The Water-cure





Without an instant's hesitation Dave flung himself past Rosa and

through the inner door.



Jose Sanchez met him with a shout; the shock of their collision

overbore the lighter man, and the two went down together, arms and

legs intertwined. The horse-breaker fired his revolver blindly--a

deafening explosion inside those four walls--but he was powerless

against his antagonist's strength and ferocity. It required but a

moment for Law to master him, to wrench the weapon from his grasp,

and then, with the aid of Jose's silk neck-scarf, to bind his

wrists tightly.



From the front of the little house came the crash of a door

violently slammed as Rosa profited by the diversion to save

herself.



When finally Jose stood, panting and snarling, his back to the

wall, Dave regarded him with a sinister contraction of the lips

that was almost a grin.



"Well," he said, drawing a deep breath, "I see you didn't go to

the east pasture this morning."



"What do you want of me?" Jose managed to gasp.



There was a somewhat prolonged silence, during which Dave

continued to stare at his prisoner with that same disquieting

expression. "Why did you kill Don Eduardo?" he asked.



"I? Bah! Who says I killed him?" Jose glared defiance. "Why are

you looking at me? Come! Take me to jail, if you think that will

do any good."



"It's lucky I rode to Las Palmas this morning. In another hour you

would have been across the Rio Grande--with Rosa and all her fine

clothes, eh? Now you will be hanged. Well, that is how fortune

goes."



The horse-breaker tossed his head and shrugged with a brave

assumption of indifference; he laughed shortly. "You can prove

nothing."



"Yes," continued Dave, "and Rosa will go to prison, too. Now--

suppose I should let you go? Would you help me? In ten minutes you

could be safe." He inclined his head toward the muddy, silent

river outside. "Would you be willing to help me?"



Jose's brows lifted. "What's this you are saying?" he inquired,

eagerly.



"I would only ask you a few questions."



"What questions?"



"Where is Senora Austin?"



Jose's face became blank. "I don't know."



"Oh yes, you do. She started for La Feria. But--did she get there?

Or did Longorio have other plans for her? You'd better tell me the

truth, for your general can't help you now." Dave did his best to

read the Mexican's expression, but failed. "Senor Ed's death means

nothing to me," he went on, "but I must know where his wife is,

and I'm willing to pay, with your liberty." In spite of himself

his anxiety was plain.



Jose exclaimed: "Ho! I understand. He was in your way and you're

glad to be rid of him. Well, we have no business fighting with

each other."



"Will you tell me--?"



"I'll tell you nothing, for I know nothing."



"Come! I must know."



Jose laughed insolently.



Law's face became black with sudden fury. His teeth bared

themselves. He took a step forward, crying:



"By God! You WILL tell me!" Seizing his prisoner by the throat, he

pinned him to the wall; then with his free hand he cocked

Longorio's revolver and thrust its muzzle against Jose's body.

"Tell me!" he repeated. His countenance was so distorted, his

expression so maniacal, that Jose felt his hour had come. The

latter, being in all ways Mexican, did not struggle; instead, he

squared his shoulders and, staring fearlessly into the face above

him, cried:



"Shoot!"



For a moment the two men remained so; then Dave seemed to regain

control of himself and the murder light flickered out of his eyes.

He flung his prisoner aside and cast the revolver into a corner of

the room.



Jose picked himself up, cursing his captor eloquently. "You

Gringos don't know how to die," he said. "Death? Pah! We must die

some time. And supposing I do know something about the senora, do

you think you can force me to speak? Torture wouldn't open my

lips."



Law did not trust himself to reply; and the horse-breaker went on

with growing defiance:



"I am innocent of any crime; therefore I am brave. But you--The

blood of innocent men means nothing to you--Panfilo's murder

proves that--so complete your work. Make an end of me."



"Be still!" Dave commanded, thickly.



But the fellow's hatred was out of bounds now, and by the

bitterness of his vituperation he seemed to invite death. Dave

interrupted his vitriolic curses to ask harshly:



"Will you tell me, or will you force me to wring the truth out of

you?"



Jose answered by spitting at his captor; then he gritted an

unspeakable epithet from between his teeth.



Dave addressed him with an air of finality. "You killed that man

and your life is forfeit, so it doesn't make much difference

whether I take it or whether the State takes it. You are brave

enough to die--most of you Mexicans are--but the State can't force

you to speak, and I can." Jose sneered. "Oh yes, I can! I intend

to know all that you know, and it will be better for you to tell

me voluntarily. I must learn where Senora Austin is, and I must

learn quickly, if I have to kill you by inches to get the truth."



