Longorio Makes Bold





Upon her arrival at La Feria Alaire discovered that the Federal

depredations had been even greater than she had feared. Not only

had the soldiers taken a great many head of cattle, but they had

practically cleared the ranch of horses, leaving scarcely enough

with which to carry on the work.



Alaire's hacienda comprised a hundred thousand acres or more--

lacking a thorough survey, she had never determined exactly how

much land she really owned--and the property fronted upon a stream

of water. In any other country it would have been a garden of

riches, but agriculture was well-nigh impossible in northern

Mexico. For several years now the instability of the government

had precluded any plan of development, and, in consequence, the

fields were out of cultivation and cattle grazed over the moist

bottom lands, belly deep in grass. The entire ranch had been given

over to pasture, and even now, after Alaire had sold off much of

her stock because of the war, the task of accurately counting what

remained required a longer time than she had expected, and her

visit lengthened.



However, life in the roomy, fortress-like adobe house was pleasant

enough. Dolores saw to her mistress's wants, and the regular

inhabitants of La Feria were always extravagantly glad to make

their employer welcome. They were a simple, mirth-loving,

industrious people, little concerned over the war, so long as they

were unmolested, but obviously relieved to see Alaire because of

their recent fright at the incursion of Longorio's troops.



In the work that now went forward Jose Sanchez took a prominent

part. For once in his life he was a person of recognized

importance. Not only was he the right hand of the owner of La

Feria, but the favor of that redoubtable general, the hero of a

hundred tales, rested upon his shoulders like a mantle. Jose's

extravagant praises of the Federal commander, together with the

daily presence of the military guard, forcibly brought home to the

ranch-dwellers the fact that war was actually going on, and that

Luis Longorio was indeed a man of flesh and blood, and no myth.

This realization caused a ripple of excitement to stir the peons'

placid lives.



And yet in the midst of his satisfaction Sanchez confessed to one

trouble. He had expected to find his cousin, Panfilo, here, and

the fact that nothing whatever had been heard from him filled him

with great uneasiness. Of course he came to Alaire, who told him

of seeing Panfilo at the water-hole on the day after her husband

had discharged him; but that information gave Jose little comfort,

since it proved nothing as to his cousin's present whereabouts.

Alaire thought best not to tell him the full circumstances of that

affair. Believing that Panfilo would turn up at La Feria in due

time, she gave little heed to Jose's dark threats of vengeance for

any injury to his relative.



The horse-breaker's concern increased as the days passed, and to

the lieutenant and members of the guard he repeated his threats.

Truly, he declared, if any evil had fallen upon his beloved cousin

Panfilo, he, Jose, would exact a terrible reckoning, a revenge

befitting a man of his character and a friend of Luis Longorio.



These soldiers, by the way, were something of a trial to Alaire,

for they were ever in her way. She could not ride a mile over her

own pastures without the whole martial squad following at her

heels. Protest was unavailing; the lieutenant was mulishly

stubborn. He had been ordered to keep the senora in sight at all

times, so he said, and that ended the matter as far as he was

concerned. His life and the lives of his six followers depended

entirely upon her safety and happiness, for General Longorio was a

man of his word.



Of course the lieutenant would not offend for the world--the

object of his solicitude was at liberty to tread upon his

worthless old carcass--but orders were orders, especially when

they came from a certain source. He besought Alaire to exercise

forbearance toward him, and, above all, to use the extremest

caution in regard to her own well-being, for if aught befell her,

if even a despicable rattlesnake should rise out of the grass to

sting her--caramba! The teniente, in that case, would better

destroy himself on the spot. Otherwise he would surely find

himself, in a short time, with his back to a stone wall and his

face to a firing-squad. That was the sort of man Longorio was.



The speaker wondered if Mrs. Austin really understood his chief's

nature; how determined he was; how relentless he could be. General

Longorio was a remarkable person. Opposition of any sort he could

not brook. His discipline was rigorous and his punishments were

severe; being utterly without fear himself, he insisted upon

implicit obedience in others at whatever cost. For instance,

during the battle of San Pedro, just south of here, a handful of

Rebels had taken refuge in a small, one-roomed adobe house, where

they resisted all efforts at dislodgment. Time and again the

Federals had charged, only to meet a fire too murderous to face.

