The Mexican lowered his voice. "Bueno! Forgive me if I seem half
crazed. Well, I rode to that water-hole and found--nothing. It is a
lonely place; only the brush cattle use it; but I said to myself,
'Panfilo drank here. He was here. Beyond there is nothing. So I will
begin.' God was my helper, señora. I found him--his bones as naked and
clean as pebbles. Caramba! You should have heard me then! I was like a
demon! I couldn't think, I couldn't reason. I rode from that accursed
spot as if Panfilo's ghost pursued me and--I am here. I shall rouse the
country; the people shall demand the blood of my cousin's assassin. It
is the crime of a century."

"Wait! When you spoke to me last I didn't dream that Panfilo was dead,
but since then I have learned the truth, and why he was killed. You
must let me tell you everything, José, just as it happened; then--you
may do whatever you think best. And you shall have the whole truth."

It was a trying situation; in spite of her brave beginning, Alaire was
tempted to send the Mexican on to Jonesville, there to receive an
explanation directly from David Law himself; but such a course she
dared not risk. José was indeed half crazed, and at this moment quite
irresponsible; if he met Dave, terrible consequences would surely
follow. Accordingly, it was with a peculiar, apprehensive flatter in
her breast that Alaire realized the crisis had come. Heretofore she had
blamed Law, but now, oddly enough, she found herself interested in
defending him. As calmly as she could she related all that had led up
to the tragedy, while José listened with eyes wide and mouth open.

"You see, I had no suspicion of the truth," she concluded. "It was a
terrible thing, and Mr. Law regrets it deeply. He would have made a
report to the authorities, only--he feared it might embarrass me. He
will repeat to you all that I have said, and he is ready to meet the
consequences."

José was torn with rage, yet plainly a prey to indecision; he rolled
his eyes and cursed under his breath. "These Rangers!" he muttered.
"That is the kind of men they are. They murder honest people."

"This was not murder," Alaire cried, sharply. "Panfilo was aiding a
felon to escape. The courts will not punish Mr. Law."

"Bah! Who cares for the courts? This man is a Gringo, and these are
Gringo laws. But I am Mexican, and Panfilo was my cousin. We shall see."

Alaire's eyes darkened. "Don't be rash, José," she exclaimed,
warningly. "Mr. Law bears you no ill-will, but--he is a dangerous man.
You would do well to make some inquiries about him. You are a good man;
you have a long life before you." Reading the fellow's black look, she
argued: "You think I am taking his part because he is my countryman,
but he needs no one to defend him. He will make this whole story public
and face the consequences. I like you, and I don't wish to see you come
to a worse end than your cousin Panfilo."

José continued to glower. Then, turning away, he said, without meeting
his employer's eyes, "I would like to draw my money."

"Very well. I am sorry to have you leave Las Palmas, for I have
regarded you as one of my gente." José's face remained stony. "What do
you intend to do? Where are you going?"

The fellow shrugged. "Quien sabe! Perhaps I shall go to my General
Longorio. He is in Romero, just across the river; he knows a brave man
when he sees one, and he needs fellows like me to kill rebels. Well,
you shall hear of me. People will tell you about that demon of a José
whose cousin was murdered by the Rangers. Yes, I have the heart of a
bandit."

Alaire smiled faintly. "You will be shot," she told him. "Those
soldiers have little to eat and no money at all."

But José's bright eyes remained hostile and his expression baffling. It
was plain to Alaire that her explanation of his cousin's death had
carried not the slightest conviction, and she even began to fear that
her part in the affair had caused him to look upon her as an accessory.
Nevertheless, when she paid him his wages she gave him a good horse,
which José accepted with thanks but without gratitude. As Alaire
watched him ride away with never a backward glance she decided that she
must lose no time in apprising the Ranger of this new condition of
affairs.

She drove her automobile to Jonesville that afternoon, more worried
than she cared to admit. It was a moral certainty, she knew, that José
Sanchez would, sooner or later, attempt to take vengeance upon his
cousin's slayer, and there was no telling when he might become
sufficiently inflamed with poisonous Mexican liquor to be in the mood
for killing. Then, too, there were friends of Panfilo always ready to
lend bad counsel.

Law was nowhere in town, and so, in spite of her reluctance, Alaire was
forced to look for him at the Joneses' home. As she had never called
upon Paloma, and had made it almost impossible for the girl to visit
Las Palmas, the meeting of the two women was somewhat formal. But no
one could long remain stiff or constrained with Paloma Jones; the girl
had a directness of manner and an honest, friendly smile that simply
would not be denied. Her delight that Alaire had come to see her
pleased and shamed the elder woman, who hesitatingly confessed the
object of her visit.

"Oh, I thought you were calling on me." Paloma pouted her pretty lips.
"Dave isn't here. He and father--have gone away." A little pucker of
apprehension appeared upon her brow.

"I must get word to him at once."

Miss Jones shook her head. "Is it very important?"

It needed no close observation to discover the concern in Paloma's
eyes; Alaire told her story quickly. "Mr. Law must be warned right
away," she added, "for the man is capable of anything."

Paloma nodded. "Dave told us how he had killed Panfilo--" She
hesitated, and then cried, impulsively: "Mrs. Austin, I'm going to
confess something--I've got to tell somebody or I'll burst. I was
walking the floor when you came. Well, Dad and Dave have completely
lost their wits. They have gone across the river--to get Ricardo
Guzman's body."

"What?" Alaire stared at the girl uncomprehendingly.

"They are going to dig him up and bring him back to prove that he was
killed. Dave knows where he's buried, and he's doing this for Ricardo's
family--some foolish sentiment about a bridle--but Dad, I think, merely
wants to start a war between the United States and Mexico."

"My dear girl, aren't you dreaming?"

"I thought I must be when I heard about it. Dad wouldn't have told me
at all, only he thought I ought to know in case anything happens to
him." Paloma's breath failed her momentarily. "They'll be killed. I
told them so, but Dave seems to enjoy the risk. He said Ricardo had a
sentimental nature--and, of course, the possibility of danger delighted
both him and Dad. They're perfect fools."

"When did they go? Tell me everything."

"They left an hour ago in my machine, with two Mexicans to help them.
They intend to cross at your pumping-plant as soon as it gets dark, and
be back by mid-night--that is, if they ever get back."

"Why, it's--unbelievable."

"It's too much for me. Longorio himself is in Romero, and he'd have
them shot if he caught them. We'd never even hear of it." Paloma's face
was pale, her eyes were strained and tragic. "Father always has been a
trial to me, but I thought I could do something with Dave." She made a
hopeless gesture, and Alaire wondered momentarily whether the girl's
anxiety was keenest for the safety of her father or--the other?

"Can't we prevent them from going?" she inquired. "Why, they are
breaking the law, aren't they?"

"Something like that. But what can we do? It's nearly dark, and they'll
go, anyhow, regardless of what we say."

"Mr. Law is a Ranger, too!"

The girl nodded. "Oh, if it's ever discovered he'll be ruined. And
think of Dad--a man of property! Dave declares Tad Lewis is at the
bottom of it all and put the Federals up to murder Ricardo; he thinks
in this way he can force them into telling the truth. But Dad is just
looking for a fight and wants to be a hero!"

There was a moment of silence. Then Alaire reasoned aloud: "I presume
they chose our pumping-plant because it is directly opposite the Romero
cemetery. I could have Benito and some trusty men waiting on this side.
Or I could even send them over--"

"No, no! Don't you understand? The whole thing is illegal."

"Well, we could be there--you and I."

Paloma agreed eagerly. "Yes! Maybe we could even help them if they got
into trouble."

"Come, then! We'll have supper at Las Palmas and slip down to the river
and wait."

Paloma was gone with a rush. In a moment she returned, ready for the
trip, and with her she carried a Winchester rifle nearly as long as
herself.

"I hope you aren't afraid of firearms," she panted. "I've owned this
gun for years."

"I am rather a good shot," Alaire told her.

Paloma closed her lips firmly. "Good! Maybe we'll come in handy, after
all. Anyhow, I'll bet those Mexicans won't chase Dad and Dave very far."

José Sanchez was true to his declared purpose. With a horse of his own
between his knees, with money in his pocket and hate in his heart, he
left Las Palmas, and, riding to the Lewis crossing, forded the Rio
Grande. By early afternoon he was in Romero, and there, after some
effort, he succeeded in finding General Longorio.

Romero, at this time the southern outpost of Federal territory,
standing guard against the Rebel forces in Tamaulipas, is a sun-baked
little town sprawling about a naked plaza, and, except for the presence
of Colonel Blanco's detachment of troops, it would have presented much
the same appearance as any one of the lazy border villages. A scow
ferry had at one time linked it on the American side with a group of
'dobe houses which were sanctified by the pious name of Sangre de
Cristo, but of late years more advantageous crossings above and below
had come into some use and Romero's ferry had been abandoned. Perhaps a
mile above Sangre de Cristo, and directly opposite Romero's weed-grown
cemetery, stood the pumping-plant of Las Palmas, its corrugated iron
roof and high-flung chimney forming a conspicuous landmark.

Luis Longorio had just awakened from his siesta when José gained
admittance to his presence. The general lay at ease in the best bed of
the best house in the village; he greeted the new-comer with a smile.

"So, my brave José, you wish to become a soldier and fight for your
country, eh?"

"Yes, my general."

Longorio yawned and stretched lazily. "Body of Christ! This is a hard
life. Here am I in this goatherd's hovel, hot, dirty, and half starved,
and all because of a fellow I never saw who got himself killed. You
would think this Ricardo was an Englishman instead of a Gringo, for the
fuss that is made. Who was he? Some great jefe?

"A miserable fellow. I knew him well. Then he is indeed dead?"

"Quite dead, I believe," Longorio said, carelessly; then turning his
large, bright eyes upon the visitor, he continued, with more interest,
"Now tell me about the beautiful señora, your mistress."

José scowled. "She's not my mistress. I am no longer of her gente. I
have a debt of blood to wipe out."

Longorio sat up in his bed; the smile left his face. "My José", he
said, quietly, "if you harm her in the least I shall bury you to the
neck in an ant's nest and fill your mouth with honey. Now, what is this
you are telling me?"

José, uncomfortably startled by this barbarous threat, told as
connectedly as he knew how all about his cousin's death and his reasons
for leaving Las Palmas.

"Ah-h!" Longorio relaxed. "You gave me a start. At first I thought you
came with a message from her--but that was too much to expect; then I
feared you meant the lady some evil. Now I shall tell you a little
secret: I love your señora! Yes, I love her madly, furiously; I can
think of nothing but her. I came to this abominable village more to see
her than to annoy myself over the death of Ricardo Guzman. I must see
my divinity; I must hear her blessed voice, or I shall go mad. Why do I
tell you this? Because I have decided that you shall lead me to her
to-night." The general fell silent for a moment, then, "I intend to
have her some day, José, and--perhaps you will be my right hand. See, I
make you my confidant because you will not dare to anger me or--Well,
my little friend, you must understand what fate would befall you in
that case. I can reach across the Rio Grande."

Amazement and then fear were depicted in José's face as he listened; he
asserted his loyalty vehemently.

"Yes, yes, I know you love me," the general agreed, carelessly. "But
what is far more to the point, I intend to pay well for your services.
Perhaps I shall also arrange so that you may have a reckoning with the
murderer of your cousin. What is his name?"

It was José's opportunity to make an impression, and he used it to the
full, telling all that he knew of the killing of Panfilo, and
describing Law with the eloquence of hatred.

Longorio listened for a time, and then held up his hand. "Enough. For
my sake, too, you shall kill him, for you have made me jealous."

"Impossible!" José raised protesting palms. He was sure the general was
wrong. Señora Austin was above suspicion of any kind.

"And yet this man met her in Pueblo and rode with her to Las Palmas? He
comes to see her frequently, you say?" The general bent his bright,
keen eyes upon the visitor.

"Yes. She gave him the finest horse at Las Palmas, too, and--" A new
thought presented itself to José. "Ho! By the way, they were alone at
the water-hole when my cousin Panfilo was shot. Now that I think of it,
they were alone together for a day and a night. I begin to wonder--"

Longorio breathed an oath and swung his long legs over the edge of the
bed. "You have poisoned my mind. A whole day and night, eh? That is
bad. What happened? What kind of a fool is her husband? I cannot bear
to think of this! See, I am beside myself. Caramba! I live in paradise;
I come flying on the wings of the wind, only to learn that my blessed
divinity has a lover. If only my excellent Blanco had shot this fellow
Law instead of that Guzman! If only I could lay hands upon him here in
Mexico! Ha! There would be something to print in the American papers."
He began to dress himself feverishly, muttering, as he did so: "I will
permit no one to come between us. ... The thought kills me. ... You
bring me bad news, José, and yet I am glad you came. I accept your
offer, and you shall be my man henceforth; ... but you shall not go out
to be shot by those rebels. No, you shall return to Las Palmas to be my
eyes and my ears, and, when the time comes, you shall be my hands, too.
... I will avenge your cousin Panfilo for you, my word on that. Yes,
and I will make you a rich man."

José listened hungrily to these promises. He was relieved at the change
in his plans, for, after all, a soldier's life offered few attractions,
and--the food at Las Palmas was good. The general promised him fine
wages, too. Truly, it was fortunate that he had come to Romero.

"Now we have settled this," José's new employer declared, "run away and
amuse yourself until dark. Then we will take a little journey by way of
the old ferry."

"It is not altogether safe," ventured José. "That country over there is
alive with refugees."

"I will take some men with me," said Longorio. "Now go and let me
think."



XVIII

ED AUSTIN TURNS AT BAY


Had it not been for her fears, Paloma Jones would have taken her visit
to the Austin ranch as an unmixed enjoyment. To her Alaire had always
been an ideally romantic figure. More than once, in her moments of
melancholy, Paloma had envied Mrs. Austin's unhappiness and yearned to
bear a similar sorrow--to be crossed in love and to become known as a
woman of tragedy. To have one's life blasted, one's happiness slain by
some faithless lover, impressed the girl as interesting, thrilling.
Moreover, it was a misfortune calculated to develop one's highest
spiritual nature. Surely nothing could be more sadly satisfying than to
live alone with regretful memories and to have the privilege of
regarding the world as a vain show. Unfortunately, however, Paloma was
too healthy and too practical to remain long occupied with such
thoughts. She was disgustingly optimistic and merry; misanthropy was
entirely lacking in her make-up; and none of her admirers seemed the
least bit inclined to faithlessness. On the contrary, the men she knew
were perfect nuisances in their earnestness of purpose, and she could
not manage to fall in love with any one sufficiently depraved to
promise her the slightest misery. Paloma felt that she was hopelessly
commonplace.

Now that she had an opportunity of becoming better acquainted with the
object of her envy, she made the most of it. She soon found, however,
that Alaire possessed anything but an unhappy disposition, and that to
pity her was quite impossible. Mrs. Austin was shy and retiring,
certainly, at first, but, once the ice was broken, she was delightfully
frank, friendly, and spirited.

Paloma's curiosity was all-consuming, and she explored every phase of
her new friend's life with interest and delight. She even discovered
that imaginary world of Alaire's, and learned something about those
visionary people who bore her company.

"It must be lots of fun," said Paloma.

"Yes. Sometimes my dream-people are very real, Why--I can actually see
them. Then I realize I have been too much alone."

"You ought to have children," the girl declared, calmly.

"I have. Yes! Imaginary kiddies--and they are perfect dears, too."

"Are they ever naughty?"

"Oh, indeed they are! And I have to punish them. Then I feel terribly.
But they're much nicer than flesh-and-blood children, for they have no
bad traits whatever, and they're so amazingly intelligent."

Such exchanges of confidence drew the women into fairly close relations
by the time they had arrived at Las Palmas, but the thought of what had
brought them together had a sobering effect, and during their hasty
supper they discussed the situation in all its serious phases.

In offering to lend a hand in this difficulty, Alaire had acted largely
upon impulse, and now that she took time to think over the affair more
coolly, she asked herself what possible business of hers it could be.
How did this effort to secure Don Ricardo's body concern her? And how
could she hope or expect to be of help to the men engaged in the
hazardous attempt? With Paloma, of course, it was different: the girl
was anxious on her father's account, and probably concerned more deeply
than was Alaire for the safety of Dave Law. Probably she and Dave had
an understanding--it would be natural. Well, Paloma was a nice girl and
she would make a splendid wife for any man.

For her part, Paloma was troubled by no uncertainty of purpose; it did
not seem to her at all absurd to go to her father's assistance, and she
was so eager to be up and away that the prospect of a long evening's
wait made her restless.

As usual, Ed Austin had not taken the trouble to inform his wife of his
whereabouts; Alaire was relieved to find that he was out, and she
decided that he had probably stayed at Tad Lewis's for supper.

The women were seated on the porch after their meals when up the
driveway rode two horsemen. A moment later a tall figure mounted the
steps and came forward with outstretched hand, crying, in Spanish:

"Señora! I surprise you. Well, I told you some day I should give myself
this great pleasure. I am here!"

"General Longorio! But--what a surprise!" Alaire's amazement was naive;
her face was that of a startled school-girl. The Mexican warmly kissed
her fingers, then turned to meet Paloma Jones. As he bowed the women
exchanged glances over his head. Miss Jones looked frankly frightened,
and her expression plainly asked the meaning of Longorio's presence. To
herself, she was wondering if it could have anything to do with that
expedition to the Romero cemetery. She tried to compose herself, but
apprehension flooded her.

Alaire, meanwhile, her composure recovered, was standing slim and
motionless beside her chair, inquiring smoothly: "What brings you into
Texas at such a time, my dear general? This is quite extraordinary."

"Need you ask me?" cried the man. "I would ride through a thousand
perils, señora. God in his graciousness placed that miserable village
Romero close to the gates of Heaven. Why should I not presume to look
through them briefly? I came two days ago, and every hour since then I
have turned my eyes in the direction of Las Palmas. At last I could
wait no longer." A courtly bow at the conclusion of these words robbed
the speech of its audacity and tinged it with the licensed extravagance
of Latin flattery. Nevertheless, Paloma gasped and Alaire stirred
uncomfortably. The semi-darkness of the veranda was an invitation to
even more daring compliments, and, therefore, as she murmured a polite
word of welcome, Alaire stepped through the French window at her back
and into the brightly lighted living-room. Paloma Jones followed as if
in a trance.

Longorio's bright eyes took a swift inventory of his surroundings; then
he sighed luxuriously.

"How fine!" said he. "How beautiful! A nest for a bird of paradise!"

"Don't you consider this rather a mad adventure?" Alaire insisted.
"Suppose it should become known that you crossed the river?"

Longorio snapped his fingers. "I answer to no one; I am supreme. But
your interest warms my heart; it thrills me to think you care for my
safety. Thus am I repaid for my days of misery."

"You surely did not"--Paloma swallowed hard--"come alone?"

"No. I have a duty to my country. I said, 'Luis, you are a brave man,
and fear is a stranger to you, but, nevertheless, you must have regard
for the Fatherland'; so I took measures to protect myself in case of
eventualities."

"How?"

"By bringing with me some of my troopers. Oh, they are peaceable
fellows!" he declared, quickly; "and they are doubtless enjoying
themselves with our friend and sympathizer, Morales."

"Where?" asked Alaire.

"I left them at your pumping-plant, señora." Paloma Jones sat down
heavily in the nearest chair. "But you need have no uneasiness. They
are quiet and orderly; they will molest nothing; no one would believe
them to be soldiers. I take liberties with the laws and the customs of
your country, dear lady, but--you would not care for a man who allowed
such considerations to stand in his way, eh?"

Alaire answered, sharply: "It was a very reckless thing to do, and--you
must not remain here."

"Yes, yes!" Paloma eagerly agreed. "You must go back at once."

But Longorio heard no voice except Alaire's. In fact, since entering
the living-room he had scarcely taken his eyes from her. Now he drew
his evenly arched brows together in a plaintive frown, saying, "You are
inhospitable!" Then his expression lightened. "Or is it," he asked--"is
it that you are indeed apprehensive for me?"

Alaire tried to speak quietly. "I should never forgive myself if you
came to harm here at my ranch."

Longorio sighed. "And I hoped for a warmer welcome--especially since I
have done you another favor. You saw that hombre who came with me?"

"Yes."

"Well, you would never guess that it is your José Sanchez, whom I
prevailed upon to return to your employ. But it is no other; and he
comes to beg your forgiveness for leaving. He was distracted at the
news of his cousin's murder, and came to me--"

"His cousin was not murdered."

"Exactly! I told him so when I had learned the facts. A poor fellow
this Panfilo--evidently a very bad man, indeed--but José admired him
and was harboring thoughts of revenge. I said to him: 'José, my boy, it
is better to do nothing than to act wrongly. Since it was God's will
that your cousin came to a bad end, why follow in his footsteps? You
will not make a good soldier. Go back to your beautiful employer, be
loyal to her, and think no more about this unhappy affair.' It required
some argument, I assure you, but--he is here. He comes to ask your
forgiveness and to resume his position of trust."

"I am glad to have him back if he feels that way. I have nothing
whatever to forgive him."

"Then he will be happy, and I have served you. That is the end of the
matter." With a graceful gesture Longorio dismissed the subject. "Is it
to be my pleasure," he next inquired, "to meet Señor Austin, your
husband?"

"I am afraid not."

"Too bad. I had hoped to know him and convince him that we Federales
are not such a bad people as he seems to think. We ought to be friends,
he and I. Every loyal Mexican, in these troublesome times, desires the
goodwill and friendship of such important personages as Señor Austin.
This animosity is a sad thing."

Under this flow of talk Paloma stirred uneasily, and at the first
opportunity burst out: "It's far from safe for you to remain here,
General Longorio. This neighborhood is terribly excited over the death
of Ricardo Guzman, and if any one learned--"

"So! Then this Guzman is dead?" Longorio inquired, with interest.

"Isn't he?" blurted Paloma.

"Not so far as I can learn. Only to-day I made official report that
nothing whatever could be discovered about him. Certainly he is nowhere
in Romero, and it is my personal belief that the poor fellow was either
drowned in the river or made way with for his money. Probably the truth
will never be known. It is a distressing event, but I assure you my
soldiers do not kill American citizens. It is our boast that Federal
territory is safe; one can come or go at will in any part of Mexico
that is under Potosista control. I sincerely hope that we have heard
the last of this Guzman affair."

Longorio had come to spend the evening, and his keen pleasure in Alaire
Austin's company made him so indifferent to his personal safety that
nothing short of a rude dismissal would have served to terminate his
visit. Neither Alaire nor her companion, however, had the least idea
how keenly he resented the presence of Paloma Jones. Ed Austin's
absence he had half expected, and he had wildly hoped for an evening,
an hour, a few moments, alone with the object of his desires. José's
disclosures, earlier in the day, had opened the general's eyes; they
had likewise inflamed him with jealousy and with passion, and
accordingly he had come prepared to force his attentions with
irresistible fervor should the slightest opportunity offer. To find
Alaire securely chaperoned, therefore, and to be compelled to press his
ardent advances in the presence of a third party, was like gall to him;
the fact that he made the most of his advantages, even at the cost of
scandalizing Paloma, spoke volumes for his determination.

It was a remarkable wooing; on the one hand this half-savage man,
gnawed by jealousy, heedless of the illicit nature of his passion, yet
held within the bounds of decorum by some fag-end of respectability;
and on the other hand, a woman, bored, resentful, and tortured at the
moment by fear about what was happening at the river-bank.

Alaire, too, had a further cause for worry. Of late Ed Austin had grown
insultingly suspicious. More than once he had spoken of Dave Law in a
way to make his wife's face crimson, and he had wilfully misconstrued
her recital of Longorio's attentions. Fearing, therefore, that in spite
of Paloma Jones's presence Ed would resent the general's call, Alaire
strained her ears for the sound of his coming.

It was late when Austin arrived. Visitors at Las Palmas were unusual at
any time; hence the sound of strange voices in the brightly lighted
living-room at such an hour surprised him. He came tramping in, booted
and spurred, a belligerent look of inquiry upon his bloated features.
But when he had met his wife's guests his surprise turned to black
displeasure. His own sympathies in the Mexican struggle were so
notorious that Longorio's presence seemed to him to have but one
possible significance. Why Paloma Jones was here he could not imagine.

Thus far Alaire's caller had succeeded in ignoring Miss Jones, and now,
with equal self-assurance, he refused to recognize Ed's hostility. He
remained at ease, and appeared to welcome this chance of meeting
Austin. Yet it soon became evident that his opinion of his host was far
from flattering; beneath his politeness he began to show an amused
contempt, which Alaire perceived, even though her husband did not. Luis
Longorio was the sort of man who enjoys a strained situation, and one
who shows to the best advantage under adverse conditions. Accordingly,
Ed's arrival, instead of hastening his departure, merely served to
prolong his stay.

It was growing very late now, and Paloma was frantic. Profiting by her
first opportunity, she whispered to Alaire "For God's sake, send him
away."

Alaire's eyes were dark with excitement, "Yes," said she. "Talk to him,
and give me a chance to have a word alone with Ed."

The opportunity came when Austin went into the dining-room for a drink.
Alaire excused herself to follow him. When they were out of sight and
hearing her husband turned upon her with an ugly frown.

"What's that Greaser doing here?" he asked, roughly.

"He called to pay his respects. You must get him away."

"_I_ must?" Ed glowered at her. "Why don't you? You got him here in my
absence. Now that I'm home you want me to get rid of him, eh? What's
the idea?"

"Don't be silly. I didn't know he was coming and--he must be crazy to
risk such a thing."

"Crazy?" Ed's lip curled. "He isn't crazy. I suppose he couldn't stay
away any longer. By God, Alaire--"

Alaire checked this outburst with a sharp exclamation: "Don't make a
scene! Don't you understand he holds over fifty thousand dollars' worth
of La Feria cattle? Don't you understand we can't antagonize him?"

"Is that what he came to see you about?"

"Yes." She bit her lip. "I'll explain everything, but--you must help me
send him back, right away." Glancing at the clock, Alaire saw that it
was drawing on toward midnight; with quick decision she seized her
husband by the arm, explaining feverishly: "There is something big
going on to-night, Ed! Longorio brought a guard of soldiers with him
and left them at our pump-house. Well, it so happens that Blaze Jones
and Mr. Law have gone to the Romero cemetery to get Ricardo Guzman's
body."

"WHAT?" Austin's red face paled, his eyes bulged.

"Yes. That's why Paloma is here. They crossed at our pumping-station,
and they'll be back at any time, now. If they encounter Longorio's
men--You understand?"

"God Almighty!" Austin burst forth. "Ricardo Guzman's body!" He wet his
lips and swallowed with difficulty. "Why--do they want the body?"

"To prove that he is really dead and--to prove who killed him." Noting
the effect of these words, Alaire cried, sharply, "What's the matter,
Ed?"

But Austin momentarily was beyond speech. The decanter from which he
was trying to pour himself a drink played a musical tattoo upon his
glass; his face had become ashen and pasty.

"Have they got the body? Do they know who shot him?" he asked, dully.

"No, no!" Alaire was trembling with impatience. "Don't you understand?
They are over there now, and they'll be back about midnight. If
Longorio had come alone, or if he had left his men at Sangre de Cristo,
everything would be all right. But those soldiers at Morales's house
will be up and awake. Why, it couldn't have happened worse!" "How many
men has he got?" Austin nodded in the direction of the front room.

"I don't know. Probably four or five. What ails you?"

"That--won't do. They won't--fight on this side of the river.
They--they'd hold them off."

"Who? What are you talking about?"

Something in her husband's inexplicable agitation, something in the
hunted, desperate way in which his eyes were running over the room,
alarmed Alaire.

Ed utterly disregarded her question. Catching sight of the telephone,
which stood upon a stand in the far corner of the room, he ran to it
and, snatching the receiver, violently oscillated the hook.

"Don't do that!" Alaire cried, following him. "Wait! It mustn't get
out."

"Hello! Give me the Lewis ranch--quick--I've forgotten the number."
With his free hand Ed held his wife at a distance, muttering harshly:
"Get away now! I know what I'm doing. Get away--damn you!" He flung
Alaire from him as she tried to snatch the instrument out of his hands.

"What do you want of Lewis?" she panted.

"None of your business. You keep away or I'll hurt you."

"Ed!" she cried, "Are you out of your mind? You mustn't--"

Their voices were raised now, heedless of the two people In the
adjoining room.

"Keep your hands off, I tell you. Hello! Is that you, Tad?" Again
Austin thrust his wife violently aside. "Listen! I've just learned that
Dave Law and old man Jones have crossed over to dig up Ricardo's body.
Yes, to-night! They're over there now--be back inside of an hour."

Alaire leaned weakly against the table, her frightened eyes fixed upon
the speaker. Even yet she could not fully grasp the meaning of her
husband's behavior and tried to put aside those fears that were
distracting her. Perhaps, after all, she told herself, Ed was taking
his own way to--

"Yes! They aim to discover how he was killed and all about it. Sure! I
suppose they found out where he was buried. They crossed at my
pumping-plant, and they'll be back with the body to-night, if they
haven't already--" The speaker's voice broke, his hand was shaking so
that he could scarcely retain his hold upon the telephone. "How the
hell do I know?" he chattered. "It's up to you. You've got a machine--"

"ED!" cried the wife. She went toward him on weak, unsteady feet, but
she halted as the voice of Longorio cut in sharply:

"What's this I hear? Ricardo Guzman's body?" Husband and wife turned.
The open double-door to the living-room framed the tall figure of the
Mexican general.



XIX

RANGERS


Longorio stared first at the huddled, perspiring man beside the
telephone and then at the frightened woman. "Is that the truth?" he
demanded, harshly.

"Yes," Austin answered. "They are bringing the body to this side. You
know what that means."

"Did you know this?" The general turned upon Alaire. Of the four he was
the least excited.

From the background Paloma quavered: "You told us Ricardo was not dead,
so--it is all right. There is no--harm done."

A brief silence ensued, then Longorio shrugged. "Who knows? Let us hope
that he suffered no harm on Mexican soil. That would be serious,
indeed; yes, very serious, for I have given my word to your government.
This--David Law--" he pronounced the name carefully, but with a
strange, foreign accent--"he is a reckless person to defy the border
regulations. It is a grave matter to invade foreign territory on such a
mission." Longorio again bent his brilliant eyes upon Alaire. "I see
that you are concerned for his safety. You would not desire him to come
to trouble, eh? He has done you favors; he is your friend, as I am.
Well"--a mirthless smile exposed his splendid white teeth--"we must
think of that. Now I will bid you good night."

"Where are you going?" demanded Miss Jones.

"To the river, and then to Romero. I may be needed, for those men of
mine are stupid fellows and there is danger of a misunderstanding. In
the dark anything may happen. I should like to meet this David Law; he
is a man of my own kind." Turning to "Young Ed," he said: "There is
reason for haste, and a horse moves slowly. Would you do me the favor,
if you have an automobile--"

"No! I won't!" Ed declared. "I don't want to see the Rio Grande
to-night. I won't be involved--"

"But you are already involved. Come! There is no time to waste, and I
have something to say to you. You will drive me to the river, and my
horse will remain here until I return for him."

There was no mistaking the command in Longorio's tone; the master of
Las Palmas rose as if under compulsion. He took his hat, and the two
men left the room.