"So! Torture, eh? Good. I can believe it of you. Well, a slow fire

will not make me speak."



"No. A fire would be too easy, Jose."



"Eh?"



Without answer Dave strode out of the room. He was back before his

prisoner could do more than wrench at his bonds, and with him he

brought his lariat and his canteen.



"What are you going to do?" Jose inquired, backing away until he

was once more at bay.



"I'm going to give you a drink."



"Whisky? You think you can make me drunk?" The horse-breaker

laughed loudly but uneasily.



"Not whisky; water. I'm going to give you a drink of water."



"What capers!"



"When you've drunk enough you'll tell me why you killed your

employer and where General Longorio has taken his wife. Yes, and

everything else I want to know." Seizing the amazed Mexican, Dave

flung him upon Morales's hard board bed, and in spite of the

fellow's struggles deftly made him fast. When he had finished--and

it was no easy job--Jose lay "spread-eagled" upon his back, his

wrists and ankles firmly bound to the head and foot posts, his

body secured by a tight loop over his waist. The rope cut

painfully and brought a curse from the prisoner when he strained

at it. Law surveyed him with a face of stone.



"I don't want to do this," he declared, "but I know your kind. I

give you one more chance. Will you tell me?"



Jose drew his lips back in a snarl of rage and pain, and Dave

realized that further words were useless. He felt a certain pity

for his victim and no little admiration for his courage, but such

feelings were of small consequence as against his agonizing fears

for Alaire's safety. Had he in the least doubted Jose's guilty

knowledge of Longorio's intentions, Dave would have hesitated

before employing the barbarous measures he had in mind, but--there

was nothing else for it. He pulled the canteen cork and jammed the

mouthpiece firmly to Jose's lips. Closing the fellow's nostrils

with his free hand, he forced him to drink.



Jose clenched his teeth, he tried to roll his head, he held his

breath until his face grew purple and his eyes bulged. He strained

like a man upon the rack. The bed creaked to his muscular

contortions; the rope tightened. It was terribly cruel, this

crushing of a strong will bent on resistance to the uttermost; but

never was an executioner more pitiless, never did a prisoner's

agony receive less consideration. The warm water spilled over

Jose's face, it drenched his neck and chest; his joints cracked as

he strove for freedom and tried to twist his head out of Law's

iron grasp. The seconds dragged, until finally Nature asserted

herself. The imprisoned breath burst forth; there sounded a loud

gurgling cry and a choking inhalation. Jose's body writhed with

the convulsions of drowning as the water and air were sucked into

his lungs. Law was kneeling over his victim now, his weight and

strength so applied that Jose had no liberty of action and could

only drink, coughing and fighting for air. Somehow he managed to

revive himself briefly and again shut his teeth; but a moment more

and he was again retched with the furious battle for air, more

desperate now than before. After a while Law freed his victim's

nostrils and allowed him a partial breath, then once more crushed

the mouthpiece against his lips. By and by, to relieve his

torture, Jose began to drink in great noisy gulps, striving to

empty the vessel.



But the stomach's capacity is limited. In time Jose felt himself

bursting; the liquid began to regurgitate. This was not mere pain

that he suffered, but the ultimate nightmare horror of a death

more awful than anything he had ever imagined. Jose would have met

a bullet, a knife, a lash, without flinching; flames would not

have served to weaken his resolve; but this slow drowning was

infinitely worse than the worst he had thought possible; he was

suffocating by long, black, agonizing minutes. Every nerve and

muscle of his body, every cell in his bursting lungs, fought

against the outrage in a purely physical frenzy over which his

will power had no control. Nor would insensibility come to his

relief--Law watched him too carefully for that. He could not even

voice his sufferings by shrieks; he could only writhe and retch

and gurgle while the ropes bit into his flesh and his captor knelt

upon him like a monstrous stone weight.



But Jose had made a better fight than he knew. The canteen ran dry

at last, and Law was forced to release his hold.



"Will you speak?" he demanded.



Thinking that he had come safely through the ordeal, Jose shook

his head; he rolled his bulging, bloodshot eyes and vomited, then

managed to call God to witness his innocence.



Dave went into the next room and refilled the canteen. When he

reappeared with the dripping vessel in his hand, Jose tried to

scream. But his throat was torn and strained; the sound of his own

voice frightened him.



Once more the torment began. The tortured man was weaker now, and

in consequence he resisted more feebly; but not until he was less

than half conscious did Law spare him time to recover.



Jose lay sick, frightened, inert. Dave watched him without pity.

