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What Ellsworth Had To Say








From: Heart Of The Sunset

On his way to Brownsville the next morning Dave found himself
still somewhat dazed by his sudden happiness; the more he thought
of it the more wonderful it seemed. During the day he went through
his court duties like a man in a trance. Such joy as this was
unbelievable; he felt as if he must tell the world about it. He
well understood Alaire's repugnance to divorce, but he was sure
that he could overcome it, if indeed her own truer understanding
of herself did not relieve him of that necessity; for at this
moment his desires were of a heat sufficient to burn away all
obstacles, no matter how solid. It seemed, therefore, that the
future was all sunshine.

He had no opportunity of speaking with Judge Ellsworth until court
adjourned. Then the judge took him by the arm, with that
peculiarly flattering assumption of intimacy of which he was
master, and led the way toward his office, inquiring meanwhile for
news of Jonesville. Dave's high spirits surprised him and finally
impelled him to ask the cause. When Dave hinted unmistakably at
the truth, Ellsworth exclaimed, with a sharp stare of curiosity:

"See here! You haven't forgotten what I told you that night on the
train?"

"What? Yes, I had forgotten."

"You promised to tell me if you thought seriously about marriage."

"Very well, then; I'm telling you now."

"Do you mean that, Dave?"

"Of course I do. But don't look at me as if I'd confessed to arson
or burglary. Listen, Judge! If you have good taste in jewelry,
I'll let you help me select the ring."

But Judge Ellsworth continued to stare, and then muttered
uncertainly: "You're such a joker--"

Dave assumed a show of irony. "Your congratulations overwhelm me.
You look as if you were about to begin the reading of the will."

"I want to hear about this right away." Ellsworth smiled faintly.
"Can you come to my office tonight, where we can be alone?"

Dave agreed to the appointment and went his way with a feeling of
amusement. Old folks are usually curious, he reflected; and they
are prone to presume upon the privileges that go with age. In this
instance, however, it might be well to make a clean breast of the
affair, since Ellsworth was Alaire's attorney, and would doubtless
be selected to secure her divorce.

The judge was waiting when Dave called after supper, but for some
time he maintained a flow of conversation relating to other things
than the one they had met to discuss. At last, however, he
appeared to summon his determination; he cleared his throat and
settled himself in his chair--premonitory signs unusual in a man
of Ellsworth's poise and self-assurance.

"I reckon you think I'm trying to mix up in something that doesn't
concern me," he began; "and perhaps I am. Maybe you'll make me
wish I'd minded my own business--that's what usually happens. I
remember once, out of pure chivalry, trying to stop a fellow from

beating his wife. Of course they both turned on me--as they always
do. I went to the hospital for a week, and lost a profitable
divorce case. However, we try to do our duty as we see it."

This was anything but a promising preamble; Dave wondered, too, at
his friend's obvious nervousness.

"So you've found the girl, eh?" the judge went on.

"Yes."

"Are you accepted? I mean, have you asked her to marry you?"

"Of course I have. That's about the first thing a fellow does."

Ellsworth shuffled the papers on his desk with an abstracted gaze,
then said, slowly, "Dave--I don't think you ought to marry."

"So you told me once before. I suppose you mean I'm poor and a
failure."

"Oh no! All men are failures until they marry. I'm thinking of
what marriage means; of the new duties it brings, of the man's
duty to himself, to the woman, and to society; I'm thinking of
what lies inside of the man himself."

"Um-m! That's pretty vague."

"I've studied you a long time, Dave, and with a reason. I've
studied heredity, too, and--you mustn't marry."

Law stirred in his chair and smiled whimsically. "I've done some
studying along those lines, too, and I reckon I know myself pretty
well. I've the usual faults, but--"

Ellsworth interrupted. "You don't know yourself at all, my boy.
There's just the trouble. I'm the only man--living man, that is--
who knows you." For the first time he looked directly at his
caller, and now his lids were lifted until the eyes peered out
bright, hard, and piercing; something in his face startled Dave.
"I was your father's attorney and his friend. I know how he lived
and how he died. I know--what killed him?"

"You mean, don't you, that you know who killed him?"

"I mean just what I say."

