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Rangers








From: Heart Of The Sunset

Longorio stared first at the huddled, perspiring man beside the
telephone and then at the frightened woman. "Is that the truth?"
he demanded, harshly.

"Yes," Austin answered. "They are bringing the body to this side.
You know what that means."

"Did you know this?" The general turned upon Alaire. Of the four
he was the least excited.

From the background Paloma quavered: "You told us Ricardo was not
dead, so--it is all right. There is no--harm done."

A brief silence ensued, then Longorio shrugged. "Who knows? Let us
hope that he suffered no harm on Mexican soil. That would be
serious, indeed; yes, very serious, for I have given my word to
your government. This--David Law--" he pronounced the name
carefully, but with a strange, foreign accent--"he is a reckless
person to defy the border regulations. It is a grave matter to
invade foreign territory on such a mission." Longorio again bent
his brilliant eyes upon Alaire. "I see that you are concerned for
his safety. You would not desire him to come to trouble, eh? He
has done you favors; he is your friend, as I am. Well"--a
mirthless smile exposed his splendid white teeth--"we must think
of that. Now I will bid you good night."

"Where are you going?" demanded Miss Jones.

"To the river, and then to Romero. I may be needed, for those men
of mine are stupid fellows and there is danger of a
misunderstanding. In the dark anything may happen. I should like
to meet this David Law; he is a man of my own kind." Turning to
"Young Ed," he said: "There is reason for haste, and a horse moves
slowly. Would you do me the favor, if you have an automobile--"

"No! I won't!" Ed declared. "I don't want to see the Rio Grande
to-night. I won't be involved--"

"But you are already involved. Come! There is no time to waste,
and I have something to say to you. You will drive me to the
river, and my horse will remain here until I return for him."

There was no mistaking the command in Longorio's tone; the master
of Las Palmas rose as if under compulsion. He took his hat, and
the two men left the room.

"Oh, my God!" Paloma gasped. "They'll be in time, and so will the
Lewis gang."

"Quick! Ed will take his runabout--we'll follow in my car." Alaire
fled to make herself ready. A few moments later she looked out
from her window and saw the headlights of Ed's runabout flash down
the driveway to the road; then she and Paloma rushed to the garage
where the touring-car stood.

"They'll never expect us to follow them"--Alaire tried to speak
hopefully--"and we'll drive without lights. Maybe we'll get there
in time, after all." As the machine rolled out through the gate
she elaborated the half-formed plan that had come to her: "The
brush is thick along the river; we can leave the car hidden and
steal up to the pump-house. When we hear the boat coming maybe we
can call out in time to warn your father."

"The moon is rising," Paloma half sobbed. "They'll be sure to see
us. Do you think we're ahead of Tad Lewis?"

"Oh yes. He hasn't had time to get here yet, but--he'll come fast
when he starts. This is the only plan I can think of."

Alaire drove as swiftly as she dared, following the blurred streak
of gray that was the road, and taking the bumps with utter
recklessness. Already the yellow rim of the moon was peering over
the horizon to her right, and by its light she found the road that
turned abruptly toward the Rio Grande, a mile or more distant. The
black mud from the last heavy rain had hardened; the ruts in this
side road were deep, and the car leaped and plunged, flinging its
occupants from side to side. Ahead loomed the dark ridge of the
river thickets, a dense rampart of mesquite, ebony, and coma, with
here and there a taller alamo or hackberry thrusting itself
skyward. But even before they were sheltered from the moonlight
Paloma saw the lights of another automobile approaching along the
main-traveled highway behind them--the lights, evidently, of Tad
Lewis's machine. A moment later Alaire's car drove into the black
shadows, but, fearing to switch on her headlights, she felt her
way cautiously between the walls of foliage until at her right
another opening showed, like a narrow arroyo, diverging from the
one they followed. Into this she swerved, regardless of the fact
that it was half grown up with brush. Thorny branches swept the
sides of the machine; rank, dew-soaked grass rose to the height of
the tonneau. The car came to a jolting pause, then the motor
ceased its purring, and the two women sat motionless, listening
for the rattle of the on-coming machine. It had been a short,
swift, exciting ride. "Young Ed's" runabout could not be many
minutes ahead of them.

Alaire knew the Tad Lewis car, an old-style, cheap affair, which
advertised its mechanical imperfections by a loud clashing of
gears and a noisy complaint of loose parts; therefore, when the
leafy canon walls behind her hiding-place were brilliantly
illuminated and a car stole silently past at low speed, she seized
Paloma by the arm and whispered:

"That's not Lewis."