The fellow's wrists were black and swollen, his lips were

bleeding; he was stretched like a dumb animal upon the

vivisectionist's table, and no surgeon with lance and scalpel

could have shown less emotion than did his inquisitor. Having no

intention of defeating his own ends, Dave allowed his victim ample

time in which to regain his ability to suffer.



Alaire Austin had been right when she said that Dave might be

ruthless; and yet the man was by no means incapable of compassion.

At the present moment, however, he considered himself simply as

the instrument by which Alaire was to be saved. His own feelings

had nothing to do with the matter; neither had the sufferings of

this Mexican. Therefore he steeled himself to prolong the agony

until the murderer's stubborn spirit was worn down. Once again he

put his question, and, again receiving defiance, jammed the

canteen between Jose's teeth.



But human nature is weak. For the first time in his life Jose

Sanchez felt terror--a terror too awful to be endured--and he made

the sign.



He was no longer the insolent defier, the challenger, but an

imploring wretch, whose last powers of resistance had been

completely shattered. His frightened eyes were glued to that

devilish vessel in which his manhood had dissolved, the fear of it

made a woman of him.



Slowly, in sighs and whimpers, in agonies of reluctance, his story

came; his words were rendered almost incomprehensible by his

abysmal fright. When he had purged himself of his secret Dave

promptly unbound him; then leaving him more than half dead, he

went to the telephone which connected the pumping station with Las

Palmas and called up the ranch.



He was surprised when Blaze Jones answered. Blaze, it seemed, had

just arrived, summoned by news of the tragedy. The countryside had

been alarmed and a search for Ed Austin's slayer was being

organized.



"Call it off," Dave told him. "I've got your man." Blaze stuttered

his surprise and incredulity. "I mean it. It's Jose Sanchez, and

he has confessed. I want you to come here, quick; and come alone,

if you don't mind. I need your help."



Inside of ten minutes Jones piloted his automobile into the

clearing beside the river, and, leaving his motor running, leaped

from the car.



Dave met him at the door of the Morales house and briefly told him

the story of Jose's capture.



"Say! That's quick work," the rancher cried, admiringly. "Why, Ed

ain't cold yet! You gave him the 'water-cure,' eh? Now I reckoned

it would take more than water to make a Mexican talk."



"Jose was hired for the work; he laid for Ed Austin in the pecan

grove and shot him as he passed."



"Hired! Why this hombre needs quick hangin', don't he? I told 'em

at Las Palmas that you'd rounded up the guilty party, so I reckon

they'll be here in a few minutes. We'll just stretch this horse-

wrangler, and save the county some expense." Law shrugged. "Do

what you like with him, but--it isn't necessary. He'll confess in

regulation form, I'm sure. I had to work fast to learn what became

of Mrs. Austin."



"Miz Austin? What's happened to her?"



Dave's voice changed; there was a sudden quickening of his words.

"They've got her, Blaze. They waited until they had her safe

before they killed Ed."



"'They?' Who the hell are you talkin' about?"



"I mean Longorio and his outfit. He's got her over yonder." Dave

flung out a trembling hand toward the river. Seeing that his

hearer failed to comprehend, he explained, swiftly: "He's crazy

about her--got one of those Mexican infatuations--and you know

what that means. He couldn't steal her from Las Palmas--she

wouldn't have anything to do with him--so he used that old cattle

deal as an excuse to get her across the border. Then he put Ed out

of the way. She went of her own accord, and she didn't tell

Austin, because they were having trouble. She's gone to La Feria,

Blaze."



"La Feria! Then she's in for it."



Dave nodded his agreement; for the first time Blaze noted how

white and set was his friend's face.



"Longorio must have foreseen what was coming," Dave went on. "That

country's aflame; Americans aren't safe over there. If war is

declared, a good many of them will never be heard from. He knows

that. He's got her safe. She can't get out."



Blaze was very grave when next he spoke. "Dave, this is bad--bad.

I can't understand what made her go. Why, she must have been out

of her head. But we've got to do something. We've got to burn the

wires to Washington--yes, and to Mexico City. We must get the

government to send soldiers after her. God! What have we got 'em

for, anyhow?"



"Washington won't do anything. What can be done when there are

thousands of American women in the same danger? What steps can the

government take, with the fleet on its way to Vera Cruz, with the

army mobilizing, and with diplomatic relations suspended? Those

Greasers are filling their jails with our people--rounding 'em up

for the day of the big break--and the State Department knows it.

No, Longorio saw it all coming--he's no fool. He's got her; she's

in there--trapped."



Blaze took the speaker by the shoulder and faced him about. "Look

here," said he, "I'm beginnin' to get wise to you. I believe

you're--the man in the case." When Dave nodded, he vented his

amazement in a long whistle. After a moment he asked, "Well, why

did you want me to come here alone, ahead of the others?"



