She decided, presently, that they were not drawing-room manners. They were too easy and graceful and natural to have been acquired. He must have been born with them. There was something old-fashioned about him—as if part of him dwelt in the past century. He appeared to be quite certain of himself, yet there was not even a hint of ego in his cosmos. His eyes were wonderful—and passionless, like a boy's. Yes; there was a great deal of the little boy about him, for all his years, his wounds, and his adventures. Kay thought him charming, yet he did not appear to be aware of his charm, and this fact increased her attraction to him. It pleased her that he had preferred to discuss the Japanese menace rather than his own exploits, and had been human enough to fly in a rage when told of her father's plans with the potato baron. Nevertheless, he had himself under control, for he had smothered his rage as quickly as he had permitted it to flare up.
"Curious man!" the girl concluded. "However—he's a man, and when we meet again, I'm going to investigate thoroughly and see what else he has in his head."
Upon further reflection, she reminded herself that he hadn't disclosed, in anything he had said, the fact that his head contained thoughts or information of more than ordinary value. He had merely created that impression. Even his discussion of the Japanese problem had been cursory, and, as she mentally back-tracked on their conversation, the only striking remark of his which she recalled was his whimsical assurance that he knew why young turkeys are hard to raise in the fall. She smiled to herself.
"Well, Kay, did you find him pleasant company?"
She looked up and discovered her father slipping into the chair so lately vacated by the object of her thoughts.
"'Lo, pop! You mean the ex-soldier?" He nodded. "Queerest man I've ever met. But he is pleasant company."
"I thought so. Tell me, daughter: What you were smiling about just now."
"He said he knew why young turkeys are hard to raise in the fall."
"Why are they?"
"I don't know, dear. He didn't tell me. Can you?"
"The problem is quite beyond me, Kay." He unfolded his napkin. "Splendid-looking young chap, that! Struck me he ought to have more in his head than frivolous talk about the difficulty of rearing young turkeys."
"I think he has a great deal more in his head than that. In fact, I do not understand why he should have mentioned young turkeys at all, because he's a cattleman. And he comes from the San Gregorio valley."
"Indeed! What's his name?"
"He didn't tell me. But he knows all about the ranch you took over from the Gonzales estate."
"But I didn't foreclose on that. It was the Farrel estate."
"He called it something else—the Palomares rancho, I think."
"Gonzales owns the Palomares rancho, but the Palomar rancho belonged to old Don Miguel Farrel."
"Was he the father of the boy they call 'Don Mike'—he who was killed in Siberia?"'
"Why did you have to foreclose on his ranch, father?"
"Well, the interest had been unpaid for two years, and the old man was getting pretty feeble; so, after the boy was killed, I realized that was the end of the Farrel dynasty and that the mortgage would never be paid. Consequently, in self-protection, I foreclosed. Of course, under the law, Don Miguel had a year's grace in which to redeem the property, and during that year I couldn't take possession without first proving that he was committing waste upon it. However, the old man died of a broken heart a few months after receiving news of his son's death, and, in the protection of my interest, I was forced to petition the court to grant me permission to enter into possession. It was my duty to protect the equity of the heirs, if any."
"Are there any heirs?"
"None that we have been able to discover."
The girl thoughtfully traced a pattern on the tablecloth with the tine of her fork.
"How will it be possible for you to acquire that horse, Panchito, for me, dearest?" she queried presently.
"I have a deficiency judgment against the Rancho Palomar," he explained. "Consequently, upon the expiration of the redemption period of one year, I shall levy an attachment against the Farrel estate. All the property will be sold at public auction by the sheriff to satisfy my deficiency judgment, and I shall, of course, bid in this horse."
"I have decided I do not want him, father," she informed him half sadly. "The ex-soldier is an old boyhood chum of the younger Farrel who was killed, and he wants the horse."
He glanced at her with an expression of shrewd suspicion.
"As you desire, honey," he replied.
"But I want you to see to it that nobody else outbids him for the horse," she continued, earnestly. "If some one should run the price up beyond the limits of his purse, of course I want you to outbid that some one, but what I do not desire you to do is to run the price up on him yourself. He wants the horse out of sentiment, and it isn't nice to force a wounded ex-service-man to pay a high price for his sentiment."
"Oh, I understand now," her father assured her. "Very well, little daughter; I have my orders and will obey them."
"Precious old darling!" she whispered, gratefully, and pursed her adorable lips to indicate to him that he might consider himself kissed. His stern eyes softened in a glance of father-love supreme.
"Whose little girl are you?" he whispered, and, to that ancient query of parenthood, she gave the reply of childhood:
"Just for that, I'll offer the soldier a tremendous profit on Panchito. We'll see what his sentiment is worth."
"Bet you a new hat, angel-face, you haven't money enough to buy him," Kay challenged.