Dave leaned forward, studying the speaker curiously. "Well, come
through. What's on your mind?" he demanded, finally.

"The Guadalupes had to kill him, Dave."

"Had to? HAD to? Why?"

"Don't you know? Don't you know anything about your family
history?" Dave shook his head. "Well, then--he was insane,"

"Insane?"

"Yes; violently."

"Really, I--Why--I suppose you know what you're talking about, but
it sounds incredible."

"Yes, it must to you--especially since you never knew the facts.
Very few people did know then, even at the time, for there were no
newspapers in that part of Mexico; you, of course, were a boy at
school in the United States. Nevertheless, it's true. That part of
the story which I didn't know at the time I learned by talking
with General Guadalupe and others. It was very shocking."

Dave's face was a study; his color had lessened slightly; he wet
his lips. "This is news, of course," said he, "but it doesn't
explain my mother's death. Who killed her, if not the Guadalupes?"

"Can't you guess? That's what I meant when I said they had to kill
Frank Law." Ellsworth maintained his fixity of gaze, and when Dave
started he nodded his head. "It's God's truth. The details were
too--dreadful. Your father turned his hand against the woman he
loved and--died a wife-killer. The Guadalupes had to destroy him
like a mad dog. I'm sorry you had to learn the truth from me, my
boy, but it seems necessary that I tell you. When I knew Frank Law
he was like any other man, quick-tempered, a little too violent,
perhaps, but apparently as sane as you or I, and yet the thing was
there."

Dave rose from his chair and bent over the desk. "So THAT'S what
you've been driving at," he gasped. "That's what you meant when
you said I shouldn't marry." He began to tremble now; his voice
became hoarse with fury. "Now I understand. You're trying to tell
me that--maybe I've got it in me, eh? Hell! YOU'RE crazy, not I.
I'm all right. I reckon I know."

"HE didn't know," Ellsworth said, quietly. "I doubt if he even
suspected."

Dave struck the desk violently with his clenched fist. "Bosh!
You're hipped on this heredity subject. Crazy! Why, you doddering
old fool--" With an effort he calmed himself, realizing that he
had shouted his last words. He turned away and made a circuit of
the room before returning to face his friend. "I didn't mean to
speak to you like that, Judge. You pulled this on me too suddenly,
and I'm--upset. But it merely proves my own contention that I'm
not Frank Law's son at all. I've always known it."

"How do you know it?"

"Don't you suppose I can tell?" In spite of himself Dave's voice
rose again, but it was plain from the lawyer's expression that to
a man of his training no mere conviction unsupported by proof had
weight. This skepticism merely kept Dave's impatience at a white
heat. "Very well, then," he argued, angrily, "let's say that I'm
wrong and you're right. Let's agree that I am his son. What of it?
What makes you think I've inherited--the damned thing? It isn't a
disease. Me, insane? Rot!" He laughed harshly, took another
uncertain turn around the room, then sank into his chair and
buried his face in his hands.

Ellsworth was more keenly distressed than his hearer imagined;
when next he spoke his voice was unusually gentle. "It IS a
disease, Dave, or worse, and there's no way of proving that you
haven't inherited it. If there is the remotest possibility that
you have--if you have the least cause to suspect--why, you
couldn't marry and--bring children into the world, now could you?
Ask yourself if you've shown any signs--?"

"Oh, I know what you mean. You've always said I go crazy when I'm-
-angry. Well, that's true. But it's nothing more than a villainous
temper. I'm all right again afterward."

"I wasn't thinking so much of that. But are you sure it's
altogether temper?" the judge insisted. "You don't merely lose
control of yourself; you've told me more than once that you go
completely out of your mind; that you see red and want to kill
and--" "Don't you?"

"I never felt the slightest desire to destroy, no matter how angry
I chanced to be. I've always asserted that murderers, homicides,
suicides, were irresponsible; that they were sick here." Ellsworth
touched his forehead. "I can't see how any sane man can take his
own or another's life, no matter what the provocation. But I'm not
a doctor, and that's an extreme view, I know. Anyhow, you'll agree
that if you have Frank Law's blood in your veins it won't do to
marry."

