Dave Law Comes Home





A few days after she had written to Judge Ellsworth Alaire

followed her letter in person, for, having at last decided to

divorce Ed, she acted with characteristic decision. Since

Ellsworth had more than once advised this very course, she went to

Brownsville anticipating his willing support. She was greatly

amazed, therefore, to find that he had completely changed his

views and to hear him argue strongly against her determination.

Hurt and puzzled at first by this strange lack of sympathy, Alaire

soon began to grow angry, and when the judge persisted in his

arguments she quarreled with him for the first time in their

acquaintance. But it was not until she had threatened to secure

another attorney that he reluctantly gave in, even then making it

plain that in meeting her wishes he was acting against his best

judgment.



Now Alaire had desired Ellsworth's advice, also, as to her own

immediate plans, since it was of course impossible for her longer

to share Ed's roof. She had written Dave Law, telling him that she

intended to go to La Feria, there to remain pending the hearing of

her suit; but later she had come to doubt the wisdom of such a

course, inasmuch as the war talk grew louder with every day.

However, her attorney's inexplicable change of front and his

stubborn opposition to her wishes prevented her from confiding in

him any more than was necessary, and she returned to Las Palmas

determined to use her own best judgment. To be sure, she would

have preferred some place of refuge other than La Feria, but she

reasoned that there she would at least be undisturbed, and that

Ed, even if he wished to effect a reconciliation, would not dare

to follow her, since he was persona non grata in Federal Mexico.

Nor were her doubts of Ellsworth's loyalty entirely allayed. All

in all, therefore, it seemed to her that the Mexican ranch offered

her the safest asylum.



She had counted upon seeing Dave during her stay in Brownsville,

and her failure to do so was a grave disappointment. The news of

his resignation from the Force had at first perplexed her; then

she had thrilled at the thought that his action must have

something to do with her; that doubtless he, too, was busied in

making plans for their new life. She told herself that it was

brave of him to obey her injunctions so literally and to leave her

unembarrassed by his presence at this particular time. It inspired

her to be equally brave and to wait patiently for the day when she

could welcome him with clean hands and a soul unashamed.



In the midst of Alaire's uncertainty of mind it gratified her to

realize that Dave alone would know of her whereabouts. She

wondered if he would come to see her. He was a reckless,

headstrong lover, and his desires were all too likely to overcome

his deliberate resolves. She rather hoped that in spite of his

promise he would venture to cross the border so that she could see

and be near him, if only for a day or for an hour. The possibility

frightened and yet pleased her. The conventional woman within her

frowned, but her outlaw heart beat fast at the thought.



Alaire did not explain her plans even to Dolores, but when her

preparations were complete she took the Mexican woman with her,

and during Ed's absence slipped away from the ranch. Boarding the

train at Jonesville, she was in Pueblo that night.



If Alaire's clash with Ellsworth had been trying to her, it had

been no less painful to the lawyer himself. Feeling himself bound

by his promise to Dave, he had not dared to tell her the truth;

consequently he had been hard put to it to dissuade her from

taking immediate action. When she would not listen, he found

himself in the most unpleasant position of his life; for although

he could not but sympathize with her desire to be free from Ed

Austin, it distressed him beyond measure to see her riding blindly

to a fall. More than once after their strained parting he was

tempted to go to Las Palmas and set himself right in her eyes; but

he managed to hold to his determination and to school himself to

await Dave's return.



Before long, however, Ellsworth found other worries engaging him,

for it seemed at last that war with Mexico was imminent. After

months of uncertainty the question had come to issue, and that

lowering cloud which had hung above the horizon took ominous shape

and size. Ellsworth awoke one morning to learn that an ultimatum

had gone forth to President Potosi; that the Atlantic fleet had

been ordered south; and that marines were being rushed aboard

transports pending a general army mobilization. It looked as if

the United States had finally risen in wrath, and as if nothing

less than a miracle could now avert the long-expected conflict.



Naturally Brownsville, like other border towns, was plunged into a

panic, and Ellsworth, as a leading citizen of his community, had

his hands full.



In the midst of this excitement, and while suspense was at its

highest, Dave Law returned. Ellsworth found him in his office one

morning and fell upon the young man eagerly. Two weeks had worked

a shocking change in Dave; he was gaunt, ill; his eyes were bright

and tired and feverish. They had a new expression, too, which the

judge at first could not fathom, but which he took to be fear.

