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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHeart Of The Sunset - Chapter 24. Dave Law Comes Home
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Heart Of The Sunset - Chapter 24. Dave Law Comes Home Post by :Jasonphox Category :Long Stories Author :Rex Beach Date :May 2012 Read :3332

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Heart Of The Sunset - Chapter 24. Dave Law Comes Home

CHAPTER XXIV. DAVE LAW COMES HOME

A few days after she had written to Judge Ellsworth Alaire followed her letter in person, for, having at last decided to divorce Ed, she acted with characteristic decision. Since Ellsworth had more than once advised this very course, she went to Brownsville anticipating his willing support. She was greatly amazed, therefore, to find that he had completely changed his views and to hear him argue strongly against her determination. Hurt and puzzled at first by this strange lack of sympathy, Alaire soon began to grow angry, and when the judge persisted in his arguments she quarreled with him for the first time in their acquaintance. But it was not until she had threatened to secure another attorney that he reluctantly gave in, even then making it plain that in meeting her wishes he was acting against his best judgment.

Now Alaire had desired Ellsworth's advice, also, as to her own immediate plans, since it was of course impossible for her longer to share Ed's roof. She had written Dave Law, telling him that she intended to go to La Feria, there to remain pending the hearing of her suit; but later she had come to doubt the wisdom of such a course, inasmuch as the war talk grew louder with every day. However, her attorney's inexplicable change of front and his stubborn opposition to her wishes prevented her from confiding in him any more than was necessary, and she returned to Las Palmas determined to use her own best judgment. To be sure, she would have preferred some place of refuge other than La Feria, but she reasoned that there she would at least be undisturbed, and that Ed, even if he wished to effect a reconciliation, would not dare to follow her, since he was persona non grata in Federal Mexico. Nor were her doubts of Ellsworth's loyalty entirely allayed. All in all, therefore, it seemed to her that the Mexican ranch offered her the safest asylum.

She had counted upon seeing Dave during her stay in Brownsville, and her failure to do so was a grave disappointment. The news of his resignation from the Force had at first perplexed her; then she had thrilled at the thought that his action must have something to do with her; that doubtless he, too, was busied in making plans for their new life. She told herself that it was brave of him to obey her injunctions so literally and to leave her unembarrassed by his presence at this particular time. It inspired her to be equally brave and to wait patiently for the day when she could welcome him with clean hands and a soul unashamed.

In the midst of Alaire's uncertainty of mind it gratified her to realize that Dave alone would know of her whereabouts. She wondered if he would come to see her. He was a reckless, headstrong lover, and his desires were all too likely to overcome his deliberate resolves. She rather hoped that in spite of his promise he would venture to cross the border so that she could see and be near him, if only for a day or for an hour. The possibility frightened and yet pleased her. The conventional woman within her frowned, but her outlaw heart beat fast at the thought.

Alaire did not explain her plans even to Dolores, but when her preparations were complete she took the Mexican woman with her, and during Ed's absence slipped away from the ranch. Boarding the train at Jonesville, she was in Pueblo that night.

If Alaire's clash with Ellsworth had been trying to her, it had been no less painful to the lawyer himself. Feeling himself bound by his promise to Dave, he had not dared to tell her the truth; consequently he had been hard put to it to dissuade her from taking immediate action. When she would not listen, he found himself in the most unpleasant position of his life; for although he could not but sympathize with her desire to be free from Ed Austin, it distressed him beyond measure to see her riding blindly to a fall. More than once after their strained parting he was tempted to go to Las Palmas and set himself right in her eyes; but he managed to hold to his determination and to school himself to await Dave's return.

Before long, however, Ellsworth found other worries engaging him, for it seemed at last that war with Mexico was imminent. After months of uncertainty the question had come to issue, and that lowering cloud which had hung above the horizon took ominous shape and size. Ellsworth awoke one morning to learn that an ultimatum had gone forth to President Potosi; that the Atlantic fleet had been ordered south; and that marines were being rushed aboard transports pending a general army mobilization. It looked as if the United States had finally risen in wrath, and as if nothing less than a miracle could now avert the long-expected conflict.

Naturally Brownsville, like other border towns, was plunged into a panic, and Ellsworth, as a leading citizen of his community, had his hands full.

