Ed Austin Turns At Bay





Had it not been for her fears, Paloma Jones would have taken her

visit to the Austin ranch as an unmixed enjoyment. To her Alaire

had always been an ideally romantic figure. More than once, in her

moments of melancholy, Paloma had envied Mrs. Austin's unhappiness

and yearned to bear a similar sorrow--to be crossed in love and to

become known as a woman of tragedy. To have one's life blasted,

one's happiness slain by some faithless lover, impressed the girl

as interesting, thrilling. Moreover, it was a misfortune

calculated to develop one's highest spiritual nature. Surely

nothing could be more sadly satisfying than to live alone with

regretful memories and to have the privilege of regarding the

world as a vain show. Unfortunately, however, Paloma was too

healthy and too practical to remain long occupied with such

thoughts. She was disgustingly optimistic and merry; misanthropy

was entirely lacking in her make-up; and none of her admirers

seemed the least bit inclined to faithlessness. On the contrary,

the men she knew were perfect nuisances in their earnestness of

purpose, and she could not manage to fall in love with any one

sufficiently depraved to promise her the slightest misery. Paloma

felt that she was hopelessly commonplace.





Now that she had an opportunity of becoming better acquainted with

the object of her envy, she made the most of it. She soon found,

however, that Alaire possessed anything but an unhappy

disposition, and that to pity her was quite impossible. Mrs.

Austin was shy and retiring, certainly, at first, but, once the

ice was broken, she was delightfully frank, friendly, and

spirited.



Paloma's curiosity was all-consuming, and she explored every phase

of her new friend's life with interest and delight. She even

discovered that imaginary world of Alaire's, and learned something

about those visionary people who bore her company.



"It must be lots of fun," said Paloma.



"Yes. Sometimes my dream-people are very real, Why--I can actually

see them. Then I realize I have been too much alone."



"You ought to have children," the girl declared, calmly.



"I have. Yes! Imaginary kiddies--and they are perfect dears, too."



"Are they ever naughty?"



"Oh, indeed they are! And I have to punish them. Then I feel

terribly. But they're much nicer than flesh-and-blood children,

for they have no bad traits whatever, and they're so amazingly

intelligent."



Such exchanges of confidence drew the women into fairly close

relations by the time they had arrived at Las Palmas, but the

thought of what had brought them together had a sobering effect,

and during their hasty supper they discussed the situation in all

its serious phases.



In offering to lend a hand in this difficulty, Alaire had acted

largely upon impulse, and now that she took time to think over the

affair more coolly, she asked herself what possible business of

hers it could be. How did this effort to secure Don Ricardo's body

concern her? And how could she hope or expect to be of help to the

men engaged in the hazardous attempt? With Paloma, of course, it

was different: the girl was anxious on her father's account, and

probably concerned more deeply than was Alaire for the safety of

Dave Law. Probably she and Dave had an understanding--it would be

natural. Well, Paloma was a nice girl and she would make a

splendid wife for any man.



For her part, Paloma was troubled by no uncertainty of purpose; it

did not seem to her at all absurd to go to her father's

assistance, and she was so eager to be up and away that the

prospect of a long evening's wait made her restless.



As usual, Ed Austin had not taken the trouble to inform his wife

of his whereabouts; Alaire was relieved to find that he was out,

and she decided that he had probably stayed at Tad Lewis's for

supper.



The women were seated on the porch after their meals when up the

driveway rode two horsemen. A moment later a tall figure mounted

the steps and came forward with outstretched hand, crying, in

Spanish:



"Senora! I surprise you. Well, I told you some day I should give

myself this great pleasure. I am here!"



"General Longorio! But--what a surprise!" Alaire's amazement was

naive; her face was that of a startled school-girl. The Mexican

warmly kissed her fingers, then turned to meet Paloma Jones. As he

bowed the women exchanged glances over his head. Miss Jones looked

frankly frightened, and her expression plainly asked the meaning

of Longorio's presence. To herself, she was wondering if it could

have anything to do with that expedition to the Romero cemetery.

She tried to compose herself, but apprehension flooded her.



Alaire, meanwhile, her composure recovered, was standing slim and

motionless beside her chair, inquiring smoothly: "What brings you

into Texas at such a time, my dear general? This is quite

extraordinary."



