Superstitions And Certainties





The sensation caused by Ricardo Guzman's disappearance was as

nothing to that which followed the recovery of his body. By the

next afternoon it was known from Mexico to the Canadian border

that the old ranchman had been shot by Mexican soldiers in Romero.

It was reported that a party of Americans had invaded foreign soil

and snatched Ricardo's remains from under the nose of General

Longorio. But there all reliable information ceased. Just how the

rescue had been effected, by whom it had been done, what reasons

had prompted it, were a mystery. With the first story the

newspapers printed a terse telegram, signed by Captain Evans and

addressed to the Governor of Texas, which read:



"Ranger force crossed Rio Grande and brought back the body of

Ricardo Guzman."



This message created tremendous enthusiasm, for the Texas Rangers

have ever stood for prompt and decisive action; but two hours

after the publication of this despatch there came a sharp inquiry

from Washington, and on the heels of that the State House at

Austin denied the receipt of any such message.



When this denial was in turn made public, the newspapers demanded

to know who had performed this sensational exploit. One rumor had

it that the sons of Ricardo Guzman had risked their lives to

insure their father Christian burial. This was amplified by a

touching pen-picture of the rancher's weeping family waiting at

the bank of the Rio Grande, and an affecting account of the grief

of the beautiful Guzman girls. It mattered not that there were no

daughters.



In other quarters the expedition was credited to members of a

secret order to which Ricardo had belonged; from a third source

came a statement that the Guzman family had hired a band of

Mexicans to exhume the body, so that proof of death might be

sufficient to satisfy an insurance company in which the rancher

had held a policy. Even at Jonesville there were conflicting

rumors.



But, whatever the facts of the rescue, it was generally recognized

that the result had been to bring on a crisis in the affairs of

the two nations. People declared that since the outrage was now

proven the next move was the duty of the State Department at

Washington. Therefore, when several days passed and nothing was

done, a wide-spread feeling of indignation grew. What mattered

these diplomatic communications between the two governments? it

was asked. Why wait for another investigation by General Longorio?



Strong influences, however, were at work to prevent that very

outcome for which the people of Texas prayed. During the delay

there arose a report that Ricardo Guzman had borne an evil

reputation, and that he had been so actively associated with the

Rebel cause as to warrant punishment by the Federal government.

Moreover, a legal question as to his American citizenship was

raised--a question which seemed to have important bearing upon the

case.



Public interest is short-lived; few living men can hold it more

than a day or two, and it reckons no dead man worthy of more than

an obituary notice. Other Mexican offenses, equally grave, had

failed to stir the Administration to definite action; the death of

this obscure border ranchman did not seem to weigh very heavily in

Washington. Thus in the course of time the Guzman incident was in

a fair way of being officially forgotten and forgiven.



Of course the people of Texas did not forget, nor did those who

had personally known Ricardo forgive. Dave Law, for instance, felt

bitter over the matter, for he had counted upon prompt and

definite results. A little pressure, properly applied, would have

wrung the truth from Colonel Blanco and fastened some measure of

guilt upon the men who had actually arranged the murder. Dave did

not doubt Tad Lewis's part in it, but there was only one source

from which pressure could be brought, and when this failed he

found his further efforts blocked. There remained to him only the

consolation of knowing that he had in a measure squared his

account with old Ricardo.



But there were several persons who felt intense relief at the

course events had taken, and among these was Alaire Austin. In the

days following that midnight expedition she had had ample time in

which to meditate upon her husband's actions, "Young Ed" had taken

advantage of the confusion to slip out of the crowd and escape in

his roadster, and when Alaire arrived at Las Palmas she had found

that he was gone, leaving behind no word as to when he would

return. It seemed probable that he had fled to San Antonio, there

to remain until interest in the Guzman matter had abated. If Ed

was relieved to escape the immediate consequences of his

connection with the affair, his wife was no less thankful for his

absence, since it left her free to think and to plan. Their

relations were becoming constantly more difficult; she realized

that it was impossible for her to go on in this way much longer.

Before leaving Ed had again rifled the safe, thus disregarding for

a second time his explicit agreement with his wife. Of course, he

was welcome to whatever money he needed, even in excess of his

allowance; but his act showed his weak sense of honor and

strengthened Alaire's conviction that he was in every way rapidly

deteriorating. As yet she could not believe him really wicked at

heart--he had many qualities which were above the average--nor

could she convince herself that he had been criminally involved in

Tad Lewis's schemes. And yet, what other explanation could there

be? Ed's behavior had been extraordinary; his evident terror at

news of Dave Law's expedition, his conversation with Tad Lewis

over the telephone, his subsequent actions at the river, all

seemed to indicate that he had some vital interest in maintaining

the mystery of Guzman's death. What could it be?



