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The Guzman Incident

From: Heart Of The Sunset

Ricardo Guzman did not return from Romero. When two days had
passed with no word from him, his sons became alarmed and started
an investigation, but without the slightest result. Even Colonel
Blanco himself could not hazard a guess as to Guzman's fate; the
man had disappeared, it seemed, completely and mysteriously.
Meanwhile, from other quarters of the Mexican town came rumors
that set the border afire.

Readers of this story may remember the famous "Guzman incident,"
so called, and the complications that resulted from it, for at the
time it raised a storm of indignation as the crowning atrocity of
the Mexican revolution, serving further to disturb the troubled
waters of diplomacy and threatening for a moment to upset the
precariously balanced relations of the two countries.

At first the facts appeared plain: a citizen of the United States
had been lured across the border and done to death by Mexican
soldiers--for it soon became evident that Ricardo was dead. The
outrage was a casus belli such as no self-respecting people could
ignore; so ran the popular verdict. Then when that ominous mailed
serpent which lay coiled along the Rio Grande stirred itself,
warlike Americans prepared themselves to hear of big events.

A motive for Ricardo Guzman's murder was not lacking, for it was
generally known that President Potosi had long resented Yankee
enmity, particularly as that enmity was directed at him
personally. A succession of irritating diplomatic skirmishes, an
unsatisfactory series of verbal sparring matches, had roused the
old Indian's anger, and it was considered likely that he had
adopted this means of permanently severing his relations with

Of course, the people of Texas were delighted that the long-
delayed hour had struck; accordingly, when the State Department
seemed strangely loath to investigate the matter, when, in fact,
it manifested a willingness to allow Don Ricardo ample time in
which to come to life in preference to putting a further strain
upon international relations, they were both surprised and
enraged. Telegraph wires began to buzz; the governor of the state
sent a crisply sarcastic message to the national capital, offering
to despatch a company of Rangers after Guzman's body just to prove
that he was indeed dead and that the Mexican authorities were
lying when they professed ignorance of the fact.

This offer not only caught the popular fancy north of the Rio
Grande, but it likewise had an effect on the other side of the
river, for on the very next day General Luis Longorio set out for
Romero to investigate personally the rancher's disappearance.

Now, throughout all this public clamor, truth, as usual, lay
hidden at the bottom of its well, and few even of Ricardo's
closest friends suspected the real reason for his murder.

Jonesville, of course, could think or talk of little else than
this outrage, and Blaze Jones, as befitted its leading citizen,
was loudest in his criticism of the government's weak-kneed

"It makes me right sore to think I'm an American," he confided to
Dave. "Why, if Ricardo had been an Englishman the British consul
at Mexico City would have called on Potosi the minute the news
came. He'd have stuck a six-shooter under the President's nose and
made him locate Don Ricardo, or pay an indemnity and kiss the
Union Jack." Blaze's conception of diplomacy was peculiar. "If
Potosi didn't talk straight that British consul would have bent a
gun-bar'l over the old ruffian's bean and telephoned for a couple
hundred battle-ships. England protects her sons. But we Americans
are cussed with notions of brotherly love and universal peace.
Bah! We're bound to have war, Dave, some day or other. Why not
start it now?"

Dave nodded his agreement. "Yes. We'll have to step in and take
the country over, sooner or later. But--everybody has the wrong
idea of this Guzman killing. The Federal officers in Romero didn't
frame it up."

"No? Who did?"

"Tad Lewis."

Jones started. "What makes you think that?"

"Listen! Tad was afraid to let Urbina come to trial--you remember
one of his men boasted that the case would never be heard? Well,
it won't. Ricardo's dead and the other witness is gone. Now draw
your own conclusions."

"Gone? You mean the fellow who saw Urbina and Garza together?"

"Yes. He has disappeared, too--evidently frightened away."

Jones was amazed. "Say, Dave," he cried, "that means your case has
blown up, eh?"

"Absolutely. Lewis has been selling 'wet' stock to the Federals,
and he probably arranged with some of them to murder Ricardo. At
any rate, that's my theory."

Blaze cursed eloquently. "I'd like to hang it on to Tad; I'd sure
clean house down his way if I was positive."