"Considering the cost of your hats, I'd be giving you rather long odds, Kay. You say this young man comes from the San Gregorio valley?"
"So he informed me."
"Well, there isn't a young man in the San Gregorio who doesn't need a couple of thousand dollars far worse than he needs a horse. I'll take your bet, Peaches. Of course you mentioned to him the fact that you wanted this horse?"
"Yes. And he said I couldn't have him—that he was going to acquire him."
"Perhaps he was merely jesting with you."
"No; he meant it."
"I believe," he said, smiling, "that it is most unusual of young men to show such selfish disregard of your expressed desires."
"Flatterer! I like him all the more for it. He's a man with some backbone."
"So I noticed. He wears the ribbon of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Evidently he is given to exceeding the speed-limit. Did he tell you how he won that pale-blue ribbon with the little white stars sprinkled on it?"
"He did not. Such men never discuss those things."
"Well, they raise fighting men in the San Gregorio, at any rate," her father continued. "Two Medal-of-Honor men came out of it. Old Don Miguel Farrel's boy was awarded one posthumously. I was in El Toro the day the commanding general of the Western Department came down from San Francisco and pinned the medal on old Don Miguel's breast. The old fellow rode in on his son's horse, and when the little ceremony was over, he mounted and rode back to the ranch alone. Not a tear, not a quiver. He looked as regal as the American eagle—and as proud. Looking at that old don, one could readily imagine the sort of son he had bred. The only trouble with the Farrels," he added, critically, "was that they and work never got acquainted. If these old Californians would consent to imbibe a few lessons in industry and economy from their Japanese neighbors, their wonderful state would be supporting thirty million people a hundred years from now."
"I wonder how many of that mythical thirty millions would be Japs?" she queried, innocently.
"That is a problem with which we will not have to concern ourselves, Kay, because we shall not be here."
"Some day, popsy-wops, that soldier will drop in at our ranch and lock horns with you on the Japanese question."
"When he does," Parker replied, good-naturedly, "I shall make a star-spangled monkey out of him. I'm loaded for these Californians. I've investigated their arguments, and they will not hold water, I tell you. I'll knock out the contentions of your unknown knight like tenpins in a bowling-alley. See if I don't."
"He's nobody's fool, dad."
"Quite so. He knows why young turkeys are hard to raise in the fall?"
She bent upon him a radiant smile of the utmost good humor.
"Score one for the unknown knight," she bantered. "That is more than we know. And turkey was sixty cents a pound last Thanksgiving! Curious information from our view-point, perhaps, but profitable."
He chuckled over his salad.
"You're hopelessly won to the opposition," he declared. "Leave your check for me, and I'll pay it. And if your unknown knight returns to the observation-car, ask him about those confounded turkeys."
But the unknown knight had not returned to the observation-car until the long train was sliding into Sespe, and Kay had no time to satisfy her thirst for information anent young turkeys. With unexpected garrulity, he had introduced himself; with the receipt of this information, she had been rendered speechless, first with surprise, and then with distress as her alert mind swiftly encompassed the pitiful awakening that was coming to this joyous home-comer. Before she could master her emotions, he was disappearing over the brass rail at the end of the observation-car; even as he waved her a debonair farewell, she caught the look of surprise and puzzlement in his black eyes. Wherefore, she knew the quick tears had betrayed her.
"Oh, you poor fellow!" she whispered to herself, as she dabbed at her eyes with a wisp of a lace handkerchief. "What a tragedy!"
What a tragedy, indeed!
She had never been in the San Gregorio, and to-day was to mark her first visit to the Rancho Palomar, although her father and mother and the servants had been occupying the Farrel hacienda for the past two months. Of the beauty of that valley, of the charm of that ancient seat, she had heard much from her parents; if they could be so enthusiastic about it in two short months, how tremendously attached to it must be this cheerful Don Mike, who had been born and raised there, who was familiar with every foot of it, and doubtless cherished every tradition connected with it. He had imagination, and in imaginative people wounds drive deep and are hard to heal; he loved this land of his, not with the passive loyalty of the average American citizen, but with the strange, passionate intensity of the native Californian for his state. She had met many Californians, and, in this one particular, they had all been alike. No matter how far they had wandered from the Golden West, no matter how long or how pleasant had been their exile, they yearned, with a great yearning, for that intangible something that all Californians feel but can never explain—which is found nowhere save in this land of romance and plenty, of hearty good will, of life lived without too great effort, and wherein the desire to play gives birth to that large and kindly tolerance that is the unfailing sweetener of all human association.
And Don Mike was hurrying home to a grave in the valley, to a home no longer his, to the shock of finding strangers ensconced in the seat of his prideful ancestors, to the prospect of seeing the rich acres that should have been his giving sustenance to an alien race, while he must turn to a brutal world for his daily bread earned by the sweat of his brow.