"Oh, my God!" Paloma gasped. "They'll be in time, and so will the Lewis
gang."

"Quick! Ed will take his runabout--we'll follow in my car." Alaire fled
to make herself ready. A few moments later she looked out from her
window and saw the headlights of Ed's runabout flash down the driveway
to the road; then she and Paloma rushed to the garage where the
touring-car stood.

"They'll never expect us to follow them"--Alaire tried to speak
hopefully--"and we'll drive without lights. Maybe we'll get there in
time, after all." As the machine rolled out through the gate she
elaborated the half-formed plan that had come to her: "The brush is
thick along the river; we can leave the car hidden and steal up to the
pump-house. When we hear the boat coming maybe we can call out in time
to warn your father."

"The moon is rising," Paloma half sobbed. "They'll be sure to see us.
Do you think we're ahead of Tad Lewis?"

"Oh yes. He hasn't had time to get here yet, but--he'll come fast when
he starts. This is the only plan I can think of."

Alaire drove as swiftly as she dared, following the blurred streak of
gray that was the road, and taking the bumps with utter recklessness.
Already the yellow rim of the moon was peering over the horizon to her
right, and by its light she found the road that turned abruptly toward
the Rio Grande, a mile or more distant. The black mud from the last
heavy rain had hardened; the ruts in this side road were deep, and the
car leaped and plunged, flinging its occupants from side to side. Ahead
loomed the dark ridge of the river thickets, a dense rampart of
mesquite, ebony, and coma, with here and there a taller alamo or
hackberry thrusting itself skyward. But even before they were sheltered
from the moonlight Paloma saw the lights of another automobile
approaching along the main-traveled highway behind them--the lights,
evidently, of Tad Lewis's machine. A moment later Alaire's car drove
into the black shadows, but, fearing to switch on her headlights, she
felt her way cautiously between the walls of foliage until at her right
another opening showed, like a narrow arroyo, diverging from the one
they followed. Into this she swerved, regardless of the fact that it
was half grown up with brush. Thorny branches swept the sides of the
machine; rank, dew-soaked grass rose to the height of the tonneau. The
car came to a jolting pause, then the motor ceased its purring, and the
two women sat motionless, listening for the rattle of the on-coming
machine. It had been a short, swift, exciting ride. "Young Ed's"
runabout could not be many minutes ahead of them.

Alaire knew the Tad Lewis car, an old-style, cheap affair, which
advertised its mechanical imperfections by a loud clashing of gears and
a noisy complaint of loose parts; therefore, when the leafy cañon walls
behind her hiding-place were brilliantly illuminated and a car stole
silently past at low speed, she seized Paloma by the arm and whispered:

"That's not Lewis."

"Who is it? It can't be Ed."

"No, he and Longorio are ahead of us. It's another motor entirely."

The women got out, then breasted the high grass and brambles between
their hiding-place and the pump-house road. As soon as they were back
in the trail they made all possible speed, speculating meanwhile upon
the mystery of the unknown car. Emerging into the clearing which
surrounded the power-plant, they discovered the machine in question
standing dark and deserted in the shadows. Evidently the driver,
whoever he was, well knew what he was about, and had not blundered upon
this place by accident. A hundred yards away they could now see the
ghostly Rio Grande, its saffron surface faintly silvered by the low
moon; lights gleamed from the windows of Morales's house. In the
distance the vague outlines of the Mexican shore were resolving
themselves, and far beyond winked the evidence that some belated
citizens of Romero were still awake.

Paloma had brought with her the long-barreled Winchester rifle, and
this she clutched nervously as she and Alaire stood whispering.
Conditions were favorable for an approach to the pump-house itself, for
two ridges of earth, perhaps eight feet high, thrown up like parallel
furrows from a giant plow, marked the beginning of the irrigation
ditch, and in the shadow of these the women worked their way forward,
unobserved. They had nearly reached their goal when out into the
clearing behind them, with metallic rattle and clang, burst another
automobile, and Paloma whispered, excitedly:

"There's the Lewis outfit at last."

In the Lewis car were several men. They descended hurriedly, and when
one of them ran around the front of the car to turn off its lights both
women saw that he carried a rifle. Evidently Tad Lewis had come
prepared for desperate measures.

A small door gave entrance to the boiler-room, and into the lock of
this Mrs. Austin fitted a key; the next moment she and Paloma were
safely inside. They found themselves in utter darkness now, with a
smooth brick floor beneath their feet and a strong odor of oil and
burnt fuel in their nostrils.

Alaire was agreeably surprised in Paloma Jones, for, although the girl
was wrought to a pitch of hysterical excitement, she had, nevertheless,
retained her wits; nor had she faltered in the slightest. It was
evident that the fighting blood of her father was aroused in her, for
she said, calmly:

"When it gets light enough to shoot, I'm going to get Tad Lewis."

"Don't act too quickly," cautioned Alaire. "Perhaps your father and
Dave have come and gone. Anyhow, we can warn them just as well by
firing into the air."

In reply to this suggestion Paloma merely muttered something under her
breath.

The brief night ride had given Alaire time in which to recover from her
first apprehensions, and now she was surprised at her own coolness.
Ed's behavior had shocked and horrified her; she was still half
paralyzed at his treachery; nevertheless, her mind was clear, and she
was determined to avert a tragedy if possible. She knew only too well
what would happen when Blaze Jones and Dave Law encountered the Lewis
gang; the presence of Longorio's soldiers merely made more certain the
outcome of that meeting. The general was furious; it was plain that he
would not tolerate this expedition, the avowed purpose of which was to
prove him a liar. It would make but little difference, therefore,
whether the quest for Ricardo Guzman's body had been successful or not:
even the fact that this was American soil would not deter Longorio from
violent action, for the Rio Grande was no real boundary, and this part
of Texas was as truly Mexican as that other river-bank which lay two
hundred yards distant.

A confusion of such thoughts were racing through Alaire's mind as she
felt her way out of the boiler-room and into that part of the building
where the pumping machinery stood. Dusty, cobwebbed windows let in a
faint ghost-glow of moonlight, but prevented clear observation of
anything outside; Alaire's fumbling fingers found the latch of the
front door and began to lift it, when some one spoke, just outside the
building.

"What did you discover?" inquired a voice which neither woman
recognized. Paloma clutched blindly for her companion; the two
eavesdroppers stood rooted in their tracks. The pounding of their
hearts sounded loudly. Since the building was little more than a wooden
shell, they could plainly hear the answer:

"The house is full of Greasers. I can't tell who they are."

A third man spoke, this time in Spanish. "That was Tad Lewis who just
came, señor."

There followed some whispered words indistinguishable to the listeners,
then a rustle of bodies moving through the tall grass and weeds.

Paloma placed her lips close to Alaire's ear. "Who are those people?"
she breathed.

"I don't know. They must be the ones who came in that strange
automobile."

Paloma chattered viciously: "Everybody in Texas is here. I wish we'd
thought to scatter tacks behind us."

Cautiously they swung the door back and looked out. The open space
along the river-bank was leveled by the moonlight; from Morales's
house, to their right, came the sound of voices. The women waited.

A few moments, then a number of men appeared. Paloma judged there were
at least a dozen, but she was too excited to count them. As they came
straggling toward the pump-house one of them called back:

"Morales! Put out your damned lights," Both women recognized Tad Lewis
as the speaker.

Alaire had stubbornly refused to charge her husband with any active
share in this evil business, but her faith in Ed suddenly vanished when
she heard him say:

"Hush! You're making too much noise. You'd better scatter out, too, for
there's no telling where they'll land." Alaire leaned weakly against
the door. "I'm going to leave, and let you-all attend to the rest," he
was saying. But Tad Lewis halted him as he turned from the group.

"Where are you going, Ed? You left your car back yonder by the road. I
almost ran into it."

"Eh? What are you talking about? My car is over by Morales's house."

"Señor Austin is in a great hurry," sneered some one in Spanish. "Once
more he leaves all of the fighting to his friends."

"That's Adolfo Urbina," panted Paloma. "I know him." Stung by this open
charge of cowardice, Austin began a voluble defense, but in the midst
of it General Longorio addressed him, sharply:

"You will stay here, señor. Nobody leaves this place."

"I told you I wouldn't be a party to the business," Ed declared, hotly.
"You forced me to come in the first place--"

"Yes! And now I force you to stay."

Longorio's stand appeared to please Lewis, who chimed in with the
words: "That's right, Ed. You've got to stick, for once in your life."

"What do you mean, you nearly ran into my car back yonder?" Austin
asked, after a moment.

"Ain't that your machine yonder by the thicket?" inquired Lewis. "If it
ain't, whose is it?" As no one answered, he started in the direction he
had indicated; but at that moment a man came running from the
riverbank, crying, softly:

"Look out! They come."

"I'm going to shoot," Paloma Jones gasped, but Alaire, who once again
heard the sound of whispering in the shadows just outside their
hiding-place, managed to restrain her companion. It was well that she
succeeded, for even as Paloma raised her weapon a man passed swiftly by
the crack of the half-open door and scarcely ten feet beyond the muzzle
of the rifle. He was followed by three others.

The first of the new-comers, acting as spokesman for his party, stepped
out into the moonlight and cried, loudly: "Hello, men! What's goin' on
here?" It was an American voice; it had a broad, slow, Texas drawl.

The group of plotters turned, there was a startled murmur, then Tad
Lewis answered:

"Hello! Who are you? What do you want?"

"I reckon we must have got off the road," announced the stranger. Then
he peered out across the river: "Say! Ain't that a skiff coming
yonder?" he inquired.

"Well, it don't look like a steamboat." Lewis laughed, disagreeably.
"We're havin' a little party of our own. I reckon you fellows had
better beat it. Understand?"

The outposts that had been sent to cover the bank in both directions
were now coming in. Through the stillness of the night there sounded
the thump of oar-locks. Seeing that the stranger did not seem to take
his hint, Lewis raised his voice menacingly:

"That's your road back yonder. It's a right good road, and I'd advise
you to travel it, fast."

But this suggestion was also ignored; in fact, it appeared to amuse the
man addressed, for he, too, laughed. He turned, and the women noticed
that he carried a short saddle-gun. They saw, also, that at least one
of the men at his back was similarly armed.

"Now, what's the hurry?" The stranger was chuckling. Suddenly he raised
his voice and called, loudly: "Hello, Dave! Is that you-all?"

The answer floated promptly back: "Hello, Cap! Sure it's us."

"Have you got him?"

It was Blaze Jones's voice which answered this time: "You bet!"

Paloma Jones was trembling now. She clung to Alaire, crying,
thankfully: "It's the Rangers! The Rangers!" Then she broke away and
ran out into the moonlight, trailing her absurd firearm after her.

"Now, boys," the Ranger captain was saying, "I know 'most every one of
you, and we ain't going to have the least bit of trouble over this
thing, are we? I reckon you-all are friends of Ricardo Guzman, and you
just couldn't wait to find out about him, eh?"

Alaire, who had followed Paloma, was close enough now to recognize the
two Guzman boys as members of the Ranger party. Lewis and his men had
drawn together at the first alarm; Longorio's Mexicans had gathered
about their leader. The entire situation had changed in a moment, and
the Ranger captain was in control of it.

Soon Dave Law and Blaze Jones came up over the river-bank; they paused,
stricken with surprise at finding a score of people where they had
expected no more than four.

Blaze was the first to speak. "What the hell?" he cried. He peered
near-sightedly from one to the other; then his huge bulk shook with
laughter: "Say, do my glasses magnify, or is this an Odd-Fellows
meetin'?"

"Dad! Oh, Dad!" Paloma scurried to him and flung herself into his arms.

"Lord of mercy, kid!" the father exclaimed. "Why, you'd ought to be
home and abed, long ago. You'll catch your death of cold. Is that gun
loaded."

Dave Law was even more amazed than his companion. His first glimpse of
the waiting figures had warned him that something had gone wrong, and,
therefore, he did not stop to ask himself how Tad Lewis and Longorio
could have learned of this affair, or what could have brought Alaire
and Ed Austin to the scene. Recovering from his first surprise, he took
a position beside his superior officer.

Captain Evans did not seem at all troubled by the disparity in numbers.
One Ranger, or two at the most, had always been sufficient to quell a
Texan disturbance; now that there were three of them, he felt equal to
an invasion of Mexican soil, if necessary. In consequence he relaxed
his watchful vigilance, and to Dave he drawled:

"We've got most of the leading citizens of the county, and I reckon
somebody in the outfit will be able to identify Guzman."

"There's no trouble about that, sir. We found him. Pedro and Raoul can
make sure." The sons of Ricardo Guzman stepped forward promptly, and
Law waved them toward the boat landing, where the two helpers were
waiting with Ricardo's remains.

Despite the Ranger captain's easy assumption of command, the strain of
the situation had not subsided, and Longorio drew swift attention to
himself when he said:

"It is fortunate that I chanced to learn of this matter. You have done
me a great service, Señor Law, for I came to Romero purposely to
examine into the death of this unfortunate man. But I could learn
nothing; nobody knew anything whatever about the matter, and so I
became convinced that it amounted to little. Now--behold! I discover
that I was deceived. Or--perhaps there still may be a mistake."

Blaze Jones thrust his daughter aside and advanced toward the speaker.
"There's no mistake," he declared, belligerently. "I don't make
mistakes when I go grave-robbin'. Don Ricardo was shot by your men. He
had five thousand dollars on him, or he should have had, and he was an
American citizen. Your Colonel Blanco covered the body, but he'll have
a hell of a job coverin' the facts. It's time we came to a showdown
with your murderin' outfit, and I aim to see if we've got a government
in this country."

"Heaven guided my hand," devoutly breathed the general. "It is
regrettable that you used this means when a word to me would have
served the purpose, for--it is no trivial matter to desecrate a Mexican
graveyard. My country, too, has a government. An officer of the State
of Texas, under arms, has crossed the Rio Grande. What does that mean?"

Captain Evans had a sense of humor; Longorio's ominous words amused
him. "Say, general, it ain't the first time," he chortled. "And you're
an officer, too, ain't you? You're in Texas at this minute, and I'll
bet if I frisked you I'd find that you was under arms." The Mexican
understood English sufficiently well to grasp the significance of these
words. After a moment's consideration, therefore, he modified his
threatening tone.

"But my mission was friendly. I had no criminal purpose," he said,
mildly. "However--perhaps one offense condones the other. At any rate,
we must have no international complications. There is a more practical
side to the matter: if Don Ricardo Guzman met his death in Mexico there
will be a rigid investigation, I assure you."

Evans agreed. "That's fair! And I'll make a bargain with you: you keep
still and so'll we. We never aimed for this affair to get out, anyhow.
I reckon these men"--he indicated Lewis and his followers--"ain't
liable to talk much."

The two Guzman boys, greatly moved, returned to announce that they had
indeed identified their father's body, and Longorio could not well
refuse to accept their evidence.

"Very well," said he. "I am indebted to you. Since there is nothing
more to be said, apparently, I will return to Romero." With a bow to
Mrs. Austin, who had silently watched the play of these opposing
motives, he turned away, and Tad Lewis followed him.

But Dave Law had recognized Adolfo Urbina in the crowd, and, stepping
forward, disarmed him, saying:

"Adolfo, there's a warrant for you, so I'll just take you in."

For a moment Adolfo was inclined to resist, but, thinking better of it,
he yielded with bad grace, bitterly regretting the curiosity which had
prompted him to remain to the end of this interesting affair.

Tad Lewis gave him some comfort. "Never mind, Adolfo," he said. "They
can't prove anything on you, and I'll go your bail. Ed Austin knows
where you was the day that stock was stole." He and his two remaining
men moved toward their automobile, and a moment later the vehicle went
clattering away up the thicket road.

So ended the attempt to foil the return of Ricardo Guzman's body to
Texas soil.

When Alaire came to look for her husband he was gone.



XX

SUPERSTITIONS AND CERTAINTIES


The sensation caused by Ricardo Guzman's disappearance was as nothing
to that which followed the recovery of his body. By the next afternoon
it was known from Mexico to the Canadian border that the old ranchman
had been shot by Mexican soldiers in Romero. It was reported that a
party of Americans had invaded foreign soil and snatched Ricardo's
remains from under the nose of General Longorio. But there all reliable
information ceased. Just how the rescue had been effected, by whom it
had been done, what reasons had prompted it, were a mystery. With the
first story the newspapers printed a terse telegram, signed by Captain
Evans and addressed to the Governor of Texas, which read:

"Ranger force crossed Rio Grande and brought back the body of Ricardo
Guzman."

This message created tremendous enthusiasm, for the Texas Rangers have
ever stood for prompt and decisive action; but two hours after the
publication of this despatch there came a sharp inquiry from
Washington, and on the heels of that the State House at Austin denied
the receipt of any such message.

When this denial was in turn made public, the newspapers demanded to
know who had performed this sensational exploit. One rumor had it that
the sons of Ricardo Guzman had risked their lives to insure their
father Christian burial. This was amplified by a touching pen-picture
of the rancher's weeping family waiting at the bank of the Rio Grande,
and an affecting account of the grief of the beautiful Guzman girls. It
mattered not that there were no daughters.

In other quarters the expedition was credited to members of a secret
order to which Ricardo had belonged; from a third source came a
statement that the Guzman family had hired a band of Mexicans to exhume
the body, so that proof of death might be sufficient to satisfy an
insurance company in which the rancher had held a policy. Even at
Jonesville there were conflicting rumors.

But, whatever the facts of the rescue, it was generally recognized that
the result had been to bring on a crisis in the affairs of the two
nations. People declared that since the outrage was now proven the next
move was the duty of the State Department at Washington. Therefore,
when several days passed and nothing was done, a wide-spread feeling of
indignation grew. What mattered these diplomatic communications between
the two governments? it was asked. Why wait for another investigation
by General Longorio?

Strong influences, however, were at work to prevent that very outcome
for which the people of Texas prayed. During the delay there arose a
report that Ricardo Guzman had borne an evil reputation, and that he
had been so actively associated with the Rebel cause as to warrant
punishment by the Federal government. Moreover, a legal question as to
his American citizenship was raised--a question which seemed to have
important bearing upon the case.

Public interest is short-lived; few living men can hold it more than a
day or two, and it reckons no dead man worthy of more than an obituary
notice. Other Mexican offenses, equally grave, had failed to stir the
Administration to definite action; the death of this obscure border
ranchman did not seem to weigh very heavily in Washington. Thus in the
course of time the Guzman incident was in a fair way of being
officially forgotten and forgiven.

Of course the people of Texas did not forget, nor did those who had
personally known Ricardo forgive. Dave Law, for instance, felt bitter
over the matter, for he had counted upon prompt and definite results. A
little pressure, properly applied, would have wrung the truth from
Colonel Blanco and fastened some measure of guilt upon the men who had
actually arranged the murder. Dave did not doubt Tad Lewis's part in
it, but there was only one source from which pressure could be brought,
and when this failed he found his further efforts blocked. There
remained to him only the consolation of knowing that he had in a
measure squared his account with old Ricardo.

But there were several persons who felt intense relief at the course
events had taken, and among these was Alaire Austin. In the days
following that midnight expedition she had had ample time in which to
meditate upon her husband's actions, "Young Ed" had taken advantage of
the confusion to slip out of the crowd and escape in his roadster, and
when Alaire arrived at Las Palmas she had found that he was gone,
leaving behind no word as to when he would return. It seemed probable
that he had fled to San Antonio, there to remain until interest in the
Guzman matter had abated. If Ed was relieved to escape the immediate
consequences of his connection with the affair, his wife was no less
thankful for his absence, since it left her free to think and to plan.
Their relations were becoming constantly more difficult; she realized
that it was impossible for her to go on in this way much longer. Before
leaving Ed had again rifled the safe, thus disregarding for a second
time his explicit agreement with his wife. Of course, he was welcome to
whatever money he needed, even in excess of his allowance; but his act
showed his weak sense of honor and strengthened Alaire's conviction
that he was in every way rapidly deteriorating. As yet she could not
believe him really wicked at heart--he had many qualities which were
above the average--nor could she convince herself that he had been
criminally involved in Tad Lewis's schemes. And yet, what other
explanation could there be? Ed's behavior had been extraordinary; his
evident terror at news of Dave Law's expedition, his conversation with
Tad Lewis over the telephone, his subsequent actions at the river, all
seemed to indicate that he had some vital interest in maintaining the
mystery of Guzman's death. What could it be?

Suspicions like these were extremely disturbing. In spite of herself
Alaire began to think more seriously about that separation which Ed had
so frequently offered her. Her whole nature, it is true, recoiled at
the thought of divorce; it was a thing utterly repugnant to her
sentiment and her creed--a thing that stood for notoriety, gossip,
scandal. Deep in her heart she felt that divorce was wicked, for
marriage to her had always meant a sacred and unbreakable bond. And yet
there seemed to be no alternative. She wished Ed would go away--leave
her quietly and for ever, so that she might live out her empty life in
seclusion--but that, of course, he would never do.

Such longings were not strangers to Alaire; they were old and
persistent enemies; but of late the prospect of a loveless, childless
future was growing more and more unbearable. Even her day dreams failed
to give their customary relief; those imaginary figures with whom she
took counsel were strangely unresponsive.

She had told Paloma Jones about her dream-children, but she had not
confessed the existence of another and a far more intimate creature of
her brain--one who occupied the place Ed Austin should have held. There
was such a person, however, and Alaire called him her dream husband.
Now this man's physical aspect was never long the same; it altered
according to her changing ideals or to the impression left by new
acquaintances; nevertheless, he was in some ways the most real and the
most tangible of all her pale romantic fancies. No one who has watched
a solitary child at play can doubt that it sees and hears playmates
invisible to others. Alaire Austin, in the remotest depths of her
being, was still a child. Of late her prince had assumed new
characteristics and a new form. He was no longer any one of the many
shapes he had been; he was more like the spirit of the out-of-doors--a
strong-limbed, deep-chested, sun-bronzed creature, with a strain of
gipsy blood that called to hers. He was moody, yet tender, roughly
masculine, and yet possessed of the gentleness and poetry of a girl. He
was violent tempered; he was brave; he rode a magnificent bay mare that
worshiped him, as did all animals.

During one of these introspective periods Alaire telephoned Dave Law,
arguing to herself that she must learn more about her husband's
connection with the Lewis gang. Dave arrived even sooner than she had
expected. She made him dine with her, and they spent the evening on the
dim-lit gallery. In the course of their conversation Alaire discovered
that Dave, too, had a hidden side of his nature; that he possessed an
imagination, and with it a quaint, whimsical, exploratory turn of mind
which enabled him to talk interestingly of many things and many places.
On this particular evening he was anything but the man of iron she had
known--until she ventured to speak of Ed. Then he closed up like a
trap. He was almost gruff in his refusal to say a word about her
husband.

Because of Ed's appropriation of the ranch cash, Alaire found it
necessary a few days later to go to the bank, and, feeling the need of
exercise, she rode her horse Montrose. When her errands had been
attended to, she suddenly decided to call on Paloma Jones. It was years
since she had voluntarily done such a thing; the very impulse surprised
her.

Paloma, it happened, was undergoing that peculiar form of feminine
torture known as a "fitting"; but insecurely basted, pinned, and tucked
as she was, she came flying down to the gate to meet her visitor.

Alaire was introduced to Mrs. Strange, the dressmaker, a large,
acidulous brunette, with a mouthful of pins; and then, when Paloma had
given herself once more into the seamstress's hands, the two friends
gossiped.

Since Mrs. Strange was the first capable dressmaker who had ever come
to Jonesville, Paloma had closed her eyes and plunged with reckless
extravagance. Now the girl insisted upon a general exhibition of her
new wardrobe, a sort of grand fashion review, for the edification of
her caller, in the course of which she tried on all her dresses.

Paloma was petite and well proportioned, and the gowns were altogether
charming. Alaire was honest in her praise, and Paloma's response was
one of whole-hearted pleasure. The girl beamed. Never before had she
been so admired, never until this moment had she adored a person as she
adored Mrs. Austin, whose every suggestion as to fit and style was
acted upon, regardless of Mrs. Strange.

"I don't know what Dad will say when he gets the bill for these
dresses," Paloma confessed.

"Your father is a mighty queer man," Mrs. Strange observed. "I haven't
so much as laid eyes on him."

Paloma nodded. "Yes. And he's getting more peculiar all the time; I
can't make out what ails him."

"Where is he now?" asked Alaire.

"Heaven knows! Out in the barn or under the house." Taking advantage of
the dressmaker's momentary absence from the room, Paloma continued in a
whisper: "I wish you'd talk to Dad and see what you make of him. He's
absolutely--queer. Mrs. Strange seems to have a peculiar effect on him.
Why, it's almost as if--"

"What?"

"Well, I suppose I'm foolish, but--I'm beginning to believe in spells.
You know, Mrs. Strange's husband is a sort of--necromancer."

"How silly!"

There was no further opportunity for words, as the woman reappeared at
that instant; but a little later Alaire went in search of Blaze, still
considerably mystified. As she neared the farm buildings she glimpsed a
man's figure hastily disappearing into the barn. The figure bore a
suspicious resemblance to Blaze Jones, yet when she followed he was
nowhere to be seen. Now this was curious, for Texas barns are less
pretentious than those of the North, and this one was little more than
a carriage-house and a shelter for agricultural implements.

"Mr. Jones!" Alaire called. She repeated Blaze's name several times;
then something stirred. The door of a harness closet opened cautiously,
and out of the blackness peered Paloma's father. He looked more owlish
than ever behind his big, gold-rimmed spectacles. "What in the world
are you doing in there?" she cried.

Blaze emerged, blinking. He was dusty and perspiring.

"Hello, Miz Austin!" he saluted her with a poor assumption of
breeziness. "I was fixin' some harness, but I'm right glad to see you."

Alaire regarded him quizzically. "What made you hide?" she asked.

"Hide? Who, me?"

"I saw you dodge in here like a--gopher."

Blaze confessed. "I reckon I've got the willies. Every woman I see
looks like that dam' dressmaker."

"Paloma was telling me about you. Why do you hate her so?"

"I don't know's I hate her, but her and her husband have put a jinx on
me. They're the worst people I ever see, Miz Austin."

"You don't really believe in such things?"

Blaze dusted off a seat for his visitor, saying: "I never did till
lately, but now I'm worse than a plantation nigger. I tell you there's
things in this world we don't sabe. I wish you'd get Paloma to fire
her. I've tried and failed. I wish you'd tell her those dresses are
rotten."

"But they're very nice; they're lovely; and I've just been
complimenting her. Now what has this woman done to you?"

It seemed impossible that a man of Blaze Jones's character could
actually harbor crude superstitions, and yet there was no mistaking his
earnestness when he said:

"I ain't sure whether she's to blame, or her husband, but misfortune
has folded me to herself."

"How?"

"Well, I'm sick."

"You don't look it."

"I don't exactly feel it, either, but I am. I don't sleep good, my
heart's actin' up, I've got rheumatism, my stomach feels like I'd
swallowed something alive--"

"You're smoking too much," Alaire affirmed, with conviction.

But skepticism aroused Blaze's indignation. With elaborate sarcasm he
retorted: "I reckon that's why my best team of mules run away and
dragged me through a ten-acre patch of grass burrs--on my belly, eh?
It's a wonder I wasn't killed. I reckon I smoked so much that I give a
tobacco heart to the best three-year-old bull in my pasture! Well, I
smoked him to death, all right. Probably it was nicotine poisonin' that
killed twenty acres of my cotton, too; and maybe if I'd cut out Bull
Durham I'd have floated that bond issue on the irrigation ditch. But I
was wedded to cigarettes, so my banks are closin' down on me. Sure!
That's what a man gets for smokin'."

"And do you attribute all these misfortunes to Paloma's dressmaker?"

The man nodded gloomily. "That ain't half! Everything goes wrong. I'm
scared to pack a weapon for fear I'll injure myself. Why, I've carried
a bowie-knife in my bootleg ever since I was a babe in arms, you might
say; but the other day I jabbed myself with it and nearly got
blood-poisonin'. The very first time I ever laid eyes on this man and
his wife a great misfortune overtook me, and ever since they come to
Jonesville I've had a close squeeze to make a live of it. This fellow
Strange, with his fortune-tellin' and his charms and his conjures, has
hocus-pocussed the whole neighborhood. He's gettin' rich off of the
Mexicans. He knows more secrets than a priest; he tells 'em whether
their sweethearts love 'em, whether a child is goin' to be a boy or a
girl, and how to invest their money."

"He is nothing more than a circus fakir, Mr. Jones."

"Yes'm! Just the same, these Greasers'd vote him into the legislature
if he asked 'em. Why, he knows who fetched back Ricardo Guzman's body!
He told me so."

"Really?" Alaire looked up quickly, then the smile left her face. After
a moment she said, "Perhaps he could tell me something that I want to
know?"

"Now don't you get him started," Blaze cautioned, hastily, "or he'll
put a spell on you like he did on me."

"I want to know what Ed had to do with the Guzman affair."

Blaze shook his head slowly. "Well, he's mixed up somehow with Lewis.
Dave thinks Tad was at the bottom of the killin', and he hoped to prove
it on him; but our government won't do anything, and he's stumped for
the time bein'. I don't know any more about Ed's dealin's than you do,
Miz Austin: all I know is that I got a serpent in my household and I
can't get shed of her. I've got a lapful of troubles of my own. I've
ordered Paloma to let that woman go, but, pshaw! It's like a bowlegged
man drivin' a shoat--there ain't any headin' Paloma off when her mind's
made up. You mark what I say, that female spider'll sew venom into
those dresses. I never seen a woman with a mustache that was any good.
Look here!" Blaze drew a well-thumbed pack of playing-cards from his
pocket. "Shuffle 'em, and I'll prove what I say. If I don't turn up a
dark woman three times out of five I'll eat that saddle-blanket, dry."

Alaire shuffled the deck, and Blaze cut the cards. Sure enough, he
exposed the queen of spades.

"What did I tell you? There's the bearded lady herself! Now I'll
shuffle and you cut."

Alaire smilingly followed directions; she separated the deck into three
piles, after which Jones interpreted the oracle.

"You got a good fortune, Miz Austin. There's a light man comin' to your
house, danger, and--marriage. You're goin' to marry a light man."

Alaire's laughter rang out unaffectedly. "Now you see how utterly
absurd it is."

"Maybe it is, and maybe it ain't." From another pocket Jones drew a
small volume entitled The Combination Fortune-Teller and Complete
Dictionary of Dreams. Alaire reached to take it, and the book dropped
to the floor; then, as she stooped, Blaze cried: "Wait! Hit it three
times on the floor and say, 'Money! Money! Money!'"

As Alaire was running over the pages of the book, one of Blaze's
ranch-hands appeared in the door to ask him a question. When the fellow
had gone his employer rose and tiptoed after him; then he spat through
his crossed fingers in the direction the man had taken.

"Now what does that mean?" Alaire inquired.

"Didn't you see? He's cross-eyed."

"This is too occult for me," she declared, rising. "But--I'm interested
in what you say about Mr. Strange. If the Mexicans tell him so much,
perhaps he can tell me something. I do hope you have no more
misfortunes."