In the midst of this excitement, and while suspense was at its highest, Dave Law returned. Ellsworth found him in his office one morning and fell upon the young man eagerly. Two weeks had worked a shocking change in Dave; he was gaunt, ill; his eyes were bright and tired and feverish. They had a new expression, too, which the judge at first could not fathom, but which he took to be fear. Dave's brown cheeks had bleached; his hands hung loose and unmanageable at his sides.

"I've had a long trip," he said, somberly, "months--years long, it seems to me."

"Well, thank God you're back. Tell me, what did you find out?"

Law closed his eyes wearily. He shook his head. "Nothing except verification. I'm sorry I went. The Law blood is tainted, all right--it reeks. The whole damned outfit were crazy. On my mother's side, though, I'm healthy enough--and there appears to be some mystery or something queer about me as a baby. That's all I've discovered so far. But I've a relative in San Antone, a cousin of my mother's, who runs a curio-store. He deals in Mexican jewelry and antiques, and all that--strange old fellow. He says he has a trunkful of stuff that belonged to his family, and he has promised to go through it for me."

"Then you still hope to prove--"

"I haven't any hope. I've given up."

"Why?" Ellsworth asked, sharply.

"Because I know the truth. Because I'm--going crazy. Fact! I can see it myself now."

"Why, boy, that's imagination, nothing else."

"Perhaps," Dave agreed, listlessly. "I'm reading everything on the subject of insanity that I can get hold of."

Ellsworth tried to laugh. "That in itself is enough to unbalance you."

"I'm moody, depressed; I'm getting so I imagine things. By and by I'll begin to think I'm persecuted--I believe that's how it works. Already I have hallucinations in broad daylight, and I'm afraid of the dark. Fancy! I don't sleep very often, and when I do I wake up in a puddle of sweat, shivering. And dreams! God, what dreams! I know they're dreams, now, but sooner or later I suppose I'll begin to believe in 'em." Dave sighed and settled lower in his chair. "I--I'm mighty tired."

Ellsworth clapped him on the back. "Come, now! A perfectly healthy man could wreck his reason this way. You must stop it. You must do something to occupy your mind."

"Sure. That's what brings me home. I'm going to the front."

"To the war?"

"Yes. They're recruiting a rough-rider regiment in San Antone. I joined yesterday, and I've come to get my horse."

After a time Ellsworth said, "Alaire has commenced her action." Dave took a deep, sharp breath and began to tremble weakly. "I didn't tell her, but--you must. We can't go on like this."

"Suppose I just go to war and--and don't come back?" thickly inquired the sufferer.

"That won't do. You won't get killed--fellows like you never do. Wouldn't you rather have her know the truth than believe you to be a quitter?" Ellsworth waited a minute. "Do you want me to tell her for you, Dave?"

Law shook his head slowly, wearily. "No, I'll do it. I'm game. I'd rather she heard it from me."

Blaze Jones took the San Antonio paper out upon the porch and composed himself in the hammock to read the latest war news. Invasion! Troops! The Stars and Stripes! Those were words that stirred Jones deeply and caused him to neglect his work. Now that his country had fully awakened to the necessity of a war with Mexico--a necessity he had long felt--he was fired with the loftiest patriotism and a youthful eagerness to enlist. Blaze realized that he was old and fat and near-sighted; but what of that? He could fight. Fighting, in fact, had been one of his earliest accomplishments, and he prided himself upon knowing as much about it as any one man could learn. He believed in fighting both as a principle and as an exercise; in fact, he attributed his good health to his various neighborly "unpleasantnesses," and he had more than once argued that no great fighter ever died of a sluggish liver or of any one of the other ills that beset sedentary, peace-loving people. Nations were like men--too much ease made them flabby. And Blaze had his own ideas of strategy, too. So during the perusal of his paper he bemoaned the mistakes his government was making. Why waste time with ultimatums? he argued to himself. He had never done so. Experience had taught him that the way to win a battle was to beat the other fellow to the draw; hence this diplomatic procrastination filled him with impatience. It seemed almost treasonable to one of Blaze's intense patriotism.

