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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesStarr, Of The Desert - Chapter 19. Holman Sommers Turns Prophet
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Starr, Of The Desert - Chapter 19. Holman Sommers Turns Prophet Post by :Allnewe Category :Long Stories Author :B. M. Bower Date :May 2012 Read :2345

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Starr, Of The Desert - Chapter 19. Holman Sommers Turns Prophet


Holman Sommers, clad outwardly in old wool trousers of a dingy gray, a faded brown smoking jacket that had shrunk in many washings until it was three inches too short in the sleeves, and old brown slippers, sat tilted back in a kitchen chair against the wall of his house and smoked a beautifully colored meerschaum with solid gold bands and a fine amber mouthpiece, while he conferred comfortably with one Elfigo Apodaca.

There was no quizzical twinkle in the eyes of Holman Sommers, vividly alive though they were always. With his low slipper heels hooked over the rung of his chair and his right hand nursing the bowl of his pipe and his black hair rumpled in the wind, he was staring at the granite ridge somberly.

"I am indeed sorry to hear that Estan Medina was shot," he said after a pause. "Even in the interests of the Cause it was absolutely unjustifiable. The man could do no harm; indeed, he served to divert suspicion from others. Only crass stupidity would resort to brute violence in the effort to further propaganda. Laying aside the human--"

"Of course," Elfigo interrupted sarcastically, "there's nothing violent in a revolution! Where do you get your argument for gentleness, Holly? That's what bothers me. You can stir up a bunch of Mexicans quicker than a barrel of mezcal with your revolution talks."

"Ah, but you do not take into account the great, fundamental truth that cooperative effort, on the part of the proletariat, is wholly justifiable, in that it furthers the good of all humanity. Whereas violence on the part of the individual merely retards the final result for which we are striving. The murder of Estan Medina, for instance, may be the one display of individual violence which will nullify all our efforts toward a common good.

"For myself, I am bending every energy toward the formation of a cooperative colony which will demonstrate the feasibility of a cooperative form of government for the whole nation--the whole world, in fact. Your Junta has pledged itself to the assistance of this colony, the incalculable benefits of which will, I verily believe, be the very salvation of Mexico as a nation. Mexico, now in the throes of national parturition, is logically the pioneer in the true socialistic form of government. From Mexico the seed will be carried overseas to drop upon soil made fertile by the bones of those sacrificed to the blood-lust of the war mad lords of Europe.

"Here, in this little corner of the world, is where the first tiny plant must be grown. Can you not grasp, then, the tremendous significance of what, on the face of it, is the pitifully small attempt of a pitifully weak people to strike a feeble blow for the freedom of labor? To frustrate that feeble blow now, by the irresponsible, lawless murder of a good citizen, merely because he failed at first to grasp the meaning of the lesson placed before him to learn, is, to my way of thinking, not only unjustifiable but damnably weak and reprehensible."

Elfigo Apodaca, in another kitchen chair tilted back against an angle of the wall so that he half faced Holman Sommers, stretched out his legs and smiled tolerantly. A big, good-looking, thoroughly Americanized Mexican was Elfigo; the type of man who may be found at sunrise whipping the best stream in the State, the first morning of the trout season; the type of man whose machine noses in the closest to the judge's stand when a big race is on; the type of man who dances most, collects the most picture postals of pretty girls, laughs most at after-dinner speeches; the type of man who either does not marry at all, or attains much notoriety when the question of alimony is being fought out to the last cipher; the last man you would point out as a possible conspirator against anything save the peace and dignity of some other man's home. But it takes money to be all of these things, and Elfigo could see a million or two ahead of him along the revolution trail. That is why he smiled tolerantly upon his colleague who talked of humanity instead of dollars.

Then Elfigo harked back frowningly to what Holman Sommers had said about feebleness. He rolled his cigar from the right corner of his mouth to the left corner and spoke his thought.

"Speaking of feeble blow, and all that bunk," he said irreverently, "how do we stand, Holly? Just between you and me as men--cut out any interest we may have in the game--what's your honest opinion? Do we win?"

