The Dawn





Juan Garcia proved to be a good guide, and he saved the refugees

many miles on their road to the Rio Grande. But every farm and

every village was a menace, and at first they were forced to make

numerous detours. As the night grew older, however, they rode a

straighter course, urging their horses to the limit, hoping

against hope to reach the border before daylight overtook them.

This they might have done had it not been for Father O'Malley and

Dolores, who were unused to the saddle and unable to maintain the

pace Juan set for them.



About midnight the party stopped on the crest of a flinty ridge to

give their horses breath and to estimate their progress. The night

was fine and clear; outlined against the sky were the stalks of

countless sotol-plants standing slim and bare, like the upright

lances of an army at rest; ahead the road meandered across a mesa,

covered with grama grass and black, formless blots of shrubbery.



Father O'Malley groaned and shifted his weight. "Juan tells me

we'll never reach Romero by morning, at this rate," he said; and

Dave was forced to agree. "I think you and he and Alaire had

better go on and leave Dolores and me to follow as best we can."



Dolores plaintively seconded this suggestion. "I would rather be

burned at the stake than suffer these agonies," she confessed. "My

bones are broken. The devil is in this horse. "She began to weep

softly. "Go, senora. Save yourself! It is my accursed fat stomach

that hinders me. Tell Benito that I perished breathing his name,

and see to it, when he remarries, that he retains none of my

treasures."



Alaire reassured her by saying: "We won't leave you. Be brave and

make the best of it."



"Yes, grit your teeth and hold on," Dave echoed. "We'll manage to

make it somehow."



But progress was far slower than it should have been, and the

elder woman continued to lag behind, voicing her distress in

groans and lamentations. The priest, who was made of sterner

stuff, did his best to bear his tortures cheerfully.



In spite of their efforts the first rosy heralds of dawn

discovered them still a long way from the river and just entering

a more thickly settled country. Daylight came swiftly, and Juan

finally gave them warning.



"We can't go on; the danger is too great," he told them. "If the

soldiers are still in Romero, what then?"



"Have you no friends hereabouts who would take us in?" Dave

inquired.



The Mexican shook his head.



Dave considered for a moment. "You must hide here," he told his

companions, "while I ride on to Romero and see what can be done. I

suspect Blanco's troops have left, and in that case everything

will be all right."



"Suppose they haven't?" Alaire inquired. All night she had been in

the lightest of moods, and had steadily refused to take their

perils seriously. Now her smile chased the frown from her

husband's face.



"Well, perhaps I'll have breakfast with them," he laughed.



"Silly. I won't let you go," she told him, firmly; and, reading

the expression in her face, he felt a dizzy wonder. "We'll find a

nice secluded spot; then we'll sit down and wait for night to

come. We'll pretend we're having a picnic."



Dolores sighed at the suggestion. "That would be heaven, but there

can be no sitting down for me."



Garcia, who had been standing in his stirrups scanning the long,

flat road ahead, spoke sharply: "CARAMBA! Here come those very

soldiers now! See!"



Far away, but evidently approaching at a smart gait, was a body of

mounted men. After one look at them Dave cried:



"Into the brush, quick!" He hurried his companions ahead of him,

and when they had gone perhaps a hundred yards from the road he

took Juan's Winchester, saying: "Ride in a little way farther and

wait. I'm going back. If you hear me shoot, break for the river.

Ride hard and keep under cover as much as possible." Before they

could remonstrate he had wheeled Montrosa and was gone.



This was luck, he told himself. Ten miles more and they would have

been safe, for the Rio Grande is not a difficult river either to

ford or to swim. He dismounted and made his way on foot to a point

where he could command a view, but he had barely established

himself when he found Alaire at his side.



"Go back," he told her. But she would not, and so they waited

together.



There were perhaps a dozen men in the approaching squad, and Dave

saw that they were heavily accoutred. They rode fast, too, and at

their head galloped a large man under a wide-brimmed felt hat. It

soon became evident that the soldiers were not uniformed.

Therefore, Dave reasoned, they were not Federals, but more

probably some Rebel scouting band from the south, and yet--He

rubbed his eyes and stared again.



Dave pressed forward eagerly, incredulously; the next instant he

had broken cover with a shout. Alaire was at his side, clapping

her hands and laughing with excitement



The cavalcade halted; the big man tumbled from his saddle and came

straddling through the high grass, waving his hat and yelling.



"Blaze! You old scoundrel!" Dave cried, and seized one of the

ranchman's palms while Alaire shook the other.



"Say! We're right glad to see you-all," Jones exclaimed. "We

reckoned you might be havin' a sort of unpleasantness with

Longorio, so we organized up and came to get you."



The other horsemen were crowding close now, and their greetings

were noisy. There were the two Guzman boys, Benito Gonzales, Phil

Strange, and a number of Jonesville's younger and more adventurous

citizens.



