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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesJean Of The Lazy A - Chapter 21. Jean Believes That She Takes Matters Into Her Own Hands
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Jean Of The Lazy A - Chapter 21. Jean Believes That She Takes Matters Into Her Own Hands Post by :CharlesWest Category :Long Stories Author :B. M. Bower Date :May 2012 Read :2282

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Jean Of The Lazy A - Chapter 21. Jean Believes That She Takes Matters Into Her Own Hands

CHAPTER XXI. JEAN BELIEVES THAT SHE TAKES MATTERS INTO HER OWN HANDS

After all, Jean did not have to fight her way clear through "Warring Mexico" and back again, in order to reach Nogales. She let Lite take her to the snug little apartment which she was to share with Muriel and her mother, and she fancied that she had been very crafty and very natural in her manner all the while he was with her, and that Lite did not dream of what she had in her mind to do. At any rate, she watched him stalk away on his high-heeled riding-boots, and she thought that his mind was perfectly at ease. (Jean, I fear, never will understand Lite half as well as Lite has always understood Jean.)

She caught the next down-town car and went straight to the information bureau of the Southern Pacific, established for the convenience of the public and the sanity of employees who have something to do besides answer foolish questions.

She found a young man there who was not averse to talking at length with a young woman who was dressed trimly in a street suit of the latest fashion, and who had almost entrancing, soft drawl to her voice and a most fascinating way of looking at one. This young man appeared to know a great deal, and to be almost eager to pass along his wisdom. He knew all about Nogales, Mexico, for instance, and just what train would next depart in that general direction, and how much it would cost, and how long she would have to wait in Tucson for the once-a-day train to Nogales, and when she might logically expect to arrive in that squatty little town that might be said to be really and truly divided against itself. Here the nice young man became facetious.

"Bible tells us a city divided against itself cannot stand," he informed Jean quite gratuitously. "Well, maybe that's straight goods, too. But Nogales is cut right through at the waist line with the international boundary line. United States customhouse on one corner of the street, Mexican customhouse in talking distance on the other corner. Great place for holdups, that!" This was a joke, and Jean smiled obligingly. "First the United States holds you up, and then the Mexicans. You get it coming and going. Well, Nogales don't have to stand. It squats. It's adobe mostly."

Jean was interested, and she did not discourage the nice young man. She let him say all he could think of on the subject of Nogales and the Federal troops stationed there, and on warring Mexico generally. When she left him, she felt as if she knew a great deal about the end of her journey. So she smiled and thanked the nice young man in that soft drawl that lingered pleasantly in his memory, and went over to another window and bought a ticket to Nogales. She moved farther along to another window and secured a Pullman ticket which gave her lower five in car four for her comfort.

With an impulse of wanting to let her Uncle Carl know that she was not forgetting her mission, she sent him this laconic telegram:


Have located Art. Will bring him back with me.
JEAN.


After that, she went home and packed a suit-case and her six-shooter and belt. She did not, after all, know just what might happen in Nogales, Mexico, but she meant to bring back Art Osgood if he were to be found alive; hence the six-shooter.

That evening she told Muriel that she was going to run away and have her vacation--her "vacation" hunting down and capturing a murderer who had taken refuge in the Mexican army!--and that she would write when she knew just where she would stop. Then she went away alone in a taxi to the depot, and started on her journey with a six-shooter jostling a box of chocolates in her suit-case, and with her heart almost light again, now that she was at last following a clue that promised something at the other end.

It was all just as the nice young man had told her. Jean arrived in Tucson, and she left on time, on the once-a-day train to Nogales.

Lite also arrived in Tucson on time, though Jean did not see him, since he descended from the chair car with some caution just as she went into the depot. He did not depart on time as it happened; he was thirsty, and he went off to find something wetter than water to drink, and while he was gone the once-a-day train also went off through the desert. Lite saw the last pair of wheels it owned go clipping over the switch, and he stood in the middle of the track and swore. Then he went to the telegraph office and found out that a freight left for Nogales in ten minutes. He hunted up the conductor and did things to his bank roll, and afterwards climbed into the caboose on the sidetrack. Lite has been so careful to keep in the background, through all these chapters, that it seems a shame to tell on him now. But I am going to say that, little as Jean suspected it, he had been quite as interested in finding Art Osgood as had she herself. When he saw her pass through the gate to the train, in Los Angeles, that was his first intimation that she was going to Nogales; so he had stayed in the chair car out of sight. But it just shows how great minds run in the same channel; and how, without suspecting one another, these two started at the same time upon the same quest.

Jean stared out over the barrenness that was not like the barrenness of Montana, and tried not to think that perhaps Art Osgood had by this time drifted on into obscurity. Still, if he had drifted on, surely she could trace him, since he had been serving on the staff of a general and should therefore be pretty well known. What she really hated most to think of was the possibility that he might have been killed. They did get killed, sometimes, down there where there was so much fighting going on all the time.

