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The Priest From Monclova








From: Heart Of The Sunset

That was a night of terror for the women. Although Longorio's
discipline was in some ways strict, in others it was extremely
lax. From some quarter his men had secured a supply of mescal,
and, forgetful of Felipe's unhappy fate, they rendered the hours
hideous. There were singing and quarreling, and a shot or two
sounded from the direction of the outbuildings. Morning found both
Alaire and Dolores sadly overwrought. But they felt some relief
upon learning that the general had been unexpectedly summoned from
his bed at daylight, and had ridden to the telegraph office.

Profiting by his absence, Alaire ventured from her room, racking
her brain to devise some means of escape. But soldiers were
everywhere; they lolled around the servants' quarters; they dozed
in the shade of the ranch buildings, recovering from the night's
debauch; and an armed sentinel who paced the hacienda road gave
evidence that, despite their apparent carelessness, they had by no
means relaxed their vigilance. A round of the premises convinced
Alaire that the place was effectually guarded, and showed her the
futility of trying to slip away. She realized, too, that even if
she managed to do so, her plight would be little better. For how
could she hope to cover the hundred miles between La Feria and the
Rio Grande when every peon was an enemy?

She was standing in one of the open, sashless windows when her
former protector, the old lieutenant, bade her good morning and
paused to smoke a cigarette.

"Well, it was a great night, wasn't it?" he began. "And we have
great news this morning. We are going to fight you gringos."

"I hope not."

"Yes; it will probably go hard with you. Tell me, this city of
Washington is a fine city, and very rich, is it not?"

"Oh yes."

"It's full of loot, eh? Especially the President's palace? That is
good. One can never believe all one hears."

"Why do you ask?" Alaire was curious.

"I was thinking it would pay us to go there. If your soldiers
march upon Mexico City, it would be a brilliant piece of strategy
for General Longorio to invade the United States, would it not? It
would be funny to capture Washington and hold your President for
ransom, eh?"

"Very funny," Alaire agreed, dryly. "How would you go about it?"

Pancho shrugged. "That is the trouble. We would have to march
around Texas, I presume."

"Around Texas?"

"Yes. You see, Texas is a bad country; it is full of--barbarians
who know how to fight. If it were not for Texas we would have the
United States at our mercy." After some consideration he ventured
this opinion: "We could afford to pay the Texans for allowing us
to ride through their country, provided we stole nothing and paid
for the cattle we ate. Well, Longorio is a great one for schemes;
he is talking over the telegraph with somebody at this moment.
Perhaps it is the President of Texas."

"You are a poor man, are you not?" Alaire inquired.

"Miserably poor."

"Would you like to make a great deal of money?"

"Dios! That is why I'm a soldier."

"I will pay you well to get me two horses--"

But old Pancho shook his head vigorously. "Impossible! General
Longorio is going to marry you. We all got drunk last night to
celebrate the wedding. Yes, and the priest is waiting."

"I will make you rich."

"Ho! I wouldn't live to spend a single peso. Felipe disobeyed
orders, and the general shot him before he could cross himself.
Boom! The poor fellow was in hell in a minute. No. We will all be
rich after we win a few battles and capture some American cities.
I am an old man; I shall leave the drinking and the women to the
young fellows, and prepare for my old age."

Seeing that she could not enlist Pancho's aid, Alaire begged him
to fetch the priest.

"You wish spiritual comfort, senora?"

"Perhaps."

"Well, he doesn't look like much of a priest, but probably he will
do. As for me, I don't believe in such things. Churches are all
very well for ignorant people, but we Mexicans are too
intelligent; we are making an end of them."

The priest was a small, white-haired man with a gentle, almost
timid face, and at the moment when he appeared before Alaire he
was in anything but a happy frame of mind. He had undergone, he
told her, a terrible experience. His name was O'Malley. He had
come from Monclova, whence the Rebels had banished him under
threat of death. He had seen his church despoiled of its
valuables, his school closed; he himself had managed to escape
only by a miracle. During his flight toward the border he had
suffered every indignity, and finally Longorio had intercepted him
and brought him here, practically in chains.

"What a situation! What chaos!" he lamented. "The land is overrun
with bandits; there is no law, no authority, no faith; religion is
made a mockery. The men are becoming infidels and atheists, and in
many places they will not allow us to give comfort even to their
women."

"Is it as bad as that?"

