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.
AN EVENING AT LAS PALMAS
Although the lower counties of southwest Texas are flat and badly watered, they possess a rich soil. They are favored, too, by a kindly climate, subtropic in its mildness. The days are long and bright and breezy, while night brings a drenching dew that keeps the grasses green. Of late years there have been few of those distressing droughts that gave this part of the state an evil reputation, and there has been a corresponding increase in prosperity. The Rio Grande, jaundiced, erratic as an invalid, wrings its saffron blood from the clay bluffs and gravel canons of the hill country, but near its estuary winds quietly through a low coastal plain which the very impurities of that blood have richened. Here the river’s banks are smothered in thickets of huisache, ebony, mesquite, oak, and alamo.
Railroads, those vitalizing nerve-fibers of commerce, are so scarce along this division of the border that even in this day when we boast, or lament, that we no longer have a frontier, there remain in Texas sections larger than some of our Eastern states which hear the sound of iron wheels only on their boundaries. To travel from Brownsville north along the international line one must, for several hundred miles, avail oneself of horses, mules, or motor-cars, since rail transportation is almost lacking. And on his way the traveler will traverse whole counties where the houses are jacals, where English is a foreign tongue, and where peons plow their fields with crooked sticks as did the ancient Egyptians.
That part of the state which lies below the Nueces River was for a time disputed territory, and long after Texans had given their lives to drive the Eagle of Mexico across the Rio Grande much of it remained a forbidden land. Even to-day it is alien. It is a part of our Southland, but a South different to any other that we have. Within it there are no blacks, and yet the whites number but one in twenty. The rest are swarthy, black-haired men who speak the Spanish tongue and whose citizenship is mostly a matter of form.
The stockmen, pushing ahead of the nesters and the tillers of the soil, were the first to invade the lower Rio Grande, and among these “Old Ed” Austin was a pioneer. Out of the unmapped prairie he had hewed a foothold, and there, among surroundings as Mexican as Mexico, he had laid the beginnings of his fortune.