"Need you ask me?" cried the man. "I would ride through a thousand

perils, senora. God in his graciousness placed that miserable

village Romero close to the gates of Heaven. Why should I not

presume to look through them briefly? I came two days ago, and

every hour since then I have turned my eyes in the direction of

Las Palmas. At last I could wait no longer." A courtly bow at the

conclusion of these words robbed the speech of its audacity and

tinged it with the licensed extravagance of Latin flattery.

Nevertheless, Paloma gasped and Alaire stirred uncomfortably. The

semi-darkness of the veranda was an invitation to even more daring

compliments, and, therefore, as she murmured a polite word of

welcome, Alaire stepped through the French window at her back and

into the brightly lighted living-room. Paloma Jones followed as if

in a trance.



Longorio's bright eyes took a swift inventory of his surroundings;

then he sighed luxuriously.



"How fine!" said he. "How beautiful! A nest for a bird of

paradise!"



"Don't you consider this rather a mad adventure?" Alaire insisted.

"Suppose it should become known that you crossed the river?"



Longorio snapped his fingers. "I answer to no one; I am supreme.

But your interest warms my heart; it thrills me to think you care

for my safety. Thus am I repaid for my days of misery."



"You surely did not"--Paloma swallowed hard--"come alone?"



"No. I have a duty to my country. I said, 'Luis, you are a brave

man, and fear is a stranger to you, but, nevertheless, you must

have regard for the Fatherland'; so I took measures to protect

myself in case of eventualities."



"How?"



"By bringing with me some of my troopers. Oh, they are peaceable

fellows!" he declared, quickly; "and they are doubtless enjoying

themselves with our friend and sympathizer, Morales."



"Where?" asked Alaire.



"I left them at your pumping-plant, senora." Paloma Jones sat down

heavily in the nearest chair. "But you need have no uneasiness.

They are quiet and orderly; they will molest nothing; no one would

believe them to be soldiers. I take liberties with the laws and

the customs of your country, dear lady, but--you would not care

for a man who allowed such considerations to stand in his way,

eh?"



Alaire answered, sharply: "It was a very reckless thing to do,

and--you must not remain here."



"Yes, yes!" Paloma eagerly agreed. "You must go back at once."



But Longorio heard no voice except Alaire's. In fact, since

entering the living-room he had scarcely taken his eyes from her.

Now he drew his evenly arched brows together in a plaintive frown,

saying, "You are inhospitable!" Then his expression lightened. "Or

is it," he asked--"is it that you are indeed apprehensive for me?"



Alaire tried to speak quietly. "I should never forgive myself if

you came to harm here at my ranch."



Longorio sighed. "And I hoped for a warmer welcome--especially

since I have done you another favor. You saw that hombre who came

with me?"



"Yes."



"Well, you would never guess that it is your Jose Sanchez, whom I

prevailed upon to return to your employ. But it is no other; and

he comes to beg your forgiveness for leaving. He was distracted at

the news of his cousin's murder, and came to me--"



"His cousin was not murdered."



"Exactly! I told him so when I had learned the facts. A poor

fellow this Panfilo--evidently a very bad man, indeed--but Jose

admired him and was harboring thoughts of revenge. I said to him:

'Jose, my boy, it is better to do nothing than to act wrongly.

Since it was God's will that your cousin came to a bad end, why

follow in his footsteps? You will not make a good soldier. Go back

to your beautiful employer, be loyal to her, and think no more

about this unhappy affair.' It required some argument, I assure

you, but--he is here. He comes to ask your forgiveness and to

resume his position of trust."



"I am glad to have him back if he feels that way. I have nothing

whatever to forgive him."



"Then he will be happy, and I have served you. That is the end of

the matter." With a graceful gesture Longorio dismissed the

subject. "Is it to be my pleasure," he next inquired, "to meet

Senor Austin, your husband?"



"I am afraid not."



"Too bad. I had hoped to know him and convince him that we

Federales are not such a bad people as he seems to think. We ought

to be friends, he and I. Every loyal Mexican, in these troublesome

times, desires the goodwill and friendship of such important

personages as Senor Austin. This animosity is a sad thing."



