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Ed Austin Turns At Bay

From: Heart Of The Sunset

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

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

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

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

"Senora! 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

"Need you ask me?" cried the man. "I would ride through a thousand
perils, senora. 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

"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."


"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, senora." 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,

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?"


"Well, you would never guess that it is your Jose 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 Jose
admired him and was harboring thoughts of revenge. I said to him:
'Jose, 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
Senor 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 Senor 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. Jose'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

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

"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,

"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

"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.

Next: Rangers

Previous: The Guzman Incident

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