The Truth About Panfilo





Nothing more was said during the luncheon, but when Alaire had

finished eating and her two employees had begun their meal, she

climbed the bank of the arroyo ostensibly to find a cool spot.

Having succeeded, she called to Dave:



"There is a nice breeze up here."



The Ranger's face set; rising slowly, he climbed the bank after

her. When they stood face to face in the shade of a gnarly oak-

tree, Alaire asked him point-blank:



"Where is Panfilo Sanchez?"



Dave met her eyes squarely; his own were cold and hard. "He's

where he dropped at my second shot," said he.



He could hear his companion's sharp inhalation. He did not flinch

at the look she turned upon him.



"Then--you killed him?"



"Yes'm!"



"God! He was practically unarmed! What do you call--such an act?"



Dave's lips slowly whitened, his face became stony. He closed his

eyes, then opened them upon hers. "He had it coming. He stole my

horse. He took a chance."



Mrs. Austin turned away. For a time they were silent and Dave felt

himself pitilessly condemned.



"Why didn't you tell me at the time?" she asked. "Why didn't you

report it?"



"I'll report it when you give me permission."



"I--? What--?" She wheeled to face him.



"Think a moment. I can't tell half the truth. And if I tell

everything it will lead to--gossip."



"Ah! I think I understand. Mr. Law, you can be insulting--"



For the first time the man lost muscular control of his features;

they twitched, and under their tan his cheeks became a sickly

yellow.



"You've no right to say that," he told her, harshly. "You've plumb

overstepped yourself, ma'am, and--I reckon you've formed quite a

wrong opinion of me and of the facts. Let me tell you something

about that killing and about myself, so you'll have it all

straight before you bring in your verdict. You say Panfilo was

unarmed, and you call it--murder. He had his six-shooter and he

used it; he had the darkness and the swiftest horse, too. He

intended to ambush me and release his companion, but I forced his

hand; so it ain't what I'd call murder. Now about myself:

Panfilo isn't the first man I've killed, and he may not be the

last, but I haven't lost any sleep over it, and I'd have killed

him just as quick if I hadn't been an officer. That's the kind of

man I am, and you may as well know it. I--"



"You are utterly ruthless."



"Yes'm!"



"You left him there without burial."



Law shrugged impatiently. "What's the difference? He's there to

stay; and he's just as dead under the stars as he'd be under the

sand. I'd rather lie facing the sky than the grass roots."



"But--you must have known it would get out, sometime. This puts

both of us in a very bad light."



"I know. But I stood on my cards. I'd have preferred to report it,

but--I'd keep still again, under the same circumstances. You seem

to consider that an insult. If it is, I don't know how to

compliment you, ma'am."



Alaire pondered this statement briefly before saying, "You have a

strange way of looking at the affair--a strange, careless,

unnatural way, it seems to me."



"Perhaps that's the fault of my training. I'm not what you would

consider a nice person; the death of Panfilo Sanchez means nothing

whatever to me. If you can grasp that fact, you'll see that your

own reputation weighed heavier in my mind than the lives of a

dozen Mexicans--or whites, for that matter. People know me for

what I am, and--that may have had something to do with my

decision."



"I go anywhere, everywhere. No one has ever had the effrontery to

question my actions," Alaire told him, stiffly.



"And I don't aim to give 'em a chance." Dave was stubborn.



There was another interval of silence.



"You heard what Jose said. What are you going to do?"



Dave made a gesture of indifference. "It doesn't greatly matter.

I'll tell him the truth, perhaps."



Such an attitude was incomprehensible to Alaire and brought an

impatient frown to her brow. "You don't seem to realize that he

will try to revenge himself."



"You might warn him against any such foolishness. Jose has some

sense."



The woman looked up curiously. "Don't you know how to be afraid?

Haven't you any fear?" she asked.



