The Man Of Destiny





"Now, then, I'll explain," said Alaire, turning to the men.

"Longorio declares he won't have me except as his wife, and I

think he means it. He is amazingly egotistical. He has tremendous

ambitions. He thinks this war is his great opportunity, and he

means to be President--he's sure of it. He loves me, but he loves

himself better, I'm sure. Now, don't you see? He'll have to choose

one or the other."



Father O'Malley did not appear to appreciate the full force of

this reasoning. "My dear," he said, gravely, "he can make you a

widow again. In such times as these men are savages."



"Oh, but that's not all." Alaire turned to her newly made husband.

"They let you in, and they'll let you out again--if you go

quickly, before it's known what we've done."



Dave stared at her in bewilderment. "I? I go, and--leave you?" He

seemed doubtful of her sanity.



"Yes." When he laughed shortly, Alaire cried: "Dave, you must!

Don't you see what I'm driving at? If he can't marry me, if he

finds you're gone and he can't lay hands on you, what can he do

but let me go? Dave dear, for my sake, for the sake of us both--"



"You're excited," he told her, and drew her to himself gently.



"Please! PLEASE!" she implored.



"You don't know that man," said Father O'Malley, with conviction.



But Alaire insisted, half hysterically now: "I do; that's just it,

I DO know him. He is planning the greatest things for himself, his

head is in the clouds, and he daren't do the things he used to do.

That's why I called in those women as witnesses. He can't put THEM

out of the way. With Dave gone I'll be safe. He can't ignore our

marriage. But otherwise--There's no telling what he may do. Why,

he'll kill you, Dave, as he killed Ed." She upturned a face

eloquent with pleading. "Won't you do this for me?"



"No!" Law declared, firmly. "You wouldn't ask it if you were in

your senses. Get me a gun and I'll shoot my way out. We'll go

until they stop us. But don't ask me to leave you."



She searched his face eagerly, piteously, then with a quivering

sigh relaxed her tension. "Then we've only made matters worse.

You've spoiled our only chance."



Father O'Malley, who had been lost in thought, spoke up again:

"Perhaps you will let me try my wits. But first, do I understand

that it was he who effected the death of--Mr. Austin?"



Dave recounted as coherently as he could the circumstances of Ed's

death, and told how he had learned, through Jose, of Longorio's

intentions. As the priest listened a spot of color grew in his

cheeks, his eyes glowed with indignation. He was about to make

known what was in his mind when Alaire raised her hand and in a

strained whisper exclaimed:



"'Sh-h! Listen!"



The heavy door of the hacienda creaked, a quick tread sounded on

the tiles, the door to the living-room was flung open, and

Longorio entered. He was hot and dusty from his ride, but with a

lover's impetuosity he had made straight for this lighted room.



For the briefest instant he balanced himself just inside the

portal, and the smile remained fixed upon his lips. Then his eyes

became ringed with white and he made a swift, catlike movement of

retreat. Plainly this was the supremest surprise of his lifetime,

and he seemed to doubt his senses. But he recovered quickly.

Thrusting his head forward, he demanded:



"What is this? You--and you?" He stared from Dave to the priest,

then back again.



They all spoke at once, but he heard only Alaire's words:



"He came to find me."



Pancho appeared in the doorway behind Longorio, saying, "I heard

you ride up, sir, so I ran to tell you about this fellow."



But the general cut him short. "Call your men, quick," he cried in

a voice that sent the soldier leaping back into the night.



Alaire was clinging to Dave, merely clutching him the tighter when

he tried to unclasp her hold. Her movement into the shelter of his

rival's arms infuriated Longorio, who uttered an exclamation and

fumbled uncertainly with his holster. But his fingers were clumsy.

He could not take his eyes from the pair, and he seemed upon the

point of rushing forward to tear them apart.



"Don't touch her! Don't--" he began, cursing in a high-pitched

voice. "God! What a reckoning!" Then he stamped his feet, he wrung

his hands, he called shrilly at the top of his voice: "Lieutenant!

