“Nowhere a trace!” the horse-breaker was saying. “No one has seen him. Poor Rosa Morales will die of a broken heart.”
Alaire explained to her guest: “Jose is worried about his cousin Panfilo. It seems he has disappeared.”
“So! You are Panfilo’s cousin?” Dave eyed the Mexican with new interest.
“You remember the man?” Alaire went on. “He was with that fellow you arrested at the water-hole.”
“Oh yes. I remember him.” With steady fingers Dave shook some tobacco into a cigarette-paper. He felt Alaire’s eyes upon him, and they were eloquent of inquiry, but he did not meet them.
Jose frowned. “No one at La Feria has seen him, and in Pueblo there was not a word. It is strange.”
“Panfilo was in bad company when I saw him.” Law finished rolling his cigarette and lit it, still conscious of Alaire’s questioning gaze. “He may have had trouble.”
“He was a good man,” the horse-breaker asserted. “If he is dead—” The Mexican’s frown deepened to a scowl.
Jose significantly patted the gift revolver at his hip. “This little fellow will have something to say.”
Dave looked him over idly, from head to heel, then murmured: “You would do well to go slow, compadre. Panfilo made his own quarrels.”
“We were like brothers, and I do not know of any quarrels. But I shall find out. It begins to look bad for somebody. After he left that charco there is—nothing. Where did he go? Whom did he encounter? Rosa will ask me those questions. I am not given to boasting, senor, but I am a devilish bad man in my way.”
THE TRUTH ABOUT PANFILO
Nothing more was said during the luncheon, but when Alaire had finished eating and her two employees had begun their meal, she climbed the bank of the arroyo ostensibly to find a cool spot. Having succeeded, she called to Dave:
“There is a nice breeze up here.”
The Ranger’s face set; rising slowly, he climbed the bank after her. When they stood face to face in the shade of a gnarly oak-tree, Alaire asked him point-blank:
“Where is Panfilo Sanchez?”
Dave met her eyes squarely; his own were cold and hard. “He’s where he dropped at my second shot,” said he.
He could hear his companion’s sharp inhalation. He did not flinch at the look she turned upon him.
“Then—you killed him?”
“God! He was practically unarmed! What do you call—such an act?”
Dave’s lips slowly whitened, his face became stony. He closed his eyes, then opened them upon hers. “He had it coming. He stole my horse. He took a chance.”
Mrs. Austin turned away. For a time they were silent and Dave felt himself pitilessly condemned.
“Why didn’t you tell me at the time?” she asked. “Why didn’t you report it?”