"Because I want you to know the whole inside of this thing so that

you can get busy when I'm gone; because I want to borrow what

money you have--"



"What you aimin' to pull off?" Blaze inquired, suspiciously.



"I'm going to find her and bring her out."



"You? Why, Dave, you can't get through. This is a job for the

soldiers."



But Dave hardly seemed to hear him. "You must start things moving

at once," he said, urgently. "Spread the news, get the story into

the papers, notify the authorities. Get every influence at work,

from here to headquarters; get your Senator and the Governor of

the state at work. Ellsworth will help you. And now give me your

last dollar."



Blaze emptied his pockets, shaking his shaggy head the while. "La

Feria is a hundred and fifty miles in," he remonstrated.



"By rail from Pueblo, yes. But it's barely a hundred, straight

from here."



"You 'ain't got a chance, single-handed. You're crazy to try it."



The effect of these words was startling, for Dave laughed harshly.

"'Crazy' is the word," he agreed. "It's a job for a lunatic, and

that's me. Yes, I've got bad blood in me, Blaze--bad blood--and

I'm taking it back where I got it. But listen!" He turned a sick,

colorless face to his friend. "They'll whittle a cross for

Longorio if I do get through." He called to Montrosa, and the mare

came to him, holding her head to one side so as not to tread upon

her dragging reins.



"I'm 'most tempted to go with you," Blaze stammered, uncertainly.



"No. Somebody has to stay here and stir things up, If we had

twenty men like you we might cut our way in and out, but there's

no time to organize, and, anyhow, the government would probably

stop us. I've got a hunch that I'll make it. If I don't--why, it's

all right."



The two men shook hands lingeringly, awkwardly; then Blaze managed

to wish his friend luck. "If you don't come back," he said, with a

peculiar catch in his voice, "I reckon there's enough good Texans

left to follow your trail. I'll sure look forward to it."



Dave took the river-bank to Sangre de Cristo, where, by means of

the dilapidated ferry, he gained the Mexican side. Once across, he

rode straight up toward the village of Romero. When challenged by

an under-sized soldier he merely spurred Montrosa forward, eyeing

the sentry so grimly that the man did no more than finger his

rifle uncertainly, cursing under his breath the overbearing airs

of all Gringos. Nor did the rider trouble to make the slightest

detour, but cantered the full length of Romero's dusty street, the

target of more than one pair of hostile eyes. To those who saw

him, soldiers and civilians alike, it was evident that this

stranger had business, and no one felt called upon to question its

nature. There are men who carry an air more potent than a

bodyguard, and Dave Law was one of these. Before the village had

thoroughly awakened to his coming he was gone, without a glance to

the right or left, without a word to anyone.



When Romero was at his back he rode for a mile or two through a

region of tiny scattered farms and neglected garden patches, after

which he came out into the mesquite. For all the signs he saw, he

might then have been in the heart of a foreign country. Mexico had

swallowed him.



As the afternoon heat subsided, Montrosa let herself out into a

freer gait and began to cover the distance rapidly, heading due

west through a land of cactus and dagger, of thorn and barb and

bramble.



The roads were unfenced, the meadows desolate; the huts were

frequently untenanted. Ahead the sky burned splendidly, and the

sunset grew more brilliant, more dazzling, until it glorified the

whole mean, thirsty, cruel countryside.



Dave's eyes were set upon that riot of blazing colors, but for the

time it failed to thrill him. In that welter of changing hues and

tints he saw only red. Red! That was the color of blood; it stood

for passion, lust, violence; and it was a fitting badge of color

for this land of revolutions and alarms. At first he saw little

else--except the hint of black despair to follow. But there was

gold in the sunset, too--the yellow gold of ransom! That was

Mexico--red and yellow, blood and gold, lust and license. Once the

rider's fancy began to work in this fashion, it would not rest,

and as the sunset grew in splendor he found in it richer meanings.

Red was the color of a woman's lips--yes, and a woman's hair. The

deepening blue of the high sky overhead was the hue of a certain

woman's eyes. A warm, soft breeze out of the west beat into his

face, and he remembered how warm and soft Alaire's breath had been

upon his cheek.



The woman of his desires was yonder, where those colors warred,

and she was mantled in red and gold and purple for his coming. The

thought aroused him; the sense of his unworthiness vanished, the

blight fell from him; he felt only a throbbing eagerness to see

her and to take her in his arms once more before the end.



With his head high and his face agleam, he rode into the west,

into the heart of the sunset.





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