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Luis Longorio








From: Heart Of The Sunset

"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, senora, 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, senor. 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:
"Senora, 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, senora, 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 Senor 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."

"Senora! 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 Jose 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," Jose exclaimed, eagerly, "I am here."

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

"Jose Sanchez."

"You look like a brave fellow."

Jose 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.

"Senora, 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! Senora, 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 Jose
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.

Jose Sanchez came plowing into Alaire's car, tremendously excited.
"Look, senora!" he cried. "Look what the general gave me," and he
proudly displayed Longorio's service revolver. Around Jose'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, 'Jose,
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,
senora. 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.





Next: Blaze Jones's Nemesis

Previous: A Journey And A Dark Man



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