Dave's brown cheeks had bleached; his hands hung loose and

unmanageable at his sides.



"I've had a long trip," he said, somberly, "months--years long, it

seems to me."



"Well, thank God you're back. Tell me, what did you find out?"



Law closed his eyes wearily. He shook his head. "Nothing except

verification. I'm sorry I went. The Law blood is tainted, all

right--it reeks. The whole damned outfit were crazy. On my

mother's side, though, I'm healthy enough--and there appears to be

some mystery or something queer about me as a baby. That's all

I've discovered so far. But I've a relative in San Antone, a

cousin of my mother's, who runs a curio-store. He deals in Mexican

jewelry and antiques, and all that--strange old fellow. He says he

has a trunkful of stuff that belonged to his family, and he has

promised to go through it for me."



"Then you still hope to prove--"



"I haven't any hope. I've given up."



"Why?" Ellsworth asked, sharply.



"Because I know the truth. Because I'm--going crazy. Fact! I can

see it myself now."



"Why, boy, that's imagination, nothing else."



"Perhaps," Dave agreed, listlessly. "I'm reading everything on the

subject of insanity that I can get hold of."



Ellsworth tried to laugh. "That in itself is enough to unbalance

you."



"I'm moody, depressed; I'm getting so I imagine things. By and by

I'll begin to think I'm persecuted--I believe that's how it works.

Already I have hallucinations in broad daylight, and I'm afraid of

the dark. Fancy! I don't sleep very often, and when I do I wake up

in a puddle of sweat, shivering. And dreams! God, what dreams! I

know they're dreams, now, but sooner or later I suppose I'll begin

to believe in 'em." Dave sighed and settled lower in his chair.

"I--I'm mighty tired."



Ellsworth clapped him on the back. "Come, now! A perfectly healthy

man could wreck his reason this way. You must stop it. You must do

something to occupy your mind."



"Sure. That's what brings me home. I'm going to the front."



"To the war?"



"Yes. They're recruiting a rough-rider regiment in San Antone. I

joined yesterday, and I've come to get my horse."



After a time Ellsworth said, "Alaire has commenced her action."

Dave took a deep, sharp breath and began to tremble weakly. "I

didn't tell her, but--you must. We can't go on like this."



"Suppose I just go to war and--and don't come back?" thickly

inquired the sufferer.



"That won't do. You won't get killed--fellows like you never do.

Wouldn't you rather have her know the truth than believe you to be

a quitter?" Ellsworth waited a minute. "Do you want me to tell her

for you, Dave?"



Law shook his head slowly, wearily. "No, I'll do it. I'm game. I'd

rather she heard it from me."



Blaze Jones took the San Antonio paper out upon the porch and

composed himself in the hammock to read the latest war news.

Invasion! Troops! The Stars and Stripes! Those were words that

stirred Jones deeply and caused him to neglect his work. Now that

his country had fully awakened to the necessity of a war with

Mexico--a necessity he had long felt--he was fired with the

loftiest patriotism and a youthful eagerness to enlist. Blaze

realized that he was old and fat and near-sighted; but what of

that? He could fight. Fighting, in fact, had been one of his

earliest accomplishments, and he prided himself upon knowing as

much about it as any one man could learn. He believed in fighting

both as a principle and as an exercise; in fact, he attributed his

good health to his various neighborly "unpleasantnesses," and he

had more than once argued that no great fighter ever died of a

sluggish liver or of any one of the other ills that beset

sedentary, peace-loving people. Nations were like men--too much

ease made them flabby. And Blaze had his own ideas of strategy,

too. So during the perusal of his paper he bemoaned the mistakes

his government was making. Why waste time with ultimatums? he

argued to himself. He had never done so. Experience had taught him

that the way to win a battle was to beat the other fellow to the

draw; hence this diplomatic procrastination filled him with

impatience. It seemed almost treasonable to one of Blaze's intense

patriotism.



He was engaged in laying out a plan of campaign for the United

States when he became conscious of voices behind him, and realized

that for some time Paloma had been entertaining a caller in the

front room. Their conversation had not disturbed him at first, but

now an occasional word or sentence forced its meaning through his

preoccupation, and he found himself listening.