The slaughter had been terrific. The lieutenant, veteran of many

revolutions, vowed he had never seen a street so full of dead and

wounded as the one in front of this house. Finally the soldiers

had refused to advance again, and their captain had sent for a

cannon. During the wait Longorio had ridden up.



"'Come! Make haste!' said he, 'That house obstructs my view.'"



Seeing that Alaire was deeply interested in this recital, the old

lieutenant paused dramatically.



"Well, the capitan explained that an army was insufficient to take

that house; that it meant death to all who approached. I was not

present--God be praised!--but others told me what happened.

General Longorio dismounted and embraced the capitan--he kissed

him on the cheek, saying:



"'Adios, my dear good friend. I fear I have seen the last of you.'



"Then what? Senora, you would never guess." The speaker shook his

head. "Longorio took two dynamite grenades, and, laughing like a

boy, he ran forward before any one knew what he was about. It is

nothing but the truth, senora, and he a general! This capitan

loved him dearly, and so his bones turned to rope when the windows

of that accursed house began to vomit fire and the dust began to

fly. They say that the dead men in the street rose to their knees

and crossed themselves--I only repeat what I was told by those who

looked on. Anyhow, I have seen things quite as remarkable.



"Never was such courage, senora! God must have been moved to

astonishment and admiration, for He diverted those bullets, every

one. When our general came to the house he lit the fuses from his

cigarette, then he cried, 'Viva Potosi!' and hurled one bomb to

the roof; the other he flung through a window into the very faces

of his enemies. Those Rebels were packed in there like goats in a

corral, and they say such a screaming you never heard. Doubtless

many of them died from sheer terror the rest were blown through

each other. "The lieutenant breathed an admiring oath. "Truly, it

must have been a superb spectacle."



"General Longorio must be very brave indeed," Alaire agreed.



"But wait! That is not all. After we had taken the town and

destroyed what Rebel officers we found--"



"You mean--your prisoners?"



"Si. But there were only a few, and doubtless some of them would

have died from their wounds. Well then, after that General

Longorio called his old friend--that capitan--out before his

troops and with his own hand he shot him. Then every fifth man

among those who had refused to charge he ordered executed. It

effected much good, I assure you."



For a moment Alaire and her companion rode in silence, but the

teniente was not content with this praise of his leader.



"And yet General Longorio has another side to his character," he

continued. "He can be as mild as the shyest senorita, and he

possesses the most beautiful sentiments. Women are mad over him.

But he is hard to please--strangely so. Truly, the lady who

captivates his fancy may count herself fortunate." The old soldier

turned in his saddle and, with a grace surprising in one of his

rough appearance, removed his hat and swept Alaire a bow the

unmistakable meaning of which caused her to start and to stammer

something unintelligible.



Alaire was angry at the fellow's presumption, and vexed with

herself for showing that she understood his insinuation. She

spurred her horse into a gallop, leaving him to follow as he

could.



It was absurd to take the man's word seriously; indeed, he

probably believed he had paid her a compliment. Alaire assured

herself that Longorio's attentions were inspired merely by a

temporary extravagance of admiration, characteristic of his

nationality. Doubtless he had forgotten all about her by this

time. That, too, was characteristic of Latin men. Nevertheless,

the possibility that she had perhaps stirred him more deeply than

she believed was disturbing--one might easily learn to fear

Longorio. As a suitor he would be quite as embarrassing, quite as-

-dangerous as an enemy, if all reports were true.



Alaire tried to banish such ideas, but even in her own room she

was not permitted entirely to forget, for Dolores echoed the

teniente's sentiments.



In marked contrast to Jose Sanchez's high and confident spirits

was the housekeeper's conviction of dire calamity. In the presence

of these armed strangers she saw nothing but a menace, and

considered herself and her mistress no more nor less than

prisoners destined for a fate as horrible as that of the two

beautiful sisters of whom she never tired of speaking. Longorio

was a blood-thirsty beast, and he was saving them as prey for his

first leisure moment--that was Dolores's belief. Abandoning all

hope of ever seeing Las Palmas again, she gave herself up to

thoughts of God and melancholy praises of her husband's virtues.