Under this flow of talk Paloma stirred uneasily, and at the first

opportunity burst out: "It's far from safe for you to remain here,

General Longorio. This neighborhood is terribly excited over the

death of Ricardo Guzman, and if any one learned--"



"So! Then this Guzman is dead?" Longorio inquired, with interest.



"Isn't he?" blurted Paloma.



"Not so far as I can learn. Only to-day I made official report

that nothing whatever could be discovered about him. Certainly he

is nowhere in Romero, and it is my personal belief that the poor

fellow was either drowned in the river or made way with for his

money. Probably the truth will never be known. It is a distressing

event, but I assure you my soldiers do not kill American citizens.

It is our boast that Federal territory is safe; one can come or go

at will in any part of Mexico that is under Potosista control. I

sincerely hope that we have heard the last of this Guzman affair."



Longorio had come to spend the evening, and his keen pleasure in

Alaire Austin's company made him so indifferent to his personal

safety that nothing short of a rude dismissal would have served to

terminate his visit. Neither Alaire nor her companion, however,

had the least idea how keenly he resented the presence of Paloma

Jones. Ed Austin's absence he had half expected, and he had wildly

hoped for an evening, an hour, a few moments, alone with the

object of his desires. Jose's disclosures, earlier in the day, had

opened the general's eyes; they had likewise inflamed him with

jealousy and with passion, and accordingly he had come prepared to

force his attentions with irresistible fervor should the slightest

opportunity offer. To find Alaire securely chaperoned, therefore,

and to be compelled to press his ardent advances in the presence

of a third party, was like gall to him; the fact that he made the

most of his advantages, even at the cost of scandalizing Paloma,

spoke volumes for his determination.



It was a remarkable wooing; on the one hand this half-savage man,

gnawed by jealousy, heedless of the illicit nature of his passion,

yet held within the bounds of decorum by some fag-end of

respectability; and on the other hand, a woman, bored, resentful,

and tortured at the moment by fear about what was happening at the

river-bank.



Alaire, too, had a further cause for worry. Of late Ed Austin had

grown insultingly suspicious. More than once he had spoken of Dave

Law in a way to make his wife's face crimson, and he had wilfully

misconstrued her recital of Longorio's attentions. Fearing,

therefore, that in spite of Paloma Jones's presence Ed would

resent the general's call, Alaire strained her ears for the sound

of his coming.



It was late when Austin arrived. Visitors at Las Palmas were

unusual at any time; hence the sound of strange voices in the

brightly lighted living-room at such an hour surprised him. He

came tramping in, booted and spurred, a belligerent look of

inquiry upon his bloated features. But when he had met his wife's

guests his surprise turned to black displeasure. His own

sympathies in the Mexican struggle were so notorious that

Longorio's presence seemed to him to have but one possible

significance. Why Paloma Jones was here he could not imagine.



Thus far Alaire's caller had succeeded in ignoring Miss Jones, and

now, with equal self-assurance, he refused to recognize Ed's

hostility. He remained at ease, and appeared to welcome this

chance of meeting Austin. Yet it soon became evident that his

opinion of his host was far from flattering; beneath his

politeness he began to show an amused contempt, which Alaire

perceived, even though her husband did not. Luis Longorio was the

sort of man who enjoys a strained situation, and one who shows to

the best advantage under adverse conditions. Accordingly, Ed's

arrival, instead of hastening his departure, merely served to

prolong his stay.



It was growing very late now, and Paloma was frantic. Profiting by

her first opportunity, she whispered to Alaire "For God's sake,

send him away."



Alaire's eyes were dark with excitement, "Yes," said she. "Talk to

him, and give me a chance to have a word alone with Ed."



The opportunity came when Austin went into the dining-room for a

drink. Alaire excused herself to follow him. When they were out of

sight and hearing her husband turned upon her with an ugly frown.



"What's that Greaser doing here?" he asked, roughly.



"He called to pay his respects. You must get him away."



"I must?" Ed glowered at her. "Why don't you? You got him here

in my absence. Now that I'm home you want me to get rid of him,

eh? What's the idea?"



"Don't be silly. I didn't know he was coming and--he must be crazy

to risk such a thing."



