The Crash





The several days following Dave's unexpected call at Las Palmas

Alaire spent in a delightful reverie. She had so often wrestled

with the question of divorce that she had begun to weary of it;

and now, when she tried to summon energy to consider it anew, she

found herself, as usual, reasoning in a circle and arriving at no

decision. She gave up trying, at length, and for the time being

rested content in the knowledge that she loved and was loved. In

her heart she knew well enough what her ultimate course would be:

sooner or later events would force her action. Yielding to a

natural cowardice, therefore, she resigned herself to dreamy

meditations and left the future to take care of itself. A week

passed while she hugged her thoughts to her breast, and then one

evening she rode home to learn that Ed had returned from San

Antonio.



But Ed was ill, and he did not appear at dinner. It had been years

since either had dared invade the other's privacy, and now,

inasmuch as her husband did not send for her, Alaire did not

presume to offer her services as nurse. As a matter of fact, she

considered this quite unnecessary, for she felt sure that he was

either suffering the customary after-effects of a visit to the

city or else that he lacked the moral courage to undertake an

explanation of his hurried flight from the ranch. In either event

she was glad he kept to his room.



Heretofore their formal relations had made life at least tolerable

to Alaire, but now she experienced a feeling of guilt at finding

herself under the same roof with him. Oddly enough, it seemed to

her that in this she wronged Dave and not her husband; for she

reasoned that, having given her love to one man, her presence in

the same house with another outraged that love.



When Austin made his appearance, on the day following his return,

his bleared eyes, his puffy, pasty cheeks, his shattered nerves,

showed plainly enough how he had spent his time. Although he was

jumpy and irritable, he seemed determined by an assumption of high

spirits and exaggerated friendliness to avert criticism. Since

Alaire spared him all reproaches, his efforts seemed to meet with

admirable success. Now Ed's opinion of women was not high, for

those with whom he habitually associated were of small

intelligence; and, seeing that his wife continued to manifest a

complete indifference to his past actions, he decided that his

apprehensions had been groundless. If Alaire remembered the Guzman

affair at all, or if she had suspected him of complicity in it,

time had evidently dulled her suspicions, and he was a little

sorry he had taken pains to stay away so long.



Before many days, however, he discovered that this indifference of

hers was not assumed, and that in some way or other she had

changed. Ed was accustomed, when he returned exhausted from a

debauch, to seeing in his wife's eyes a strained misery; he had

learned to expect in her bearing a sort of pitying, hopeless

resignation. But this time she was not in the least depressed. On

the contrary, she appeared happier, fresher, and younger than he

had seen her for a long time. It was mystifying. When, one

morning, he overheard her singing in her room, he was shocked.

Over this phenomenon he meditated with growing amazement and a

faint stir of resentment in his breast, for he lived a self-

centered life, considering himself the pivot upon which revolved

all the affairs of his little world. To feel that he had lost even

the power to make his wife unhappy argued that he had

overestimated his importance.



At length, having sufficiently recovered his health to begin

drinking again, he yielded one evening to an alcoholic impulse

and, just as Alaire bade him good night, clumsily sought to force

an explanation.



"See here!" he shot at her. "What's the matter with you lately?"

He saw that he had startled her and that she made an effort to

collect her wandering thoughts. "You're about as warm and wifely

as a stone idol."



"Am I any different to what I have always been?"



"Humph! You haven't been exactly sympathetic of late. Here I come

home sick, and you treat me like one of the help. Don't you think

I have feelings? Jove! I'm lonesome."



Alaire regarded him speculatively, then shook her head as if in

answer to some thought.



In an obvious and somewhat too mellow effort to be friendly, Ed

continued: "Don't let's go on like this, Alaire. You blame me for

going away so much, but, good Lord! when I'm home I feel like an

interloper. You treat me like a cow-thief."



"I'm sorry. I've tried to be everything I should. I'm the

interloper."



"Nonsense! If we only got along together as well as we seem to

from the outside it wouldn't be bad at all. But you're too severe.

You seem to think a man should be perfect. Well, none of us are,

and I'm no worse than the majority. Why, I know lots of fellows

who forget themselves and do things they shouldn't, but they don't

mean anything by it. They have wives and homes to go to when it's

all over. But have I? You're as glad to see me as if I had

smallpox. Maybe we've made a mess of things, but married life

isn't what young girls think it is, A wife must learn to give and

take."



"I've given. What have I taken?" she asked him in a voice that

quivered.



Ed made an impatient gesture. "Oh, don't be so literal! I mean

that, since we're man and wife, it's up to you to be a little

more--broad-gauge in your views."



"In other words, you want me to ignore your conduct. Is that it?

I'm afraid we can't argue that, Ed."