"I haven't got it," the younger man groaned, his gaze turned
sullenly downward. "Even granting that I have, that's no sign I'd
ever--run amuck the way he did."

"You told me just now that you don't know your family history?"

"Yes. What little I've heard isn't very pretty nor very much to
the family's credit. They were a bad lot, I believe."

"Frank Law had two brothers and a sister, had he not?"

"Yes. One of my uncles was a tough hombre. I'm told he notched his
gun pretty well."

"He was about the worst man of his day. He was shot in Dodge City
on one of his rampages."

Dave raised shocked and curious eyes. "You think he was crazy?"

"Most of those old-time gunmen would be so considered nowadays.
Some unbelievable stories are told about that uncle of yours. The
other one disappeared mysteriously."

"I believe so. He just walked away from his wife and family and
business one day and was never heard of again."

Ellsworth seemed to consider this admission significant. "Now the
sister, your aunt?"

"I think she's somewhere in the East; I never saw her."

"She is; she's an inmate of an institution the name and address of
which I have here." Ellsworth thrust his finger into the loose
pile of documents before him. Avoiding his caller's eyes he
continued: "You can't very well ignore such a family history,
Dave. I've never traced it back beyond the last generation, but
you probably could if you tried."

In a voice hardly his own, Dave articulated: "God! This is--
hideous."

"It is. I'd like to believe that you don't belong to the Laws, but
I can't put much faith in that childhood fancy of yours. Run it
down; convince yourself. But first go to the girl, whoever she is,
and tell her the facts. If she's the right sort--"

"No, no!" The words were wrung from Dave's lips. "She knows too
well how heredity acts; she's had one experience."

"Eh? You say she knows--Who is she, Dave? Don't tell me you mean--
Alaire?"

Dave nodded.

"Damnation!" Ellsworth leaped to his feet and, striding around the
desk, seized his caller roughly by the shoulder. "What are you
telling me? Good God, Alaire! A married woman! So you--cut under
Ed Austin, eh?" Momentarily Ellsworth lost control of himself; his
eyes blazed and his fingers tightened painfully. "What damnable
trick have you played on that girl? Tell me before I choke you."

For once Dave Law's passion failed to ignite at the heat of
another's anger; he only sat limp and helpless in the judge's
grasp. Finally he muttered: "I played square enough. It's one of
those things that just happen. We couldn't help ourselves. She'll
come to you for her divorce."

The lawyer uttered a shocking oath. "Then it's no mere romantic
infatuation on her part?"

"Oh no!"

Ellsworth loosed his grip. He turned away and began to pace the
office floor, shaking his head. "This is--unfortunate. Alaire, of
all people--as if she didn't have enough to bear." He turned
fiercely upon the cowering figure in the chair, saying: "I'll tell
her the whole truth myself, before she goes any further."

"No! Oh, please! Let me, in my own way." Dave writhed and sank his
face in his hands once more. After a while he said, "I'm waiting
for you to tell me it's all a nightmare."

"Humph!" The judge continued his restless pacing. "I was sorry for
you when you came in here, and it took all my strength to tell
you; but now you don't matter at all. I was prepared to have you
go ahead against my advice, but--I'll see you damned first."

"You have damned me."

When Ellsworth saw the haggard face turned to his he ceased his
walk abruptly. "I'm all broken up, Dave," he confessed in a
gentler tone than he had used heretofore. "But you'll thank me
some day."

Law was no longer the big, strong, confident fellow who had
entered the office such a short time before. He had collapsed; he
seemed to have shrunk; he was pitifully appealing. Although there
were many things he would have said, many questions upon his
tongue, he could not voice them now, and it was with extreme
difficulty that he managed to follow the judge's words at all.

After a time he rose and shook Ellsworth's hand limply,
mechanically; then he shambled out of the office. Like a sick man,
he stumbled down the stairs and into the street. When he entered
his hotel the clerk and some of the idlers in the lobby looked at
him queerly, but he did not see them.

All that night Dave walked the floor of his room or sat hunched up
on the edge of his bed, staring at the wall and fighting the fears
that preyed upon him.