Ho, Pancho! You fellows! Quickly!" Under the stress of his

excitement the feminine side of his character betrayed itself.



Alaire felt her newly made husband gather himself for a spring; he

was muttering to her to release him; he was trying to push her

aside, but she held fast with the strength of desperation.



"You can't harm us," she declared, flinging her words defiantly at

the Mexican. "You dare not. You are too late. Father O'Malley has

just married us."



Longorio uttered a peculiar, wordless cry of dismay; his mouth

fell open; his arms dropped; he went limp all over, paralyzed

momentarily by surprise and horror; his eyes protruded; he swayed

as if his sight had blurred.



"I said I'd never marry you," she rushed on, vibrantly. "This is

the man I love--the only man. Yes, and I've learned the truth

about you. I know who killed Mr. Austin."



Longorio did a very unexpected thing then; slowly, unconsciously,

as if the movement were the result of a half-forgotten training,

he crossed himself.



But now from the hall at his back came the pounding of boot-heels,

and a half dozen panting troopers tumbled through the door. He

waved them back and out into the hall again.



Father O'Malley, who had been trying to make himself heard,

stepped in front of the general and said, solemnly: "Take care

what you do, Longorio. I have married these people, and you can't

undo what I have done. We are American citizens. The laws of

civilization protect us."



The Mexican fought for his voice, then stammered: "You are my

priest; I brought you here. I offered to marry her. Now--you force

me to damn my soul." Turning his eyes wildly upon Alaire, he

shouted: "Too late, eh? You say I am too late! It seems that I am

barely in time."



Dave added his words to the others: "You are ten to one, but you

can't have her," he cried, defiantly. "Jose Sanchez confessed to

the murder of Mr. Austin, and told how you had got Mrs. Austin to

come here. The whole thing is known in Washington and Mexico City

by this time. The newspapers have it; everybody knows you are

keeping her as your prisoner, and that I have come for her. If she

is harmed, all Mexico, all the world, will know that you are worse

than a murderer."



Longorio reached behind his back and slammed the door in the faces

of his listening men.



"What is this? What did Jose confess?" he inquired, sharply.



"He swears you hired him."



"Bah! The word of a pelador."



In spite of the man's contemptuous tone Dave saw the expression in

his face and made a quick decision. "There's a limit to what you

dare to do, Longorio. I'm unarmed; I make no resistance, so there

is no excuse for violence. I surrender to you, and claim

protection for myself and my wife."



But Longorio was not to be tricked. "Good!" he cried,

triumphantly. "I have been looking forward to something like this,

and I shall give myself a great pleasure." He laid a hand upon the

doorknob, but before he could turn it the Catholic priest had him

by the arm, and with a strength surprising in one of his stature

wrenched him away. Father O'Malley's face was white and terrible;

his voice was deep, menacing; the hand he raised above Longorio

seemed to brandish a weapon.



"Stop!" he thundered. "Are you a madman? Destruction hangs over

you; destruction of body and soul. You dare not separate those

whom God hath joined."



"God! God!" the other shrilled. "I don't believe in Him. I am a

god; I know of no other."



"Blasphemer!" roared the little man. "Listen, then. So surely as

you harm these people, so surely do you kill your earthly

prospects. You, the first man of Mexico, the Dictator indeed!

Think what you are doing before it is too late. Is your dream of

greatness only a dream? Will you sacrifice yourself and all your

aspirations in the heat of this unholy and impossible passion?

Tonight, now, you must choose whether you will be famous or

infamous, glorious or shameful, honored or dishonored! Restrain

your hatred and conquer your lust, or forego for ever your dreams

of empire and pass into oblivion."



"You are a meddler," Longorio stormed. "You make a loud noise, but

I shall rid Mexico of your kind. We shall have no more of you

priests."