Curiously enough, in that moment, without having given very much thought to the subject, she decided that she must help him bear it. In a vague way, she felt that she must see him and talk with him before he should come in contact with her father and mother. She wanted to explain matters, hoping that he would understand that she, at least, was one of the interlopers who were not hostile to him.
For she did, indeed, feel like an interloper now. But, at the same time, she realized, despite her small knowledge of the law, that, until the expiration of the redemption period, the equity of Don Mike in the property was unassailable. With that unpleasant sense of having intruded came the realization that to-night the Parker family would occupy the position of uninvited and unwelcome guests. It was not a comfortable thought.
Fortunately, the potato baron and her father were up in the smoker; hence, by the time the train paused at El Toro, Kay had composed herself sufficiently to face her father again without betraying to him any hint of the mental disturbance of the past forty minutes. She directed the porter in the disposition of Don Mike's scant impedimenta, and watched to see that the Parker chauffeur carried it from the station platform over to the waiting automobile. As he was lashing their hand-baggage on the running-board, she said,
"William, how long will it take you to get out to the ranch?"
"Twenty miles, miss, over a narrow dirt road, and some of it winds among hills. I ought to do it handily in an hour without taking any chances."
"Take a few chances," she ordered, in a voice meant for his ear alone. "I'm in a hurry."
"Forty-five minutes, miss," he answered, in the same confidential tone.
Kay sat in the front seat with William, while her father and Okada occupied the tonneau. Within a few minutes, they were clear of the town and rolling swiftly across a three-mile-wide mesa. Then they entered a long, narrow canon, which they traversed for several miles, climbed a six-per-cent. grade to the crest of a ridge, rolled down into another canon, climbed another ridge, and from the summit gazed down on the San Gregorio in all the glory of her new April gown. Kay gasped with the shock of such loveliness, and laid a detaining hand on the chauffeur's arm. Instantly he stopped the car.
"I always get a kick out of the view from here, miss," he informed her. "Can you beat it? You can't!"
The girl sat with parted lips.
"This—this is the California he loves," she thought.
She closed her eyes to keep back the tears, and the car rolled gently down the grade into the valley. From the tonneau she could catch snatches of the conversation between her father and the potato baron; they were discussing the agricultural possibilities of the valley, and she realized, with a little twinge of outrage, that its wonderful pastoral beauty had been quite lost on them.
As they swept past the mission, Kay deliberately refrained from ordering William to toss Don Mike's baggage off in front of the old pile, for she knew now whither the latter was bound. She would save him that added burden. Three miles from the mission, the road swung up a gentle grade between two long rows of ancient and neglected palms. The dead, withered fronds of a decade still clung to the corrugated trunks. In the adjoining oaks vast flocks of crows perched and cawed raucously. This avenue of palms presently debouched onto a little mesa, oak-studded and covered with lush grass, which gave it a pretty, parklike effect. In the center of this mesa stood the hacienda of the Rancho Palomar.
Like all adobe dwellings of its class, it was not now, nor had it ever been, architecturally beautiful. It was low, with a plain hip-roof covered with ancient red tiles, many of which were missing. When the house had first been built, it had been treated to a coat of excellent plaster over the adobe, and this plaster had never been renewed. With the attrition of time and the elements, it had worn away in spots, through which the brown adobe bricks showed, like the bones in a decaying corpse. The main building faced down the valley; from each end out, an ell extended to form a patio in the rear, while a seven-foot adobe wall, topped with short tile, connected with the ell and formed a parallelogram.
"The old ruin doesn't look very impressive from the front, Kay," her father explained, as he helped her out of the car, "but that wall hides an old-fashioned garden that will delight you. A porch runs all round the inside of the house, and every door opens on the patio. That long adobe barracks over yonder used to house the help. In the old days, a small army of peons was maintained here. The small adobe house back there in the trees houses the majordomo—that old rascal, Pablo."
"He is still here, dad?"
"Yes—and as belligerent as old billy-owl. He pretends to look after the stock. I ordered him off the ranch last week; but do you think he'd go? Not much. He went inside his shack, sorted out a rifle, came outside, sat down, and fondled the weapon all day long. Ever since then he has carried it, mounted or afoot. So I haven't bothered him. He's a bad old Indian, and when I secure final title to the ranch, I'll have the sheriff of the county come out and remove him."
"But how does he live, dear?"
"How does any Indian live? He killed a steer last week, jerked half of it, and sold the other half for some beans and flour. It wasn't his steer and it wasn't mine. It belonged to the Farrel estate, and, since there is nobody to lodge a complaint against him, I suppose he'll kill another steer when his rations run low. This way, daughter. Right through the hole in the wall."
