Jose Sanchez Swears An Oath





On this same evening a scene of no little significance was taking

place at Las Palmas. Ed Austin was entertaining callers, and these

were none other than Tad Lewis and Adolfo Urbina.



The progress of events during the last few days had shaped this

conference, for, as Dave had forecast during his conversation with

Judge Ellsworth, the local prosecuting attorney saw in the Guzman

cattle case an opportunity to distinguish himself, and was taking

action accordingly. He had gathered considerable evidence against

Urbina, and was exerting himself to the utmost for an indictment.

He had openly declared that the testimony of Ricardo Guzman and

his other witnesses would convict the suspect, and the fact that

his politics were opposed to Ed Austin's complicated matters still

further. It was the unwelcome news of all this which had brought

Tad Lewis and his Mexican helper to Las Palmas under cover of

darkness. Having gone over the circumstances in detail, Lewis

concluded:



"We're depending on you, Ed. You got to stand pat."



But Austin was lukewarm. He had experienced a change of heart, and

the cause appeared when he read aloud a letter that day received

from Judge Ellsworth, in which the judge told of his meeting with

Dave Law, and the Ranger's reasons for doubting Ed's word.



"I've got to take water," "Young Ed" told his visitors, "or I'll

get myself into trouble." Then querulously he demanded of Adolfo:

"Why in hell did you come here, anyhow? Why didn't you keep to the

chaparral?"



Adolfo shrugged. "I thought you were my friend."



"Sure!" Tad agreed. "Urbina's been a friend to you, now you got to

stick to him. We got to hang together, all of us. My evidence

wouldn't carry no weight; but there ain't a jury in South Texas

that would question yours. Adolfo done the right thing."



"I don't see it," Ed declared, petulantly. "What's the use of

getting me into trouble? There's the river; they can't follow you

across."



But Urbina shook his head.



"You know he can't cross," Tad explained. "His people would shoot

him if he ever went to Mexico."



"Well, he'll be caught if he stays here. You daren't send that

damned Ranger on another blind trail. If Adolfo can't go south

he'll have to go north."



"Not on your life," affirmed Lewis. "If he runs it'll prove his

guilt and look bad for me. I'm the one they're after, and I don't

stand any too good, as you know. You got to go through with this,

Ed."



"I won't do it," Austin asserted, stubbornly. "I won't be dragged

into the thing. You've no business rustling stock, anyhow. You

don't have to."



Urbina exhaled a lungful of cigarette smoke and inquired, "You

won't help me, eh?"



"No, I won't."



"Very well! If I go to prison you shall go, too. I shall tell all

I know and we shall be companions, you and I."



Austin's temper rose at the threat. "Bah!" he cried,

contemptuously. "There's nothing against me except running arms,

and the embargo is off now. It's a joke, anyhow. Nobody was ever

convicted, even when the embargo was in effect. Why, the

government winks at anybody who helps the Rebels."



"Oh, that is nothing!" Urbina agreed; "but you would not wish to

be called a cattle thief, eh?"



"What d'you mean?"



"You knew that the stealing went on."



"Huh! I should say I did. Haven't I lost a lot of horses?"



Lewis interposed, impatiently: "Say! Suppose Adolfo tells what he

knows about them horses? Suppose he tells how you framed it to

have your own stock run across, on shares, so's you could get more

money to go hifalutin' around San Antone without your wife knowing

it? I reckon you wouldn't care to have that get out."



"You can't prove it," growled "Young Ed."



"Oh! I reckon it can be proved all right," confidently asserted

Lewis.



"Nobody'd believe such a thing."



"Folks are ready to believe 'most anything about you. Your wife

would believe it. Ain't Las Palmas in her name, and don't she give

you so much a month to spend? If them ain't facts, you lied to

me."



"Yes!" Urbina supplemented. "I can swear to all that. And I can

swear also that you knew about those calves the other day."



"What!" Ed started.



"Why not? We were together; your own people saw us. Well, then, if

you would steal your wife's horses, why would you not steal your

neighbor's cattle? The relatives of poor Pino Garza--God rest his

soul!--will bear me out. I have arranged for that. Suppose I tell

the jury that there were three of us in that pasture of yours,

instead of two? What then? I would be lonely in prison without a

good compadre to bear me company." Urbina grinned in evil triumph.



