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The Crash








From: Heart Of The Sunset

The several days following Dave's unexpected call at Las Palmas
Alaire spent in a delightful reverie. She had so often wrestled
with the question of divorce that she had begun to weary of it;
and now, when she tried to summon energy to consider it anew, she
found herself, as usual, reasoning in a circle and arriving at no
decision. She gave up trying, at length, and for the time being
rested content in the knowledge that she loved and was loved. In
her heart she knew well enough what her ultimate course would be:
sooner or later events would force her action. Yielding to a
natural cowardice, therefore, she resigned herself to dreamy
meditations and left the future to take care of itself. A week
passed while she hugged her thoughts to her breast, and then one
evening she rode home to learn that Ed had returned from San
Antonio.

But Ed was ill, and he did not appear at dinner. It had been years
since either had dared invade the other's privacy, and now,
inasmuch as her husband did not send for her, Alaire did not
presume to offer her services as nurse. As a matter of fact, she
considered this quite unnecessary, for she felt sure that he was
either suffering the customary after-effects of a visit to the
city or else that he lacked the moral courage to undertake an
explanation of his hurried flight from the ranch. In either event
she was glad he kept to his room.

Heretofore their formal relations had made life at least tolerable
to Alaire, but now she experienced a feeling of guilt at finding
herself under the same roof with him. Oddly enough, it seemed to
her that in this she wronged Dave and not her husband; for she
reasoned that, having given her love to one man, her presence in
the same house with another outraged that love.

When Austin made his appearance, on the day following his return,
his bleared eyes, his puffy, pasty cheeks, his shattered nerves,
showed plainly enough how he had spent his time. Although he was
jumpy and irritable, he seemed determined by an assumption of high
spirits and exaggerated friendliness to avert criticism. Since
Alaire spared him all reproaches, his efforts seemed to meet with
admirable success. Now Ed's opinion of women was not high, for
those with whom he habitually associated were of small
intelligence; and, seeing that his wife continued to manifest a
complete indifference to his past actions, he decided that his
apprehensions had been groundless. If Alaire remembered the Guzman
affair at all, or if she had suspected him of complicity in it,
time had evidently dulled her suspicions, and he was a little
sorry he had taken pains to stay away so long.

Before many days, however, he discovered that this indifference of
hers was not assumed, and that in some way or other she had
changed. Ed was accustomed, when he returned exhausted from a
debauch, to seeing in his wife's eyes a strained misery; he had
learned to expect in her bearing a sort of pitying, hopeless
resignation. But this time she was not in the least depressed. On
the contrary, she appeared happier, fresher, and younger than he
had seen her for a long time. It was mystifying. When, one
morning, he overheard her singing in her room, he was shocked.
Over this phenomenon he meditated with growing amazement and a
faint stir of resentment in his breast, for he lived a self-
centered life, considering himself the pivot upon which revolved
all the affairs of his little world. To feel that he had lost even
the power to make his wife unhappy argued that he had
overestimated his importance.

At length, having sufficiently recovered his health to begin
drinking again, he yielded one evening to an alcoholic impulse
and, just as Alaire bade him good night, clumsily sought to force
an explanation.

"See here!" he shot at her. "What's the matter with you lately?"
He saw that he had startled her and that she made an effort to
collect her wandering thoughts. "You're about as warm and wifely
as a stone idol."

"Am I any different to what I have always been?"

"Humph! You haven't been exactly sympathetic of late. Here I come
home sick, and you treat me like one of the help. Don't you think
I have feelings? Jove! I'm lonesome."

Alaire regarded him speculatively, then shook her head as if in
answer to some thought.

In an obvious and somewhat too mellow effort to be friendly, Ed
continued: "Don't let's go on like this, Alaire. You blame me for
going away so much, but, good Lord! when I'm home I feel like an
interloper. You treat me like a cow-thief."

"I'm sorry. I've tried to be everything I should. I'm the
interloper."

"Nonsense! If we only got along together as well as we seem to
from the outside it wouldn't be bad at all. But you're too severe.
You seem to think a man should be perfect. Well, none of us are,
and I'm no worse than the majority. Why, I know lots of fellows
who forget themselves and do things they shouldn't, but they don't
mean anything by it. They have wives and homes to go to when it's
all over. But have I? You're as glad to see me as if I had
smallpox. Maybe we've made a mess of things, but married life
isn't what young girls think it is, A wife must learn to give and
take."

"I've given. What have I taken?" she asked him in a voice that
quivered.

Ed made an impatient gesture. "Oh, don't be so literal! I mean
that, since we're man and wife, it's up to you to be a little
more--broad-gauge in your views."

"In other words, you want me to ignore your conduct. Is that it?
I'm afraid we can't argue that, Ed."

