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The Truth About Panfilo








From: Heart Of The Sunset

Nothing more was said during the luncheon, but when Alaire had
finished eating and her two employees had begun their meal, she
climbed the bank of the arroyo ostensibly to find a cool spot.
Having succeeded, she called to Dave:

"There is a nice breeze up here."

The Ranger's face set; rising slowly, he climbed the bank after
her. When they stood face to face in the shade of a gnarly oak-
tree, Alaire asked him point-blank:

"Where is Panfilo Sanchez?"

Dave met her eyes squarely; his own were cold and hard. "He's
where he dropped at my second shot," said he.

He could hear his companion's sharp inhalation. He did not flinch
at the look she turned upon him.

"Then--you killed him?"

"Yes'm!"

"God! He was practically unarmed! What do you call--such an act?"

Dave's lips slowly whitened, his face became stony. He closed his
eyes, then opened them upon hers. "He had it coming. He stole my
horse. He took a chance."

Mrs. Austin turned away. For a time they were silent and Dave felt
himself pitilessly condemned.

"Why didn't you tell me at the time?" she asked. "Why didn't you
report it?"

"I'll report it when you give me permission."

"I--? What--?" She wheeled to face him.

"Think a moment. I can't tell half the truth. And if I tell
everything it will lead to--gossip."

"Ah! I think I understand. Mr. Law, you can be insulting--"

For the first time the man lost muscular control of his features;
they twitched, and under their tan his cheeks became a sickly
yellow.

"You've no right to say that," he told her, harshly. "You've plumb
overstepped yourself, ma'am, and--I reckon you've formed quite a
wrong opinion of me and of the facts. Let me tell you something
about that killing and about myself, so you'll have it all
straight before you bring in your verdict. You say Panfilo was
unarmed, and you call it--murder. He had his six-shooter and he
used it; he had the darkness and the swiftest horse, too. He
intended to ambush me and release his companion, but I forced his
hand; so it ain't what I'd call murder. Now about myself:
Panfilo isn't the first man I've killed, and he may not be the
last, but I haven't lost any sleep over it, and I'd have killed
him just as quick if I hadn't been an officer. That's the kind of
man I am, and you may as well know it. I--"

"You are utterly ruthless."

"Yes'm!"

"You left him there without burial."

Law shrugged impatiently. "What's the difference? He's there to
stay; and he's just as dead under the stars as he'd be under the
sand. I'd rather lie facing the sky than the grass roots."

"But--you must have known it would get out, sometime. This puts
both of us in a very bad light."

"I know. But I stood on my cards. I'd have preferred to report it,
but--I'd keep still again, under the same circumstances. You seem
to consider that an insult. If it is, I don't know how to
compliment you, ma'am."

Alaire pondered this statement briefly before saying, "You have a
strange way of looking at the affair--a strange, careless,
unnatural way, it seems to me."

"Perhaps that's the fault of my training. I'm not what you would
consider a nice person; the death of Panfilo Sanchez means nothing
whatever to me. If you can grasp that fact, you'll see that your
own reputation weighed heavier in my mind than the lives of a
dozen Mexicans--or whites, for that matter. People know me for
what I am, and--that may have had something to do with my
decision."

"I go anywhere, everywhere. No one has ever had the effrontery to
question my actions," Alaire told him, stiffly.

"And I don't aim to give 'em a chance." Dave was stubborn.

There was another interval of silence.

"You heard what Jose said. What are you going to do?"

Dave made a gesture of indifference. "It doesn't greatly matter.
I'll tell him the truth, perhaps."

Such an attitude was incomprehensible to Alaire and brought an
impatient frown to her brow. "You don't seem to realize that he
will try to revenge himself."

"You might warn him against any such foolishness. Jose has some
sense."

The woman looked up curiously. "Don't you know how to be afraid?
Haven't you any fear?" she asked.

