A Journey And A Dark Man





Alaire's preparations for the journey to La Feria were made with

little delay. Owing to the condition of affairs across the border,

Ellsworth had thought it well to provide her with letters from the

most influential Mexicans in the neighborhood; what is more, in

order to pave her way toward a settlement of her claim he

succeeded in getting a telegram through to Mexico City--no mean

achievement, with most of the wires in Rebel hands and the

remainder burdened with military business. But Ellsworth's

influence was not bounded by the Rio Grande.



It was his advice that Alaire present her side of the case to the

local military authorities before making formal representation to

Washington, though in neither case was he sanguine of the outcome.



The United States, indeed, had abetted the Rebel cause from the

start. Its embargo on arms had been little more than a pretense of

neutrality, which had fooled the Federals not at all, and it was

an open secret that financial assistance to the uprising was

rendered from some mysterious Northern source. The very presence

of American troops along the border was construed by Mexicans as a

threat against President Potosi, and an encouragement to revolt,

while the talk of intervention, invasion, and war had intensified

the natural antagonism existing between the two peoples. So it was

that Ellsworth, while he did his best to see to it that his client

should make the journey in safety and receive courteous treatment,

doubted the wisdom of the undertaking and hoped for no practical

result.



Alaire took Dolores with her, and for male escort she selected,

after some deliberation, Jose Sanchez, her horse-breaker. Jose was

not an ideal choice, but since Benito could not well be spared, no

better man was available. Sanchez had some force and initiative,

at least, and Alaire had no reason to doubt his loyalty.



The party went to Pueblo by motor--an unpleasant trip, for the

road followed the river and ran through a lonesome country,

unpeopled save for an occasional goat-herd and his family, or a

glaring-hot village of some half-dozen cubical houses crouching on

the river-bank as if crowded over from Mexican soil. This road

remained much as the first ox-carts had laid it out; the hills

were gashed by arroyos, some of which were difficult to negotiate,

and in consequence the journey was, from an automobilist's point

of view, decidedly slow. The first night the travelers were forced

to spend at a mud jacal, encircled, like some African jungle

dwelling, by a thick brush barricade.



Jose Sanchez was in his element here. He posed, he strutted, he

bragged, he strove to impress his countrymen by every device. Jose

was, indeed, rather a handsome fellow, with a bold insolence of

bearing that marked him as superior to the common pelador, and,

having dressed himself elaborately for this journey, he made the

most of his opportunities for showing off. Nothing would do him

but a baile, and a baile he had. Once the arrangements were made,

other Mexicans appeared mysteriously until there were nearly a

score, and until late into the night they danced upon the hard-

packed earth of the yard. Alaire fell asleep to the sounds of feet

scuffling and scraping in time to a wheezy violin.



Arriving at Pueblo on the following day, Alaire secured her

passports from the Federal headquarters across the Rio Grande,

while Jose attended to the railroad tickets. On the second morning

after leaving home the party was borne southward into Mexico.



Although train schedules were uncertain, the railroad journey

itself was similar to many Alaire had taken, except for occasional

evidences of the war. The revolution had ravaged most of northern

Mexico; long rows of rusting trucks and twisted car skeletons

beside the track showed how the railway's rolling-stock had

suffered in this particular vicinity; and as the train penetrated

farther south temporary trestles and the charred ruins of station-

houses spoke even more eloquently of the struggle. Now and then a

steel water-tank, pierced with loop-holes and ripped by cannon

balls, showed where some detachment had made a stand. There was a

military guard on the train, too--a dozen unkempt soldiers loaded

down with rifles and bandoliers of cartridges, and several

officers, neatly dressed in khaki, who rode in the first-class

coach and occupied themselves by making eyes at the women.



At its frequent stops the train was besieged by the customary

crowd of curious peons; the same noisy hucksters dealt out

enchiladas, tortillas, goat cheeses, and coffee from the same

dirty baskets and pails; even their outstretched hands seemed to

bear the familiar grime of ante-bellum days. The coaches were

crowded; women fanned themselves unceasingly; their men snored,

open-mouthed, over the backs of the seats, and the aisles were

full of squalling, squabbling children.



