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Something About Heredity








From: Heart Of The Sunset

It had required but one generation to ripen the fruits of "Old Ed"
Austin's lawlessness, and upon his son heredity had played one of
her grimmest pranks. The father had had faults, but they were
those of his virtues; he had been a strong man, at least, and had
"ridden herd" upon his unruly passions with the same thoroughness
as over his wild cattle. The result was that he had been
universally respected. At first the son seemed destined to be like
his father. It was not until "Young Ed" had reached his full
manhood that his defects had become recognizable evil tendencies,
that his infirmity had developed into a disease. Like sleeping
cancers, the Austin vices had lain dormant in him during boyhood;
it had required the mutation from youth to manhood, and the
alterative effect of marriage, to rouse them; but, once awakened,
their ravages had been swift and destructive. Ed's marriage to
Alaire had been inevitable. They had been playmates, and their
parents had considered the union a consummation of their own
lifelong friendship. Upon her mother's death, Alaire had been sent
abroad, and there she remained while "Young Ed" attended an
Eastern college. For any child the experience would have been a
lonesome one, and through it the motherless Texas girl had grown
into an imaginative, sentimental person, living in a make-believe
world, peopled, for the most part, with the best-remembered
figures of romance and fiction. There were, of course, some few
flesh-and-blood heroes among the rest, and of these the finest and
the noblest had been "Young Ed" Austin.

When she came home to marry, Alaire was still very much of a
child, and she still considered Ed her knight. As for him, he was
captivated by this splendid, handsome girl, whom he remembered
only as a shy, red-headed little comrade.

Never was a marriage more propitious, never were two young people
more happily situated than these two, for they were madly in love,
and each had ample means with which to make the most of life.

As Las Palmas had been the elder Austin's wedding-gift to his son,
so Alaire's dowry from her father had been La Feria, a grant of
lands across the Rio Grande beyond the twenty-league belt by which
Mexico fatuously strives to guard her border. And to Las Palmas
had come the bride and groom to live, to love, and to rear their
children.

But rarely has there been a shorter honeymoon, seldom a swifter
awakening. Within six months "Young Ed" had killed his wife's love
and had himself become an alcoholic. Others of his father's vices
revived, and so multiplied that what few virtues the young man had
inherited were soon choked. The change was utterly unforeseen; its
cause was rooted too deeply in the past to be remedied. Maturity
had marked an epoch with "Young Ed"; marriage had been the mile-
post where his whole course veered abruptly.

To the bride the truth had come as a stunning tragedy. She was
desperately frightened, too, and lived a nightmare life, the while
she tried in every way to check the progress of that
disintegration which was eating up her happiness. The wreck of her
hopes and glad imaginings left her sick, bewildered, in the face
of "the thing that couldn't."

Nor had the effect of this transformation in "Young Ed" been any
less painful to his father. For a time the old man refused to
credit it, but finally, when the truth was borne in upon him
unmistakably, and he saw that Las Palmas was in a fair way to
being ruined through the boy's mismanagement, the old cattleman
had risen in his wrath. The ranch had been his pride as Ed had
been his joy; to see them both go wrong was more than he could
bear. There had been a terrible scene, and a tongue-lashing
delivered in the language of early border days. There had followed
other visits from Austin, senior, other and even bitterer
quarrels; at last, when the girl-wife remained firm in her refusal
to divorce her husband, the understanding had been reached by
which the management of Las Palmas was placed absolutely in her
hands.

Of course, the truth became public, as it always does. This was a
new country--only yesterday it had been the frontier, and even yet
a frontier code of personal conduct to some extent prevailed.
Nevertheless, "Young Ed" Austin's life became a scorn and a
hissing among his neighbors. They were not unduly fastidious,
these neighbors, and they knew that hot blood requires more than a
generation to cool, but everything Ed did outraged them. In trying
to show their sympathy for his wife they succeeded in wounding her
more deeply, and Alaire withdrew into herself. She became almost a
recluse, and fenced herself away not only from the curious, but
also from those who really wished to be her friends. In time
people remarked that Ed Austin's metamorphosis was no harder to
understand than that of his wife.

It was true. She had changed. The alteration reached to the very
bone and marrow of her being. At first the general pity had
wounded her, then it had offended, and finally angered her. That
people should notice her affliction, particularly when she strove
so desperately to hide it, seemed the height of insolence.

The management of Las Palmas was almost her only relief. Having
sprung from a family of ranchers, the work came easy, and she grew
to like it--as well as she could like anything with that ever-
present pain in her breast. The property was so large that it gave
ample excuse for avoiding the few visitors who came, and the range
boss, Benito Gonzales, attended to most of the buying and selling.
Callers gradually became rarer; friends dropped away almost
entirely. Since Las Palmas employed no white help whatever, it
became in time more Mexican than in the days of "Old Ed" Austin's
ownership.

In such wise had Alaire fashioned her life, living meanwhile under
a sort of truce with her husband.