Holman Sommers raised one hand and hid the amused twitching of his lips. He could have put that question far more clearly, he believed, and he could have expressed much better the thought that was in Elfigo's mind. He had deliberately baited Elfigo, and it amused him to see how blindly the bait had been taken. He regarded Elfigo through half closed lids.

"As a matter of fact, and speaking relatively, every concerted revolt on the part of the proletariat is a victory. Though every leader in the movement be placed with his back against a stone wall, there to stand until he falls to the earth riddled with bullets, yet have the people won; a step nearer the goal, one more page writ in the glowing history of the advancement of the human race toward a true brotherhood of man. There can be no end save ultimate victory. That the victory may not be apparent for fifty years, or a hundred, cannot in any sense alter the immutable law of evolution. Posterity will point back to this present uprising as the first real blow struck for the freedom of the laboring classes of Mexico, and, indirectly, of the whole world."

Elfigo, his thumbs hooked in the armholes of his vest, mark of the dominant note in the human male since clothes were invented to furnish armholes for egotistic thumbs, contemplated his polished tan shoes dissatisfiedly.

"Oh, to hell with posterity!" he blurted impatiently. "What about us poor devils that's furnishing the time and money and brains to put it over? Do we get lined up against a wall?"

Holly Sommers chuckled. "Not if your car can put you across the line soon enough. Then, even though Mexico might be called upon to execute one Elfigo Apodaca as an example to the souls in bondage, some other bullet-riddled cadaver with your name and physical likeness would do as well as your own carcass." He chuckled again.

"Cheerful prospect," grinned Elfigo ruefully. "But I like a sporting chance, myself. The real point I'm trying to get at is, what chance do you think the Alliance has got of winning? Come down outa the clouds, Holly, and never mind about humanity for a minute. You've helped organize the Alliance, you've talked to the hombres, you've been the god in the machine in this part of the country, and all that. Now be a prophet in words of one syllable and tell me what you think of the outlook."

With his fingers Holly Sommers packed the tobacco down into the bowl of his pipe. His whole expression changed from the philosopher to the cunning leader of what might well be called a forlorn hope.

"Speaking in words of one syllable, we have a damn better chance than you may think," he said, in a tone as changed as his looks. "This country lies wide open to any attack that is sudden and unexpected. Labor is in a state of ferment. I predict that within a year we shall find ourselves upon the brink of a civil war, with labor and capital lined up against each other. Unless the government takes some definite step toward placating organized labor, the whole standing army will not be sufficient to keep the peace. That is the present internal condition, and that condition will grow worse until we face the real crisis of a national strike of some sort--I believe of the railroad employees, since that is the most far-reaching and would prove the most disastrous--therefore the most terrifying to the ruling class.

"On the other hand, and turning our faces outward, we are not much better prepared for an emergency. We are a conceited nation, but insufferable national conceit never yet won a battle. We are given to shouting rather than shooting. Americanism to-day consists chiefly of standing up while the Star Spangled Banner is being played by a brass band, and of shooting off rockets on our national holiday. Were I of the capitalist class, I should consider the situation desperate. But being allied with the workers, I can laugh.

"Speaking still in words of one syllable, Elfigo, I can safely prophesy what will happen first when the Alliance begins its active campaign. Scarehead news in extra editions will be printed. The uprising will be greatly exaggerated, I have no doubt. Women and children will be reported massacred, whereas the Alliance has no intention of being more barbarous than any warfare necessitates. Then there will be a buzzing of leagues and clubs; and the citizens will march up and down the business section of every town, bearing banners and shouting for the 'dear old flag.' Women will rise up and sell sofa pillows and doilies to raise money to buy chewing gum for our soldier boys. That, Elfigo, will sufficiently occupy the masses for a week or two.

"Going higher, red tape will begin to unroll and entwine the heads of departments, and every man who has any authority whatever will wait for orders from some one higher up. Therefore, while the whole nation cheers the street parades and the flags and the soldier boys and everything else in sight, the Alliance will be getting under way--"

"We'll throw her into high and step on her!" Elfigo contributed, being a motor enthusiast.

"Something like that, yes. When you consider that the transportation of troops to quell the uprising will require anywhere from three days to three weeks, I am counting red tape and all, you will readily apprehend how much may be accomplished before they are in a position to handle the situation.

