Help via Ko-Fi



IT YOU, señor, had a seester you love; an' ever' day her man she marry beat her—ever' day he I—beat her till the blood come, what do you, señor?"

Mazaro Gonzales kicked the "Compiled Laws of New Mexico" that held open the door of the hot, dingy office, and crushed a greasy sombrero with his dirty hands as he doggedly waited for "Big Bill" King to answer.

"Do you know what I'd do, Mazaro?" Big Bill replied without a moment's hesitation. "I would take just about fifteen minutes to give that brother-in-law a whirlwind finish, and I'd do it with about twobits' worth of buckshot and the first piece of ordnance I could lay my hands on!"

"Me no comprendo," grunted Mazaro, knitting his bronzed brows and peering through his pen-slit eyes at the big, handsome American who sat, tilted back in a common kitchen chair, his feet crossed on top of a weather-beaten desk.

"I mean, Mazaro," and King stopped puffing the big black cigar and faced the Mexican, "that I'd shoot him dead full of buckshot, and I'd do it quick!"

"Bueno, amigo," was the "Greaser's" only comment as he shuffled out of the door, and Big Bill King returned to the business which Mazaro's timid knock had interrupted. The particular business in hand and, in fact, about the only business in which William Gordon King had engaged since his arrival in Paradise six months previously, was cursing the stars that had guided him to this forlorn town whose biggest attraction was its burying-ground and whose chiefest enterprises were loafing in the daytime and enlarging the cemetery by night.

For, by one of the jokes of fate, William Gordon King, the many-sided, was doing time in Paradise, in the heart of the desert country, with the office of County Attorney serving as the shackle.

As a matter of history, it was no star at all that guided him to Paradise, but the greasy finger of Mazaro Gonzales, whose acquaintance he had made a year previous when both were shifting railroad-ties on the new line of road entering Paradise. Shifting railroad-ties was not King's regular profession; neither was county-attorneying.

His original intention and overwhelming ambition when he journeyed West and climbed the mountains was to gouge out the heart of the Taos Range and become a great copper king, but as months rolled by and the only copper he found within reach was the few pieces stamped with Indian heads which he retained of his original capital, he turned to the only paying profession he could find, and it brought him side by side with Mazaro on the new railroad grade.

When the season's work was over and Mazaro said, "Go my town, Paradise," he accepted the suggestion, and before the end of six months "Bill King" found himself bearing up as best he could under the title of County Attorney and sitting day after day in his office in a one-story adobe building with an equipment of a half-dozen law books inherited from a suddenly deceased predecessor. The law books, be it understood, contained all the knowledge of law the office of County Attorney now held. It was not necessary to know law to be elected County Attorney in Paradise.

When the good citizens of Paradise had first suggested the office to William Gordon King, he hesitated for a moment, but only for a moment. During that moment of hesitation a vision of the railroad grade arose before Hi eyes and the next he was nominated for County Attorney. He argued with himself that, granting he had no knowledge of law, neither had he possessed any knowledge of mining or railroads, and if in the few months he had been in their midst, the inhabitants of Paradise had seen in him the making of a legal light, far be it from him to depreciate himself. The previous occupations of miner and daylaborer were unknown to his supporters in Paradise, with the exception of Mazaro. Mazaro kept his own counsel and Big Bill did the same.

At the hour of Mazaro's visit, Bill King had occupied the office of County Attorney for just two weeks, that is, he had held possession of the office. There had been no duties to perform, so it was not the obligations of office that caused him to curse Ms stars. It was not the position of County Attorney. It was not even Mazaro, who had guided him thither. It was Paradise, just Paradise—the most desolate spot in all this barren country. And in this dreary desert with its sacrilegious name, he had sworn to stalk for one year as a mighty limb of the law.

THE sound of the church-bell announced the Angelus hour and, kicking his cigar-stubs into a corner, the County Attorney of Paradise started home to Ms evening meal at the ranch of Pedro Espejo.

There was small companionship between the Easterner and Pedro, the ranch-owner, or Ms wife, and "Señor" King ate Ms supper and drank Ms vile, black coffee in silence.

