A Scouting Trip





"What ails you?" Law inquired as he and Blaze rolled away in the

buckboard.



"Serves me right for leaving my six-shooter at home," panted the

rancher. "Well, I might have known they'd find me some day."



"'They'? Who?"



"That hombre and his wife--the woman with the mustache. They swore

they'd get me, and it looks like they will, for I daresn't raise

my hand to protect myself."



This was very mystifying to Dave, and he said so.



"The woman'll recognize me, quick enough," Blaze asserted, and

then, "God knows what Paloma will do."



"Really! Is it that bad?"



"It's a vile story, Dave, and I never expected to tell anybody;

but it's bound to come out on me now, so you better hear my side.

Last summer I attended a convention at Galveston, and one hot day

I decided to take a swim, so I hired a suit and a room to cache my

six-shooter in. It was foolish proceedings for a man my age, but

the beach was black with people and I wasn't altogether myself.

You see, we'd had an open poker game running in my room for three

days, and I hadn't got any sleep. I was plumb feverish, and needed

a dip. Well, I'm no water-dog, Dave; I can't swim no better than a

tarrapin with its legs cut off, but I sloshed around some in the

surf, and then I took a walk to dreen off and see the sights. It

was right interesting when I got so I could tell the women from

the men--you see I'd left my glasses in the bath-house.



"Now I'd sort of upheld the general intemperance of that poker

game for three days and nights--but I don't offer my condition as

an excuse for what follows. No gentleman ought to lay his

indecencies onto John Barley corn when they're nothing more nor

less than the outcroppin's of his own orneriness. Liquor has got

enough to answer for without being blamed for human depravities. I

dare say I was friendlier than I had any right to be; I spoke to

strangers, and some of the girls hollered at me, but I wouldn't

have harmed a soul.



"Well, in the course of my promenade I came to a couple of fellers

setting half-buried in the sand, and just as I was passing one of

them got up--sort of on all-fours and--er--facing away from me--

sabe? That's where the trouble hatched. I reached out and, with

nothing but good-will in my heart, I--sort of pinched this party-

sort of on the hip, or thereabouts. I didn't mean a thing by it,

Dave. I just walked on, smiling, till something run into me from

behind. When I got up and squared around, there was that man we

just left cutting didos out of black paper.



"'What d'you mean by pinching my wife?' he says, and he was

r'arin' mad.



"'Your WIFE?' I stammers, and with that he climbs me. Dave, I was

weak with shame and surprise, and all I could do was hold him off.

Sure enough, the man I'd pinched was a long, ga'nt woman with a

little black mustache, and here she came!



"We started in right there. I never saw such a poisonous person as

that woman. She was coiled, her head was up, and her rattles

agoing, and so I finally lit out But I'm sort of fat, and they

over-ran me. They bayed me against the sea-wall, and all I had the

heart to do was to hold 'em off some more. Soon as I got my wind I

shook 'em off a second time and run some more, but they downed me.

By that time we'd begun to gather quite a crowd. ...



"Dave, was you ever treed by wild hogs? That's how them two people

kept after me. You'd have thought I'd deprived 'em of their young.

I didn't want to hurt 'em, but whenever I'd run they'd tangle my

legs. By and by I got so short of breath that I couldn't run, so I

fell on top of the man. But the woman got me by the legs and

rolled me under. I busted out and hoofed it again, but they caught

me and down we went, me on top. Then that man's helpmate grabbed

my legs and rolled me over, like she did before. Finally I got too

tired to do anything but paw like a puppy. It seems like we must

have fought that way all the morning, Dave. Anyhow, people

gathered from long distances and cheered the woman. I got

desperate toward the last, and I unraveled the right hip of my

bathing suit grabbing for my gun. I couldn't see the bath-house

for the sand in my eyes, so I must have led 'em up across the

boulevard and into the tent colony, for after a while we were

rolling around among tent-pegs and tangling up in guy-ropes, and

all the time our audience was growing. Dave, those tent-ropes

sounded like guitar strings."



Blaze paused to wipe the sweat from his brow, whereupon his

listener inquired in a choking voice:



"How did you come out?"



"I reckon I'd have got shed of 'em somehow, for I was resting up

on top of my man, but that stinging lizard of a woman got her

claws into the neck of my bathing-suit and r'ared back on it.

Dave, she skinned me out of that garment the way you'd skin out an

eel, and--there I was! You never heard such a yelling as went up.

And I didn't hear all of it, either, for I just laid back my ears

and went through those sight-seers like a jack-rabbit. I never

knew a man could run like I did. I could hear people holler, 'Here

he comes,' 'There he goes,' 'Yonder he went,' but I was never

headed. I hurdled the sea-wall like an antelope, and before they

got eyes on me I was into my bath-house.



"When I'd got dressed, I sneaked up to the Galvez for a drink. In

the bar were a lot of stockmen, and they asked me where I'd been.

I told 'em I'd been nursing a sick lodge member, and they said:



"'Too bad! You missed the damnedest fight since Custer was licked.