Suspicions like these were extremely disturbing. In spite of

herself Alaire began to think more seriously about that separation

which Ed had so frequently offered her. Her whole nature, it is

true, recoiled at the thought of divorce; it was a thing utterly

repugnant to her sentiment and her creed--a thing that stood for

notoriety, gossip, scandal. Deep in her heart she felt that

divorce was wicked, for marriage to her had always meant a sacred

and unbreakable bond. And yet there seemed to be no alternative.

She wished Ed would go away--leave her quietly and for ever, so

that she might live out her empty life in seclusion--but that, of

course, he would never do.



Such longings were not strangers to Alaire; they were old and

persistent enemies; but of late the prospect of a loveless,

childless future was growing more and more unbearable. Even her

day dreams failed to give their customary relief; those imaginary

figures with whom she took counsel were strangely unresponsive.



She had told Paloma Jones about her dream-children, but she had

not confessed the existence of another and a far more intimate

creature of her brain--one who occupied the place Ed Austin should

have held. There was such a person, however, and Alaire called him

her dream husband. Now this man's physical aspect was never long

the same; it altered according to her changing ideals or to the

impression left by new acquaintances; nevertheless, he was in some

ways the most real and the most tangible of all her pale romantic

fancies. No one who has watched a solitary child at play can doubt

that it sees and hears playmates invisible to others. Alaire

Austin, in the remotest depths of her being, was still a child. Of

late her prince had assumed new characteristics and a new form. He

was no longer any one of the many shapes he had been; he was more

like the spirit of the out-of-doors--a strong-limbed, deep-

chested, sun-bronzed creature, with a strain of gipsy blood that

called to hers. He was moody, yet tender, roughly masculine, and

yet possessed of the gentleness and poetry of a girl. He was

violent tempered; he was brave; he rode a magnificent bay mare

that worshiped him, as did all animals.



During one of these introspective periods Alaire telephoned Dave

Law, arguing to herself that she must learn more about her

husband's connection with the Lewis gang. Dave arrived even sooner

than she had expected. She made him dine with her, and they spent

the evening on the dim-lit gallery. In the course of their

conversation Alaire discovered that Dave, too, had a hidden side

of his nature; that he possessed an imagination, and with it a

quaint, whimsical, exploratory turn of mind which enabled him to

talk interestingly of many things and many places. On this

particular evening he was anything but the man of iron she had

known--until she ventured to speak of Ed. Then he closed up like a

trap. He was almost gruff in his refusal to say a word about her

husband.



Because of Ed's appropriation of the ranch cash, Alaire found it

necessary a few days later to go to the bank, and, feeling the

need of exercise, she rode her horse Montrose. When her errands

had been attended to, she suddenly decided to call on Paloma

Jones. It was years since she had voluntarily done such a thing;

the very impulse surprised her.



Paloma, it happened, was undergoing that peculiar form of feminine

torture known as a "fitting"; but insecurely basted, pinned, and

tucked as she was, she came flying down to the gate to meet her

visitor.



Alaire was introduced to Mrs. Strange, the dressmaker, a large,

acidulous brunette, with a mouthful of pins; and then, when Paloma

had given herself once more into the seamstress's hands, the two

friends gossiped.



Since Mrs. Strange was the first capable dressmaker who had ever

come to Jonesville, Paloma had closed her eyes and plunged with

reckless extravagance. Now the girl insisted upon a general

exhibition of her new wardrobe, a sort of grand fashion review,

for the edification of her caller, in the course of which she

tried on all her dresses.



Paloma was petite and well proportioned, and the gowns were

altogether charming. Alaire was honest in her praise, and Paloma's

response was one of whole-hearted pleasure. The girl beamed. Never

before had she been so admired, never until this moment had she

adored a person as she adored Mrs. Austin, whose every suggestion

as to fit and style was acted upon, regardless of Mrs. Strange.



"I don't know what Dad will say when he gets the bill for these

dresses," Paloma confessed.



"Your father is a mighty queer man," Mrs. Strange observed. "I

haven't so much as laid eyes on him."



Paloma nodded. "Yes. And he's getting more peculiar all the time;

I can't make out what ails him."



"Where is he now?" asked Alaire.



"Heaven knows! Out in the barn or under the house." Taking

advantage of the dressmaker's momentary absence from the room,

Paloma continued in a whisper: "I wish you'd talk to Dad and see

what you make of him. He's absolutely--queer. Mrs. Strange seems

to have a peculiar effect on him. Why, it's almost as if--"



"What?"



"Well, I suppose I'm foolish, but--I'm beginning to believe in

spells. You know, Mrs. Strange's husband is a sort of--

necromancer."



"How silly!"



