Something About Heredity





It had required but one generation to ripen the fruits of "Old Ed"

Austin's lawlessness, and upon his son heredity had played one of

her grimmest pranks. The father had had faults, but they were

those of his virtues; he had been a strong man, at least, and had

"ridden herd" upon his unruly passions with the same thoroughness

as over his wild cattle. The result was that he had been

universally respected. At first the son seemed destined to be like

his father. It was not until "Young Ed" had reached his full

manhood that his defects had become recognizable evil tendencies,

that his infirmity had developed into a disease. Like sleeping

cancers, the Austin vices had lain dormant in him during boyhood;

it had required the mutation from youth to manhood, and the

alterative effect of marriage, to rouse them; but, once awakened,

their ravages had been swift and destructive. Ed's marriage to

Alaire had been inevitable. They had been playmates, and their

parents had considered the union a consummation of their own

lifelong friendship. Upon her mother's death, Alaire had been sent

abroad, and there she remained while "Young Ed" attended an

Eastern college. For any child the experience would have been a

lonesome one, and through it the motherless Texas girl had grown

into an imaginative, sentimental person, living in a make-believe

world, peopled, for the most part, with the best-remembered

figures of romance and fiction. There were, of course, some few

flesh-and-blood heroes among the rest, and of these the finest and

the noblest had been "Young Ed" Austin.



When she came home to marry, Alaire was still very much of a

child, and she still considered Ed her knight. As for him, he was

captivated by this splendid, handsome girl, whom he remembered

only as a shy, red-headed little comrade.



Never was a marriage more propitious, never were two young people

more happily situated than these two, for they were madly in love,

and each had ample means with which to make the most of life.



As Las Palmas had been the elder Austin's wedding-gift to his son,

so Alaire's dowry from her father had been La Feria, a grant of

lands across the Rio Grande beyond the twenty-league belt by which

Mexico fatuously strives to guard her border. And to Las Palmas

had come the bride and groom to live, to love, and to rear their

children.



But rarely has there been a shorter honeymoon, seldom a swifter

awakening. Within six months "Young Ed" had killed his wife's love

and had himself become an alcoholic. Others of his father's vices

revived, and so multiplied that what few virtues the young man had

inherited were soon choked. The change was utterly unforeseen; its

cause was rooted too deeply in the past to be remedied. Maturity

had marked an epoch with "Young Ed"; marriage had been the mile-

post where his whole course veered abruptly.



To the bride the truth had come as a stunning tragedy. She was

desperately frightened, too, and lived a nightmare life, the while

she tried in every way to check the progress of that

disintegration which was eating up her happiness. The wreck of her

hopes and glad imaginings left her sick, bewildered, in the face

of "the thing that couldn't."



Nor had the effect of this transformation in "Young Ed" been any

less painful to his father. For a time the old man refused to

credit it, but finally, when the truth was borne in upon him

unmistakably, and he saw that Las Palmas was in a fair way to

being ruined through the boy's mismanagement, the old cattleman

had risen in his wrath. The ranch had been his pride as Ed had

been his joy; to see them both go wrong was more than he could

bear. There had been a terrible scene, and a tongue-lashing

delivered in the language of early border days. There had followed

other visits from Austin, senior, other and even bitterer

quarrels; at last, when the girl-wife remained firm in her refusal

to divorce her husband, the understanding had been reached by

which the management of Las Palmas was placed absolutely in her

hands.



Of course, the truth became public, as it always does. This was a

new country--only yesterday it had been the frontier, and even yet

a frontier code of personal conduct to some extent prevailed.

Nevertheless, "Young Ed" Austin's life became a scorn and a

hissing among his neighbors. They were not unduly fastidious,

these neighbors, and they knew that hot blood requires more than a

generation to cool, but everything Ed did outraged them. In trying

to show their sympathy for his wife they succeeded in wounding her

more deeply, and Alaire withdrew into herself. She became almost a

recluse, and fenced herself away not only from the curious, but

also from those who really wished to be her friends. In time

people remarked that Ed Austin's metamorphosis was no harder to

understand than that of his wife.



It was true. She had changed. The alteration reached to the very

bone and marrow of her being. At first the general pity had

wounded her, then it had offended, and finally angered her. That

people should notice her affliction, particularly when she strove

so desperately to hide it, seemed the height of insolence.



The management of Las Palmas was almost her only relief. Having

sprung from a family of ranchers, the work came easy, and she grew

to like it--as well as she could like anything with that ever-

present pain in her breast. The property was so large that it gave

ample excuse for avoiding the few visitors who came, and the range

boss, Benito Gonzales, attended to most of the buying and selling.

Callers gradually became rarer; friends dropped away almost

entirely. Since Las Palmas employed no white help whatever, it

became in time more Mexican than in the days of "Old Ed" Austin's

ownership.



In such wise had Alaire fashioned her life, living meanwhile under

a sort of truce with her husband.



