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The Water-cure








From: Heart Of The Sunset

Without an instant's hesitation Dave flung himself past Rosa and
through the inner door.

Jose Sanchez met him with a shout; the shock of their collision
overbore the lighter man, and the two went down together, arms and
legs intertwined. The horse-breaker fired his revolver blindly--a
deafening explosion inside those four walls--but he was powerless
against his antagonist's strength and ferocity. It required but a
moment for Law to master him, to wrench the weapon from his grasp,
and then, with the aid of Jose's silk neck-scarf, to bind his
wrists tightly.

From the front of the little house came the crash of a door
violently slammed as Rosa profited by the diversion to save
herself.

When finally Jose stood, panting and snarling, his back to the
wall, Dave regarded him with a sinister contraction of the lips
that was almost a grin.

"Well," he said, drawing a deep breath, "I see you didn't go to
the east pasture this morning."

"What do you want of me?" Jose managed to gasp.

There was a somewhat prolonged silence, during which Dave
continued to stare at his prisoner with that same disquieting
expression. "Why did you kill Don Eduardo?" he asked.

"I? Bah! Who says I killed him?" Jose glared defiance. "Why are
you looking at me? Come! Take me to jail, if you think that will
do any good."

"It's lucky I rode to Las Palmas this morning. In another hour you
would have been across the Rio Grande--with Rosa and all her fine
clothes, eh? Now you will be hanged. Well, that is how fortune
goes."

The horse-breaker tossed his head and shrugged with a brave
assumption of indifference; he laughed shortly. "You can prove
nothing."

"Yes," continued Dave, "and Rosa will go to prison, too. Now--
suppose I should let you go? Would you help me? In ten minutes you
could be safe." He inclined his head toward the muddy, silent
river outside. "Would you be willing to help me?"

Jose's brows lifted. "What's this you are saying?" he inquired,
eagerly.

"I would only ask you a few questions."

"What questions?"

"Where is Senora Austin?"

Jose's face became blank. "I don't know."

"Oh yes, you do. She started for La Feria. But--did she get there?
Or did Longorio have other plans for her? You'd better tell me the
truth, for your general can't help you now." Dave did his best to
read the Mexican's expression, but failed. "Senor Ed's death means
nothing to me," he went on, "but I must know where his wife is,
and I'm willing to pay, with your liberty." In spite of himself
his anxiety was plain.

Jose exclaimed: "Ho! I understand. He was in your way and you're
glad to be rid of him. Well, we have no business fighting with
each other."

"Will you tell me--?"

"I'll tell you nothing, for I know nothing."

"Come! I must know."

Jose laughed insolently.

Law's face became black with sudden fury. His teeth bared
themselves. He took a step forward, crying:

"By God! You WILL tell me!" Seizing his prisoner by the throat, he
pinned him to the wall; then with his free hand he cocked
Longorio's revolver and thrust its muzzle against Jose's body.
"Tell me!" he repeated. His countenance was so distorted, his
expression so maniacal, that Jose felt his hour had come. The
latter, being in all ways Mexican, did not struggle; instead, he
squared his shoulders and, staring fearlessly into the face above
him, cried:

"Shoot!"

For a moment the two men remained so; then Dave seemed to regain
control of himself and the murder light flickered out of his eyes.
He flung his prisoner aside and cast the revolver into a corner of
the room.

Jose picked himself up, cursing his captor eloquently. "You
Gringos don't know how to die," he said. "Death? Pah! We must die
some time. And supposing I do know something about the senora, do
you think you can force me to speak? Torture wouldn't open my
lips."

Law did not trust himself to reply; and the horse-breaker went on
with growing defiance:

"I am innocent of any crime; therefore I am brave. But you--The
blood of innocent men means nothing to you--Panfilo's murder
proves that--so complete your work. Make an end of me."

"Be still!" Dave commanded, thickly.

But the fellow's hatred was out of bounds now, and by the
bitterness of his vituperation he seemed to invite death. Dave
interrupted his vitriolic curses to ask harshly:

"Will you tell me, or will you force me to wring the truth out of
you?"

Jose answered by spitting at his captor; then he gritted an
unspeakable epithet from between his teeth.

Dave addressed him with an air of finality. "You killed that man
and your life is forfeit, so it doesn't make much difference
whether I take it or whether the State takes it. You are brave
enough to die--most of you Mexicans are--but the State can't force
you to speak, and I can." Jose sneered. "Oh yes, I can! I intend
to know all that you know, and it will be better for you to tell
me voluntarily. I must learn where Senora Austin is, and I must
learn quickly, if I have to kill you by inches to get the truth."