Paradise weighed heavily upon him tonight and Wrapped Mm in a gloom too dense for the wreaths of smoke from Ms big black cigar to penetrate. Not even the remembrance of Mazaro Gonzales' visit or Mazaro Gonzales' family troubles could seep through the pall of Ms own self-absorption, until some remark of Espejo's wife, spoken in Spanish to her husband, in which she mentioned the name of Bonita, brought Mm out of Ms pit of despair, for Bonita was the name of Mazaro's sister.

"I wonder if Francisco does beat up Ms wife," he mused. "Funny that Mazaro should have made that call on me this afternoon. Maybe he wanted the benefit of my legal knowledge," and he almost smiled. "Maybe—Great Heavens!" and Ms breath stopped as the seriousness of the situation dawned upon Mm. Had Mazaro come to him for legal advice? Was the story of the brother-in-law, told in the brief words of this Greaser, Ms ignorant way of consulting an attorney?

An overwhelming terror seized Big Bill King, who had never known fear in Ms life. The more he thought, the greater grew Ms fear. He had known Mazaro as a quiet, peaceable fellow who lived alone in Ms little adobe shack and seldom spoke of himself or Ms affairs. Once or twice he had spoken of Bornta to Bill King when the day's work was over on the railroad grade, and always in a bluntly tender way, but never until to-day had he mentioned the fact of her domestic infelicity.

So scant was the County Attorney's acquaintance with methods of jurisprudence that he had given freely of Ms advice to Mazaro, never dreaming that anything more than a hypothetical case was being presented. He had spoken to a friend, not a client.

As the evernng wore on he became more and more oppressed with the thought, and finally determined to ease Ms conscience by going to Mazaro's 'dobe and talking the matter over.

Once outside the ranchhouse, he felt better and breathed deeply of the still night air. However much the Greasers might be sticking knives between one another's fifth and sixth ribs within their cabins, the night without was quiet as the near-by graveyard, and the only sound was the howl of the lobos, or big wolves, that came from the distant hills.

King walked quickly along the white, dusty road, watching the shifting patterns traced on the path as the moonlight slanted through the scattering mesquite.

As he neared the church he heard the tolling of a bell and, rounding a corner, he heard a wailing, moaning sound. A coffin was being borne by six bare-headed men. Behind it trailed a dozen or more women, each with a black shawl over her head and each vying with the other in an effort to make the loudest noise as they passed into the church where the wail changed to the most dismal chant imaginable.

In his present state of mind, this wailing of women and the chanting of the funeral service added tenfold to his already depressed spirits as he quickened his steps toward the home of Mazaro, across the plaza.

Approaching the little wooden bridge, across the arroyo, he heard the sound of hoof-beats. Clackety-clack, clackety-clack— nearer and nearer came the pounding of the horse's hoofs.

King stepped aside to give the rider the right of way. As the horse dashed past, Big Bill King's heart stood still, for as the moonlight fell upon the rider, the legal light of Paradise saw Francisco, the brother-in-law of Mazaro, clinging to the broncho's neck with his left arm, while his right hung limp and lifeless, and blood streamed from his face and head. King opened his mouth to shout to the broncho to stop, but choked the cry in his throat when the sound of another horse's hoofs was borne to him across the arroyo. A second time he stood aside, this time in abject terror, and as he crouched down beside the chaparral he recognized the form of the Deputy-Sheriff in mad haste, pursuing the pony which bore the perhaps dead body of Bonita's husband.

A thousand thoughts crowded into King's brain, but uppermost of all were the words he had said to Mazaro a few hours before: "I would shoot him dead with buckshot!"

Imperfect as was his knowledge of law, he knew enough about procedure in Paradise to hazard a bet that the Deputy-Sheriff would arrest Mazaro without the formality of a complaint. From what he gathered of the conversation at Espejo's ranch, the matter of Bonita's family difficulties was a known quantity! in Paradise; and Big Bill knew that a little technicality like the County Attorney's signature on a warrant for arrest would never bother a peace officer in Paradise.