"I sent a man over to Romero," Dave explained further. "He tells
me Ricardo is dead, all right; but nobody knows how he died, or
why. There's a new grave in the little cemetery above the town,
but nobody knows who's buried in it. There hasn't been a death in
Romero lately." The speaker watched his friend closely. "Ricardo's
family would like to have his body, and I'd like to see it myself.
Wouldn't you? We could tell just what happened to him. If he
really faced a firing-squad, for instance--I reckon Washington
would have something to say, eh?"

"What are you aimin' at?" Blaze inquired.

"If we had Ricardo's body on this side it would put an end to all
the lies, and perhaps force Colonel Blanco to make known the real
facts. It might even mean a case against Tad Lewis. What do you
think of my reasoning?"

"It's eighteen karat. What d'you say we go over there and get

Dave smiled. "That's what I've been leading up to. Will you take a

"Hell, yes!"

"I knew you would. All we need is a pair of Mexicans to--do the
work. I liked Ricardo; I owe him something."

"Suppose we're caught?"

"In that case we'll have to run for it, and--I presume I'll be
discharged from the Ranger service."

"I ain't very good at runnin'--not from Mexicans." Blaze's eyes
were bright and hard at the thought. "It's more'n possible that,
if they discover us, we can start a nice little war of our own."

That evening Dave managed to get his Ranger captain by long-
distance telephone, and for some time the two talked guardedly.
When Dave rang off they had come to a thorough understanding.

It had been an easy matter for Jose Sanchez to secure a leave of
absence from Las Palmas, especially since Benito was not a little
interested in the unexplained disappearance of Panfilo and work
was light at this time. Benito did not think it necessary to
mention the horse-breaker's journey to his employer; so that
Alaire knew nothing whatever about the matter until Jose himself
asked permission to see her on a matter of importance.

The man had ridden hard most of the previous night, and his
excitement was patent. Even before he spoke Alaire realized that
Panfilo's fate was known to him, and she decided swiftly that
there must be no further concealment.

"Senora! A terrible thing!" Jose burst forth. "God knows, I am
nearly mad with grief. It is about my sainted cousin. It is
strange, unbelievable! My head whirls--"

Alaire quieted him, saying in Spanish, "Calm yourself, Jose, and
tell me everything from the beginning."

"But how can I be calm? Oh, what a crime! What a misfortune! Well,
then, Panfilo is completely dead. I rode to that tanque where you
saw him last, and what do you think? But--you know?"

Alaire nodded. "I--suspected."

Jose's dark face blazed; he bent forward eagerly. "What did you
suspect, and why? Tell me all. There is something black and
hellish here, and I must know about it quickly."

"Suppose you tell me your story first," Alaire answered, "and
remember that you are excited."

The Mexican lowered his voice. "Bueno! Forgive me if I seem half
crazed. Well, I rode to that water-hole and found--nothing. It is
a lonely place; only the brush cattle use it; but I said to
myself, 'Panfilo drank here. He was here. Beyond there is nothing.
So I will begin.' God was my helper, senora. I found him--his
bones as naked and clean as pebbles. Caramba! You should have
heard me then! I was like a demon! I couldn't think, I couldn't
reason. I rode from that accursed spot as if Panfilo's ghost
pursued me and--I am here. I shall rouse the country; the people
shall demand the blood of my cousin's assassin. It is the crime of
a century."

"Wait! When you spoke to me last I didn't dream that Panfilo was
dead, but since then I have learned the truth, and why he was
killed. You must let me tell you everything, Jose, just as it
happened; then--you may do whatever you think best. And you shall
have the whole truth."

It was a trying situation; in spite of her brave beginning, Alaire
was tempted to send the Mexican on to Jonesville, there to receive
an explanation directly from David Law himself; but such a course
she dared not risk. Jose was indeed half crazed, and at this
moment quite irresponsible; if he met Dave, terrible consequences
would surely follow. Accordingly, it was with a peculiar,
apprehensive flatter in her breast that Alaire realized the crisis
had come. Heretofore she had blamed Law, but now, oddly enough,
she found herself interested in defending him. As calmly as she
could she related all that had led up to the tragedy, while Jose
listened with eyes wide and mouth open.