Paloma's visitor was a woman, and as Blaze harkened to her voice,

he felt his heart sink. It was Mrs. Strange. She was here again.

With difficulty Blaze conquered an impulse to flee, for she was

recounting a story all too familiar to him.



"Why, it seemed as if the whole city of Galveston was there, and

yet nobody offered to help us," the dressmaker was saying. "Phil

was a perfect hero, for the ruffian was twice his size. Oh, it was

an awful fight! I hate to think of it."



"What made him pinch you?" Paloma inquired.



"Heaven only knows. Some men are dreadful that way. Why, he left a

black-and-blue mark!"



Blaze broke into a cold sweat and cursed feebly under his breath.



"He wasn't drunk, either. He was just naturally depraved. You

could see it in his face."



"How DID you escape?"



"Well, I'll tell you. We chased him up across the boulevard and in

among the tents, and then--" Mrs. Strange lowered her voice until

only a murmur reached the listening man. A moment, then both women

burst into shrill, excited laughter, and Blaze himself blushed

furiously.



This was unbearable! It was bad enough to have that woman in

Jonesville, a constant menace to his good name, but to allow her

access to his own home was unthinkable. Sooner or later they were

bound to meet, and then Paloma would learn the disgraceful truth--

yes, and the whole neighborhood would likewise know his shame. In

fancy, Blaze saw his reputation torn to shreds and himself exposed

to the gibes of the people who venerated him. He would become a

scandal among men, an offense to respectable women; children would

shun him. Blaze could not bear to think of the consequences, for

he was very fond of the women and children of Jonesville,

especially the women. He rose from his hammock and tiptoed down

the porch into the kitchen, from which point of security he called

loudly for his daughter.



Alarmed at his tone, Paloma came running. "What is the matter?"

she asked, quickly.



"Get her out!" Blaze cried, savagely. "Get shed of her."



"Her? Who?"



"That varmint."



"Father, what ails you?"



"Nothin' ails me, but I don't want that caterpillar crawlin'

around my premises. I don't like her."



Paloma regarded her parent curiously. "How do you know you don't

like her when you've never seen her?"



"Oh, I've seen her, all I want to; and I heard her talkin' to you

just now. I won't stand for nobody tellin' you--bad stories."



Paloma snickered. "The idea! She doesn't--"



"Get her out, and keep her out," Blaze rumbled. "She ain't right;

she ain't--human. Why, what d'you reckon I saw her do, the other

day? Makes me shiver now. You remember that big bull-snake that

lives under the barn, the one I've been layin' for? Well, you

won't believe me, but him and her are friends. Fact! I saw her

pick him up and play with him. WHO-EE! The goose-flesh popped out

on me till it busted the buttons off my vest. She ain't my kind of

people, Paloma. 'Strange' ain't no name for her; no, sir! That

woman's dam' near peculiar."



Paloma remained unmoved. "I thought you knew. She used to be a

snake-charmer."



"A--WHAT?" There was no doubt about it. Blaze's hair lifted. He

blinked through his big spectacles; he pawed the air feebly with

his hands. "How can you let her touch you? I couldn't. I'll bet

she carries a pocketful of dried toads and--and keeps live lizards

in her hair. I knew an old voodoo woman that ate cockroaches. Get

shed of her, Paloma, and we'll fumigate the house."



At that moment Mrs. Strange herself opened the kitchen door to

inquire, "Is anything wrong?" Misreading Blaze's expression for

one of pain, she exclaimed: "Mercy! Now, what have you done to

yourself?"



But the object of her solicitude backed away, making peculiar

clucking sounds deep in his throat. Paloma was saying:



"This is my father, Mrs. Strange. You and he have never happened

to meet before."



"Why, yes we have! I know you," the seamstress exclaimed. Then a

puzzled light flickered in her black eyes. "Seems to me we've met

somewhere, but--I've met so many people." She extended her hand,

and Blaze took it as if expecting to find it cold and scaly. He

muttered something unintelligible. "I've been dying to see you,"

she told him, "and thank you for giving me Paloma's work. I love

you both for it."



Blaze was immensely relieved that this dreaded crisis had come and

gone; but wishing to make assurance doubly sure, he contorted his

features into a smile the like of which his daughter had never

seen, and in a disguised voice inquired, "Now where do you reckon

you ever saw me?"