They passed through a big inset gate in the adobe wall, into the patio. At once the scent of lemon and orange blossoms, mingled with the more delicate aroma of flowers, assailed them. Kay stood, entranced, gazing upon the hodgepodge of color; she had the feeling of having stepped out of one world into another.
Her father stood watching her.
"Wonderful old place, isn't it, Kay?" he suggested. "The garden has been neglected, but I'm going to clean it out."
"Do not touch it," she commanded, almost sharply. "I want it the way it is."
"You little tyrant!" he replied good-naturedly. "You run me ragged and make me like it."
From a rocker on the porch at the eastern end of the patio Kay's mother rose and called to them, and the girl darted away to greet her. Mrs. Parker folded the girl to a somewhat ample bosom and kissed her lovingly on her ripe red lips; to her husband she presented a cheek that showed to advantage the artistry of a member of that tribe of genii who strive so valiantly to hold in check the ravages of age. At fifty, Kay's mother was still a handsome woman; her carriage, her dress, and a certain repressed vivacity indicated that she had mastered the art of growing old gracefully.
"Well, kitten," she said, a trifle louder and shriller than one seemed to expect of her, "are you going to remain with us a little while, or will next week see you scampering away again?"
"I'll stay all summer, fuss-budget. I'm going to paint the San Gregorio while it's on exhibition, and then this old house and the garden. Oh, mother dear, I'm in love with it! It's wonderful!"
The potato baron had followed Parker and his daughter into the patio, and stood now, showing all of his teeth in an amiable smile. Parker suddenly remembered his guest.
"My dear," he addressed his wife, "I have brought a guest with me. This is Mr. Okada, of whom I wrote you."
Okada bowed low—as low as the rules of Japanese etiquette prescribe, which is to say that he bent himself almost double. At the same time, he lifted his hat. Then he bowed again twice, and, with a pleasing smile proffered his hand. Mrs. Parker took it and shook it with hearty good will.
"You are very welcome, Mr. Okada," she shrilled. "Murray," she added, turning to the butler, who was approaching with Okada's suitcase, "show the gentleman to the room with the big bed in it. Dinner will be ready at six, Mr. Okada. Please do not bother to dress for dinner. We're quite informal here."
"Sank you very much," he replied, with an unpleasant whistling intake of breath; with another profound bow to the ladies, he turned and followed Murray to his room.
"Well, John," Mrs. Parker demanded, as the Japanese disappeared, "your little playmate's quite like a mechanical toy. For heaven's sake, where did you pal up with him?"
"That's the potato baron of the San Joaquin valley, Kate," he informed her. "I'm trying to interest him in a colonization scheme for his countrymen. A thousand Japs in the San Gregorio can raise enough garden-truck to feed the city of Los Angeles—and they will pay a whooping price for good land with water on it. So I brought him along for a preliminary survey of the deal."
"He's very polite, but I imagine he's not very brilliant company," his wife averred frankly. "When you wired me you were bringing a guest, I did hope you'd bring some jolly young jackanapes to arouse Kay and me."
She sighed and settled back in her comfortable rocking-chair, while Kay, guided by a maid, proceeded to her room. A recent job of calcimining had transformed the room from a dirty grayish, white to a soft shade of pink; the old-fashioned furniture had been "done over," and glowed dully in the fading light. Kay threw open the small square-hinged window, gazed through the iron bars sunk in the thick walls, and she found herself looking down the valley, more beautiful than ever now in the rapidly fading light.
"I'll have to wait outside for him," she thought. "It will be dark when he gets here."
She washed and changed into a dainty little dinner dress, after which she went on a tour of exploration of the hacienda. Her first port of call was the kitchen.
"Nishi," she informed the cook, "a gentleman will arrive shortly after the family has finished dinner. Keep his dinner in the oven. Murray will serve it to him in his room, I think."
She passed out through the kitchen, and found herself in the rear of the hacienda. A hundred yards distant, she saw Pablo Artelan squatting on his heels beside the portal of his humble residence, his back against the wall. She crossed over to him, smiling as she came.
"How do you do, Pablo?" she said. "Have you forgotten me? I'm the girl to whom you were kind enough to give a ride on Panchito one day in El Toro."
The glowering glance of suspicion and resentment faded slowly from old Pablo's swarthy countenance. He scrambled to his feet and swept the ground with his old straw sombrero,
"I am at the service of the senorita," he replied, gravely.
"Thank you, Pablo. I just wanted to tell you that you need not carry that rifle any more. I shall see to it that you are not removed from the ranch."
He stared at her with stolid interest.
"Muchas gracias, senorita," he mumbled. Then, remembering she did not understand Spanish, he resumed in English: "I am an old man, mees. Since my two boss he's die, pretty soon Pablo die, too. For what use eet is for live now I don' tell you. Those ol' man who speak me leave theese rancho—he is your father, no?"