"You stay to supper," Blaze urged, hospitably. "I'll be in as soon as
that tarantula's gone."

But Alaire declined. After a brief chat with Paloma she remounted
Montrose and prepared for the homeward ride. At the gate, however, she
met Dave Law on his new mare, and when Dave had learned the object of
her visit to Jonesville he insisted upon accompanying her.

"You have enough money in those saddle-bags to tempt some of our very
best citizens," he told her. "If you don't mind, I'll just be your
bodyguard."

"Very well," she smiled; "but to make perfectly sure of our safety,
cross your fingers and spit."

"Eh?" Seeing the amusement in her eyes, he declared: "You've been
talking to Blaze. Well, last night I dreamed I was eating chestnuts,
and he told me I was due for a great good fortune. You see, there's
something in it, after all."

"And you must be the 'light man' I discovered in the cards. Blaze
declared you were coming to my house." They jogged along side by side,
and Law thanked his lucky stars for the encounter.

"Did Blaze tell you how he came to meet the Stranges?"

"No. He only said they had brought him bad luck from the start."

Dave grinned; then, in treacherous disregard of his promise to Jones,
he recounted the tale of that disastrous defeat on the beach at
Galveston. When he had finished the story, which he ingeniously
elaborated, Alaire was doubled over her saddle. It was the first
spontaneous laugh she had had for days, and it seemed to banish her
worries magically. Alaire was not of a melancholy temperament; gaiety
was natural to her, and it had required many heartaches, many
disappointments, to darken her blithe spirit.

Nor was Dave Law a person of the comic type; yet he was a
gloom-dispeller, and now that Alaire was beginning to know him better
she felt a certain happy restfulness in his company.

The ride was long, and the two proceeded leisurely, stopping now and
then to talk or to admire the banks of wild flowers beside the road. No
country is richer in spring blooms than is South Texas. The cactus had
nearly done blooming now, and its ever-listening ears were absurdly
warted with fruit; gorgeous carpets of bluebonnets were spread beside
the ditches, while the air above was filled with thousands of yellow
butterflies, like whirling, wind-blown petals of the prickly-pear
blossom. Montrose and Montrosa enjoyed the journey also; it was just
the mode of traveling to please equine hearts, for there were plenty of
opportunities to nibble at the juicy grass and to drink at the little
pools. Then, too, there were mad, romping races during which the riders
laughed and shouted.

It was Law who finally discovered that they had somehow taken the wrong
road. The fact that Alaire had failed to notice this gave him a sudden
thrill. It aroused in his mind such a train of dizzy, drunken
speculations that for some time following the discovery he jogged
silently at his companion's side.

It was early dusk when they reached Las Palmas; it was nearly midnight
when Dave threw his leg across his saddle and started home.

Alaire's parting words rang sweetly in his ears: "This has been the
pleasantest day I can remember."

The words themselves meant little, but Dave had caught a wistful
undertone in the speaker's voice, and fancied he had seen in her eyes a
queer, half-frightened expression, as of one just awakened.

José Sanchez had beheld Dave Law at the Las Palmas table twice within a
few days. He spent this evening laboriously composing a letter to his
friend and patron, General Luis Longorio.



XXI

AN AWAKENING


Time was when Phil Strange boasted that he and his wife had played
every fair-ground and seaside amusement-park from Coney Island to
Galveston. In his battered wardrobe-trunks were parts of old costumes,
scrapbooks of clippings, and a goodly collection of lithographs, some
advertising the supernatural powers of "Professor Magi, Sovereign of
the Unseen World," and others the accomplishments of "Mlle. Le Garde,
Renowned Serpent Enchantress." In these gaudy portraits of "Magi the
Mystic" no one would have recognized Phil Strange. And even more
difficult would it have been to trace a resemblance between Mrs.
Strange and the blond, bushy-headed "Mlle. Le Garde" of the posters.
Nevertheless, the likenesses at one time had been considered not too
flattering, and Phil treasured them as evidences of imperishable
distinction.

But the Stranges had tired of public life. For a long time the wife had
confessed to a lack of interest in her vocation which amounted almost
to a repugnance. Snake-charming, she had discovered, was far from an
ideal profession for a woman of refinement. It possessed unpleasant
features, and even such euphemistic titles as "Serpent Enchantress" and
"Reptilian Mesmerist" failed to rob the calling of a certain odium, a
suggestion of vulgarity in the minds of the more discriminating. This
had become so distressing to Mrs. Strange's finer sensibilities that
she had voiced a yearning to forsake the platform and pit for something
more congenial, and finally she had prevailed upon Phil to make a
change.

The step had not been taken without misgivings, but a benign Providence
had watched over the pair. Mrs. Strange was a natural seamstress, and
luck had directed her and Phil to a community which was not only in
need of a good dressmaker, but peculiarly ripe for the talents of a
soothsayer. Phil, too, had intended to embrace a new profession; but he
had soon discovered that Jonesville offered better financial returns to
a man of his accepted gifts than did the choicest of seaside
concessions, and therefore he had resumed his old calling under a
slightly different guise. Before long he acknowledged himself well
pleased with the new environment, for his wife was far happier in
draping dress goods upon the figures of her customers than in hanging
python folds about her own, and he found his own fame growing with
every day. His mediumistic gifts came into general demand. The country
people journeyed miles to consult him, and Blaze Jones's statement that
they confided in the fortune-teller as they would have confided in a
priest was scarcely an exaggeration. Phil did indeed become the
repository for confessions of many sorts.

Contrary to Blaze's belief, however, Strange was no Prince of Darkness,
and took little joy in some of the secrets forced upon him. Phil was a
good man in his way--so conscientious that certain information he
acquired weighed him down with a sense of unpleasant responsibility.
Chancing to meet Dave Law one day, he determined to relieve himself of
at least one troublesome burden.

But Dave was not easily approachable. He met the medium's allusions to
the occult with contemptuous amusement, nor would he consent to a
private "reading," Strange grew almost desperate enough to speak the
ungarnisned truth.

"You'd better pay a little attention to me," he grieved; "I've got a
message to you from the 'Unseen World.'"

"Charges 'collect,' I reckon," the Ranger grinned.

Strange waved aside the suggestion. "It came unbidden and I pass it on
for what it's worth." As Dave turned away he added, hastily, "It's
about a skeleton in the chaparral, and a red-haired woman."

Dave stopped; he eyed the speaker curiously. "Go on," said he.

But a public street, Strange explained, was no place for psychic
discussions. If Dave cared to come to his room, where the surroundings
were favorable to thought transference, and where Phil's spirit control
could have a chance to make itself felt, they would interrogate the
"Unseen Forces" further. Dave agreed. When they were alone in the
fortune-telling "parlor," he sat back while the medium closed his eyes
and prepared to explore the Invisible. After a brief delay Phil began:

"I see a great many things--that woman I told you about, and three men.
One of 'em is you, the other two is Mexicans. You're at a water-hole in
the mesquite. Now there's a shooting scrape; I see the body of a dead
man." The speaker became silent; evidently his cataleptic vision was
far from perfect. But he soon began to drone again. "Now I behold a
stranger at the same water-hole. He's alone--he's looking for
something. He rides in circles. He's off his horse and bending
over--What? A skeleton! Yes, it's the skeleton of one of them other
Mexicans." Strange's voice became positively sepulchral as his spirit
control took fuller possession of his earthly shell and as his visions
resolved themselves into clearer outline. "See! He swears an oath to
avenge. And now--the scene changes. Everything dissolves. I'm in a
mansion; and the red-haired woman comes toward me. Over her head floats
that skeleton--"

Dave broke in crisply. "All right! Let's get down to cases. What's on
your mind, Strange?"

The psychic simulated a shudder--a painful contortion, such as any one
might suffer if rudely jerked out of the spirit world.

"Eh? What was I--? There! You've broke the connection," he declared.
"Did I tell you anything?"

"No. But evidently you can."

"I'm sorry. They never come back."

"Rot!"

Phil was hurt, indignant. With some stiffness he explained the danger
of interrupting a seance of this sort, but Law remained obdurate.

"You can put over that second-sight stuff with the Greasers," he
declared, sharply, "but not with me. So, José Sanchez has been to see
you and you want to warn me. Is that it?"

"I don't know any such party," Strange protested. He eyed his caller
for a moment; then with an abrupt change of manner he complained: "Say,
Bo! What's the matter with you? I've got a reputation to protect, and I
do things my own way. I'm getting set to slip you something, and you
try to make me look like a sucker. Is that any way to act?"

"I prefer to talk to you when your eyes are open. I know all about--"

"You don't know nothing about anything," snapped the other. "José's got
it in for Mrs. Austin."

"You said you didn't know him."

"Well, I don't. He's never been to see me in his life, but--his
sweetheart has. Rosa Morales comes regular."

"Rosa! José's sweetheart!"

"Yes. Her and José have joined out together since you shot Panfilo, and
they're framing something."

"What, for instance?"

The fortune-teller hesitated. "I only wish I knew," he said, slowly.
"It looks to me like a killing."

Dave nodded. "Probably is. José would like to get me, and of course the
girl--"

"Oh, they don't aim to get you. You ain't the one they're after."

"No? Who then?"

"I don't know nothing definite. In this business, you understand, a
fellow has to put two and two together. Sometimes I have to make one
and two count four. I have to tell more'n I'm told; I have to shoot my
game on the wing, for nobody tells me any more'n they dast. All the
same, I'm sure José ain't carving no epitaph for you. From what I've
dug out of Rosa, he's acting for a third party--somebody with pull and
a lot of coin--but who it is I don't know. Anyhow, he's cooking trouble
for the Austins, and I want to stand from under."

Now that the speaker had dropped all pretense, he answered Dave's
questions without evasion and told what he knew. It was not much, to
Dave's way of thinking, but it was enough to give cause for thought,
and when the men finally parted it was with the understanding that
Strange would promptly communicate any further intelligence on this
subject that came his way.

On the following day Dave's duties called him to Brownsville, where
court was in session. He had planned to leave by the morning train; but
as he continued to meditate over Strange's words he decided that,
before going, he ought to advise Alaire of the fellow's suspicions in
order that she might discharge José Sanchez and in other ways protect
herself against his possible spite. Since the matter was one that could
not well be talked over by telephone, Dave determined to go in person
to Las Palmas that evening. Truth to say, he was hungry to see Alaire.
By this time he had almost ceased to combat the feeling she aroused in
him, and it was in obedience to an impulse far stronger than friendly
anxiety that he hired a machine and, shortly after dark, took the river
road.

The Fates are malicious jades. They delight in playing ill-natured
pranks upon us. Not content with spinning and measuring and cutting the
threads of our lives to suit themselves, they must also tangle the
skein, causing us to cut capers to satisfy their whims.

At no time since meeting Alaire had Dave Law been more certain of his
moral strength than on this evening; at no time had his grip upon
himself seemed firmer. Nor had Alaire the least reason to doubt her
self-control. Dave, to be sure, had appealed to her fancy and her
interest; in fact, he so dominated her thoughts that the imaginary
creature whom she called her dream-husband had gradually taken on his
physical likeness. But the idea that she was in any way enamoured of
him had never entered her mind; that she could ever be tempted to yield
to him, to be false to her ideals of wifehood, was inconceivable. In
such wise do the Fates amuse themselves.

Alaire had gone to her favorite after-dinner refuge, a nook on one of
the side-galleries, where there was a wide, swinging wicker couch; and
there in a restful obscurity fragrant with unseen flowers she had
prepared to spend the evening with her dreams.

She did not hear Dave's automobile arrive. Her first intimation of his
presence came with the sound of his heel upon the porch. When he
appeared it was almost like the materialization of her uppermost
thought--quite as if a figure from her fancy had stepped forth full
clad.

She rose and met him, smiling. "How did you know I wanted to see you?"
she inquired.

Dave took her hand and looked down at her, framing a commonplace reply.
But for some reason the words lay unspoken upon his tongue. Alaire's
informal greeting, her parted lips, the welcoming light in her eyes,
had sent them flying. It seemed to him that the dim half-light which
illumined this nook emanated from her face and her person, that the
fragrance which came to his nostrils was the perfume of her breath, and
at the prompting of these thoughts all his smothered longings rose as
if at a signal. As mutinous prisoners in a jail delivery overpower
their guards, so did Dave's long-repressed emotions gain the upper hand
of him now, and so swift was their uprising that he could not summon
more than a feeble, panicky resistance.

The awkwardness of the pause which followed Alaire's inquiry
strengthened the rebellious impulses within him, and quite
unconsciously his friendly grasp upon her fingers tightened. For her
part, as she saw this sudden change sweep over him, her own face
altered and she felt something within her breast leap into life. No
woman could have failed to read the meaning of his sudden agitation,
and, strange to say, it worked a similar state of feeling in Alaire.
She strove to control herself and to draw away, but instead found that
her hand had answered his, and that her eyes were flashing recognition
of his look. All in an instant she realized how deathly tired of her
own struggle she had become, and experienced a reckless impulse to cast
away all restraint and blindly meet his first advance. She had no time
to question her yearnings; she seemed to understand only that this man
offered her rest and security; that in his arms lay sanctuary.

To both it seemed that they stood there silently, hand in hand, for a
very long time, though in reality there was scarcely a moment of
hesitation on the part of either. A drunken, breathless instant of
uncertainty, then Alaire was on Dave's breast, and his strength, his
ardor, his desire, was throbbing through her. Her bare arms were about
his neck; a sigh, the token of utter surrender, fluttered from her
throat. She raised her face to his and their lips melted together.

For a time they were all alone in the universe, the center of all
ecstasy. Dave was whispering wild incoherencies as Alaire lay in his
embrace, her limbs relaxed, her flesh touching his, her body clinging
to his.

"Dream-man!" she murmured.

As consciousness returns after a swoon, so did realization return to
Alaire Austin. Faintly, uncertainly at first, then with a swift, strong
effort she pushed herself out of Dave's reluctant arms. They stood
apart, frightened. Dave's gaze was questioning. Alaire began to tremble
and to struggle with her breath.

"Are we--mad?" she gasped. "What have we done?"

"There's no use fighting. It was here--it was bound to come out. Oh,
Alaire--!"

"Don't!" She shook her head, and, avoiding his outstretched hands, went
to the edge of the veranda and leaned weakly against a pillar, with her
head in the crook of her arm. Dave followed her, but the words he spoke
were scarcely intelligible.

Finally she raised her face to his: "No! It is useless to deny it--now
that we know. But I didn't know, until a moment ago."

"I've known, all the time--ever since the first moment I saw you," he
told her, hoarsely. "To me you're all there is; nothing else matters.
And you love me! God! I wonder if I'm awake."

"Dream-man," she repeated, more slowly. "Oh, why did you come so late?"

"So late?"

"Yes. We must think it out, the best way we can, I--wonder what you
think of me?"

"You must know. There's no need for excuses; there's nothing to
explain, except the miracle that such great happiness could come to a
fellow like me."

"Happiness? It means anything but that. I was miserable enough before,
what shall I do now?"

"Why, readjust your life," he cried, roughly. "Surely you won't
hesitate after this?"

But Alaire did not seem to hear him. She was staring out into the night
again. "What a failure I must be!" she murmured, finally. "I suppose I
should have seen this coming, but--I didn't. And in his house, too!
This dress is his, and these jewels--everything!" She held up her hands
and stared curiously at the few rings she wore, as if seeing them for
the first time. "How does that make you feel?"

Dave stirred; there was resentment in his voice when he answered: "Your
husband has sacrificed his claim to you, as everybody knows. To my mind
he has lost his rights. You're mine, mine! By God!" He waved a vigorous
gesture of defiance. "I'll take you away from him at any cost. I'll see
that he gives you up, somehow. You're all I have."

"Of course the law provides a way, but you wouldn't, couldn't,
understand how I feel about divorce." The mere mention of the word was
difficult and caused Alaire to clench her hands. "We're both too shaken
to talk sanely now, so let's wait--"

"There's something you must understand before we go any further," Dave
insisted. "I'm poor; I haven't a thing I can call my own, so I'm not
sure I have any right to take you away from all this." He turned a
hostile eye upon their surroundings. "Most people would say that I've
simply wasted my life. Perhaps I have--that depends upon the way you
look at it and upon what you consider worth while--anyhow, all I can
offer you is love--" He broke off momentarily as if his breath had
suddenly failed him. "Greater love, it seems to me, than any woman ever
had."

"Money means so little, and it's so easy to be happy without it,"
Alaire told him. "But I'm not altogether poor. Of course, everything
here is Ed's, but I have enough. All my life I've had everything except
the very thing you offer--and how I've longed for that! How I've envied
other people! Do you think I'll be allowed, somehow, to have it?"

"Yes! I've something to say about that. You gave me the right when you
gave me that kiss."

Alaire shook her head. "I'm not sure. It seems easy now, while you are
here, but how will it seem later? I'm in no condition at this minute to
reason. Perhaps, as you say, it is all a dream; perhaps this feeling I
have is just a passing frenzy."

Dave laughed softly, confidently. "It's too new yet for you to
understand, but wait. It is frenzy, witchery--yes, and more. To-morrow,
and every day after, it will grow and grow and grow! Trust me, I've
watched it in myself."

"So you cared for me from the very first?" Alaire questioned. It was
the woman's curiosity, the woman's hunger to hear over and over again
that truth which never fails to thrill and yet never fully satisfies.

"Oh, even before that, I think! When you came to my fire that evening
in the chaparral I knew every line of your face, every movement of your
body, every tone of your voice, as a man knows and recognizes his
ideal. But it took time for me to realize all you meant to me."

Alaire nodded. "Yes, and it must have been the same with me." She met
his eyes frankly, but when he reached toward her she held him away.
"No, dear. Not yet, not again, not until we have the right. It would be
better for us both if you went away now."

"No, no! Oh, I have so much to say! I've been dumb all my life, and
you've just opened my lips."

"Please! After I've decided what to do--once I feel that I can control
myself better--I'll send for you. But you must promise not to come
until then, for you would only make it harder."

It required all Dave's determination to force himself to obey her wish,
and the struggle nearly kept him from recalling the original object of
his visit. Remembering, he tried to tell Alaire what he had learned
from Phil Strange; but so broken and so unconvincing was his recital
that he doubted if she understood in the least what he was talking
about.

At last he took her hand and kissed her wrist, just over her pulse, as
if to speed a message to her heart, then into her rosy palm he
whispered a tender something that thrilled her.

She stood white, motionless, against the dim illumination of the porch
until he had gone, and not until the last sound of his motor had died
away did she stir. Then she pressed her own lips to the palm he had
caressed and walked slowly to her room.



XXII

WHAT ELLSWORTH HAD TO SAY


On his way to Brownsville the next morning Dave found himself still
somewhat dazed by his sudden happiness; the more he thought of it the
more wonderful it seemed. During the day he went through his court
duties like a man in a trance. Such joy as this was unbelievable; he
felt as if he must tell the world about it. He well understood Alaire's
repugnance to divorce, but he was sure that he could overcome it, if
indeed her own truer understanding of herself did not relieve him of
that necessity; for at this moment his desires were of a heat
sufficient to burn away all obstacles, no matter how solid. It seemed,
therefore, that the future was all sunshine.

He had no opportunity of speaking with Judge Ellsworth until court
adjourned. Then the judge took him by the arm, with that peculiarly
flattering assumption of intimacy of which he was master, and led the
way toward his office, inquiring meanwhile for news of Jonesville.
Dave's high spirits surprised him and finally impelled him to ask the
cause. When Dave hinted unmistakably at the truth, Ellsworth exclaimed,
with a sharp stare of curiosity:

"See here! You haven't forgotten what I told you that night on the
train?"

"What? Yes, I had forgotten."

"You promised to tell me if you thought seriously about marriage."

"Very well, then; I'm telling you now."

"Do you mean that, Dave?"

"Of course I do. But don't look at me as if I'd confessed to arson or
burglary. Listen, Judge! If you have good taste in jewelry, I'll let
you help me select the ring."

But Judge Ellsworth continued to stare, and then muttered uncertainly:
"You're such a joker--"

Dave assumed a show of irony. "Your congratulations overwhelm me. You
look as if you were about to begin the reading of the will."

"I want to hear about this right away." Ellsworth smiled faintly. "Can
you come to my office tonight, where we can be alone?"

Dave agreed to the appointment and went his way with a feeling of
amusement. Old folks are usually curious, he reflected; and they are
prone to presume upon the privileges that go with age. In this
instance, however, it might be well to make a clean breast of the
affair, since Ellsworth was Alaire's attorney, and would doubtless be
selected to secure her divorce.

The judge was waiting when Dave called after supper, but for some time
he maintained a flow of conversation relating to other things than the
one they had met to discuss. At last, however, he appeared to summon
his determination; he cleared his throat and settled himself in his
chair--premonitory signs unusual in a man of Ellsworth's poise and
self-assurance.

"I reckon you think I'm trying to mix up in something that doesn't
concern me," he began; "and perhaps I am. Maybe you'll make me wish I'd
minded my own business--that's what usually happens. I remember once,
out of pure chivalry, trying to stop a fellow from beating his wife. Of
course they both turned on me--as they always do. I went to the
hospital for a week, and lost a profitable divorce case. However, we
try to do our duty as we see it."

This was anything but a promising preamble; Dave wondered, too, at his
friend's obvious nervousness.

"So you've found the girl, eh?" the judge went on.

"Yes."

"Are you accepted? I mean, have you asked her to marry you?"

"Of course I have. That's about the first thing a fellow does."

Ellsworth shuffled the papers on his desk with an abstracted gaze, then
said, slowly, "Dave--I don't think you ought to marry."

"So you told me once before. I suppose you mean I'm poor and a failure."

"Oh no! All men are failures until they marry. I'm thinking of what
marriage means; of the new duties it brings, of the man's duty to
himself, to the woman, and to society; I'm thinking of what lies inside
of the man himself."

"Um-m! That's pretty vague."

"I've studied you a long time, Dave, and with a reason. I've studied
heredity, too, and--you mustn't marry."

Law stirred in his chair and smiled whimsically. "I've done some
studying along those lines, too, and I reckon I know myself pretty
well. I've the usual faults, but--"

Ellsworth interrupted. "You don't know yourself at all, my boy. There's
just the trouble. I'm the only man--living man, that is--who knows
you." For the first time he looked directly at his caller, and now his
lids were lifted until the eyes peered out bright, hard, and piercing;
something in his face startled Dave. "I was your father's attorney and
his friend. I know how he lived and how he died. I know--what killed
him?"

"You mean, don't you, that you know who killed him?"

"I mean just what I say."

Dave leaned forward, studying the speaker curiously. "Well, come
through. What's on your mind?" he demanded, finally.

"The Guadalupes had to kill him, Dave."

"Had to? HAD to? Why?"

"Don't you know? Don't you know anything about your family history?"
Dave shook his head. "Well, then--he was insane."

"Insane?"

"Yes; violently."

"Really, I--Why--I suppose you know what you're talking about, but it
sounds incredible."

"Yes, it must to you--especially since you never knew the facts. Very
few people did know then, even at the time, for there were no
newspapers in that part of Mexico; you, of course, were a boy at school
in the United States. Nevertheless, it's true. That part of the story
which I didn't know at the time I learned by talking with General
Guadalupe and others. It was very shocking."

Dave's face was a study; his color had lessened slightly; he wet his
lips. "This is news, of course," said he, "but it doesn't explain my
mother's death. Who killed her, if not the Guadalupes?"

"Can't you guess? That's what I meant when I said they had to kill
Frank Law." Ellsworth maintained his fixity of gaze, and when Dave
started he nodded his head. "It's God's truth. The details were
too--dreadful. Your father turned his hand against the woman he loved
and--died a wife-killer. The Guadalupes had to destroy him like a mad
dog. I'm sorry you had to learn the truth from me, my boy, but it seems
necessary that I tell you. When I knew Frank Law he was like any other
man, quick-tempered, a little too violent, perhaps, but apparently as
sane as you or I, and yet the thing was there."

Dave rose from his chair and bent over the desk. "So THAT'S what you've
been driving at," he gasped. "That's what you meant when you said I
shouldn't marry." He began to tremble now; his voice became hoarse with
fury. "Now I understand. You're trying to tell me that--maybe I've got
it in me, eh? Hell! YOU'RE crazy, not I. I'm all right. I reckon I
know."

"HE didn't know," Ellsworth said, quietly. "I doubt if he even
suspected."

Dave struck the desk violently with his clenched fist. "Bosh! You're
hipped on this heredity subject. Crazy! Why, you doddering old fool--"
With an effort he calmed himself, realizing that he had shouted his
last words. He turned away and made a circuit of the room before
returning to face his friend. "I didn't mean to speak to you like that,
Judge. You pulled this on me too suddenly, and I'm--upset. But it
merely proves my own contention that I'm not Frank Law's son at all.
I've always known it."

"How do you know it?"

"Don't you suppose I can tell?" In spite of himself Dave's voice rose
again, but it was plain from the lawyer's expression that to a man of
his training no mere conviction unsupported by proof had weight. This
skepticism merely kept Dave's impatience at a white heat. "Very well,
then," he argued, angrily, "let's say that I'm wrong and you're right.
Let's agree that I am his son. What of it? What makes you think I've
inherited--the damned thing? It isn't a disease. Me, insane? Rot!" He
laughed harshly, took another uncertain turn around the room, then sank
into his chair and buried his face in his hands.

Ellsworth was more keenly distressed than his hearer imagined; when
next he spoke his voice was unusually gentle. "It IS a disease, Dave,
or worse, and there's no way of proving that you haven't inherited it.
If there is the remotest possibility that you have--if you have the
least cause to suspect--why, you couldn't marry and--bring children
into the world, now could you? Ask yourself if you've shown any
signs--?"

"Oh, I know what you mean. You've always said I go crazy when
I'm--angry. Well, that's true. But it's nothing more than a villainous
temper. I'm all right again afterward."

"I wasn't thinking so much of that. But are you sure it's altogether
temper?" the judge insisted. "You don't merely lose control of
yourself; you've told me more than once that you go completely out of
your mind; that you see red and want to kill and--"

"Don't you?"

"I never felt the slightest desire to destroy, no matter how angry I
chanced to be. I've always asserted that murderers, homicides,
suicides, were irresponsible; that they were sick here." Ellsworth
touched his forehead. "I can't see how any sane man can take his own or
another's life, no matter what the provocation. But I'm not a doctor,
and that's an extreme view, I know. Anyhow, you'll agree that if you
have Frank Law's blood in your veins it won't do to marry."

"I haven't got it," the younger man groaned, his gaze turned sullenly
downward. "Even granting that I have, that's no sign I'd ever--run
amuck the way he did."

"You told me just now that you don't know your family history?"

"Yes. What little I've heard isn't very pretty nor very much to the
family's credit. They were a bad lot, I believe."

"Frank Law had two brothers and a sister, had he not?"

"Yes. One of my uncles was a tough hombre. I'm told he notched his gun
pretty well."

"He was about the worst man of his day. He was shot in Dodge City on
one of his rampages."

Dave raised shocked and curious eyes. "You think he was crazy?"

"Most of those old-time gunmen would be so considered nowadays. Some
unbelievable stories are told about that uncle of yours. The other one
disappeared mysteriously."

"I believe so. He just walked away from his wife and family and
business one day and was never heard of again."

Ellsworth seemed to consider this admission significant. "Now the
sister, your aunt?"

"I think she's somewhere in the East; I never saw her."

"She is; she's an inmate of an institution the name and address of
which I have here." Ellsworth thrust his finger into the loose pile of
documents before him. Avoiding his caller's eyes he continued: "You
can't very well ignore such a family history, Dave. I've never traced
it back beyond the last generation, but you probably could if you
tried."

In a voice hardly his own, Dave articulated: "God! This is--hideous."

"It is. I'd like to believe that you don't belong to the Laws, but I
can't put much faith in that childhood fancy of yours. Run it down;
convince yourself. But first go to the girl, whoever she is, and tell
her the facts. If she's the right sort--"

"No, no!" The words were wrung from Dave's lips. "She knows too well
how heredity acts; she's had one experience."

"Eh? You say she knows--Who is she, Dave? Don't tell me you
mean--Alaire?"

Dave nodded.

"Damnation!" Ellsworth leaped to his feet and, striding around the
desk, seized his caller roughly by the shoulder. "What are you telling
me? Good God, Alaire! A married woman! So you--cut under Ed Austin,
eh?" Momentarily Ellsworth lost control of himself; his eyes blazed and
his fingers tightened painfully. "What damnable trick have you played
on that girl? Tell me before I choke you."

For once Dave Law's passion failed to ignite at the heat of another's
anger; he only sat limp and helpless in the judge's grasp. Finally he
muttered: "I played square enough. It's one of those things that just
happen. We couldn't help ourselves. She'll come to you for her divorce."

The lawyer uttered a shocking oath. "Then it's no mere romantic
infatuation on her part?"

"Oh no!"

Ellsworth loosed his grip. He turned away and began to pace the office
floor, shaking his head. "This is--unfortunate. Alaire, of all
people--as if she didn't have enough to bear." He turned fiercely upon
the cowering figure in the chair, saying: "I'll tell her the whole
truth myself, before she goes any further."

"No! Oh, please! Let me, in my own way." Dave writhed and sank his face
in his hands once more. After a while he said, "I'm waiting for you to
tell me it's all a nightmare."

"Humph!" The judge continued his restless pacing. "I was sorry for you
when you came in here, and it took all my strength to tell you; but now
you don't matter at all. I was prepared to have you go ahead against my
advice, but--I'll see you damned first."

"You have damned me."

When Ellsworth saw the haggard face turned to his he ceased his walk
abruptly. "I'm all broken up, Dave," he confessed in a gentler tone
than he had used heretofore. "But you'll thank me some day."

Law was no longer the big, strong, confident fellow who had entered the
office such a short time before. He had collapsed; he seemed to have
shrunk; he was pitifully appealing. Although there were many things he
would have said, many questions upon his tongue, he could not voice
them now, and it was with extreme difficulty that he managed to follow
the judge's words at all.

After a time he rose and shook Ellsworth's hand limply, mechanically;
then he shambled out of the office. Like a sick man, he stumbled down
the stairs and into the street. When he entered his hotel the clerk and
some of the idlers in the lobby looked at him queerly, but he did not
see them.

All that night Dave walked the floor of his room or sat hunched up on
the edge of his bed, staring at the wall and fighting the fears that
preyed upon him.

He had faith enough in Alaire to believe that she would marry him
regardless of the facts; her kiss, that one delirious moment when he
had held her to his breast, had taught him much, and it was, in fact,
this very certainty which made his struggle so hard. After all, why
not? he asked himself a thousand times. Ellsworth's fears were surely
exaggerated. Who could say that Frank Law had passed on his heritage?
There was at least a chance that he had not, and it would require more
than a remote possibility, more evidence than Ellsworth could summon,
to dismay Alaire. Suppose it should transpire that he was somehow
defective? What then? The signs of his mental failing would give ample
warning. He could watch himself carefully and study his symptoms. He
could lead the life of a sentinel perpetually on guard. The thing might
never come--or at the worst it probably would not manifest itself until
he was further along in years. That, it seemed, was the family history,
and in such a case Dave was assured of half a life at least. Ellsworth
was altogether too fearful. Yes, and he was too officious by far. This
was something that did not concern him.