"This is the damnedest outrage I ever heard of," gasped "Young

Ed." "It's a fairy story--"



"Prove it," chuckled Lewis. "The prosecuting attorney'd eat it up,

Ed. It sounds kind of crazy, but you can't ask Adolfo to take to

the brush and live like a javelin just for your sake, when you

could square him with a word."



There was a moment or two of silence, during which the visitors

watched the face of the man whose weakness they both knew. At last

Ed Austin ventured to say, apologetically:



"I'm willing to do almost anything to help Adolfo, but--they'll

make a liar of me if I take the stand. Isn't there some other way

out?"



"I don't know of any," said Lewis.



"Money'll square anything," Ed urged, hopefully, whereupon Urbina

waved his cigarette and nodded.



"This Ricardo Guzman is the cause of it all. He is a bad man."



"No doubt of that," Lewis agreed. "He's got more enemies than I

have. If he was out of the way there wouldn't be nothin' to this

case, and the country'd be a heap better off, too."



"What about that other witness?" Ed queried.



"If Ricardo were gone--if something should happen to him"--

Urbina's wicked face darkened--"there would be no other witness. I

would see to that."



The color receded from Ed Austin's purple cheeks, and he rose

abruptly. "This is getting too strong for me," he cried. "I won't

listen to this sort of talk. I won't be implicated in any such

doings."



"Nobody's goin' to implicate you," Tad told him. "Adolfo wants to

keep you out of trouble. There's plenty of people on both sides of

the river that don't like Guzman any better'n we do. Me an' Adolfo

was talkin' it over on the way up."



"Well, you can talk it over some more, but I'm going for a drink,"

Ed declared, and left the room, nervously mopping his face. He

knew only too well the character of his two visitors; he had

learned much about Tad Lewis during the past few months, and, as

for the Mexican, he thought the fellow capable of any crime. At

this moment Ed bitterly regretted his acquaintance with these

neighbors, for both men knew more about his affairs than he cared

to have made public. He was angry and resentful at Tad for taking

sides against him, and more than a little fearful of Adolfo's

enmity if he refused assistance. The owner of Las Palmas still

retained a shred of self-respect, a remnant of pride in his name;

he did not consider himself a bad man. He was determined now to

escape from this situation without loss of credit, no matter what

the price--if escape were possible--and he vowed earnestly to

himself that hereafter he would take ample pains never to become

similarly involved.



Austin remained out of the room for some time; when he returned

his visitors appeared to have reached some determination.



"I reckon we can fix things if you'll help," Lewis announced.



"And that's just what I won't do," Ed impatiently declared. "Do

you think I'm going to be tangled up in a--murder? I've got

nothing against Don Ricardo."



"Who said anything about murder? Things ain't like they was when

your father owned Las Palmas; he done his share of killin', but

nowadays there's too dam' much law layin' around loose. All you've

got to do is give me about a thousand dollars."



"What for?" Ed asked, suspiciously.



"So's we can handle ourselves. It's up to you to do something,

ain't it?"



Austin demurred. "I haven't that much that I can lay hands on," he

said, sullenly. "I'm broke. And, anyhow, I don't see what good

it'll do."



"You better dig it up, somehow, just for your own sake."



The two men eyed each other for a moment; then Austin mumbled

something about his willingness to try, and left the room for a

second time. The money which Alaire kept on hand for current

expenses was locked in her safe, but he knew the combination.



It was with an air of resignation, with a childish, half-hearted

protest, that he counted out the desired amount into Lewis's hand,

salving his conscience with the statement: "I'm doing this to help

Adolfo out of his trouble, understand? I hope it'll enable you to

square things."



"Maybe it will and maybe it won't," sneered Lewis. "Anyhow, I

ain't scared of tryin'. I got the guts to make a battle, even if

you haven't."



Ed Austin was greatly relieved when his unwelcome callers rode

away; as he composed himself for sleep, an hour later, he

refrained from analyzing too deeply the motives behind this forced

loan, and refused to speculate too long upon the purpose to which

it might be put. The whole occurrence was unfortunate. Ed Austin

sincerely hoped he had heard the last of it.



Jose Sanchez made use of the delay at Pueblo to institute further

inquiries regarding his missing cousin, but nowhere could he find

the slightest trace. Panfilo had set out to ride to this point and

thence to La Feria, but the last seen of him had been at the

water-hole, one day's ride from the home ranch. At that point the

earth had opened and swallowed him. If he were alive why had he

not written to his sweetheart, Rosa?