When the shadows of the giant cactus stretched mutilated hands across the desert sand, and she believed that Nogales was near, Jean carried her suit-case to the cramped dressing-room and took out her six-shooter and buckled it around her. Then she pulled her coat down over it with a good deal of twisting and turning before the dirty mirror to see that it looked all right, and not in the least as though a perfect lady was packing a gun.

She went back and dipped fastidious fingers into the box of chocolates, and settled herself to nibble candy and wait for what might come. She felt very calm and self-possessed and sure of herself. Her only fear was that Art Osgood might have been killed, and his lips closed for all time. So they rattled away through the barrenness and drew near to Nogales.

Casa del Sonora, whither she went, was an old, two-story structure of the truly Spanish type, and it was kept by a huge, blubbery creature with piggish eyes and a bloated, purple countenance and the palsy. As much of him as appeared to be human appeared to be Irish; and Jean, after the first qualm of repulsion, when she faced him over the hotel register, detected a certain kindly solicitude in his manner, and was reassured.

So far, everything had run smoothly, like a well-staged play. Absurdly simple, utterly devoid of any element of danger, any vexatious obstacle to the immediate achievement of her purpose! But Jean was not thrown off her guard because of the smoothness of the trail.

The trip from Tucson had been terribly tiresome; she was weary in every fibre, it seemed to her. But for all that she intended, sometime that evening, to meet Art Osgood if he were in town. She intended to take him with her on the train that left the next morning. She thought it would be a good idea to rest now, and to proceed deliberately, lest she frustrate all her plans by over-eagerness.

Perhaps she slept a little while she lay upon the bed and schooled herself to calmness. A band, somewhere, playing a pulsing Spanish air, brought her to her feet. She went to the window and looked out, and saw that the street lay cool and sunless with the coming of dusk.

From the American customhouse just on the opposite corner came Lite Avery, stalking leisurely along in his high-heeled riding-boots. Jean drew back with a little flutter of the pulse and watched him, wondering how he came to be in Nogales. She had last seen him boarding a car that would take him out to the Great Western Studio; and now, here he was, sauntering across the street as if he lived here. It was like finding his bed up in the loft and knowing all at once that he had been keeping watch all the while, thinking of her welfare and never giving her the least hint of it. That at least was understandable. But to her there was something uncanny about his being here in Nogales. When he was gone, she stepped out through the open window to the veranda that ran the whole length of the hotel, and looked across the street into Mexico.

She was, she decided critically, about fifteen feet from the boundary line. Just across the street fluttered the Mexican flag from the Mexican customhouse. A Mexican guard lounged against the wall, his swarthy face mask-like in its calm. While she leaned over the railing and stared curiously at that part of the street which was another country, from the hills away to the west, where were camped soldiers,--the American soldiers,--who prevented the war from slopping over the line now and then into Arizona, came the clear notes of a bugle held close-pressed against the lips of a United States soldier in snug-fitting khaki. The boom of the sundown salute followed immediately after. In the street below her, Mexicans and Americans mingled amiably and sauntered here and there, killing time during that bored interval between eating and the evening's amusement.

Just beyond the Mexican boundary, the door of a long, adobe cantina was flung open, and a group of men came out and paused as if they were wondering what they should do next, and where they should go. Jean looked them over curiously. Mexicans they were not, though they had some of the dress which belonged on that side of the boundary.

Americans they were; one knew by the set of their shoulders, by the little traits of race which have nothing to do with complexion or speech.

Jean caught her breath and leaned forward. There was Art Osgood, standing with his back toward her and with one palm spread upon his hip in the attitude she knew so well. If only he would turn! Should she run down the stairs and go over there and march him across the line at the muzzle of her revolver? The idea repelled her, now that she had actually come to the point of action.

Jean, now that the crisis had arrived, used her woman's wile, rather than the harsher but perhaps less effective weapons of a man.

"Oh, Art!" she called, just exactly as she would have called to him on the range, in Montana "Hello, Art!"

Art Osgood wheeled and sent a startled, seeking glance up at the veranda; saw her and knew who it was that had called him, and lifted his hat in the gesture that she knew so well. Jean's fingers were close to her gun, though she was not conscious of it, or of the strained, tense muscles that waited the next move.

Art, contrary to her expectations, did the most natural thing in the world. He grinned and came hurrying toward her with the long, eager steps of one who goes to greet a friend after an absence that makes of that meeting an event. Jean watched him cross the street. She waited, dazed by the instant success of her ruse, while he disappeared under the veranda. She heard his feet upon the stairs. She heard him come striding down the hall to the glass-paneled door. She saw him coming toward her, still grinning in his joy at the meeting.

"Jean Douglas! By all that's lucky!" he was exclaiming. "Where in the world did you light down from?" He came to a stop directly in front of her, and held out his hand in unsuspecting friendship.

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