Judge Ellsworth Exacts A Promise





On his way to the Lewis ranch Dave Law had a struggle with

himself. He had earned a reputation as a man of violent temper,

and the time was not long past when a fraction of the insult Ed

Austin had offered him would have provoked a vigorous

counterblast. The fact that on this occasion he had managed to

restrain himself argued an increase of self-control that

especially gratified him, because his natural tendency to "fly off

the handle" had led more than once to regrettable results. In

fact, it was only since he had assumed the duties of a peace

officer that he had made a serious effort at self-government. A

Ranger's work calls for patience and forbearance, and Dave had

begun to realize the perils of his temperament. Normally he was a

level-headed, conservative fellow, but when angered a thousand

devils sprang up in him and he became capable of the wildest

excess. This instability, indeed, had been largely to blame for

his aimless roaming. Deep inside himself he knew that it was

nothing but his headstrong temper which had brought on all his

misfortunes and left him, well along in his thirties, a wanderer,

with nothing he could call his own. As with most men of his

turbulent disposition, fits of fury were usually followed by keen

revulsions of feeling. In Dave these paroxysms had frequently been

succeeded by such a sense of shame as to drive him from the scene

of his actions, and in the course of his rovings he had acquired

an ample store of regrets--bitter food for thought during the

silent hours when he sat over his camp-fire or rode alone through

the mesquite. His hatreds were keen and relentless, his passions

wild, and yet, so far as he knew, they had never led him to commit

a mean or a downright evil deed. He had killed men, to be sure,

but never, he was thankful to say, in one of his moments of

frenzy.



The killing of men in the fierce exultation of battle, the slaying

of a criminal by an officer under stress of duty, even the taking

of life under severe personal provocation, were acts that did not

put one beyond the pale. Such blood washes off. But there were

stains of a different kind.



Dave was glad that he had swallowed "Young Ed's" incivility, not

only for his own sake, but for the sake of Alaire.



After all, he argued, it was barely possible that Ed had spoken

the truth. There WERE many sorrel horses; the evidence of those

rain-washed hoof-prints was far from conclusive; even the fact

that Urbina belonged to the Tad Lewis outfit was no more than a

suspicious circumstance. And yet, earnestly as he strove to

convince himself of these possibilities, the Ranger could not down

the conviction that the rancher had lied and that he himself was

on the right track.



It was late when he arrived at his destination, but Lewis's house

was dark, and it required some effort to awaken the owner. When

Tad at last appeared, clad in undershirt and trousers, he greeted

the Ranger with a leveled Winchester; but when Dave had made known

his identity he invited him in, though with surly reluctance.



Lewis was a sandy-complexioned man of about forty, with colorless

brows and a mean, shifty eye. Formerly a cowboy, he had by the

exercise of some natural ability acquired a good property--and a

bad reputation. Just how or why he had prospered was a mystery

which his neighbors never tired of discussing.



Tad, it seemed, resented any interruption of his rest, and showed

the fact plainly.



Yes, he employed a fellow named Urbina. What was wanted of him?



Law explained briefly.



"Why, he's one of my best men!" laughed the rancher. "He wouldn't

steal nothing."



"Well, I had to shoot another good man of yours," Dave said,

quietly.



Lewis fell back a step. "Which one? Who?" he inquired, quickly.



"Pino Garza." Dave told of the meeting at the branding-fire and

its outcome. He was aware, meanwhile, that Lewis's family were

listening, for behind a half-open bedroom door he could hear an

excited whispering.



"Killed him the first shot, eh?" Tad was dumfounded. "Now I never

thought Pino was that bad. But you never can tell about these

Greasers, can you? They'll all steal if they get a chance. I let

Pino go, 'bout a week back; but he's been hangin' around, aimin'

to visit some of his relatives up in the brush country. It was

probably one of them old Guzman saw. Anyhow, it couldn't of been

Adolfo Urbina; he was over to Las Palmas all the afternoon."



"Did you send him there?"



"Sure. Ed Austin can tell you."



"Where is Urbina now?"



"I reckon he's asleep somewhere. We'll dig him up and talk to him,

if you say so."



"Good."



Tad's willingness to cooperate with the officer, now that he

understood the situation, was in marked contrast to the behavior

of Austin. In fact, his offer to help was almost too willingly

given to suit Dave, who expected him to protest at being dragged

out on such a night. No protest came, however; Lewis slipped into

his boots and slicker, explaining meanwhile:



"I'm sorry this play came up, for I don't want folks to think I

got a gang of thieves workin' for me."



But Adolfo Urbina was nowhere to be found. No one had seen him

since about seven o'clock, nor could it be discovered where he was

spending the night. Dave remembered that it had been about seven

when he left Las Palmas, and ascertained, indirectly, that Tad had

a telephone. On his way from Austin's Law had stopped at a rancho

for a bite to eat, but he could forgive himself for the delay if,

as he surmised, Urbina had been warned by wire of his coming.