"So! Torture, eh? Good. I can believe it of you. Well, a slow fire
will not make me speak."

"No. A fire would be too easy, Jose."

"Eh?"

Without answer Dave strode out of the room. He was back before his
prisoner could do more than wrench at his bonds, and with him he
brought his lariat and his canteen.

"What are you going to do?" Jose inquired, backing away until he
was once more at bay.

"I'm going to give you a drink."

"Whisky? You think you can make me drunk?" The horse-breaker
laughed loudly but uneasily.

"Not whisky; water. I'm going to give you a drink of water."

"What capers!"

"When you've drunk enough you'll tell me why you killed your
employer and where General Longorio has taken his wife. Yes, and
everything else I want to know." Seizing the amazed Mexican, Dave
flung him upon Morales's hard board bed, and in spite of the
fellow's struggles deftly made him fast. When he had finished--and
it was no easy job--Jose lay "spread-eagled" upon his back, his
wrists and ankles firmly bound to the head and foot posts, his
body secured by a tight loop over his waist. The rope cut
painfully and brought a curse from the prisoner when he strained
at it. Law surveyed him with a face of stone.

"I don't want to do this," he declared, "but I know your kind. I
give you one more chance. Will you tell me?"

Jose drew his lips back in a snarl of rage and pain, and Dave
realized that further words were useless. He felt a certain pity
for his victim and no little admiration for his courage, but such
feelings were of small consequence as against his agonizing fears
for Alaire's safety. Had he in the least doubted Jose's guilty
knowledge of Longorio's intentions, Dave would have hesitated
before employing the barbarous measures he had in mind, but--there
was nothing else for it. He pulled the canteen cork and jammed the
mouthpiece firmly to Jose's lips. Closing the fellow's nostrils
with his free hand, he forced him to drink.

Jose clenched his teeth, he tried to roll his head, he held his
breath until his face grew purple and his eyes bulged. He strained
like a man upon the rack. The bed creaked to his muscular
contortions; the rope tightened. It was terribly cruel, this
crushing of a strong will bent on resistance to the uttermost; but
never was an executioner more pitiless, never did a prisoner's
agony receive less consideration. The warm water spilled over
Jose's face, it drenched his neck and chest; his joints cracked as
he strove for freedom and tried to twist his head out of Law's
iron grasp. The seconds dragged, until finally Nature asserted
herself. The imprisoned breath burst forth; there sounded a loud
gurgling cry and a choking inhalation. Jose's body writhed with
the convulsions of drowning as the water and air were sucked into
his lungs. Law was kneeling over his victim now, his weight and
strength so applied that Jose had no liberty of action and could
only drink, coughing and fighting for air. Somehow he managed to
revive himself briefly and again shut his teeth; but a moment more
and he was again retched with the furious battle for air, more
desperate now than before. After a while Law freed his victim's
nostrils and allowed him a partial breath, then once more crushed
the mouthpiece against his lips. By and by, to relieve his
torture, Jose began to drink in great noisy gulps, striving to
empty the vessel.

But the stomach's capacity is limited. In time Jose felt himself
bursting; the liquid began to regurgitate. This was not mere pain
that he suffered, but the ultimate nightmare horror of a death
more awful than anything he had ever imagined. Jose would have met
a bullet, a knife, a lash, without flinching; flames would not
have served to weaken his resolve; but this slow drowning was
infinitely worse than the worst he had thought possible; he was
suffocating by long, black, agonizing minutes. Every nerve and
muscle of his body, every cell in his bursting lungs, fought
against the outrage in a purely physical frenzy over which his
will power had no control. Nor would insensibility come to his
relief--Law watched him too carefully for that. He could not even
voice his sufferings by shrieks; he could only writhe and retch
and gurgle while the ropes bit into his flesh and his captor knelt
upon him like a monstrous stone weight.

But Jose had made a better fight than he knew. The canteen ran dry
at last, and Law was forced to release his hold.

"Will you speak?" he demanded.

Thinking that he had come safely through the ordeal, Jose shook
his head; he rolled his bulging, bloodshot eyes and vomited, then
managed to call God to witness his innocence.

Dave went into the next room and refilled the canteen. When he
reappeared with the dripping vessel in his hand, Jose tried to
scream. But his throat was torn and strained; the sound of his own
voice frightened him.

Once more the torment began. The tortured man was weaker now, and
in consequence he resisted more feebly; but not until he was less
than half conscious did Law spare him time to recover.