"Who is it? It can't be Ed."

"No, he and Longorio are ahead of us. It's another motor
entirely."

The women got out, then breasted the high grass and brambles
between their hiding-place and the pump-house road. As soon as
they were back in the trail they made all possible speed,
speculating meanwhile upon the mystery of the unknown car.
Emerging into the clearing which surrounded the power-plant, they
discovered the machine in question standing dark and deserted in
the shadows. Evidently the driver, whoever he was, well knew what
he was about, and had not blundered upon this place by accident. A
hundred yards away they could now see the ghostly Rio Grande, its
saffron surface faintly silvered by the low moon; lights gleamed
from the windows of Morales's house. In the distance the vague
outlines of the Mexican shore were resolving themselves, and far
beyond winked the evidence that some belated citizens of Romero
were still awake.

Paloma had brought with her the long-barreled Winchester rifle,
and this she clutched nervously as she and Alaire stood
whispering. Conditions were favorable for an approach to the pump-
house itself, for two ridges of earth, perhaps eight feet high,
thrown up like parallel furrows from a giant plow, marked the
beginning of the irrigation ditch, and in the shadow of these the
women worked their way forward, unobserved. They had nearly
reached their goal when out into the clearing behind them, with
metallic rattle and clang, burst another automobile, and Paloma
whispered, excitedly:

"There's the Lewis outfit at last."

In the Lewis car were several men. They descended hurriedly, and
when one of them ran around the front of the car to turn off its
lights both women saw that he carried a rifle. Evidently Tad Lewis
had come prepared for desperate measures.

A small door gave entrance to the boiler-room, and into the lock
of this Mrs. Austin fitted a key; the next moment she and Paloma
were safely inside. They found themselves in utter darkness now,
with a smooth brick floor beneath their feet and a strong odor of
oil and burnt fuel in their nostrils.

Alaire was agreeably surprised in Paloma Jones, for, although the
girl was wrought to a pitch of hysterical excitement, she had,
nevertheless, retained her wits; nor had she faltered in the
slightest. It was evident that the fighting blood of her father
was aroused in her, for she said, calmly:

"When it gets light enough to shoot, I'm going to get Tad Lewis."

"Don't act too quickly," cautioned Alaire. "Perhaps your father
and Dave have come and gone. Anyhow, we can warn them just as well
by firing into the air."

In reply to this suggestion Paloma merely muttered something under
her breath.

The brief night ride had given Alaire time in which to recover
from her first apprehensions, and now she was surprised at her own
coolness. Ed's behavior had shocked and horrified her; she was
still half paralyzed at his treachery; nevertheless, her mind was
clear, and she was determined to avert a tragedy if possible. She
knew only too well what would happen when Blaze Jones and Dave Law
encountered the Lewis gang; the presence of Longorio's soldiers
merely made more certain the outcome of that meeting. The general
was furious; it was plain that he would not tolerate this
expedition, the avowed purpose of which was to prove him a liar.
It would make but little difference, therefore, whether the quest
for Ricardo Guzman's body had been successful or not: even the
fact that this was American soil would not deter Longorio from
violent action, for the Rio Grande was no real boundary, and this
part of Texas was as truly Mexican as that other river-bank which
lay two hundred yards distant.

A confusion of such thoughts were racing through Alaire's mind as
she felt her way out of the boiler-room and into that part of the
building where the pumping machinery stood. Dusty, cobwebbed
windows let in a faint ghost-glow of moonlight, but prevented
clear observation of anything outside; Alaire's fumbling fingers
found the latch of the front door and began to lift it, when some
one spoke, just outside the building.

"What did you discover?" inquired a voice which neither woman
recognized. Paloma clutched blindly for her companion; the two
eavesdroppers stood rooted in their tracks. The pounding of their
hearts sounded loudly. Since the building was little more than a
wooden shell, they could plainly hear the answer:

"The house is full of Greasers. I can't tell who they are."

A third man spoke, this time in Spanish. "That was Tad Lewis who
just came, senor."

There followed some whispered words indistinguishable to the
listeners, then a rustle of bodies moving through the tall grass
and weeds.

Paloma placed her lips close to Alaire's ear. "Who are those
people?" she breathed.

"I don't know. They must be the ones who came in that strange
automobile."

Paloma chattered viciously: "Everybody in Texas is here. I wish
we'd thought to scatter tacks behind us."

Cautiously they swung the door back and looked out. The open space
along the river-bank was leveled by the moonlight; from Morales's
house, to their right, came the sound of voices. The women waited.

