La Feria





What's this I hear about war?" Dolores inquired of her mistress, a

few days after their arrival at La Feria. "They tell me that

Mexico is invaded and that the American soldiers have already

killed more than a thousand women and children."



"Who tells you this?" Alaire asked.



"The men--everybody," Dolores waved a hand in the direction of the

other ranch buildings. "Our people are buzzing like bees with the

news, and, of course, no one cares to work when the Americans are

coming."



"I shall have to put an end to such talk."



"This morning the word came that the revolution is ended and that

the soldiers of both parties are uniting to fight for their

liberties. They say the Gringos are killing all the old people--

every one, in fact, except the girls, whom they take with them.

Already they have begun the most horrible practices. Why, at

Espinal"--Dolores's eyes were round--"would you believe it?--those

Yankee soldiers ate a baby! They roasted the little dear like a

cabrito and ate it! I tell you, it makes wild talk among the

peladors."



"Do you believe such stories?" Alaire inquired, with some

amusement.



"Um-m--not altogether. But, all the same, I think it is time we

were going home."



"This is home, for me, Dolores."



"Yes, but now that war--"



"There isn't any war, and there won't be any. However, if you are

nervous I'll send you back to Las Palmas at once."



"Glory of God! It would be the end of me. These Mexicans would

recognize me instantly as an American, for I have the appearance

and the culture. You can imagine what would happen to me. They

would tear me from the train. It was nothing except General

Longorio's soldiers that brought us safely through from Nuevo

Pueblo."



"Then I'm glad that he insisted upon sending them with us. Now

tell the ranch-hands to put no faith in these ridiculous stories.

If they wish the truth let them ask General Longorio; he will be

here today and quiet their fears."



"You think he intends to pay us for our cattle?"



"Yes."



Dolores pondered a moment. "Well, perhaps he does--it is not his

money. For that matter, he would give all Mexico if you asked it.

Tse! His love consumes him like a fever."



Alaire stirred uneasily; then she rose and went to an open window,

which looked out into the tiny patio with its trickling fountain

and its rank, untended plants. "Why do you insist that he loves

me?" she asked. "All Mexicans are gallant and pay absurd

compliments. It's just a way they have. He has never spoken a word

that could give offense." As Dolores said nothing, she went on,

hesitatingly, "I can't very well refuse to see him, for I don't

possess even a receipt to show that he took those cattle."



"Oh, you must not offend him," Dolores agreed, hastily, "or we'd

never leave Mexico alive." With which cheering announcement the

housekeeper heaved a deep sigh and went about her duties with a

gloomy face.



Longorio arrived that afternoon, and Alaire received him in the

great naked living room of the hacienda, with her best attempt at

formality. But her coolness served not in the least to chill his

fervor.



"Senora," he cried, eagerly, "I have a thousand things to tell

you, things of the greatest importance. They have been upon my

tongue for hours, but now that I behold you I grow drunk with

delight and my lips frame nothing but words of admiration for your

beauty. So! I feast my eyes." He retained his warm clasp of her

fingers, seeming to envelop her uncomfortably with his ardor.



"What is it you have to tell me?" she asked him, withdrawing her

hand.



"Well, I hardly know where to begin--events have moved so swiftly,

and such incredible things have happened. Even now I am in a daze,

for history is being made every hour--history for Mexico, for you,

and for me. I bring you good news and bad news; something to

startle you and set your brain in a whirl. I planned to send a

messenger ahead of me, and then I said: 'No, this is a crisis;

therefore no tongue but mine shall apprise her, no hand but mine

shall comfort her. Only a coward shrinks from the unpleasant; I

shall lighten her distress and awaken in her breast new hope, new

happiness'--"



"What do you mean?" Alaire inquired, sharply. "You say you bring

bad news?"



The general nodded. "In a way, terrible, shocking! And yet I look

beyond the immediate and see in it a blessing. So must you. To me

it spells the promise of my unspoken longings, my whispered

prayers." Noting his hearer's growing bewilderment, he laid a hand

familiarly upon her arm. "No matter how I tell you, it will be a

blow, for death is always sudden; it always finds us unprepared."



"Death? Who--is dead?"



"Restrain yourself. Allow for my clumsiness."