He was engaged in laying out a plan of campaign for the United States when he became conscious of voices behind him, and realized that for some time Paloma had been entertaining a caller in the front room. Their conversation had not disturbed him at first, but now an occasional word or sentence forced its meaning through his preoccupation, and he found himself listening.

Paloma's visitor was a woman, and as Blaze harkened to her voice, he felt his heart sink. It was Mrs. Strange. She was here again. With difficulty Blaze conquered an impulse to flee, for she was recounting a story all too familiar to him.

"Why, it seemed as if the whole city of Galveston was there, and yet nobody offered to help us," the dressmaker was saying. "Phil was a perfect hero, for the ruffian was twice his size. Oh, it was an awful fight! I hate to think of it."

"What made him pinch you?" Paloma inquired.

"Heaven only knows. Some men are dreadful that way. Why, he left a black-and-blue mark!"

Blaze broke into a cold sweat and cursed feebly under his breath.

"He wasn't drunk, either. He was just naturally depraved. You could see it in his face."

"How DID you escape?"

"Well, I'll tell you. We chased him up across the boulevard and in among the tents, and then--" Mrs. Strange lowered her voice until only a murmur reached the listening man. A moment, then both women burst into shrill, excited laughter, and Blaze himself blushed furiously.

This was unbearable! It was bad enough to have that woman in Jonesville, a constant menace to his good name, but to allow her access to his own home was unthinkable. Sooner or later they were bound to meet, and then Paloma would learn the disgraceful truth-- yes, and the whole neighborhood would likewise know his shame. In fancy, Blaze saw his reputation torn to shreds and himself exposed to the gibes of the people who venerated him. He would become a scandal among men, an offense to respectable women; children would shun him. Blaze could not bear to think of the consequences, for he was very fond of the women and children of Jonesville, especially the women. He rose from his hammock and tiptoed down the porch into the kitchen, from which point of security he called loudly for his daughter.

Alarmed at his tone, Paloma came running. "What is the matter?" she asked, quickly.

"Get her out!" Blaze cried, savagely. "Get shed of her."

"Her? Who?"

"That varmint."

"Father, what ails you?"

"Nothin' ails me, but I don't want that caterpillar crawlin' around my premises. I don't like her."

Paloma regarded her parent curiously. "How do you know you don't like her when you've never seen her?"

"Oh, I've seen her, all I want to; and I heard her talkin' to you just now. I won't stand for nobody tellin' you--bad stories."

Paloma snickered. "The idea! She doesn't--"

"Get her out, and keep her out," Blaze rumbled. "She ain't right; she ain't--human. Why, what d'you reckon I saw her do, the other day? Makes me shiver now. You remember that big bull-snake that lives under the barn, the one I've been layin' for? Well, you won't believe me, but him and her are friends. Fact! I saw her pick him up and play with him. WHO-EE! The goose-flesh popped out on me till it busted the buttons off my vest. She ain't my kind of people, Paloma. 'Strange' ain't no name for her; no, sir! That woman's dam' near peculiar."

Paloma remained unmoved. "I thought you knew. She used to be a snake-charmer."

"A--WHAT?" There was no doubt about it. Blaze's hair lifted. He blinked through his big spectacles; he pawed the air feebly with his hands. "How can you let her touch you? I couldn't. I'll bet she carries a pocketful of dried toads and--and keeps live lizards in her hair. I knew an old voodoo woman that ate cockroaches. Get shed of her, Paloma, and we'll fumigate the house."

At that moment Mrs. Strange herself opened the kitchen door to inquire, "Is anything wrong?" Misreading Blaze's expression for one of pain, she exclaimed: "Mercy! Now, what have you done to yourself?"

But the object of her solicitude backed away, making peculiar clucking sounds deep in his throat. Paloma was saying:

"This is my father, Mrs. Strange. You and he have never happened to meet before."

"Why, yes we have! I know you," the seamstress exclaimed. Then a puzzled light flickered in her black eyes. "Seems to me we've met somewhere, but--I've met so many people." She extended her hand, and Blaze took it as if expecting to find it cold and scaly. He muttered something unintelligible. "I've been dying to see you," she told him, "and thank you for giving me Paloma's work. I love you both for it."