A few moments, then a number of men appeared. Paloma judged there
were at least a dozen, but she was too excited to count them. As
they came straggling toward the pump-house one of them called
back:

"Morales! Put out your damned lights," Both women recognized Tad
Lewis as the speaker.

Alaire had stubbornly refused to charge her husband with any
active share in this evil business, but her faith in Ed suddenly
vanished when she heard him say:

"Hush! You're making too much noise. You'd better scatter out,
too, for there's no telling where they'll land." Alaire leaned
weakly against the door. "I'm going to leave, and let you-all
attend to the rest," he was saying. But Tad Lewis halted him as he
turned from the group.

"Where are you going, Ed? You left your car back yonder by the
road. I almost ran into it."

"Eh? What are you talking about? My car is over by Morales's
house."

"Senor Austin is in a great hurry," sneered some one in Spanish.
"Once more he leaves all of the fighting to his friends."

"That's Adolfo Urbina," panted Paloma. "I know him." Stung by this
open charge of cowardice, Austin began a voluble defense, but in
the midst of it General Longorio addressed him, sharply:

"You will stay here, senor. Nobody leaves this place."

"I told you I wouldn't be a party to the business," Ed declared,
hotly. "You forced me to come in the first place--"

"Yes! And now I force you to stay."

Longorio's stand appeared to please Lewis, who chimed in with the
words: "That's right, Ed. You've got to stick, for once in your
life."

"What do you mean, you nearly ran into my car back yonder?" Austin
asked, after a moment.

"Ain't that your machine yonder by the thicket?" inquired Lewis.
"If it ain't, whose is it?" As no one answered, he started in the
direction he had indicated; but at that moment a man came running
from the riverbank, crying, softly:

"Look out! They come."

"I'm going to shoot," Paloma Jones gasped, but Alaire, who once
again heard the sound of whispering in the shadows just outside
their hiding-place, managed to restrain her companion. It was well
that she succeeded, for even as Paloma raised her weapon a man
passed swiftly by the crack of the half-open door and scarcely ten
feet beyond the muzzle of the rifle. He was followed by three
others.

The first of the new-comers, acting as spokesman for his party,
stepped out into the moonlight and cried, loudly: "Hello, men!
What's goin' on here?" It was an American voice; it had a broad,
slow, Texas drawl.

The group of plotters turned, there was a startled murmur, then
Tad Lewis answered:

"Hello! Who are you? What do you want?"

"I reckon we must have got off the road," announced the stranger.
Then he peered out across the river: "Say! Ain't that a skiff
coming yonder?" he inquired.

"Well, it don't look like a steamboat." Lewis laughed,
disagreeably. "We're havin' a little party of our own. I reckon
you fellows had better beat it. Understand?"

The outposts that had been sent to cover the bank in both
directions were now coming in. Through the stillness of the night
there sounded the thump of oar-locks. Seeing that the stranger did
not seem to take his hint, Lewis raised his voice menacingly:

"That's your road back yonder. It's a right good road, and I'd
advise you to travel it, fast."

But this suggestion was also ignored; in fact, it appeared to
amuse the man addressed, for he, too, laughed. He turned, and the
women noticed that he carried a short saddle-gun. They saw, also,
that at least one of the men at his back was similarly armed.

"Now, what's the hurry?" The stranger was chuckling. Suddenly he
raised his voice and called, loudly: "Hello, Dave! Is that you-
all?"

The answer floated promptly back: "Hello, Cap! Sure it's us."

"Have you got him?"

It was Blaze Jones's voice which answered this time: "You bet!"

Paloma Jones was trembling now. She clung to Alaire, crying,
thankfully: "It's the Rangers! The Rangers!" Then she broke away
and ran out into the moonlight, trailing her absurd firearm after
her.

"Now, boys," the Ranger captain was saying, "I know 'most every
one of you, and we ain't going to have the least bit of trouble
over this thing, are we? I reckon you-all are friends of Ricardo
Guzman, and you just couldn't wait to find out about him, eh?"

Alaire, who had followed Paloma, was close enough now to recognize
the two Guzman boys as members of the Ranger party. Lewis and his
men had drawn together at the first alarm; Longorio's Mexicans had
gathered about their leader. The entire situation had changed in a
moment, and the Ranger captain was in control of it.

Soon Dave Law and Blaze Jones came up over the river-bank; they
paused, stricken with surprise at finding a score of people where
they had expected no more than four.

Blaze was the first to speak. "What the hell?" he cried. He peered
near-sightedly from one to the other; then his huge bulk shook
with laughter: "Say, do my glasses magnify, or is this an Odd-
Fellows meetin'?"