But Las Palmas had prospered to admiration, and La Feria would

have prospered equally had it not been for the armed unrest of the

country across the border. No finer stock than the "Box A" was to

be found anywhere. The old lean, long-horned cattle had been

interbred with white-faced Herefords, and the sleek coats of their

progeny were stretched over twice the former weight of beef.

Alaire had even experimented with the Brahman strain, importing

some huge, hump-backed bulls that set the neighborhood agog.

People proclaimed they were sacred oxen and whispered that they

were intended for some outlandish pagan rite--Alaire by this time

had gained the reputation of being "queer"--while experienced

stockmen declared the venture a woman's folly, affirming that

buffaloes had never been crossed successfully with domestic

cattle. It was rumored that one of these imported animals cost

more than a whole herd of Mexican stock, and the ranchers

speculated freely as to what "Old Ed" Austin would have said of

such extravagance.



It was Blaze Jones, one of the few county residents granted access

to Las Palmas, who first acquainted himself with the outcome of

Alaire's experiment, and it was he who brought news of it to some

visiting stock-buyers at Brownsville.



Blaze was addicted to rhetorical extravagance. His voice was loud;

his fancy ran a splendid course.



"Gentlemen," said he, "you-all interest me with your talk about

your prize Northern stock; but I claim that the bigger the state

the bigger the cattle it raises. That's why old Texas beats the

world."



"But it doesn't," some one contradicted.



"It don't, hey? My boy"--Blaze jabbed a rigid finger into the

speaker's ribs, as if he expected a ground-squirrel to scuttle

forth--"we've got steers in this valley that are damn near the

size of the whole state of Rhode Island. If they keep on growin' I

doubt if you could fatten one of 'em in Delaware without he'd

bulge over into some neighboring commonwealth. It's the God's

truth! I was up at Las Palmas last month--"



"Las Palmas!" The name was enough to challenge the buyers'

interest.



Blaze nodded. "You-all think you know the stock business. You're

all swollen up with cow-knowledge, now, ain't you?" He eyed them

from beneath his black eyebrows. "Well, some of our people thought

they did, too. They figured they'd inherited all there was to know

about live stock, and they grew plumb arrogant over their wisdom.

But--pshaw! They didn't know nothing. Miz Austin has bred in that

Brayma strain and made steers so big they run four to the dozen.

And here's the remarkable thing about 'em--they 'ain't got as many

ticks as you gentlemen."



Some of the cattlemen were incredulous, but Blaze maintained his

point with emphasis. "It's true. They're a grave disappointment to

every kind of parasite."



But Alaire had not confined her efforts to cattle; she had

improved the breed of "Box A" horses, too, and hand in hand with

this work she had carried on a series of agricultural experiments.



Las Palmas, so people used to say, lay too far up the river to be

good farming-land; nevertheless, once the pumping-plant was in,

certain parts of the ranch raised nine crops of alfalfa, and corn

that stood above a rider's head.



There was no money in "finished" stock; the border was too far

from market--that also had long been an accepted truism--yet this

woman built silos which she filled with her own excess fodder in

scientific proportions, and somehow or other she managed to ship

fat beeves direct to the packing-houses and get big prices for

them.



These were but a few of her many ventures. She had her hobbies, of

course, but, oddly enough, most of them paid or promised to do so.

For instance, she had started a grove of paper-shelled pecans,

which was soon due to bear; the ranch house and its clump of palms

was all but hidden by a forest of strange trees, which were

reported to ripen everything from moth-balls to bicycle tires.

Blaze Jones was perhaps responsible for this report, for Alaire

had shown him several thousand eucalyptus saplings and some

ornamental rubber-plants.



"That Miz Austin is a money-makin' piece of furniture," he once

told his daughter Paloma. "I'm no mechanical adder--I count mostly

on my fingers--but her and me calculated the profits on them

eucher--what's-their-name trees?--and it gave me a splittin'

headache. She'll be a drug queen, sure."



"Why don't you follow her example?" asked Paloma. "We have plenty

of land."



Blaze, in truth, was embarrassed by the size of his holdings, but

he shook his head. "No, I'm too old to go rampagin' after new

gods. I 'ain't got the imagination to raise anything more

complicated than a mortgage; but if I was younger, I'd organize

myself up and do away with that Ed Austin. I'd sure help him to an

untimely end, and then I'd marry them pecan-groves, and blooded

herds, and drug-store orchards. She certainly is a heart-breakin'

device, with her red hair and red lips and--"



"FATHER!" Paloma was deeply shocked.



Complete isolation, of course, Alaire had found to be impossible,

even though her ranch lay far from the traveled roads and her

Mexican guards were not encouraging to visitors. Business

inevitably brought her into contact with a considerable number of

people, and of these the one she saw most frequently was Judge

Ellsworth of Brownsville, her attorney.