Dave's gray eyes were steady as he answered: "Yes'm! I'm afraid
this thing is going to spoil our friendship. I've been desperately
afraid, all along, that I might have hurt your reputation. Even
now I'm afraid, on your account, to make public Panfilo Sanchez's
death. Yes'm, I know what it is to be afraid."

"I presume the law would hold you blameless," she said,
thoughtfully.

"If there was any doubt about that it would be another matter
entirely. A Ranger can get away with a heap more than killing a
Mexican. No! It's up to you to say what I shall do."

"Let me think it over. Jose mustn't know to-day, that's certain."

"I'm in your hands."

They returned to the automobile in silence, but as they took their
seats Dave said:

"You're tired, ma'am. Won't you let me drive?"

"Can you?"

When he smiled his answer, Alaire was only too glad to give up the
wheel, for her nerves were indeed unsteady and she was grateful
for an opportunity to think out the best course to pursue in this
unexpected difficulty. Later, as she listened to Law's
inconsequential talk with Dolores and Jose, and watched the way he
handled the car, she marveled at his composure. She wondered if
this man could have a heart.

It became evident to Dave, as the afternoon progressed, that they
would be very late in arriving at Las Palmas; for although he
drove as rapidly as he dared over such roads, the miles were long
and the going heavy. They were delayed, too, by a mishap that held
them back for an hour or two, and he began to fear that his
hostess would feel in duty bound to insist upon his spending the
night at her home. To accept, after his clash with Ed Austin, was
of course impossible, and he dreaded another explanation at this
particular crisis.

That a crisis in their relations had arisen he felt sure. He had
tried to make plain his attitude of mind toward the killing of
Panfilo Sanchez, and the wisdom of his course thereafter, but he
doubted if Alaire understood the one or agreed with the other.
Probably she considered him inhuman, or, what was worse, cowardly
in attempting to avoid the consequences of his act. And yet he
could not explain his full anxiety to protect her good name
without confessing to a deeper interest in her than he dared. And
his interest was growing by leaps and bounds. This woman
fascinated him; he was infatuated--bewitched by her personality.
To be near her affected him mentally and physically in a way too
extraordinary to analyze or to describe. It was as if they were so
sympathetically attuned that the mere sound of her voice set his
whole being into vibrant response, where all his life he had lain
mute. She played havoc with his resolutions, too, awaking in him
the wildest envy and desire. He no longer thought of her as
unattainable; on the contrary, her husband's shortcomings seemed
providential. Absurd, impossible ways of winning her suggested
themselves. To risk a further estrangement, therefore, was
intolerable.

But as if his thoughts were telepathic messages, she did the very
thing he feared.

"We won't be in before midnight," she said, "but I'll send you to
Jonesville in the morning."

"Thank you, ma'am--I'll have to go right through."

"I'll get you there in time for business. We've gained a
reputation for inhospitableness at Las Palmas that I want to
overcome." In spite of their recent clash, in spite of the fact
that this fellow's ruthlessness and indifference to human life
shocked her, Alaire was conscious of her obligation to him, and
aware also of a growing friendship between them which made the
present situation all the more trying. Law was likable, and he
inspired her with a sense of security to which she had long been a
stranger. "Mr. Austin ought to know," she added, "about this--
matter we were discussing, and I want him to meet you."

"He has!" Dave said, shortly; and at his tone Alaire looked up.

"So!" She studied his grim face. "And you quarreled?"

"I'd really prefer to go on, ma'am. I'll get to Jonesville
somehow."

"You refuse--to stay under his roof?"

"That's about it."

"I'm sorry." She did not ask for further explanation.

Evening came, bringing a grateful coolness, and they drove through
a tunnel of light walled in by swiftly moving shadows.

The windows of Las Palmas were black, the house silent, when they
arrived at their journey's end; Dolores was fretful, and her
mistress ached in every bone. When Jose had helped his
countrywoman into the house Alaire said:

"If you insist upon going through you must take the car. You can
return it to-morrow."