We couldn't get very close, for the jam, but it was great!'



"The story went all over Galveston. The husband swore he'd kill

the man who attacked his wife, and the newspapers called on the

police to discover the ruffian."



There was a protracted silence; then Law controlled his voice

sufficiently to say: "It's fortunate he didn't recognize you to-

night."



"Maybe he did. Anyhow, his wife is the new dressmaker Paloma's

hired. I 'ain't got a chance, Dave. That story will ruin me in the

community, and Paloma will turn me out when she learns I'm a--a

lady-pincher."



"What are you going to do about it?"



Blaze sighed. "I don't know, yet. Probably I'll end by running

from those scorpions, like I did before."



The next morning at breakfast Paloma announced, "Father, you must

help Dave hunt down these cattle thieves."



"Ain't that sort of a big order?" Blaze queried.



"Perhaps, but you're the very man to do it. Ricardo Guzman is the

only person who knows the Lewis gang as well as you do."



Jones shook his head doubtfully. "Don Ricardo has been working up

his own private feud with that outfit. If I was the kind that went

looking for a fight, I wouldn't have paid freight on myself from

the Panhandle down here. I could have got one right at home, any

morning before breakfast."



"Ricardo Guzman is something of a black sheep himself," Law spoke

up.



"Pshaw! He's all right. I reckon he has changed a few brands in

his time, but so has everybody else. Why, that's how 'Old Ed'

Austin got his start. If a cowman tells you he never stole

anything, he's either a dam' good liar or a dam' bad roper. But

Ricardo's going straight enough now."



"He has lost his share of stock," Paloma explained, "and he'll

work with you if father asks him. You go along with Dave---"



"I'm too busy," Blaze demurred, "and I ain't feeling good. I had

bad dreams all night."



"I don't want you around here this morning. That new dressmaker is

coming."



Jones rose abruptly from the table. "I reckon my business can

wait. Hustle up, Dave." A few moments later, as they were saddling

their horses, he lamented: "What did I tell you? Here I go, on the

dodge from a dressmaker. I s'pose I've got to live like a road-

agent now, till something happens."



Don Ricardo Guzman was an American, but he spoke no English. An

accident of birth had made him a citizen of the United States--his

father having owned a ranch which lay north instead of south of

the Rio Grande. Inasmuch as the property had fallen to Ricardo,

his sons, too, were Yankees in the eyes of the law. But in all

other respects Don Ricardo and his family differed not at all from

the many Guzmans who lived across the border. The Guzman ranch

comprised a goodly number of acres, and, since live stock multiply

rapidly, its owner had in some sort prospered. On the bank of a

resaca---a former bed of the Rio Grande--stood the house, an adobe

structure, square, white, and unprotected from the sun by shrub or

tree. Behind it were some brush corrals and a few scattered mud

jacals, in which lived the help.



Ricardo had just risen from a siesta when his two visitors rode

up, and he made them welcome with the best he had. There followed

a complimentary exchange of greetings and the usual flow of small

talk. Ricardo had suffered a severe toothache--the same abominable

affliction that had lost Porfirio Diaz an empire. It had been a

dry spring, but, praise God, the water still held in the resaca--

his two sons were branding calves in one of the outer pastures--

and there had been a very good calf crop indeed. Blaze recounted

his own doings; Law told of Ranger activities along the lower

border. In the cool of the afternoon Ricardo rode with his

visitors, and then, cordial relations being now established, he

began to divulge information of value to Law.



Yes, he had endured many depredations from thieves. It was

shameful, but doubtless God willed that a certain amount of

stealing should go on in the world. The evil-doers were certainly

favored by nature, in this locality, for the great expanse of

brush country to the north and east offered almost perfect

security, and the river, to the south, gave immunity from pursuit

or prosecution. The beeves were driven north into the wilderness,

but the horses went to Mexico, where the war had created a market

for them. The Federals had plenty of money to buy mounts.



Whom did Don Ricardo suspect?



The old man was non-committal. Suspicion was one thing, proof was

quite another; and conviction was difficult under the best of

circumstances. Why, even a cow's recognition of her own calf was

not evidence for a court, and alibis were easily proven. Unless

the thieves were caught in the very act there was no case against

them, and--por Dios!--one could not be for ever on guard. Who

could tell where the malefactors would strike next? Now, in Mexico

one could afford to kill an undesirable neighbor without so much

formality. But, thank God! Don Ricardo was not a Mexican. No, he

was a good American citizen. It was something to make him sleep

well in these war-times.



"Just the same, I'll bet he'd sleep better if the Lewis outfit was

cleaned up," Dave ventured, and Blaze agreed.



Guzman caught his enemy's name and nodded.



"Ah! That sin verguenza! He sells arms to the Candeleristas and

horses to the Potosistas. Perhaps he steals my calves. Who knows?"



"Senor Lewis doesn't need to steal. He has money," Jones argued.