As for the country itself, it was dying. The ranches were stripped

of stock, no carts creaked along the highways, and the roads, like

the little farms, were growing up to weeds. Stores were empty, the

people were idle. Over all was an atmosphere of decay, and, what

was far more significant, the people seemed content.



All morning the monotonous journey continued--a trial to Alaire

and Dolores, but to Jose Sanchez a red-letter experience. He

covered the train from end to end, making himself acquainted with

every one and bringing to Alaire the gossip that he picked up.



It was not until midday that the first interruption occurred; then

the train pulled in upon a siding, and after an interminable delay

it transpired that a north-bound troop-train was expected.



Jose brought this intelligence: "Soon you will behold the flower

of the Mexican army," he told Alaire. "You will see thousands of

Longorio's veterans, every man of them a very devil for blood.

They are returning to Nuevo Pueblo after destroying a band of

those rebels. They had a great victory at San Pedro--thirty

kilometers from La Feria. Not a prisoner was spared, senora."



"Is General Longorio with them?" Alaire inquired, quickly.



"That is what I came to tell you. It is believed that he is, for

he takes his army with him wherever he goes. He is a great

fighter; he has a nose for it, that man, and he strikes like the

lightning--here, there, anywhere." Jose, it seemed, was a rabid

Potosista.



But Dolores held opposite sympathies. She uttered a disdainful

sniff. "To be sure he takes his army with him, otherwise the

Constitutionalistas would kill him. Wait until Pancho Gomez meets

this army of Longorio's. Ha! You will see some fighting."



Jose blew two fierce columns of cigarette smoke from his nostrils.

"Longorio is a gentleman; he scorns to use the tricks of that

bandit. Pancho Gomez fights like a savage. Think of the cowardly

manner in which he captured Espinal the last time. What did he do

then? I'll tell you. He laid in wait and allowed a train-load of

our troops to pass through his lines toward Chihuahua; then he

took possession of the telegraph wires and pretended to be the

Federal commander. He sent a lying message back to Espinal that

the railway tracks were torn up and he could not reach Chihuahua,

and so, of course, he was ordered to return. That was bad enough,

but he loaded his bandits upon other trains--he locked them into

freight-cars like cattle so that not a head could be seen--and the

devil himself would never have guessed what was in those cars. Of

course he succeeded. No one suspected the truth until his infamous

army was in Espinal. Then it was too late. The carnage was

terrible. But do you call that a nice action? It was nothing but

the lowest deceit. It was enough to make our soldiers furious."



Dolores giggled. "They say he went to his officers and told them:

'Compadres, we are now going into Espinal. I will meet you at the

Plaza, and I will shoot the last man who arrives there.' Dios!

There ensued a foot-race."



"It is well for him to train his men how to run fast," said Jose,

frowning sternly, "for some day they will meet Luis Longorio, and

then--you will see some of the swiftest running in all the world."



"Yes! Truly!" Dolores was trembling with excitement, her voice was

shrill. "God will need to lend them speed to catch this army of

Longorio's. Otherwise no human legs could accomplish it."



"Bah! Who can argue with a woman?" sneered Jose.



Alaire, who had listened smilingly, now intervened to avert a

serious quarrel.



"When the train arrives," she told her horse-breaker, "I want you

to find General Longorio and ask him to come here."



"But, senora!" Jose was dumfounded, shocked. "He is a great

general--"



"Give him this note." Quickly writing a few lines on a page from

her note-book, she gave him the scrap of paper, which he carefully

placed in his hat; then, shaking his head doubtfully, he left the

car.



Flushed with triumph, Dolores took the first occasion to enlarge

upon her theme.



"You will see what a monster this Longorio is," she declared. "It

was like him to steal your beautiful cattle; he would steal a

crucifix. Once there was a fine ranch owned by a man who had two

lovely daughters--girls of great respectability and refinement.