"On the other hand, Mexico is filled with fighters. So much has oppression done for the peon; it has taught him the business of fighting. Now, I grant you, she is a nation composed of warring factions topped by a lamentably weak provisional government. _But with practically every Spanish-American over here actually participating in a movement for Mexico, all those various factions will coalesce, as tiny brooklets flow together to form the mighty torrent."

"Still, she's a big country to lick," Elfigo pointed out, chiefly to see what Holly would say.

"Ah, but Mexico does not comprehend that fact! And, in the same breath, neither does this country, as a whole, comprehend how big a country is Mexico to lick! Give a Mexican soldado a handful of beans a day and something to shout _Viva for, and he can and will fight indefinitely. If I mistake not, it will shortly behoove this country to temporize, to make certain concessions. Whether those concessions extend so far as to cede these three States back to Mexico, I cannot hazard a prediction. I can see, however, where it is not at all improbable that New Mexico and Arizona may be considered too costly to hold. Texas," he smiled, "Texas remembers too vividly her Alamo. Mexico, if she is wise, does not want Texas."

"I heard yesterday there's some talk amongst the Americans about organizing home guards. We can't stand another postponement, Holly; it might give them time to pull off something like that. Little Luis Medina told me he heard a target marker for the San Bonito rifle club say something about it. He heard the members talking. You know they're using government rifles and ammunition. It would be a hell of a note to put things off till every town had a home guard organized."

"I can see no necessity for putting things off," said Holly calmly. "So far as I can learn, we are practically ready, over here. Ah! Here comes our charming neighbor from Sunlight Basin. Perhaps, Elfigo, it would be as well for you to disappear from the premises."

"Oh, I want to meet her," Elfigo smiled easily. "It'll be all right; I just came after water for my radiator, anyway. She's dry as a bone. I opened the drain cock and let her drain off and stood a fine chance of freezing my engine too, before I got on past the puddle far enough to be safe!"

"It was, as a matter of fact, a very grave mistake to come here at all," Holly told him with a courteous kind of severity. "I fear you greatly underestimate the absolute necessity for extreme caution. The mere fact that we have thus far elicited nothing more than a vague curiosity on the part of the government, does not excuse any imprudence now. Rather, it intensifies the need for caution. For myself--"

"Oh, anybody is liable to run dry, out here on the desert, Holly. If all the Secret Service men in the country, and I know of one or two that's been nosing around, were to come and find me here, they couldn't say I hadn't a good, legitimate reason for coming. I had to come. I didn't want to run on to any one from that inquest, and I had to see you. I wanted to put you wise to the stand we're taking on the Estan Medina affair. We can't help if that somebody bumped him off, but--"

"You can fill your water bag at the well, since that is what you came for; and I should strongly advise you to terminate your visit as soon as it is consistent with your errand to do so."

"Oh, don't crab my meeting a pretty girl, Holly! Introduce me, and I'll take the water and go. Be a sport!" Elfigo had picked up his five-gallon desert bag, but he was obviously waiting for Helen May to ride up to the house.

To Starr, crouched behind on a rock on the ridge that divided the Sommers place from the hidden arroyo where he had first seen trace of the automobile, Elfigo's attitude of waiting for Helen May was too obvious to question. A little, weakling offspring of Hope died then in his heart. He had tried so hard to find some excuse for Helen May, and he had almost succeeded. But his glasses were too strong; they identified Elfigo Apodaca too clearly for any doubt. They were too merciless in showing Starr that beside Elfigo stood the man who had visited Helen May the day before.

Recognition of the man came with something of a shock to Starr. He had heard of Holman Sommers often enough, though he had never seen him. He had heard him described as a "highbrow" who wrote scientific articles, sometimes published in obscure magazines, read by few and understood by none. A recluse student, he had been described to Starr, who knew Todd Sommers by sight, and who had tagged the family as being too American for any suspicion to point their way.