"You see, I had no suspicion of the truth," she concluded. "It was
a terrible thing, and Mr. Law regrets it deeply. He would have
made a report to the authorities, only--he feared it might
embarrass me. He will repeat to you all that I have said, and he
is ready to meet the consequences."

Jose was torn with rage, yet plainly a prey to indecision; he
rolled his eyes and cursed under his breath. "These Rangers!" he
muttered. "That is the kind of men they are. They murder honest

"This was not murder," Alaire cried, sharply. "Panfilo was aiding
a felon to escape. The courts will not punish Mr. Law."

"Bah! Who cares for the courts? This man is a Gringo, and these
are Gringo laws. But I am Mexican, and Panfilo was my cousin. We
shall see."

Alaire's eyes darkened. "Don't be rash, Jose," she exclaimed,
warningly. "Mr. Law bears you no ill-will, but--he is a dangerous
man. You would do well to make some inquiries about him. You are a
good man; you have a long life before you." Reading the fellow's
black look, she argued: "You think I am taking his part because he
is my countryman, but he needs no one to defend him. He will make
this whole story public and face the consequences. I like you, and
I don't wish to see you come to a worse end than your cousin

Jose continued to glower. Then, turning away, he said, without
meeting his employer's eyes, "I would like to draw my money."

"Very well. I am sorry to have you leave Las Palmas, for I have
regarded you as one of my gente." Jose's face remained stony.
"What do you intend to do? Where are you going?"

The fellow shrugged. "Quien sabe! Perhaps I shall go to my General
Longorio. He is in Romero, just across the river; he knows a brave
man when he sees one, and he needs fellows like me to kill rebels.
Well, you shall hear of me. People will tell you about that demon
of a Jose whose cousin was murdered by the Rangers. Yes, I have
the heart of a bandit."

Alaire smiled faintly. "You will be shot," she told him. "Those
soldiers have little to eat and no money at all."

But Jose's bright eyes remained hostile and his expression
baffling. It was plain to Alaire that her explanation of his
cousin's death had carried not the slightest conviction, and she
even began to fear that her part in the affair had caused him to
look upon her as an accessory. Nevertheless, when she paid him his
wages she gave him a good horse, which Jose accepted with thanks
but without gratitude. As Alaire watched him ride away with never
a backward glance she decided that she must lose no time in
apprising the Ranger of this new condition of affairs.

She drove her automobile to Jonesville that afternoon, more
worried than she cared to admit. It was a moral certainty, she
knew, that Jose Sanchez would, sooner or later, attempt to take
vengeance upon his cousin's slayer, and there was no telling when
he might become sufficiently inflamed with poisonous Mexican
liquor to be in the mood for killing. Then, too, there were
friends of Panfilo always ready to lend bad counsel.

Law was nowhere in town, and so, in spite of her reluctance,
Alaire was forced to look for him at the Joneses' home. As she had
never called upon Paloma, and had made it almost impossible for
the girl to visit Las Palmas, the meeting of the two women was
somewhat formal. But no one could long remain stiff or constrained
with Paloma Jones; the girl had a directness of manner and an
honest, friendly smile that simply would not be denied. Her
delight that Alaire had come to see her pleased and shamed the
elder woman, who hesitatingly confessed the object of her visit.

"Oh, I thought you were calling on me." Paloma pouted her pretty
lips. "Dave isn't here. He and father--have gone away." A little
pucker of apprehension appeared upon her brow.

"I must get word to him at once."

Miss Jones shook her head. "Is it very important?"

It needed no close observation to discover the concern in Paloma's
eyes; Alaire told her story quickly. "Mr. Law must be warned right
away," she added, "for the man is capable of anything."

Paloma nodded. "Dave told us how he had killed Panfilo--" She
hesitated, and then cried, impulsively: "Mrs. Austin, I'm going to
confess something--I've got to tell somebody or I'll burst. I was
walking the floor when you came. Well, Dad and Dave have
completely lost their wits. They have gone across the river--to
get Ricardo Guzman's body."

"What?" Alaire stared at the girl uncomprehendingly.