"Who? Please tell me?"



"Some one very close to you and very dear to you at one time. My

knowledge of your long unhappiness alone gives me courage to

speak."



Alaire raised her fluttering fingers to her throat; her eyes were

wide as she said: "You don't mean--Mr. Austin?"



"Yes." Longorio scrutinized her closely, as if to measure the

effect of his disclosure. "Senora, you are free!"



Alaire uttered a breathless exclamation; then, feeling his gaze

burning into her, turned away, but not before he had noted her

sudden pallor, the blanching of her lips.



This unexpected announcement dazed her; it scattered her thoughts

and robbed her of words, but just what her dominant emotion was at

the moment she could not tell. Once her first giddiness had

passed, however, once the truth had borne in upon her, she found

that she felt no keen anguish, and certainly no impulse to weep.

Rather she experienced a vague horror, such as the death of an

acquaintance or of a familiar relative might evoke. Ed had been

anything but a true husband, and her feeling now was more for the

memory of the man he had been, for the boy she had known and

loved, than for the man whose name she bore. So he was gone and,

as Longorio said, she was free. It meant much. She realized dimly

that in this one moment her whole life had changed. She had never

thought of this way out of her embarrassments; she had been

prepared, in fact, for anything except this. Dead! It was

deplorable, for Ed was young. Once the first shock had passed

away, she became conscious of a deep pity for the man, and a

complete forgiveness for the misery he had caused her. After a

time she faced the newsbearer, and in a strained voice inquired:



"How did it happen? Was it--because of me?"



"No, no! Rest your mind on that score. See! I understand your

concern and I share your intimate thoughts. No, it was an

accident, ordained by God. His end was the result of his own

folly, a gunshot wound while he was drunk, I believe. Now you will

understand why I said that I bore tidings both good and evil and

why I, of all people, should be the one to impart them."



Alaire turned questioning eyes upon him, as if to fathom his

meaning, and he answered her with his brilliant smile. Failing to

evoke a response, he went on:



"Ever since I heard of it I have repeated over and over again, 'It

is a miracle; it is the will of God.' Come, then, we know each

other so well that we may speak frankly. Let us be honest and

pretend to no counterfeit emotions. Let us recognize in this only

your deliverance and the certainty of that blessed happiness which

Divine Providence offers us both."



"Both?" she repeated, dully.



"Need I be plainer? You know my heart. You have read me. You

understand how I have throttled my longings and remained mute

while all my being called to you."



Alaire withdrew a step, and her cheeks colored with anger.

"General!" she exclaimed, with some difficulty, "I am amazed. This

is no time--" Her indignation rose with the sound of her own

voice, causing her to stammer.



Taking advantage of her loss of words, he hurried on: "You must

pardon my impetuosity, but I am a man of tremendous force, and my

life moves swiftly. I am not shackled by conventions--they are

less than nothing to me. If it seems to you that my eagerness

carries me away, remember that war is upon us and that affairs of

moment press me so that I am compelled to move like the lightning.

With me, senora, a day is a year. The past is gone, the present is

here, the future rushes forward to meet us."



"Indeed, you forget yourself," she said, warmly. Then, changing

her tone: "I too must act quickly. I must go back at once."



"Oh, but I have told you only a part of what I came to say."



"Surely the rest can wait." Her voice was vibrant with contempt.

"I'm in no condition to listen to anything else."



But Longorio insisted. "Wait! It is impossible for you to leave

here."



Alaire stared at him incredulously.



"It is true. Mexico is a seething caldron of hate; the country is

convulsed. It would be unsafe for you."



"Do you mean to say that war has been declared?"



"Practically."



"What--? You are telling me the truth?" A moment, then Alaire

continued, more calmly, "If that is so, there is all the more

reason why I should lose no time."



"Listen!" The general was deeply in earnest. "You have no

conception of the chaos out there." He waved a comprehensive

gesture. "If the explosion has not come, it will come within a few

hours. That is why I flew to your side. Battleships are hurrying

toward our coast, troops are massing against our border, and

Mexico has risen like one man. The people are in a frenzy; they

are out of bounds; there is sack and pillage in the cities.

Americans are objects of violence everywhere and the peons are

frantic." He paused impressively. "We face the greatest upheaval

of history."