"Yes, Pablo. And he isn't such a terrible man, once you get acquainted with him."
"I don' like," Pablo muttered frankly. "He have eye like lookin'-glass. Mebbeso for you, mees, eet is different, but for Pablo Artelan—" he shrugged. "Eef Don Mike is here, nobody can talk to me like dose ol' man, your father, he speak to me." And he wagged his head sorrowfully.
Kay came close to him.
"Listen, Pablo: I have a secret for you. You, must not tell anybody. Don Mike is not dead."
He raised his old head with languid interest and nodded comprehension.
"My wife, Carolina, she tell me same thing all time. She say: 'Pablo mio, somebody make beeg mistake. Don Mike come home pretty queeck, you see. Nobody can keel Don Mike. Nobody have that mean the deesposition for keel the boy.' But I don' theenk Don Mike come back to El Palomar."
"Carolina is right, Pablo. Somebody did make a big mistake. He was wounded in the hand, but not killed. I saw him to-day, Pablo, on the train."
"You see Don Mike? You see heem with the eye?"
"Yes. And he spoke to me with the tongue. He will arrive here in an hour."
Pablo was on his knees before her, groping for her hand. Finding it, he carried it to his lips. Then, leaping to his feet with an alacrity that belied his years, he yelled:
"Carolina! Come queeck, Pronto! Aqui, Carolina."
"Si, Pablo mio."
Carolina appeared in the doorway and was literally deluged with a stream of Spanish. She stood there, hands clasped on her tremendous bosom, staring unbelievingly at the bearer of these tidings of great joy, the while tears cascaded down her flat, homely face. With a snap of his fingers, Pablo dismissed her; then he darted into the house and emerged with his rifle. A cockerel, with the carelessness of youth, had selected for his roost the limb of an adjacent oak and was still gazing about him instead of secreting his head under his wing, as cockerels should at sunset. Pablo neatly shot his head off, seized the fluttering carcass, and started plucking out the feathers with neatness and despatch.
"Don Mike, he's like gallina con arroz espagnol," he explained. "What you, call chick-een with rice Spanish," he interpreted. "Eet mus' not be that Don Mike come home and Carolina have not cook for heem the grub he like. Carramba!"
"But he cannot possibly eat a chicken before—I mean, it's too soon. Don Mike will not eat that chicken before the animal-heat is out of it."
"You don' know Don Mike, mees. Wen dat boy he's hongry, he don' speak so many questions."
"But I've told our cook to save dinner for him."'
"Your cook! Senorita, I don' like make fun for you, but I guess you don' know my wife Carolina, she have been cook for Don Miguel and Don Mike since long time before he's beeg like little kitten. Don Mike, he don' understand those gringo grub."
"Listen, Pablo: There is no time to cook Don Mike a Spanish dinner. He must eat gringo grub to-night. Tell me, Pablo: Which room did Don Mike sleep in when he was home?"
"The room in front the house—the beeg room with the beeg black bed. Carolina!" He threw the half-plucked chicken at the old cook, wiped his hands on his overalls, and started for the hacienda. "I go for make the bed for Don Mike," he explained, and started running.
Kay followed breathlessly, but he reached the patio before her, scuttled along the porch with surprising speed, and darted into the room. Immediately the girl heard his voice raised angrily.
"Hullo! What you been do in my boss's room? Madre de Dios! You theenk I let one Chinaman—no, one Jap—sleep in the bed of Don Victoriano Noriaga. No! Vamos!"
There was a slight scuffle, and the potato baron came hurtling through the door, propelled on the boot of the aged but exceedingly vigorous Pablo. Evidently the Jap had been taken by surprise. He rolled off the porch into a flower-bed, recovered himself, and flew at Pablo with the ferocity of a bulldog. To the credit of his race, be it said that it does not subscribe to the philosophy of turning the other cheek.
But Pablo was a peon. From somewhere on his person, he produced a dirk and slashed vigorously. Okada evaded the blow, and gave ground.
"Quidado!" Pablo roared, and charged; whereupon the potato baron, evidently impressed with the wisdom of the ancient adage that discretion is the better part of valor, fled before him. Pablo followed, opened the patio gate, and, with his long dirk, motioned the Jap to disappear through it. "The hired man, he don' sleep in the bed of the gente," he declared. "The barn is too good for one Jap. Santa Maria! For why I don' keel you, I don' know."
The majordomo turned.
"Yes, mees lady."
"Mr. Okada is our guest. I command you to leave him alone. Mr. Okada, I apologize to you for Pablo's impetuosity. He is not a servant of ours, but a retainer of the former owner. Pablo, will you please attend to your own business?" Kay was angry now, and Pablo realized it.
"Don Mike's beesiness, she is my beesiness, too, senorita," he growled.