There was no further opportunity for words, as the woman

reappeared at that instant; but a little later Alaire went in

search of Blaze, still considerably mystified. As she neared the

farm buildings she glimpsed a man's figure hastily disappearing

into the barn. The figure bore a suspicious resemblance to Blaze

Jones, yet when she followed he was nowhere to be seen. Now this

was curious, for Texas barns are less pretentious than those of

the North, and this one was little more than a carriage-house and

a shelter for agricultural implements.



"Mr. Jones!" Alaire called. She repeated Blaze's name several

times; then something stirred. The door of a harness closet opened

cautiously, and out of the blackness peered Paloma's father. He

looked more owlish than ever behind his big, gold-rimmed

spectacles. "What in the world are you doing in there?" she cried.



Blaze emerged, blinking. He was dusty and perspiring.



"Hello, Miz Austin!" he saluted her with a poor assumption of

breeziness. "I was fixin' some harness, but I'm right glad to see

you."



Alaire regarded him quizzically. "What made you hide?" she asked.



"Hide? Who, me?"



"I saw you dodge in here like a--gopher."



Blaze confessed. "I reckon I've got the willies. Every woman I see

looks like that dam' dressmaker."



"Paloma was telling me about you. Why do you hate her so?"



"I don't know's I hate her, but her and her husband have put a

jinx on me. They're the worst people I ever see, Miz Austin."



"You don't really believe in such things?"



Blaze dusted off a seat for his visitor, saying: "I never did till

lately, but now I'm worse than a plantation nigger. I tell you

there's things in this world we don't sabe. I wish you'd get

Paloma to fire her. I've tried and failed. I wish you'd tell her

those dresses are rotten."



"But they're very nice; they're lovely; and I've just been

complimenting her. Now what has this woman done to you?"



It seemed impossible that a man of Blaze Jones's character could

actually harbor crude superstitions, and yet there was no

mistaking his earnestness when he said:



"I ain't sure whether she's to blame, or her husband, but

misfortune has folded me to herself."



"How?"



"Well, I'm sick."



"You don't look it."



"I don't exactly feel it, either, but I am. I don't sleep good, my

heart's actin' up, I've got rheumatism, my stomach feels like I'd

swallowed something alive--"



"You're smoking too much," Alaire affirmed, with conviction.



But skepticism aroused Blaze's indignation. With elaborate sarcasm

he retorted: "I reckon that's why my best team of mules run away

and dragged me through a ten-acre patch of grass burrs--on my

belly, eh? It's a wonder I wasn't killed. I reckon I smoked so

much that I give a tobacco heart to the best three-year-old bull

in my pasture! Well, I smoked him to death, all right. Probably it

was nicotine poisonin' that killed twenty acres of my cotton, too;

and maybe if I'd cut out Bull Durham I'd have floated that bond

issue on the irrigation ditch. But I was wedded to cigarettes, so

my banks are closin' down on me. Sure! That's what a man gets for

smokin'."



"And do you attribute all these misfortunes to Paloma's

dressmaker?"



The man nodded gloomily. "That ain't half! Everything goes wrong.

I'm scared to pack a weapon for fear I'll injure myself. Why, I've

carried a bowie-knife in my bootleg ever since I was a babe in

arms, you might say; but the other day I jabbed myself with it and

nearly got blood-poisonin'. The very first time I ever laid eyes

on this man and his wife a great misfortune overtook me, and ever

since they come to Jonesville I've had a close squeeze to make a

live of it. This fellow Strange, with his fortune-tellin' and his

charms and his conjures, has hocus-pocussed the whole

neighborhood. He's gettin' rich off of the Mexicans. He knows more

secrets than a priest; he tells 'em whether their sweethearts love

'em, whether a child is goin' to be a boy or a girl, and how to

invest their money."



"He is nothing more than a circus fakir, Mr. Jones."



"Yes'm! Just the same, these Greasers'd vote him into the

legislature if he asked 'em. Why, he knows who fetched back

Ricardo Guzman's body! He told me so."



"Really?" Alaire looked up quickly, then the smile left her face.

After a moment she said, "Perhaps he could tell me something that

I want to know?"



"Now don't you get him started," Blaze cautioned, hastily, "or

he'll put a spell on you like he did on me."



"I want to know what Ed had to do with the Guzman affair."



Blaze shook his head slowly. "Well, he's mixed up somehow with

Lewis. Dave thinks Tad was at the bottom of the killin', and he

hoped to prove it on him; but our government won't do anything,

and he's stumped for the time bein'. I don't know any more about

Ed's dealin's than you do, Miz Austin: all I know is that I got a

serpent in my household and I can't get shed of her. I've got a

lapful of troubles of my own. I've ordered Paloma to let that

woman go, but, pshaw! It's like a bowlegged man drivin' a shoat--

there ain't any headin' Paloma off when her mind's made up. You

mark what I say, that female spider'll sew venom into those

dresses. I never seen a woman with a mustache that was any good.