Blaze was immensely relieved that this dreaded crisis had come and gone; but wishing to make assurance doubly sure, he contorted his features into a smile the like of which his daughter had never seen, and in a disguised voice inquired, "Now where do you reckon you ever saw me?"

The seamstress shook her head. "I don't know, but I'll place you before long. Anyhow, I'm glad you aren't hurt. From the way you called Paloma I thought you were. I'm handy around sick people, so I--"

"Listen!" Paloma interrupted. "There's some one at the front door." She left the room; Blaze was edging after her when he heard her utter a stifled scream and call his name.

Now Paloma was not the kind of girl to scream without cause, and her cry brought Blaze to the front of the house at a run. But what he saw there reassured him momentarily; nothing was in sight more alarming than one of the depot hacks, in the rear seat of which was huddled the figure of a man. Paloma was flying down the walk toward the gate, and Phil Strange was waiting on the porch. As Blaze flung himself into view the latter explained:

"I brought him straight here, Mr. Jones, 'cause I knew you was his best friend."

"Who? Who is it?"

"Dave Law. He must have came in on the noon train. Anyhow, I found him--like that." The two men hurried toward the road, side by side.

"What's wrong with him?" Blaze demanded.

"I don't know. He's queer--he's off his bean. I've had a hard time with him."

Paloma was in the carriage at Dave's side now, and calling his name; but Law, it seemed, was scarcely conscious. He had slumped together; his face was vacant, his eyes dull. He was muttering to himself a queer, delirious jumble of words.

"Oh, Dad! He's sick--sick," Paloma sobbed. "Dave, don't you know us? You're home, Dave. Everything is--all right now."

"Why, you'd hardly recognize the boy!" Blaze exclaimed; then he added his appeal to his daughter's. But they could not arouse the sick man from his coma.

"He asked me to take him to Las Palmas," Strange explained. "Looks to me like a sunstroke. You'd ought to hear him rave when he gets started."

Paloma turned an agonized face to her father. "Get a doctor, quick," she implored; "he frightens me."

But Mrs. Strange had followed, and now she spoke up in a matter- of-fact tone: "Doctor nothing," she said. "I know more than all the doctors. Paloma, you go into the house and get a bed ready for him, and you men lug him in. Come, now, on the run, all of you! I'll show you what to do." She took instant charge of the situation, and when Dave refused to leave the carriage and began to fight off his friends, gabbling wildly, it was she who quieted him. Elbowing Blaze and her husband out of the way, she loosed the young man's frenzied clutch from the carriage and, holding his hands in hers, talked to him in such a way that he gradually relaxed. It was she who helped him out and then supported him into the house. It was she who got him up-stairs and into bed, and it was she who finally stilled his babble.

"The poor man is burning up with a fever," she told the others, "and fevers are my long suit. Get me some towels and a lot of ice."

Blaze, who had watched the snake-charmer's deft ministrations with mingled amazement and suspicion, inquired: "What are you going to do with ice? Ice ain't medicine."

"I'm going to pack his head in it."

"God'l'mighty!" Blaze was horrified. "Do you want to freeze his brain?"

Mrs. Strange turned on him angrily. "You get out of my way and mind your own business. 'Freeze his brain!'" With a sniff of indignation she pushed past the interloper.

But Blaze was waiting for her when she returned a few moments later with bowls and bottles and various remedies which she had commandeered. He summoned sufficient courage to block her way and inquire:

"What you got there, now, ma'am?"

Mrs. Strange glared at him balefully. With an effort at patience she inquired: "Say! What ails you, anyhow?"

Jones swallowed hard. "Understand, he's a friend of mine. No damned magic goes."

"Magic?"

"No--cockroaches or snakes' tongues, or--"

Mrs. Strange fingered a heavy china bowl as if tempted to bounce it from Blaze's head. Then, not deigning to argue, she whisked past him and into the sick-room. It was evident from her expression that she considered the master of the house a harmless but offensive old busybody.

For some time longer Blaze hung about the sick-room; then, his presence being completely ignored, he risked further antagonism by telephoning for Jonesville's leading doctor. Not finding the physician at home, he sneaked out to the barn and, taking Paloma's car, drove away in search of him. It was fully two hours later when he returned to discover that Dave was sleeping quietly.

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