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Blaze Jones's Nemesis








From: Heart Of The Sunset

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 bluishwhite 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 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.





Next: A Scouting Trip

Previous: Luis Longorio



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