It was perhaps a week after Ed had left for San Antonio that

Alaire felt the need of Ellsworth's counsel, and sent for him. He

responded promptly, as always. Ellsworth was a kindly man of

fifty-five, with a forceful chin and a drooping, heavy-lidded eye

that could either blaze or twinkle. He was fond of Alaire, and his

sympathy, like his understanding, was of that wordless yet

comprehensive kind which is most satisfying. Judge Ellsworth knew

more than any four men in that part of Texas; information had a

way of seeking him out, and his head was stored to repletion with

facts of every variety. He was a good lawyer, too, and yet his

knowledge of the law comprised but a small part of that mental

wealth upon which he prided himself. He knew human nature, and

that he considered far more important than law. His mind was like

a full granary, and every grain lay where he could put his hand

upon it.



He motored out from Brownsville, and, after ridding himself of

dust, insisted upon spending the interval before dinner in an

inspection of Alaire's latest ranch improvements. He had a

fatherly way of walking with his arm about Alaire's shoulders, and

although she sometimes suspected that his warmth of good-

fellowship was merely a habit cultivated through political

necessities, nevertheless it was comforting, and she took it at

its face value.



Not until the dinner was over did Ellsworth inquire the reason for

his summons.



"It's about La Feria. General Longorio has confiscated my stock,"

Alaire told him.



Ellsworth started. "Longorio! That's bad."



"Yes. One of my riders just brought the news. I was afraid of this

very thing, and so I was preparing to bring the stock over, Still-

-I never thought they'd actually confiscate it."



"Why shouldn't they?"



Alaire interrogated the speaker silently.



"Hasn't Ed done enough to provoke confiscation?" asked the Judge.



"Ed?"



"Exactly! Ed has made a fool of himself, and brought this on."



"You think so?"



"Well, I have it pretty straight that he's giving money to the

Rebel junta and lending every assistance he can to their cause."



"I didn't know he'd actually done anything. How mad!"



"Yes--for a man with interests in Federal territory. But Ed always

does the wrong thing, you know."



"Then I presume this confiscation is in the nature of a reprisal.

But the stock is mine, not Ed's. I'm an American citizen, and--"



"My dear, you're the first one I've heard boast of the fact,"

cynically affirmed the Judge. "If you were in Mexico you'd profit

more by claiming allegiance to the German or the English or some

other foreign flag. The American eagle isn't screaming very loudly

on the other side of the Rio Grande just now, and our dusky

neighbors have learned that it's perfectly safe to pull his tail

feathers."



"I'm surprised at you," Alaire smiled. "Just the same, I want your

help in taking up the matter with Washington."



Ellsworth was pessimistic. "It won't do any good, my dear," he

said. "You'll get your name in the papers, and perhaps cause

another diplomatically worded protest, but there the matter will

end. You won't be paid for your cattle."



"Then I shall go to La Feria."



"No!" The Judge shook his head decidedly.



"I've been there a hundred times. The Federals have always been

more than courteous."



"Longorio has a bad reputation. I strongly advise against your

going."



"Why, Judge, people are going and coming all the time! Mexico is

perfectly safe, and I know the country as well as I know Las

Palmas."



"You'd better send some man."



"Whom can I send?" asked Alaire. "You know my situation."



The Judge considered a moment before replying. "I can't go, for

I'm busy in court. You could probably accomplish more than anybody

else, if Longorio will listen to reason, and, after all, you are a

person of such importance that I dare say you'd be safe. But it

will be a hard trip, and you won't know whether you are in Rebel

or in Federal territory."



"Well, people here are asking whether Texas is in the United

States or Mexico," Alaire said, lightly, "Sometimes I hardly

know." After a moment she continued: "Since you know everything

and everybody, I wonder if you ever met a David Law?"



Ellsworth nodded. "Tell me something about him."



"He asked me the same thing about you. Well, I haven't seen much

of Dave since he grew up, he's such a roamer."



"He said his parents were murdered by the Guadalupes."



The Judge looked up quickly; a queer, startled expression flitted

over his face. "Dave said that? He said both of them were killed?"



"Yes. Isn't it true?"



"Oh, Dave wouldn't lie. It happened a good many years ago, and

certainly they both met a violent end. I was instrumental in

saving what property Frank Law left, but it didn't last Dave very

long. He's right careless in money matters. Dave's a fine fellow

in some ways--most ways, I believe, but--" The Judge lost himself

in frowning meditation.



"I have never known you to damn a friend or a client with such

faint praise," said Alaire.



"Oh, I don't mean it that way. I'm almost like one of Dave's kin,

and I've been keenly interested in watching his traits develop.

I'm interested in heredity. I've watched it in Ed's case, for

instance. If you know the parents it's easy to read their

children." Again he lapsed into silence, nodding to himself. "Yes,

Nature mixes her prescriptions like any druggist. I'm glad you and

Ed--have no babies."



Alaire mumured something unintelligible.



"And yet," the lawyer continued, "many people are cursed with an

inheritance as bad, or worse, than Ed's."



"What has that to do with Mr. Law?"



"Dave? Oh, nothing in particular. I was just--moralizing. It's a

privilege of age, my dear."





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