Within the last few days Austin's mind had registered a number of
new impressions, and at this moment he realized that his wife was
undoubtedly the most attractive woman physically he had ever
known. Of course she was cold, but she had not always been so. He
had chilled her; he had seen the fire die year by year, but now
the memory of her as she had once been swept over him, bringing a
renewed appreciation of her charms. His recent dissipation had
told upon him as heavily as a siege of sickness, and this evening
he was in that fatuous, sentimental mood which comes with
convalescence, Having no fault to find with himself, and feeling
merely a selfish desire to make more pleasant his life at Las
Palmas, he undertook to bend Alaire to his will.

"All right; don't let's try to argue it," he laughed, with what he
considered an admirable show of magnanimity. "I hate arguments,
anyhow; I'd much rather have a goodnight kiss."

But when he stooped over her Alaire held him off and turned her
head. "No!" she said.

"You haven't kissed me for--"

"I don't wish to kiss you."

"Don't be silly," he insisted. This suggestion of physical
resistance excited his love of conquest and awoke something like
the mood of a lover--such a lover as a man like Ed could be. For a
moment he felt as if Alaire were some other woman than his wife, a
woman who refused and yet half expected to be overcome; therefore
he laughed self-consciously and repeated, "Come now, I want a
kiss."

Alaire thrust him back strongly, and he saw that her face had
whitened. Oddly enough, her stubbornness angered him out of all
reason, and he began a harsh remonstrance. But he halted when she
cried:

"Wait! I must tell you something, Ed. It's all over, and has been
for a long time. We're going to end it."

"End it?"

"We can't go on living together. Why should we?"

"So? Divorce? Is that it?"

Alaire nodded.

"Well, I'll be damned!" Ed was dumfounded. "Isn't this rather
sudden?" he managed to inquire.

"Oh no. You've suggested it more than once."

"I thought you didn't believe in divorces--couldn't stomach 'em?
What's happened?"

"I have changed my mind."

"Humph! People don't change their minds in a minute," he cried,
angrily. "Is there some other man?"

Now Ed Austin had no faintest idea that his wife would answer in
the affirmative, for he had long ago learned to put implicit
confidence in her, and her life had been so open that he could not
imagine that it held a double interest. Therefore her reply struck
him speechless.

"Yes, Ed," she said, quietly, "there is another man."

It was like her not to evade. She had never lied to him.

Ed's mouth opened; his reddened eyes protruded. "Well--" he
stammered. "Well, by God!" Then after a moment: "Who is it, the
Greaser or the cowboy?" He laughed loudly, disagreeably. "It must
be one or the other, for you haven't seen any men except them.
Another man! Well, you're cool about it."

"I am glad you know the truth."

Muttering to himself, Ed made a short excursion around the room,
then paused before his wife with a sneer on his lips. "Did it ever
occur to you that I might object?" he demanded.

Alaire eyed him scornfully. "What right have you to object?"

Ed could not restrain a malevolent gleam of curiosity. "Say, who
is it? Ain't I entitled to know that much?" As Alaire remained
silent he let his eyes rove over her with a kind of angry
appreciation. "You're pretty enough to stampede any man," he
admitted. "Yes, and you've got money, too. I'll bet it's the
Ranger. So, you've been having your fling while I was away. Hunh!
We're tarred with the same stick."

"You don't really believe that," she told him, sharply.

"Why not? You've had enough opportunity. I don't see anything of
you, and haven't for years. Well, I was a fool to trust you."

Alaire's eyes were very dark and very bright as she said: "I
wonder how I have managed to live with you as long as I have. I
knew you were weak, nasty--so I was prepared for something like
this. But I never thought you were a downright criminal until--"

"Criminal? Rot!"

"How about that Guzman affair? You can't go much lower, Ed, and
you can't keep me here with you."

"I can't keep you, eh?" he growled. "Well, perhaps not. I suppose
you've got enough on me to secure a divorce, but I can air some of
your dirty linen. Oh, don't look like that! I mean it! Didn't you
spend a night with David Law?" He leered at her unpleasantly, then
followed a step as she drew back.

"Don't you touch me!" she cried.

A flush was deepening Ed's purple cheeks; his voice was peculiarly
brutal and throaty as he said: "The decree isn't entered yet, and
so long as you are Mrs. Austin I have rights. Yes, and I intend to
exercise them. You've made me jealous, and, by God--" He made to
encircle her with his arms and was half successful, but when
Alaire felt the heat of his breath in her face a sick loathing
sprang up within her, and, setting her back against the wall, she
sent him reeling. Whether she struck him or merely pushed him away
she never knew, for during the instant of their struggle she was
blind with indignation and fury. Profiting by her advantage, she
dodged past him, fled to her room, and locked herself in.

She heard him muttering profanely; heard him approach her chamber
more than once, then retire uncertainly, but she knew him too well
to be afraid.

Later that night she wrote two letters--one to Judge Ellsworth,
the other to Dave Law.