But Las Palmas had prospered to admiration, and La Feria would
have prospered equally had it not been for the armed unrest of the
country across the border. No finer stock than the "Box A" was to
be found anywhere. The old lean, long-horned cattle had been
interbred with white-faced Herefords, and the sleek coats of their
progeny were stretched over twice the former weight of beef.
Alaire had even experimented with the Brahman strain, importing
some huge, hump-backed bulls that set the neighborhood agog.
People proclaimed they were sacred oxen and whispered that they
were intended for some outlandish pagan rite--Alaire by this time
had gained the reputation of being "queer"--while experienced
stockmen declared the venture a woman's folly, affirming that
buffaloes had never been crossed successfully with domestic
cattle. It was rumored that one of these imported animals cost
more than a whole herd of Mexican stock, and the ranchers
speculated freely as to what "Old Ed" Austin would have said of
such extravagance.

It was Blaze Jones, one of the few county residents granted access
to Las Palmas, who first acquainted himself with the outcome of
Alaire's experiment, and it was he who brought news of it to some
visiting stock-buyers at Brownsville.

Blaze was addicted to rhetorical extravagance. His voice was loud;
his fancy ran a splendid course.

"Gentlemen," said he, "you-all interest me with your talk about
your prize Northern stock; but I claim that the bigger the state
the bigger the cattle it raises. That's why old Texas beats the
world."

"But it doesn't," some one contradicted.

"It don't, hey? My boy"--Blaze jabbed a rigid finger into the
speaker's ribs, as if he expected a ground-squirrel to scuttle
forth--"we've got steers in this valley that are damn near the
size of the whole state of Rhode Island. If they keep on growin' I
doubt if you could fatten one of 'em in Delaware without he'd
bulge over into some neighboring commonwealth. It's the God's
truth! I was up at Las Palmas last month--"

"Las Palmas!" The name was enough to challenge the buyers'
interest.

Blaze nodded. "You-all think you know the stock business. You're
all swollen up with cow-knowledge, now, ain't you?" He eyed them
from beneath his black eyebrows. "Well, some of our people thought
they did, too. They figured they'd inherited all there was to know
about live stock, and they grew plumb arrogant over their wisdom.
But--pshaw! They didn't know nothing. Miz Austin has bred in that
Brayma strain and made steers so big they run four to the dozen.
And here's the remarkable thing about 'em--they 'ain't got as many
ticks as you gentlemen."

Some of the cattlemen were incredulous, but Blaze maintained his
point with emphasis. "It's true. They're a grave disappointment to
every kind of parasite."

But Alaire had not confined her efforts to cattle; she had
improved the breed of "Box A" horses, too, and hand in hand with
this work she had carried on a series of agricultural experiments.

Las Palmas, so people used to say, lay too far up the river to be
good farming-land; nevertheless, once the pumping-plant was in,
certain parts of the ranch raised nine crops of alfalfa, and corn
that stood above a rider's head.

There was no money in "finished" stock; the border was too far
from market--that also had long been an accepted truism--yet this
woman built silos which she filled with her own excess fodder in
scientific proportions, and somehow or other she managed to ship
fat beeves direct to the packing-houses and get big prices for
them.

These were but a few of her many ventures. She had her hobbies, of
course, but, oddly enough, most of them paid or promised to do so.
For instance, she had started a grove of paper-shelled pecans,
which was soon due to bear; the ranch house and its clump of palms
was all but hidden by a forest of strange trees, which were
reported to ripen everything from moth-balls to bicycle tires.
Blaze Jones was perhaps responsible for this report, for Alaire
had shown him several thousand eucalyptus saplings and some
ornamental rubber-plants.

"That Miz Austin is a money-makin' piece of furniture," he once
told his daughter Paloma. "I'm no mechanical adder--I count mostly
on my fingers--but her and me calculated the profits on them
eucher--what's-their-name trees?--and it gave me a splittin'
headache. She'll be a drug queen, sure."

"Why don't you follow her example?" asked Paloma. "We have plenty
of land."

Blaze, in truth, was embarrassed by the size of his holdings, but
he shook his head. "No, I'm too old to go rampagin' after new
gods. I 'ain't got the imagination to raise anything more
complicated than a mortgage; but if I was younger, I'd organize
myself up and do away with that Ed Austin. I'd sure help him to an
untimely end, and then I'd marry them pecan-groves, and blooded
herds, and drug-store orchards. She certainly is a heart-breakin'
device, with her red hair and red lips and--"

"FATHER!" Paloma was deeply shocked.

Complete isolation, of course, Alaire had found to be impossible,
even though her ranch lay far from the traveled roads and her
Mexican guards were not encouraging to visitors. Business
inevitably brought her into contact with a considerable number of
people, and of these the one she saw most frequently was Judge
Ellsworth of Brownsville, her attorney.