Father O'Malley shook his head sadly. "You've no idea. What do you
think of a people who forbid the mention of God's name in their
schools? That is what the revolutionists are doing. Candeleria
claims that the churches are the property of the State. He
confiscates them, and he charges admission. He has banished all
except a few of us priests, and has shamefully persecuted our
Sisters of Mercy. Oh, the outrages! Mexico is, today, the blackest
spot on the map of Christendom." His voice broke. "That is the
freedom, the liberty, the democracy, for which they are fighting.
That is the new Mexico. And the Federals are not a bit better.
This Longorio, for instance, this--wolf--he brings me here, as his
prisoner, to solemnize an unholy marriage! He treats me like a
dog. Last night I slept in a filthy hovel--"

"Oh! I'm sorry," Alaire exclaimed. "But I'm half crazed with my
own troubles. You must come into the house; the best I have is
yours. You shall be as much my guest as I can make you, and--
perhaps you will help me to escape." "Escape?" The little man
smiled mournfully. "You are watched and guarded, and so am I. Even
if you got away from here, what then? You can't imagine the
condition of the country."

"I won't marry him!" Alaire cried, with a shudder. "I won't!"

"He can't very well force you to do so. But remember, these are
war times; the man is a fiend, and he puts no restraint upon his
desires. If he is madly bent on having you, how can you prevent
it? In normal times he would not dare injure one so prominent as
you, but now--" Father O'Malley lifted his hands. "I only wonder
that he suggests a lawful marriage. Suppose you refuse? Will he
not sacrifice you to his passions? He has done worse things."
After a moment's consideration he said: "Of course it is possible
that I misjudge him. Anyhow, if you desire me to do so I will
refuse to perform the ceremony. But--I'm afraid it will just mean
ruin for both of us."

"Surely he wouldn't harm you?"

The Father shrugged. "What am I? An obscure priest. Many of my
brothers are buried in Mexico. However, I shall do as you wish."

As the day wore on Alaire realized even more clearly the fact that
she was Longorio's prisoner. His men, in spite of their recent
debauch, kept a very good watch over her, and it was plain that
they would obey his orders, no matter how extreme. It occurred to
her finally that he was staying away purposely, in order to give
her a fuller appreciation of her position--so that she might beat
her wings against the cage until exhausted.

Afternoon came, then evening, and still Longorio did not return,
Father O'Malley could give scant comfort; Dolores was a positive
trial.

Half distracted, Alaire roamed through the house, awaiting her
captor's coming, steeling herself for their final battle. But the
delay was trying; she longed for the crisis to come, that this
intolerable suspense might be ended. At such an hour her thoughts
naturally turned to Dave Law, and she found herself yearning for
him with a yearning utterly new. His love had supported her
through those miserable days at Las Palmas, but now it was a
torture; she called his name wildly, passionately. He knew her
whereabouts and her peril--why did he not come? Then, more calmly,
she asked herself what he, or what any one, could do for her. How
could she look for succor when two nations were at war?

Night had come before she finally gave up and acknowledged the
hopelessness of her situation. She had fought bravely, but with
darkness her fears grew blacker. She was on the verge of her first
breakdown when, in the early dusk outside, she heard voices and
the stamping of horses' hoofs. The sounds were muffled by the
heavy wooden shutters she had taken pains to close and bar, but
they told her that Longorio had returned. Since it was futile to
deny him entrance, she waited where she was. Old Pancho's voice
sounded outside; then there came a knock upon the door of the room
in which she stood.

"Come in," she said, tensely.

The lieutenant thrust his head in and, removing his hat,
announced, "There is someone here to see General Longorio on
important business. He says you will do."

"I?"

"Yes. He says he is one of us--"

Pancho was pushed aside, the door was flung back, and a man strode
swiftly into the lamplight. He paused, blinking as if momentarily
blinded, and Alaire clutched at the nearest chair for support. A
roaring began in her ears; she felt herself sway forward as if the
strength had left her knees. She heard Dave's voice faintly; he
was saying:

"Take care of my horse. Feed and water her well. Understand? When
General Longorio comes tell him I am waiting here."

As if in a dream, Alaire saw the Mexican go out, closing the door
behind him. Then she saw Dave come toward her, heard him speak her
name, felt his arms around her.

Alaire did not swoon, but she never could remember very distinctly
those first few moments. Scarcely knowing what she did, she found
herself clinging to her lover, laughing, weeping, feeling him over
with shaking hands that would not be convinced of his reality. She
was aware of his kisses upon her lips, her eyes, her hair; he was
saying something which she could not understand because of that
roaring in her ears.

"You heard me calling," she told him at last. "Oh, I was--so
frightened!" She clung closer to him. After a time she discovered
that she was mechanically nodding and shaking her head at the
questions he was putting to her, but had only the vaguest idea
what they were. By and by she began to tell him about Longorio,
speaking in a sort of hypnotic murmur, as if her words issued at
his mental suggestion. And all the time she snuggled against his
breast.

"Dearest!" Dave held her away in gentle hands. "I was afraid you'd
go to pieces like this, but I had to break through the best way I
could. I learned you were here and something about what was going
on from the people at the next ranch. But I expected to find HIM
here, too."

"How did you manage to get here?"