"Well," he soliloquized, as he turned his steps toward Pedro's ranch, "I guess I'm in for it, but I'd better keep out of the way until the brick falls."

BIG BILL slept little that night. He had more on his conscience than he had ever had in all his life, and his conscience had borne some burdens, too, for as he once remarked, "he had committed about all the crimes in the calendar, except suicide."

There was something altogether disconcerting in the thought that the first duty performed in the capacity of County Attorney was to advise a Greaser to murder his brother-in-law, and the further thought that the next duty would be to prosecute his first client.

Of course Mazaro was arrested. It didn't take Deputy-Sheriff Hawkins long to trace the criminal. Mazaro had admitted and, in fact, had boasted in the Five Fingers Saloon that afternoon that he intended to shoot Francisco dead, but, from all he could learn of the conversation, King could not find that Mazaro had implicated the new County Attorney in any way.

Before morning Deputy-Sheriff Hawkins had rounded up Mazaro and had him locked in one of the kennel-like cells that look out upon the dirty courtyard called a jail in Paradise.

Mazaro offered no resistance. With doglike silence he submitted to the law, never for a moment making any attempt to vindicate himself. What was going on behind those dull, half-shut eyes, the County-Attorney could not guess. Moreover, there was enough going on in the County Attorney's own mind to keep him pretty busy.

For, while Mazaro slept in his dirty cell, there was little sleep for the County Attorney. Day after day and night after night he spent in his office in the quaint little one-story building, poring over the few law books the den afforded. "Money's Digest" and the "New Mexico Reports" were thumb-marked from beginning to end in the hope of finding some authority justifying such a crime as Mazaro's. Instead of prosecutor he became attorney for the defense as he turned page after page, uttering maledictions upon the heads of all his predecessors who had left him so small a library. Even the copy of " Compiled Laws of New Mexico" was gathered up from the floor where it had served as door-prop, but, like the others, it failed to throw any light on the question.

In desperation he dug an abandoned volume of "Chitty on Criminal Law" from a dusty drawer of the desk and removed from its supporting place under the back leg of the table "Bishop's Criminal Procedure" and fell upon them with feverish anxiety. After hours and hours of pawing through "assault with felonious intent" to "premeditated murder," he heaved a sigh of relief as he came across "justifiable homicide." "Justifiable homicide," he read, "in an effort to prevent bodily harm to parent, child, brother, sister——" There! He had them! Sister—"in an effort to prevent bodily harm to sister!"

For five seconds he breathed easier, but, as he read on, came the fact of the premeditation; the boasting of Mazaro in the Five Fingers Saloon. As for Mazaro's visit to him, that was known to only the County Attorney and Mazaro, and unless the Greaser admitted it in testimony, the County Attorney resolved that it should be forever a buried secret. Nevertheless, the fact remained that Mazaro had boasted that he intended to kill Francisco, and no amount of law reading could wipe out the fact that kept coming back to taunt Bill King, that it was purely and simply a case of premeditated murder.

"Well, by George!" he exclaimed, as a new thought struck him. "Francisco isn't dead yet! Maybe he won't die, so unless Mazaro treats me to a load of his buckshot or that sweet little brother-in-law gets well and tries to beat me to death, I may come out all right yet."

But before night a new phase was given to King's troubles, and one that made his former anxiety fade to a mere mirage. In searching through his legal books and pamphlets he learned something new. That in just seven days the annual term of court would be held in Paradise! In fulfillment of his oath of office, he, the County Attorney, must, on the opening day of court, present to the Grand Jury all violations of the law within the jurisdiction of his office. When he took the oath, this meant nothing and the date made no impression upon him. Now the awful meaning of it stunned him. In seven days he must prosecute Mazaro Gonzales for taking his advice!

"I can't do it, that's all," he repeated again and again. "I can't prosecute that poor devil for doing what I told him to do. And if I don't, I'll have to lay the case before the Grand Jury; make a clean breast of it; exonerate Mazaro, and then—then it's Big William once more to the railroad-ties!"

