Rangers





Longorio stared first at the huddled, perspiring man beside the

telephone and then at the frightened woman. "Is that the truth?"

he demanded, harshly.



"Yes," Austin answered. "They are bringing the body to this side.

You know what that means."



"Did you know this?" The general turned upon Alaire. Of the four

he was the least excited.



From the background Paloma quavered: "You told us Ricardo was not

dead, so--it is all right. There is no--harm done."



A brief silence ensued, then Longorio shrugged. "Who knows? Let us

hope that he suffered no harm on Mexican soil. That would be

serious, indeed; yes, very serious, for I have given my word to

your government. This--David Law--" he pronounced the name

carefully, but with a strange, foreign accent--"he is a reckless

person to defy the border regulations. It is a grave matter to

invade foreign territory on such a mission." Longorio again bent

his brilliant eyes upon Alaire. "I see that you are concerned for

his safety. You would not desire him to come to trouble, eh? He

has done you favors; he is your friend, as I am. Well"--a

mirthless smile exposed his splendid white teeth--"we must think

of that. Now I will bid you good night."



"Where are you going?" demanded Miss Jones.



"To the river, and then to Romero. I may be needed, for those men

of mine are stupid fellows and there is danger of a

misunderstanding. In the dark anything may happen. I should like

to meet this David Law; he is a man of my own kind." Turning to

"Young Ed," he said: "There is reason for haste, and a horse moves

slowly. Would you do me the favor, if you have an automobile--"



"No! I won't!" Ed declared. "I don't want to see the Rio Grande

to-night. I won't be involved--"



"But you are already involved. Come! There is no time to waste,

and I have something to say to you. You will drive me to the

river, and my horse will remain here until I return for him."



There was no mistaking the command in Longorio's tone; the master

of Las Palmas rose as if under compulsion. He took his hat, and

the two men left the room.



"Oh, my God!" Paloma gasped. "They'll be in time, and so will the

Lewis gang."



"Quick! Ed will take his runabout--we'll follow in my car." Alaire

fled to make herself ready. A few moments later she looked out

from her window and saw the headlights of Ed's runabout flash down

the driveway to the road; then she and Paloma rushed to the garage

where the touring-car stood.



"They'll never expect us to follow them"--Alaire tried to speak

hopefully--"and we'll drive without lights. Maybe we'll get there

in time, after all." As the machine rolled out through the gate

she elaborated the half-formed plan that had come to her: "The

brush is thick along the river; we can leave the car hidden and

steal up to the pump-house. When we hear the boat coming maybe we

can call out in time to warn your father."



"The moon is rising," Paloma half sobbed. "They'll be sure to see

us. Do you think we're ahead of Tad Lewis?"



"Oh yes. He hasn't had time to get here yet, but--he'll come fast

when he starts. This is the only plan I can think of."



Alaire drove as swiftly as she dared, following the blurred streak

of gray that was the road, and taking the bumps with utter

recklessness. Already the yellow rim of the moon was peering over

the horizon to her right, and by its light she found the road that

turned abruptly toward the Rio Grande, a mile or more distant. The

black mud from the last heavy rain had hardened; the ruts in this

side road were deep, and the car leaped and plunged, flinging its

occupants from side to side. Ahead loomed the dark ridge of the

river thickets, a dense rampart of mesquite, ebony, and coma, with

here and there a taller alamo or hackberry thrusting itself

skyward. But even before they were sheltered from the moonlight

Paloma saw the lights of another automobile approaching along the

main-traveled highway behind them--the lights, evidently, of Tad

Lewis's machine. A moment later Alaire's car drove into the black

shadows, but, fearing to switch on her headlights, she felt her

way cautiously between the walls of foliage until at her right

another opening showed, like a narrow arroyo, diverging from the

one they followed. Into this she swerved, regardless of the fact

that it was half grown up with brush. Thorny branches swept the

sides of the machine; rank, dew-soaked grass rose to the height of

the tonneau. The car came to a jolting pause, then the motor

ceased its purring, and the two women sat motionless, listening

for the rattle of the on-coming machine. It had been a short,

swift, exciting ride. "Young Ed's" runabout could not be many

minutes ahead of them.



Alaire knew the Tad Lewis car, an old-style, cheap affair, which

advertised its mechanical imperfections by a loud clashing of

gears and a noisy complaint of loose parts; therefore, when the

leafy canon walls behind her hiding-place were brilliantly

illuminated and a car stole silently past at low speed, she seized

Paloma by the arm and whispered:



"That's not Lewis."



"Who is it? It can't be Ed."