"That's too bad, ain't it?" Lewis said. "But he'll be around again

in the morning, and I'll get him for you. You leave it to me."



There was plainly nothing to do but accept this offer since it

could avail nothing to wait here for Urbina's return. Unless the

fellow gave himself up, he probably could not be found, now that

the alarm was given, without a considerable search--in view of

which Dave finally remounted his borrowed horse and rode away in

the direction of Jonesville.



It was after daylight when he dismounted stiffly at Blaze's gate.

He was wet to the skin and bespattered with mud; he had been

almost constantly in the saddle for twenty-four hours, and Don

Ricardo's cow-pony was almost exhausted.



Blaze and Paloma, of course, were tremendously interested in his

story.



"Say, now, that's quick work," the latter exclaimed, heartily.

"You're some thief-buster, Dave, and if you'll just stay around

here little calves can grow up with some comfort."



When Dave rode to Jonesville, after breakfast, he found that the

body of his victim had been brought in during the night, and that

the town was already buzzing with news of the encounter. During

the forenoon Don Ricardo and his sons arrived, bringing additional

information, which they promptly imparted to the Ranger. The

Guzmans were people of action. All three of them had spent the

night on horseback, and Pedro had made a discovery. On the day

previous Garza had been seen riding in company with a man astride

a sorrel pony, and this man had been recognized as Adolfo Urbina.

Pedro's witness would swear to it.



Their distance from Las Palmas at the time when they had been seen

together proved, beyond question, that unless Urbina had flown he

could not have arrived at the place in question by noon, the hour

Ed Austin had fixed.



This significant bit of information, however, Dave advised the

Guzmans not to make public for the time being.



Toward midday Tad Lewis and three of his men arrived with the news

that Urbina had left for Pueblo before they could intercept him.



"He's got a girl up there, and he's gone to get married," Tad

explained. "I'm sure sorry we missed him."



Dave smiled grimly at the speaker.



"Are you sure he didn't cross to the other side?" he asked.



Lewis retorted warmly: "Adolfo's an all-right hombre, and I'll

back him. So 'll Ed Austin, I guess me an' Ed are responsible,

ain't we?" Some skeptical expression in his hearer's face prompted

him to inquire, brusquely, "Don't you believe what I'm telling you

about his goin' to Pueblo?"



"I guess he's gone--somewhere."



Tad uttered an angry exclamation. "Looks to me like you'd made up

your mind to saddle this thing onto him whether he done it or not.

Well, he's a poor Mexican, but I won't stand to see him

railroaded, and neither will 'Young Ed.'"



"No?"



"You heard me! Ed will alibi him complete."



Law answered, sharply: "You tell Ed Austin to go slow with his

alibis. And you take this for what it's worth to you: I'm going to

get all the cattle-rustlers in this county--ALL of them,

understand?"



Lewis flushed redly and sputtered: "If you make this stick with

Adolfo, nobody 'll be safe. I reckon Urbina's word is as good as

old Ricardo's. Everybody knows what HE is."



Later when Dave met the Guzmans, Ricardo told him, excitedly,

"That horse Tad Lewis is riding is the one I saw yesterday."



"Are you sure?"



"Listen, senor. Men in cities remember the faces they see; I have

lived all my life among horses, and to me they are like men. I

seldom forget."



"Very well. Tad says Urbina has gone to Pueblo to get married, so

I'm going to follow him, and I shall be there when he arrives."



"Bueno! Another matter"--Ricardo hesitated--"your bonita--the

pretty mare. She is buried deep."



"I'm glad," said Dave. "I think I shall sleep better for knowing

that."



Since the recent rain had rendered the black valley roads

impassable for automobiles, Dave decided to go to Pueblo by rail,

even though it was a roundabout way, and that afternoon found him

jolting over the leisurely miles between Jonesville and the main

line. He was looking forward to a good night's sleep when he

arrived at the junction; but on boarding the north-bound through

train he encountered Judge Ellsworth, who had just heard of the

Garza killing, and of course was eager for details. The two sat in

the observation-car talking until a late hour.



Knowing the judge for a man of honor and discretion. Dave

unburdened himself with the utmost freedom regarding his

suspicions of Ed Austin.



Ellsworth nodded. "Yes, Ed has thrown in with the Rebel junta in

San Antone, and Tad Lewis is the man they use to run arms and

supplies in this neighborhood. That's why he and Ed are so

friendly. Urbina is probably your cattle thief, but he has a hold

over Ed, and so he rode to Las Palmas when he was pursued, knowing

that no jury would convict him over Austin's testimony."



"Do you think Ed would perjure himself?" Dave asked.



"He has gone clean to the bad lately; there's no telling what

he'll do. I'd hate to see you crowd him, Dave."



"They call you the best lawyer in this county because you settle

so many cases out of court." The judge smiled at this. "Well,

here's a chance for you to do the county a good turn and keep Ed

Austin out of trouble."