"I hardly know. I just wouldn't let 'em stop me. This lieutenant
wouldn't let me in until I told him I was from Monterey with
important news. I don't remember all I did tell him. I tried to
get here last night, but I had trouble. They caught me, and I had
to buy my way through. I've bribed and bullied and lied clear from
Romero. I reckon they couldn't imagine I'd risk being here if I
wasn't a friend."

It was more Dave's tone than his words that roused Alaire to an
appreciation of what he said.

"Are you alone?" she asked, in vague dismay. "Then what are we
going to do?"

"I don't know yet. My plans ended here."

"Dave! You rode in just to find me! Just to be with me?"

"Yes. And to get HIM." Alaire saw his face twitch, and realized
that it was very haggard, very old and tired. "They lifted my
guns--a bunch of fellows at the Rio Negro crossing. Some of them
were drunk and wouldn't believe I was an amigo. So I finally had
to ride for it."

"Can't you take me away?" she asked, faintly. "What will you do
when--he comes?"

"I reckon I'll manage him somehow." His grip upon her tightened
painfully, and she could feel him tremble. "I was afraid I
wouldn't find you. I--O God, Alaire!" He buried his face in her
hair.

"I had a terrible scene with him last night. He insists upon
marrying me. I--I was hoping you'd come."

"How could I, when nobody knew where you were?"

"Didn't you know? I wrote you." He shook his head. "Then how did
you learn?"

"From Jose. I caught him within an hour of the murder, and made
him tell me everything."

Alaire's eyes dilated; she held herself away, saying,
breathlessly: "Murder! Is that what it was? He--Longorio--told me
something quite different."

"Naturally. It was he who hired Jose to do the shooting."

"Oh-h!" Alaire hid her face in her hands. She looked up again
quickly, however, and her cheeks were white. "Then he won't spare
you, Dave." She choked for an instant. "We must get away before he
comes. There must be some way of escape. Think!"

"I'm pretty tired to think. I'm pretty near played out," he
confessed.

"They're watching me, but they'd let you go."

"Now that I'm here I'm going to stay until--"

She interrupted, crying his name loudly, "Dave!"

"Yes. What is it?"

"Wait! Let me think." She closed her eyes; her brows drew together
as if in the labor of concentration. When she lifted her lids her
eyes were alight, her voice was eager. "I know how. I see it. He
won't dare--But you must do what I tell you."

"Of course."

"No questions. Understand?"

When he nodded impatiently she ran to the door and, flinging it
open, called down the hall:

"Father! Father O'Malley! Quick!" Then she summoned Dolores.

The priest answered; he hurried from his room and, with a dazed
lack of comprehension, acknowledged his swift introduction to
Dave. Alaire was keenly alive and vibrant with purpose now.
Dolores, too, came running, and while the men were exchanging
greetings her mistress murmured something in her ear, then
hastened her departure with a quick push. Turning upon the others,
Alaire explained:

"I've sent for some of the women, and they'll be here in a minute.
Father, this man has come for me. He loves me. Will you marry us,
before Longorio arrives?"

"Alaire!" Dave exclaimed.

She stilled him with a gesture. "Quick! Will you?"

Father O'Malley was bewildered. "I don't understand," he
expostulated.

"Nor I," echoed Dave.

"You don't need to understand. I know what I'm doing. I've thought
of a way to save us all."

Through Dave's mind flashed the memory of that thing which had
haunted him and made his life a nightmare. An incoherent refusal
was upon his lips, but Alaire's face besought him; it was shining
with a strange, new ecstasy, and he could not bring himself to
deny her. Of what her plan consisted he had only the dimmest idea,
but he assured himself that it could by no possibility succeed.
After all, what did it matter? he asked himself. They were
trapped. This might serve, somehow, to cheat Longorio, and--Alaire
would be his wife.

"Very well," he stammered, weakly. "What are you thinking of?"

"I haven't thought it all out yet, but--"

At that moment Dolores returned, bringing with her the three
black-haired, black-shawled house servants, bundling them through
the door and ranging them along the wall.

Father O'Malley's face was puckered; he said, hesitatingly: "My
dear madam, this isn't regular; you are not Catholics. How can I
bless you?"

"You can marry us legally, just the same, can't you?" Alaire was
breathing rapidly, and some part of her eagerness began to thrill
her hearers.

"Oh yes, but--"

"Then marry us. And make haste, please! Please!"

Law nodded. He could not speak, for his mouth was dry. A voice
within him shouted a warning, but he would not listen. His heart
was beating violently; his temples were pounding; all the blood of
his body seemed centered in his head.

Before the eyes of the four wondering women Father O'Malley
married them. It seemed to Alaire that he would never reach the
end, although, in fact, he stumbled through the ceremony swiftly.
Alaire clipped his last words short by crying:

"Tell these people so that they'll understand what it all means.
Tell them to remember they have seen a marriage by the Church."

The priest did as he was directed, and his audience signified
their understanding. Then Dolores led them out





Next: The Man Of Destiny

Previous: The Doors Of Paradise



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