The seamstress shook her head. "I don't know, but I'll place you

before long. Anyhow, I'm glad you aren't hurt. From the way you

called Paloma I thought you were. I'm handy around sick people, so

I--"



"Listen!" Paloma interrupted. "There's some one at the front

door." She left the room; Blaze was edging after her when he heard

her utter a stifled scream and call his name.



Now Paloma was not the kind of girl to scream without cause, and

her cry brought Blaze to the front of the house at a run. But what

he saw there reassured him momentarily; nothing was in sight more

alarming than one of the depot hacks, in the rear seat of which

was huddled the figure of a man. Paloma was flying down the walk

toward the gate, and Phil Strange was waiting on the porch. As

Blaze flung himself into view the latter explained:



"I brought him straight here, Mr. Jones, 'cause I knew you was his

best friend."



"Who? Who is it?"



"Dave Law. He must have came in on the noon train. Anyhow, I found

him--like that." The two men hurried toward the road, side by

side.



"What's wrong with him?" Blaze demanded.



"I don't know. He's queer--he's off his bean. I've had a hard time

with him."





Paloma was in the carriage at Dave's side now, and calling his

name; but Law, it seemed, was scarcely conscious. He had slumped

together; his face was vacant, his eyes dull. He was muttering to

himself a queer, delirious jumble of words.



"Oh, Dad! He's sick--sick," Paloma sobbed. "Dave, don't you know

us? You're home, Dave. Everything is--all right now."



"Why, you'd hardly recognize the boy!" Blaze exclaimed; then he

added his appeal to his daughter's. But they could not arouse the

sick man from his coma.



"He asked me to take him to Las Palmas," Strange explained. "Looks

to me like a sunstroke. You'd ought to hear him rave when he gets

started."



Paloma turned an agonized face to her father. "Get a doctor,

quick," she implored; "he frightens me."



But Mrs. Strange had followed, and now she spoke up in a matter-

of-fact tone: "Doctor nothing," she said. "I know more than all

the doctors. Paloma, you go into the house and get a bed ready for

him, and you men lug him in. Come, now, on the run, all of you!

I'll show you what to do." She took instant charge of the

situation, and when Dave refused to leave the carriage and began

to fight off his friends, gabbling wildly, it was she who quieted

him. Elbowing Blaze and her husband out of the way, she loosed the

young man's frenzied clutch from the carriage and, holding his

hands in hers, talked to him in such a way that he gradually

relaxed. It was she who helped him out and then supported him into

the house. It was she who got him up-stairs and into bed, and it

was she who finally stilled his babble.



"The poor man is burning up with a fever," she told the others,

"and fevers are my long suit. Get me some towels and a lot of

ice."



Blaze, who had watched the snake-charmer's deft ministrations with

mingled amazement and suspicion, inquired: "What are you going to

do with ice? Ice ain't medicine."



"I'm going to pack his head in it."



"God'l'mighty!" Blaze was horrified. "Do you want to freeze his

brain?"



Mrs. Strange turned on him angrily. "You get out of my way and

mind your own business. 'Freeze his brain!'" With a sniff of

indignation she pushed past the interloper.



But Blaze was waiting for her when she returned a few moments

later with bowls and bottles and various remedies which she had

commandeered. He summoned sufficient courage to block her way and

inquire:



"What you got there, now, ma'am?"



Mrs. Strange glared at him balefully. With an effort at patience

she inquired: "Say! What ails you, anyhow?"



Jones swallowed hard. "Understand, he's a friend of mine. No

damned magic goes."



"Magic?"



"No--cockroaches or snakes' tongues, or--"



Mrs. Strange fingered a heavy china bowl as if tempted to bounce

it from Blaze's head. Then, not deigning to argue, she whisked

past him and into the sick-room. It was evident from her

expression that she considered the master of the house a harmless

but offensive old busybody.



For some time longer Blaze hung about the sick-room; then, his

presence being completely ignored, he risked further antagonism by

telephoning for Jonesville's leading doctor. Not finding the

physician at home, he sneaked out to the barn and, taking Paloma's

car, drove away in search of him. It was fully two hours later

when he returned to discover that Dave was sleeping quietly.





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