"Then why are you here?" Alaire demanded. "This is no place for

you at such a moment."



Longorio came closer to her, and his voice trembled as he said:

"Angel of my soul, my place is at your side." Again she recoiled,

but with a fervor he had never dared display he rushed on

heedlessly. "I have told you I harken only to my heart; that for

one smile from you I would behead myself; that for your favor I

would betray my fatherland; that for your kiss I would face

damnation. Well, I am here at your side. The deluge comes, but you

shall be unharmed." He would not permit her to check him, crying:

"Wait! You must hear me through, senora, so that you may

comprehend fully why I am forced to speak at this time. Out of

this coming struggle I shall emerge a heroic figure. Now that

Mexico unites, she will triumph, and of all her victorious sons

the name of Luis Longorio will be sung the loudest, for upon him

more than upon any other depends the Republic's salvation. I do

not boast. I merely state facts, for I have made all my plans, and

tomorrow I put them into effect. That is why I cannot wait to

speak. The struggle will be long, but you shall be my guiding star

in the hour of darkness."



Under other circumstances the man's magnificent egotism might have

provoked a smile. And yet, for all its grandiloquence, there was

something in his speech that rang hard and true. Unquestionably

Longorio was dangerous--a real personality, and no mere swaggering

pretender. Alaire felt a certain reluctant respect for him, and at

the same time a touch of chilling fear such as she had hardly

experienced before. She faced him silently for a moment; then she

said:



"Am I to understand that you forbid me to leave my own house?"



"For the time being, exactly."



"What? Then I am your prisoner!"



"No, no!" He made a gesture of denial. "How ridiculous! I merely

keep you from certain destruction. You cannot go by train, because

the railroad has suspended public service, nor can you ride or

drive. I tell you, senora, the people are aroused. For the moment

you must accept my protection, whether you wish to or not.

Tomorrow"--Longorio smiled warmly, meaningly-"perhaps you will not

be in such haste to refuse it, or to leave La Feria. Wait until

you understand me better. Then--But enough of this. You are

unstrung, you wish to be alone with your thoughts, and what I have

to say can wait for a few hours. In the mean time, may I beg the

hospitality of your ranch for myself and my men?"



Alaire acquiesced mechanically. Longorio saluted her fingers in

his customary manner, and then, with a look eloquent of things

unsaid, he went out to see to the comfort of his command.



Alaire sank into the nearest chair, her nerves quivering, her mind

in a turmoil. This Mexican was detestable, and he was far from

being the mere maker of audaciously gallant speeches, the

poetically fervent wooer of every pretty woman, she had blindly

supposed him. His was no sham ardor; the man was hotly, horribly

in earnest. There had been a glint of madness in his eyes. And he

actually seemed to think that she shared his infatuation. It was

intolerable. Yet Longorio, she was sure, had an abundance of

discretion; he would not dare to offer her violence. He had pride,

too; and in his way he was something of a gentleman. So far, she

had avoided giving him offense. But if once she made plain to him

how utterly loathsome to her was his pursuit, she was sure that he

would cease to annoy her. Alaire was self-confident, strong-

willed; she took courage.



Her thoughts turned from her fears to the amazing reality of her

widowhood. Even yet she could not wholly credit the fact that Ed's

wasted life had come to an end and that she was free to make the

most of her own. Alaire remembered her husband now with more

tenderness, more charity, than she would have believed possible,

and it seemed to her pitiful that one so blessed with opportunity

should have worked such havoc with himself and with those near to

him.



Doubtless it was all a part of some providential scheme, too blind

for her to solve. Perhaps, indeed, her own trials had been

designed to the end that her greater, truer love, when it did

come, would find her ripe, responsive, ready. As for this Mexican

general, she would put him in his place.



Alaire was still walking the floor of her chamber when Dolores

entered, at dusk, to say that supper was ready and that General

Longorio was waiting.



"Ask him to excuse me," she told her servant.



But Longorio himself spoke from the next room, saying: "Senora, I

beg of you to honor me. I have much of importance to say, and time

presses. Control your grief and give me the pleasure of your

company."



After an instant's consideration Alaire yielded. It was best to

have the matter over with, once for all.





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