But such reasoning naturally brought little comfort. Dave's fears would
not be put down. In common with most men of splendid physique, he had a
vague contempt for those less perfect; disease or deformity had never
failed to awaken his pity, and he had often argued that defective human
beings, like unhealthy stock, should not be allowed to mate and to
perpetuate their weaknesses. This eugenic conviction had helped to ease
his conscience somewhat during his acquaintance with Alaire, for he had
told himself that Ed Austin, by reason of his inherited vices, had
sacrificed all right to love and marriage. These thoughts came home now
to roost. What was Ed's evil heritage compared to his own? It was as
vinegar to vitriol.

And yet shining through all Dave's distress, like a faint, flickering
beacon in a storm, was that old doubt of his parentage; and to this he
finally began to pin his hopes. In the day or two that followed his
interview with Ellsworth, it afforded him almost the only comfort he
knew; for in the end he had to face the truth; he could not marry if he
were really Frank Law's son.

Those were dark hours for Dave. He discharged his duties automatically,
taking no interest whatever in his work; his nights he spent in morose
meditation. Unable to sleep, he tramped the hot streets in an effort to
fight off his growing nervousness. He became irritable, despondent; his
eyes took on the look of an invalid's; his face aged and grayed.
Physically, too, he grew very tired, for no burden is heavier to bear
than that of doubt and indecision.

One afternoon Ellsworth entered his office to find Dave waiting for
him. The young man began in a shaky, husky voice:

"I can't stand it, Judge. I'm going to pieces, fast."

"You do look bad."

"Yes. I don't sleep. I'm so irritable I can't get along up at the
courthouse. I'm licked. The worst of it is, I don't know whether it's
all imagination, or whether you really stirred up that devilish
sleeping thing in me. Anyhow, something has got me. All I can do is
study and analyze and watch and imagine--I sit all night
thinking--thinking, until everything gets queer and distorted. If I
were sane before, you've about unbalanced me with your damnable
suggestions."

"A few nights of sleep will make you feel better," Ellsworth said,
gravely.

"I tried drugs, but they made me worse. God! Then my fancies WERE sick.
No, I'm going to get out."

"Where? How?"

"I'm going north to look up the members of my family and learn who I
really am. I resigned from the Ranger force to-day. That's no place for
a fellow with a--homicidal mania."

"Dave! You're taking this thing too absolutely and too hard," Ellsworth
declared.

But Dave went on, unheeding. "Another reason why I want to get away now
is that Alaire will expect me to come to her when she sends for me
and--I wouldn't dare trust myself."

"Have you told her--written her?"

"Not yet, and I sha'n't until I trace out the last doubt in my own
mind."

In an effort to cheer, Ellsworth put his arm about the sufferer's
shoulders. "I'm sure you'll do the right thing, Dave," he said. "Maybe,
after all, your instinct is true and you're not Frank Law's boy. I hope
so, for this thing weighs me down as it weighs you; but you mustn't let
it whip you. Don't give in, and meanwhile, above all things, try to get
some sleep."

Dave nodded and mumbled something; then he slouched out, leaving the
lawyer overcome by a great pity. Ellsworth had seen men, stunned by a
court sentence, turn away from the bar with that same dumb, fixed look
of hopelessness in their eyes. Impulsively he cursed the sense of duty
that had prompted him to interfere.



XXIII

THE CRASH


The several days following Dave's unexpected call at Las Palmas Alaire
spent in a delightful reverie. She had so often wrestled with the
question of divorce that she had begun to weary of it; and now, when
she tried to summon energy to consider it anew, she found herself, as
usual, reasoning in a circle and arriving at no decision. She gave up
trying, at length, and for the time being rested content in the
knowledge that she loved and was loved. In her heart she knew well
enough what her ultimate course would be: sooner or later events would
force her action. Yielding to a natural cowardice, therefore, she
resigned herself to dreamy meditations and left the future to take care
of itself. A week passed while she hugged her thoughts to her breast,
and then one evening she rode home to learn that Ed had returned from
San Antonio.

But Ed was ill, and he did not appear at dinner. It had been years
since either had dared invade the other's privacy, and now, inasmuch as
her husband did not send for her, Alaire did not presume to offer her
services as nurse. As a matter of fact, she considered this quite
unnecessary, for she felt sure that he was either suffering the
customary after-effects of a visit to the city or else that he lacked
the moral courage to undertake an explanation of his hurried flight
from the ranch. In either event she was glad he kept to his room.

Heretofore their formal relations had made life at least tolerable to
Alaire, but now she experienced a feeling of guilt at finding herself
under the same roof with him. Oddly enough, it seemed to her that in
this she wronged Dave and not her husband; for she reasoned that,
having given her love to one man, her presence in the same house with
another outraged that love.

When Austin made his appearance, on the day following his return, his
bleared eyes, his puffy, pasty cheeks, his shattered nerves, showed
plainly enough how he had spent his time. Although he was jumpy and
irritable, he seemed determined by an assumption of high spirits and
exaggerated friendliness to avert criticism. Since Alaire spared him
all reproaches, his efforts seemed to meet with admirable success. Now
Ed's opinion of women was not high, for those with whom he habitually
associated were of small intelligence; and, seeing that his wife
continued to manifest a complete indifference to his past actions, he
decided that his apprehensions had been groundless. If Alaire
remembered the Guzman affair at all, or if she had suspected him of
complicity in it, time had evidently dulled her suspicions, and he was
a little sorry he had taken pains to stay away so long.

Before many days, however, he discovered that this indifference of hers
was not assumed, and that in some way or other she had changed. Ed was
accustomed, when he returned exhausted from a debauch, to seeing in his
wife's eyes a strained misery; he had learned to expect in her bearing
a sort of pitying, hopeless resignation. But this time she was not in
the least depressed. On the contrary, she appeared happier, fresher,
and younger than he had seen her for a long time. It was mystifying.
When, one morning, he overheard her singing in her room, he was
shocked. Over this phenomenon he meditated with growing amazement and a
faint stir of resentment in his breast, for he lived a self-centered
life, considering himself the pivot upon which revolved all the affairs
of his little world. To feel that he had lost even the power to make
his wife unhappy argued that he had overestimated his importance.

At length, having sufficiently recovered his health to begin drinking
again, he yielded one evening to an alcoholic impulse and, just as
Alaire bade him good night, clumsily sought to force an explanation.

"See here!" he shot at her. "What's the matter with you lately?" He saw
that he had startled her and that she made an effort to collect her
wandering thoughts. "You're about as warm and wifely as a stone idol."

"Am I any different to what I have always been?"

"Humph! You haven't been exactly sympathetic of late. Here I come home
sick, and you treat me like one of the help. Don't you think I have
feelings? Jove! I'm lonesome."

Alaire regarded him speculatively, then shook her head as if in answer
to some thought.

In an obvious and somewhat too mellow effort to be friendly, Ed
continued: "Don't let's go on like this, Alaire. You blame me for going
away so much, but, good Lord! when I'm home I feel like an interloper.
You treat me like a cow-thief."

"I'm sorry. I've tried to be everything I should. I'm the interloper."

"Nonsense! If we only got along together as well as we seem to from the
outside it wouldn't be bad at all. But you're too severe. You seem to
think a man should be perfect. Well, none of us are, and I'm no worse
than the majority. Why, I know lots of fellows who forget themselves
and do things they shouldn't, but they don't mean anything by it. They
have wives and homes to go to when it's all over. But have I? You're as
glad to see me as if I had smallpox. Maybe we've made a mess of things,
but married life isn't what young girls think it is, A wife must learn
to give and take."

"I've given. What have I taken?" she asked him in a voice that quivered.

Ed made an impatient gesture. "Oh, don't be so literal! I mean that,
since we're man and wife, it's up to you to be a little
more--broad-gauge in your views."

"In other words, you want me to ignore your conduct. Is that it? I'm
afraid we can't argue that, Ed."

Within the last few days Austin's mind had registered a number of new
impressions, and at this moment he realized that his wife was
undoubtedly the most attractive woman physically he had ever known. Of
course she was cold, but she had not always been so. He had chilled
her; he had seen the fire die year by year, but now the memory of her
as she had once been swept over him, bringing a renewed appreciation of
her charms. His recent dissipation had told upon him as heavily as a
siege of sickness, and this evening he was in that fatuous, sentimental
mood which comes with convalescence, Having no fault to find with
himself, and feeling merely a selfish desire to make more pleasant his
life at Las Palmas, he undertook to bend Alaire to his will.

"All right; don't let's try to argue it," he laughed, with what he
considered an admirable show of magnanimity. "I hate arguments, anyhow;
I'd much rather have a goodnight kiss."

But when he stooped over her Alaire held him off and turned her head.
"No!" she said.

"You haven't kissed me for--"

"I don't wish to kiss you."

"Don't be silly," he insisted. This suggestion of physical resistance
excited his love of conquest and awoke something like the mood of a
lover--such a lover as a man like Ed could be. For a moment he felt as
if Alaire were some other woman than his wife, a woman who refused and
yet half expected to be overcome; therefore he laughed self-consciously
and repeated, "Come now, I want a kiss."

Alaire thrust him back strongly, and he saw that her face had whitened.
Oddly enough, her stubbornness angered him out of all reason, and he
began a harsh remonstrance. But he halted when she cried:

"Wait! I must tell you something, Ed. It's all over, and has been for a
long time. We're going to end it."

"End it?"

"We can't go on living together. Why should we?"

"So? Divorce? Is that it?"

Alaire nodded.

"Well, I'll be damned!" Ed was dumfounded. "Isn't this rather sudden?"
he managed to inquire.

"Oh no. You've suggested it more than once."

"I thought you didn't believe in divorces--couldn't stomach 'em? What's
happened?"

"I have changed my mind."

"Humph! People don't change their minds in a minute," he cried,
angrily. "Is there some other man?"

Now Ed Austin had no faintest idea that his wife would answer in the
affirmative, for he had long ago learned to put implicit confidence in
her, and her life had been so open that he could not imagine that it
held a double interest. Therefore her reply struck him speechless.

"Yes, Ed," she said, quietly, "there is another man."

It was like her not to evade. She had never lied to him.

Ed's mouth opened; his reddened eyes protruded. "Well--" he stammered.
"Well, by God!" Then after a moment: "Who is it, the Greaser or the
cowboy?" He laughed loudly, disagreeably. "It must be one or the other,
for you haven't seen any men except them. Another man! Well, you're
cool about it."

"I am glad you know the truth."

Muttering to himself, Ed made a short excursion around the room, then
paused before his wife with a sneer on his lips. "Did it ever occur to
you that I might object?" he demanded.

Alaire eyed him scornfully. "What right have you to object?"

Ed could not restrain a malevolent gleam of curiosity. "Say, who is it?
Ain't I entitled to know that much?" As Alaire remained silent he let
his eyes rove over her with a kind of angry appreciation. "You're
pretty enough to stampede any man," he admitted. "Yes, and you've got
money, too. I'll bet it's the Ranger. So, you've been having your fling
while I was away. Hunh! We're tarred with the same stick."

"You don't really believe that," she told him, sharply.

"Why not? You've had enough opportunity. I don't see anything of you,
and haven't for years. Well, I was a fool to trust you."

Alaire's eyes were very dark and very bright as she said: "I wonder how
I have managed to live with you as long as I have. I knew you were
weak, nasty--so I was prepared for something like this. But I never
thought you were a downright criminal until--"

"Criminal? Rot!"

"How about that Guzman affair? You can't go much lower, Ed, and you
can't keep me here with you."

"I can't keep you, eh?" he growled. "Well, perhaps not. I suppose
you've got enough on me to secure a divorce, but I can air some of your
dirty linen. Oh, don't look like that! I mean it! Didn't you spend a
night with David Law?" He leered at her unpleasantly, then followed a
step as she drew back.

"Don't you touch me!" she cried.

A flush was deepening Ed's purple cheeks; his voice was peculiarly
brutal and throaty as he said: "The decree isn't entered yet, and so
long as you are Mrs. Austin I have rights. Yes, and I intend to
exercise them. You've made me jealous, and, by God--" He made to
encircle her with his arms and was half successful, but when Alaire
felt the heat of his breath in her face a sick loathing sprang up
within her, and, setting her back against the wall, she sent him
reeling. Whether she struck him or merely pushed him away she never
knew, for during the instant of their struggle she was blind with
indignation and fury. Profiting by her advantage, she dodged past him,
fled to her room, and locked herself in.

She heard him muttering profanely; heard him approach her chamber more
than once, then retire uncertainly, but she knew him too well to be
afraid.

Later that night she wrote two letters--one to Judge Ellsworth, the
other to Dave Law.

José Sanchez rode to the Morales house feeling some concern over the
summons that took him thither. He wondered what could have induced
General Longorio to forsake his many important duties in order to make
the long trip from Nuevo Pueblo; surely it could be due to no lack of
zeal on his, José's, part. No! The horse-breaker flattered himself that
he had made a very good spy indeed; that he had been Longorio's eyes
and ears so far as circumstances permitted. Nor did he feel that he had
been lax in making his reports, for through Rosa he had written the
general several lengthy letters, and just for good measure these two
had conjured up sundry imaginary happenings to prove beyond doubt that
Señora Austin was miserably unhappy with her husband and ready to
welcome such a dashing lover as Longorio. Therefore José could not for
the life of him imagine wherein he had been remiss. Nevertheless, he
was uneasy, and he hoped that nothing had occurred to anger his general.

But Longorio, when he arrived at the meeting-place, was not in a bad
humor. Having sent Rosa away on some errand, he turned to José with a
flashing smile, and said:

"Well, my good friend, the time has come."

Now José had no faintest idea what the general was talking about, but
to be called the good friend of so illustrious a person was flattering.
He nodded decisively.

"Yes, beyond doubt," he agreed.

"Mexico is in a bad way. These rebels are growing by the thousands;
they overrun the country like ants. You read the papers, eh?"

"Sometimes; when there are enough pictures," said José.

"Ha! Then I doubt if you know what is happening. Well, I'll have to
tell you. Our enemies have taken all northern Mexico except that part
which is under my control; but they are pushing toward me from two
sides, and I prepare to retreat. That is not the worst, however; the
Gringos are hoping to profit by Mexico's distress; they are making
ready to invade our Fatherland, and every Mexican must fight or become
a slave."

This was indeed news! José began patriotically cursing the whole
American people.

"Understand, I make you my confidant because I think a great deal of
you, José." The general laid an affectionate hand upon José's shoulder.
"The first time I saw you I said: 'There's a boy after my own heart. I
shall learn to love that José, and I shall put him in the way of his
fortune.' Well, I have not changed my mind, and the time is come. You
are going to help me and I am going to help you."

José Sanchez thrilled with elation from head to foot. This promised to
be the greatest day of his life, and he felt that he must be dreaming.

"You haven't tired of Rosa, eh? You still wish to marry her?" Longorio
was inquiring.

"Yes. But, of course, I'm a poor man."

"Just so. I shall attend to that. Now we come to the object of my
visit. José, I propose to make you rich enough in one day so that you
can marry."

"But first, wait!" exclaimed the horse-breaker. "I bring you something
of value, too." Desiring to render favor for favor, and to show that he
was fully deserving of the general's generosity, José removed from
inside the sweatband of his hat a sealed, stamped letter, which he
handed to his employer. "Yesterday I carried the mail to town, but as I
rode away from Las Palmas the señora handed me this, with a silver
dollar for myself. Look! It is written to the man we both hate."

Longorio took the letter, read the inscription, and then opened the
envelope. José looked on with pleasure while he spelled out the
contents.

When the general had finished reading, he exclaimed: "Ho! A miracle!
Now I know all that I wish to know."

"Then I did well to steal that letter, eh?"

"Diablo! Yes! That brute of a husband makes my angel's life unbearable,
and she flees to La Feria to be rid of him. Good! It fits in with my
plans. She will be surprised to see me there. Then, when the war comes
and all is chaos then what? I'll warrant I can make her forget certain
things and certain people." Longorio nodded with satisfaction. "You did
very well, José."

The latter leaned forward, his eyes bright. "That lady is rich. A fine
prize, truly. She would bring a huge ransom."

This remark brought a smile to Longorio's face. "My dear friend, you do
not in the least understand," he said. "Ransom! What an idea!" He lost
himself in meditation, then, rousing, spoke briskly: "Listen! In two,
three days, your señora will leave Las Palmas. When she is gone you
will perform your work, like the brave man I know you to be. You will
relieve her of her husband."

José hesitated, and the smile vanished from his face. "Señor Ed is not
a bad man. He likes me; he--" Longorio's gaze altered and José fell
silent.

"Come! You are not losing heart, eh? Have I not promised to make you a
rich man? Well, the time has arrived." Seeing that José still
manifested no eagerness, the general went on in a different tone: "Do
not think that you can withdraw from our little arrangement. Oh no! Do
you remember a promise I made to you when you came to me in Romero? I
said that if you played me false I would bury you to the neck in an
anthill and fill your mouth with honey. I keep my promises."

José's struggle was brief; he promptly resigned himself to the
inevitable. With every evidence of sincerity he assured Longorio of his
loyalty, and denied the least intention of betraying his general's
confidence. What, after all, was his mission upon earth if not to serve
Longorio's interests? One might have a peaceful heart and still be a
man. José was every inch a man; he was a very devil when he let himself
go, and his Excellency need have no fears as to the outcome of their
plan. After all, the GRINGOS were enemies, and there was no one of them
who did not merit destruction.

Pleased with these sentiments, and feeling sufficiently assured that
José was now really in the proper frame of mind to suit his purpose,
Longorio took the winding trail back toward Sangre de Cristo.



XXIV

DAVE LAW COMES HOME


A few days after she had written to Judge Ellsworth Alaire followed her
letter in person, for, having at last decided to divorce Ed, she acted
with characteristic decision. Since Ellsworth had more than once
advised this very course, she went to Brownsville anticipating his
willing support. She was greatly amazed, therefore, to find that he had
completely changed his views and to hear him argue strongly against her
determination. Hurt and puzzled at first by this strange lack of
sympathy, Alaire soon began to grow angry, and when the judge persisted
in his arguments she quarreled with him for the first time in their
acquaintance. But it was not until she had threatened to secure another
attorney that he reluctantly gave in, even then making it plain that in
meeting her wishes he was acting against his best judgment.

Now Alaire had desired Ellsworth's advice, also, as to her own
immediate plans, since it was of course impossible for her longer to
share Ed's roof. She had written Dave Law, telling him that she
intended to go to La Feria, there to remain pending the hearing of her
suit; but later she had come to doubt the wisdom of such a course,
inasmuch as the war talk grew louder with every day. However, her
attorney's inexplicable change of front and his stubborn opposition to
her wishes prevented her from confiding in him any more than was
necessary, and she returned to Las Palmas determined to use her own
best judgment. To be sure, she would have preferred some place of
refuge other than La Feria, but she reasoned that there she would at
least be undisturbed, and that Ed, even if he wished to effect a
reconciliation, would not dare to follow her, since he was persona non
grata in Federal Mexico. Nor were her doubts of Ellsworth's loyalty
entirely allayed. All in all, therefore, it seemed to her that the
Mexican ranch offered her the safest asylum.

She had counted upon seeing Dave during her stay in Brownsville, and
her failure to do so was a grave disappointment. The news of his
resignation from the Force had at first perplexed her; then she had
thrilled at the thought that his action must have something to do with
her; that doubtless he, too, was busied in making plans for their new
life. She told herself that it was brave of him to obey her injunctions
so literally and to leave her unembarrassed by his presence at this
particular time. It inspired her to be equally brave and to wait
patiently for the day when she could welcome him with clean hands and a
soul unashamed.

In the midst of Alaire's uncertainty of mind it gratified her to
realize that Dave alone would know of her whereabouts. She wondered if
he would come to see her. He was a reckless, headstrong lover, and his
desires were all too likely to overcome his deliberate resolves. She
rather hoped that in spite of his promise he would venture to cross the
border so that she could see and be near him, if only for a day or for
an hour. The possibility frightened and yet pleased her. The
conventional woman within her frowned, but her outlaw heart beat fast
at the thought.

Alaire did not explain her plans even to Dolores, but when her
preparations were complete she took the Mexican woman with her, and
during Ed's absence slipped away from the ranch. Boarding the train at
Jonesville, she was in Pueblo that night.

If Alaire's clash with Ellsworth had been trying to her, it had been no
less painful to the lawyer himself. Feeling himself bound by his
promise to Dave, he had not dared to tell her the truth; consequently
he had been hard put to it to dissuade her from taking immediate
action. When she would not listen, he found himself in the most
unpleasant position of his life; for although he could not but
sympathize with her desire to be free from Ed Austin, it distressed him
beyond measure to see her riding blindly to a fall. More than once
after their strained parting he was tempted to go to Las Palmas and set
himself right in her eyes; but he managed to hold to his determination
and to school himself to await Dave's return.

Before long, however, Ellsworth found other worries engaging him, for
it seemed at last that war with Mexico was imminent. After months of
uncertainty the question had come to issue, and that lowering cloud
which had hung above the horizon took ominous shape and size. Ellsworth
awoke one morning to learn that an ultimatum had gone forth to
President Potosi; that the Atlantic fleet had been ordered south; and
that marines were being rushed aboard transports pending a general army
mobilization. It looked as if the United States had finally risen in
wrath, and as if nothing less than a miracle could now avert the
long-expected conflict.

Naturally Brownsville, like other border towns, was plunged into a
panic, and Ellsworth, as a leading citizen of his community, had his
hands full.

In the midst of this excitement, and while suspense was at its highest,
Dave Law returned. Ellsworth found him in his office one morning and
fell upon the young man eagerly. Two weeks had worked a shocking change
in Dave; he was gaunt, ill; his eyes were bright and tired and
feverish. They had a new expression, too, which the judge at first
could not fathom, but which he took to be fear. Dave's brown cheeks had
bleached; his hands hung loose and unmanageable at his sides.

"I've had a long trip," he said, somberly, "months--years long, it
seems to me."

"Well, thank God you're back. Tell me, what did you find out?"

Law closed his eyes wearily. He shook his head. "Nothing except
verification. I'm sorry I went. The Law blood is tainted, all right--it
reeks. The whole damned outfit were crazy. On my mother's side, though,
I'm healthy enough--and there appears to be some mystery or something
queer about me as a baby. That's all I've discovered so far. But I've a
relative in San Antone, a cousin of my mother's, who runs a
curio-store. He deals in Mexican jewelry and antiques, and all
that--strange old fellow. He says he has a trunkful of stuff that
belonged to his family, and he has promised to go through it for me."

"Then you still hope to prove--"

"I haven't any hope. I've given up."

"Why?" Ellsworth asked, sharply.

"Because I know the truth. Because I'm--going crazy. Fact! I can see it
myself now."

"Why, boy, that's imagination, nothing else."

"Perhaps," Dave agreed, listlessly. "I'm reading everything on the
subject of insanity that I can get hold of."

Ellsworth tried to laugh. "That in itself is enough to unbalance you."

"I'm moody, depressed; I'm getting so I imagine things. By and by I'll
begin to think I'm persecuted--I believe that's how it works. Already I
have hallucinations in broad daylight, and I'm afraid of the dark.
Fancy! I don't sleep very often, and when I do I wake up in a puddle of
sweat, shivering. And dreams! God, what dreams! I know they're dreams,
now, but sooner or later I suppose I'll begin to believe in 'em." Dave
sighed and settled lower in his chair. "I--I'm mighty tired."

Ellsworth clapped him on the back. "Come, now! A perfectly healthy man
could wreck his reason this way. You must stop it. You must do
something to occupy your mind."

"Sure. That's what brings me home. I'm going to the front."

"To the war?"

"Yes. They're recruiting a rough-rider regiment in San Antone. I joined
yesterday, and I've come to get my horse."

After a time Ellsworth said, "Alaire has commenced her action." Dave
took a deep, sharp breath and began to tremble weakly. "I didn't tell
her, but--you must. We can't go on like this."

"Suppose I just go to war and--and don't come back?" thickly inquired
the sufferer.

"That won't do. You won't get killed--fellows like you never do.
Wouldn't you rather have her know the truth than believe you to be a
quitter?" Ellsworth waited a minute. "Do you want me to tell her for
you, Dave?"

Law shook his head slowly, wearily. "No, I'll do it. I'm game. I'd
rather she heard it from me."

Blaze Jones took the San Antonio paper out upon the porch and composed
himself in the hammock to read the latest war news. Invasion! Troops!
The Stars and Stripes! Those were words that stirred Jones deeply and
caused him to neglect his work. Now that his country had fully awakened
to the necessity of a war with Mexico--a necessity he had long felt--he
was fired with the loftiest patriotism and a youthful eagerness to
enlist. Blaze realized that he was old and fat and near-sighted; but
what of that? He could fight. Fighting, in fact, had been one of his
earliest accomplishments, and he prided himself upon knowing as much
about it as any one man could learn. He believed in fighting both as a
principle and as an exercise; in fact, he attributed his good health to
his various neighborly "unpleasantnesses," and he had more than once
argued that no great fighter ever died of a sluggish liver or of any
one of the other ills that beset sedentary, peace-loving people.
Nations were like men--too much ease made them flabby. And Blaze had
his own ideas of strategy, too. So during the perusal of his paper he
bemoaned the mistakes his government was making. Why waste time with
ultimatums? he argued to himself. He had never done so. Experience had
taught him that the way to win a battle was to beat the other fellow to
the draw; hence this diplomatic procrastination filled him with
impatience. It seemed almost treasonable to one of Blaze's intense
patriotism.

He was engaged in laying out a plan of campaign for the United States
when he became conscious of voices behind him, and realized that for
some time Paloma had been entertaining a caller in the front room.
Their conversation had not disturbed him at first, but now an
occasional word or sentence forced its meaning through his
preoccupation, and he found himself listening.

Paloma's visitor was a woman, and as Blaze harkened to her voice, he
felt his heart sink. It was Mrs. Strange. She was here again. With
difficulty Blaze conquered an impulse to flee, for she was recounting a
story all too familiar to him.

"Why, it seemed as if the whole city of Galveston was there, and yet
nobody offered to help us," the dressmaker was saying. "Phil was a
perfect hero, for the ruffian was twice his size. Oh, it was an awful
fight! I hate to think of it."

"What made him pinch you?" Paloma inquired.

"Heaven only knows. Some men are dreadful that way. Why, he left a
black-and-blue mark!"

Blaze broke into a cold sweat and cursed feebly under his breath.

"He wasn't drunk, either. He was just naturally depraved. You could see
it in his face."

"How DID you escape?"

"Well, I'll tell you. We chased him up across the boulevard and in
among the tents, and then--" Mrs. Strange lowered her voice until only
a murmur reached the listening man. A moment, then both women burst
into shrill, excited laughter, and Blaze himself blushed furiously.

This was unbearable! It was bad enough to have that woman in
Jonesville, a constant menace to his good name, but to allow her access
to his own home was unthinkable. Sooner or later they were bound to
meet, and then Paloma would learn the disgraceful truth--yes, and the
whole neighborhood would likewise know his shame. In fancy, Blaze saw
his reputation torn to shreds and himself exposed to the gibes of the
people who venerated him. He would become a scandal among men, an
offense to respectable women; children would shun him. Blaze could not
bear to think of the consequences, for he was very fond of the women
and children of Jonesville, especially the women. He rose from his
hammock and tiptoed down the porch into the kitchen, from which point
of security he called loudly for his daughter.

Alarmed at his tone, Paloma came running. "What is the matter?" she
asked, quickly.

"Get her out!" Blaze cried, savagely. "Get shed of her."

"Her? Who?"

"That varmint."

"Father, what ails you?"

"Nothin' ails me, but I don't want that caterpillar crawlin' around my
premises. I don't like her."

Paloma regarded her parent curiously. "How do you know you don't like
her when you've never seen her?"

"Oh, I've seen her, all I want to; and I heard her talkin' to you just
now. I won't stand for nobody tellin' you--bad stories."

Paloma snickered. "The idea! She doesn't--"

"Get her out, and keep her out," Blaze rumbled. "She ain't right; she
ain't--human. Why, what d'you reckon I saw her do, the other day? Makes
me shiver now. You remember that big bull-snake that lives under the
barn, the one I've been layin' for? Well, you won't believe me, but him
and her are friends. Fact! I saw her pick him up and play with him.
WHO-EE! The goose-flesh popped out on me till it busted the buttons off
my vest. She ain't my kind of people, Paloma. 'Strange' ain't no name
for her; no, sir! That woman's dam' near peculiar."

Paloma remained unmoved. "I thought you knew. She used to be a
snake-charmer."

"A--WHAT?" There was no doubt about it. Blaze's hair lifted. He blinked
through his big spectacles; he pawed the air feebly with his hands.
"How can you let her touch you? I couldn't. I'll bet she carries a
pocketful of dried toads and--and keeps live lizards in her hair. I
knew an old voodoo woman that ate cockroaches. Get shed of her, Paloma,
and we'll fumigate the house."

At that moment Mrs. Strange herself opened the kitchen door to inquire,
"Is anything wrong?" Misreading Blaze's expression for one of pain, she
exclaimed: "Mercy! Now, what have you done to yourself?"

But the object of her solicitude backed away, making peculiar clucking
sounds deep in his throat. Paloma was saying:

"This is my father, Mrs. Strange. You and he have never happened to
meet before."

"Why, yes we have! I know you," the seamstress exclaimed. Then a
puzzled light flickered in her black eyes. "Seems to me we've met
somewhere, but--I've met so many people." She extended her hand, and
Blaze took it as if expecting to find it cold and scaly. He muttered
something unintelligible. "I've been dying to see you," she told him,
"and thank you for giving me Paloma's work. I love you both for it."

Blaze was immensely relieved that this dreaded crisis had come and
gone; but wishing to make assurance doubly sure, he contorted his
features into a smile the like of which his daughter had never seen,
and in a disguised voice inquired, "Now where do you reckon you ever
saw me?"

The seamstress shook her head. "I don't know, but I'll place you before
long. Anyhow, I'm glad you aren't hurt. From the way you called Paloma
I thought you were. I'm handy around sick people, so I--"

"Listen!" Paloma interrupted. "There's some one at the front door." She
left the room; Blaze was edging after her when he heard her utter a
stifled scream and call his name.

Now Paloma was not the kind of girl to scream without cause, and her
cry brought Blaze to the front of the house at a run. But what he saw
there reassured him momentarily; nothing was in sight more alarming
than one of the depot hacks, in the rear seat of which was huddled the
figure of a man. Paloma was flying down the walk toward the gate, and
Phil Strange was waiting on the porch. As Blaze flung himself into view
the latter explained:

"I brought him straight here, Mr. Jones, 'cause I knew you was his best
friend."

"Who? Who is it?"

"Dave Law. He must have came in on the noon train. Anyhow, I found
him--like that." The two men hurried toward the road, side by side.

"What's wrong with him?" Blaze demanded.

"I don't know. He's queer--he's off his bean. I've had a hard time with
him."

Paloma was in the carriage at Dave's side now, and calling his name;
but Law, it seemed, was scarcely conscious. He had slumped together;
his face was vacant, his eyes dull. He was muttering to himself a
queer, delirious jumble of words.