"Dad! Oh, Dad!" Paloma scurried to him and flung herself into his
arms.

"Lord of mercy, kid!" the father exclaimed. "Why, you'd ought to
be home and abed, long ago. You'll catch your death of cold. Is
that gun loaded."

Dave Law was even more amazed than his companion. His first
glimpse of the waiting figures had warned him that something had
gone wrong, and, therefore, he did not stop to ask himself how Tad
Lewis and Longorio could have learned of this affair, or what
could have brought Alaire and Ed Austin to the scene. Recovering
from his first surprise, he took a position beside his superior
officer.

Captain Evans did not seem at all troubled by the disparity in
numbers. One Ranger, or two at the most, had always been
sufficient to quell a Texan disturbance; now that there were three
of them, he felt equal to an invasion of Mexican soil, if
necessary. In consequence he relaxed his watchful vigilance, and
to Dave he drawled:

"We've got most of the leading citizens of the county, and I
reckon somebody in the outfit will be able to identify Guzman."

"There's no trouble about that, sir. We found him. Pedro and Raoul
can make sure." The sons of Ricardo Guzman stepped forward
promptly, and Law waved them toward the boat landing, where the
two helpers were waiting with Ricardo's remains.

Despite the Ranger captain's easy assumption of command, the
strain of the situation had not subsided, and Longorio drew swift
attention to himself when he said:

"It is fortunate that I chanced to learn of this matter. You have
done me a great service, Senor Law, for I came to Romero purposely
to examine into the death of this unfortunate man. But I could
learn nothing; nobody knew anything whatever about the matter, and
so I became convinced that it amounted to little. Now--behold! I
discover that I was deceived. Or--perhaps there still may be a
mistake."

Blaze Jones thrust his daughter aside and advanced toward the
speaker. "There's no mistake," he declared, belligerently. "I
don't make mistakes when I go grave-robbin'. Don Ricardo was shot
by your men. He had five thousand dollars on him, or he should
have had, and he was an American citizen. Your Colonel Blanco
covered the body, but he'll have a hell of a job coverin' the
facts. It's time we came to a showdown with your murderin' outfit,
and I aim to see if we've got a government in this country."

"Heaven guided my hand," devoutly breathed the general. "It is
regrettable that you used this means when a word to me would have
served the purpose, for--it is no trivial matter to desecrate a
Mexican graveyard. My country, too, has a government. An officer
of the State of Texas, under arms, has crossed the Rio Grande.
What does that mean?"

Captain Evans had a sense of humor; Longorio's ominous words
amused him. "Say, general, it ain't the first time," he chortled.
"And you're an officer, too, ain't you? You're in Texas at this
minute, and I'll bet if I frisked you I'd find that you was under
arms." The Mexican understood English sufficiently well to grasp
the significance of these words. After a moment's consideration,
therefore, he modified his threatening tone.

"But my mission was friendly. I had no criminal purpose," he said,
mildly. "However--perhaps one offense condones the other. At any
rate, we must have no international complications. There is a more
practical side to the matter: if Don Ricardo Guzman met his death
in Mexico there will be a rigid investigation, I assure you."

Evans agreed. "That's fair! And I'll make a bargain with you: you
keep still and so'll we. We never aimed for this affair to get
out, anyhow. I reckon these men"--he indicated Lewis and his
followers--"ain't liable to talk much."

The two Guzman boys, greatly moved, returned to announce that they
had indeed identified their father's body, and Longorio could not
well refuse to accept their evidence.

"Very well," said he. "I am indebted to you. Since there is
nothing more to be said, apparently, I will return to Romero."
With a bow to Mrs. Austin, who had silently watched the play of
these opposing motives, he turned away, and Tad Lewis followed
him.

But Dave Law had recognized Adolfo Urbina in the crowd, and,
stepping forward, disarmed him, saying:

"Adolfo, there's a warrant for you, so I'll just take you in."

For a moment Adolfo was inclined to resist, but, thinking better
of it, he yielded with bad grace, bitterly regretting the
curiosity which had prompted him to remain to the end of this
interesting affair.

Tad Lewis gave him some comfort. "Never mind, Adolfo," he said.
"They can't prove anything on you, and I'll go your bail. Ed
Austin knows where you was the day that stock was stole." He and
his two remaining men moved toward their automobile, and a moment
later the vehicle went clattering away up the thicket road.

So ended the attempt to foil the return of Ricardo Guzman's body
to Texas soil.

When Alaire came to look for her husband he was gone.





Next: Superstitions And Certainties

Previous: Ed Austin Turns At Bay



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