Within the last few days Austin's mind had registered a number of

new impressions, and at this moment he realized that his wife was

undoubtedly the most attractive woman physically he had ever

known. Of course she was cold, but she had not always been so. He

had chilled her; he had seen the fire die year by year, but now

the memory of her as she had once been swept over him, bringing a

renewed appreciation of her charms. His recent dissipation had

told upon him as heavily as a siege of sickness, and this evening

he was in that fatuous, sentimental mood which comes with

convalescence, Having no fault to find with himself, and feeling

merely a selfish desire to make more pleasant his life at Las

Palmas, he undertook to bend Alaire to his will.



"All right; don't let's try to argue it," he laughed, with what he

considered an admirable show of magnanimity. "I hate arguments,

anyhow; I'd much rather have a goodnight kiss."



But when he stooped over her Alaire held him off and turned her

head. "No!" she said.



"You haven't kissed me for--"



"I don't wish to kiss you."



"Don't be silly," he insisted. This suggestion of physical

resistance excited his love of conquest and awoke something like

the mood of a lover--such a lover as a man like Ed could be. For a

moment he felt as if Alaire were some other woman than his wife, a

woman who refused and yet half expected to be overcome; therefore

he laughed self-consciously and repeated, "Come now, I want a

kiss."



Alaire thrust him back strongly, and he saw that her face had

whitened. Oddly enough, her stubbornness angered him out of all

reason, and he began a harsh remonstrance. But he halted when she

cried:



"Wait! I must tell you something, Ed. It's all over, and has been

for a long time. We're going to end it."



"End it?"



"We can't go on living together. Why should we?"



"So? Divorce? Is that it?"



Alaire nodded.



"Well, I'll be damned!" Ed was dumfounded. "Isn't this rather

sudden?" he managed to inquire.



"Oh no. You've suggested it more than once."



"I thought you didn't believe in divorces--couldn't stomach 'em?

What's happened?"



"I have changed my mind."



"Humph! People don't change their minds in a minute," he cried,

angrily. "Is there some other man?"



Now Ed Austin had no faintest idea that his wife would answer in

the affirmative, for he had long ago learned to put implicit

confidence in her, and her life had been so open that he could not

imagine that it held a double interest. Therefore her reply struck

him speechless.



"Yes, Ed," she said, quietly, "there is another man."



It was like her not to evade. She had never lied to him.



Ed's mouth opened; his reddened eyes protruded. "Well--" he

stammered. "Well, by God!" Then after a moment: "Who is it, the

Greaser or the cowboy?" He laughed loudly, disagreeably. "It must

be one or the other, for you haven't seen any men except them.

Another man! Well, you're cool about it."



"I am glad you know the truth."



Muttering to himself, Ed made a short excursion around the room,

then paused before his wife with a sneer on his lips. "Did it ever

occur to you that I might object?" he demanded.



Alaire eyed him scornfully. "What right have you to object?"



Ed could not restrain a malevolent gleam of curiosity. "Say, who

is it? Ain't I entitled to know that much?" As Alaire remained

silent he let his eyes rove over her with a kind of angry

appreciation. "You're pretty enough to stampede any man," he

admitted. "Yes, and you've got money, too. I'll bet it's the

Ranger. So, you've been having your fling while I was away. Hunh!

We're tarred with the same stick."



"You don't really believe that," she told him, sharply.



"Why not? You've had enough opportunity. I don't see anything of

you, and haven't for years. Well, I was a fool to trust you."



Alaire's eyes were very dark and very bright as she said: "I

wonder how I have managed to live with you as long as I have. I

knew you were weak, nasty--so I was prepared for something like

this. But I never thought you were a downright criminal until--"



"Criminal? Rot!"



"How about that Guzman affair? You can't go much lower, Ed, and

you can't keep me here with you."



"I can't keep you, eh?" he growled. "Well, perhaps not. I suppose

you've got enough on me to secure a divorce, but I can air some of

your dirty linen. Oh, don't look like that! I mean it! Didn't you

spend a night with David Law?" He leered at her unpleasantly, then

followed a step as she drew back.



"Don't you touch me!" she cried.



A flush was deepening Ed's purple cheeks; his voice was peculiarly

brutal and throaty as he said: "The decree isn't entered yet, and

so long as you are Mrs. Austin I have rights. Yes, and I intend to

exercise them. You've made me jealous, and, by God--" He made to

encircle her with his arms and was half successful, but when

Alaire felt the heat of his breath in her face a sick loathing

sprang up within her, and, setting her back against the wall, she

sent him reeling. Whether she struck him or merely pushed him away

she never knew, for during the instant of their struggle she was

blind with indignation and fury. Profiting by her advantage, she

dodged past him, fled to her room, and locked herself in.



She heard him muttering profanely; heard him approach her chamber

more than once, then retire uncertainly, but she knew him too well

to be afraid.



Later that night she wrote two letters--one to Judge Ellsworth,

the other to Dave Law.