"Oh, Dad! He's sick--sick," Paloma sobbed. "Dave, don't you know us?
You're home, Dave. Everything is--all right now."

"Why, you'd hardly recognize the boy!" Blaze exclaimed; then he added
his appeal to his daughter's. But they could not arouse the sick man
from his coma.

"He asked me to take him to Las Palmas," Strange explained. "Looks to
me like a sunstroke. You'd ought to hear him rave when he gets started."

Paloma turned an agonized face to her father. "Get a doctor, quick,"
she implored; "he frightens me."

But Mrs. Strange had followed, and now she spoke up in a matter-of-fact
tone: "Doctor nothing," she said. "I know more than all the doctors.
Paloma, you go into the house and get a bed ready for him, and you men
lug him in. Come, now, on the run, all of you! I'll show you what to
do." She took instant charge of the situation, and when Dave refused to
leave the carriage and began to fight off his friends, gabbling wildly,
it was she who quieted him. Elbowing Blaze and her husband out of the
way, she loosed the young man's frenzied clutch from the carriage and,
holding his hands in hers, talked to him in such a way that he
gradually relaxed. It was she who helped him out and then supported him
into the house. It was she who got him up-stairs and into bed, and it
was she who finally stilled his babble.

"The poor man is burning up with a fever," she told the others, "and
fevers are my long suit. Get me some towels and a lot of ice."

Blaze, who had watched the snake-charmer's deft ministrations with
mingled amazement and suspicion, inquired: "What are you going to do
with ice? Ice ain't medicine."

"I'm going to pack his head in it."

"God'l'mighty!" Blaze was horrified. "Do you want to freeze his brain?"

Mrs. Strange turned on him angrily. "You get out of my way and mind
your own business. 'Freeze his brain!'" With a sniff of indignation she
pushed past the interloper.

But Blaze was waiting for her when she returned a few moments later
with bowls and bottles and various remedies which she had commandeered.
He summoned sufficient courage to block her way and inquire:

"What you got there, now, ma'am?"

Mrs. Strange glared at him balefully. With an effort at patience she
inquired: "Say! What ails you, anyhow?"

Jones swallowed hard. "Understand, he's a friend of mine. No damned
magic goes."

"Magic?"

"No--cockroaches or snakes' tongues, or--"

Mrs. Strange fingered a heavy china bowl as if tempted to bounce it
from Blaze's head. Then, not deigning to argue, she whisked past him
and into the sick-room. It was evident from her expression that she
considered the master of the house a harmless but offensive old
busybody.

For some time longer Blaze hung about the sick-room; then, his presence
being completely ignored, he risked further antagonism by telephoning
for Jonesville's leading doctor. Not finding the physician at home, he
sneaked out to the barn and, taking Paloma's car, drove away in search
of him. It was fully two hours later when he returned to discover that
Dave was sleeping quietly.



XXV

A WARNING AND A SURPRISE


Dave Law slept for twenty hours, and even when he awoke it was not to a
clear appreciation of his surroundings. At first he was relieved to
find that the splitting pain in his head was gone, but imagined himself
to be still in the maddening local train from Brownsville. By and by he
recognized Paloma and Mrs. Strange, and tried to talk to them, but the
connection between brain and tongue was imperfect, and he made a bad
business of conversation. It seemed queer that he should be in bed at
the Joneses', and almost ludicrous for Mrs. Strange to support him
while Paloma fed him. In the effort to understand these mysteries, he
dozed again. After interminable periods of semi-consciousness
alternating with complete oblivion, he roused himself to discover that
it was morning and that he felt better than for weeks. When he had
recovered from his surprise he turned his head and saw Mrs. Strange
slumbering in a chair beside his bed; from her uncomfortable position
and evident fatigue he judged that she must have kept a long and
faithful vigil over him.

A little later Paloma, pale and heavy-eyed, stole into the room, and
Dave's cheerful greeting awoke Mrs. Strange with a jerk.

"So! You're feeling better, aren't you," the latter woman cried,
heartily.

"Yes. How did I get here?" Dave asked. "I must have been right sick and
troublesome to you."

Paloma smiled and nodded. "Sick! Why, Dave, you frightened us nearly to
death! You were clear out of your head."

So that was it. The breakdown had come sooner than he expected, and it
had come, moreover, without warning. That was bad--bad! Although Dave's
mind was perfectly clear at this moment, he reasoned with a sinking
heart that another brain-storm might overtake him at any time. He had
imagined that the thing would give a hint of its coming, but evidently
it did not.

Mrs. Strange broke into his frowning meditation to ask, "How long since
you had a night's sleep?"

"I--Oh, it must be weeks."

"Umph! I thought so. You puzzled that pill-roller, but doctors don't
know anything, anyhow. Why, he wanted to wake you up to find out what
ailed you! I threatened to scald him if he did."

"I seem to remember talking a good deal," Dave ventured. "I reckon
I--said a lot of foolish things." He caught the look that passed
between his nurses and its significance distressed him.

Mrs. Strange continued: "That's how we guessed what your trouble was,
and that's why I wouldn't let that fool doctor disturb you. Now that
you've had a sleep and are all right again, I'm going home and change
my clothes. I haven't had them off for two nights."

"Two nights!" Dave stared in bewilderment. Then he lamely apologized
for the trouble he had caused, and tried to thank the women for their
kindness.

He was shaky when, an hour later, he came down-stairs for breakfast;
but otherwise he felt better than for many days; and Blaze's open
delight at seeing did him as much good as the food he ate.

Dave spent the morning sunning himself on the porch, reading the papers
with their exciting news, and speculating over the significance of his
mental collapse. The more he thought of it now the more ominous it
seemed. One result which particularly distressed him was the change it
had wrought in Paloma Jones's bearing; for of a sudden the girl had
become distant and formal. The reason was not far to seek; Dave could
not doubt that the knowledge of his secret had frightened her. Well,
that was to be expected--he would probably lose all his friends in
time. It was a bitter thought; life would be very dull and flat without
friends. He wondered how he could bear to see those who loved him turn
away; to see their liking change to restraint and fear, as it
threatened to do in Paloma's case. Better anything than that.

There was, however, one friend who, Dave knew, would not shun him; one
of whose lasting affection he felt sure; and at memory of her he came
to his feet. Montrosa would trust him. She had given him her heart, and
her loyalty would never waver. With a clutch at his throat, and a
little pain in his breast, he stumbled down the steps and went in
search of her.

Now during Dave's absence Paloma had done her best to spoil the mare,
and among other marks of favor had allowed her free run of the yard,
where the shade was cool and the grass fine, and where delicious
tidbits were to be had from the kitchen for the mere asking. In
consequence, Dave did not go far until he was discovered. Montrosa
signaled, then trotted toward him with ears and tail lifted. Her
delight was open and extravagant; her welcome was as enthusiastic as a
horse could make it. Gone were her coquetry and her airs; she nosed and
nibbled Dave; she rubbed and rooted him with the violence of a
battering-ram, and permitted him to hug her and murmur words of love
into her velvet ears. She swapped confidence for confidence, too; and
then, when he finally walked back toward the house, she followed
closely, as if fearful that he might again desert her.

Phil Strange met the lovers as they turned the corner of the porch, and
warmly shook Dave's hand. "Teeny--my wife--told me you was better," he
began, "so I beat it out here. I hung around all day yesterday, waiting
to see you, but you was batty."

"I was pretty sick," Dave acknowledged. "Mrs. Strange was mighty kind
to me."

"Sick people get her goat. She's got a way with 'em, and with animals,
too. Why, Rajah, the big python with our show, took sick one year, and
he'd have died sure only for her. Same with a lot of the other animals.
She knows more'n any vet I ever saw."

"Perhaps I needed a veterinary instead of a doctor," Dave smiled. "I
guess I've got some horse blood in me. See!" Montrosa had thrust her
head under his arm and was waiting for him to scratch her ears.

"Well, I brought you some mail." Strange fumbled in his pocket for a
small bundle of letters, explaining: "Blaze gave me these for you as I
passed the post office. Now I wonder if you feel good enough to talk
business."

Dave took the letters with a word of thanks, and thrust them carelessly
into his pocket. "What seems to be the trouble?" he inquired.

"You remember our last talk? Well, them Mexicans have got me rattled.
I've been trying everywhere to locate you. If you hadn't come home I'd
have gone to the prosecuting attorney, or somebody."

"Then you've learned something more?"

Phil nodded, and his sallow face puckered with apprehension. "Rosa
Morales has been to see me regular."

Dave passed an uncertain hand over his forehead. "I'm not in very good
shape to tackle a new proposition, but--what is it?"

"We've got to get Mrs. Austin away from here."

"We? Why?"

"If we don't they'll steal her."

"STEAL HER?" Dave's amazement was patent. "Are you crazy?"

"Sometimes I think I am, but I've pumped that Morales girl dry, and I
can't figure anything else out of what she tells me. Her and José
expect to make a lump of quick money, jump to Mexico, get married, and
live happy ever after. Take it from me, it's Mrs. Austin they aim to
cash in on."

"Why--the idea's ridiculous!"

"Maybe it is and maybe it ain't," the fortune-teller persisted. "More
than one rich Mexican has been grabbed and held for ransom along this
river; yes, and Americans, too, if you can believe the stories.
Anything goes in that country over there."

"You think José is planning to kidnap her? Nonsense! One man couldn't
do such a thing."

"I didn't say he could," Phil defended himself, sulkily. "Remember, I
told you there was somebody back of him."

"Yes, I remember, but you didn't know exactly who."

"Well, I don't exactly know yet. I thought maybe you might tell me."

There was a brief silence, during which Dave stood frowning. Then he
appeared to shake himself free from Phil's suggestions.

"It's too utterly preposterous. Mrs. Austin has no enemies; she's a
person of importance. If by any chance she disappeared--"

"She's done that very little thing," Strange declared.

"What?"

"She's disappeared--anyhow, she's gone. Yesterday, when I saw you was
laid up and couldn't help me, I 'phoned her ranch; somebody answered in
Spanish, and from what I could make out they don't know where she is."

Dave wondered if he had understood Strange aright, or if this could be
another trick of his own disordered brain. Choosing his words
carefully, he said: "Do you mean to tell me that she's missing and they
haven't given an alarm? I reckon you didn't understand the message, did
you?"

Strange shrugged. "Maybe I didn't. Suppose you try. You sabe the lingo."

Dave agreed, although reluctantly, for at this moment he wished nothing
less than to undertake a mental effort, and he feared, in spite of
Strange's statement, that he might hear Alaire's voice over the wire.
That would be too much; he felt as if he could not summon the strength
to control himself in such a case. Nevertheless, he went to the
telephone, leaving Phil to wait.

When he emerged from the house a few moments later, it was with a
queer, set look upon his face.

"I got 'em," he said. "She's gone--left three days ago."

"Where did she go?"

"They wouldn't tell me."

"They WOULDN'T?" Strange looked up sharply.

"Wouldn't or couldn't." The men eyed each other silently; then Phil
inquired:

"Well, what do you make of it?"

"I don't know. She wasn't kidnapped, that's a cinch, for Dolores went
with her. I--think we're exciting ourselves unduly."

The little fortune-teller broke out excitedly: "The hell we are! Why do
you suppose I've been playing that Morales girl? I tell you there's
something crooked going on. Don't I know? Didn't I wise you three weeks
ago that something like this was coming off?" It was plain that Phil
put complete faith in his powers of divination, and at this moment his
earnestness carried a certain degree of conviction. Dave made an effort
to clear his tired brain.

"Very well," he said. "If you're so sure, I'll go to Las Palmas. I'll
find out all about it, and where she went. If anybody has dared to--"
He drew a deep breath and his listlessness vanished; his eyes gleamed
with a hint of their customary fire. "I reckon I've got one punch left
in me." He turned and strode to his room.

As Dave changed into his service clothes he was surprised to feel a new
vigor in his limbs and a new strength of purpose in his mind. His brain
was clearer than it had been for a long time. The last cobweb was gone,
and for the moment at least he was lifted out of himself as by a
strong, invigorating drink. When he stood in his old boots and felt the
familiar drag of his cartridge-belt, when he tested his free muscles,
he realized that he was another man. Even yet he could not put much
faith in Phil Strange's words--nevertheless, there might be a danger
threatening Alaire; and if so, it was time to act.

Phil watched his friend saddle the bay mare, then as Dave tied his
Winchester scabbard to its thongs he laughed nervously.

"You're loaded for bear."

The horseman answered, grimly: "I'm loaded for José Sanchez. If I lay
hands on him I'll learn what he knows."

"You can't get nothing out of a Mexican,"

"No? I've made Filipinos talk. Believe me, I can be some persuasive
when I try." With that he swung a leg over Montrosa's back and rode
away.

Law found it good to feel a horse between his knees. He had not
realized until now how long Montrosa's saddle had been empty. The sun
was hot and friendly, the breeze was sweet in his nostrils as he swept
past the smiling fields and out into the mesquite country. Heat waves
danced above the patches of bare ground; insects sang noisily from
every side; far ahead the road ran a wavering course through a
deceitful mirage of rippling ponds. It was all familiar, pleasant; it
was home; black moods were impossible amid such surroundings. The
chemistry of air and earth and sunshine were at work dissolving away
the poisons of his imagination. Of course Dave's trouble did not wholly
vanish; it still lurked in the back of his mind and rode with him; but
from some magic source he was deriving a power to combat it. With every
mile he covered his strength and courage increased.

Such changes had come into his life since his last visit to Las Palmas
that it gave him a feeling of unreality to discover no alteration in
the ranch. He had somehow felt that the buildings would look older,
that the trees would have grown taller, and so when he finally came in
sight of his destination he reined in to look.

Behind him he heard the hum of an approaching motor, and he turned to
behold a car racing along the road he had just traveled. The machine
was running fast, as a long streamer of choking dust gave evidence, and
Dave soon recognized it as belonging to Jonesville's prosecuting
attorney. As it tore past him its owner shouted something, but the
words were lost. In the automobile with the driver were several
passengers, and one of these likewise called to Dave and seemed to
motion him to follow. When the machine slowed down a half-mile ahead
and veered abruptly into the Las Palmas gateway, Dave lifted Montrosa
to a run, wondering what pressing necessity could have induced the
prosecuting attorney to risk such a reckless burst of speed.

Dave told himself that he was unduly apprehensive; that Strange's
warnings had worked upon his nerves. Nevertheless, he continued to ride
so hard that almost before the dust had settled he, too, turned into
the shade of the palms.

Yes, there was excitement here; something was evidently very much
amiss, judging from the groups of ranch-hands assembled upon the porch.
They were clustered about the doors and windows, peering in. Briefly
they turned their faces toward Law; then they crowded closer, and he
perceived that they were not talking. Some of them had removed their
hats and held them in their hands.

Dave's knees shook under him as he dismounted; for one sick, giddy
instant the scene swam before his eyes; then he ran toward the house
and up the steps. He tried to frame a question, but his lips were stiff
with fright. Heedless of those in his path, he forced his way into the
house, then down the hall toward an open door, through which he saw a
room full of people. From somewhere came the shrill wailing of a woman;
the house was full of hushed voices and whisperings. Dave had but one
thought. From the depths of his being a voice called Alaire's name
until his brain rang with it.

A bed was in the room, and around it was gathered a group of
white-faced people. With rough hands Law cleared a way for himself, and
then stopped, frozen in his tracks. His arms relaxed, his fingers
unclenched, a great sigh whistled slowly from his lungs. Before him,
booted, spurred, and fully dressed, lay the dead body of Ed Austin.

Dave was still staring at the master of Las Palmas when the prosecuting
attorney spoke to him.

"God! This is terrible, isn't it?" he said. "He must have died
instantly."

"Who--did it?"

"We don't know yet. Benito found him and brought him in. He hasn't been
dead an hour."

Law ran his eyes over the room, and then asked, sharply, "Where is Mrs.
Austin?"

He was answered by Benito Gonzales, who had edged closer. "She's not
here, señor."

"Have you notified her?"

Benito shrugged. "There has been no time, it all happened so quickly--"

Some one interrupted, and Dave saw that it was the local
sheriff--evidently it was he who had waved from the speeding machine a
few moments before.

"I'm glad you're here, Dave, for you can give me a hand. I'm going to
round up these Mexicans right away and find out what they know. Whoever
did it hasn't gone far; so you act as my deputy and see what you can
learn."

When Dave had regained better control of himself he took Benito
outdoors and demanded full details of the tragedy. With many
lamentations and incoherencies, the range boss told what he knew.

Ed had met his death within a half-mile of Las Palmas as he rode home
for dinner. Benito, himself on his way to the house, had found the
body, still warm, near the edge of the pecan-grove. He had retained
enough sense to telephone at once to Jonesville, and then--Benito
hardly knew what he had done since then, he was so badly shaken by the
tragedy.

"What time did it happen?"

"It was noon when I came in."

Dave consulted his watch, and was surprised to discover that it was now
only a few minutes past one. It was evident, therefore, that Benito had
indeed lost no time, and that his alarm had met with instant response.

"Now tell me, who did it?"

Benito flung his hands high. "God knows! Some enemy, of course; but Don
Eduardo had many."

"Not that sort of enemies. There was nobody who could wish to kill him."

"That is as it is."

"Haven't you any suspicions?"

"No, señor."

"You say Mrs. Austin is gone?"

"Yes."

"Where?"

"I don't know."

Dave spoke brusquely: "Come, Benito; you must know, for your wife went
with her. Are you trying to keep something back?"

"No, no! As God is my judge!" Benito declared, "I didn't know they were
going until the very last, and even then Dolores would tell me nothing.
We were having bad times here at Las Palmas; there were stormy scenes
yonder in the house. Señor Ed was drinking again, you understand? The
señora had reason to go."

"You think she ran away to escape him?"

"Exactly."

Dave breathed more easily, for this seemed to settle Strange's theory.
The next instant, however, his apprehensions were doubled, for Benito
added:

"No doubt she went to La Feria."

Law uttered an incredulous exclamation. "Not THERE! Surely she wouldn't
go to La Feria at such a time. Why, that country is ablaze. Americans
are fleeing from Mexico."

"I hadn't thought of that," Benito confessed. "But if she didn't go
there, where did she go? Saints above! It is a fine condition of
affairs when a wife keeps secrets from her husband, eh? I suppose
Dolores feared I would tell Don Eduardo, God rest his soul! This much I
do know, however: not long ago there came a letter from General
Longorio, offering settlement for those cattle he stole in his
government's name. Dolores told me the señora was highly pleased and
was going to Mexico for her money. It was a mark of Longorio's favor,
you understand me? He's a great--friend, an ardent admirer." Benito
winked. "Dolores told me all about that, too. No, I think they went to
La Feria."

Dave remembered his first conversation with Phil Strange and the
fortune-teller's insistence that some powerful person was behind José
Sanchez. More than three weeks ago Strange had forecast something very
like murder of Ed Austin. Dave felt as if he were the victim of an
hysterical imagination. Nevertheless, he forced himself to ask, quietly:

"Is José Sanchez anywhere about?"

The range boss shrugged. "I sent him to the east pasture this morning."

"Did he go?"

"Eh? So! You suspect José of this. God in heaven! José is a wild
boy--But wait! I'll ask Juan if he saw him; yes, and Victoria, too.
That is Victoria you hear squalling in the kitchen. Wait here."

Benito hurried away, leaving Dave a prey to perplexity; but he was back
again in a few moments. His face was grave.

"José did not go to the east pasture," he said.

"Where is he now?"

"No one seems to know."

Law walked to his horse, mounted, and galloped away. Benito, who
watched him, saw that he turned toward the river road which led to the
Las Palmas pumping-plant.

The more Dave thought about Ed Austin's death, the more certain he
became that it was in some way connected with Alaire's disappearance;
and the loose end by which the tangle might be unraveled, it seemed to
him, lay in the hands of Rosa Morales, José's sweetheart. That Sanchez
was the murderer Dave now had little doubt; but since the chance of
apprehending him was small, he turned his attention to the girl. He
would make Rosa speak, he told himself, if he had to use force--this
was no time for gentle methods. If she knew aught of Alaire's
whereabouts or the mystery of her departure from Las Palmas, he would
find a way to wring the truth from her. Dave's face, a trifle too
somber at all times, took on a grimmer aspect now; he felt a slow fury
kindling in his breast.

Years of experience had taught him to be always alert even during his
moments of deepest preoccupation, and so, from force of habit, when he
came to the pump-house road he carefully scanned it. In the dust were
fresh hoof-prints leading toward the river. Now he knew this road to be
seldom used, and therefore he wondered who could be riding it at a
gallop in this blistering midday heat. A few rods farther on and his
quick eye detected something else--something that brought him from his
saddle. Out of the rut he picked a cigarette butt, the fire of which
was cold but the paper of which was still wet from the smoker's lips.
He examined it carefully; then he remounted and rode on, pondering its
significance.

Dave loped out of the thicket and straight across the clearing to the
Morales house. Leaving Montrosa's reins hanging, he opened the door and
entered without knocking. Rosa appeared in the opening to another room,
her eyes wide with fright at this apparition, and Dave saw that she was
dressed in her finest, as if for a holiday or for a journey.

"Where's your father?" he demanded.

"He's gone to Sangre de Cristo. What do you want?"

"When did he go?"

"This morning, early. He--"

"Who's been here since he left?"

Rosa was recovering from her first surprise, and now her black brows
drew together in anger. "No one has come. You are the first. And have
you no manners to stride into a respectable house--?"

Dave broke in harshly: "Rosa, you're lying. José Sanchez has been here
within an hour. Where is he?" When the girl only grew whiter and raised
a hand to her breast, he stepped toward her, crying, "Answer me!"

Rosa recoiled, and the breath caught in her throat like a sob. "I'll
tell you nothing," she said in a thin voice. Then she began to tremble.
"Why do you want José?"

"You know why. He killed Don Eduardo, and then he rode here. Come! I
know everything."

"Lies! Lies!" Rosa's voice grew shrill. "Out of this house! I know you.
It was you who betrayed Panfilo, and his blood is on your hands,
assassin!" With the last word she made as if to retreat, but Dave was
too quick; he seized her, and for an instant they struggled
breathlessly.

Dave had reasoned beforehand that his only chance of discovering
anything from this girl lay in utterly terrorizing her and in profiting
by her first panic; therefore he pressed his advantage. He succeeded
better than he had dared to hope.

"You know who killed Señor Ed," he cried, fiercely. "The fortune-teller
read your plans, and there is no use to deny it."

Rosa screamed again; she writhed; she tried to sink her teeth into her
captor's flesh. In her body was the strength of a full-grown man, and
Dave could hardly hold her. But suddenly, as the two scuffled, from the
back room of the house came a sound which caused Dave to release the
girl as abruptly as he had seized her--it was the clink and tinkle of
Mexican spurs upon a wooden floor.



XXVI

THE WATER-CURE


Without an instant's hesitation Dave flung himself past Rosa and
through the inner door.

José Sanchez met him with a shout; the shock of their collision
overbore the lighter man, and the two went down together, arms and legs
intertwined. The horse-breaker fired his revolver blindly--a deafening
explosion inside those four walls--but he was powerless against his
antagonist's strength and ferocity. It required but a moment for Law to
master him, to wrench the weapon from his grasp, and then, with the aid
of José's silk neck-scarf, to bind his wrists tightly.

From the front of the little house came the crash of a door violently
slammed as Rosa profited by the diversion to save herself.

When finally José stood, panting and snarling, his back to the wall,
Dave regarded him with a sinister contraction of the lips that was
almost a grin.

"Well," he said, drawing a deep breath, "I see you didn't go to the
east pasture this morning."

"What do you want of me?" José managed to gasp.

There was a somewhat prolonged silence, during which Dave continued to
stare at his prisoner with that same disquieting expression. "Why did
you kill Don Eduardo?" he asked.

"I? Bah! Who says I killed him?" José glared defiance. "Why are you
looking at me? Come! Take me to jail, if you think that will do any
good."

"It's lucky I rode to Las Palmas this morning. In another hour you
would have been across the Rio Grande--with Rosa and all her fine
clothes, eh? Now you will be hanged. Well, that is how fortune goes."

The horse-breaker tossed his head and shrugged with a brave assumption
of indifference; he laughed shortly. "You can prove nothing."

"Yes," continued Dave, "and Rosa will go to prison, too. Now--suppose I
should let you go? Would you help me? In ten minutes you could be
safe." He inclined his head toward the muddy, silent river outside.
"Would you be willing to help me?"

José's brows lifted. "What's this you are saying?" he inquired, eagerly.

"I would only ask you a few questions."

"What questions?"

"Where is Señora Austin?"

José's face became blank. "I don't know."

"Oh yes, you do. She started for La Feria. But--did she get there? Or
did Longorio have other plans for her? You'd better tell me the truth,
for your general can't help you now." Dave did his best to read the
Mexican's expression, but failed. "Señor Ed's death means nothing to
me," he went on, "but I must know where his wife is, and I'm willing to
pay, with your liberty." In spite of himself his anxiety was plain.

José exclaimed: "Ho! I understand. He was in your way and you're glad
to be rid of him. Well, we have no business fighting with each other."

"Will you tell me--?"

"I'll tell you nothing, for I know nothing."

"Come! I must know."

José laughed insolently.

Law's face became black with sudden fury. His teeth bared themselves.
He took a step forward, crying:

"By God! You WILL tell me!" Seizing his prisoner by the throat, he
pinned him to the wall; then with his free hand he cocked Longorio's
revolver and thrust its muzzle against José's body. "Tell me!" he
repeated. His countenance was so distorted, his expression so maniacal,
that José felt his hour had come. The latter, being in all ways
Mexican, did not struggle; instead, he squared his shoulders and,
staring fearlessly into the face above him, cried:

"Shoot!"

For a moment the two men remained so; then Dave seemed to regain
control of himself and the murder light flickered out of his eyes. He
flung his prisoner aside and cast the revolver into a corner of the
room.

José picked himself up, cursing his captor eloquently. "You Gringos
don't know how to die," he said. "Death? Pah! We must die some time.
And supposing I do know something about the señora, do you think you
can force me to speak? Torture wouldn't open my lips."

Law did not trust himself to reply; and the horse-breaker went on with
growing defiance:

"I am innocent of any crime; therefore I am brave. But you--The blood
of innocent men means nothing to you--Panfilo's murder proves that--so
complete your work. Make an end of me."

"Be still!" Dave commanded, thickly.

But the fellow's hatred was out of bounds now, and by the bitterness of
his vituperation he seemed to invite death. Dave interrupted his
vitriolic curses to ask harshly:

"Will you tell me, or will you force me to wring the truth out of you?"

José answered by spitting at his captor; then he gritted an unspeakable
epithet from between his teeth.

Dave addressed him with an air of finality. "You killed that man and
your life is forfeit, so it doesn't make much difference whether I take
it or whether the State takes it. You are brave enough to die--most of
you Mexicans are--but the State can't force you to speak, and I can."
José sneered. "Oh yes, I can! I intend to know all that you know, and
it will be better for you to tell me voluntarily. I must learn where
Señora Austin is, and I must learn quickly, if I have to kill you by
inches to get the truth."

"So! Torture, eh? Good. I can believe it of you. Well, a slow fire will
not make me speak."

"No. A fire would be too easy, José."

"Eh?"

Without answer Dave strode out of the room. He was back before his
prisoner could do more than wrench at his bonds, and with him he
brought his lariat and his canteen.

"What are you going to do?" José inquired, backing away until he was
once more at bay.

"I'm going to give you a drink."

"Whisky? You think you can make me drunk?" The horse-breaker laughed
loudly but uneasily.

"Not whisky; water. I'm going to give you a drink of water."

"What capers!"

"When you've drunk enough you'll tell me why you killed your employer
and where General Longorio has taken his wife. Yes, and everything else
I want to know." Seizing the amazed Mexican, Dave flung him upon
Morales's hard board bed, and in spite of the fellow's struggles deftly
made him fast. When he had finished--and it was no easy job--José lay
"spread-eagled" upon his back, his wrists and ankles firmly bound to
the head and foot posts, his body secured by a tight loop over his
waist. The rope cut painfully and brought a curse from the prisoner
when he strained at it. Law surveyed him with a face of stone.

"I don't want to do this," he declared, "but I know your kind. I give
you one more chance. Will you tell me?"

José drew his lips back in a snarl of rage and pain, and Dave realized
that further words were useless. He felt a certain pity for his victim
and no little admiration for his courage, but such feelings were of
small consequence as against his agonizing fears for Alaire's safety.
Had he in the least doubted José's guilty knowledge of Longorio's
intentions, Dave would have hesitated before employing the barbarous
measures he had in mind, but--there was nothing else for it. He pulled
the canteen cork and jammed the mouthpiece firmly to José's lips.
Closing the fellow's nostrils with his free hand, he forced him to
drink.

José clenched his teeth, he tried to roll his head, he held his breath
until his face grew purple and his eyes bulged. He strained like a man
upon the rack. The bed creaked to his muscular contortions; the rope
tightened. It was terribly cruel, this crushing of a strong will bent
on resistance to the uttermost; but never was an executioner more
pitiless, never did a prisoner's agony receive less consideration. The
warm water spilled over José's face, it drenched his neck and chest;
his joints cracked as he strove for freedom and tried to twist his head
out of Law's iron grasp. The seconds dragged, until finally Nature
asserted herself. The imprisoned breath burst forth; there sounded a
loud gurgling cry and a choking inhalation. José's body writhed with
the convulsions of drowning as the water and air were sucked into his
lungs. Law was kneeling over his victim now, his weight and strength so
applied that José had no liberty of action and could only drink,
coughing and fighting for air. Somehow he managed to revive himself
briefly and again shut his teeth; but a moment more and he was again
retched with the furious battle for air, more desperate now than
before. After a while Law freed his victim's nostrils and allowed him a
partial breath, then once more crushed the mouthpiece against his lips.
By and by, to relieve his torture, José began to drink in great noisy
gulps, striving to empty the vessel.

But the stomach's capacity is limited. In time José felt himself
bursting; the liquid began to regurgitate. This was not mere pain that
he suffered, but the ultimate nightmare horror of a death more awful
than anything he had ever imagined. José would have met a bullet, a
knife, a lash, without flinching; flames would not have served to
weaken his resolve; but this slow drowning was infinitely worse than
the worst he had thought possible; he was suffocating by long, black,
agonizing minutes. Every nerve and muscle of his body, every cell in
his bursting lungs, fought against the outrage in a purely physical
frenzy over which his will power had no control. Nor would
insensibility come to his relief--Law watched him too carefully for
that. He could not even voice his sufferings by shrieks; he could only
writhe and retch and gurgle while the ropes bit into his flesh and his
captor knelt upon him like a monstrous stone weight.

But José had made a better fight than he knew. The canteen ran dry at
last, and Law was forced to release his hold.

"Will you speak?" he demanded.

Thinking that he had come safely through the ordeal, José shook his
head; he rolled his bulging, bloodshot eyes and vomited, then managed
to call God to witness his innocence.

Dave went into the next room and refilled the canteen. When he
reappeared with the dripping vessel in his hand, José tried to scream.
But his throat was torn and strained; the sound of his own voice
frightened him.