In spite of all this, however, Alaire welcomed the change in her

daily life. Everything about La Feria was restfully un-American,

from the house itself, with its bare walls and floors, its

brilliantly flowering patio, and its primitive kitchen

arrangements, to the black-shawled, barefooted Indian women and

their naked children rolling in the dust. Even the timberless

mountains that rose sheer from the westward plain into a tumbling

purple-shadowed rampart were Mexican. La Feria was several miles

from the railroad; therefore it could not have been more foreign

had it lain in the very heart of Mexico rather than near the

northern boundary.



In such surroundings, and in spite of faint misgivings, it was not

strange that, after a few days, Alaire's unhappiness assumed a

vaguely impersonal quality and that her life, for the moment,

seemed not to be her own. Even the thought of her husband, Ed

Austin, became indistinct and unreal. Then all too soon she

realized that the purpose of her visit was accomplished and that

she had no excuse for remaining longer. She was now armed with

sufficient facts to make a definite demand upon the Federal

government.



The lieutenant took charge of the return journey to the railroad,

and the two women rode to the jingling accompaniment of metal

trappings. When at last they were safely aboard the north-bound

train, Alaire mildly teased Dolores about her recent timidity. But

Dolores was not to be betrayed into premature rejoicing.



"Anything may happen at a moment's notice," she declared.

"Something tells me that I am to meet a shocking fate. I can hear

those ruffianly soldiers quarreling over me--it is what comes from

good looks." Dolores mechanically smoothed the wrinkles from her

dress and adjusted her hair. "Mark you! I shall kill myself first.

I have made up my mind to that. But it is a great pity we were not

born ugly."



Alaire could not forbear a smile, for she who thus resigned

herself to the penalties of beauty had never been well favored,

and age had destroyed what meager attractions she may have once

possessed.



Dolores went on after a time. "My Benito will not long remain

unmarried. He is like all men. More than once I have suspected him

of making eyes at young women, and any girl in the country would

marry him just for my fine silver coffee-pot and those spoons.

There is my splendid silk mantilla, with fringe half as long as

your arm, too. Oh, I have treasures enough!" She shook her head

mournfully. "It is a mistake for a wife to lay up pretty things,

since they are merely temptations to other women."



Alaire tried to reason her out of this mood. "Why should any one

molest us? Who could wish us harm?" she asked.



"Ha! Did you see that general? He was like a drunken man in your

presence; it was as if he had laid eyes upon the shining Madonna.

I could hear his heart beating."



"Nonsense! In the first place, I am an old married woman."



Dolores sniffed. "Vaya! Old, indeed! What does he care for a

husband? He only cares that you have long, bright hair, redder

than rust, and eyes like blue flowers, and a skin like milk. An

angel could not be so beautiful."



"Ah, Dolores, you flatterer! Seriously, though, don't you realize

that we are Americans, and people of position? An injury to us

would bring terrible consequences upon General Longorio's head.

That is why he sent his soldiers with us."



"All the same," Dolores maintained stubbornly, "I wish I had

brought that shawl and that silver coffee-pot with me."



The homeward journey was a repetition of the journey out; there

were the same idle crowds, the same displays of filthy viands at

the stopping-places, the same heat and dust and delays. Longorio's

lieutenant hovered near, and Jose, as before, was news-gatherer.

Hour after hour they crept toward the border, until at last they

were again laid out on a siding for an indefinite wait.



The occasion for this was made plain when an engine drawing a

single caboose appeared. Even before it had come to a pause a tall

figure in spotless uniform leaped to the ground and strode to the

waiting coaches. It was Luis Longorio. He waved a signal to the

conductor, then swung aboard the north-bound train.



The general was all smiles as he came down the and bowed low over

Alaire's hand.



Dolores gasped and stiffened in her seat like a woman of stone.