Father O'Malley shook the speaker as a parent shakes an unruly

child. "See! You have completely lost your head. But I want you to

listen to what I am saying. Whether you are more good than evil,

God must judge, but the people of Mexico are good people, and they

will not be ruled by a man who is wholly bad. You have the power

to remove this man and this woman, yes, and this priest who dares

to point out the pit at your feet; but if you do you will never

command another Mexican army. There is no war. We are not your

enemies. The world knows we are here, and it holds you accountable

for our safety. To-morrow you will have to face the reckoning."



Longorio listened. It was plain that he recognized the truth of

O'Malley's words, but he was convulsed with rage.



"Good!" he cried. "I see my dreams dissolve, but I am not the

first great man to trade an empire for a woman. Antony, the Roman

general, laid his honor in a woman's arms. I had a shining

destiny, but Mexico will be the sufferer by my betrayal. Instead

of Longorio the Deliverer, I shall be known as Longorio the Lover,

the man who gave all--"



O'Malley interrupted forcefully. "Enough of this! Come with me. I

have something more to say to you." He flung open the door into

the hall and, taking the general by the arm, fairly dragged him

from the room and into the one opposite. The lieutenant and his

men looked on in amazement, shuffling their feet and shifting

their rifle butts noisily upon the floor.



Alaire turned an anxious face to Dave, saying: "He is wonderful.

Longorio is almost--afraid of him."



"Yes; he may bring him to his senses. If he doesn't--" Dave cast

his eyes desperately over the room, conscious all the time that he

was being watched with suspicion by the men outside. He stirred

restlessly and moistened his lips. "Longorio would be crazy to

injure you."



Ten minutes passed; fifteen. Alaire leaned, motionless, against

the table; Dave paced about, followed by the eyes of the soldiers.

One of the latter struck a match, and in the silence it sounded

like a gunshot. Dave started, at which the soldiers laughed. They

began to talk in murmurs. The odor of cigarette smoke drifted in

to the man and the woman.



Finally the door through which Father O'Malley and Longorio had

passed opened, and the priest emerged. He was alone. His face was

flushed and damp; his eyes were glowing. He forced the Mexicans

out of his way and, entering the living-room, closed the door

behind him.



"Well?" his two friends questioned, anxiously.



"I've done all I can. The rest is out of our hands." The little

man sat down heavily and mopped his forehead.



"What does he say?"



"He told me to come here and wait. I never saw a man so torn, so

distracted."



"Then he is wavering. Oh-h!" Alaire clasped her hands in

thanksgiving, but the Father cautioned her:



"Don't be too sanguine. He is not afraid of consequences. He

appears to have no conscience. He is without mercy and seems lost

to shame. I have never met a man quite like him. Do you know what

he feels at this moment? Chagrin. Yes, mortification raised to the

highest pitch, and a sort of stupefaction that you should prefer

another man to him. He can't understand your lack of taste."

Father O'Malley smiled faintly.



"Conceited idiot," Dave growled.



"His humiliation kills him. When I saw that it was useless to

appeal to him on moral grounds, and that threats were unavailing,

I took another course. Something gave me insight into his mind,

and the power to talk as I have never talked before. All in a

flash I saw the man's soul laid bare before me, and--I think I

played upon it with some cunning. I don't remember all I said, for

I was inspired, but I appealed to his vanity and to his conceit,

and as I went along I impressed upon him, over and over, the fact

that the world knows we are here and that it trusts him. He

aspires to the Presidency; he believes he is destined to be

Mexico's Dictator; so I painted a picture that surpassed his own

imaginings. He would have been suspicious of mere flattery, so I

went far beyond that and inflamed him with such extravagant

visions as only a child or an unblushing egotist like him could

accept. I swelled his vanity; I inflated his conceit. For a

moment, at least, I lifted him out of himself and raised him to

the heights."



From beyond the closed door came Longorio's voice, issuing some

command to his men. A moment passed; then he appeared before the

three Americans. He seemed taller, thinner, more erect and

hawklike than ever. His head was held more proudly and his chest

was fuller. A set, disdainful smile was graven upon his face.