"No, he and Longorio are ahead of us. It's another motor

entirely."



The women got out, then breasted the high grass and brambles

between their hiding-place and the pump-house road. As soon as

they were back in the trail they made all possible speed,

speculating meanwhile upon the mystery of the unknown car.

Emerging into the clearing which surrounded the power-plant, they

discovered the machine in question standing dark and deserted in

the shadows. Evidently the driver, whoever he was, well knew what

he was about, and had not blundered upon this place by accident. A

hundred yards away they could now see the ghostly Rio Grande, its

saffron surface faintly silvered by the low moon; lights gleamed

from the windows of Morales's house. In the distance the vague

outlines of the Mexican shore were resolving themselves, and far

beyond winked the evidence that some belated citizens of Romero

were still awake.



Paloma had brought with her the long-barreled Winchester rifle,

and this she clutched nervously as she and Alaire stood

whispering. Conditions were favorable for an approach to the pump-

house itself, for two ridges of earth, perhaps eight feet high,

thrown up like parallel furrows from a giant plow, marked the

beginning of the irrigation ditch, and in the shadow of these the

women worked their way forward, unobserved. They had nearly

reached their goal when out into the clearing behind them, with

metallic rattle and clang, burst another automobile, and Paloma

whispered, excitedly:



"There's the Lewis outfit at last."



In the Lewis car were several men. They descended hurriedly, and

when one of them ran around the front of the car to turn off its

lights both women saw that he carried a rifle. Evidently Tad Lewis

had come prepared for desperate measures.



A small door gave entrance to the boiler-room, and into the lock

of this Mrs. Austin fitted a key; the next moment she and Paloma

were safely inside. They found themselves in utter darkness now,

with a smooth brick floor beneath their feet and a strong odor of

oil and burnt fuel in their nostrils.



Alaire was agreeably surprised in Paloma Jones, for, although the

girl was wrought to a pitch of hysterical excitement, she had,

nevertheless, retained her wits; nor had she faltered in the

slightest. It was evident that the fighting blood of her father

was aroused in her, for she said, calmly:



"When it gets light enough to shoot, I'm going to get Tad Lewis."



"Don't act too quickly," cautioned Alaire. "Perhaps your father

and Dave have come and gone. Anyhow, we can warn them just as well

by firing into the air."



In reply to this suggestion Paloma merely muttered something under

her breath.



The brief night ride had given Alaire time in which to recover

from her first apprehensions, and now she was surprised at her own

coolness. Ed's behavior had shocked and horrified her; she was

still half paralyzed at his treachery; nevertheless, her mind was

clear, and she was determined to avert a tragedy if possible. She

knew only too well what would happen when Blaze Jones and Dave Law

encountered the Lewis gang; the presence of Longorio's soldiers

merely made more certain the outcome of that meeting. The general

was furious; it was plain that he would not tolerate this

expedition, the avowed purpose of which was to prove him a liar.

It would make but little difference, therefore, whether the quest

for Ricardo Guzman's body had been successful or not: even the

fact that this was American soil would not deter Longorio from

violent action, for the Rio Grande was no real boundary, and this

part of Texas was as truly Mexican as that other river-bank which

lay two hundred yards distant.



A confusion of such thoughts were racing through Alaire's mind as

she felt her way out of the boiler-room and into that part of the

building where the pumping machinery stood. Dusty, cobwebbed

windows let in a faint ghost-glow of moonlight, but prevented

clear observation of anything outside; Alaire's fumbling fingers

found the latch of the front door and began to lift it, when some

one spoke, just outside the building.



"What did you discover?" inquired a voice which neither woman

recognized. Paloma clutched blindly for her companion; the two

eavesdroppers stood rooted in their tracks. The pounding of their

hearts sounded loudly. Since the building was little more than a

wooden shell, they could plainly hear the answer:



"The house is full of Greasers. I can't tell who they are."



A third man spoke, this time in Spanish. "That was Tad Lewis who

just came, senor."



There followed some whispered words indistinguishable to the

listeners, then a rustle of bodies moving through the tall grass

and weeds.



Paloma placed her lips close to Alaire's ear. "Who are those

people?" she breathed.



"I don't know. They must be the ones who came in that strange

automobile."



Paloma chattered viciously: "Everybody in Texas is here. I wish

we'd thought to scatter tacks behind us."



Cautiously they swung the door back and looked out. The open space

along the river-bank was leveled by the moonlight; from Morales's

house, to their right, came the sound of voices. The women waited.