Look here!" Blaze drew a well-thumbed pack of playing-cards from

his pocket. "Shuffle 'em, and I'll prove what I say. If I don't

turn up a dark woman three times out of five I'll eat that saddle-

blanket, dry."



Alaire shuffled the deck, and Blaze cut the cards. Sure enough, he

exposed the queen of spades.



"What did I tell you? There's the bearded lady herself! Now I'll

shuffle and you cut."



Alaire smilingly followed directions; she separated the deck into

three piles, after which Jones interpreted the oracle.



"You got a good fortune, Miz Austin. There's a light man comin' to

your house, danger, and--marriage. You're goin' to marry a light

man."



Alaire's laughter rang out unaffectedly. "Now you see how utterly

absurd it is."



"Maybe it is, and maybe it ain't." From another pocket Jones drew

a small volume entitled The Combination Fortune-Teller and

Complete Dictionary of Dreams. Alaire reached to take it, and the

book dropped to the floor; then, as she stooped, Blaze cried:

"Wait! Hit it three times on the floor and say, 'Money! Money!

Money!'"



As Alaire was running over the pages of the book, one of Blaze's

ranch-hands appeared in the door to ask him a question. When the

fellow had gone his employer rose and tiptoed after him; then he

spat through his crossed fingers in the direction the man had

taken.



"Now what does that mean?" Alaire inquired.



"Didn't you see? He's cross-eyed."



"This is too occult for me," she declared, rising. "But--I'm

interested in what you say about Mr. Strange. If the Mexicans tell

him so much, perhaps he can tell me something. I do hope you have

no more misfortunes."



"You stay to supper," Blaze urged, hospitably. "I'll be in as soon

as that tarantula's gone."



But Alaire declined. After a brief chat with Paloma she remounted

Montrose and prepared for the homeward ride. At the gate, however,

she met Dave Law on his new mare, and when Dave had learned the

object of her visit to Jonesville he insisted upon accompanying

her.



"You have enough money in those saddle-bags to tempt some of our

very best citizens," he told her. "If you don't mind, I'll just be

your bodyguard."



"Very well," she smiled; "but to make perfectly sure of our

safety, cross your fingers and spit."



"Eh?" Seeing the amusement in her eyes, he declared: "You've been

talking to Blaze. Well, last night I dreamed I was eating

chestnuts, and he told me I was due for a great good fortune. You

see, there's something in it, after all."



"And you must be the 'light man' I discovered in the cards. Blaze

declared you were coming to my house." They jogged along side by

side, and Law thanked his lucky stars for the encounter.



"Did Blaze tell you how he came to meet the Stranges?"



"No. He only said they had brought him bad luck from the start."



Dave grinned; then, in treacherous disregard of his promise to

Jones, he recounted the tale of that disastrous defeat on the

beach at Galveston. When he had finished the story, which he

ingeniously elaborated, Alaire was doubled over her saddle. It was

the first spontaneous laugh she had had for days, and it seemed to

banish her worries magically. Alaire was not of a melancholy

temperament; gaiety was natural to her, and it had required many

heartaches, many disappointments, to darken her blithe spirit.



Nor was Dave Law a person of the comic type; yet he was a gloom-

dispeller, and now that Alaire was beginning to know him better

she felt a certain happy restfulness in his company.



The ride was long, and the two proceeded leisurely, stopping now

and then to talk or to admire the banks of wild flowers beside the

road. No country is richer in spring blooms than is South Texas.

The cactus had nearly done blooming now, and its ever-listening

ears were absurdly warted with fruit; gorgeous carpets of

bluebonnets were spread beside the ditches, while the air above

was filled with thousands of yellow butterflies, like whirling,

wind-blown petals of the prickly-pear blossom. Montrose and

Montrosa enjoyed the journey also; it was just the mode of

traveling to please equine hearts, for there were plenty of

opportunities to nibble at the juicy grass and to drink at the

little pools. Then, too, there were mad, romping races during

which the riders laughed and shouted.



It was Law who finally discovered that they had somehow taken the

wrong road. The fact that Alaire had failed to notice this gave

him a sudden thrill. It aroused in his mind such a train of dizzy,

drunken speculations that for some time following the discovery he

jogged silently at his companion's side.



It was early dusk when they reached Las Palmas; it was nearly

midnight when Dave threw his leg across his saddle and started

home.



Alaire's parting words rang sweetly in his ears: "This has been

the pleasantest day I can remember."



The words themselves meant little, but Dave had caught a wistful

undertone in the speaker's voice, and fancied he had seen in her

eyes a queer, half-frightened expression, as of one just awakened.



Jose Sanchez had beheld Dave Law at the Las Palmas table twice

within a few days. He spent this evening laboriously composing a

letter to his friend and patron, General Luis Longorio.





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