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JUAN OTERO IS CONSCRIPTED
Crawford and Sanders rode rapidly toward Malapi. They stopped several times to examine places where they thought it possible Otero might have left the road, but they looked without expectation of any success. They did not even know that the Mexican had started in this direction. As soon as he reached the suburbs, he might have cut back across the plain and followed an entirely different line of travel.
Several miles from town Sanders pulled up. "I'm going back for a couple of miles. Bob was telling me of a Mexican tendejon in the hills kept by the father of a girl Otero goes to see. She might know where he is. If I can get hold of him likely I can make him talk."
This struck Crawford as rather a wild-goose chase, but he had nothing better to offer himself in the way of a plan.
"Might as well," he said gloomily. "I don't reckon you'll find him. But you never can tell. Offer the girl a big reward if she'll tell where Doble is. I'll hustle to town and send out posses."
They separated. Dave rode back up the road, swung off at the place Hart had told him of, and turned up a valley which pushed to the roots of the hills. The tendejon was a long, flat-roofed adobe building close to the trail.
Dave walked through the open door into the bar-room. Two or three men were lounging at a table. Behind a counter a brown-eyed Mexican girl was rinsing glasses in a pail of water.
The young man sauntered forward to the counter. He invited the company to drink with him.
"I'm looking for Juan Otero," he said presently. "Mr. Crawford wanted me to see him about riding for him."
There was a moment's silence. All of those present were Mexicans except Dave. The girl flashed a warning look at her countrymen. That look, Sanders guessed at once, would seal the lips of all of them. At once he changed his tactics. What information he got would have to come directly through the girl. He signaled her to join him outside.
Presently she did so. The girl was a dusky young beauty, plump as a partridge, with the soft-eyed charm of her age and race.
"The seņor wants to see me?" she asked.
Her glance held a flash of mockery. She had seen many dirty, poverty-stricken mavericks of humanity, but never a more battered specimen than this gaunt, hollow-eyed tramp, black as a coal-heaver, whose flesh showed grimy with livid wounds through the shreds of his clothing. But beneath his steady look the derision died. Tattered his coat and trousers might be. At least he was a prince in adversity. The head on the splendid shoulders was still finely poised. He gave an impression of indomitable strength.
"I want Juan Otero," he said.
"To ride for Seņor Crawford." Her white teeth flashed and she lifted her pretty shoulders in a shrug of mock regret. "Too bad he is not here. Some other day--"
"--will not do. I want him now."
"But I have not got him hid."
"Where is he? I don't want to harm him, but I must know. He took Joyce Crawford into the hills last night to Dug Doble--pretended her father had been hurt and he had been sent to lead her to him. I must save her--from Doble, not from Otero. Help me. I will give you money--a hundred dollars, two hundred."
She stared at him. "Did Juan do that?" she murmured.
"Yes. You know Doble. He's a devil. I must find him ... soon."
"Juan has not been here for two days. I do not know where he is."
The dust of a moving horse was traveling toward them from the hills. A Mexican pulled up and swung from the saddle. The girl called a greeting to him quickly before he could speak. "Buenos dios, Manuel. My father is within, Manuel."
The man looked at her a moment, murmured "Buenos, Bonita," and took a step as though to enter the house.
Dave barred the way. The flash of apprehension in Bonita's face, her unnecessary repetition of the name, the man's questioning look at her, told Sanders that this was the person he wanted.
"Just a minute, Otero. Where did you leave Miss Crawford?"
The Mexican's eyes contracted. To give himself time he fell again into the device of pretending that he did not understand English. Dave spoke in Spanish. The loafers in the bar-room came out to listen.
"I do not know what you mean."
"Don't lie to me. Where is she?"
The keeper of the tendejon asked a suave question. He, too, talked in Spanish. "Who are you, seņor? A deputy sheriff, perhaps?"
"No. My name is Dave Sanders. I'm Emerson Crawford's friend. If Juan will help me save the girl he'll get off light and perhaps make some money. I'll stand by him. But if he won't, I'll drag him back to Malapi and give him to a mob."
The sound of his name was a potent weapon. His fame had spread like wildfire through the hills since his return from Colorado. He had scored victory after victory against bad men without firing a gun. He had made the redoubtable Dug Doble an object of jeers and had driven him to the hills as an outlaw. Dave was unarmed. They could see that. But his quiet confidence was impressive. If he said he would take Juan to Malapi with him, none of them doubted he would do it. Had he not dragged Miller back to justice--Miller who was a killer of unsavory reputation?
Otero wished he had not come just now to see Bonita, but he stuck doggedly to his statement. He knew nothing about it, nothing at all.
"Crawford is sending out a dozen posses. They will close the passes. Doble will be caught. They will kill him like a wolf. Then they will kill you. If they don't find him, they will kill you anyhow."
Dave spoke evenly, without raising his voice. Somehow he made what he said seem as inevitable as fate.
Bonita caught her lover by the arm and shoulder. She was afraid, and her conscience troubled her vicariously for his wrongdoing.
"Why did you do it, Juan?" she begged of him.
"He said she wanted to come, that she would marry him if she had a chance. He said her father kept her from him," the man pleaded. "I didn't know he was going to harm her."
"Where is he? Take me to him, quick," said Sanders, relapsing into English.
"Si, seņor. At once," agreed Otero, thoroughly frightened.
"I want a six-shooter. Some one lend me one."
None of them carried one, but Bonita ran into the house and brought back a small bulldog. Dave looked it over without enthusiasm. It was a pretty poor concern to take against a man who carried two forty-fives and knew how to use them. But he thrust it into his pocket and swung to the saddle. It was quite possible he might be killed by Doble, but he had a conviction that the outlaw had come to the end of the passage. He was going to do justice on the man once for all. He regarded this as a certainty.
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