Jose swore an oath that he would learn the truth if it required

his whole lifetime, and, if it should turn out that his sainted

relative had indeed met with foul play--well! Jose told his

friends they could judge, by looking at him, the sort of man he

was. He proudly displayed Longorio's revolver, and called it his

cousin's little avenger. The weapon had slain many; it had a duty

still to perform, so he said.



Jose intended to confide his purpose to Mrs. Austin, but when it

came time to start for Las Palmas there was a fourth passenger in

the automobile, and he was obliged to hold his tongue for the

moment.



A motor trip along the lower Rio Grande would prove a novel and

not altogether agreeable experience to the average automobilist,

for there are few improved roads and the rest offer many

difficulties, not the least of which are frequent fords, some

deep, some shallow. So it was that Alaire considered it necessary

to make an early start.



In spite of the unhealthy fancies that Dave Law had taken to bed

with him, he arose this morning in fine spirits and with a

determination to put in a happy day. Alaire, too, was in good

humor and expressed her relief at escaping from everything

Mexican.



"I haven't seen a newspaper for ages, and I don't know what is

going on at Jonesville or anywhere else," she confided.



Dave told her of the latest developments in the Mexican situation,

the slow but certain increase of tension between the two

governments, and then of home happenings. When she asked him about

his own doings, he informed her of the affair which had brought

him to Pueblo.



Of course all three of his companions were breathlessly interested

in the story of Pino Garza's death; Dolores and Jose did not allow

a word to escape them.



"So they cut our fence and ran the calves into our pasture to

brand!" Alaire said. "It's time somebody like you came to

Jonesville, Mr. Law."



"Caramba! It required bravery to ride alone into that rincon,"

Jose declared. "I knew Pino Garza well, and he could shoot like

the devil."



"You said your horse saved your life," Mrs. Austin went on. "How

do you mean?" When Dave had explained, she cried, quickly, "You

weren't riding--Bessie Belle?"



"Yes. She's buried where she dropped."



"Oh-h!" Alaire's exclamation was eloquent of pity, and Law smiled

crookedly.



"I've been right lonesome since she went away. 'Most every day I

find myself stealing sugar for her, the way I used to do. See!" He

fumbled in the pocket of his coat and produced some broken lumps.

"Probably you don't understand how a man gets to love his horse.

Now we used to talk to each other, just like two people. Of

course, I did most of the talking, but she understood. Why, ma'am,

I've awakened in the night to find her standing over me and my

cheek wet where she'd kissed it. She'd leave the nicest grass just

to come and visit with me."



Alaire turned a quick glance upon the speaker to find his face set

and his eyes miserable. Impulsively she laid her hand upon his

arm, saying:



"I know how you must feel. Do you know what has always been my

dearest wish? To be able to talk with animals; and to have them

trust me. Just think what fun it would be to talk with the wild

things and make friends of them. Oh, when I was a little girl I

used to dream about it!"



Law nodded his vigorous appreciation of such a desire. "Dogs and

horses sabe more than we give them credit for. I've learned a few

bird words, too. You remember those quail at the water-hole?"



"Oh yes."



Dave smiled absent-mindedly. "There's a wonderful book about

birds--one of the keenest satires ever written, I reckon. It's

about a near-sighted old Frenchman who was cast away on a penguin

island. He saw the big birds walking around and thought they were

human beings."



"How did you happen to read Anatole France?" Alaire asked, with a

sharp stare of surprise.



The Ranger stirred, but he did not meet her eyes. "Well," said he,

"I read 'most anything I can get. A feller meets up with strange

books just like he meets up with strange people."



"Not books like--that." There was a brief silence. "Mr. Law, every

now and then you say something that makes me think you're a--rank

impostor."



"Pshaw!" said he. "I know cowboys that read twice as good as I

do."



"You went to school in the East, didn't you?"



"Yes'm."



"Where?" The man hesitated, at which she insisted, "Where?"



Dave reluctantly turned upon her a pair of eyes in the depths of

which there lurked the faintest twinkle. "Cornell," said he.



Alaire gasped. After a while she remarked, stiffly, "You have a

peculiar sense of humor."



"Now don't be offended," he begged of her. "I'm a good deal like a

chameleon; I unconsciously change my color to suit my

surroundings. When we first met I saw that you took me for one

thing, and since then I've tried not to show you your mistake."



"Why did you let me send you those silly books? Now that you have

begun to tell the truth, keep it up. How many of them had you

read?"