"They are going to dig him up and bring him back to prove that he
was killed. Dave knows where he's buried, and he's doing this for
Ricardo's family--some foolish sentiment about a bridle--but Dad,
I think, merely wants to start a war between the United States and

"My dear girl, aren't you dreaming?"

"I thought I must be when I heard about it. Dad wouldn't have told
me at all, only he thought I ought to know in case anything
happens to him." Paloma's breath failed her momentarily. "They'll
be killed. I told them so, but Dave seems to enjoy the risk. He
said Ricardo had a sentimental nature--and, of course, the
possibility of danger delighted both him and Dad. They're perfect

"When did they go? Tell me everything."

"They left an hour ago in my machine, with two Mexicans to help
them. They intend to cross at your pumping-plant as soon as it
gets dark, and be back by mid-night--that is, if they ever get

"Why, it's--unbelievable."

"It's too much for me. Longorio himself is in Romero, and he'd
have them shot if he caught them. We'd never even hear of it."
Paloma's face was pale, her eyes were strained and tragic. "Father
always has been a trial to me, but I thought I could do something
with Dave." She made a hopeless gesture, and Alaire wondered
momentarily whether the girl's anxiety was keenest for the safety
of her father or--the other?

"Can't we prevent them from going?" she inquired. "Why, they are
breaking the law, aren't they?"

"Something like that. But what can we do? It's nearly dark, and
they'll go, anyhow, regardless of what we say."

"Mr. Law is a Ranger, too!"

The girl nodded. "Oh, if it's ever discovered he'll be ruined. And
think of Dad--a man of property! Dave declares Tad Lewis is at the
bottom of it all and put the Federals up to murder Ricardo; he
thinks in this way he can force them into telling the truth. But
Dad is just looking for a fight and wants to be a hero!"

There was a moment of silence. Then Alaire reasoned aloud: "I
presume they chose our pumping-plant because it is directly
opposite the Romero cemetery. I could have Benito and some trusty
men waiting on this side. Or I could even send them over--"

"No, no! Don't you understand? The whole thing is illegal."

"Well, we could be there--you and I."

Paloma agreed eagerly. "Yes! Maybe we could even help them if they
got into trouble."

"Come, then! We'll have supper at Las Palmas and slip down to the
river and wait."

Paloma was gone with a rush. In a moment she returned, ready for
the trip, and with her she carried a Winchester rifle nearly as
long as herself.

"I hope you aren't afraid of firearms," she panted. "I've owned
this gun for years."

"I am rather a good shot," Alaire told her.

Paloma closed her lips firmly. "Good! Maybe we'll come in handy,
after all. Anyhow, I'll bet those Mexicans won't chase Dad and
Dave very far."

Jose Sanchez was true to his declared purpose. With a horse of his
own between his knees, with money in his pocket and hate in his
heart, he left Las Palmas, and, riding to the Lewis crossing,
forded the Rio Grande. By early afternoon he was in Romero, and
there, after some effort, he succeeded in finding General

Romero, at this time the southern outpost of Federal territory,
standing guard against the Rebel forces in Tamaulipas, is a sun-
baked little town sprawling about a naked plaza, and, except for
the presence of Colonel Blanco's detachment of troops, it would
have presented much the same appearance as any one of the lazy
border villages. A scow ferry had at one time linked it on the
American side with a group of 'dobe houses which were sanctified
by the pious name of Sangre de Cristo, but of late years more
advantageous crossings above and below had come into some use and
Romero's ferry had been abandoned. Perhaps a mile above Sangre de
Cristo, and directly opposite Romero's weed-grown cemetery, stood
the pumping-plant of Las Palmas, its corrugated iron roof and
high-flung chimney forming a conspicuous landmark.

Luis Longorio had just awakened from his siesta when Jose gained
admittance to his presence. The general lay at ease in the best
bed of the best house in the village; he greeted the new-comer
with a smile.

"So, my brave Jose, you wish to become a soldier and fight for
your country, eh?"

"Yes, my general."

Longorio yawned and stretched lazily. "Body of Christ! This is a
hard life. Here am I in this goatherd's hovel, hot, dirty, and
half starved, and all because of a fellow I never saw who got
himself killed. You would think this Ricardo was an Englishman
instead of a Gringo, for the fuss that is made. Who was he? Some
great jefe?

