Luis Longorio





"You probably know why I wished to see you," Alaire began.



Longorio shook his head in vague denial.



"It is regarding my ranch, La Feria." Seeing that the name

conveyed nothing, she explained, "I am told that your army

confiscated my cattle."



"Ah yes! Now I understand." The Mexican nodded mechanically, but

it was plain that he was not heeding her words in the least. All

his mental powers appeared to be concentrated in that

disconcerting stare which he still bent upon her. "We confiscate

everything--it is a necessity of war," he murmured.



"But this is different. The ranch is mine, and I am an American."



There was a pause. The General made a visible effort to gather his

wits. It was now quite patent that the sight of Alaire, the sound

of her voice, her first glance, had stricken him with an odd semi-

paralysis. As if to shut out a vision or to escape some dazzling

sight, he dosed his eyes. Alaire wondered if the fellow had been

drinking. She turned to Dolores to find that good woman wearing an

expression of stupefaction. It was very queer; it made Alaire

extremely ill at ease.



Longorio opened his eyes and smiled. "It seems that I have seen

you before--as if we were old friends--or as if I had come face to

face with myself," said he. "I am affected strangely. It is

unaccountable. I know you well--completely--everything about you

is familiar to me, and yet we meet for the first time, eh? How do

you explain that, unless a miracle--"



"It is merely your imagination."



"Such beauty--here among these common people! I was unprepared."

Longorio passed a brown hand across his brow to brush away those

perverse fancies that so interfered with his thoughts.



In moments of stress the attention often centers upon trivial

things and the mind photographs unimportant objects. Alaire

noticed now that one of Longorio's fingers was decorated with a

magnificent diamond-and-ruby ring, and this interested her

queerly. No ordinary man could fittingly have worn such an

ornament, yet on the hand of this splendid barbarian it seemed not

at all out of keeping.



"Dios! Let me take hold of myself, for my wits are in mutiny,"

Longorio continued. Then he added, more quietly: "I need not

assure you, senora, that you have only to command me. Your ranch

has been destroyed; your cattle stolen, eh?"



"Yes. At least--"



"We will shoot the perpetrators of this outrage at once. Bueno!

Come with me and you shall see it with your own eyes."



"No, no! You don't understand."



"So? What then?"



"I don't want to see any one punished. I merely want your

government to pay me for my cattle." Alaire laughed nervously.



"Ah! But a lady of refinement should not discuss such a miserable

business. It is a matter for men. Bother your pretty head no more

about it, and leave me to punish the guilty in my own way."



She endeavored to speak in a brisk, business-like tone. "La Feria

belongs to me, personally, and I have managed it for several

years, just as I manage Las Palmas, across the river. I am a woman

of affairs, General Longorio, and you must talk to me as you would

talk to a man. When I heard about this raid I came to look into

it--to see you, or whoever is in charge of this district, and to

make a claim for damages. Also, I intend to see that nothing

similar occurs again. I have delayed making representations to my

own government in the hope that I could arrange a satisfactory

settlement, and so avoid serious complications. Now you understand

why I am here and why I wished to see you."



"Valgame Dios! This is amazing. I become more bewildered

momentarily."



"There is nothing extraordinary about it, that I can see."



"You think not? You consider such a woman as yourself ordinary?

The men of my country enshrine beauty and worship it. They place

it apart as a precious gift from God which nothing shall defile.

They do not discuss such things with their women. Now this sordid

affair is something for your husband--"



"Mr. Austin's business occupies his time; this is my own concern.

I am not the only practical woman in Texas."



Longorio appeared to be laboriously digesting this statement.

"So!" he said at last. "When you heard of this--you came, eh? You

came alone into Mexico, where we are fighting and killing each

other? Well! That is spirit. You are wonderful, superb!" He

smiled, showing the whitest and evenest teeth.



Such extravagant homage was embarrassing, yet no woman could be

wholly displeased by admiration so spontaneous and intense as that

which Longorio manifested in every look and word. It was plain to

Alaire that something about her had completely bowled him over;

perhaps it was her strange red hair and her white foreign face, or

perhaps something deeper, something behind all that. Sex phenomena

are strange and varied in their workings. Who can explain the

instant attraction or repulsion of certain types we meet? Why does

the turn of a head, a smile, a glance, move us to the depths? Why

does the touch of one stranger's hand thrill us, while another's

leaves us quite impassive? Whence springs that personal magnetism

which has the power to set the very atoms of our being into new

vibrations, like a highly charged electric current?



