The Priest From Monclova





That was a night of terror for the women. Although Longorio's

discipline was in some ways strict, in others it was extremely

lax. From some quarter his men had secured a supply of mescal,

and, forgetful of Felipe's unhappy fate, they rendered the hours

hideous. There were singing and quarreling, and a shot or two

sounded from the direction of the outbuildings. Morning found both

Alaire and Dolores sadly overwrought. But they felt some relief

upon learning that the general had been unexpectedly summoned from

his bed at daylight, and had ridden to the telegraph office.



Profiting by his absence, Alaire ventured from her room, racking

her brain to devise some means of escape. But soldiers were

everywhere; they lolled around the servants' quarters; they dozed

in the shade of the ranch buildings, recovering from the night's

debauch; and an armed sentinel who paced the hacienda road gave

evidence that, despite their apparent carelessness, they had by no

means relaxed their vigilance. A round of the premises convinced

Alaire that the place was effectually guarded, and showed her the

futility of trying to slip away. She realized, too, that even if

she managed to do so, her plight would be little better. For how

could she hope to cover the hundred miles between La Feria and the

Rio Grande when every peon was an enemy?



She was standing in one of the open, sashless windows when her

former protector, the old lieutenant, bade her good morning and

paused to smoke a cigarette.



"Well, it was a great night, wasn't it?" he began. "And we have

great news this morning. We are going to fight you gringos."



"I hope not."



"Yes; it will probably go hard with you. Tell me, this city of

Washington is a fine city, and very rich, is it not?"



"Oh yes."



"It's full of loot, eh? Especially the President's palace? That is

good. One can never believe all one hears."



"Why do you ask?" Alaire was curious.



"I was thinking it would pay us to go there. If your soldiers

march upon Mexico City, it would be a brilliant piece of strategy

for General Longorio to invade the United States, would it not? It

would be funny to capture Washington and hold your President for

ransom, eh?"



"Very funny," Alaire agreed, dryly. "How would you go about it?"



Pancho shrugged. "That is the trouble. We would have to march

around Texas, I presume."



"Around Texas?"



"Yes. You see, Texas is a bad country; it is full of--barbarians

who know how to fight. If it were not for Texas we would have the

United States at our mercy." After some consideration he ventured

this opinion: "We could afford to pay the Texans for allowing us

to ride through their country, provided we stole nothing and paid

for the cattle we ate. Well, Longorio is a great one for schemes;

he is talking over the telegraph with somebody at this moment.

Perhaps it is the President of Texas."



"You are a poor man, are you not?" Alaire inquired.



"Miserably poor."



"Would you like to make a great deal of money?"



"Dios! That is why I'm a soldier."



"I will pay you well to get me two horses--"



But old Pancho shook his head vigorously. "Impossible! General

Longorio is going to marry you. We all got drunk last night to

celebrate the wedding. Yes, and the priest is waiting."



"I will make you rich."



"Ho! I wouldn't live to spend a single peso. Felipe disobeyed

orders, and the general shot him before he could cross himself.

Boom! The poor fellow was in hell in a minute. No. We will all be

rich after we win a few battles and capture some American cities.

I am an old man; I shall leave the drinking and the women to the

young fellows, and prepare for my old age."



Seeing that she could not enlist Pancho's aid, Alaire begged him

to fetch the priest.



"You wish spiritual comfort, senora?"



"Perhaps."



"Well, he doesn't look like much of a priest, but probably he will

do. As for me, I don't believe in such things. Churches are all

very well for ignorant people, but we Mexicans are too

intelligent; we are making an end of them."



The priest was a small, white-haired man with a gentle, almost

timid face, and at the moment when he appeared before Alaire he

was in anything but a happy frame of mind. He had undergone, he

told her, a terrible experience. His name was O'Malley. He had

come from Monclova, whence the Rebels had banished him under

threat of death. He had seen his church despoiled of its

valuables, his school closed; he himself had managed to escape

only by a miracle. During his flight toward the border he had

suffered every indignity, and finally Longorio had intercepted him

and brought him here, practically in chains.



"What a situation! What chaos!" he lamented. "The land is overrun

with bandits; there is no law, no authority, no faith; religion is

made a mockery. The men are becoming infidels and atheists, and in

many places they will not allow us to give comfort even to their

women."



"Is it as bad as that?"



Father O'Malley shook his head sadly. "You've no idea. What do you

think of a people who forbid the mention of God's name in their

schools? That is what the revolutionists are doing. Candeleria

claims that the churches are the property of the State. He

confiscates them, and he charges admission. He has banished all

except a few of us priests, and has shamefully persecuted our

Sisters of Mercy. Oh, the outrages! Mexico is, today, the blackest

spot on the map of Christendom." His voice broke. "That is the

freedom, the liberty, the democracy, for which they are fighting.

That is the new Mexico. And the Federals are not a bit better.