Dave's gray eyes were steady as he answered: "Yes'm! I'm afraid

this thing is going to spoil our friendship. I've been desperately

afraid, all along, that I might have hurt your reputation. Even

now I'm afraid, on your account, to make public Panfilo Sanchez's

death. Yes'm, I know what it is to be afraid."



"I presume the law would hold you blameless," she said,

thoughtfully.



"If there was any doubt about that it would be another matter

entirely. A Ranger can get away with a heap more than killing a

Mexican. No! It's up to you to say what I shall do."



"Let me think it over. Jose mustn't know to-day, that's certain."



"I'm in your hands."



They returned to the automobile in silence, but as they took their

seats Dave said:



"You're tired, ma'am. Won't you let me drive?"



"Can you?"



When he smiled his answer, Alaire was only too glad to give up the

wheel, for her nerves were indeed unsteady and she was grateful

for an opportunity to think out the best course to pursue in this

unexpected difficulty. Later, as she listened to Law's

inconsequential talk with Dolores and Jose, and watched the way he

handled the car, she marveled at his composure. She wondered if

this man could have a heart.



It became evident to Dave, as the afternoon progressed, that they

would be very late in arriving at Las Palmas; for although he

drove as rapidly as he dared over such roads, the miles were long

and the going heavy. They were delayed, too, by a mishap that held

them back for an hour or two, and he began to fear that his

hostess would feel in duty bound to insist upon his spending the

night at her home. To accept, after his clash with Ed Austin, was

of course impossible, and he dreaded another explanation at this

particular crisis.



That a crisis in their relations had arisen he felt sure. He had

tried to make plain his attitude of mind toward the killing of

Panfilo Sanchez, and the wisdom of his course thereafter, but he

doubted if Alaire understood the one or agreed with the other.

Probably she considered him inhuman, or, what was worse, cowardly

in attempting to avoid the consequences of his act. And yet he

could not explain his full anxiety to protect her good name

without confessing to a deeper interest in her than he dared. And

his interest was growing by leaps and bounds. This woman

fascinated him; he was infatuated--bewitched by her personality.

To be near her affected him mentally and physically in a way too

extraordinary to analyze or to describe. It was as if they were so

sympathetically attuned that the mere sound of her voice set his

whole being into vibrant response, where all his life he had lain

mute. She played havoc with his resolutions, too, awaking in him

the wildest envy and desire. He no longer thought of her as

unattainable; on the contrary, her husband's shortcomings seemed

providential. Absurd, impossible ways of winning her suggested

themselves. To risk a further estrangement, therefore, was

intolerable.



But as if his thoughts were telepathic messages, she did the very

thing he feared.



"We won't be in before midnight," she said, "but I'll send you to

Jonesville in the morning."



"Thank you, ma'am--I'll have to go right through."



"I'll get you there in time for business. We've gained a

reputation for inhospitableness at Las Palmas that I want to

overcome." In spite of their recent clash, in spite of the fact

that this fellow's ruthlessness and indifference to human life

shocked her, Alaire was conscious of her obligation to him, and

aware also of a growing friendship between them which made the

present situation all the more trying. Law was likable, and he

inspired her with a sense of security to which she had long been a

stranger. "Mr. Austin ought to know," she added, "about this--

matter we were discussing, and I want him to meet you."



"He has!" Dave said, shortly; and at his tone Alaire looked up.



"So!" She studied his grim face. "And you quarreled?"



"I'd really prefer to go on, ma'am. I'll get to Jonesville

somehow."



"You refuse--to stay under his roof?"



"That's about it."



"I'm sorry." She did not ask for further explanation.



Evening came, bringing a grateful coolness, and they drove through

a tunnel of light walled in by swiftly moving shadows.



The windows of Las Palmas were black, the house silent, when they

arrived at their journey's end; Dolores was fretful, and her

mistress ached in every bone. When Jose had helped his

countrywoman into the house Alaire said:



"If you insist upon going through you must take the car. You can

return it to-morrow."



