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Dave Law Comes Home








From: Heart Of The Sunset

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.





Next: A Warning And A Surprise

Previous: The Crash



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