It was perhaps a week after Ed had left for San Antonio that
Alaire felt the need of Ellsworth's counsel, and sent for him. He
responded promptly, as always. Ellsworth was a kindly man of
fifty-five, with a forceful chin and a drooping, heavy-lidded eye
that could either blaze or twinkle. He was fond of Alaire, and his
sympathy, like his understanding, was of that wordless yet
comprehensive kind which is most satisfying. Judge Ellsworth knew
more than any four men in that part of Texas; information had a
way of seeking him out, and his head was stored to repletion with
facts of every variety. He was a good lawyer, too, and yet his
knowledge of the law comprised but a small part of that mental
wealth upon which he prided himself. He knew human nature, and
that he considered far more important than law. His mind was like
a full granary, and every grain lay where he could put his hand
upon it.

He motored out from Brownsville, and, after ridding himself of
dust, insisted upon spending the interval before dinner in an
inspection of Alaire's latest ranch improvements. He had a
fatherly way of walking with his arm about Alaire's shoulders, and
although she sometimes suspected that his warmth of good-
fellowship was merely a habit cultivated through political
necessities, nevertheless it was comforting, and she took it at
its face value.

Not until the dinner was over did Ellsworth inquire the reason for
his summons.

"It's about La Feria. General Longorio has confiscated my stock,"
Alaire told him.

Ellsworth started. "Longorio! That's bad."

"Yes. One of my riders just brought the news. I was afraid of this
very thing, and so I was preparing to bring the stock over, Still-
-I never thought they'd actually confiscate it."

"Why shouldn't they?"

Alaire interrogated the speaker silently.

"Hasn't Ed done enough to provoke confiscation?" asked the Judge.

"Ed?"

"Exactly! Ed has made a fool of himself, and brought this on."

"You think so?"

"Well, I have it pretty straight that he's giving money to the
Rebel junta and lending every assistance he can to their cause."

"I didn't know he'd actually done anything. How mad!"

"Yes--for a man with interests in Federal territory. But Ed always
does the wrong thing, you know."

"Then I presume this confiscation is in the nature of a reprisal.
But the stock is mine, not Ed's. I'm an American citizen, and--"

"My dear, you're the first one I've heard boast of the fact,"
cynically affirmed the Judge. "If you were in Mexico you'd profit
more by claiming allegiance to the German or the English or some
other foreign flag. The American eagle isn't screaming very loudly
on the other side of the Rio Grande just now, and our dusky
neighbors have learned that it's perfectly safe to pull his tail
feathers."

"I'm surprised at you," Alaire smiled. "Just the same, I want your
help in taking up the matter with Washington."

Ellsworth was pessimistic. "It won't do any good, my dear," he
said. "You'll get your name in the papers, and perhaps cause
another diplomatically worded protest, but there the matter will
end. You won't be paid for your cattle."

"Then I shall go to La Feria."

"No!" The Judge shook his head decidedly.

"I've been there a hundred times. The Federals have always been
more than courteous."

"Longorio has a bad reputation. I strongly advise against your
going."

"Why, Judge, people are going and coming all the time! Mexico is
perfectly safe, and I know the country as well as I know Las
Palmas."

"You'd better send some man."

"Whom can I send?" asked Alaire. "You know my situation."

The Judge considered a moment before replying. "I can't go, for
I'm busy in court. You could probably accomplish more than anybody
else, if Longorio will listen to reason, and, after all, you are a
person of such importance that I dare say you'd be safe. But it
will be a hard trip, and you won't know whether you are in Rebel
or in Federal territory."

"Well, people here are asking whether Texas is in the United
States or Mexico," Alaire said, lightly, "Sometimes I hardly
know." After a moment she continued: "Since you know everything
and everybody, I wonder if you ever met a David Law?"

Ellsworth nodded. "Tell me something about him."

"He asked me the same thing about you. Well, I haven't seen much
of Dave since he grew up, he's such a roamer."

"He said his parents were murdered by the Guadalupes."

The Judge looked up quickly; a queer, startled expression flitted
over his face. "Dave said that? He said both of them were killed?"

"Yes. Isn't it true?"

"Oh, Dave wouldn't lie. It happened a good many years ago, and
certainly they both met a violent end. I was instrumental in
saving what property Frank Law left, but it didn't last Dave very
long. He's right careless in money matters. Dave's a fine fellow
in some ways--most ways, I believe, but--" The Judge lost himself
in frowning meditation.

"I have never known you to damn a friend or a client with such
faint praise," said Alaire.

"Oh, I don't mean it that way. I'm almost like one of Dave's kin,
and I've been keenly interested in watching his traits develop.
I'm interested in heredity. I've watched it in Ed's case, for
instance. If you know the parents it's easy to read their
children." Again he lapsed into silence, nodding to himself. "Yes,
Nature mixes her prescriptions like any druggist. I'm glad you and
Ed--have no babies."

Alaire mumured something unintelligible.

"And yet," the lawyer continued, "many people are cursed with an
inheritance as bad, or worse, than Ed's."

"What has that to do with Mr. Law?"

"Dave? Oh, nothing in particular. I was just--moralizing. It's a
privilege of age, my dear."





Next: A Journey And A Dark Man

Previous: An Evening At Las Palmas



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