"And--about Panfilo?" Dave queried.

"Wait. Perhaps I'll decide what is best to do in the mean time.
Good night."

Law took her extended hand. Alaire was glad that he did not fondle
it in that detestable Mexican fashion of which she had lately
experienced so much; glad that the grasp of his long, strong
fingers was merely firm and friendly. When he stepped back into
the car and drove off through the night she stood for some time
looking after him.

Blaze Jones had insisted that Dave live at his house, and the
Ranger had accepted the invitation; but as it was late when the
latter arrived at Jonesville, he went to the hotel for a few
hours' rest. When he drove his borrowed machine up to the Jones
house, about breakfast-time, both Blaze and Paloma were delighted
to see him.

"Say, now! What you doing rolling around in a gasoline go-devil?"
the elder man inquired, and Law was forced to explain.

"Why, Mrs. Austin must have experienced a change of heart!"
exclaimed Paloma. "She never gave anybody a lift before."

Blaze agreed. "She's sure poisonous to strangers." Then he looked
over the car critically. "These automobiles are all right, but
whenever I want to go somewhere and get back I take a team of hay-
burners. Mules don't puncture. The first automobile Paloma had
nearly scared me to death. On the road to Brownsville there used
to be a person who didn't like me--we'd had a considerable
unpleasantness, in fact. One day Paloma and I were lickety-
splittin' along past his place when we had a blow-out. It was the
first one I'd ever heard, and it fooled me complete--comin' right
at that particular turn of the road. I sure thought this party I
spoke of had cut down on me, so I r'ared up and unlimbered. I shot
out three window-lights in his house before Paloma could explain.
If he'd been in sight I'd have beefed him then and there, and
saved six months' delay. No, gas-buggies are all right for people
with strong nerves, but I'm tuned too high."

"Father has never learned to drive a car without yelling 'Gee' and
'Haw,'" laughed Paloma. "And he thinks he has title to the whole
road, too. You know these Mexicans are slow about pulling their
wagons to one side. Well, father got mad one day, and when a team
refused him the right of way he whipped out his revolver and
fired."

Blaze smiled broadly. "It worked great. And believe me, them
Greasers took to the ditch. I went through like a hot wind, but I
shot up sixty-five ca'tridges between here and town."

"Why didn't Mrs. Austin ask you to stay all night at Las Palmas?"
the girl inquired of Dave.

"She did."

"Wonderful!" Paloma's surprise was evidently sincere. "I suppose
you refused because of the way Ed treated you? Well, I'd have
accepted just to spite him. Tell me, is she nice?"

"She's lovely."

This vehement declaration brought a sudden gleam of interest into
the questioner's eyes.

"They say she has the most wonderful gowns and jewels, and dresses
for dinner every night. Well"--Paloma tossed her head--"I'm going
to have some nice clothes, too. You wait!"

"Now don't you start riggin' yourself up for meals," Blaze said,
warningly. "First thing I know you'll have me in a full-dress
suit, spillin' soup on my shirt." Then to his guest he complained,
feelingly: "I don't know what's come over Paloma lately; this new
dressmaker has plumb stampeded her. Somebody'd ought to run that
feline out of town before she ruins me."

"She is a very nice woman," complacently declared the daughter;
but her father snorted loudly.

"I wouldn't associate with such a critter."

"My! But you're proud."

"It ain't that," Blaze defended himself. "I know her husband, and
he's a bad hombre. He backed me up against a waterin'-trough and
told my fortune yesterday. He said I'd be married twice and have
many children. He told me I was fond of music and a skilled
performer on the organ, but melancholy and subject to catarrh,
Bright's disease, and ailments of the legs. He said I loved
widows, and unless I was poisoned by a dark lady I'd live to be
eighty years old. Why, he run me over like a pet squirrel lookin'
for moles, and if I'd had a gun on me I'd have busted him for some
of the things he said. 'A dark lady!' That's his wife. I give you
warnin', Paloma, don't you ask her to stay for meals. People like
them are dangerous."