"How?"



"The prosecuting attorney is a new man, and he wants to make a

reputation by breaking up the Lewis gang."



"Well?"



"He intends to cinch Urbina, on Ricardo's and my testimony. You're

a friend of Austin's; you'd better tip him to set his watch ahead

a few hours and save himself a lot of trouble. The prosecuting

attorney don't like Ed any too well. Understand?"



The judge pondered this suggestion for a moment. "'Young Ed' is a

queer fellow. Once in a while he gets his neck bowed."



"So do I," Law declared, quietly. "He treated me like a hobo--sent

me to the kitchen for a hand-out. That sticks. If I hadn't tamed

down considerably these late years, I'd have--wound him up, right

there."



From beneath his drooping lids Ellsworth regarded the Ranger

curiously. "You HAVE a bad temper, haven't you?"



"Rotten!"



"I know. You were a violent boy. I've often wondered how you were

getting along. How do you feel when you're--that way?"



It was the younger man's turn to hesitate. "Well, I don't feel

anything when I'm mad," he confessed. "I'm plumb crazy, I guess.

But I feel plenty bad afterwards."



There was a flicker of the judge's eyelids.



Dave went on musingly: "I dare say it's inherited. They tell me my

father was the same. He was--a killer."



"Yes. He was all of that."



"Say! WAS he my father?"



Ellsworth started. "What do you mean?"



Dave lifted an abstracted gaze from the Pullman carpet. "I hardly

know what I mean, Judge. But you've had hunches, haven't you?

Didn't you ever KNOW that something you thought was true wasn't

true at all? Well, I never felt as if I had Frank Law's blood in

me."



"This is interesting!" Ellsworth stirred and leaned forward.

"Whatever made you doubt it, Dave?"



"Um-m. Nothing definite. That's what's so unsatisfactory. But, for

instance, my mother was Mexican---"



"Spanish."



"All right. Am I Spanish? Have I any Spanish blood in me?"



"She didn't look Spanish. She was light-complexioned, for one

thing. We both know plenty of people with a Latin strain in them

who look like Anglo-Saxons. Isn't there anything else?"



"Nothing I can lay my finger on, except some kid fancies and--that

hunch I spoke about."



Ellsworth sat back with a deep breath. "You were educated in the

North, and your boyhood was spent at school and college, away from

everything Mexican."



"That probably accounts for it," Law agreed; then his face lit

with a slow smile. "By the way, don't tell Mrs. Austin that I'm a

sort of college person. She thinks I'm a red-neck, and she sends

me books."



Ellsworth laughed silently. "Your talk is to blame, Dave. Has she

sent you The Swiss Family Robinson?"



"No. Mostly good, sad romances with an uplift--stories full of

lances at rest, and Willie-boys in tin sweaters. Life must have

been mighty interesting in olden days, there was so much loving

and killing going on. The good women were always beautiful, too,

and the villains never had a redeeming trait. It's a shame how

human nature has got mixed up since then, isn't it? There isn't a

'my-lady' in all those books who could bust a cow-pony or run a

ranch like Las Palmas. Say, Judge, how'd you like to have to live

with a perfect lady?"



"Don't try your damned hog-Latin on me," chided the lawyer.

"Alaire Austin's romance is sadder than any of those novels."



Dave nodded. "But she doesn't cry about it." Then he asked,

gravely: "Why didn't she pick a real fellow, who'd kneel and kiss

the hem of her dress and make a man of himself? That's what she

wants--love and sacrifice, and lots of both. If I were Ed Austin

I'd wear her glove in my bosom and treat her like those queens in

the stories. Incense and adoration and---"



"What's the matter with you?" queried the judge.



"I guess I'm lonesome."



"Are you smitten with that girl?"



Dave laughed. "Maybe! Who wouldn't be? Why doesn't she divorce

that bum--she could do it easy enough--and then marry a chap who

could run Las Palmas for her?"



"A man about six feet three or four," acidly suggested the judge.



"That's the picture I have in mind."



"You think you could run Las Palmas?"



"I wouldn't mind trying."



"Really?"



"Foolish question number three."



"You must never marry," firmly declared the older man. "You'd make

a bad husband, Dave."



"She ought to know how to get along with a bad husband, by this

time."



Both men had been but half serious. Ellsworth knew his companion's

words carried no disrespect; nevertheless, he said, gravely:



"If you ever think of marrying I want you to come to me. Promise?"



"I'll do it--on the way back from church."



"No. On the way to church. I'll have something to tell you."



"Tell me now," urged Law.



"There's nothing to tell, yet."



"I'll have no old ruffians kissing my brand-new bride," Dave

averred.



The judge's face broadened in a smile. "Thank Heaven 'Young Ed'

has the insides of a steel range, and so my pet client is safe

from your mercenary schemes for some years. Just the same, if you

ever do think of marrying--remember--I want you to come to me--and

I'll cure you."





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