Alaire knew the susceptibility of Mexican men, and was immune to

ordinary flattery; yet there was something exciting about this

martial hero's complete captivation. To have charmed him to the

point of bewilderment was a unique triumph, and under his hungry

eyes she felt an adventurous thrill.



It is true that Luis Longorio was utterly alien, and in that sense

almost repellent to Alaire; moreover, she suspected him of being a

monster so depraved that no decent woman could bring herself to

accept his attentions. Nevertheless, in justice to the fellow, she

had to acknowledge that externally, at least, he was immensely

superior to the Mexicans she had met. Then, too, his aristocracy

was unmistakable, and Alaire prided herself that she could

recognize good blood in men as quickly as in horses. The fellow

had been favored by birth, by breeding, and by education; and

although military service in Mexico was little more than a form of

banditry, nevertheless Longorio had developed a certain genius for

leadership, nor was there any doubt as to his spectacular courage.

In some ways he was a second Cid--another figure out of Castilian

romance.



While he and Alaire were talking the passengers had returned to

their seats; they were shouting good-byes to the soldiers

opposite; the engine-bell was clanging loudly; and now the

conductor approached to warn Longorio that the train was about to

leave. But the railway official had learned a wholesome respect

for uniforms, and therefore he hung back until, urged by

necessity, he pushed forward and informed the general of his train

orders.



Longorio favored him with a slow stare. "You may go when I leave,"

said he.



"Si, senor. But--"



The general uttered a sharp exclamation of anger, at which the

conductor backed away, expressing by voice and gesture his most

hearty approval of the change of plan.



"We mustn't hold the train," Alaire said, quickly. "I will arrange

to see you in Nuevo Pueblo when I return."



Longorio smiled brilliantly and lifted a brown hand. "No, no! I am

a selfish man; I refuse to deprive myself of this pleasure. The

end must come all too soon, and as for these peladors, an hour

more or less will make no difference. Now about these cattle.

Mexico does not make war upon women, and I am desolated that the

actions of my men have caused annoyance to the most charming lady

in the world."



"Ah! You are polite." Knowing that in this man's help alone lay

her chance of adjusting her loss, Alaire deliberately smiled upon

him. "Can I count upon your help in obtaining my rights?" she

asked.



"Assuredly."



"But how? Where?"



Longorio thought for a moment, and his tone altered as he said:

"Senora, there seems to be an unhappy complication in our way, and

this we must remove. First, may I ask, are you a friend to our

cause?"



"I am an American, and therefore I am neutral."



"Ah! But Americans are not neutral. There is the whole difficulty.

This miserable revolt was fostered by your government; American

money supports it; and your men bear arms against us. Your tyrant

President is our enemy; his hands itch for Mexico--"



"I can't argue politics with you," Alaire interrupted, positively.

"I believe most Americans agree that you have cause for complaint,

but what has that to do with my ranch and my cattle? This is

something that concerns no one except you and me."



Longorio was plainly flattered by her words, and took no trouble

to hide his pleasure. "Ah! If that were only true! We would

arrange everything to your satisfaction without another word." His

admiring gaze seemed to envelop her, and its warmth was

unmistakable. "No one could have the cruelty to deny your

slightest wish--I least of all."



"Why did you take my cattle?" she demanded, stubbornly.



"I was coming to that. It is what I meant when I said there was a

complication. Your husband, senora, is an active Candelerista."



For a moment Alaire was at a loss; then she replied with some

spirit: "We are two people, he and I. La Feria belongs to me."



"Nevertheless, his conduct is regrettable," Longorio went on.

"Probably evil men have lied to him--San Antonio is full of rebels

conspiring to give our country into the hands of outlaws. What a

terrible spectacle it is! Enough to bring tears to the eyes of any

patriot!" He turned his melancholy gaze from Alaire to her

companion, and for the first time Dolores stirred.



She had watched her countryman with a peculiar fascination, and

she had listened breathlessly to his words. Now she inhaled

deeply, as if freed from a spell; then she said:



"Pah! Nobody pays heed to Senor Ed. We do not consider him."



Dolores lacked diplomacy; her bluntness was often trying. Alaire

turned upon her with a sharp exclamation, conscious meanwhile that

the woman's tone, even more than her words, had enlightened

Longorio to some extent. His lifted brows were eloquent of

surprise and curiosity, but he held his tongue.



"Am I to understand, then, that you rob me because of my husband's

action?" Alaire asked.



"No. But we must combat our enemies with the weapons we have--not

only those who bear arms with Candeleria, but those who shelter

themselves beyond the Rio Grande."