"God be praised! You are safe and well!" said the new-comer. "I

have blamed myself for allowing you to take this abominable

journey! I have been in torment lest something befall you. Every

night I have prayed that you might be spared all harm. When I

received word that you were coming I made all speed to meet you."



"Dolores and I are greatly in your debt," Alaire told him.



"But you stayed so long!"



"There was more work than I thought. General, you have ruined me."



Longorio was pained; his face became ineffably sad. "Please! I beg

of you," he entreated. "I have arranged for reparation of that

miserable mistake. You shall see what I have done. With your own

eyes you shall read the furious correspondence I have carried on

with the minister. Together you and I shall manage a settlement,

and you will find that I am a friend indeed!"



"I hope so."



"Have I not proved it? Am I not ready to give you my life?" the

general queried, earnestly. "Fix the damages at your own figure

and I shall see that you receive justice. If the government will

not pay, I will. I have means; I am not a poor man. All I possess

would be too little to buy your happiness."



"You embarrass me. I'm afraid you don't realize what you say."

Alaire remained cool under the man's protestations. "I have lost

more than a thousand head of cattle."



"We shall say two, three thousand, and the government will pay,"

Longorio asserted, brazenly. "I will vouch for your figures, and

no one will question them, for I am a man of honor."



"No! All I want--"



"It is done. Let us say no more about the affair. Senora, I have

thought of you every hour; the duties that held me in Nuevo Pueblo

were like irksome chains. I was in madness. I would have flown to

La Feria but--I could not."



"My husband will thank you for your great courtesy to me," Alaire

managed to say.



But the mention of husbands was not agreeable to one of Longorio's

sensitiveness, and his face betrayed a hint of impatience.



"Yes, yes," he agreed, carelessly. "Senor Austin and I must know

each other better and become friends."



"That is hardly possible at present. When the war is over--"



"Bah! This war is nothing. I go where I please. You would be

surprised to greet me at Las Palmas some day soon, eh? When you

tell your husband what a friend I am he would be glad to see me,

would he not?"



"Why--of course. But surely you wouldn't dare--"



"And why not? Las Palmas is close to the river, and my troops are

in Romero, directly opposite. Mexico is not at war with your

country, and when I am in citizen's clothes I am merely an

ordinary person. I have made inquiries, and they tell me Las

Palmas is beautiful, heavenly, and that you are the one who

transformed it. I believe them. You have the power to transform

all things, even a man's heart and soul. No wonder you are called

'The Lone Star.' But wait. You will see how constantly I think of

you." Longorio drew from his pocket several photographs of the

Austin ranch-house.



"Where did you get those?" Alaire asked in astonishment.



"Ah! My secret. See! They are badly worn already, for I keep them

next my bosom."



"We entertain very few guests at Las Palmas," she murmured,

uncomfortably.



"I know. I know a great deal."



"It would scarcely be safe for you to call; the country is full of

Candeleristas--"



"Cattle!" said the officer, with a careless shrug. "Did not that

great poet Byron swim an ocean to see a lovely lady? Well, I, too,

am a poet. I have beautiful fancies; songs of love run through my

mind. Those Englishmen know nothing of passion. Your American men

are cold. Only a Mexican can love. We have fire in our veins,

senora."



To these perfervid protestations Dolores listened with growing

fright; her eyes were wide and they were fixed hypnotically upon

the speaker; she presented much the appearance of a rabbit charmed

by a serpent. But to Longorio she did not exist; she was a

chattel, a servant, and therefore devoid of soul or intelligence,

or use beyond that of serving her mistress.



Thinking to put an end to these blandishments, Alaire undertook to

return the general's ring, with the pretense that she considered

it no more than a talisman loaned her for the time being. But it

was a task to make Longorio accept it. He was shocked, offended,

hurt; he declared the ring to be of no value; it was no more than

a trifling evidence of his esteem. But Alaire was firm.



"Your customs are different to ours," she told him. "An American

woman is not permitted to accept valuable presents, and this would

cause disagreeable comment."