This Longorio, for instance, this--wolf--he brings me here, as his

prisoner, to solemnize an unholy marriage! He treats me like a

dog. Last night I slept in a filthy hovel--"



"Oh! I'm sorry," Alaire exclaimed. "But I'm half crazed with my

own troubles. You must come into the house; the best I have is

yours. You shall be as much my guest as I can make you, and--

perhaps you will help me to escape." "Escape?" The little man

smiled mournfully. "You are watched and guarded, and so am I. Even

if you got away from here, what then? You can't imagine the

condition of the country."



"I won't marry him!" Alaire cried, with a shudder. "I won't!"



"He can't very well force you to do so. But remember, these are

war times; the man is a fiend, and he puts no restraint upon his

desires. If he is madly bent on having you, how can you prevent

it? In normal times he would not dare injure one so prominent as

you, but now--" Father O'Malley lifted his hands. "I only wonder

that he suggests a lawful marriage. Suppose you refuse? Will he

not sacrifice you to his passions? He has done worse things."

After a moment's consideration he said: "Of course it is possible

that I misjudge him. Anyhow, if you desire me to do so I will

refuse to perform the ceremony. But--I'm afraid it will just mean

ruin for both of us."



"Surely he wouldn't harm you?"



The Father shrugged. "What am I? An obscure priest. Many of my

brothers are buried in Mexico. However, I shall do as you wish."



As the day wore on Alaire realized even more clearly the fact that

she was Longorio's prisoner. His men, in spite of their recent

debauch, kept a very good watch over her, and it was plain that

they would obey his orders, no matter how extreme. It occurred to

her finally that he was staying away purposely, in order to give

her a fuller appreciation of her position--so that she might beat

her wings against the cage until exhausted.



Afternoon came, then evening, and still Longorio did not return,

Father O'Malley could give scant comfort; Dolores was a positive

trial.



Half distracted, Alaire roamed through the house, awaiting her

captor's coming, steeling herself for their final battle. But the

delay was trying; she longed for the crisis to come, that this

intolerable suspense might be ended. At such an hour her thoughts

naturally turned to Dave Law, and she found herself yearning for

him with a yearning utterly new. His love had supported her

through those miserable days at Las Palmas, but now it was a

torture; she called his name wildly, passionately. He knew her

whereabouts and her peril--why did he not come? Then, more calmly,

she asked herself what he, or what any one, could do for her. How

could she look for succor when two nations were at war?



Night had come before she finally gave up and acknowledged the

hopelessness of her situation. She had fought bravely, but with

darkness her fears grew blacker. She was on the verge of her first

breakdown when, in the early dusk outside, she heard voices and

the stamping of horses' hoofs. The sounds were muffled by the

heavy wooden shutters she had taken pains to close and bar, but

they told her that Longorio had returned. Since it was futile to

deny him entrance, she waited where she was. Old Pancho's voice

sounded outside; then there came a knock upon the door of the room

in which she stood.



"Come in," she said, tensely.



The lieutenant thrust his head in and, removing his hat,

announced, "There is someone here to see General Longorio on

important business. He says you will do."



"I?"



"Yes. He says he is one of us--"



Pancho was pushed aside, the door was flung back, and a man strode

swiftly into the lamplight. He paused, blinking as if momentarily

blinded, and Alaire clutched at the nearest chair for support. A

roaring began in her ears; she felt herself sway forward as if the

strength had left her knees. She heard Dave's voice faintly; he

was saying:



"Take care of my horse. Feed and water her well. Understand? When

General Longorio comes tell him I am waiting here."



As if in a dream, Alaire saw the Mexican go out, closing the door

behind him. Then she saw Dave come toward her, heard him speak her

name, felt his arms around her.



Alaire did not swoon, but she never could remember very distinctly

those first few moments. Scarcely knowing what she did, she found

herself clinging to her lover, laughing, weeping, feeling him over

with shaking hands that would not be convinced of his reality. She

was aware of his kisses upon her lips, her eyes, her hair; he was

saying something which she could not understand because of that

roaring in her ears.



"You heard me calling," she told him at last. "Oh, I was--so

frightened!" She clung closer to him. After a time she discovered

that she was mechanically nodding and shaking her head at the

questions he was putting to her, but had only the vaguest idea

what they were. By and by she began to tell him about Longorio,

speaking in a sort of hypnotic murmur, as if her words issued at

his mental suggestion. And all the time she snuggled against his

breast.



"Dearest!" Dave held her away in gentle hands. "I was afraid you'd

go to pieces like this, but I had to break through the best way I

could. I learned you were here and something about what was going

on from the people at the next ranch. But I expected to find HIM

here, too."



"How did you manage to get here?"