"We-ll, I hadn't read any of them--lately."



"How disagreeable of you to put it that way!" The car leaped

forward as if spurred by Alaire's mortification. "I wondered how

you knew about the French Revolution. 'That Bastilly was some

calaboose, wasn't it'?" She quoted his own words scornfully. "I

dare say you've had a fine laugh at my expense?"



"No!" gravely denied the man.



They had come to an arroyo containing a considerable stream of

muddy water, and Law was forced to get out to plug the carburetor

and stop the oil-intakes to the crankcase. This done, Alaire ran

the machine through on the self-starter. When Jose's "Carambas!"

and Dolores's shrieks had subsided, and they were again under way,

Mrs. Austin, it seemed, had regained her good humor.



"You will receive no more of my favorite authors," she told Dave,

spitefully. "I'll keep them to read myself."



"You like knights and--chivalry and such things, don't you?"



"Chivalry, yes. In the days when I believed in it I used to cry

over those romances."



"Don't you still believe in chivalry?"



Alaire turned her eyes upon the questioner, and there were no

girlish illusions in them. "Do you?" she queried, with a faint

curl of her lip.



"Why--yes."



She shook her head. "Men have changed. Nowadays they are all

selfish and sordid. But--I shouldn't generalize, for I'm a

notorious man-hater, you know."



"It seems to me that women are just as selfish as men--perhaps

more so--in all but little things."



"Our definitions of 'little things' may differ. What do you call a

big thing?"



"Love! That's the biggest thing in the world," Law responded,

promptly.



"It seems to be so considered. So you think women are selfish in

love?" He nodded, whereupon she eyed him speculatively. "Let us

see. You are a man--how far would you go for the woman you loved?"



"The limit!"



Mrs. Austin frowned at this light-seeming answer. "I suppose you

mean that you would make any sacrifice?"



"Yes; that's it."



"Would you give up the woman herself, if you considered it your

duty?"



"No. There couldn't be any duty higher than love--to my way of

thinking. But you shouldn't take me as a specimen. I'm not a good

representative of my sex."



"I think you are a very good one," Alaire said, quietly, and Dave

realized that no flattery was intended. Although he was willing to

talk further on this subject, Mrs. Austin gave him no opportunity

of airing his views. Love, it appeared, was a thing she did not

care to discuss with him on their footing of semi-intimacy.



Despite the rough roads, they made fair time, and the miles of

cactus and scrawny brush rolled swiftly past. Occasionally a lazy

jack-rabbit ambled out of his road-side covert and watched them

from a safe distance; now and then a spotted road-runner raced

along the dusty ruts ahead of them. The morning sun swung higher,

and by midday the metal of the automobile had become as hot as a

frying-pan. They stopped at various goat-ranches to inquire about

Adolfo Urbina, and at noon halted beside a watercourse for lunch.



Dave was refilling the radiator when he overheard Jose in

conversation with Mrs. Austin.



"Nowhere a trace!" the horse-breaker was saying. "No one has seen

him. Poor Rosa Morales will die of a broken heart."



Alaire explained to her guest: "Jose is worried about his cousin

Panfilo. It seems he has disappeared."



"So! You are Panfilo's cousin?" Dave eyed the Mexican with new

interest.



"Si!"



"You remember the man?" Alaire went on. "He was with that fellow

you arrested at the water-hole."



"Oh yes. I remember him." With steady fingers Dave shook some

tobacco into a cigarette-paper. He felt Alaire's eyes upon him,

and they were eloquent of inquiry, but he did not meet them.



Jose frowned. "No one at La Feria has seen him, and in Pueblo

there was not a word. It is strange."



"Panfilo was in bad company when I saw him." Law finished rolling

his cigarette and lit it, still conscious of Alaire's questioning

gaze. "He may have had trouble."



"He was a good man," the horse-breaker asserted. "If he is dead--"

The Mexican's frown deepened to a scowl.



"What then?"



Jose significantly patted the gift revolver at his hip. "This

little fellow will have something to say."



Dave looked him over idly, from head to heel, then murmured: "You

would do well to go slow, compadre. Panfilo made his own

quarrels."



"We were like brothers, and I do not know of any quarrels. But I

shall find out. It begins to look bad for somebody. After he left

that charco there is--nothing. Where did he go? Whom did he

encounter? Rosa will ask me those questions. I am not given to

boasting, senor, but I am a devilish bad man in my way."





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