"Yes; I zink so," Okada declared. "I zink I go 'nother room."
"Murray will prepare one for you, Mr. Okada. I'm so sorry this has happened. Indeed I am!"
"You sorry, mees? Wait until my Don Mike he's come home and find thees fellow in hees house."
He closed the gate, returned to the room, and made a critical inspection of the apartment. Kay could see him wagging his grizzled head approvingly as she came to the door and looked in.
"Where those fellow El Mono, he put my boss's clothes?" Pablo demanded.
"'El Mono?' Whom do you mean, Pablo?"
"El Mono—the monkey. He wear long tail to the coat; all the time he look like mebbeso somebody in the house she's goin' die pretty queeck."
"Oh, you mean Murray, the butler."
Pablo was too ludicrous, and Kay sat down on the edge of the porch and laughed until she wept. Then, as Pablo still stood truculently in the doorway, waiting an answer to his query, she called to Murray, who had rushed to the aid of the potato baron, and asked him if he had found any clothing in the room, and, if so, what he had done with it.
"I spotted and pressed them all, Miss Kay, and hung them in the clothes-press of the room next door."
"I go get," growled Pablo, and did so; whereupon the artful Murray took advantage of his absence to dart over to the royal chamber and remove the potato baron's effects.
"I don't like that blackamoor, Miss Kay," El Mono confided to the girl. "I feel assured he is a desperate vagabond to whom murder and pillage are mere pastimes. Please order him out of the garden. He pays no attention to me whatsoever."
"Leave him severely alone," Kay advised. "I will find a way to handle him."
Pablo returned presently, with two suits of clothing, a soft white-linen shirt, a black necktie, a pair of low-cut brown shoes, and a pair of brown socks. These articles he laid out on the bed. Then he made another trip to the other room, and returned bearing an armful of framed portraits of the entire Noriaga and Farrel dynasty, which he proceeded to hang in a row on the wall at the foot of the bed. Lastly, he removed a rather fancy spread from the bed and substituted therefor an ancient silk crazy-quilt that had been made by Don Mike's grandmother. Things were now as they used to be, and Pablo was satisfied.
When he came out, Kay had gone in to dinner; so he returned to his own casa and squatted against the wall, with his glance fixed upon the point in the palm avenue where it dipped over the edge of the mesa.
At seven o'clock, dinner being over, Kay excused herself to the family and Mr. Okada, passed out through the patio gate, and sought a bench which she had noticed under a catalpa tree outside the wall. From this seat, she, like Pablo, could observe anybody coming up the palm-lined avenue. A young moon was rising over the hills, and by its light Kay knew she could detect Don Mike while he was yet some distance from the house.
At seven-thirty, he had not appeared, and she grew impatient and strolled round to the other side of the hacienda. Before Pablo's casa, she saw the red end of a cigarette; so she knew that Pablo also watched.
"I must see him first," she decided. "Pablo's heart is right toward Don Mike, but resentful toward us. I do not want him to pass that resentment on to his master."
She turned back round the hacienda again, crossed down over the lip of the mesa at right angles to the avenue, and picked her way through the oaks. When she was satisfied that Pablo could not see her, she made her way back to the avenue, emerging at the point where it connected with the wagon-road down the valley. Just off the avenue, a live-oak had fallen, and Kay sat down on the trunk of it to watch and wait.
Presently she saw him coming, and her heart fluttered in fear at the meeting. She, who had for months marked the brisk tread of military men, sensed now the drag, the slow cadence of his approach; wherefore she realized that he knew! In the knowledge that she would not have to break the news to him, a sense of comfort stole over her.
As he came closer, she saw that he walked with his chin on his breast; when he reached the gate at the end of the avenue, he did not see it and bumped into it. "Dios mio!" she heard him mutter. "Dios! Dios! Dios!" The last word ended in tragic crescendo; he leaned on the gate, and there, in the white silence, the last of the Farrels stood gazing up the avenue as if he feared to enter.
Kay sat on the oak trunk, staring at him, fascinated by the tragic tableau.
Suddenly, from the hacienda, a hound gave tongue—a long, bell-like baying, with a timbre in it that never creeps into a hound's voice until he has struck a warm scent. Another hound took up the cry—and still another. Don Mike started.
"That's Nip!" Kay heard him murmur, as the first hound sounded. "Now, Mollie! Come now, Nailer! Where's Hunter? Hunter's dead! You've scented me!"
Across the mesa, the pack came bellowing, scattering the wet leaves among the oaks as they took the short cut to the returning master. Into the avenue they swept; the leader leaped for the top of the gate, poised there an instant, and fell over into Don Mike's arms. The others followed, overwhelming him. They licked his hands; they soiled him with their reaching paws, the while their cries of welcome testified to their delight. Presently, one grew jealous of the other in the mad scramble for his caressing hand, and Nip bit Mollie, who retaliated by biting Nailer, who promptly bit Nip, thus completing the vicious circle. In an instant, they were battling each other.