"True! But who is so rich that he would not be richer? Lewis

employs men who are poor, and he himself is above nothing. I, too,

am a friend of the Rebels. Panchito, the Liberator, was a saint,

and I give money to the patriots who fight for his memory. But I

do not aid the tyrant Potosi with my other hand. Yes, and who is

richer, for instance, than Senor Eduardo Austin?"



"You surely don't accuse him of double-dealing with the Rebels?"

Blaze inquired, curiously.



"I don't know. He is a friend of Tad Lewis, and there are strange

stories afloat."



Just what these stories were, however, Ricardo would not say,

feeling, perhaps, that he had already said too much.



The three men spent that evening together, and in the morning

Blaze rode home, leaving the Ranger behind for the time being as

Guzman's guest.



Dave put in the next two days riding the pastures, familiarizing

himself with the country, and talking with the few men he met.

About all he discovered, however, was the fact that the Guzman

range not only adjoined some of Lewis's leased land, but also was

bounded for several miles by the Las Palmas fence.



It was pleasant to spend the days among the shy brush-cattle, with

Bessie Belle for company. The mare seemed to enjoy the excursions

as much as her owner. Her eyes and ears were ever alert; she

tossed her head and snorted when a deer broke cover or a jack-

rabbit scuttled out of her path; she showed a friendly interest in

the awkward calves which stood and eyed her with such amazement

and then galloped stiffly off with tails high arched.



Law had many times undertaken to break Bessie Belle of that habit

of flinging her head high at sudden sounds, but she was nervous

and inquisitive, and this was the one thing upon which she

maintained a feminine obstinacy.



On the second evening the Ranger rode home through a drizzle that

had materialized after a long, threatening afternoon and now

promised to become a real rain. Ricardo met him at the door to

say:



"You bring good fortune with you, senor, for the land is thirsty.

To-morrow, if this rain holds, we shall ride together--you, Pedro,

and I. Those thieves do their stealing when they leave no tracks."



Raoul, the younger son, volunteered to go in place of his father,

but Ricardo would not hear of it.



"Am I so old that I must lie abed?" he cried. "No! We three shall

ride the fences, and if we encounter a cut wire--diablo!--we shall

have a story to tell, eh?"



The sky was leaden, the rain still fell in the morning when Dave

and his two companions set out. Until noon they rode, their

slickers dripping, their horses steaming; then they ate an

uncomfortable lunch under the thickest hackberry-tree they could

find, after which they resumed their patrol. Ricardo's tongue at

length ran down under this discomfort, and the three riders sat

their saddles silently, swaying to the tireless fox-trot of their

horses, their eyes engaged in a watchful scrutiny.



At last Pedro, who was ahead, reined in and pointed; the others

saw where the barbed-wire strands of the fence they had been

following were clipped. A number of horse and calf tracks led

through the opening, and after an examination Ricardo announced:



"There are two men. They have come and gone, with the calves tied

neck and neck."



"That is Las Palmas, isn't it?" Law indicated the pasture into

which the trail led.



Father and son answered, "Si, senor."



For a time the Ranger lounged sidewise in his saddle, studying the

country before him. The land was open and comparatively flat; it

was broken by tiny clumps of mesquite and low, sprawling beds of

cactus. Perhaps a half-mile away, however, began a long, narrow

patch of woods, with the tops of occasional oaks showing, and this

ran parallel with the fence for a considerable distance.



"They took them in yonder, to brand," he said, straightening

himself. "Maybe we'll be in time."



Side by side the three men rode off Guzman's land, following the

tracks to the nearest point of woods; there Law stopped to give

his directions.



"Pedro, you ride down this side; Ricardo, you skirt the outside. I

shall keep to the middle. Walk your horses, for I shall go

slowly." He slipped his carbine from its scabbard; the others did

the same.



But Dave's plan did not commend itself to Ricardo; the old man's

face puckered into an expression of doubt, and, removing his hat,

he ran a hand over his wiry, short-cropped, white hair.



"Senor," he protested, "I know something about these men, and they

will not wait to learn that you are an officer. Perhaps I had

better ride with you."



But Law declined the well-meant offer, and with a dubious shake of

the head Ricardo rode away, while Dave guided Bessie Belle into

the grove.



The mare seemed to know that something unusual was afoot. Perhaps

some nervous tensity of her rider made itself felt, perhaps with

equine sagacity she had understood from the first the nature of

this scouting expedition. Dave was inclined to believe the latter-

-he had often averred that Bessie Belle knew quite as much as or

more than he. At any rate she picked her way with admirable care,

her hoofs made almost no sound upon the wet soil; only the

complaint of the saddle leathers or the swish of a wet branch rose

above the steady patter of the raindrops. It was not necessary to

guide her; she selected the openings of her own free will, her

small, sharp ears were alert, and her eyes searched the glades

intently.



Dave smiled at this excess of caution and stroked Bessie Belle's

wet neck encouragingly, whereupon she turned her head and it

seemed to the rider that she nodded her complete understanding.

Law could have kissed her.





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