Jose Sanchez rode to the Morales house feeling some concern over
the summons that took him thither. He wondered what could have
induced General Longorio to forsake his many important duties in
order to make the long trip from Nuevo Pueblo; surely it could be
due to no lack of zeal on his, Jose's, part. No! The horse-breaker
flattered himself that he had made a very good spy indeed; that he
had been Longorio's eyes and ears so far as circumstances
permitted. Nor did he feel that he had been lax in making his
reports, for through Rosa he had written the general several
lengthy letters, and just for good measure these two had conjured
up sundry imaginary happenings to prove beyond doubt that Senora
Austin was miserably unhappy with her husband and ready to welcome
such a dashing lover as Longorio. Therefore Jose could not for the
life of him imagine wherein he had been remiss. Nevertheless, he
was uneasy, and he hoped that nothing had occurred to anger his
general.

But Longorio, when he arrived at the meeting-place, was not in a
bad humor. Having sent Rosa away on some errand, he turned to Jose
with a flashing smile, and said:

"Well, my good friend, the time has come."

Now Jose had no faintest idea what the general was talking about,
but to be called the good friend of so illustrious a person was
flattering. He nodded decisively.

"Yes, beyond doubt," he agreed.

"Mexico is in a bad way. These rebels are growing by the
thousands; they overrun the country like ants. You read the
papers, eh?"

"Sometimes; when there are enough pictures," said Jose.

"Ha! Then I doubt if you know what is happening. Well, I'll have
to tell you. Our enemies have taken all northern Mexico except
that part which is under my control; but they are pushing toward
me from two sides, and I prepare to retreat. That is not the
worst, however; the Gringos are hoping to profit by Mexico's
distress; they are making ready to invade our Fatherland, and
every Mexican must fight or become a slave."

This was indeed news! Jose began patriotically cursing the whole
American people.

"Understand, I make you my confidant because I think a great deal
of you, Jose." The general laid an affectionate hand upon Jose's
shoulder. "The first time I saw you I said: 'There's a boy after
my own heart. I shall learn to love that Jose, and I shall put him
in the way of his fortune.' Well, I have not changed my mind, and
the time is come. You are going to help me and I am going to help
you."

Jose Sanchez thrilled with elation from head to foot. This
promised to be the greatest day of his life, and he felt that he
must be dreaming.

"You haven't tired of Rosa, eh? You still wish to marry her?"
Longorio was inquiring.

"Yes. But, of course, I'm a poor man."

"Just so. I shall attend to that. Now we come to the object of my
visit. Jose, I propose to make you rich enough in one day so that
you can marry."

"But first, wait!" exclaimed the horse-breaker. "I bring you
something of value, too." Desiring to render favor for favor, and
to show that he was fully deserving of the general's generosity,
Jose removed from inside the sweatband of his hat a sealed,
stamped letter, which he handed to his employer. "Yesterday I
carried the mail to town, but as I rode away from Las Palmas the
senora handed me this, with a silver dollar for myself. Look! It
is written to the man we both hate."

Longorio took the letter, read the inscription, and then opened
the envelope. Jose looked on with pleasure while he spelled out
the contents.

When the general had finished reading, he exclaimed: "Ho! A
miracle! Now I know all that I wish to know."

"Then I did well to steal that letter, eh?"

"Diablo! Yes! That brute of a husband makes my angel's life
unbearable, and she flees to La Feria to be rid of him. Good! It
fits in with my plans. She will be surprised to see me there.
Then, when the war comes and all is chaos then what? I'll warrant
I can make her forget certain things and certain people." Longorio
nodded with satisfaction. "You did very well, Jose."

The latter leaned forward, his eyes bright. "That lady is rich. A
fine prize, truly. She would bring a huge ransom."

This remark brought a smile to Longorio's face. "My dear friend,
you do not in the least understand," he said. "Ransom! What an
idea!" He lost himself in meditation, then, rousing, spoke
briskly: "Listen! In two, three days, your senora will leave Las
Palmas. When she is gone you will perform your work, like the
brave man I know you to be. You will relieve her of her husband."

Jose hesitated, and the smile vanished from his face. "Senor Ed is
not a bad man. He likes me; he--" Longorio's gaze altered and Jose
fell silent.

"Come! You are not losing heart, eh? Have I not promised to make
you a rich man? Well, the time has arrived." Seeing that Jose
still manifested no eagerness, the general went on in a different
tone: "Do not think that you can withdraw from our little
arrangement. Oh no! Do you remember a promise I made to you when
you came to me in Romero? I said that if you played me false I
would bury you to the neck in an anthill and fill your mouth with
honey. I keep my promises."

Jose's struggle was brief; he promptly resigned himself to the
inevitable. With every evidence of sincerity he assured Longorio
of his loyalty, and denied the least intention of betraying his
general's confidence. What, after all, was his mission upon earth
if not to serve Longorio's interests? One might have a peaceful
heart and still be a man. Jose was every inch a man; he was a very
devil when he let himself go, and his Excellency need have no
fears as to the outcome of their plan. After all, the GRINGOS were
enemies, and there was no one of them who did not merit
destruction.

Pleased with these sentiments, and feeling sufficiently assured
that Jose was now really in the proper frame of mind to suit his
purpose, Longorio took the winding trail back toward Sangre de
Cristo.





Next: Dave Law Comes Home

Previous: What Ellsworth Had To Say



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