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A Warning And A Surprise








From: Heart Of The Sunset

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
Jose 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 Jose 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 Jose 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, senor."

"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, senor."

"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. Senor Ed was drinking
again, you understand? The senora 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 senora 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
Jose 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 Jose Sanchez anywhere about?"

The range boss shrugged. "I sent him to the east pasture this
morning."

"Did he go?"

"Eh? So! You suspect Jose of this. God in heaven! Jose 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.

"Jose 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,
Jose'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. Jose 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 Jose?"

"You know why. He killed Don Eduardo, and then be 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 Senor 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.





Next: The Water-cure

Previous: Dave Law Comes Home



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