ALL this while Mazaro was glorying in his incarceration, hoping, praying that his shot had been fatal; glad to stay in jail, willing to eat crusts, to sleep on a dirty floor, to suffer anything if only Francisco were dead and little Bonita would smile up into his face as she did when she used to bake his tortillas before the little adobe cabin had seemed so lonely and Bonita so sad.

For seven days Francisco lay unconscious on the sheepskin on the floor of old Maria's hut where the Deputy-Sheriff had carried him on the night of the crime. There were no hospitals in Paradise. There was seldom need for them. Usually the Mexicans did their work so well that a priest and a gravedigger performed the last rites without the aid of a hospital.

But Mazaro had miscalculated somewhere and death was not instantaneous as he had prayed it might be. If Mazaro had but seen little Bonita hovering over her liege lord during those hours of unconsciousness and delirium, and ministering to his wants with her left hand while around her right she wore a huge bandage covering the marks of her husband's last caress, he would have bitten through the bars of his cell and completed his work. But Mazaro didn't see. He only prayed in his cell.

At last the seven days had passed and the day before the opening of court arrived, with Big Bill King in a state of mind bordering on insanity. In all that god-forsaken town there was no one ear into which he could pour his tale of woe with any hope of sympathy. He had determined on the only course possible—to lay his story before the Grand Jury and take his medicine. He had reached the ultimate limit in his state of anxiety and was waiting for the Grand Jury to convene and know the worst.

Just out of curiosity, he thought, he would make a call upon old Maria and inquire after the ill-being of Francisco. Old Maria was baking in the little bee-hivelike oven outside her house.

"How is Francisco to-day?" he asked of her.

"He gon-a home; tak' away from these plaze, señor," she replied indifferently.

"What!" he shouted in her ears, so loud that she dropped the hot coals she was raking. "He's not dead?" and his voice trembled with the burden of this last straw.

"No, no dead. Gon-a home with Bonita." And she adjusted the black shawl on her head and turned to go in the low door, but hesitated and added, as though uncertain whether the information contained news: "Mazaro, he gon-a, too, to hees plaze," and the door closed.

Here was new field for thought for the County Attorney. The execution of the law, it seemed, was being handled in Paradise unaided by the County Attorney Mazaro had been arrested without his sigrnature to the complaint, and had been released, likewise without his assistance. Now that the fear of the Grand Jury no longer stared him in the face, he was beginning to feel annoyed that the County Attorney was of so little account in Paradise, when he remembered that Deputy-Sheriff Hawkins had told him once that in Paradise they "never monkeyed with anything less than murder." "If they kills 'em," Hawkins had said, "all right. If they don't kill 'em, we don't have no time to bother with trials."

"Well, I guess my job's good for the rest of the year," King assured himself. "That is, it's good unless Mazaro gets another twobits' worth of buckshot and happens around my way." He had never uprooted the lurking suspicion that Mazaro would hold him responsible for his arrest.

But Mazaro didn't trouble Big Bill King's slumbers that night and, for the first time since the day Mazaro followed his advice, King slept.

EARLY in the morning he was at the office to prepare for the opening of court. He had started dusting his library and had reached "Chitty on Criminal Law" when a timid knock was heard at the door.

"Come in!" he shouted, at least he started to shout, but the "in" died away in a faint whisper as Mazaro Gonzales entered, greasy sombrero in hand.

The County Attorney got ready to dodge the buckshot, but found sufficient voice to ask the Mexican to be seated. Mazaro stood shyly just inside the doorway. In a voice lowered to the most abject apology and with his chin drawn in until it rested on a dirty handkerchief tied around his neck, he mumbled:

"Señor, Meester King," he began, "are you perfeckly disgust with me?"

By this time the County Attorney's voice had left him completely. He looked blankly at Mazaro and waited.

Bowing as though revealing an unpardonable sin to his father confessor, while a great light dawned over Big Bill King, Mazaro Gonzales gulped twice and said:

"Well, you see, señor—you see, Ol' Lars he don't keep no buckshot. You can't kill no man with birdshot!"