But the man was a Candelerista. Longorio killed him--he and his

men killed everybody on the hacienda except the daughters, and

those he captured. He took them with him, and for no good purpose,

either, as you can imagine. Naturally the poor creatures were

nearly dead with fright, but as they rode along the elder one

began talking with Longorio's soldiers. She made friends with

them. She pretended to care nothing about her fate; she behaved

like a lost person, and the soldiers laughed. They liked her

spirit, God pity them! Finally she declared she was a famous shot

with a pistol, and she continued to boast until one of her guards

gave her his weapon with which to show her skill. Then what?

Before they could hinder her she turned in her saddle and shot her

younger sister through the brain. Herself she destroyed with a

bullet in her breast. Every word is the sacred truth, senora.

Longorio's soul is stained with the blood of those two innocents."



"I've heard many stories like that, from both sides," Alaire said,

gravely.



In the course of time the military train came creaking along on

the main track and stopped, to the great interest of the

southbound travelers. It was made up of many stock cars crowded

with cavalry horses. Each animal bore its equipment of saddle and

bridle, and penned in with them were the women and the children.

The soldiers themselves were clustered thickly upon the car roofs.

Far down at the rear of the train was a rickety passenger-coach,

and toward this Jose Sanchez made his way.



There began a noisy interchange of greetings between the occupants

of the two trains, and meanwhile the hot sun glared balefully upon

the huddled figures on the car tops. A half-hour passed, then

occurred a commotion at the forward end of Alaire's coach.



A group of officers climbed aboard, and among them was one who

could be none other than Luis Longorio. As he came down the

passageway Alaire identified him without the aid of his insignia,

for he stood head and shoulders above his companions and bore

himself with an air of authority. He was unusually tall, at least

six feet three, and very slim, very lithe; he was alert, keen; he

was like the blade of a rapier. The leanness of his legs was

accentuated by his stiff, starched riding-breeches and close-

fitting pigskin puttees, while his face, apart from all else,

would have challenged prompt attention.



Longorio was a young man; his cheeks were girlishly smooth and of

a clear, pale, olive tint, which sun and weather apparently were

powerless to darken; his eyes were large, bold, and brilliant; his

nostrils thin and sensitive, like those of a blooded horse. He

seemed almost immature until he spoke, then one realized with a

curious shock that he was a man indeed, and a man, moreover, with

all the ardor and passion of a woman. Such was Alaire's first

hasty impression of Luis Longorio, the Tarleton of Potosi's army.



Disdain, hauteur, impatience, were stamped upon the general's

countenance as he pushed briskly through the crowd, turning his

head from side to side in search of the woman who had summoned

him.



Not until she rose did he discover Alaire; then he halted; his

eyes fixed themselves upon her with a stare of startled amazement.



Alaire felt herself color faintly, for the man seemed to be

scanning her from head to foot, taking in every detail of her face

and form, and as he did so his expression remained unaltered. For

what seemed a full minute Longorio stood rooted; then the stiff-

vizored cap was swept from his head; he bowed with the grace of a

courtier until Alaire saw the part in his oily black hair.



"Senora! A thousand apologies for my delay," he said. "Caramba! I

did not dream--I did not understand your message." He continued to

regard her with that same queer intensity.



"You are General Longorio?" Alaire was surprised to note that her

voice quavered uncertainly, and annoyed to feel her face still

flushing.



"Your obedient servant."



With a gesture Mrs. Austin directed Dolores to vacate her seat,

and invited the General to take it. But Longorio checked the

maid's movement; then with a brusque command he routed out the

occupants of the seat ahead, and, reversing the back, took a

position facing Alaire. Another order, and the men who had

accompanied him withdrew up the aisle. His luminous eyes returned

once more to the woman, and there was no mistaking his admiration.

He seemed enchanted by her pale beauty, her rich, red hair held

him fascinated, and with Latin boldness he made his feelings

crassly manifest.





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