He had faith enough in Alaire to believe that she would marry him
regardless of the facts; her kiss, that one delirious moment when
he had held her to his breast, had taught him much, and it was, in
fact, this very certainty which made his struggle so hard. After
all, why not? he asked himself a thousand times. Ellsworth's fears
were surely exaggerated. Who could say that Frank Law had passed
on his heritage? There was at least a chance that he had not, and
it would require more than a remote possibility, more evidence
than Ellsworth could summon, to dismay Alaire. Suppose it should
transpire that he was somehow defective? What then? The signs of
his mental failing would give ample warning. He could watch
himself carefully and study his symptoms. He could lead the life
of a sentinel perpetually on guard. The thing might never come--or
at the worst it probably would not manifest itself until he was
further along in years. That, it seemed, was the family history,
and in such a case Dave was assured of half a life at least.
Ellsworth was altogether too fearful. Yes, and he was too
officious by far. This was something that did not concern him.

But such reasoning naturally brought little comfort. Dave's fears
would not be put down. In common with most men of splendid
physique, he had a vague contempt for those less perfect; disease
or deformity had never failed to awaken his pity, and he had often
argued that defective human beings, like unhealthy stock, should
not be allowed to mate and to perpetuate their weaknesses. This
eugenic conviction had helped to ease his conscience somewhat
during his acquaintance with Alaire, for he had told himself that
Ed Austin, by reason of his inherited vices, had sacrificed all
right to love and marriage. These thoughts came home now to roost.
What was Ed's evil heritage compared to his own? It was as vinegar
to vitriol.

And yet shining through all Dave's distress, like a faint,
flickering beacon in a storm, was that old doubt of his parentage;
and to this he finally began to pin his hopes. In the day or two
that followed his interview with Ellsworth, it afforded him almost
the only comfort he knew; for in the end he had to face the truth;
he could not marry if he were really Frank Law's son.

Those were dark hours for Dave. He discharged his duties
automatically, taking no interest whatever in his work; his nights
he spent in morose meditation. Unable to sleep, he tramped the hot
streets in an effort to fight off his growing nervousness. He
became irritable, despondent; his eyes took on the look of an
invalid's; his face aged and grayed. Physically, too, he grew very
tired, for no burden is heavier to bear than that of doubt and
indecision.

One afternoon Ellsworth entered his office to find Dave waiting
for him. The young man began in a shaky, husky voice:

"I can't stand it, Judge. I'm going to pieces, fast."

"You do look bad."

"Yes. I don't sleep. I'm so irritable I can't get along up at the
courthouse. I'm licked. The worst of it is, I don't know whether
it's all imagination, or whether you really stirred up that
devilish sleeping thing in me. Anyhow, something has got me. All I
can do is study and analyze and watch and imagine--I sit all night
thinking--thinking, until everything gets queer and distorted. If
I were sane before, you've about unbalanced me with your damnable
suggestions."

"A few nights of sleep will make you feel better," Ellsworth said,
gravely.

"I tried drugs, but they made me worse. God! Then my fancies WERE
sick. No, I'm going to get out."

"Where? How?"

"I'm going north to look up the members of my family and learn who
I really am. I resigned from the Ranger force to-day. That's no
place for a fellow with a--homicidal mania."

"Dave! You're taking this thing too absolutely and too hard,"
Ellsworth declared.

But Dave went on, unheeding. "Another reason why I want to get
away now is that Alaire will expect me to come to her when she
sends for me and--I wouldn't dare trust myself."

"Have you told her--written her?"

"Not yet, and I sha'n't until I trace out the last doubt in my own
mind."

In an effort to cheer, Ellsworth put his arm about the sufferer's
shoulders. "I'm sure you'll do the right thing, Dave," he said.
"Maybe, after all, your instinct is true and you're not Frank
Law's boy. I hope so, for this thing weighs me down as it weighs
you; but you mustn't let it whip you. Don't give in, and
meanwhile, above all things, try to get some sleep."

Dave nodded and mumbled something; then he slouched out, leaving
the lawyer overcome by a great pity. Ellsworth had seen men,
stunned by a court sentence, turn away from the bar with that same
dumb, fixed look of hopelessness in their eyes. Impulsively he
cursed the sense of duty that had prompted him to interfere.





Next: The Crash

Previous: An Awakening



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