Once more the torment began. The tortured man was weaker now, and in
consequence he resisted more feebly; but not until he was less than
half conscious did Law spare him time to recover.

José lay sick, frightened, inert. Dave watched him without pity. The
fellow's wrists were black and swollen, his lips were bleeding; he was
stretched like a dumb animal upon the vivisectionist's table, and no
surgeon with lance and scalpel could have shown less emotion than did
his inquisitor. Having no intention of defeating his own ends, Dave
allowed his victim ample time in which to regain his ability to suffer.

Alaire Austin had been right when she said that Dave might be ruthless;
and yet the man was by no means incapable of compassion. At the present
moment, however, he considered himself simply as the instrument by
which Alaire was to be saved. His own feelings had nothing to do with
the matter; neither had the sufferings of this Mexican. Therefore he
steeled himself to prolong the agony until the murderer's stubborn
spirit was worn down. Once again he put his question, and, again
receiving defiance, jammed the canteen between José's teeth.

But human nature is weak. For the first time in his life José Sanchez
felt terror--a terror too awful to be endured--and he made the sign.

He was no longer the insolent defier, the challenger, but an imploring
wretch, whose last powers of resistance had been completely shattered.
His frightened eyes were glued to that devilish vessel in which his
manhood had dissolved, the fear of it made a woman of him.

Slowly, in sighs and whimpers, in agonies of reluctance, his story
came; his words were rendered almost incomprehensible by his abysmal
fright. When he had purged himself of his secret Dave promptly unbound
him; then leaving him more than half dead, he went to the telephone
which connected the pumping station with Las Palmas and called up the
ranch.

He was surprised when Blaze Jones answered. Blaze, it seemed, had just
arrived, summoned by news of the tragedy. The countryside had been
alarmed and a search for Ed Austin's slayer was being organized.

"Call it off," Dave told him. "I've got your man." Blaze stuttered his
surprise and incredulity. "I mean it. It's José Sanchez, and he has
confessed. I want you to come here, quick; and come alone, if you don't
mind. I need your help."

Inside of ten minutes Jones piloted his automobile into the clearing
beside the river, and, leaving his motor running, leaped from the car.

Dave met him at the door of the Morales house and briefly told him the
story of José's capture.

"Say! That's quick work," the rancher cried, admiringly. "Why, Ed ain't
cold yet! You gave him the 'water-cure,' eh? Now I reckoned it would
take more than water to make a Mexican talk."

"José was hired for the work; he laid for Ed Austin in the pecan grove
and shot him as he passed."

"Hired! Why this hombre needs quick hangin', don't he? I told 'em at
Las Palmas that you'd rounded up the guilty party, so I reckon they'll
be here in a few minutes. We'll just stretch this horse-wrangler, and
save the county some expense." Law shrugged. "Do what you like with
him, but--it isn't necessary. He'll confess in regulation form, I'm
sure. I had to work fast to learn what became of Mrs. Austin."

"Miz Austin? What's happened to her?"

Dave's voice changed; there was a sudden quickening of his words.
"They've got her, Blaze. They waited until they had her safe before
they killed Ed."

"'They?' Who the hell are you talkin' about?"

"I mean Longorio and his outfit. He's got her over yonder." Dave flung
out a trembling hand toward the river. Seeing that his hearer failed to
comprehend, he explained, swiftly: "He's crazy about her--got one of
those Mexican infatuations--and you know what that means. He couldn't
steal her from Las Palmas--she wouldn't have anything to do with
him--so he used that old cattle deal as an excuse to get her across the
border. Then he put Ed out of the way. She went of her own accord, and
she didn't tell Austin, because they were having trouble. She's gone to
La Feria, Blaze."

"La Feria! Then she's in for it."

Dave nodded his agreement; for the first time Blaze noted how white and
set was his friend's face.

"Longorio must have foreseen what was coming," Dave went on. "That
country's aflame; Americans aren't safe over there. If war is declared,
a good many of them will never be heard from. He knows that. He's got
her safe. She can't get out."

Blaze was very grave when next he spoke. "Dave, this is bad--bad. I
can't understand what made her go. Why, she must have been out of her
head. But we've got to do something. We've got to burn the wires to
Washington--yes, and to Mexico City. We must get the government to send
soldiers after her. God! What have we got 'em for, anyhow?"

"Washington won't do anything. What can be done when there are
thousands of American women in the same danger? What steps can the
government take, with the fleet on its way to Vera Cruz, with the army
mobilizing, and with diplomatic relations suspended? Those Greasers are
filling their jails with our people--rounding 'em up for the day of the
big break--and the State Department knows it. No, Longorio saw it all
coming--he's no fool. He's got her; she's in there--trapped."

Blaze took the speaker by the shoulder and faced him about. "Look
here," said he, "I'm beginnin' to get wise to you. I believe
you're--the man in the case." When Dave nodded, he vented his amazement
in a long whistle. After a moment he asked, "Well, why did you want me
to come here alone, ahead of the others?"

"Because I want you to know the whole inside of this thing so that you
can get busy when I'm gone; because I want to borrow what money you
have--"

"What you aimin' to pull off?" Blaze inquired, suspiciously.

"I'm going to find her and bring her out."

"You? Why, Dave, you can't get through. This is a job for the soldiers."

But Dave hardly seemed to hear him. "You must start things moving at
once," he said, urgently. "Spread the news, get the story into the
papers, notify the authorities. Get every influence at work, from here
to headquarters; get your Senator and the Governor of the state at
work. Ellsworth will help you. And now give me your last dollar."

Blaze emptied his pockets, shaking his shaggy head the while. "La Feria
is a hundred and fifty miles in," he remonstrated.

"By rail from Pueblo, yes. But it's barely a hundred, straight from
here."

"You 'ain't got a chance, single-handed. You're crazy to try it."

The effect of these words was startling, for Dave laughed harshly.
"'Crazy' is the word," he agreed. "It's a job for a lunatic, and that's
me. Yes, I've got bad blood in me, Blaze--bad blood--and I'm taking it
back where I got it. But listen!" He turned a sick, colorless face to
his friend. "They'll whittle a cross for Longorio if I do get through."
He called to Montrosa, and the mare came to him, holding her head to
one side so as not to tread upon her dragging reins.

"I'm 'most tempted to go with you," Blaze stammered, uncertainly.

"No. Somebody has to stay here and stir things up, If we had twenty men
like you we might cut our way in and out, but there's no time to
organize, and, anyhow, the government would probably stop us. I've got
a hunch that I'll make it. If I don't--why, it's all right."

The two men shook hands lingeringly, awkwardly; then Blaze managed to
wish his friend luck. "If you don't come back," he said, with a
peculiar catch in his voice, "I reckon there's enough good Texans left
to follow your trail. I'll sure look forward to it."

Dave took the river-bank to Sangre de Cristo, where, by means of the
dilapidated ferry, he gained the Mexican side. Once across, he rode
straight up toward the village of Romero. When challenged by an
under-sized soldier he merely spurred Montrosa forward, eyeing the
sentry so grimly that the man did no more than finger his rifle
uncertainly, cursing under his breath the overbearing airs of all
Gringos. Nor did the rider trouble to make the slightest detour, but
cantered the full length of Romero's dusty street, the target of more
than one pair of hostile eyes. To those who saw him, soldiers and
civilians alike, it was evident that this stranger had business, and no
one felt called upon to question its nature. There are men who carry an
air more potent than a bodyguard, and Dave Law was one of these. Before
the village had thoroughly awakened to his coming he was gone, without
a glance to the right or left, without a word to anyone.

When Romero was at his back he rode for a mile or two through a region
of tiny scattered farms and neglected garden patches, after which he
came out into the mesquite. For all the signs he saw, he might then
have been in the heart of a foreign country. Mexico had swallowed him.

As the afternoon heat subsided, Montrosa let herself out into a freer
gait and began to cover the distance rapidly, heading due west through
a land of cactus and dagger, of thorn and barb and bramble.

The roads were unfenced, the meadows desolate; the huts were frequently
untenanted. Ahead the sky burned splendidly, and the sunset grew more
brilliant, more dazzling, until it glorified the whole mean, thirsty,
cruel countryside.

Dave's eyes were set upon that riot of blazing colors, but for the time
it failed to thrill him. In that welter of changing hues and tints he
saw only red. Red! That was the color of blood; it stood for passion,
lust, violence; and it was a fitting badge of color for this land of
revolutions and alarms. At first he saw little else--except the hint of
black despair to follow. But there was gold in the sunset, too--the
yellow gold of ransom! That was Mexico--red and yellow, blood and gold,
lust and license. Once the rider's fancy began to work in this fashion,
it would not rest, and as the sunset grew in splendor he found in it
richer meanings. Red was the color of a woman's lips--yes, and a
woman's hair. The deepening blue of the high sky overhead was the hue
of a certain woman's eyes. A warm, soft breeze out of the west beat
into his face, and he remembered how warm and soft Alaire's breath had
been upon his cheek.

The woman of his desires was yonder, where those colors warred, and she
was mantled in red and gold and purple for his coming. The thought
aroused him; the sense of his unworthiness vanished, the blight fell
from him; he felt only a throbbing eagerness to see her and to take her
in his arms once more before the end.

With his head high and his face agleam, he rode into the west, into the
heart of the sunset.



XXVII

LA FERIA


"What's this I hear about war?" Dolores inquired of her mistress, a few
days after their arrival at La Feria. "They tell me that Mexico is
invaded and that the American soldiers have already killed more than a
thousand women and children."

"Who tells you this?" Alaire asked.

"The men--everybody," Dolores waved a hand in the direction of the
other ranch buildings. "Our people are buzzing like bees with the news,
and, of course, no one cares to work when the Americans are coming."

"I shall have to put an end to such talk."

"This morning the word came that the revolution is ended and that the
soldiers of both parties are uniting to fight for their liberties. They
say the Gringos are killing all the old people--every one, in fact,
except the girls, whom they take with them. Already they have begun the
most horrible practices. Why, at Espinal"--Dolores's eyes were
round--"would you believe it?--those Yankee soldiers ate a baby! They
roasted the little dear like a cabrito and ate it! I tell you, it makes
wild talk among the peladors."

"Do you believe such stories?" Alaire inquired, with some amusement.

"Um-m--not altogether. But, all the same, I think it is time we were
going home."

"This is home, for me, Dolores."

"Yes, but now that war--"

"There isn't any war, and there won't be any. However, if you are
nervous I'll send you back to Las Palmas at once."

"Glory of God! It would be the end of me. These Mexicans would
recognize me instantly as an American, for I have the appearance and
the culture. You can imagine what would happen to me. They would tear
me from the train. It was nothing except General Longorio's soldiers
that brought us safely through from Nuevo Pueblo."

"Then I'm glad that he insisted upon sending them with us. Now tell the
ranch-hands to put no faith in these ridiculous stories. If they wish
the truth let them ask General Longorio; he will be here today and
quiet their fears."

"You think he intends to pay us for our cattle?"

"Yes."

Dolores pondered a moment. "Well, perhaps he does--it is not his money.
For that matter, he would give all Mexico if you asked it. Tse! His
love consumes him like a fever."

Alaire stirred uneasily; then she rose and went to an open window,
which looked out into the tiny patio with its trickling fountain and
its rank, untended plants. "Why do you insist that he loves me?" she
asked. "All Mexicans are gallant and pay absurd compliments. It's just
a way they have. He has never spoken a word that could give offense."
As Dolores said nothing, she went on, hesitatingly, "I can't very well
refuse to see him, for I don't possess even a receipt to show that he
took those cattle."

"Oh, you must not offend him," Dolores agreed, hastily, "or we'd never
leave Mexico alive." With which cheering announcement the housekeeper
heaved a deep sigh and went about her duties with a gloomy face.

Longorio arrived that afternoon, and Alaire received him in the great
naked living room of the hacienda, with her best attempt at formality.
But her coolness served not in the least to chill his fervor.

"Señora," he cried, eagerly, "I have a thousand things to tell you,
things of the greatest importance. They have been upon my tongue for
hours, but now that I behold you I grow drunk with delight and my lips
frame nothing but words of admiration for your beauty. So! I feast my
eyes." He retained his warm clasp of her fingers, seeming to envelop
her uncomfortably with his ardor.

"What is it you have to tell me?" she asked him, withdrawing her hand.

"Well, I hardly know where to begin--events have moved so swiftly, and
such incredible things have happened. Even now I am in a daze, for
history is being made every hour--history for Mexico, for you, and for
me. I bring you good news and bad news; something to startle you and
set your brain in a whirl. I planned to send a messenger ahead of me,
and then I said: 'No, this is a crisis; therefore no tongue but mine
shall apprise her, no hand but mine shall comfort her. Only a coward
shrinks from the unpleasant; I shall lighten her distress and awaken in
her breast new hope, new happiness'--"

"What do you mean?" Alaire inquired, sharply. "You say you bring bad
news?"

The general nodded. "In a way, terrible, shocking! And yet I look
beyond the immediate and see in it a blessing. So must you. To me it
spells the promise of my unspoken longings, my whispered prayers."
Noting his hearer's growing bewilderment, he laid a hand familiarly
upon her arm. "No matter how I tell you, it will be a blow, for death
is always sudden; it always finds us unprepared."

"Death? Who--is dead?"

"Restrain yourself. Allow for my clumsiness."

"Who? Please tell me?"

"Some one very close to you and very dear to you at one time. My
knowledge of your long unhappiness alone gives me courage to speak."

Alaire raised her fluttering fingers to her throat; her eyes were wide
as she said: "You don't mean--Mr. Austin?"

"Yes." Longorio scrutinized her closely, as if to measure the effect of
his disclosure. "Señora, you are free!"

Alaire uttered a breathless exclamation; then, feeling his gaze burning
into her, turned away, but not before he had noted her sudden pallor,
the blanching of her lips.

This unexpected announcement dazed her; it scattered her thoughts and
robbed her of words, but just what her dominant emotion was at the
moment she could not tell. Once her first giddiness had passed,
however, once the truth had borne in upon her, she found that she felt
no keen anguish, and certainly no impulse to weep. Rather she
experienced a vague horror, such as the death of an acquaintance or of
a familiar relative might evoke. Ed had been anything but a true
husband, and her feeling now was more for the memory of the man he had
been, for the boy she had known and loved, than for the man whose name
she bore. So he was gone and, as Longorio said, she was free. It meant
much. She realized dimly that in this one moment her whole life had
changed. She had never thought of this way out of her embarrassments;
she had been prepared, in fact, for anything except this. Dead! It was
deplorable, for Ed was young. Once the first shock had passed away, she
became conscious of a deep pity for the man, and a complete forgiveness
for the misery he had caused her. After a time she faced the
newsbearer, and in a strained voice inquired:

"How did it happen? Was it--because of me?"

"No, no! Rest your mind on that score. See! I understand your concern
and I share your intimate thoughts. No, it was an accident, ordained by
God. His end was the result of his own folly, a gunshot wound while he
was drunk, I believe. Now you will understand why I said that I bore
tidings both good and evil and why I, of all people, should be the one
to impart them."

Alaire turned questioning eyes upon him, as if to fathom his meaning,
and he answered her with his brilliant smile. Failing to evoke a
response, he went on:

"Ever since I heard of it I have repeated over and over again, 'It is a
miracle; it is the will of God.' Come, then, we know each other so well
that we may speak frankly. Let us be honest and pretend to no
counterfeit emotions. Let us recognize in this only your deliverance
and the certainty of that blessed happiness which Divine Providence
offers us both."

"Both?" she repeated, dully.

"Need I be plainer? You know my heart. You have read me. You understand
how I have throttled my longings and remained mute while all my being
called to you."

Alaire withdrew a step, and her cheeks colored with anger. "General!"
she exclaimed, with some difficulty, "I am amazed. This is no time--"
Her indignation rose with the sound of her own voice, causing her to
stammer.

Taking advantage of her loss of words, he hurried on: "You must pardon
my impetuosity, but I am a man of tremendous force, and my life moves
swiftly. I am not shackled by conventions--they are less than nothing
to me. If it seems to you that my eagerness carries me away, remember
that war is upon us and that affairs of moment press me so that I am
compelled to move like the lightning. With me, señora, a day is a year.
The past is gone, the present is here, the future rushes forward to
meet us."

"Indeed, you forget yourself," she said, warmly. Then, changing her
tone: "I too must act quickly. I must go back at once."

"Oh, but I have told you only a part of what I came to say."

"Surely the rest can wait." Her voice was vibrant with contempt. "I'm
in no condition to listen to anything else."

But Longorio insisted. "Wait! It is impossible for you to leave here."

Alaire stared at him incredulously.

"It is true. Mexico is a seething caldron of hate; the country is
convulsed. It would be unsafe for you."

"Do you mean to say that war has been declared?"

"Practically."

"What--? You are telling me the truth?" A moment, then Alaire
continued, more calmly, "If that is so, there is all the more reason
why I should lose no time."

"Listen!" The general was deeply in earnest. "You have no conception of
the chaos out there." He waved a comprehensive gesture. "If the
explosion has not come, it will come within a few hours. That is why I
flew to your side. Battleships are hurrying toward our coast, troops
are massing against our border, and Mexico has risen like one man. The
people are in a frenzy; they are out of bounds; there is sack and
pillage in the cities. Americans are objects of violence everywhere and
the peons are frantic." He paused impressively. "We face the greatest
upheaval of history."

"Then why are you here?" Alaire demanded. "This is no place for you at
such a moment."

Longorio came closer to her, and his voice trembled as he said: "Angel
of my soul, my place is at your side." Again she recoiled, but with a
fervor he had never dared display he rushed on heedlessly. "I have told
you I harken only to my heart; that for one smile from you I would
behead myself; that for your favor I would betray my fatherland; that
for your kiss I would face damnation. Well, I am here at your side. The
deluge comes, but you shall be unharmed." He would not permit her to
check him, crying: "Wait! You must hear me through, señora, so that you
may comprehend fully why I am forced to speak at this time. Out of this
coming struggle I shall emerge a heroic figure. Now that Mexico unites,
she will triumph, and of all her victorious sons the name of Luis
Longorio will be sung the loudest, for upon him more than upon any
other depends the Republic's salvation. I do not boast. I merely state
facts, for I have made all my plans, and tomorrow I put them into
effect. That is why I cannot wait to speak. The struggle will be long,
but you shall be my guiding star in the hour of darkness."

Under other circumstances the man's magnificent egotism might have
provoked a smile. And yet, for all its grandiloquence, there was
something in his speech that rang hard and true. Unquestionably
Longorio was dangerous--a real personality, and no mere swaggering
pretender. Alaire felt a certain reluctant respect for him, and at the
same time a touch of chilling fear such as she had hardly experienced
before. She faced him silently for a moment; then she said:

"Am I to understand that you forbid me to leave my own house?"

"For the time being, exactly."

"What? Then I am your prisoner!"

"No, no!" He made a gesture of denial. "How ridiculous! I merely keep
you from certain destruction. You cannot go by train, because the
railroad has suspended public service, nor can you ride or drive. I
tell you, señora, the people are aroused. For the moment you must
accept my protection, whether you wish to or not. Tomorrow"--Longorio
smiled warmly, meaningly-"perhaps you will not be in such haste to
refuse it, or to leave La Feria. Wait until you understand me better.
Then--But enough of this. You are unstrung, you wish to be alone with
your thoughts, and what I have to say can wait for a few hours. In the
mean time, may I beg the hospitality of your ranch for myself and my
men?"

Alaire acquiesced mechanically. Longorio saluted her fingers in his
customary manner, and then, with a look eloquent of things unsaid, he
went out to see to the comfort of his command.

Alaire sank into the nearest chair, her nerves quivering, her mind in a
turmoil. This Mexican was detestable, and he was far from being the
mere maker of audaciously gallant speeches, the poetically fervent
wooer of every pretty woman, she had blindly supposed him. His was no
sham ardor; the man was hotly, horribly in earnest. There had been a
glint of madness in his eyes. And he actually seemed to think that she
shared his infatuation. It was intolerable. Yet Longorio, she was sure,
had an abundance of discretion; he would not dare to offer her
violence. He had pride, too; and in his way he was something of a
gentleman. So far, she had avoided giving him offense. But if once she
made plain to him how utterly loathsome to her was his pursuit, she was
sure that he would cease to annoy her. Alaire was self-confident,
strong-willed; she took courage.

Her thoughts turned from her fears to the amazing reality of her
widowhood. Even yet she could not wholly credit the fact that Ed's
wasted life had come to an end and that she was free to make the most
of her own. Alaire remembered her husband now with more tenderness,
more charity, than she would have believed possible, and it seemed to
her pitiful that one so blessed with opportunity should have worked
such havoc with himself and with those near to him.

Doubtless it was all a part of some providential scheme, too blind for
her to solve. Perhaps, indeed, her own trials had been designed to the
end that her greater, truer love, when it did come, would find her
ripe, responsive, ready. As for this Mexican general, she would put him
in his place.

Alaire was still walking the floor of her chamber when Dolores entered,
at dusk, to say that supper was ready and that General Longorio was
waiting.

"Ask him to excuse me," she told her servant.

But Longorio himself spoke from the next room, saying: "Señora, I beg
of you to honor me. I have much of importance to say, and time presses.
Control your grief and give me the pleasure of your company."

After an instant's consideration Alaire yielded. It was best to have
the matter over with, once for all.



XXVIII

THE DOORS OF PARADISE


Alaire began the mockery of playing hostess with extreme distaste, and
as the meal progressed she experienced a growing uneasiness. Longorio's
bearing had changed since his arrival. He was still extravagantly
courteous, beautifully attentive; he maintained a flow of conversation
that relieved her of any effort, and yet he displayed a repressed
excitement that was disturbing. In his eyes there was a gloating look
of possession hard to endure. Despite her icy formality, he appeared to
be holding himself within the bounds of propriety only by an effort of
will, and she was not surprised when, at the conclusion of the meal, he
cast restraint aside.

She did not let him go far with his wooing before warning him: "I won't
listen to you. You are a man of taste; you must realize how offensive
this is."

"Let us not deceive each other," he insisted. "We are alone. Let us be
honest. Do not ask me to put faith in your grief. I find my excuse in
the extraordinary nature of this situation."

"Nothing can excuse indelicacy," she answered, evenly. "You transgress
the commonest rules of decency."

But he was impatient. "What sentiment! You did not love your husband.
You were for years his prisoner. Through the bars of your prison I saw
and loved you. Dios! The first sight of your face altered the current
of my life. I saw heaven in your eyes, and I have dreamed of nothing
else ever since. Well, Providence opened the doors and set you free;
God gave heed to my prayers and delivered you to me. Now you pretend to
grieve at your deliverance; you ask me to respect the memory of your
jailer! Decency? Delicacy? What are they except artificialities, which
vanish in times of stress? Alexander the Great, Caesar, Napoleon,
Porfirio Diaz--they were strong, purposeful men; they lived as I live.
Señora, you dally with love."

Alaire's face was white with anger as she replied: "You cause me to
forget that you are my guest. Are you the man I considered you or the
man you are reported to be?"

"Eh?"

"Are you the gentleman, the friend, you pretended to be, or--the vandal
whom no woman can trust? You treat me as if you were my jailer. What do
you mean? What kind of man are you to take advantage of my bereavement?"

After a moment's consideration Longorio began haltingly: "I don't know
what kind of man I am, for you have changed me so. There was a
time--I--I have done things--I have scorned all restraint, all laws
except those of my desires, and so, perhaps, I am a vandal. Make sure
of this, however--I shall not injure you. Christ is no more sacred to
me than you, my heart's treasure. You accuse me of indelicacy because I
lack the strength to smother my admiration. I adore you; my being
dissolves, my veins are afire with longing for you; I am mad with the
knowledge that you are mine. Mad? Caramba! I am insane; my mind
totters; I grope my way like a man blinded by a dazzling light; I
suffer agonies. But see! I refuse to touch you. I am a giant in my
restraint. The strength of heroes is mine, and I strangle my impulses
as they are born, although the effort kills me. Señora, I await the
moment of your voluntary surrender. I wait for you." He extended his
arms, and Alaire saw that his olive features were distorted with
emotion; that his hands, his whole thin, high-strung body were shaking
uncontrollably.

She could summon no coherent words.

"You believed I was a hawk and would seize you, eh?" he queried. "Is
that why you continue to shrink? Well, let me tell you something, if my
tongue will frame the thoughts in my mind. My passion is so deep and so
sacred that I would not be content with less than all of you. Your lips
would not satisfy mine unless they were hot with love, your kisses wet
with desire. I must have you all, and so I wait, trembling. I say this
so badly that I doubt if you understand. Listen, then: to possess you
by force would be--well, as if I sacked a cathedral of its golden
images and expected to gain heaven by clutching the Madonna in my arms.
Señora, in you I see the priceless jewel of my life, which I shall wear
to dazzle the world, and without which I shall destroy myself. Now let
me tell you what I can offer you, what setting I can build for this
treasure. Marriage with Luis Longorio--"

Alaire could not control a start.

As if quickened by his intensity, the man read her thought. "You did
not imagine that I offered you anything less?"

"What was I to think? Your reputation--"

"Mother of God!" breathed the general. "So! That is what you meant a
moment ago. That is why you refuse my embraces. No, no! Other women
have feared me and I have laughed in their hair as they tore at my
arms, but you--you will be my wife, and all Mexico shall bow at your
feet." He checked her denial with a gesture. "Wait until I tell you the
vision I have seen during these days of my despair. I see Mexico made
whole by my hands; a land of peace and plenty; a people with one name
upon their lips--the name of Longorio the Deliverer; and you as the
first lady of them all. You know me for a man of tremendous ability in
every line. Well, I know myself, too. I have measured myself carefully,
and I have no weakness. There is no other like me. Pancho Gomez? Bah!
He is a red-handed bandit of no culture. Candeleria, his chief? The
idol of the ignorant and a dreamer of no force. Potosi? He is President
today, but what of tomorrow? Those who surround him are weaklings, and
he stumbles toward oblivion. Who will succeed him? Who will issue from
the coming struggle as the dominant figure of Mexico? Who but that
military genius who checks the Yankee hordes and saves the fatherland?
I am he. Fate points the path of glory and I am her man of destiny. You
see, then, what I bring you--power, position, riches. Riches? Caramba!
Wait until my hands are in the treasury. I will load you with gold and
jewels, and I will make you the richest woman in the world. Señora, I
offer you dominion. I offer you the President's palace and Chapultepec.
And with all that I offer you such passionate love as no woman of
history ever possessed."

He paused, spent by the force of his own intensity; it was plain that
he expected an immediate surrender.

Alaire's lips parted in the faintest of mocking smiles. "You have great
confidence in yourself," she said.

"Yes. I know myself as no one knows me."

"Why do you think I care for you?"

Longorio's eyes opened. His expression plainly showed that he could not
imagine any woman in her senses failing to adore him.

"Don't you take much for granted?" Alaire insisted.

The Mexican shook his head. Then his face lightened. "Ah! Now I see.
Your modesty forbids you to acknowledge your love--is that it? Well, I
know that you admire me, for I can see it. All women admire me, and
they all end by loving me." His chest arched imperceptibly; with a
slender finger he delicately smoothed his black eyebrows. Alaire felt a
wild impulse to laugh, but was glad she had subdued it when he
continued: "I am impetuous, but impetuosity has made me what I am. I
act, and then mold fate to suit my own ends. Opportunity has delivered
to me my heart's desire, and I will not be cheated out of it. Among the
men I brought with me to La Feria is a priest. He is dirty, for I
caught him as he was fleeing toward the border; but he is a priest, and
he will marry us tonight."

Alaire managed to gasp, "Surely you are not in earnest."

"Indeed I am! That is why I insisted that you dine with me this
evening. I cannot waste more time here, for necessity calls me away.
You shall go as my wife."

"Do you think I would remarry on the very day I find myself a widow?"

"The world will never know."

"You dare to say that!" Her tone was one of disgust, of finality. "I
wonder how I have listened to so much. It is horrible."

"You are still a little hysterical, and you exaggerate. If I had more
time I could afford to wait." He ogled her with his luminous gaze. "I
would let you play with me to your heart's content and exercise your
power until you tired and were ready to surrender."

Alaire raised her head proudly, her nostrils dilated, her eyes ablaze
with hostility. "This is very humiliating, but you force me to tell you
that I hate you."

Longorio was incredulous rather than offended. He drew himself up to
his full height and smiled, saying, "That is impossible." Then,
ignoring her impatience: "Come! You cannot deceive me. The priest is
waiting."

When Alaire spoke next it was with an expression and with a tone of
such loathing that his yellow face paled "Your conceit is
insufferable," she breathed.

After a brief struggle with himself, the Mexican cried, hoarsely: "I
will not be refused. You wish me to tame you, eh? Good! You have found
your master. Make your choice, then. Which shall it be, surrender
or--compulsion?"

"So! You have been lying, as I thought. Compulsion! Now the real
Longorio speaks."

He flung up his hands as if to ward off her fury. "No? Have I not made
myself clear? I shall embrace you only with the arms of a husband, for
this is not the passion of a moment, but of a lifetime, and I have
myself to consider. The wife of Mexico's next President must be above
reproach; there must be no scandal, no secrets hidden away for enemies
to unearth. She must stand before the people as a perfect woman; she
must lend prestige to his name. When I speak of compulsion, then, I
mean the right of a husband--"

Alaire uttered an exclamation of disgust and turned away, but he
intercepted her, saying: "You cannot hold me at bay. It is destiny. You
shall be mine tonight. Think a moment! We are alone in the heart of a
country lacking in every law but mine. Your friends do not know where
you are, and, even if they knew, they could not help you. Your nation's
protest would avail nothing. Outside of these walls are enemies who
will not let you leave this house except under the protection of my
name."

"Then I shall never leave it," she told him.

For the first time Longorio spoke roughly: "I lose patience. In God's
name have I not waited long enough? My strength is gone." Impulsively
he half encircled her with his thin arms, but she seemed armored with
ice, and he dropped them. She could hear him grind his teeth. "I dare
not lay hands upon you," he chattered. "Angel of my dreams, I am faint
with longing. To love you and yet to be denied; to feel myself aflame
and yet to see you cold; to be halted at the very doors of Paradise!
What torture!"

The fellow's self-control in the midst of his frenzy frightened Alaire
more than did his wildest avowals; it was in something of a panic that
she said:

"One moment you tell me I am safe, the next you threaten me. You say I
am free, and yet you coerce me. Prove your love. Let me go--" "No! No!
I shall call the priest."

Longorio turned toward the door, but halfway across the floor he was
halted by a woman's shriek which issued from somewhere inside the
house. It was repeated. There was an outburst in a masculine voice,
then the patter of footsteps approaching down the tiled hallway.
Dolores burst into her mistress's presence, her face blanched, her hair
disordered. She flung herself into Alaire's arms, crying:

"Señora! Save me! God's curse on the ruffian. Oh--"

"Dolores!" Alaire exclaimed. "What has happened?"

Longorio demanded, irritably: "Yes. Why are you yelling like this:"'

"A man--See I One of those dirty peladors. Look where he tore my dress!
I warned him, but he was like a tiger. Benito will kill me when he
learns--"

"Calm yourself. Speak sensibly. Tell me what happened."