"Crazy?" Ed's lip curled. "He isn't crazy. I suppose he couldn't

stay away any longer. By God, Alaire--"



Alaire checked this outburst with a sharp exclamation: "Don't make

a scene! Don't you understand he holds over fifty thousand

dollars' worth of La Feria cattle? Don't you understand we can't

antagonize him?"



"Is that what he came to see you about?"



"Yes." She bit her lip. "I'll explain everything, but--you must

help me send him back, right away." Glancing at the clock, Alaire

saw that it was drawing on toward midnight; with quick decision

she seized her husband by the arm, explaining feverishly: "There

is something big going on to-night, Ed! Longorio brought a guard

of soldiers with him and left them at our pump-house. Well, it so

happens that Blaze Jones and Mr. Law have gone to the Romero

cemetery to get Ricardo Guzman's body."



"WHAT?" Austin's red face paled, his eyes bulged.



"Yes. That's why Paloma is here. They crossed at our pumping-

station, and they'll be back at any time, now. If they encounter

Longorio's men--You understand?"



"God Almighty!" Austin burst forth. "Ricardo Guzman's body!" He

wet his lips and swallowed with difficulty. "Why--do they want the

body?"



"To prove that he is really dead and--to prove who killed him."

Noting the effect of these words, Alaire cried, sharply, "What's

the matter, Ed?"



But Austin momentarily was beyond speech. The decanter from which

he was trying to pour himself a drink played a musical tattoo upon

his glass; his face had become ashen and pasty.



"Have they got the body? Do they know who shot him?" he asked,

dully.



"No, no!" Alaire was trembling with impatience. "Don't you

understand? They are over there now, and they'll be back about

midnight. If Longorio had come alone, or if he had left his men at

Sangre de Cristo, everything would be all right. But those

soldiers at Morales's house will be up and awake. Why, it couldn't

have happened worse!" "How many men has he got?" Austin nodded in

the direction of the front room.



"I don't know. Probably four or five. What ails you?"



"That--won't do. They won't--fight on this side of the river.

They--they'd hold them off."



"Who? What are you talking about?"



Something in her husband's inexplicable agitation, something in

the hunted, desperate way in which his eyes were running over the

room, alarmed Alaire.



Ed utterly disregarded her question. Catching sight of the

telephone, which stood upon a stand in the far corner of the room,

he ran to it and, snatching the receiver, violently oscillated the

hook.



"Don't do that!" Alaire cried, following him. "Wait! It mustn't

get out."



"Hello! Give me the Lewis ranch--quick--I've forgotten the

number." With his free hand Ed held his wife at a distance,

muttering harshly: "Get away now! I know what I'm doing. Get away-

-damn you!" He flung Alaire from him as she tried to snatch the

instrument out of his hands.



"What do you want of Lewis?" she panted.



"None of your business. You keep away or I'll hurt you."



"Ed!" she cried, "Are you out of your mind? You mustn't--"



Their voices were raised now, heedless of the two people In the

adjoining room.



"Keep your hands off, I tell you. Hello! Is that you, Tad?" Again

Austin thrust his wife violently aside. "Listen! I've just learned

that Dave Law and old man Jones have crossed over to dig up

Ricardo's body. Yes, to-night! They're over there now--be back

inside of an hour."



Alaire leaned weakly against the table, her frightened eyes fixed

upon the speaker. Even yet she could not fully grasp the meaning

of her husband's behavior and tried to put aside those fears that

were distracting her. Perhaps, after all, she told herself, Ed was

taking his own way to--



"Yes! They aim to discover how he was killed and all about it.

Sure! I suppose they found out where he was buried. They crossed

at my pumping-plant, and they'll be back with the body to-night,

if they haven't already--" The speaker's voice broke, his hand was

shaking so that he could scarcely retain his hold upon the

telephone. "How the hell do I know?" he chattered. "It's up to

you. You've got a machine--"



"ED!" cried the wife. She went toward him on weak, unsteady feet,

but she halted as the voice of Longorio cut in sharply:



"What's this I hear? Ricardo Guzman's body?" Husband and wife

turned. The open double-door to the living-room framed the tall

figure of the Mexican general.





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