Jose lay sick, frightened, inert. Dave watched him without pity.
The fellow's wrists were black and swollen, his lips were
bleeding; he was stretched like a dumb animal upon the
vivisectionist's table, and no surgeon with lance and scalpel
could have shown less emotion than did his inquisitor. Having no
intention of defeating his own ends, Dave allowed his victim ample
time in which to regain his ability to suffer.

Alaire Austin had been right when she said that Dave might be
ruthless; and yet the man was by no means incapable of compassion.
At the present moment, however, he considered himself simply as
the instrument by which Alaire was to be saved. His own feelings
had nothing to do with the matter; neither had the sufferings of
this Mexican. Therefore he steeled himself to prolong the agony
until the murderer's stubborn spirit was worn down. Once again he
put his question, and, again receiving defiance, jammed the
canteen between Jose's teeth.

But human nature is weak. For the first time in his life Jose
Sanchez felt terror--a terror too awful to be endured--and he made
the sign.

He was no longer the insolent defier, the challenger, but an
imploring wretch, whose last powers of resistance had been
completely shattered. His frightened eyes were glued to that
devilish vessel in which his manhood had dissolved, the fear of it
made a woman of him.

Slowly, in sighs and whimpers, in agonies of reluctance, his story
came; his words were rendered almost incomprehensible by his
abysmal fright. When he had purged himself of his secret Dave
promptly unbound him; then leaving him more than half dead, he
went to the telephone which connected the pumping station with Las
Palmas and called up the ranch.

He was surprised when Blaze Jones answered. Blaze, it seemed, had
just arrived, summoned by news of the tragedy. The countryside had
been alarmed and a search for Ed Austin's slayer was being
organized.

"Call it off," Dave told him. "I've got your man." Blaze stuttered
his surprise and incredulity. "I mean it. It's Jose Sanchez, and
he has confessed. I want you to come here, quick; and come alone,
if you don't mind. I need your help."

Inside of ten minutes Jones piloted his automobile into the
clearing beside the river, and, leaving his motor running, leaped
from the car.

Dave met him at the door of the Morales house and briefly told him
the story of Jose's capture.

"Say! That's quick work," the rancher cried, admiringly. "Why, Ed
ain't cold yet! You gave him the 'water-cure,' eh? Now I reckoned
it would take more than water to make a Mexican talk."

"Jose was hired for the work; he laid for Ed Austin in the pecan
grove and shot him as he passed."

"Hired! Why this hombre needs quick hangin', don't he? I told 'em
at Las Palmas that you'd rounded up the guilty party, so I reckon
they'll be here in a few minutes. We'll just stretch this horse-
wrangler, and save the county some expense." Law shrugged. "Do
what you like with him, but--it isn't necessary. He'll confess in
regulation form, I'm sure. I had to work fast to learn what became
of Mrs. Austin."

"Miz Austin? What's happened to her?"

Dave's voice changed; there was a sudden quickening of his words.
"They've got her, Blaze. They waited until they had her safe
before they killed Ed."

"'They?' Who the hell are you talkin' about?"

"I mean Longorio and his outfit. He's got her over yonder." Dave
flung out a trembling hand toward the river. Seeing that his
hearer failed to comprehend, he explained, swiftly: "He's crazy
about her--got one of those Mexican infatuations--and you know
what that means. He couldn't steal her from Las Palmas--she
wouldn't have anything to do with him--so he used that old cattle
deal as an excuse to get her across the border. Then he put Ed out
of the way. She went of her own accord, and she didn't tell
Austin, because they were having trouble. She's gone to La Feria,
Blaze."

"La Feria! Then she's in for it."

Dave nodded his agreement; for the first time Blaze noted how
white and set was his friend's face.

"Longorio must have foreseen what was coming," Dave went on. "That
country's aflame; Americans aren't safe over there. If war is
declared, a good many of them will never be heard from. He knows
that. He's got her safe. She can't get out."

Blaze was very grave when next he spoke. "Dave, this is bad--bad.
I can't understand what made her go. Why, she must have been out
of her head. But we've got to do something. We've got to burn the
wires to Washington--yes, and to Mexico City. We must get the
government to send soldiers after her. God! What have we got 'em
for, anyhow?"

"Washington won't do anything. What can be done when there are
thousands of American women in the same danger? What steps can the
government take, with the fleet on its way to Vera Cruz, with the
army mobilizing, and with diplomatic relations suspended? Those
Greasers are filling their jails with our people--rounding 'em up
for the day of the big break--and the State Department knows it.
No, Longorio saw it all coming--he's no fool. He's got her; she's
in there--trapped."

Blaze took the speaker by the shoulder and faced him about. "Look
here," said he, "I'm beginnin' to get wise to you. I believe
you're--the man in the case." When Dave nodded, he vented his
amazement in a long whistle. After a moment he asked, "Well, why
did you want me to come here alone, ahead of the others?"