A few moments, then a number of men appeared. Paloma judged there

were at least a dozen, but she was too excited to count them. As

they came straggling toward the pump-house one of them called

back:



"Morales! Put out your damned lights," Both women recognized Tad

Lewis as the speaker.



Alaire had stubbornly refused to charge her husband with any

active share in this evil business, but her faith in Ed suddenly

vanished when she heard him say:



"Hush! You're making too much noise. You'd better scatter out,

too, for there's no telling where they'll land." Alaire leaned

weakly against the door. "I'm going to leave, and let you-all

attend to the rest," he was saying. But Tad Lewis halted him as he

turned from the group.



"Where are you going, Ed? You left your car back yonder by the

road. I almost ran into it."



"Eh? What are you talking about? My car is over by Morales's

house."



"Senor Austin is in a great hurry," sneered some one in Spanish.

"Once more he leaves all of the fighting to his friends."



"That's Adolfo Urbina," panted Paloma. "I know him." Stung by this

open charge of cowardice, Austin began a voluble defense, but in

the midst of it General Longorio addressed him, sharply:



"You will stay here, senor. Nobody leaves this place."



"I told you I wouldn't be a party to the business," Ed declared,

hotly. "You forced me to come in the first place--"



"Yes! And now I force you to stay."



Longorio's stand appeared to please Lewis, who chimed in with the

words: "That's right, Ed. You've got to stick, for once in your

life."



"What do you mean, you nearly ran into my car back yonder?" Austin

asked, after a moment.



"Ain't that your machine yonder by the thicket?" inquired Lewis.

"If it ain't, whose is it?" As no one answered, he started in the

direction he had indicated; but at that moment a man came running

from the riverbank, crying, softly:



"Look out! They come."



"I'm going to shoot," Paloma Jones gasped, but Alaire, who once

again heard the sound of whispering in the shadows just outside

their hiding-place, managed to restrain her companion. It was well

that she succeeded, for even as Paloma raised her weapon a man

passed swiftly by the crack of the half-open door and scarcely ten

feet beyond the muzzle of the rifle. He was followed by three

others.



The first of the new-comers, acting as spokesman for his party,

stepped out into the moonlight and cried, loudly: "Hello, men!

What's goin' on here?" It was an American voice; it had a broad,

slow, Texas drawl.



The group of plotters turned, there was a startled murmur, then

Tad Lewis answered:



"Hello! Who are you? What do you want?"



"I reckon we must have got off the road," announced the stranger.

Then he peered out across the river: "Say! Ain't that a skiff

coming yonder?" he inquired.



"Well, it don't look like a steamboat." Lewis laughed,

disagreeably. "We're havin' a little party of our own. I reckon

you fellows had better beat it. Understand?"



The outposts that had been sent to cover the bank in both

directions were now coming in. Through the stillness of the night

there sounded the thump of oar-locks. Seeing that the stranger did

not seem to take his hint, Lewis raised his voice menacingly:



"That's your road back yonder. It's a right good road, and I'd

advise you to travel it, fast."



But this suggestion was also ignored; in fact, it appeared to

amuse the man addressed, for he, too, laughed. He turned, and the

women noticed that he carried a short saddle-gun. They saw, also,

that at least one of the men at his back was similarly armed.



"Now, what's the hurry?" The stranger was chuckling. Suddenly he

raised his voice and called, loudly: "Hello, Dave! Is that you-

all?"



The answer floated promptly back: "Hello, Cap! Sure it's us."



"Have you got him?"



It was Blaze Jones's voice which answered this time: "You bet!"



Paloma Jones was trembling now. She clung to Alaire, crying,

thankfully: "It's the Rangers! The Rangers!" Then she broke away

and ran out into the moonlight, trailing her absurd firearm after

her.



"Now, boys," the Ranger captain was saying, "I know 'most every

one of you, and we ain't going to have the least bit of trouble

over this thing, are we? I reckon you-all are friends of Ricardo

Guzman, and you just couldn't wait to find out about him, eh?"



Alaire, who had followed Paloma, was close enough now to recognize

the two Guzman boys as members of the Ranger party. Lewis and his

men had drawn together at the first alarm; Longorio's Mexicans had

gathered about their leader. The entire situation had changed in a

moment, and the Ranger captain was in control of it.



Soon Dave Law and Blaze Jones came up over the river-bank; they

paused, stricken with surprise at finding a score of people where

they had expected no more than four.



Blaze was the first to speak. "What the hell?" he cried. He peered

near-sightedly from one to the other; then his huge bulk shook

with laughter: "Say, do my glasses magnify, or is this an Odd-

Fellows meetin'?"