"You're too silly!" said Paloma. "Nobody believes in such things."

"They don't, eh? Well, he's got all of Jonesville walkin' around
ladders, and spittin' through crossed fingers, and countin' the
spots on their nails. He interprets their dreams and locates lost
articles."

"Maybe he can tell me where to find Adolfo Urbina?" Dave
suggested.

"Humph! If he can't, Tad Lewis can. Say, Dave, this case of yours
has stirred up a lot of feelin' against Tad. The prosecutin'
attorney says he'll sure cinch him and Urbina, both. One of
Lewis's men got on a bender the other night and declared Adolfo
would never come to trial."

"What did he mean?"

"It may have been mescal talk, but witnesses sometimes have a way
of disappearin'. I wouldn't put anything past that gang."

Not long after breakfast Don Ricardo Guzman appeared at the Jones
house and warmly greeted his two friends. To Dave he explained:

"Last night I came to town, and this morning I heard you had
returned, so I rode out at once. You were unsuccessful?"

"Our man never went to Pueblo."

"Exactly. I thought as much."

"He's probably safe across the river."

But Ricardo thought otherwise. "No. Urbina deserted from this very
Colonel Blanco who commands the forces at Romero. He would
scarcely venture to return to Federal territory. However, I go to
meet Blanco to-day, and perhaps I shall discover something."

"What takes you over there?" Blaze inquired.

"Wait until I tell you. Senor David, here, brings me good fortune
at every turn. He honors my poor thirsty rancho with a visit and
brings a glorious rain; then he destroys my enemies like a
thunderbolt. No sooner is this done than I receive from the
Federals an offer for fifty of my best horses. Caramba! Such a
price, too. They are in a great hurry, which looks as if they
expected an attack from the Candeleristas at Matamoras. I hope so.
God grant these traitors are defeated. Anyhow, the horses have
gone, and to-day I go to get my money, in gold."

"Who's going with you?" asked Law.

Ricardo shrugged. "Nobody. There is no danger."

Blaze shook his head. "They know you are a red-hot Rebel. I
wouldn't trust them."

"They know, also, that I am an American, like you gentlemen,"
proudly asserted Guzman. "That makes a difference. I supported the
Liberator--God rest his soul!--and I secretly assist those who
fight his assassins, but so does everybody else. I am receiving a
fine price for those horses, so it is worth a little risk. Now,
senor," he addressed himself to the Ranger, "I have brought you a
little present. Day and night my boys and I have worked upon it,
for we know the good heart you have. It was finished yesterday.
See!" Ricardo unwrapped a bundle he had fetched, displaying a
magnificent bridle of plaited horsehair. It was cunningly wrought,
and lavishly decorated with silver fittings. "You recognize those
hairs?" he queried. "They came from the mane and tail of your
bonita."

"Bessie Belle!" Law accepted the handsome token, then held out his
hand to the Mexican. "That was mighty fine of you, Ricardo. I--You
couldn't have pleased me more."

"You like it?" eagerly demanded the old man. "That is good. I am
repaid a thousandfold. Your sentiment is like a woman's. But see!
I am famous for this work, and I have taught my boys to use their
fingers, too. That mare will always guide you now, wherever you
go. And we handled her gently, for your sake."

Dave nodded. "You're a good man, Ricardo. We're going to be
friends."

Guzman's delight was keen, his grizzled face beamed, and he showed
his white teeth in a smile. "Say no more. What is mine is yours--
my house, my cattle, my right hand. I and my sons will serve you,
and you must come often to see us. Now I must go." He shook hands
heartily and rode away, waving his hat.

"There's a good Greaser," Blaze said, with conviction, and Dave
agreed, feelingly:

"Yes! I'd about go to hell for him, after this." Then he took the
bridle in for Paloma to admire.





Next: The Rodeo

Previous: Jose Sanchez Swears An Oath



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