"One of those miserable soldiers who came today--pig!" Dolores was
shaking, her voice was shrill. "He followed me. He has been drinking.
He followed me about like a cat, purring and grinning and saying the
most horrible things. Just now, when I went to your room, he was
waiting in the darkness and he seized me. God! It was dreadful."

"A soldier? One of my men?" Longorio was incredulous.

Alaire turned upon him with a blazing anger in her face. "Is this more
of your protection?" she stormed. "I give you and your men the freedom
of my ranch, and you insult me while they assault my women."

He ignored her accusation, inquiring of the elder woman, "Who was the
fellow?"

"How do I know," Dolores sobbed. "He is a--a thick, black fellow with a
scar on his lip, like a snarl."

"Felipe!"

"Yes, Felipe! I believe they called him that."

Longorio strode to the end of the livingroom, flung open the wooden
shutters of a window and, leaning far out, whistled sharply on his
fingers.

"Oiga! Teniente! Ho, you fellows!" he shouted.

From the darkness a voice answered; a man, evidently on guard, came
running.

"Call old Pancho," the general directed. "Tell him to bring me black
Felipe, the fellow with the torn lip. Quick!"

"Yes, general," came the voice; then the metallic rattle of spurs and
accoutrements as the sentry trotted away.

Dolores had completely broken down now, and Alaire was trying to
comfort her. Their guest remained by the window, frowning. After a time
there sounded a murmur of voices, then a shuffling of feet in the hall;
Alaire's friend, the old lieutenant, appeared in the doorway, saluting.
Behind him were several others.

"Here is Felipe," he announced.

"Bring him in."

A sullen, frowning man in soiled uniform was pushed forward, and
Dolores hid her face against her mistress's shoulder.

"Is this the fellow?" Longorio inquired.

Dolores nodded.

"Well, what have you to say for yourself?" The general transfixed his
trooper with a stare; then, as the latter seemed bereft of his voice,
"Why did you enter this house?"

Felipe moistened his scarred lips. "That woman is--nice and clean.
She's not so old, either, when you come to look at her." He grinned at
his comrades, who had crowded in behind old Pancho.

"So! Let us go outside and learn more about this." Longorio waved his
men before him and followed them out of the room and down the hall and
into the night.

When a moment or two had dragged past, Dolores quavered. "What are they
going to do with him?"

"I don't know. Anyhow, you need not fear--"

There sounded the report of a gunshot, deadened indeed by the thick
adobe walls of the house, yet sudden and loud enough to startle the
women.

When Longorio reappeared he found Alaire standing stiff and white
against the wall, with Dolores kneeling, her face still buried in her
mistress's gown.

"Give yourself no concern," he told them, quickly. "I beg a thousand
pardons for Felipe. Henceforth no one will molest you."

"Was that a--shot?" Alaire inquired faintly.

"Yes. It is all settled."

"You killed him?"

The general nodded. "Purely for the sake of discipline--one has to be
firm. Now your woman is badly frightened. Send her away so that we may
reach an understanding."

"Oh-h! This is frightful," Alaire gasped. "I can't talk to you. Go--Let
me go."

The man pondered for an instant. "Perhaps that would be better," he
agreed, reluctantly, "for I see you, too, are unstrung. Very well! My
affairs will have to wait. Take a few hours to think over what I have
told you. When you have slept you will feel differently about me. You
will meet me with a smile, eh?" He beamed hopefully.

"Sleep? You expect me to sleep?"

"Please," he begged. "Beauty is like a delicate flower, and sleep is
the dew that freshens it. Believe me, you can rest in all security, for
no one can come or go without my consent. You are cruel to postpone my
delight; nevertheless, I yield to your feelings. But, star of my life,
I shall dream of you, and of that little priest who waits with the key
of Paradise in his hands."

He bowed over Alaire's cold fingers, then stood erect until she and
Dolores had gone.



XXIX

THE PRIEST FROM MONCLOVA


That was a night of terror for the women. Although Longorio's
discipline was in some ways strict, in others it was extremely lax.
From some quarter his men had secured a supply of mescal, and,
forgetful of Felipe's unhappy fate, they rendered the hours hideous.
There were singing and quarreling, and a shot or two sounded from the
direction of the outbuildings. Morning found both Alaire and Dolores
sadly overwrought. But they felt some relief upon learning that the
general had been unexpectedly summoned from his bed at daylight, and
had ridden to the telegraph office.

Profiting by his absence, Alaire ventured from her room, racking her
brain to devise some means of escape. But soldiers were everywhere;
they lolled around the servants' quarters; they dozed in the shade of
the ranch buildings, recovering from the night's debauch; and an armed
sentinel who paced the hacienda road gave evidence that, despite their
apparent carelessness, they had by no means relaxed their vigilance. A
round of the premises convinced Alaire that the place was effectually
guarded, and showed her the futility of trying to slip away. She
realized, too, that even if she managed to do so, her plight would be
little better. For how could she hope to cover the hundred miles
between La Feria and the Rio Grande when every peon was an enemy?

She was standing in one of the open, sashless windows when her former
protector, the old lieutenant, bade her good morning and paused to
smoke a cigarette.

"Well, it was a great night, wasn't it?" he began. "And we have great
news this morning. We are going to fight you gringos."

"I hope not."

"Yes; it will probably go hard with you. Tell me, this city of
Washington is a fine city, and very rich, is it not?"

"Oh yes."

"It's full of loot, eh? Especially the President's palace? That is
good. One can never believe all one hears."

"Why do you ask?" Alaire was curious.

"I was thinking it would pay us to go there. If your soldiers march
upon Mexico City, it would be a brilliant piece of strategy for General
Longorio to invade the United States, would it not? It would be funny
to capture Washington and hold your President for ransom, eh?"

"Very funny," Alaire agreed, dryly. "How would you go about it?"

Pancho shrugged. "That is the trouble. We would have to march around
Texas, I presume."

"Around Texas?"

"Yes. You see, Texas is a bad country; it is full of--barbarians who
know how to fight. If it were not for Texas we would have the United
States at our mercy." After some consideration he ventured this
opinion: "We could afford to pay the Texans for allowing us to ride
through their country, provided we stole nothing and paid for the
cattle we ate. Well, Longorio is a great one for schemes; he is talking
over the telegraph with somebody at this moment. Perhaps it is the
President of Texas."

"You are a poor man, are you not?" Alaire inquired.

"Miserably poor."

"Would you like to make a great deal of money?"

"Dios! That is why I'm a soldier."

"I will pay you well to get me two horses--"

But old Pancho shook his head vigorously. "Impossible! General Longorio
is going to marry you. We all got drunk last night to celebrate the
wedding. Yes, and the priest is waiting."

"I will make you rich."

"Ho! I wouldn't live to spend a single peso. Felipe disobeyed orders,
and the general shot him before he could cross himself. Boom! The poor
fellow was in hell in a minute. No. We will all be rich after we win a
few battles and capture some American cities. I am an old man; I shall
leave the drinking and the women to the young fellows, and prepare for
my old age."

Seeing that she could not enlist Pancho's aid, Alaire begged him to
fetch the priest.

"You wish spiritual comfort, señora?"

"Perhaps."

"Well, he doesn't look like much of a priest, but probably he will do.
As for me, I don't believe in such things. Churches are all very well
for ignorant people, but we Mexicans are too intelligent; we are making
an end of them."

The priest was a small, white-haired man with a gentle, almost timid
face, and at the moment when he appeared before Alaire he was in
anything but a happy frame of mind. He had undergone, he told her, a
terrible experience. His name was O'Malley. He had come from Monclova,
whence the Rebels had banished him under threat of death. He had seen
his church despoiled of its valuables, his school closed; he himself
had managed to escape only by a miracle. During his flight toward the
border he had suffered every indignity, and finally Longorio had
intercepted him and brought him here, practically in chains.

"What a situation! What chaos!" he lamented. "The land is overrun with
bandits; there is no law, no authority, no faith; religion is made a
mockery. The men are becoming infidels and atheists, and in many places
they will not allow us to give comfort even to their women."

"Is it as bad as that?"

Father O'Malley shook his head sadly. "You've no idea. What do you
think of a people who forbid the mention of God's name in their
schools? That is what the revolutionists are doing. Candeleria claims
that the churches are the property of the State. He confiscates them,
and he charges admission. He has banished all except a few of us
priests, and has shamefully persecuted our Sisters of Mercy. Oh, the
outrages! Mexico is, today, the blackest spot on the map of
Christendom." His voice broke. "That is the freedom, the liberty, the
democracy, for which they are fighting. That is the new Mexico. And the
Federals are not a bit better. This Longorio, for instance,
this--wolf--he brings me here, as his prisoner, to solemnize an unholy
marriage! He treats me like a dog. Last night I slept in a filthy
hovel--"

"Oh! I'm sorry," Alaire exclaimed. "But I'm half crazed with my own
troubles. You must come into the house; the best I have is yours. You
shall be as much my guest as I can make you, and--perhaps you will help
me to escape."

"Escape?" The little man smiled mournfully. "You are watched and
guarded, and so am I. Even if you got away from here, what then? You
can't imagine the condition of the country."

"I won't marry him!" Alaire cried, with a shudder. "I won't!"

"He can't very well force you to do so. But remember, these are war
times; the man is a fiend, and he puts no restraint upon his desires.
If he is madly bent on having you, how can you prevent it? In normal
times he would not dare injure one so prominent as you, but now--"
Father O'Malley lifted his hands. "I only wonder that he suggests a
lawful marriage. Suppose you refuse? Will he not sacrifice you to his
passions? He has done worse things." After a moment's consideration he
said: "Of course it is possible that I misjudge him. Anyhow, if you
desire me to do so I will refuse to perform the ceremony. But--I'm
afraid it will just mean ruin for both of us."

"Surely he wouldn't harm you?"

The Father shrugged. "What am I? An obscure priest. Many of my brothers
are buried in Mexico. However, I shall do as you wish."

As the day wore on Alaire realized even more clearly the fact that she
was Longorio's prisoner. His men, in spite of their recent debauch,
kept a very good watch over her, and it was plain that they would obey
his orders, no matter how extreme. It occurred to her finally that he
was staying away purposely, in order to give her a fuller appreciation
of her position--so that she might beat her wings against the cage
until exhausted.

Afternoon came, then evening, and still Longorio did not return, Father
O'Malley could give scant comfort; Dolores was a positive trial.

Half distracted, Alaire roamed through the house, awaiting her captor's
coming, steeling herself for their final battle. But the delay was
trying; she longed for the crisis to come, that this intolerable
suspense might be ended. At such an hour her thoughts naturally turned
to Dave Law, and she found herself yearning for him with a yearning
utterly new. His love had supported her through those miserable days at
Las Palmas, but now it was a torture; she called his name wildly,
passionately. He knew her whereabouts and her peril--why did he not
come? Then, more calmly, she asked herself what he, or what any one,
could do for her. How could she look for succor when two nations were
at war?

Night had come before she finally gave up and acknowledged the
hopelessness of her situation. She had fought bravely, but with
darkness her fears grew blacker. She was on the verge of her first
breakdown when, in the early dusk outside, she heard voices and the
stamping of horses' hoofs. The sounds were muffled by the heavy wooden
shutters she had taken pains to close and bar, but they told her that
Longorio had returned. Since it was futile to deny him entrance, she
waited where she was. Old Pancho's voice sounded outside; then there
came a knock upon the door of the room in which she stood.

"Come in," she said, tensely.

The lieutenant thrust his head in and, removing his hat, announced,
"There is someone here to see General Longorio on important business.
He says you will do."

"I?"

"Yes. He says he is one of us--"

Pancho was pushed aside, the door was flung back, and a man strode
swiftly into the lamplight. He paused, blinking as if momentarily
blinded, and Alaire clutched at the nearest chair for support. A
roaring began in her ears; she felt herself sway forward as if the
strength had left her knees. She heard Dave's voice faintly; he was
saying:

"Take care of my horse. Feed and water her well. Understand? When
General Longorio comes tell him I am waiting here."

As if in a dream, Alaire saw the Mexican go out, closing the door
behind him. Then she saw Dave come toward her, heard him speak her
name, felt his arms around her.

Alaire did not swoon, but she never could remember very distinctly
those first few moments. Scarcely knowing what she did, she found
herself clinging to her lover, laughing, weeping, feeling him over with
shaking hands that would not be convinced of his reality. She was aware
of his kisses upon her lips, her eyes, her hair; he was saying
something which she could not understand because of that roaring in her
ears.

"You heard me calling," she told him at last. "Oh, I was--so
frightened!" She clung closer to him. After a time she discovered that
she was mechanically nodding and shaking her head at the questions he
was putting to her, but had only the vaguest idea what they were. By
and by she began to tell him about Longorio, speaking in a sort of
hypnotic murmur, as if her words issued at his mental suggestion. And
all the time she snuggled against his breast.

"Dearest!" Dave held her away in gentle hands. "I was afraid you'd go
to pieces like this, but I had to break through the best way I could. I
learned you were here and something about what was going on from the
people at the next ranch. But I expected to find HIM here, too."

"How did you manage to get here?"

"I hardly know. I just wouldn't let 'em stop me. This lieutenant
wouldn't let me in until I told him I was from Monterey with important
news. I don't remember all I did tell him. I tried to get here last
night, but I had trouble. They caught me, and I had to buy my way
through. I've bribed and bullied and lied clear from Romero. I reckon
they couldn't imagine I'd risk being here if I wasn't a friend."

It was more Dave's tone than his words that roused Alaire to an
appreciation of what he said.

"Are you alone?" she asked, in vague dismay. "Then what are we going to
do?"

"I don't know yet. My plans ended here."

"Dave! You rode in just to find me! Just to be with me?"

"Yes. And to get HIM." Alaire saw his face twitch, and realized that it
was very haggard, very old and tired. "They lifted my guns--a bunch of
fellows at the Rio Negro crossing. Some of them were drunk and wouldn't
believe I was an amigo. So I finally had to ride for it."

"Can't you take me away?" she asked, faintly. "What will you do
when--he comes?"

"I reckon I'll manage him somehow." His grip upon her tightened
painfully, and she could feel him tremble. "I was afraid I wouldn't
find you. I--O God, Alaire!" He buried his face in her hair.

"I had a terrible scene with him last night. He insists upon marrying
me. I--I was hoping you'd come."

"How could I, when nobody knew where you were?"

"Didn't you know? I wrote you." He shook his head. "Then how did you
learn?"

"From José. I caught him within an hour of the murder, and made him
tell me everything."

Alaire's eyes dilated; she held herself away, saying, breathlessly:
"Murder! Is that what it was? He--Longorio--told me something quite
different."

"Naturally. It was he who hired José to do the shooting."

"Oh-h!" Alaire hid her face in her hands. She looked up again quickly,
however, and her cheeks were white. "Then he won't spare you, Dave."
She choked for an instant. "We must get away before he comes. There
must be some way of escape. Think!"

"I'm pretty tired to think. I'm pretty near played out," he confessed.

"They're watching me, but they'd let you go."

"Now that I'm here I'm going to stay until--"

She interrupted, crying his name loudly, "Dave!"

"Yes. What is it?"

"Wait! Let me think." She closed her eyes; her brows drew together as
if in the labor of concentration. When she lifted her lids her eyes
were alight, her voice was eager. "I know how. I see it. He won't
dare--But you must do what I tell you."

"Of course."

"No questions. Understand?"

When he nodded impatiently she ran to the door and, flinging it open,
called down the hall:

"Father! Father O'Malley! Quick!" Then she summoned Dolores.

The priest answered; he hurried from his room and, with a dazed lack of
comprehension, acknowledged his swift introduction to Dave. Alaire was
keenly alive and vibrant with purpose now. Dolores, too, came running,
and while the men were exchanging greetings her mistress murmured
something in her ear, then hastened her departure with a quick push.
Turning upon the others, Alaire explained:

"I've sent for some of the women, and they'll be here in a minute.
Father, this man has come for me. He loves me. Will you marry us,
before Longorio arrives?"

"Alaire!" Dave exclaimed.

She stilled him with a gesture. "Quick! Will you?"

Father O'Malley was bewildered. "I don't understand," he expostulated.

"Nor I," echoed Dave.

"You don't need to understand. I know what I'm doing. I've thought of a
way to save us all."

Through Dave's mind flashed the memory of that thing which had haunted
him and made his life a nightmare. An incoherent refusal was upon his
lips, but Alaire's face besought him; it was shining with a strange,
new ecstasy, and he could not bring himself to deny her. Of what her
plan consisted he had only the dimmest idea, but he assured himself
that it could by no possibility succeed. After all, what did it matter?
he asked himself. They were trapped. This might serve, somehow, to
cheat Longorio, and--Alaire would be his wife.

"Very well," he stammered, weakly. "What are you thinking of?"

"I haven't thought it all out yet, but--"

At that moment Dolores returned, bringing with her the three
black-haired, black-shawled house servants, bundling them through the
door and ranging them along the wall.

Father O'Malley's face was puckered; he said, hesitatingly: "My dear
madam, this isn't regular; you are not Catholics. How can I bless you?"

"You can marry us legally, just the same, can't you?" Alaire was
breathing rapidly, and some part of her eagerness began to thrill her
hearers.

"Oh yes, but--"

"Then marry us. And make haste, please! Please!"

Law nodded. He could not speak, for his mouth was dry. A voice within
him shouted a warning, but he would not listen. His heart was beating
violently; his temples were pounding; all the blood of his body seemed
centered in his head.

Before the eyes of the four wondering women Father O'Malley married
them. It seemed to Alaire that he would never reach the end, although,
in fact, he stumbled through the ceremony swiftly. Alaire clipped his
last words short by crying:

"Tell these people so that they'll understand what it all means. Tell
them to remember they have seen a marriage by the Church."

The priest did as he was directed, and his audience signified their
understanding. Then Dolores led them out.



XXX

THE MAN OF DESTINY


"Now, then, I'll explain," said Alaire, turning to the men. "Longorio
declares he won't have me except as his wife, and I think he means it.
He is amazingly egotistical. He has tremendous ambitions. He thinks
this war is his great opportunity, and he means to be President--he's
sure of it. He loves me, but he loves himself better, I'm sure. Now,
don't you see? He'll have to choose one or the other."

Father O'Malley did not appear to appreciate the full force of this
reasoning. "My dear," he said, gravely, "he can make you a widow again.
In such times as these men are savages."

"Oh, but that's not all." Alaire turned to her newly made husband.
"They let you in, and they'll let you out again--if you go quickly,
before it's known what we've done."

Dave stared at her in bewilderment. "I? I go, and--leave you?" He
seemed doubtful of her sanity.

"Yes." When he laughed shortly, Alaire cried: "Dave, you must! Don't
you see what I'm driving at? If he can't marry me, if he finds you're
gone and he can't lay hands on you, what can he do but let me go? Dave
dear, for my sake, for the sake of us both--"

"You're excited," he told her, and drew her to himself gently.

"Please! PLEASE!" she implored.

"You don't know that man," said Father O'Malley, with conviction.

But Alaire insisted, half hysterically now: "I do; that's just it, I DO
know him. He is planning the greatest things for himself, his head is
in the clouds, and he daren't do the things he used to do. That's why I
called in those women as witnesses. He can't put THEM out of the way.
With Dave gone I'll be safe. He can't ignore our marriage. But
otherwise--There's no telling what he may do. Why, he'll kill you,
Dave, as he killed Ed." She upturned a face eloquent with pleading.
"Won't you do this for me?"

"No!" Law declared, firmly. "You wouldn't ask it if you were in your
senses. Get me a gun and I'll shoot my way out. We'll go until they
stop us. But don't ask me to leave you."

She searched his face eagerly, piteously, then with a quivering sigh
relaxed her tension. "Then we've only made matters worse. You've
spoiled our only chance."

Father O'Malley, who had been lost in thought, spoke up again: "Perhaps
you will let me try my wits. But first, do I understand that it was he
who effected the death of--Mr. Austin?"

Dave recounted as coherently as he could the circumstances of Ed's
death, and told how he had learned, through José, of Longorio's
intentions. As the priest listened a spot of color grew in his cheeks,
his eyes glowed with indignation. He was about to make known what was
in his mind when Alaire raised her hand and in a strained whisper
exclaimed:

"'Sh-h! Listen!"

The heavy door of the hacienda creaked, a quick tread sounded on the
tiles, the door to the living-room was flung open, and Longorio
entered. He was hot and dusty from his ride, but with a lover's
impetuosity he had made straight for this lighted room.

For the briefest instant he balanced himself just inside the portal,
and the smile remained fixed upon his lips. Then his eyes became ringed
with white and he made a swift, catlike movement of retreat. Plainly
this was the supremest surprise of his lifetime, and he seemed to doubt
his senses. But he recovered quickly. Thrusting his head forward, he
demanded:

"What is this? You--and you?" He stared from Dave to the priest, then
back again.

They all spoke at once, but he heard only Alaire's words:

"He came to find me."

Pancho appeared in the doorway behind Longorio, saying, "I heard you
ride up, sir, so I ran to tell you about this fellow."

But the general cut him short. "Call your men, quick," he cried in a
voice that sent the soldier leaping back into the night.

Alaire was clinging to Dave, merely clutching him the tighter when he
tried to unclasp her hold. Her movement into the shelter of his rival's
arms infuriated Longorio, who uttered an exclamation and fumbled
uncertainly with his holster. But his fingers were clumsy. He could not
take his eyes from the pair, and he seemed upon the point of rushing
forward to tear them apart.

"Don't touch her! Don't--" he began, cursing in a high-pitched voice.
"God! What a reckoning!" Then he stamped his feet, he wrung his hands,
he called shrilly at the top of his voice: "Lieutenant! Ho, Pancho! You
fellows! Quickly!" Under the stress of his excitement the feminine side
of his character betrayed itself.

Alaire felt her newly made husband gather himself for a spring; he was
muttering to her to release him; he was trying to push her aside, but
she held fast with the strength of desperation.

"You can't harm us," she declared, flinging her words defiantly at the
Mexican. "You dare not. You are too late. Father O'Malley has just
married us."

Longorio uttered a peculiar, wordless cry of dismay; his mouth fell
open; his arms dropped; he went limp all over, paralyzed momentarily by
surprise and horror; his eyes protruded; he swayed as if his sight had
blurred.

"I said I'd never marry you," she rushed on, vibrantly. "This is the
man I love--the only man. Yes, and I've learned the truth about you. I
know who killed Mr. Austin."

Longorio did a very unexpected thing then; slowly, unconsciously, as if
the movement were the result of a half-forgotten training, he crossed
himself.

But now from the hall at his back came the pounding of boot-heels, and
a half dozen panting troopers tumbled through the door. He waved them
back and out into the hall again.

Father O'Malley, who had been trying to make himself heard, stepped in
front of the general and said, solemnly: "Take care what you do,
Longorio. I have married these people, and you can't undo what I have
done. We are American citizens. The laws of civilization protect us."

The Mexican fought for his voice, then stammered: "You are my priest; I
brought you here. I offered to marry her. Now--you force me to damn my
soul." Turning his eyes wildly upon Alaire, he shouted: "Too late, eh?
You say I am too late! It seems that I am barely in time."

Dave added his words to the others: "You are ten to one, but you can't
have her," he cried, defiantly. "José Sanchez confessed to the murder
of Mr. Austin, and told how you had got Mrs. Austin to come here. The
whole thing is known in Washington and Mexico City by this time. The
newspapers have it; everybody knows you are keeping her as your
prisoner, and that I have come for her. If she is harmed, all Mexico,
all the world, will know that you are worse than a murderer."

Longorio reached behind his back and slammed the door in the faces of
his listening men.

"What is this? What did José confess?" he inquired, sharply.

"He swears you hired him."

"Bah! The word of a pelador."

In spite of the man's contemptuous tone Dave saw the expression in his
face and made a quick decision. "There's a limit to what you dare to
do, Longorio. I'm unarmed; I make no resistance, so there is no excuse
for violence. I surrender to you, and claim protection for myself and
my wife."

But Longorio was not to be tricked. "Good!" he cried, triumphantly. "I
have been looking forward to something like this, and I shall give
myself a great pleasure." He laid a hand upon the doorknob, but before
he could turn it the Catholic priest had him by the arm, and with a
strength surprising in one of his stature wrenched him away. Father
O'Malley's face was white and terrible; his voice was deep, menacing;
the hand he raised above Longorio seemed to brandish a weapon.

"Stop!" he thundered. "Are you a madman? Destruction hangs over you;
destruction of body and soul. You dare not separate those whom God hath
joined."

"God! God!" the other shrilled. "I don't believe in Him. I am a god; I
know of no other."

"Blasphemer!" roared the little man. "Listen, then. So surely as you
harm these people, so surely do you kill your earthly prospects. You,
the first man of Mexico, the Dictator indeed! Think what you are doing
before it is too late. Is your dream of greatness only a dream? Will
you sacrifice yourself and all your aspirations in the heat of this
unholy and impossible passion? Tonight, now, you must choose whether
you will be famous or infamous, glorious or shameful, honored or
dishonored! Restrain your hatred and conquer your lust, or forego for
ever your dreams of empire and pass into oblivion."

"You are a meddler," Longorio stormed. "You make a loud noise, but I
shall rid Mexico of your kind. We shall have no more of you priests."

Father O'Malley shook the speaker as a parent shakes an unruly child.
"See! You have completely lost your head. But I want you to listen to
what I am saying. Whether you are more good than evil, God must judge,
but the people of Mexico are good people, and they will not be ruled by
a man who is wholly bad. You have the power to remove this man and this
woman, yes, and this priest who dares to point out the pit at your
feet; but if you do you will never command another Mexican army. There
is no war. We are not your enemies. The world knows we are here, and it
holds you accountable for our safety. To-morrow you will have to face
the reckoning."

Longorio listened. It was plain that he recognized the truth of
O'Malley's words, but he was convulsed with rage.

"Good!" he cried. "I see my dreams dissolve, but I am not the first
great man to trade an empire for a woman. Antony, the Roman general,
laid his honor in a woman's arms. I had a shining destiny, but Mexico
will be the sufferer by my betrayal. Instead of Longorio the Deliverer,
I shall be known as Longorio the Lover, the man who gave all--"

O'Malley interrupted forcefully. "Enough of this! Come with me. I have
something more to say to you." He flung open the door into the hall
and, taking the general by the arm, fairly dragged him from the room
and into the one opposite. The lieutenant and his men looked on in
amazement, shuffling their feet and shifting their rifle butts noisily
upon the floor.

Alaire turned an anxious face to Dave, saying: "He is wonderful.
Longorio is almost--afraid of him."

"Yes; he may bring him to his senses. If he doesn't--" Dave cast his
eyes desperately over the room, conscious all the time that he was
being watched with suspicion by the men outside. He stirred restlessly
and moistened his lips. "Longorio would be crazy to injure you."

Ten minutes passed; fifteen. Alaire leaned, motionless, against the
table; Dave paced about, followed by the eyes of the soldiers. One of
the latter struck a match, and in the silence it sounded like a
gunshot. Dave started, at which the soldiers laughed. They began to
talk in murmurs. The odor of cigarette smoke drifted in to the man and
the woman.

Finally the door through which Father O'Malley and Longorio had passed
opened, and the priest emerged. He was alone. His face was flushed and
damp; his eyes were glowing. He forced the Mexicans out of his way and,
entering the living-room, closed the door behind him.

"Well?" his two friends questioned, anxiously.

"I've done all I can. The rest is out of our hands." The little man sat
down heavily and mopped his forehead.

"What does he say?"

"He told me to come here and wait. I never saw a man so torn, so
distracted."

"Then he is wavering. Oh-h!" Alaire clasped her hands in thanksgiving,
but the Father cautioned her:

"Don't be too sanguine. He is not afraid of consequences. He appears to
have no conscience. He is without mercy and seems lost to shame. I have
never met a man quite like him. Do you know what he feels at this
moment? Chagrin. Yes, mortification raised to the highest pitch, and a
sort of stupefaction that you should prefer another man to him. He
can't understand your lack of taste." Father O'Malley smiled faintly.

"Conceited idiot," Dave growled.

"His humiliation kills him. When I saw that it was useless to appeal to
him on moral grounds, and that threats were unavailing, I took another
course. Something gave me insight into his mind, and the power to talk
as I have never talked before. All in a flash I saw the man's soul laid
bare before me, and--I think I played upon it with some cunning. I
don't remember all I said, for I was inspired, but I appealed to his
vanity and to his conceit, and as I went along I impressed upon him,
over and over, the fact that the world knows we are here and that it
trusts him. He aspires to the Presidency; he believes he is destined to
be Mexico's Dictator; so I painted a picture that surpassed his own
imaginings. He would have been suspicious of mere flattery, so I went
far beyond that and inflamed him with such extravagant visions as only
a child or an unblushing egotist like him could accept. I swelled his
vanity; I inflated his conceit. For a moment, at least, I lifted him
out of himself and raised him to the heights."

From beyond the closed door came Longorio's voice, issuing some command
to his men. A moment passed; then he appeared before the three
Americans. He seemed taller, thinner, more erect and hawklike than
ever. His head was held more proudly and his chest was fuller. A set,
disdainful smile was graven upon his face.

He began by addressing his words directly to Alaire. "Señora," he said,
"I am a man of deep feeling and I scorn deceit. Therefore I offer no
apology for my recent display of emotion. If I have seemed to press my
advances with undue fervor, it is because, at heart, I am as great a
lover as I am a statesman or a soldier. But there are other things than
love. Nature constituted me a leader, and he who climbs high must climb
alone. I offered Chapultepec as a shrine for your beauty. I offered to
share Mexico with you, and I told you that I would not be content with
less than all of you. Well I meant it. Otherwise--I would take you
now." His voice throbbed with a sudden fierce desire, and his long,
lean hands closed convulsively. "You must realize that I have the
courage and the power to defy the world, eh?" He seemed to challenge
denial of this statement, but, receiving none, he went on, fixing his
brilliant, feverish eyes once more upon Alaire. "As a man of sentiment
I am unique; I am different from any you have ever known. I would not
possess a flower without its fragrance. You did not believe me when I
told you that, but I am going to prove it. All your life you are going
to think of me as heroic. Perhaps no patriot in history ever made a
more splendid sacrifice for his country than I make now. Some day the
world will wonder how I had the strength to put aside love and follow
the path of duty."

Alaire trusted herself to ask, "Then we are free to go?"

The general's face was swept by a grimace intended for a smile. "I have
ordered your horses to be saddled."

Dave, who had with difficulty restrained his anger at the fellow's
bombast, was upon the point of speaking when Father O'Malley took the
words out of his mouth:

"Would you send this woman out of her own house into a country
like--like this? Remember the fortune in cattle you have already
taken--"

Longorio broke in with a snarl: "Is it my fault that the country is in
arms? Military necessity compels me to remain here. I consider myself
magnanimous. I--" His voice cracked, and he made a despairing, violent
gesture. "Go, before I change my mind."

Dave signaled to the others, and Alaire slipped away to make herself
ready. During the uncomfortable silence which succeeded her departure,
Longorio paced the room, keeping his eyes resolutely turned away from
Law.

"Do you mean that I, too, may go?" O'Malley inquired.