At such a thought the general's finest sensibilities were wounded,

but nothing, it seemed, could permanently dampen his ardor, and he

soon proceeded to press his attentions with even more vehemence

than before. He had brought Alaire candies of American

manufacture, Mexican sweetmeats of the finest variety, a beautiful

silken shawl, and at midday the grizzled teniente came with a

basket of lunch containing dainties and fruits and vacuum bottles

with hot and cold drinks.



When invited to share the contents, the general was plainly

overjoyed, but he was so enthralled by his companion's beauty that

he could eat but little.



It was a most embarrassing situation. Longorio kept Alaire for

ever upon the defensive, and it sorely taxed her ingenuity to hold

the conversation in safe channels. As the journey proceeded it

transpired that the man had made use of his opportunities to learn

everything about her, even to her life with Ed. His information

was extensive, and his deductions almost uncanny in their

correctness. He told her about Austin's support of the Rebel cause

and her own daily doings at Las Palmas; he intimated that her

unhappiness was almost more than he could bear.



This intimate knowledge and sympathy he seemed to regard as a bond

that somehow united them. He was no longer a new acquaintance, but

a close and loyal friend whose regard was deathless.



Undoubtedly the man had a way with him. He impressed people, and

his magnetism was potent. Moreover, he knew the knack of holding

what ground he gained.



It was an odd, unreal ride, through the blazing heat of the long

afternoon. Longorio cast off all pretense and openly laid siege to

the red-haired woman's heart--all without offering her the

smallest chance to rebuff him, the slightest ground for open

resentment, so respectful and guarded were his advances. But he

was forceful in his way, and the very intensity of his desires

made him incapable of discouragement. So the duel progressed--

Alaire cool and unyielding, he warm, persistent, and tireless. He

wove about her an influence as difficult to combat as the

smothering folds of some flocculent robe or the strands of an

invisible web, and no spider was ever more industrious.



When the train arrived at its destination his victim was well-nigh

exhausted from the struggle. He helped her into a coach with the

gentlest and gravest courtesy, and not until the vehicle rolled

away did Alaire dare to relax. Through her fatigue she could still

hear his soft farewell until the morrow, and realized that she had

committed herself to his further assistance. His palms against

hers had been warm, his adoring eyes had caressed her, but she did

not care. All she wished now was to reach her hotel, and then her

bed.



After a good night's rest, however, Alaire was able to smile at

yesterday's adventure. Longorio did not bulk so large now; even

these few hours had greatly diminished his importance, so that he

appeared merely as an impulsive foreigner who had allowed a woman

to turn his head. Alaire knew with what admiration even a

moderately attractive American woman is greeted in Mexico, and she

had no idea that this fellow had experienced anything more than a

fleeting infatuation. Now that she had plainly shown her distaste

for his outlaw emotions, and convinced him that they awoke in her

no faintest response, she was confident that his frenzy would run

its brief course and die. Meanwhile, it was not contrary to the

standards of feminine ethics to take advantage of the impression

she had made upon him and with his help push through a fair

financial settlement of her loss.



Once back across the river, however, she discovered that there

were obstacles to a prompt adjustment of her claim. The red tape

of her own government was as nothing to that of Mexico. There were

a thousand formalities, a myriad of maddening details to be

observed, and they called for the services of an advocate, a

notary, a jefe politico, a jefe de armas--officials without end.

All of these worthies were patient and polite, but they displayed

a malarial indifference to delay, and responsibility seemed to

rest nowhere. During the day Alaire became bewildered, almost lost

in the mazes of official procedure, and was half minded to

telegraph for Judge Ellsworth. But that again meant delay, and she

was beginning to long for home.



Longorio by no means shared her disappointment. On the contrary,

he assured her they were making splendid progress, and he was

delighted with her grasp of detail and her knowledge of business

essentials. At his word all Nuevo Pueblo bowed and scraped to her,

she was treated with impressive formality, and even the military

guards at the various headquarters presented arms when she passed.

The general's official business waited upon Alaire's convenience,

and to spare her the necessity of the short ride back to American

soil he arranged for her an elaborate luncheon in his quarters.



As on the day before, he assumed the privileges of a close friend,

and treated his guest as a sort of fellow-conspirator working hand

in hand with him for some holy cause.





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