In the midst of the tumult Benito inquired for his wife, and Dave

relieved his anxiety by calling Dolores and Father O'Malley. Then,

in answer to the questions showered upon him, he swiftly sketched

the story of Alaire's rescue and their flight from La Feria.



When he had finished Blaze Jones drew a deep breath. "We're mighty

glad you got out safe, but you've kicked the legs from under one

of my pet ambitions. I sure had planned to nail Longorio's hide on

my barn door. Yes, and you've taken the bread out of the mouths of

the space writers and sob sisters from here to Hudson's Bay. Miz

Austin, your picture's in every newspaper in the country, and,

believe me, it's the worst atrocity of the war."



"War!" Father O'Malley had joined the group now, and he asked,

"Has war been declared?"



"Not yet, but we've got hopes." To Alaire Blaze explained:

"Ellsworth's in Washington, wavin' the Stars and Stripes and

singin' battle hymns, but I reckon the government figures that the

original of those newspaper pictures would be safe anywhere. Well,

we've got our own ideas in Jonesville, so some of us assembled

ourselves and declared war on our own hook. These gentlemen"--

Blaze waved his hand proudly at his neighbors--"constitute the

Jonesville Guards, the finest body of American men that has

invaded Mexican soil since me and Dave went after Ricardo Guzman's

remains. Blamed if I ain't sorry you sidetracked our expedition."



It was evident, from the words of the others, that the Jonesville

Guards were indeed quite as heedless of international

complications as was their commander. One and all were highly

incensed at Longorio's perfidy, and, had Alaire suggested such a

thing, it was patent that they would have ridden on to La Feria

and exacted a reckoning from him.



Such proof of friendship affected her deeply, and it was not until

they were all under way back toward Romero that she felt she had

made her appreciation fully known. When she reflected that these

men were some of the very neighbors whom she had shunned and

slighted, and whose honest interest she had so habitually

misconstrued all these years, it seemed very strange that they

should feel the least concern over her. It gave her a new

appreciation of their chivalry and their worth; it filled her with

a humble desire to know them better and to strengthen herself in

their regard. Then, too, the esteem in which they held Dave--her

husband--gratified her intensely. It made no more difference to

them than to her that he was a poor man, a man without authority

or position; they evidently saw and loved in him the qualities

which she saw and loved. And that was as it should be.



They were gentle and considerate men, too, as she discovered when

they told her, bit by bit, what had happened during her absence.

She learned, much to her relief, that Ed's funeral had been held,

and that all the distressing details of the inquiry had been

attended to. Jose Sanchez, it appeared, had confessed freely.

Although her new friends made plain their indignation at the

manner of Ed's taking off, they likewise let her know that they

considered his death only a slight loss, either to her or to the

community. Not one of them pretended it was anything except a

blessing.



The journey drew to an end very quickly. Romero, deserted now by

its garrison, stirred and stared sleepily at the invaders, but

concerned itself with their presence no more than to wonder why

they laughed and talked so spiritedly. Plainly, these gringos were

a barbarous race of people, what with their rushing here and

there, and with their loud, senseless laughter. God had wisely

placed them beyond the Rio Grande, said the citizens of Romero.



The crossing was made; Alaire found herself in Texas once again,

and it seemed to her that the sun had never been so bright, the

air so clear, the sky so high, the world so smiling, as here and

now. The men who had ridden forth to seek her were smiling, too,

and they were shaking her hands and congratulating her. Even the

Guzman boys, who were shy in the presence of American ladies, were

wishing her the best of fortune and the greatest of happiness.



Blaze Jones was the last to leave. With especial emphasis upon her

name, he said: "Miz Austin, Paloma and me would like to have you

come to our house and stay until you feel like goin' back to Las

Palmas."



When Alaire declined with moistened eyes, explaining that she

could not well accept his invitation, he signified his

understanding.



"We're goin' to see a lot of you, just the same," he promised her,

"'cause we feel as if you sort of belonged to us. There's a lot of

good people in this part of Texas, and them that ain't so good God

and the Rangers is slowly weedin' out. We don't always know the

ones we like best until something happens to 'em, but if you'd

heard the prayers the folks of Jonesville have been sayin' lately

you'd know you was our favorite." Then, with a meaning twinkle in

his eye, he told her, gravely: "It seems a pity that I ain't

younger and better-lookin'. I would sure cut short your grief."

Then he raised his hat and rode away, chuckling.



Alaire turned to Dave in dismay. "He knows!" she cried.



"I'm afraid they all know. But don't worry; they'll respect our

wishes."



Father O'Malley had ridden on ahead with Benito and Dolores; Dave

and Alaire followed leisurely. Now that the moment of their

parting was at hand, they lingered by the way, delaying it as long

as possible, feeling a natural constraint at what was in their

minds.



"How long--will it be?" he asked her, finally. "How long before I

can really have you for my own?"



Alaire smiled into his eyes. "Not long. But you'll be patient,

won't you, dear?"



He took her hand in his, and they rode on silently, a song in the

heart of each of them.





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