"I hardly know. I just wouldn't let 'em stop me. This lieutenant

wouldn't let me in until I told him I was from Monterey with

important news. I don't remember all I did tell him. I tried to

get here last night, but I had trouble. They caught me, and I had

to buy my way through. I've bribed and bullied and lied clear from

Romero. I reckon they couldn't imagine I'd risk being here if I

wasn't a friend."



It was more Dave's tone than his words that roused Alaire to an

appreciation of what he said.



"Are you alone?" she asked, in vague dismay. "Then what are we

going to do?"



"I don't know yet. My plans ended here."



"Dave! You rode in just to find me! Just to be with me?"



"Yes. And to get HIM." Alaire saw his face twitch, and realized

that it was very haggard, very old and tired. "They lifted my

guns--a bunch of fellows at the Rio Negro crossing. Some of them

were drunk and wouldn't believe I was an amigo. So I finally had

to ride for it."



"Can't you take me away?" she asked, faintly. "What will you do

when--he comes?"



"I reckon I'll manage him somehow." His grip upon her tightened

painfully, and she could feel him tremble. "I was afraid I

wouldn't find you. I--O God, Alaire!" He buried his face in her

hair.



"I had a terrible scene with him last night. He insists upon

marrying me. I--I was hoping you'd come."



"How could I, when nobody knew where you were?"



"Didn't you know? I wrote you." He shook his head. "Then how did

you learn?"



"From Jose. I caught him within an hour of the murder, and made

him tell me everything."



Alaire's eyes dilated; she held herself away, saying,

breathlessly: "Murder! Is that what it was? He--Longorio--told me

something quite different."



"Naturally. It was he who hired Jose to do the shooting."



"Oh-h!" Alaire hid her face in her hands. She looked up again

quickly, however, and her cheeks were white. "Then he won't spare

you, Dave." She choked for an instant. "We must get away before he

comes. There must be some way of escape. Think!"



"I'm pretty tired to think. I'm pretty near played out," he

confessed.



"They're watching me, but they'd let you go."



"Now that I'm here I'm going to stay until--"



She interrupted, crying his name loudly, "Dave!"



"Yes. What is it?"



"Wait! Let me think." She closed her eyes; her brows drew together

as if in the labor of concentration. When she lifted her lids her

eyes were alight, her voice was eager. "I know how. I see it. He

won't dare--But you must do what I tell you."



"Of course."



"No questions. Understand?"



When he nodded impatiently she ran to the door and, flinging it

open, called down the hall:



"Father! Father O'Malley! Quick!" Then she summoned Dolores.



The priest answered; he hurried from his room and, with a dazed

lack of comprehension, acknowledged his swift introduction to

Dave. Alaire was keenly alive and vibrant with purpose now.

Dolores, too, came running, and while the men were exchanging

greetings her mistress murmured something in her ear, then

hastened her departure with a quick push. Turning upon the others,

Alaire explained:



"I've sent for some of the women, and they'll be here in a minute.

Father, this man has come for me. He loves me. Will you marry us,

before Longorio arrives?"



"Alaire!" Dave exclaimed.



She stilled him with a gesture. "Quick! Will you?"



Father O'Malley was bewildered. "I don't understand," he

expostulated.



"Nor I," echoed Dave.



"You don't need to understand. I know what I'm doing. I've thought

of a way to save us all."



Through Dave's mind flashed the memory of that thing which had

haunted him and made his life a nightmare. An incoherent refusal

was upon his lips, but Alaire's face besought him; it was shining

with a strange, new ecstasy, and he could not bring himself to

deny her. Of what her plan consisted he had only the dimmest idea,

but he assured himself that it could by no possibility succeed.

After all, what did it matter? he asked himself. They were

trapped. This might serve, somehow, to cheat Longorio, and--Alaire

would be his wife.



"Very well," he stammered, weakly. "What are you thinking of?"



"I haven't thought it all out yet, but--"



At that moment Dolores returned, bringing with her the three

black-haired, black-shawled house servants, bundling them through

the door and ranging them along the wall.



Father O'Malley's face was puckered; he said, hesitatingly: "My

dear madam, this isn't regular; you are not Catholics. How can I

bless you?"



"You can marry us legally, just the same, can't you?" Alaire was

breathing rapidly, and some part of her eagerness began to thrill

her hearers.



"Oh yes, but--"



"Then marry us. And make haste, please! Please!"



Law nodded. He could not speak, for his mouth was dry. A voice

within him shouted a warning, but he would not listen. His heart

was beating violently; his temples were pounding; all the blood of

his body seemed centered in his head.



Before the eyes of the four wondering women Father O'Malley

married them. It seemed to Alaire that he would never reach the

end, although, in fact, he stumbled through the ceremony swiftly.

Alaire clipped his last words short by crying:



"Tell these people so that they'll understand what it all means.

Tell them to remember they have seen a marriage by the Church."



The priest did as he was directed, and his audience signified

their understanding. Then Dolores led them out





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