"Stop it!" Don Mike commanded. "Break!"
They "broke" at his command, and, forgetting their animosities, began running in circles, in a hopeless effort to express their happiness. Suddenly, as if by common impulse, they appeared to remember a neglected duty, and fled noisily whence they had come.
"Ah, only my dogs to welcome me!" Kay heard Don Mike murmur. And then the stubborn tears came and blinded him, so he did not see her white figure step out into the avenue and come swiftly toward him. The first he knew of her presence was when her hand touched his glistening black head bent on his arms over the top rail of the gate.
"No, no, Don Mike," he heard a sweet voice protesting; "somebody else cares, too. We wouldn't be human if we didn't. Please—please try not to feel so badly about it."
He raised his haggard face.
"Ah, yes—you!" he cried. "You—you've been waiting here—for me?"
"Yes. I wanted to tell you—to explain before you got to the house. We didn't know, you see—and the notice was so terribly short; but we'll go in the morning. I've saved dinner for you, Don Mike—and your old room is ready for you. Oh, you don't know how sorry I am for you, you poor man!"
He hid his face again.
"Don't—please!" he cried, in a choked voice. "I can't stand sympathy—to-night—from you!"
She laid a hand on his shoulder.
"Come, come; you must buck up, old soldier," she assured him. "You'll have to meet Pablo and Carolina very soon."
"I'm so alone and desperate," he muttered, through clenched teeth. "You can't—realize what this means—to me. My father was an old man—he had—accomplished his years—and I weep for him, because I loved—him. But oh, my home—this—dear land—"
He choked, and, in that moment, she forgot that this man was a stranger to her. She only knew that he had been stricken, that he was helpless, that he lacked the greatest boon of the desolate—a breast upon which he might weep. Gently she lifted the black head and drew it down on her shoulder; her arm went round his neck and patted his cheek, and his full heart was emptied.
There was so much of the little boy about him!
The fierce gust of emotion which swept Don Mike Farrel was of brief duration. He was too sane, too courageous to permit his grief to overwhelm him completely; he had the usual masculine horror of an exhibition of weakness, and although the girl's sweet sympathy and genuine womanly tenderness had caught him unawares, he was, nevertheless, not insensible of the incongruity of a grown man weeping like a child on the shoulder of a young woman—and a strange young woman at that. With a supreme effort of will, he regained control of himself as swiftly as he had lost it, and began fumbling for a handkerchief.
"Here," she murmured; "use mine." She reached up and, with her dainty wisp of handkerchief, wiped his wet cheeks exactly as if he had been a child.
He caught the hand that wielded the handkerchief and kissed it gratefully, reverently.
"God bless your dear, kind heart!" he murmured. "I had thought nobody could possibly care—that much. So few people—have any interest in the—unhappiness of others." He essayed a twisted smile. "I'm not usually this weak," he continued, apologetically. "I never knew until to-night that I could be such a lubberly big baby, but, then, I wasn't set for this blow. This afternoon, life executed an about face for me—and the dogs got me started after I'd promised myself—" He choked again on the last word.
She patted his shoulder in comradely fashion.
"Buck up, Don Mike!" she pleaded. "Tears from such men as you are signs of strength, not weakness. And remember—life has a habit of obeying commanding men. It may execute another about face for you."
"I've lost everything that made life livable," he protested.
"Ah! No, no! You must not say that. Think of that cheerful warrior who, in defeat, remarked, 'All is lost save honor.'" And she touched the pale-blue star-sprinkled ribbon on his left breast.
He smiled again, the twisted smile.
"That doesn't amount to a row of pins in civil life." Something of that sense of bitter disillusionment, of blasted idealism, which is the immediate aftermath of war, had crept into his voice. "The only thrill I ever got out of its possession was in the service. My colonel was never content merely with returning my salute. He always uncovered to me. That ribbon will have little weight with your father, I fear, when I ask him to set aside the foreclosure, grant me a new mortgage, and give me a fighting chance to retain the thing I love." And his outflung arm indicated the silent, moonlit valley.
"Perhaps," she replied, soberly. "He is a businessman. Nevertheless, it might not be a bad idea if you were to defer the crossing of your bridges until you come to them." She unlatched the gate and swung it open for him to pass through.
"I didn't intend to enter the house to-night," he explained. "I merely wanted to see Pablo and have a talk with him. My sudden appearance on the scene might, perhaps, prove very embarrassing to your family."
"I dare say. But that cannot be helped. Your right of entrance and occupancy cannot be questioned. Until the period of redemption expires, I think nobody will dispute your authority as master here."
