What Happened At The Water-hole

The new-comers exchanged a word or two in Spanish, then the second

rider flung himself from his saddle and made for the water. He was

lying prone and drinking deeply when out of nowhere came a sharp


"Oiga! Hands up, both of you!"

The first arrival jumped as if a rattlesnake had buzzed at his

back, the second leaped to his feet with an oath; they stared in

the direction whence the voice had come.

"Drop your gun, companero!" The order was decisive; it was

directed at the man who had first appeared, for the other had left

his Winchester in its scabbard.

Both Mexicans cried, as if at a cue, "Who speaks?"

"A Ranger."

The fellow Law had addressed let fall his rifle; two pairs of dark

hands rose slowly. Then the Ranger went on in Spanish:

"Anto, lower your left hand and unbuckle your belt." Anto did as

he was told, his revolver and cartridge-belt dropped to the

ground. "And you, compadre, do the same. Mind you, the left hand!

Now face about and walk to the charco, both of you. Good!"

Law stepped into view, his Winchester in the crook of his arm. He

emptied the three discarded weapons, then, walking to Anto's

horse, he removed the second carbine from beneath the saddle-flap

and ejected its shells into his palm.

This done, he addressed the stranger. "Now, friend, who are you,

and why are you riding with this fellow?"

"My name is Panfilo Sanchez, senor. Before God, I have done

nothing." The speaker was tremendously excited.

"Well, Panfilo, that will take some proving," the Ranger muttered.

"What do you say?"

The gist of this statement having been repeated in Spanish, both

prisoners burst into clamorous explanation of their presence

together. Panfilo, it seemed, had encountered his companion purely

by chance, and was horrified now to learn that his newly made

friend was wanted by the authorities. In the midst of his

incoherent protestations Mrs. Austin appeared.

"He is telling you the truth, Mr. Law," she said, quietly. "He is

one of my men."

Both Mexicans looked blank. At sight of the speaker their mouths

fell open, and Panfilo ceased his gesticulations.

Mrs. Austin went on: "He is my horse-breaker's cousin. He couldn't

have had any part in that murder in Jim Wells County, for he was

at Las Palmas when I left."

Panfilo recovered from his amazement, removed his sombrero, and

blessed his employer extravagantly; then he turned triumphantly

upon his captor. "Behold!" cried he. "There you have the truth. I

am an excellent, hard-working man and as honest as God."

"Surely you don't want him," Alaire appealed to Law. "He was

probably helping his countryman to escape--but they all do that,

you know."

"All right! If he's your man, that's enough," Dave told her. "Now

then, boys, it will soon be dark and we'll need some supper before

we start. It won't hurt Anto's horse to rest a bit, either. You

are under arrest," he added, addressing the latter. "You

understand what that means?"

"Si, senor!"

"I won't tie you unless--"

"No, senor!" Anto understood perfectly, and was grateful.

"Well, then, build a fire, and you, Panfilo, lend a hand. The

senora will need a cup of tea, for we three have a long ride ahead

of us."

No time was lost. Both Mexicans fell to with a will, and in a

surprisingly short time water was boiling. When it came Law's turn

to eat, Alaire, who was eager to be gone, directed her employee to

fetch the Ranger's horse. Panfilo acquiesced readily and buckled

on his cartridge-belt and six-shooter. He was about to pick up his

rifle, too, but finding Law's eyes inquiringly fixed upon him, he

turned with a shrug and disappeared down the arroyo. It was plain

that he considered his friendly relations well established and

resented the Ranger's suspicion.

"How long has that fellow been working for you?" Law jerked his

head in the direction Panfilo had taken.

"Not long. I--don't know much about him," Alaire confessed. Then,

as if in answer to his unspoken question, "But I'm sure he's all


"Is he looking up range for you?"

"N--no! I left him at the ranch. I don't know how he came to be

here, unless--It IS rather strange!"

Dave shot a swift, interrogatory glance at Panfilo's traveling

companion, but Anto's face was stony, his black eyes were fixed

upon the fire.

With an abrupt gesture Law flung aside the contents of his cup and

strode to Panfilo's horse, which stood dejectedly with reins


"Where are you--going?" Alaire rose nervously.

It was nearly dark now; only the crests of the ridges were plain

against the luminous sky; in the brushy bottom of the arroyo the

shadows were deep. Alaire had no wish to be left alone with the


With bridle-rein and carbine in his left hand, the Ranger halted,

then, stooping for Anto's discarded cartridge-belt, he looped it

over his saddle-horn. He vaulted easily into the seat, saying:

"I hid that mare pretty well. Your man may not be able to find

her." Then he turned his borrowed horse's head toward the brush.

Anto had squatted motionless until this moment; he had not even

turned his eyes; but now, without the slightest warning, he

uttered a loud call. It might have served equally well as a

summons or as an alarm, but it changed the Ranger's suspicions

into certainty. Dave uttered an angry exclamation, then to the

startled woman he cried:

"Watch this man! He can't hurt you, for I've got his shells." To

his prisoner he said, sharply: "Stay where you are! Don't move!"

The next instant he had loped into the brush on the tracks of

Panfilo Sanchez, spurring the tired gray pony into vigorous


It was an uncomfortable situation in which Alaire now found

herself. Law was too suspicious, she murmured to herself; he was

needlessly melodramatic; she felt exceedingly ill at ease as the

pony's hoof-beats grew fainter. She was not afraid of Anto, having

dealt with Mexican vaqueros for several years, yet she could not

forget that he was a murderer, and she wondered what she was

expected to do if he should try to escape. It was absurd to

suppose that Panfilo, her own hired man, could be capable of

treachery; the mere suspicion was a sort of reflection upon her.