Alaire's face fell. "I had hoped that you would understand and

help me, but I shall go to Mexico City and demand my rights, if

necessary."



"Wait! I SHALL help." Longorio beamed enthusiastically. "It shall

be the object of my life to serve you, and you and I shall arrange

this matter satisfactorily. I have influence, believe me. A word

from Luis Longorio will go further with my chief than a protest

from your President. General Potosi is a man of the highest honor,

and I am his right hand. Very well, then! Duty calls me to Nuevo

Pueblo, and you shall return with me as the guest of my

government. Dios! It is a miserable train, but you shall occupy

the coach and travel as befits a queen of beauty--like a royal

princess with her guard of honor." He rose to his feet, but his

eagerness soon gave place to disappointment.



"Thank you," said Alaire, "but I must first go to La Feria and get

all the facts."



"Senora! It is a wretched journey. See!" He waved a contemptuous

gesture at the car, crowded to congestion. "There is no food; you

have no one to wait upon you. In my company you will be safe. Upon

my honor you will enjoy the highest courtesy--"



"Of course. But I must go on. I have Dolores and Jose to look

after me." Alaire indicated Sanchez, who had edged his way close

and now stood with admiring eyes fixed upon his hero.



"Yes, 'mi General," Jose exclaimed, eagerly, "I am here."



Longorio scrutinized the horse-breaker critically. "Your name is--?"



"Jose Sanchez."



"You look like a brave fellow."



Jose swelled at this praise, and no doubt would have made suitable

answer, but his employer held out her hand, and General Longorio

bent over it, raising it to his lips.



"Senora, one favor you can grant me. No! It is a right I shall

claim." He called one of his subordinates closer and ordered that

a lieutenant and six soldiers be detached to act as an escort to

Mrs. Austin's party. "It is nothing," he assured her. "It is the

least I can do. Have no uneasiness, for these men are the bravest

of my command, and they shall answer with their lives for your

safety. As for that teniente--ah, he is favored above his

general!" Longorio rolled his eyes. "Think of it! I could be

faithless to duty--a traitor to my country--for the privilege he

is to enjoy. It is the sacred truth! Senora, the hours will drag

until I may see you again and be of further service. Meanwhile I

shall be tortured with radiant dreams. Go with God!" For a second

time he bowed and kissed the hand he held, then, taking Jose

Sanchez intimately by the arm, he turned to the door.



Dolores collapsed into her seat with an exclamation. "Caramba! The

man is a demon! And such eyes. Uf! They say he was so furious at

losing those two sisters I told you about that he killed the

soldier with the very weapon--"



Dolores was interrupted by Longorio's voice beneath the open

window. The general stood, cap in hand, holding up to Alaire a

solitary wild flower which he had plucked beside the track.



"See!" he cried. "It is the color of your adorable eyes--blue like

a sapphire gem. I saw it peeping at me, and it was lonely. But

now, behold how it smiles--like a star that sees Paradise, eh? And

I, too, have seen Paradise." He placed the delicate bloom in

Alaire's fingers and was gone.



"Cuidado!" breathed Dolores. "There is blood on it; the blood of

innocents. He will burn for a million years in hell, that man."



Longorio made good his promise; soon a grizzled old teniente, with

six soldiers, was transferred as a bodyguard to the American lady,

and then, after some further delay, the military train departed.

Upon the rear platform stood a tall, slim, khaki-clad figure, and

until the car had dwindled away down the track, foreshortening to

a mere rectangular dot, Luis Longorio remained motionless, staring

with eager eyes through the capering dust and the billowing heat

waves.



Jose Sanchez came plowing into Alaire's car, tremendously excited.

"Look, senora!" he cried. "Look what the general gave me," and he

proudly displayed Longorio's service revolver. Around Jose's waist

was the cartridge-belt and holster that went with the weapon.

"With his own hands he buckled it about me, and he said, 'Jose,

something tells me you are a devil for bravery. Guard your

mistress with your life, for if any mishap befalls her I shall cut

out your heart with my own hands.' Those were his very words,

senora. Caramba! There is a man to die for."



Nor was this the last of Longorio's dramatic surprises. Shortly

after the train had got under way the lieutenant in command of

Alaire's guard brought her a small package, saying:



"The general commanded me to hand you this, with his deepest

regard."



Alaire accepted the object curiously. It was small and heavy and

wrapped in several leaves torn from a notebook, and it proved to

be nothing less than the splendid diamond-and-ruby ring she had

admired.



"God protect us, now!" murmured Dolores, crossing herself

devoutly.





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