"And--about Panfilo?" Dave queried.



"Wait. Perhaps I'll decide what is best to do in the mean time.

Good night."



Law took her extended hand. Alaire was glad that he did not fondle

it in that detestable Mexican fashion of which she had lately

experienced so much; glad that the grasp of his long, strong

fingers was merely firm and friendly. When he stepped back into

the car and drove off through the night she stood for some time

looking after him.



Blaze Jones had insisted that Dave live at his house, and the

Ranger had accepted the invitation; but as it was late when the

latter arrived at Jonesville, he went to the hotel for a few

hours' rest. When he drove his borrowed machine up to the Jones

house, about breakfast-time, both Blaze and Paloma were delighted

to see him.



"Say, now! What you doing rolling around in a gasoline go-devil?"

the elder man inquired, and Law was forced to explain.



"Why, Mrs. Austin must have experienced a change of heart!"

exclaimed Paloma. "She never gave anybody a lift before."



Blaze agreed. "She's sure poisonous to strangers." Then he looked

over the car critically. "These automobiles are all right, but

whenever I want to go somewhere and get back I take a team of hay-

burners. Mules don't puncture. The first automobile Paloma had

nearly scared me to death. On the road to Brownsville there used

to be a person who didn't like me--we'd had a considerable

unpleasantness, in fact. One day Paloma and I were lickety-

splittin' along past his place when we had a blow-out. It was the

first one I'd ever heard, and it fooled me complete--comin' right

at that particular turn of the road. I sure thought this party I

spoke of had cut down on me, so I r'ared up and unlimbered. I shot

out three window-lights in his house before Paloma could explain.

If he'd been in sight I'd have beefed him then and there, and

saved six months' delay. No, gas-buggies are all right for people

with strong nerves, but I'm tuned too high."



"Father has never learned to drive a car without yelling 'Gee' and

'Haw,'" laughed Paloma. "And he thinks he has title to the whole

road, too. You know these Mexicans are slow about pulling their

wagons to one side. Well, father got mad one day, and when a team

refused him the right of way he whipped out his revolver and

fired."



Blaze smiled broadly. "It worked great. And believe me, them

Greasers took to the ditch. I went through like a hot wind, but I

shot up sixty-five ca'tridges between here and town."



"Why didn't Mrs. Austin ask you to stay all night at Las Palmas?"

the girl inquired of Dave.



"She did."



"Wonderful!" Paloma's surprise was evidently sincere. "I suppose

you refused because of the way Ed treated you? Well, I'd have

accepted just to spite him. Tell me, is she nice?"



"She's lovely."



This vehement declaration brought a sudden gleam of interest into

the questioner's eyes.



"They say she has the most wonderful gowns and jewels, and dresses

for dinner every night. Well"--Paloma tossed her head--"I'm going

to have some nice clothes, too. You wait!"



"Now don't you start riggin' yourself up for meals," Blaze said,

warningly. "First thing I know you'll have me in a full-dress

suit, spillin' soup on my shirt." Then to his guest he complained,

feelingly: "I don't know what's come over Paloma lately; this new

dressmaker has plumb stampeded her. Somebody'd ought to run that

feline out of town before she ruins me."



"She is a very nice woman," complacently declared the daughter;

but her father snorted loudly.



"I wouldn't associate with such a critter."



"My! But you're proud."



"It ain't that," Blaze defended himself. "I know her husband, and

he's a bad hombre. He backed me up against a waterin'-trough and

told my fortune yesterday. He said I'd be married twice and have

many children. He told me I was fond of music and a skilled

performer on the organ, but melancholy and subject to catarrh,

Bright's disease, and ailments of the legs. He said I loved

widows, and unless I was poisoned by a dark lady I'd live to be

eighty years old. Why, he run me over like a pet squirrel lookin'

for moles, and if I'd had a gun on me I'd have busted him for some

of the things he said. 'A dark lady!' That's his wife. I give you

warnin', Paloma, don't you ask her to stay for meals. People like

them are dangerous."