"What good are you to me?" snapped the general.

"You will give us safe conduct?"

"Be still, priest!" Longorio glared at the speaker, clasping and
unclasping his fists behind his back.

With the sound of hoofs outside, Alaire and Dolores appeared, and the
Mexican straightened himself with an effort.

"Adios, señora!" he said, with a stiff bow. "We have had a pleasant
friendship and a thrilling flirtation, eh? I shall never cease to
regret that Fate interrupted at such an interesting moment. Adios!
Adios!" He bowed formally, in turn to Dave and to the priest, then
resumed his pacing, with his hands at his back and his brow furrowed as
if in a struggle with affairs of greater moment than this.

But when he heard the outside door creak shut behind them his
indifference vanished and he halted with head turned in an effort to
catch the last sounds of their departure. His face was like tallow now,
his lips were drawn back from his teeth as if in supreme agony. A
moment and the hoofbeats had died away. Then Longorio slipped his leash.

He uttered a cry--a hoarse, half-strangled shriek that tore his throat.
He plucked the collar from his neck as if it choked him; he beat his
breast. Seizing whatever article his eye fell upon, he tore and crushed
it; he swept the table clean of its queer Spanish bric-à-brac, and
trampled the litter under his heels. Spying a painting of a saint upon
the wall, he ran to it, ripped it from its nail, and, raising it over
his head, smashed frame and glass, cursing all saints, all priests, and
churchly people. Havoc followed him as he raged about the place
wreaking his fury upon inanimate objects. When he had well-nigh wrecked
the contents of the room, and when his first paroxysm had spent its
violence, he hurled himself into a chair, writhing in agony. He bit his
wrists, he pounded his fists, he kicked; finally he sprawled full
length upon the floor, clawing at the cool, smooth tiles until his
nails bled.

"Christ! O Christ!" he screamed.

The sound of his blasphemies reached the little group of soldiers who
had lingered curiously outside, and they listened open-mouthed. One by
one they crossed themselves and stole away into the darkness, muttering.



XXXI

A SPANISH WILL


With a singing heart Alaire rode through the night at her husband's
side. The strain of the last few hours had been so intense, the relief
at her deliverance so keen, that now she felt curiously weak, and she
kept close to Dave, comforted by his nearness and secure in the
knowledge of his strength.

Although he was unusually taciturn and rode with his chin upon his
breast, she attributed his silence to fatigue. Now and then, therefore,
she spurred to his side and spoke softly, caressingly. At such times he
reached for her hand and clung to it.

Dave was indeed weary; he was, in fact, in a sort of stupor, and not
infrequently he dozed for a moment or two in his saddle. Yet it was not
this which stilled his tongue, but a growing sense of guilt and dismay
at what he had brought upon himself. In a moment of weakness he had
done the very thing against which he had fought so bitterly, and now he
faced the consequences. How, when, where could he find strength to undo
his action? he asked himself. The weight of this question bent his
shoulders, paralyzed his wits.

Some two hours out from La Feria the riders halted at a point where the
road dipped into a rocky stream-bed; then, as the horses drank, Dolores
voiced a thought that had troubled all of them.

"If that bandit really means to spare us, why did he send us away in
the night, like this?" she asked. "I shall be surprised if we are not
assassinated before morning."

"He must have meant it." Alaire spoke with a conviction she did not
entirely feel. "Father O'Malley aroused the finer side of his nature."

"Perhaps," agreed the priest. "Somewhere in him there is a fear of God."

But Dave was skeptical. "More likely a fear of the gringo Government,"
said he. "Longorio is a four-flusher. When he realized he was licked he
tried to save his face by a grandstand play. He didn't want to let us
go."

"Then what is to prevent him from--well, from having us followed?"
Alaire inquired.

"Nothing," Dave told her.

As they climbed the bank and rode onward into the night she said: "No
matter what happens, dear, I shall be happy, for at last one of my
dreams has come true." He reached out and patted her. "You've no idea
what a coward I was until you came. But the moment I saw you all my
fears vanished. I was like a lost child who suddenly sees her father;
in your arms I felt perfectly safe, for the first time in all my life,
I think. I--I couldn't bear to go on without you, after this."

Dave found nothing to say; they rode along side by side for a time in a
great contentment that required no speech. Then Alaire asked:

"Dear, have you considered how we--are going to explain our marriage?"

"Won't the circumstances explain it?"

"Perhaps. And yet--It seems ages since I learned--what happened to Ed,
but in reality it's only a few hours. Won't people talk?"

Dave caught at the suggestion. "I see. Then let's keep it secret for
the present. I promise not to--act like a husband."

With a little reckless laugh she confessed, "I--I'm afraid I'll find it
difficult to be conventional."

"My wife!" he cried in sharp agony. Leaning far out, he encircled her
with his arm; then, half lifting her from her saddle, he crushed his
lips to hers. It was his first display of emotion since Father O'Malley
had united them.

There were few villages along the road they followed, and because of
the lateness of the hour all were dark, hence the party passed through
without exciting attention except from an occasional wakeful dog. But
as morning came and the east began to glow Dave told the priest:

"We've got to hide out during the day or we'll get into trouble.
Besides, these women must be getting hungry."

"I fear there is something feminine about me," confessed the little
man. "I'm famished, too."

At the next rancho they came to they applied for shelter, but were
denied; in fact, the owner cursed them so roundly for being Americans
that they were glad to ride onward. A mile or two farther along they
met a cart the driver of which refused to answer their greetings. As
they passed out of his sight they saw that he had halted his lean oxen
and was staring after them curiously. Later, when the sun was well up
and the world had fully awakened, they descried a mounted man,
evidently a cowboy, riding through the chaparral. He saw them, too, and
came toward the road, but after a brief scrutiny he whirled his horse
and galloped off through the cactus, shouting something over his
shoulder.

"This won't do," O'Malley declared, uneasily. "I don't like the actions
of these people. Let me appeal to the next person we meet. I can't
believe they all hate us."

Soon they came to a rise in the road, and from the crest of this
elevation beheld ahead of them a small village of white houses shining
from the shelter of a grove. The rancheria was perhaps two miles away,
and galloping toward it was the vaquero who had challenged them.

"That's the Rio Negro crossing," Dave announced. Then spying a little
house squatting a short distance back from the road, he said: "We'd
better try yonder. If they turn us down we'll have to take to the
brush."

O'Malley agreed. "Yes, and we have no time to lose. That horseman is
going to rouse the town. I'm afraid we're--in for it."

Dave nodded silently.

Leaving the beaten path, the refugees threaded their way through cactus
and sage to a gate, entering which they approached the straw-thatched
jacal they had seen. A naked boy baby watched them draw near, then
scuttled for shelter, piping an alarm. A man appeared from somewhere,
at sight of whom the priest rode forward with a pleasant greeting. But
the fellow was unfriendly. His wife, too, emerged from the dwelling and
joined her husband in warning Father O'Malley away.

"Let me try," Alaire begged, and spurred her horse up to the group. She
smiled down at the country people, saying: "We have traveled a long
way, and we're tired and hungry. Won't you give us something to eat?
We'll pay you well for your trouble."

The man demurred sullenly, and began a refusal; but his wife, after a
wondering scrutiny, interrupted him with a cry. Rushing forward, she
took the edge of Alaire's skirt in her hands and kissed it.

"God be praised! A miracle!" she exclaimed. "Juan, don't you see? It is
the beautiful señora for whom we pray every night of our lives. On your
knees, shameless one! It is she who delivered you from the prison."

Juan stared unbelievingly, then his face changed; his teeth flashed in
a smile, and, sweeping his hat from his head, he, too, approached
Alaire.

"It is! señora, I am Juan Garcia, whom you saved, and this is Inez," he
declared. "Heaven bless you and forgive me."

"Now I know you," Alaire laughed, and slipped down from her saddle.
"This is a happy meeting. So! You live here, and that was little Juan
who ran away as if we were going to eat him. Well, we are hungry, but
not hungry enough to devour Juanito."

Turning to her companions, she explained the circumstances of her first
meeting with these good people, and as she talked the Garcias broke in
joyfully, adding their own account of her goodness.

"We've fallen among friends," Alaire told Dave and Father O'Malley.
"They will let us rest here, I am sure."

Husband and wife agreed in one voice. In fact, they were overjoyed at
an opportunity of serving her; and little Juan, his suspicions
partially allayed, issued from hiding and waddled forward to take part
in the welcome.

Shamefacedly the elder Garcia explained his inhospitable reception of
the travelers. "We hear the gringos are coming to kill us and take our
farms. Everybody is badly frightened. We are driving our herds away and
hiding what we can. Yesterday at the big Obispo ranch our people shot
two Americans and burned some of their houses. They intend to kill all
the Americans they find, so you'd better be careful. Just now a fellow
rode up shouting that you were coming, but of course I didn't know--"

"Yes, of course. We're trying to reach the border," Father O'Malley
told him. "Will you hide us here until we can go on?"

Juan courtesied respectfully to the priest. "My house is yours, Father."

"Can you take care of our horses, too, and--give us a place to sleep?"
Dave asked. His eyes were heavy; he had been almost constantly in the
saddle since leaving Jonesville, and now could barely keep himself
awake.

"Trust me," the Mexican assured them, confidently. "If somebody comes
I'll send them away. Oh, I can lie with the best of them."

The Garcias were not ordinary people, and they lived in rather good
circumstances for country folk. There were three rooms to their little
house, all of which were reasonably clean. The food that Inez set
before her guests, too, was excellent if scanty.

Juanito, taking the cue from his parents, flung himself whole-heartedly
into the task of entertainment, and since Alaire met his advances
halfway he began, before long, to look upon her with particular favor.
Once they had thoroughly made friends, he showered her with the most
flattering attentions. His shyness, it seemed, was but a pretense--at
heart he was a bold and enterprising fellow--and so, as a mark of his
admiration, he presented her with all his personal treasures. First he
fetched and laid in her lap a cigar-box wagon with wooden
wheels--evidently the handiwork of his father. Then he gave her, one by
one, a highly prized blue bottle, a rusty Mexican spur, and the ruins
of what had been a splendid clasp knife. There were no blades in the
knife, but he showed her how to peep through a tiny hole in the handle,
where was concealed the picture of a dashing Spanish bullfighter. The
appreciation which these gifts evoked intoxicated the little man and
roused him to a very madness of generosity. He pattered away and
returned shortly, staggering and grunting under the weight of another
and a still greater offering. It was a dog--a patient, hungry dog with
very little hair. The animal was alive with fleas--it scratched
absent-mindedly with one hind paw, even while Juanito strangled it
against his naked breast--but it was the apple of its owner's eye, and
when Inez unfeelingly banished it from the house Juanito began to
squall lustily. Nor could he be conciliated until Alaire took him upon
her knee and told him about another boy, of precisely his own age and
size, who planted a magic bean in his mother's dooryard, which grew up
and up until it reached clear to the sky, where a giant lived. Juanito
Garcia had never heard the like. He was spellbound with delight; he
held his breath in ecstasy; only his toes moved, and they wriggled like
ten fat, brown tadpoles.

In the midst of this recital Garcia senior appeared in the door with a
warning.

"Conceal yourselves," he said, quickly. "Some of our neighbors are
coming this way." Inez led her guests into the bedchamber, a bare room
with a dirt floor, from the window of which they watched Juan go to
meet a group of horsemen. Inez went out, too, and joined in the parley.
Then, after a time, the riders galloped away.

When Alaire, having watched the party out of sight, turned from the
window she found that Dave had collapsed upon a chair and was sleeping,
his limbs relaxed, his body sagging.

"Poor fellow, he's done up," Father O'Malley exclaimed.

"Yes; he hasn't slept for days," she whispered. "Help me." With the
assistance of Dolores they succeeded in lifting Dave to the bed, but he
half roused himself. "Lie down, dear," Alaire told him. "Close your
eyes for a few minutes. We're safe now."

"Somebody has to keep watch," he muttered, thickly, and tried to fight
off his fatigue. But he was like a drunken man.

"I'm not sleepy; I'll stand guard," the priest volunteered, and,
disregarding further protest, he helped Alaire remove Dave's coat.

Seeing that the bed was nothing more than a board platform covered with
straw matting, Alaire folded the garment for a pillow; as she did so a
handful of soiled, frayed letters spilled out upon the floor.

"Rest now, while you have a chance," she begged of her husband. "Just
for a little while."

"All right," he agreed. "Call me in--an hour. Couldn't sleep--wasn't
time." He shook off his weariness and smiled at his wife, while his
eyes filmed with some emotion. "There is something I ought to tell you,
but--I can't now--not now. Too sleepy." His head drooped again; she
forced him back; he stretched himself out with a sigh, and was asleep
almost instantly.

Alaire motioned the others out of the room, then stood looking down at
the man into whose keeping she had given her life. As she looked her
face became radiant. Dave was unkempt, unshaven, dirty, but to her he
was of a godlike beauty, and the knowledge that he was hers to comfort
and guard was strangely thrilling. Her love for Ed, even that first
love of her girlhood, had been nothing like this. How could it have
been like this? she asked herself. How could she have loved deeply
when, at the time, her own nature lacked depth? Experience had
broadened her, and suffering had uncovered depths in her being which
nothing else had had the power to uncover. Stooping, she kissed Dave
softly, then let her cheek rest against his. Her man! Her man! She
found herself whispering the words.

Her eyes were wet, but there was a smile upon her lips when she
gathered up the letters which had dropped from her husband's pocket.
She wondered, with a little jealous twinge, who could be writing to
him. It seemed to her that she owned him now, and that she could not
bear to share him with any other. She studied the inscriptions with a
frown, noticing as she did so that several of the envelopes were
unopened--either Dave was careless about such things or else he had had
no leisure in which to read his mail. One letter was longer and heavier
than the rest, and its covering, sweat-stained and worn at the edges,
came apart in her hands, exposing several pages of type-writing in the
Spanish language. The opening words challenged her attention.

In the name of God, Amen,

Alaire read. Involuntarily her eye followed the next line:

Know all men by this public instrument that I, Maria Joséfa Law, of
this vicinity--

Alaire started, Who, she asked herself, was Maria Joséfa Law? Dave had
no sisters; no female relatives whatever, so far as she knew. She
glanced at the sleeping man and then back at the writing.

--finding myself seriously ill in bed, but with sound judgment, full
memory and understanding, believing in the ineffable mysteries of the
Holy Trinity, three distinct persons in one God, in essence, and in the
other mysteries acknowledged by our Mother, the Church--

So! This was a will--one of those queer Spanish documents of which
Alaire had heard--but who was Maria Joséfa Law? Alaire scanned the
sheets curiously, and on the reverse side of the last one discovered a
few lines, also in Spanish, but scrawled in pencil. They read:

MY DEAR NEPHEW,--Here is the copy of your mother's will that I told you
about. At the time of her death she was not possessed of the property
mentioned herein, and so the original document was never filed for
record, but came to me along with certain family possessions of small
value. It seems to contain the information you desire.

Y'rs aff'ly,

FRANCISCO RAMIREZ.

The will of Dave's mother! Then Maria Joséfa Law was that poor woman
regarding whose tragic end Judge Ellsworth had spoken so peculiarly.
Alaire felt not a little curiosity to know more about the mother of the
man whose name she had taken. Accordingly, after a moment of debate
with herself, she sat down to translate the instrument. Surely Dave
would not object if she occupied herself thus while he slept.

The document had evidently been drawn in the strictest form, doubtless
by some local priest, for it ran:

First: I commend my soul to the Supreme Being who from nothing formed
it, and my body I order returned to earth, and which, as soon as it
shall become a corpse, it is my wish shall be shrouded with a blue
habit in resemblance to those used by the monks of our Seraphic Father,
St. Francis; to be interred with high mass, without pomp--

Alaire mused with a certain reverent pleasure that Dave's mother had
been a devout woman.

Second: I declare to have, in the possession of my husband, Franklin
Law, three horses, with splendid equipment of saddles and bridles,
which are to be sold and the proceeds applied to masses for the benefit
of my soul. I so declare, that it may appear.

Third: I declare to owe to Mrs. Guillelmo Perez about twenty dollars,
to be ascertained by what she may have noted in her book of accounts.
So I declare, that this debt may be paid as I have ordered.

Fourth: In just remuneration for the services of my cousin, Margarita
Ramirez, I bequeath and donate a silver tray which weighs one hundred
ounces, seven breeding cows, and four fine linen and lace tablecloths.
So I declare, that it may appear.

Fifth: I bequeath to my adopted son, David, offspring of the
unfortunate American woman who died in my house at Escovedo, the share
of land--

Alaire re-read this paragraph wonderingly, then let the document fall
into her lap. So Dave was an adopted son, and not actually the child of
this woman, Maria Joséfa Law. She wondered if he knew it, and, if so,
why he hadn't told her? But, after all, what difference did it make who
or what he was? He was hers to love and to comfort, hers to cherish and
to serve.

For a long time she sat gazing at him tenderly; then she tiptoed out
and delighted the naked Garcia baby by taking him in her arms and
hugging him. Inez thought the beautiful señora's voice was like the
music of birds.

It was growing dark when Dave was awakened by cool hands upon his face
and by soft lips upon his. He opened his eyes to find Alaire bending
over him.

"You must get up," she smiled. "It is nearly time to go, and Inez is
cooking our supper."

He reached up and took her in his arms. She lay upon his breast,
thrilling happily with her nearness to him, and they remained so for a
while, whispering now and then, trying ineffectually to voice the
thoughts that needed no expression.

"Why did you let me sleep so long?" he asked her, reproachfully.

"Oh, I've been napping there in that chair, where I could keep one eye
on you. I'm terribly selfish; I can't bear to lose one minute." After a
while she said: "I've made a discovery. Father O'Malley snores
dreadfully! Juanito never heard anything like it, and it frightened him
nearly to death. He says the Father must be a very fierce man to growl
so loudly. He says, too, that he likes me much better than his mother."

It seemed to Dave that the bliss of this awakening and the sweet
intimacy of this one moment more than rewarded him for all he had gone
through, and paid him for any unhappiness the future might hold in
store.

He felt called upon to tell Alaire the truth about himself; but with
her in his arms he had no strength of purpose; her every endearment
made him the more aware of his weakness. Again he asked himself when
and how he could bear to tell her? Not now. Certainly not now when she
was trembling under his caresses.

"I've been busy, too," she was saying. "I sent Juan to the village to
learn the news, and it's not very nice. It's good we stopped here. He
says Nuevo Pueblo has been destroyed, and the Federal forces are all
moving south, away from the border. So our troubles aren't over yet. We
must reach the river tonight."

"Yes, by all means."

"Juan is going with us as guide."

"You arranged everything while I snoozed, eh? I'm ashamed of myself."

Alaire nodded, then pretended to frown darkly. "You ought to be," she
told him. "While you were asleep I read your mail and--"

"My mail?" Dave was puzzled.

"Exactly. Have you forgotten that your pockets were full of unopened
letters?"

"Oh, those! They came just as I was leaving Jonesville, and I haven't
thought of them since. You know, I haven't had my clothes off."

"I'm going to read all your love letters," she told him, threateningly.

"Yes, and you're going to write all of them, too," he laughed.

But she shook a warning finger in his face. "I told you I'm a jealous
person. I'm going to know all about you, past, present, and future. I--"

"Alaire! My darling!" he cried, and his face stiffened as if with pain.

Still in a joyous mood, she teased him. "You had better tremble, I've
found you out, deceiver. I know who you really are."

"Who am I?"

"Don't you know?"

Dave shook his head.

"Really? Have you never read your mother's will?"

Law rose to his elbow, then swung his legs to the floor. "What are you
talking about?" he asked.

For answer Alaire handed him the frayed envelope and its contents.

He examined it, and then said, heavily: "I see! I was expecting this.
It seems I've been carrying it around all this time--"

"Why don't you read it?" she insisted. "There's light enough there by
the window. I supposed you knew all about it or I wouldn't have joked
with you."

He opened his lips to speak, but, seeing something in her eyes, he
stepped to the window and read swiftly. A moment, and then he uttered a
cry.

"Alaire!" he exclaimed, hoarsely. "Read this--My eyes--O God!"

Wonderingly she took the sheets from his shaking hands and read aloud
the paragraph he indicated: Fifth: I bequeath to my adopted son, David,
offspring of the unfortunate American woman who died in my house at
Escovedo--

Again Dave cried out and knelt at Alaire's feet, his arms about her
knees, his face buried in her dress. His shoulders were heaving and his
whole body was racked with sobs.

Shocked, frightened, Alaire tried to raise him, but he encircled her in
a tighter embrace.

"Dave! What is it? What have I done?" she implored. "Have I hurt you
so?"

It was a long time before he could make known the significance of that
paragraph, and when he finally managed to tell her about the terrible
fear that had lain so heavily upon his soul it was in broken, choking
words which showed his deep emotion. The story was out at last,
however, and he stood over her transfigured.

Alaire lifted her arms and placed them upon his shoulders. "Were you
going to give me up for that?--for a shadow?"

"Yes. I had made up my mind. I wouldn't have dared marry you last
night, but--I never expected to see today's sun. I didn't think it
would make much difference. It was more than a shadow, Alaire. It was
real. I WAS mad--stark, staring mad--or in a fair way of becoming so. I
suppose I brooded too much. Those violent spells, those wild moments I
sometimes have, made me think it must be true. I dare say they are no
more than temper, but they seemed to prove all that Ellsworth
suspected."

"You must have thought me a very cowardly woman," she told him. "It
wouldn't have made the slightest difference to me, Dave. We would have
met it together when it came, just as we'll meet everything now--you
and I, together."

"My wife!" He laid his lips against her hair.

They were standing beside the window, speechless, oblivious to all
except their great love, when Dolores entered to tell them that supper
was ready and that the horses were saddled.



XXXII

THE DAWN


Juan Garcia proved to be a good guide, and he saved the refugees many
miles on their road to the Rio Grande. But every farm and every village
was a menace, and at first they were forced to make numerous detours.
As the night grew older, however, they rode a straighter course, urging
their horses to the limit, hoping against hope to reach the border
before daylight overtook them. This they might have done had it not
been for Father O'Malley and Dolores, who were unused to the saddle and
unable to maintain the pace Juan set for them.

About midnight the party stopped on the crest of a flinty ridge to give
their horses breath and to estimate their progress. The night was fine
and clear; outlined against the sky were the stalks of countless
sotol-plants standing slim and bare, like the upright lances of an army
at rest; ahead the road meandered across a mesa, covered with grama
grass and black, formless blots of shrubbery.

Father O'Malley groaned and shifted his weight. "Juan tells me we'll
never reach Romero by morning, at this rate," he said; and Dave was
forced to agree. "I think you and he and Alaire had better go on and
leave Dolores and me to follow as best we can."

Dolores plaintively seconded this suggestion. "I would rather be burned
at the stake than suffer these agonies," she confessed. "My bones are
broken. The devil is in this horse." She began to weep softly. "Go,
señora. Save yourself! It is my accursed fat stomach that hinders me.
Tell Benito that I perished breathing his name, and see to it, when he
remarries, that he retains none of my treasures."

Alaire reassured her by saying: "We won't leave you. Be brave and make
the best of it."

"Yes, grit your teeth and hold on," Dave echoed. "We'll manage to make
it somehow."

But progress was far slower than it should have been, and the elder
woman continued to lag behind, voicing her distress in groans and
lamentations. The priest, who was made of sterner stuff, did his best
to bear his tortures cheerfully.

In spite of their efforts the first rosy heralds of dawn discovered
them still a long way from the river and just entering a more thickly
settled country. Daylight came swiftly, and Juan finally gave them
warning.

"We can't go on; the danger is too great," he told them. "If the
soldiers are still in Romero, what then?"

"Have you no friends hereabouts who would take us in?" Dave inquired.

The Mexican shook his head.

Dave considered for a moment. "You must hide here," he told his
companions, "while I ride on to Romero and see what can be done. I
suspect Blanco's troops have left, and in that case everything will be
all right."

"Suppose they haven't?" Alaire inquired. All night she had been in the
lightest of moods, and had steadily refused to take their perils
seriously. Now her smile chased the frown from her husband's face.

"Well, perhaps I'll have breakfast with them," he laughed.

"Silly. I won't let you go," she told him, firmly; and, reading the
expression in her face, he felt a dizzy wonder. "We'll find a nice
secluded spot; then we'll sit down and wait for night to come. We'll
pretend we're having a picnic."

Dolores sighed at the suggestion. "That would be heaven, but there can
be no sitting down for me."

Garcia, who had been standing in his stirrups scanning the long, flat
road ahead, spoke sharply: "CARAMBA! Here come those very soldiers now!
See!"

Far away, but evidently approaching at a smart gait, was a body of
mounted men. After one look at them Dave cried:

"Into the brush, quick!" He hurried his companions ahead of him, and
when they had gone perhaps a hundred yards from the road he took Juan's
Winchester, saying: "Ride in a little way farther and wait. I'm going
back. If you hear me shoot, break for the river. Ride hard and keep
under cover as much as possible." Before they could remonstrate he had
wheeled Montrosa and was gone.

This was luck, he told himself. Ten miles more and they would have been
safe, for the Rio Grande is not a difficult river either to ford or to
swim. He dismounted and made his way on foot to a point where he could
command a view, but he had barely established himself when he found
Alaire at his side.

"Go back," he told her. But she would not, and so they waited together.

There were perhaps a dozen men in the approaching squad, and Dave saw
that they were heavily accoutred. They rode fast, too, and at their
head galloped a large man under a wide-brimmed felt hat. It soon became
evident that the soldiers were not uniformed. Therefore, Dave reasoned,
they were not Federals, but more probably some Rebel scouting band from
the south, and yet--He rubbed his eyes and stared again.

Dave pressed forward eagerly, incredulously; the next instant he had
broken cover with a shout. Alaire was at his side, clapping her hands
and laughing with excitement.

The cavalcade halted; the big man tumbled from his saddle and came
straddling through the high grass, waving his hat and yelling.

"Blaze! You old scoundrel!" Dave cried, and seized one of the
ranchman's palms while Alaire shook the other.

"Say! We're right glad to see you-all," Jones exclaimed. "We reckoned
you might be havin' a sort of unpleasantness with Longorio, so we
organized up and came to get you."

The other horsemen were crowding close now, and their greetings were
noisy. There were the two Guzman boys, Benito Gonzales, Phil Strange,
and a number of Jonesville's younger and more adventurous citizens.

In the midst of the tumult Benito inquired for his wife, and Dave
relieved his anxiety by calling Dolores and Father O'Malley. Then, in
answer to the questions showered upon him, he swiftly sketched the
story of Alaire's rescue and their flight from La Feria.

When he had finished Blaze Jones drew a deep breath. "We're mighty glad
you got out safe, but you've kicked the legs from under one of my pet
ambitions. I sure had planned to nail Longorio's hide on my barn door.
Yes, and you've taken the bread out of the mouths of the space writers
and sob sisters from here to Hudson's Bay. Miz Austin, your picture's
in every newspaper in the country, and, believe me, it's the worst
atrocity of the war."

"War!" Father O'Malley had joined the group now, and he asked, "Has war
been declared?"

"Not yet, but we've got hopes." To Alaire Blaze explained: "Ellsworth's
in Washington, wavin' the Stars and Stripes and singin' battle hymns,
but I reckon the government figures that the original of those
newspaper pictures would be safe anywhere. Well, we've got our own
ideas in Jonesville, so some of us assembled ourselves and declared war
on our own hook. These gentlemen"--Blaze waved his hand proudly at his
neighbors--"constitute the Jonesville Guards, the finest body of
American men that has invaded Mexican soil since me and Dave went after
Ricardo Guzman's remains. Blamed if I ain't sorry you sidetracked our
expedition."

It was evident, from the words of the others, that the Jonesville
Guards were indeed quite as heedless of international complications as
was their commander. One and all were highly incensed at Longorio's
perfidy, and, had Alaire suggested such a thing, it was patent that
they would have ridden on to La Feria and exacted a reckoning from him.

Such proof of friendship affected her deeply, and it was not until they
were all under way back toward Romero that she felt she had made her
appreciation fully known. When she reflected that these men were some
of the very neighbors whom she had shunned and slighted, and whose
honest interest she had so habitually misconstrued all these years, it
seemed very strange that they should feel the least concern over her.
It gave her a new appreciation of their chivalry and their worth; it
filled her with a humble desire to know them better and to strengthen
herself in their regard. Then, too, the esteem in which they held
Dave--her husband--gratified her intensely. It made no more difference
to them than to her that he was a poor man, a man without authority or
position; they evidently saw and loved in him the qualities which she
saw and loved. And that was as it should be.

They were gentle and considerate men, too, as she discovered when they
told her, bit by bit, what had happened during her absence. She
learned, much to her relief, that Ed's funeral had been held, and that
all the distressing details of the inquiry had been attended to. José
Sanchez, it appeared, had confessed freely. Although her new friends
made plain their indignation at the manner of Ed's taking off, they
likewise let her know that they considered his death only a slight
loss, either to her or to the community. Not one of them pretended it
was anything except a blessing.

The journey drew to an end very quickly. Romero, deserted now by its
garrison, stirred and stared sleepily at the invaders, but concerned
itself with their presence no more than to wonder why they laughed and
talked so spiritedly. Plainly, these gringos were a barbarous race of
people, what with their rushing here and there, and with their loud,
senseless laughter. God had wisely placed them beyond the Rio Grande,
said the citizens of Romero.

The crossing was made; Alaire found herself in Texas once again, and it
seemed to her that the sun had never been so bright, the air so clear,
the sky so high, the world so smiling, as here and now. The men who had
ridden forth to seek her were smiling, too, and they were shaking her
hands and congratulating her. Even the Guzman boys, who were shy in the
presence of American ladies, were wishing her the best of fortune and
the greatest of happiness.

Blaze Jones was the last to leave. With especial emphasis upon her
name, he said: "Miz Austin, Paloma and me would like to have you come
to our house and stay until you feel like goin' back to Las Palmas."

When Alaire declined with moistened eyes, explaining that she could not
well accept his invitation, he signified his understanding.

"We're goin' to see a lot of you, just the same," he promised her,
"'cause we feel as if you sort of belonged to us. There's a lot of good
people in this part of Texas, and them that ain't so good God and the
Rangers is slowly weedin' out. We don't always know the ones we like
best until something happens to 'em, but if you'd heard the prayers the
folks of Jonesville have been sayin' lately you'd know you was our
favorite." Then, with a meaning twinkle in his eye, he told her,
gravely: "It seems a pity that I ain't younger and better-lookin'. I
would sure cut short your grief." Then he raised his hat and rode away,
chuckling.

Alaire turned to Dave in dismay. "He knows!" she cried.

"I'm afraid they all know. But don't worry; they'll respect our wishes."

Father O'Malley had ridden on ahead with Benito and Dolores; Dave and
Alaire followed leisurely. Now that the moment of their parting was at
hand, they lingered by the way, delaying it as long as possible,
feeling a natural constraint at what was in their minds.

"How long--will it be?" he asked her, finally. "How long before I can
really have you for my own?"

Alaire smiled into his eyes. "Not long. But you'll be patient, won't
you, dear?"

He took her hand in his, and they rode on silently, a song in the heart
of each of them.



THE END





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