Jose Sanchez rode to the Morales house feeling some concern over

the summons that took him thither. He wondered what could have

induced General Longorio to forsake his many important duties in

order to make the long trip from Nuevo Pueblo; surely it could be

due to no lack of zeal on his, Jose's, part. No! The horse-breaker

flattered himself that he had made a very good spy indeed; that he

had been Longorio's eyes and ears so far as circumstances

permitted. Nor did he feel that he had been lax in making his

reports, for through Rosa he had written the general several

lengthy letters, and just for good measure these two had conjured

up sundry imaginary happenings to prove beyond doubt that Senora

Austin was miserably unhappy with her husband and ready to welcome

such a dashing lover as Longorio. Therefore Jose could not for the

life of him imagine wherein he had been remiss. Nevertheless, he

was uneasy, and he hoped that nothing had occurred to anger his

general.



But Longorio, when he arrived at the meeting-place, was not in a

bad humor. Having sent Rosa away on some errand, he turned to Jose

with a flashing smile, and said:



"Well, my good friend, the time has come."



Now Jose had no faintest idea what the general was talking about,

but to be called the good friend of so illustrious a person was

flattering. He nodded decisively.



"Yes, beyond doubt," he agreed.



"Mexico is in a bad way. These rebels are growing by the

thousands; they overrun the country like ants. You read the

papers, eh?"



"Sometimes; when there are enough pictures," said Jose.



"Ha! Then I doubt if you know what is happening. Well, I'll have

to tell you. Our enemies have taken all northern Mexico except

that part which is under my control; but they are pushing toward

me from two sides, and I prepare to retreat. That is not the

worst, however; the Gringos are hoping to profit by Mexico's

distress; they are making ready to invade our Fatherland, and

every Mexican must fight or become a slave."



This was indeed news! Jose began patriotically cursing the whole

American people.



"Understand, I make you my confidant because I think a great deal

of you, Jose." The general laid an affectionate hand upon Jose's

shoulder. "The first time I saw you I said: 'There's a boy after

my own heart. I shall learn to love that Jose, and I shall put him

in the way of his fortune.' Well, I have not changed my mind, and

the time is come. You are going to help me and I am going to help

you."



Jose Sanchez thrilled with elation from head to foot. This

promised to be the greatest day of his life, and he felt that he

must be dreaming.



"You haven't tired of Rosa, eh? You still wish to marry her?"

Longorio was inquiring.



"Yes. But, of course, I'm a poor man."



"Just so. I shall attend to that. Now we come to the object of my

visit. Jose, I propose to make you rich enough in one day so that

you can marry."



"But first, wait!" exclaimed the horse-breaker. "I bring you

something of value, too." Desiring to render favor for favor, and

to show that he was fully deserving of the general's generosity,

Jose removed from inside the sweatband of his hat a sealed,

stamped letter, which he handed to his employer. "Yesterday I

carried the mail to town, but as I rode away from Las Palmas the

senora handed me this, with a silver dollar for myself. Look! It

is written to the man we both hate."



Longorio took the letter, read the inscription, and then opened

the envelope. Jose looked on with pleasure while he spelled out

the contents.



When the general had finished reading, he exclaimed: "Ho! A

miracle! Now I know all that I wish to know."



"Then I did well to steal that letter, eh?"



"Diablo! Yes! That brute of a husband makes my angel's life

unbearable, and she flees to La Feria to be rid of him. Good! It

fits in with my plans. She will be surprised to see me there.

Then, when the war comes and all is chaos then what? I'll warrant

I can make her forget certain things and certain people." Longorio

nodded with satisfaction. "You did very well, Jose."



The latter leaned forward, his eyes bright. "That lady is rich. A

fine prize, truly. She would bring a huge ransom."



This remark brought a smile to Longorio's face. "My dear friend,

you do not in the least understand," he said. "Ransom! What an

idea!" He lost himself in meditation, then, rousing, spoke

briskly: "Listen! In two, three days, your senora will leave Las

Palmas. When she is gone you will perform your work, like the

brave man I know you to be. You will relieve her of her husband."



Jose hesitated, and the smile vanished from his face. "Senor Ed is

not a bad man. He likes me; he--" Longorio's gaze altered and Jose

fell silent.



"Come! You are not losing heart, eh? Have I not promised to make

you a rich man? Well, the time has arrived." Seeing that Jose

still manifested no eagerness, the general went on in a different

tone: "Do not think that you can withdraw from our little

arrangement. Oh no! Do you remember a promise I made to you when

you came to me in Romero? I said that if you played me false I

would bury you to the neck in an anthill and fill your mouth with

honey. I keep my promises."



Jose's struggle was brief; he promptly resigned himself to the

inevitable. With every evidence of sincerity he assured Longorio

of his loyalty, and denied the least intention of betraying his

general's confidence. What, after all, was his mission upon earth

if not to serve Longorio's interests? One might have a peaceful

heart and still be a man. Jose was every inch a man; he was a very

devil when he let himself go, and his Excellency need have no

fears as to the outcome of their plan. After all, the GRINGOS were

enemies, and there was no one of them who did not merit

destruction.



Pleased with these sentiments, and feeling sufficiently assured

that Jose was now really in the proper frame of mind to suit his

purpose, Longorio took the winding trail back toward Sangre de

Cristo.





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