He began by addressing his words directly to Alaire. "Senora," he

said, "I am a man of deep feeling and I scorn deceit. Therefore I

offer no apology for my recent display of emotion. If I have

seemed to press my advances with undue fervor, it is because, at

heart, I am as great a lover as I am a statesman or a soldier. But

there are other things than love. Nature constituted me a leader,

and he who climbs high must climb alone. I offered Chapultepec as

a shrine for your beauty. I offered to share Mexico with you, and

I told you that I would not be content with less than all of you.

Well I meant it. Otherwise--I would take you now." His voice

throbbed with a sudden fierce desire, and his long, lean hands

closed convulsively. "You must realize that I have the courage and

the power to defy the world, eh?" He seemed to challenge denial of

this statement, but, receiving none, he went on, fixing his

brilliant, feverish eyes once more upon Alaire. "As a man of

sentiment I am unique; I am different from any you have ever

known. I would not possess a flower without its fragrance. You did

not believe me when I told you that, but I am going to prove it.

All your life you are going to think of me as heroic. Perhaps no

patriot in history ever made a more splendid sacrifice for his

country than I make now. Some day the world will wonder how I had

the strength to put aside love and follow the path of duty."



Alaire trusted herself to ask, "Then we are free to go?"



The general's face was swept by a grimace intended for a smile. "I

have ordered your horses to be saddled."



Dave, who had with difficulty restrained his anger at the fellow's

bombast, was upon the point of speaking when Father O'Malley took

the words out of his mouth:



"Would you send this woman out of her own house into a country

like--like this? Remember the fortune in cattle you have already

taken--"



Longorio broke in with a snarl: "Is it my fault that the country

is in arms? Military necessity compels me to remain here. I

consider myself magnanimous. I--" His voice cracked, and he made a

despairing, violent gesture. "Go, before I change my mind."



Dave signaled to the others, and Alaire slipped away to make

herself ready. During the uncomfortable silence which succeeded

her departure, Longorio paced the room, keeping his eyes

resolutely turned away from Law.



"Do you mean that I, too, may go?" O'Malley inquired.



"What good are you to me?" snapped the general.



"You will give us safe conduct?"



"Be still, priest!" Longorio glared at the speaker, clasping and

unclasping his fists behind his back.



With the sound of hoofs outside, Alaire and Dolores appeared, and

the Mexican straightened himself with an effort.



"Adios, senora!" he said, with a stiff bow. "We have had a

pleasant friendship and a thrilling flirtation, eh? I shall never

cease to regret that Fate interrupted at such an interesting

moment. Adios! Adios!" He bowed formally, in turn to Dave and to

the priest, then resumed his pacing, with his hands at his back

and his brow furrowed as if in a struggle with affairs of greater

moment than this.



But when he heard the outside door creak shut behind them his

indifference vanished and he halted with head turned in an effort

to catch the last sounds of their departure. His face was like

tallow now, his lips were drawn back from his teeth as if in

supreme agony. A moment and the hoofbeats had died away. Then

Longorio slipped his leash.



He uttered a cry--a hoarse, half-strangled shriek that tore his

throat. He plucked the collar from his neck as if it choked him;

he beat his breast. Seizing whatever article his eye fell upon, he

tore and crushed it; he swept the table clean of its queer Spanish

bric-a-brac, and trampled the litter under his heels. Spying a

painting of a saint upon the wall, he ran to it, ripped it from

its nail, and, raising it over his head, smashed frame and glass,

cursing all saints, all priests, and churchly people. Havoc

followed him as he raged about the place wreaking his fury upon

inanimate objects. When he had well-nigh wrecked the contents of

the room, and when his first paroxysm had spent its violence, he

hurled himself into a chair, writhing in agony. He bit his wrists,

he pounded his fists, he kicked; finally he sprawled full length

upon the floor, clawing at the cool, smooth tiles until his nails

bled.



"Christ! O Christ!" he screamed.



The sound of his blasphemies reached the little group of soldiers

who had lingered curiously outside, and they listened open-

mouthed. One by one they crossed themselves and stole away into

the darkness, muttering.





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