"A miserable fellow. I knew him well. Then he is indeed dead?"

"Quite dead, I believe," Longorio said, carelessly; then turning
his large, bright eyes upon the visitor, he continued, with more
interest, "Now tell me about the beautiful senora, your mistress."

Jose scowled. "She's not my mistress. I am no longer of her gente.
I have a debt of blood to wipe out."

Longorio sat up in his bed; the smile left his face. "My Jose", he
said, quietly, "if you harm her in the least I shall bury you to
the neck in an ant's nest and fill your mouth with honey. Now,
what is this you are telling me?"

Jose, uncomfortably startled by this barbarous threat, told as
connectedly as he knew how all about his cousin's death and his
reasons for leaving Las Palmas.

"Ah-h!" Longorio relaxed. "You gave me a start. At first I thought
you came with a message from her--but that was too much to expect;
then I feared you meant the lady some evil. Now I shall tell you a
little secret: I love your senora! Yes, I love her madly,
furiously; I can think of nothing but her. I came to this
abominable village more to see her than to annoy myself over the
death of Ricardo Guzman. I must see my divinity; I must hear her
blessed voice, or I shall go mad. Why do I tell you this? Because
I have decided that you shall lead me to her to-night." The
general fell silent for a moment, then, "I intend to have her some
day, Jose, and--perhaps you will be my right hand. See, I make you
my confidant because you will not dare to anger me or--Well, my
little friend, you must understand what fate would befall you in
that case. I can reach across the Rio Grande."

Amazement and then fear were depicted in Jose's face as he
listened; he asserted his loyalty vehemently.

"Yes, yes, I know you love me," the general agreed, carelessly.
"But what is far more to the point, I intend to pay well for your
services. Perhaps I shall also arrange so that you may have a
reckoning with the murderer of your cousin. What is his name?"

It was Jose's opportunity to make an impression, and he used it to
the full, telling all that he knew of the killing of Panfilo, and
describing Law with the eloquence of hatred.

Longorio listened for a time, and then held up his hand. "Enough.
For my sake, too, you shall kill him, for you have made me

"Impossible!" Jose raised protesting palms. He was sure the
general was wrong. Senora Austin was above suspicion of any kind.

"And yet this man met her in Pueblo and rode with her to Las
Palmas? He comes to see her frequently, you say?" The general bent
his bright, keen eyes upon the visitor.

"Yes. She gave him the finest horse at Las Palmas, too, and--" A
new thought presented itself to Jose. "Ho! By the way, they were
alone at the water-hole when my cousin Panfilo was shot. Now that
I think of it, they were alone together for a day and a night. I
begin to wonder--"

Longorio breathed an oath and swung his long legs over the edge of
the bed. "You have poisoned my mind. A whole day and night, eh?
That is bad. What happened? What kind of a fool is her husband? I
cannot bear to think of this! See, I am beside myself. Caramba! I
live in paradise; I come flying on the wings of the wind, only to
learn that my blessed divinity has a lover. If only my excellent
Blanco had shot this fellow Law instead of that Guzman! If only I
could lay hands upon him here in Mexico! Ha! There would be
something to print in the American papers." He began to dress
himself feverishly, muttering, as he did so: "I will permit no one
to come between us. ... The thought kills me. ... You bring me bad
news, Jose, and yet I am glad you came. I accept your offer, and
you shall be my man henceforth; ... but you shall not go out to be
shot by those rebels. No, you shall return to Las Palmas to be my
eyes and my ears, and, when the time comes, you shall be my hands,
too. ... I will avenge your cousin Panfilo for you, my word on
that. Yes, and I will make you a rich man."

Jose listened hungrily to these promises. He was relieved at the
change in his plans, for, after all, a soldier's life offered few
attractions, and--the food at Las Palmas was good. The general
promised him fine wages, too. Truly, it was fortunate that he had
come to Romero.

"Now we have settled this," Jose's new employer declared, "run
away and amuse yourself until dark. Then we will take a little
journey by way of the old ferry."

"It is not altogether safe," ventured Jose. "That country over
there is alive with refugees."

"I will take some men with me," said Longorio. "Now go and let me

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