"Dad! Oh, Dad!" Paloma scurried to him and flung herself into his

arms.



"Lord of mercy, kid!" the father exclaimed. "Why, you'd ought to

be home and abed, long ago. You'll catch your death of cold. Is

that gun loaded."



Dave Law was even more amazed than his companion. His first

glimpse of the waiting figures had warned him that something had

gone wrong, and, therefore, he did not stop to ask himself how Tad

Lewis and Longorio could have learned of this affair, or what

could have brought Alaire and Ed Austin to the scene. Recovering

from his first surprise, he took a position beside his superior

officer.



Captain Evans did not seem at all troubled by the disparity in

numbers. One Ranger, or two at the most, had always been

sufficient to quell a Texan disturbance; now that there were three

of them, he felt equal to an invasion of Mexican soil, if

necessary. In consequence he relaxed his watchful vigilance, and

to Dave he drawled:



"We've got most of the leading citizens of the county, and I

reckon somebody in the outfit will be able to identify Guzman."



"There's no trouble about that, sir. We found him. Pedro and Raoul

can make sure." The sons of Ricardo Guzman stepped forward

promptly, and Law waved them toward the boat landing, where the

two helpers were waiting with Ricardo's remains.



Despite the Ranger captain's easy assumption of command, the

strain of the situation had not subsided, and Longorio drew swift

attention to himself when he said:



"It is fortunate that I chanced to learn of this matter. You have

done me a great service, Senor Law, for I came to Romero purposely

to examine into the death of this unfortunate man. But I could

learn nothing; nobody knew anything whatever about the matter, and

so I became convinced that it amounted to little. Now--behold! I

discover that I was deceived. Or--perhaps there still may be a

mistake."



Blaze Jones thrust his daughter aside and advanced toward the

speaker. "There's no mistake," he declared, belligerently. "I

don't make mistakes when I go grave-robbin'. Don Ricardo was shot

by your men. He had five thousand dollars on him, or he should

have had, and he was an American citizen. Your Colonel Blanco

covered the body, but he'll have a hell of a job coverin' the

facts. It's time we came to a showdown with your murderin' outfit,

and I aim to see if we've got a government in this country."



"Heaven guided my hand," devoutly breathed the general. "It is

regrettable that you used this means when a word to me would have

served the purpose, for--it is no trivial matter to desecrate a

Mexican graveyard. My country, too, has a government. An officer

of the State of Texas, under arms, has crossed the Rio Grande.

What does that mean?"



Captain Evans had a sense of humor; Longorio's ominous words

amused him. "Say, general, it ain't the first time," he chortled.

"And you're an officer, too, ain't you? You're in Texas at this

minute, and I'll bet if I frisked you I'd find that you was under

arms." The Mexican understood English sufficiently well to grasp

the significance of these words. After a moment's consideration,

therefore, he modified his threatening tone.



"But my mission was friendly. I had no criminal purpose," he said,

mildly. "However--perhaps one offense condones the other. At any

rate, we must have no international complications. There is a more

practical side to the matter: if Don Ricardo Guzman met his death

in Mexico there will be a rigid investigation, I assure you."



Evans agreed. "That's fair! And I'll make a bargain with you: you

keep still and so'll we. We never aimed for this affair to get

out, anyhow. I reckon these men"--he indicated Lewis and his

followers--"ain't liable to talk much."



The two Guzman boys, greatly moved, returned to announce that they

had indeed identified their father's body, and Longorio could not

well refuse to accept their evidence.



"Very well," said he. "I am indebted to you. Since there is

nothing more to be said, apparently, I will return to Romero."

With a bow to Mrs. Austin, who had silently watched the play of

these opposing motives, he turned away, and Tad Lewis followed

him.



But Dave Law had recognized Adolfo Urbina in the crowd, and,

stepping forward, disarmed him, saying:



"Adolfo, there's a warrant for you, so I'll just take you in."



For a moment Adolfo was inclined to resist, but, thinking better

of it, he yielded with bad grace, bitterly regretting the

curiosity which had prompted him to remain to the end of this

interesting affair.



Tad Lewis gave him some comfort. "Never mind, Adolfo," he said.

"They can't prove anything on you, and I'll go your bail. Ed

Austin knows where you was the day that stock was stole." He and

his two remaining men moved toward their automobile, and a moment

later the vehicle went clattering away up the thicket road.



So ended the attempt to foil the return of Ricardo Guzman's body

to Texas soil.



When Alaire came to look for her husband he was gone.





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