Alaire was startled by hearing other hoof-beats now; their

drumming came faint but unmistakable. Yes, there were two horses

racing down the arroyo. Anto, the fugitive, rose to his feet and

stared into the dusk. "Sit down!" Alaire ordered, sharply. He

obeyed, muttering beneath his breath, but his head was turned as

if in an effort to follow the sounds of the pursuit.

Next came the distant rattle of loosened stones--evidently one

horse was being urged toward the open high ground--then the

peaceful quiet evening was split by the report of Law's thirty-

thirty. Another shot followed, and then a third. Both Alaire and

her prisoner were on their feet, the woman shaking in every limb,

the Mexican straining his eyes into the gloom and listening


Soon there came a further echo of dry earth and gravel dislodged,

but whether by Law's horse or by that of Sanchez was uncertain.

Perhaps both men had gained the mesa.

It had all happened so quickly and so unexpectedly that Alaire

felt she must be dreaming, or that there had been some idiotic

mistake. She wondered if the Ranger's sudden charge had not simply

frightened Panfilo into a panicky flight, and she tried to put her

thoughts into words the Mexican would understand, but his answer

was unintelligible. His black scowl, however, was eloquent of

uncertainty and apprehension.

Alaire had begun to feel the strain of the situation and was

trying to decide what next to do, when David Law came riding out

of the twilight. He was astride the gray; behind him at the end of

a lariat was Bessie Belle, and her saddle was empty.

Mrs. Austin uttered a sharp cry.

Law dismounted and strode to the prisoner. His face was black with

fury; he seemed gigantic in his rage. Without a word he raised his

right hand and cuffed the Mexican to his knees. Then he leaped

upon him, as a dog might pounce upon a rabbit, rolled him to his

face, and twisted the fellow's arms into the small of his back.

Anto cursed, he struggled, but he was like a child in the Ranger's

grasp. Law knelt upon him, and with a jerk of his riata secured

the fellow's wrists; rising, he set the knot with another heave

that dragged the prisoner to his knees. Next he booted Anto to his


"By God! I've a notion to bend a gun over your head," Law growled.

"Clever little game, wasn't it?"

"Where--? Did you--kill him?" the woman gasped.

Alaire had never beheld such a demoniac expression as Law turned

upon her. The man's face was contorted, his eyes were blazing

insanely, his chest was heaving, and for an instant he seemed to

include her in his anger. Ignoring her inquiry, he went to his

mare and ran his shaking hands over her as if in search of an

injury; his questing palms covered every inch of glistening hide

from forelock to withers, from shoulder to hoof, and under cover

of this task he regained in some degree his self-control.

"That hombre of yours--didn't look right to me," he said, finally.

Laying his cheek against Bessie Belle's neck, as a woman snuggles

close to the man of her choice, he addressed the mare: "I reckon

nobody is going to steal you, eh? Not if I know it. No, sir; that

hombre wasn't any good, was he?"

Alaire wet her lips. "Then you--shot him?"

Law laughed grimly, almost mockingly. "Say! He must be a favorite

of yours?"

"N-no! I hardly knew the fellow. But--did you?"

"I didn't say I shot him," he told her, gruffly. "I warned him

first, and he turned on me--blew smoke in my face. Then he took to

the brush, afoot, and--I cut down on him once more to help him


"He got away?"

"I reckon so."

"Oh, oh!" Alaire's tone left no doubt of her relief. "He was

always a good man--"

"Good? Didn't he steal my horse? Didn't he aim to get me at the

first chance and free his compadre? That's why he wanted his

Winchester. Say! I reckon he--needs killin' about as much as

anybody I know."

"I can't understand it." Alaire sat down weakly. "One of my men,


"This fellow behaved himself while I was gone, eh?" Law jerked his

head in Anto's direction. "I was afraid he--he'd try something. If

he had--" Such a possibility, oddly enough, seemed to choke the

speaker, and the ferocity of his unfinished threat caused Mrs.

Austin to look up at him curiously. There was a moment of silence,

then he said, shortly: "Well, we've got a horse apiece now. Let's


The stars had thickened and brightened, rounding the night sky

into a glittering dome. Anto, the murderer, with his ankles lashed

beneath his horse's belly, rode first; next, in a sullen silence,

came the Ranger, his chin upon his breast; and in the rear

followed Alaire Austin.

In spite of her release from a trying predicament, the woman was

scarcely more eager to go home than was the prisoner, for while

Anto's trail led to a jail, hers led to Las Palmas, and there was

little difference. These last two days in the open had been like a

glimpse of freedom; for a time Alaire had almost lost the taste of

bitter memories. It had required an effort of will to drug

remembrance, but she had succeeded, and had proven her ability to

forget. But now--Las Palmas! It meant the usual thing, the same

endless battle between her duty and her desire. She was tired of

the fight that resulted neither in victory nor defeat; she longed

now, more than ever, to give up and let things take their course.

Why could not women, as well as men, yield to their inclinations--

drift with the current instead of breasting it until they were

exhausted? There was David Law, for instance; he was utterly

carefree, no duties shackled him. He had his horse, his gun, and

his blanket, and they were enough; Alaire, like him, was young,

her mind was eager, her body ripe, and her veins full of fire.

Life must be sweet to those who were free and happy.

But the object of her envy was not so completely at peace with

himself as she supposed. Even yet his mind was in a black turmoil

from his recent anger, and of late, be it said, these spells of

temper had given him cause for uneasiness. Then, too, there was a

lie upon his lips.

Under the stars, at the break of the arroyo, three hundred yards

below the water-hole, a coyote was slinking in a wide circle

around the body of Panfilo Sanchez.

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