"You're too silly!" said Paloma. "Nobody believes in such things."



"They don't, eh? Well, he's got all of Jonesville walkin' around

ladders, and spittin' through crossed fingers, and countin' the

spots on their nails. He interprets their dreams and locates lost

articles."



"Maybe he can tell me where to find Adolfo Urbina?" Dave

suggested.



"Humph! If he can't, Tad Lewis can. Say, Dave, this case of yours

has stirred up a lot of feelin' against Tad. The prosecutin'

attorney says he'll sure cinch him and Urbina, both. One of

Lewis's men got on a bender the other night and declared Adolfo

would never come to trial."



"What did he mean?"



"It may have been mescal talk, but witnesses sometimes have a way

of disappearin'. I wouldn't put anything past that gang."



Not long after breakfast Don Ricardo Guzman appeared at the Jones

house and warmly greeted his two friends. To Dave he explained:



"Last night I came to town, and this morning I heard you had

returned, so I rode out at once. You were unsuccessful?"



"Our man never went to Pueblo."



"Exactly. I thought as much."



"He's probably safe across the river."



But Ricardo thought otherwise. "No. Urbina deserted from this very

Colonel Blanco who commands the forces at Romero. He would

scarcely venture to return to Federal territory. However, I go to

meet Blanco to-day, and perhaps I shall discover something."



"What takes you over there?" Blaze inquired.



"Wait until I tell you. Senor David, here, brings me good fortune

at every turn. He honors my poor thirsty rancho with a visit and

brings a glorious rain; then he destroys my enemies like a

thunderbolt. No sooner is this done than I receive from the

Federals an offer for fifty of my best horses. Caramba! Such a

price, too. They are in a great hurry, which looks as if they

expected an attack from the Candeleristas at Matamoras. I hope so.

God grant these traitors are defeated. Anyhow, the horses have

gone, and to-day I go to get my money, in gold."



"Who's going with you?" asked Law.



Ricardo shrugged. "Nobody. There is no danger."



Blaze shook his head. "They know you are a red-hot Rebel. I

wouldn't trust them."



"They know, also, that I am an American, like you gentlemen,"

proudly asserted Guzman. "That makes a difference. I supported the

Liberator--God rest his soul!--and I secretly assist those who

fight his assassins, but so does everybody else. I am receiving a

fine price for those horses, so it is worth a little risk. Now,

senor," he addressed himself to the Ranger, "I have brought you a

little present. Day and night my boys and I have worked upon it,

for we know the good heart you have. It was finished yesterday.

See!" Ricardo unwrapped a bundle he had fetched, displaying a

magnificent bridle of plaited horsehair. It was cunningly wrought,

and lavishly decorated with silver fittings. "You recognize those

hairs?" he queried. "They came from the mane and tail of your

bonita."



"Bessie Belle!" Law accepted the handsome token, then held out his

hand to the Mexican. "That was mighty fine of you, Ricardo. I--You

couldn't have pleased me more."



"You like it?" eagerly demanded the old man. "That is good. I am

repaid a thousandfold. Your sentiment is like a woman's. But see!

I am famous for this work, and I have taught my boys to use their

fingers, too. That mare will always guide you now, wherever you

go. And we handled her gently, for your sake."



Dave nodded. "You're a good man, Ricardo. We're going to be

friends."



Guzman's delight was keen, his grizzled face beamed, and he showed

his white teeth in a smile. "Say no more. What is mine is yours--

my house, my cattle, my right hand. I and my sons will serve you,

and you must come often to see us. Now I must go." He shook hands

heartily and rode away, waving his hat.



"There's a good Greaser," Blaze said, with conviction, and Dave

agreed, feelingly:



"Yes! I'd about go to hell for him, after this." Then he took the

bridle in for Paloma to admire.





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