As often happens, Starr had formed a mental picture of Holman Sommers which was really the picture of a type made familiar to us mostly by our humorists. He had imagined that Holman Sommers, being a "highbrow," was a little, dried-up man with a bald head and weak eyes that made spectacles a part of his face; an insignificant little man well past middle life, with a gray beard, Starr saw him mentally. He should have known better than to let his imagination paint him a portrait of any man, in those ticklish times. But they were Americans, which was disarming in itself. And the plump sister, who had talked for ten minutes with Starr when he called at the ranch one day to see if they had any stock they wanted to sell, had further helped to ward off any suspicion.

Now that he knew, by the smoking jacket and the slippers and the uncovered thatch of jet-black hair, that this man must be Holman Sommers; when he saw Elfigo Apodaca there, seated and talking earnestly with him, as he could tell by the gestures with which they elaborated their speech; when he saw Helen May riding in to the ranch, he had before him all the outward, visible evidence of a conference. The only false note, to Starr's way of thinking, was the brazenness of it. They must, he told himself, be so sure of themselves that they could snap their fingers at risk, or else they were so desperately in need of conferring together that they overlooked the risk. And that second explanation might easily be the true one, in view of Estan Medina's death and the possible consequence to the Alliance.

Starr was hampered by not hearing anything that was being said down there at that homey-looking ranch house, where everything was clearly visible to him through his field glasses. But even so it did not require speech to tell him that Elfigo Apodaca had never before met Helen May Stevenson, and that Holman Sommers was not overeager to introduce him to her. Starr, watching every movement of the three when they came together, frowned with puzzlement. Why had they been strangers until just now?

He saw the three stand and talk for perhaps two minutes; commonplace, early-acquaintance nothings, he judged from their faces and actions. He saw Helen May offer Holman Sommers the package she carried; saw Holman take it negligently and tuck it under his arm while he went on talking. He saw Helen May turn then and go around to the door, which was opened effusively by the plump sister whom he knew. He saw the two men go to the well, and watched Elfigo fill the water bag and go away down the uneven trail to where his automobile stood, perhaps a quarter of a mile nearer the main road. When he turned his glasses from Elfigo to the house, Holman had gone inside, and the two women were out beyond the house admiring a flock of chickens which Maggie called to her with a few handfuls of grain.

There seemed no further profit in watching the Sommers house, and Starr was about to leave his post when he saw the dingy, high-powered roadster of the sheriff come careening up the trail. He came near upsetting his machine in getting around Apodaca's big car, but he negotiated the passing with some skill and came on to where he met Elfigo himself sweating down the trail with his full five-gallon water bag.

Here again Starr wished that he could hear as well as he could see. That the sheriff had seized the opportunity to place Elfigo under arrest, he knew well enough, by faces and gestures, just as he had known of Elfigo's introduction to Helen May. But here were no polite nothings being mouthed. Elfigo was talking angrily, and Starr would have given a great deal to hear what he was saying; calling it an outrage, he supposed, and heaping maledictions on the stupidity of the law.

The sheriff did not seem to pay much attention to what Elfigo was saying beyond pulling a pair of handcuffs from his coat pocket, and tossing them to his prisoner--with the invitation to put them on, Starr knew very well, having himself done the same thing more than once. Still talking furiously, Elfigo obeyed, and then was invited to climb in beside the sheriff, who stooped and did something with one of Elfigo's stylishly trousered legs; manacled him to something in the machine, Starr guessed. From which he also gathered that Elfigo's remarks must have been pretty strong.

The sheriff started on, ran to where he could turn without upsetting, and backed the car around as though his errand were done. Quick work it had been. Evidently Sheriff O'Malley had attended the inquest with a blank warrant in his pocket, for fear Elfigo might take alarm and give them the slip. He must have been on the way back when he had either seen Elfigo's car on the Sommers trail, or else had noted where it had turned off and had come up the trail in a purely investigative spirit. However that might be, he had not let the chance slip. Which was characteristic of Sheriff O'Malley, essentially a man of action.

Starr should have been glad. Perhaps he was, though he did not look it as he went back to where Rabbit was browsing on whatever he could get while he waited for his master. Elfigo in jail even for a few days would be an advantage, Starr believed. It would set the rest to buzzing, so that he could locate them with less delay. But at the same time--

"If it came to a showdown right now, I'd have to take her along with the rest," he came up squarely against his real problem. "She's got it coming; but it's hell, all the same!"

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