Mrxican Joe's Freedom,
EXICAN JOE was the most notorious cattle stealer in the wiiole valley, and the wonder was that his handsome brown neck had escaped the hahcr. But times had changed in Texas since the days when justice was administered summarily, and to the point—usually a rope's point. So about the little cabin across the creek, where Joe and Ninita kept house, there were always hanging strings of meat for the sun to dry.
But Joe had always ready a way of explaining his possession of the meat strings and the tallow and hides which kept him in whisky and tobacco, and the droves that he depleted by his careful depredations were so far away that there were no means of tracing his roguery.
But, of course, a day of reckoning did come for Joe, as it comes for all of us sooner or later, though I'was not his cattle-stealing that brought it about.
One day during the summer a man had been found murdered on the other side of Flat Top, and the most earnest effort resulted in the discovery of no clue to the guilty party. The District Attorney was a new
man, a tall young fellow, who set his broad-brimmed hat a little jauntily a-top of his over-long locks, but the evil-doers knew him for a ^^ hustler'^ nevertheless. Nobody was surprised therefore, Avhen, the following winter, the murdered man's watch and knife were found in pawn at the second-hand store on the corner, and Mexican Joe was arrested.
The trial created a stir in quiet little Lampasas, and the courthouse was crowded with spectators. There was some difficulty in impaneling a jury, ^nd the case began to draw itself out, but the interest did not waver.
The only listless figure in the whole crowd was Ninita.
Never once, as the case dragged, and witness after witness rose for testimony, did she turn her big, beautiful eyes towards the prisoner's box. With the shawl still pinned up about her pretty, brown-skinned face, she sat, not moving, save now and then to dispense the little shuck rolls from her basket to the hungry people about her, slipping the nickels carefully into her bosom. When adjournment came, she would swing her basket over her arm, and moving with the crowd, call out " Hot tamales V with sweet-voiced indifference.
But finally the last day came. The District Attorney made a strong case, telling off a string of Joe's evil deeds, which were as he said, " too numerous to mention."
The attorney for the defence, a young fellow whom the Court had appointed, did the best he could with the material in hand. At the end of his flowery 10
speech he iiiade an appeal in Ix'lialf (»f Xinita, pointing to her with a mighty flourish of his k)ng arm, and calling her a " poor, heart-hroken wife."
But she, the '' poor, heart-l)roken wife,'' sat dry-eyed and stolid through it all, and the solemn-looking jury filed out, to return almost immediately, with a verdict of guilty.
Then, and not till then, Ninita looked at Joe, and a glance that puzzled those who saw it, flashed back at lu'r from his great dark eyes. It might have been a challenge; it might liave been a question ; was it a command, or was it a farewell?
She got up when all was over, slipping out through the crowd, but lingered in the square without till the sheriff came leading the prisoner t(> the little stone jail across the way, whence he was to be taken next day to Austin.
In a little while Aiw'^ face was to be >een behind the bars in one of the upper windows, but Xinita seemed scarce to notice him. \\'ithout speaking, she pulled her shawl close around her and passed (piickly down the street and across the bridge.
That night a type-setter going home late from the office saw a woman flit by him in the moonlight, and crouch down in the shadows of the prison wall. He, too, crossed over and waited, hidden by the darkness.
By and by the crouching figure arose, a pebble rattled against the window overhead, and Joe's face appeared behind the bars, all lit up in the moonlight.
" Is it you, Xinita ?" he said.
" It is"^ I, my Jos^," she answered softly, in her sweet-voiced Spanish. " Is there no other way?"
*^ No other way/' he said quietly. " I am ready.''
" Holy Mother of God intercede for thee and me/' she prayed, kneeling and crossing herself.
" Amen!" came Joe's deep-voiced response.
^^ Pull yourself up by the bars, my Jos^, that I may not touch your beautiful face, and close your lids, that I may not look into your dear eyes."
He did as she had bidden him, holding on to the stout bars. "¦ I am ready," he said.
^^ Adios, my Jos^."
" Adios, my Ninita."
She put her hand to her bosom, there was a little gleam of steel in the moonlight, a pistol shot rang out clear and sharp on the night air, and the woman turned and fled into the darkness.
The relaxed hands loosed hold of the bars above, there was a heavy fall upon the floor within, and Mexican Joe was free.