"Because I want you to know the whole inside of this thing so that
you can get busy when I'm gone; because I want to borrow what
money you have--"

"What you aimin' to pull off?" Blaze inquired, suspiciously.

"I'm going to find her and bring her out."

"You? Why, Dave, you can't get through. This is a job for the
soldiers."

But Dave hardly seemed to hear him. "You must start things moving
at once," he said, urgently. "Spread the news, get the story into
the papers, notify the authorities. Get every influence at work,
from here to headquarters; get your Senator and the Governor of
the state at work. Ellsworth will help you. And now give me your
last dollar."

Blaze emptied his pockets, shaking his shaggy head the while. "La
Feria is a hundred and fifty miles in," he remonstrated.

"By rail from Pueblo, yes. But it's barely a hundred, straight
from here."

"You 'ain't got a chance, single-handed. You're crazy to try it."

The effect of these words was startling, for Dave laughed harshly.
"'Crazy' is the word," he agreed. "It's a job for a lunatic, and
that's me. Yes, I've got bad blood in me, Blaze--bad blood--and
I'm taking it back where I got it. But listen!" He turned a sick,
colorless face to his friend. "They'll whittle a cross for
Longorio if I do get through." He called to Montrosa, and the mare
came to him, holding her head to one side so as not to tread upon
her dragging reins.

"I'm 'most tempted to go with you," Blaze stammered, uncertainly.

"No. Somebody has to stay here and stir things up, If we had
twenty men like you we might cut our way in and out, but there's
no time to organize, and, anyhow, the government would probably
stop us. I've got a hunch that I'll make it. If I don't--why, it's
all right."

The two men shook hands lingeringly, awkwardly; then Blaze managed
to wish his friend luck. "If you don't come back," he said, with a
peculiar catch in his voice, "I reckon there's enough good Texans
left to follow your trail. I'll sure look forward to it."

Dave took the river-bank to Sangre de Cristo, where, by means of
the dilapidated ferry, he gained the Mexican side. Once across, he
rode straight up toward the village of Romero. When challenged by
an under-sized soldier he merely spurred Montrosa forward, eyeing
the sentry so grimly that the man did no more than finger his
rifle uncertainly, cursing under his breath the overbearing airs
of all Gringos. Nor did the rider trouble to make the slightest
detour, but cantered the full length of Romero's dusty street, the
target of more than one pair of hostile eyes. To those who saw
him, soldiers and civilians alike, it was evident that this
stranger had business, and no one felt called upon to question its
nature. There are men who carry an air more potent than a
bodyguard, and Dave Law was one of these. Before the village had
thoroughly awakened to his coming he was gone, without a glance to
the right or left, without a word to anyone.

When Romero was at his back he rode for a mile or two through a
region of tiny scattered farms and neglected garden patches, after
which he came out into the mesquite. For all the signs he saw, he
might then have been in the heart of a foreign country. Mexico had
swallowed him.

As the afternoon heat subsided, Montrosa let herself out into a
freer gait and began to cover the distance rapidly, heading due
west through a land of cactus and dagger, of thorn and barb and
bramble.

The roads were unfenced, the meadows desolate; the huts were
frequently untenanted. Ahead the sky burned splendidly, and the
sunset grew more brilliant, more dazzling, until it glorified the
whole mean, thirsty, cruel countryside.

Dave's eyes were set upon that riot of blazing colors, but for the
time it failed to thrill him. In that welter of changing hues and
tints he saw only red. Red! That was the color of blood; it stood
for passion, lust, violence; and it was a fitting badge of color
for this land of revolutions and alarms. At first he saw little
else--except the hint of black despair to follow. But there was
gold in the sunset, too--the yellow gold of ransom! That was
Mexico--red and yellow, blood and gold, lust and license. Once the
rider's fancy began to work in this fashion, it would not rest,
and as the sunset grew in splendor he found in it richer meanings.
Red was the color of a woman's lips--yes, and a woman's hair. The
deepening blue of the high sky overhead was the hue of a certain
woman's eyes. A warm, soft breeze out of the west beat into his
face, and he remembered how warm and soft Alaire's breath had been
upon his cheek.

The woman of his desires was yonder, where those colors warred,
and she was mantled in red and gold and purple for his coming. The
thought aroused him; the sense of his unworthiness vanished, the
blight fell from him; he felt only a throbbing eagerness to see
her and to take her in his arms once more before the end.

With his head high and his face agleam, he rode into the west,
into the heart of the sunset.





Next: La Feria

Previous: A Warning And A Surprise



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