"I had forgotten that phase of the situation. Thank you." He passed through the gate and closed it for her. Then he stepped to the side of the road, wet his handkerchief in a pool of clean rain-water, and mopped his eyes. "I'll have to abandon the luxury of tears," he declared, grimly. "They make one's eyes burn. By the way, I do not know your name."
"I am Kay Parker."
"'Kay' for what?"
He nodded approvingly.
"You neglected to leave my dunnage at the mission; Miss Parker."
"After you told me who you were, I realized you would sleep at the ranch to-night, so I kept your things in the car. They are in your old room now."
"Thank you for an additional act of kindness and thoughtfulness." He adjusted his overseas cap, snugged his blouse down over his hips, flipped from it the wet sand deposited there by the paws of the hound-pack, and said, "Let's go."
Where the avenue debouched into the ranch-yard, Pablo and Carolina awaited them. The old majordomo was wrapped in aboriginal dignity. His Indian blood bade him greet Don Mike as casually as if the latter had merely been sojourning in El Toro the past two years, but the faint strain of Spanish in him dictated a different course as Don Mike stepped briskly up to him with outstretched hand and greeted him affectionately in Spanish. Off came the weather-stained old sombrero, flung to the ground beside him, as Pablo dropped on his knees, seized his master's hand, and bowed his head over it.
"Don Miguel," he said, "my life is yours."
"I know it, you blessed old scalawag!" Don Mike replied in English, and ruffled the grizzled old head before passing on to the expectant Carolina, who folded him tightly in her arms and wept soundlessly when he kissed her leathery cheek. While he was murmuring words of comfort to her, Pablo got up on his feet and recovered his hat.
"You see," he said to Kay, in a confidential tone, "Don Miguel Jose Maria Federico Noriaga Farrel loves us. Never no woman those boy kees since hees mother die twenty year before. So Carolina have the great honor like me. Yes!"
"Oh, but you haven't seen him kiss his sweetheart," Kay bantered the old man—and then blushed, in the guilty knowledge that her badinage had really been inspired by a sudden desire to learn whether Don Mike had a sweetheart or not. Pablo promptly and profanely disillusioned her.
"Those boy, he don' have some sweethearts, mees lady. He's pretty parteecular." He paused a moment and looked her in the face meaningly. "Those girls in thees country—pah! Hee's pretty parteecular, those boy."
His childish arrogance and consuming pride in his master stirred the girl's sense of humor.
"I think your Don Mike is too particular," she whispered. "Personally, I wouldn't marry him on a bet."
His slightly bloodshot eyes flickered with rage. "You never get a chance," he assured her. "Those boy is of the gente. An' we don' call heem 'Don Mike' now. Before, yes; but now he is 'Don Miguel,' like hees father. Same, too, like hees gran'father."
Throughout this colloquy, Carolina had been busy exculpating herself from possible blame due to her failure to have prepared for the prodigal the sort of food she knew he preferred.
Farrel had quite a task pacifying her. At length he succeeded in gently dismissing both servants, and followed Kay toward the patio.
The girl entered first, and discovered that her family and their guest were not on the veranda, whereat she turned and gave her hand to Farrel.
"The butler will bring you some dinner to your room. We breakfast at eight-thirty. Good-night."
"Thank you," he replied. "I shall be deeper in your debt if you will explain to your father and mother my apparent lack of courtesy in failing to call upon them this evening."
He held her hand for a moment. Then he bowed, gracefully and with studied courtesy, cap in hand, and waited until she had turned to leave him before he, in turn, betook himself to his room.
It was as he had left it. He smiled sadly as he noted his civilian clothes laid out on the bed. However, he would not wear them to-night. A little later, while he was hanging them in the clothes-press, a propitiatory cough sounded at the door. Turning, he beheld the strangest sight ever seen on the Rancho Palomar—a butler, bearing a tray covered with a napkin.
"Good-evening," quoth Don Miguel civilly. "Set it down on the little table yonder, please. May I inquire why you bear the tray on your left hand and carry a pistol in your right?"
"Your servant, the man Pablo, has threatened my life, sir, if I dared bear your dinner to you, sir. He met me a moment ago and demanded that I surrender the tray to him, sir. Instead, I returned to the kitchen, possessed myself of this pistol, and defied him, sir."
"I apologize for Pablo, and will see to it that he does not disturb you again—er—"
"Thank you, Murray."
The butler was about to advance into the room and set the tray on the table as directed, when an unexpected contretemps occurred. A swarthy hand followed by a chambray-clad arm was thrust in the door, and the pistol snatched out of Murray's hand before the latter even knew what was about to transpire. Pablo Artelan stepped into the room.
"Vamos! Go!" he ordered, curtly, and relieved the astonished butler of the tray. Murray glanced at Don Miguel.
"Perhaps you'd better go," Don Miguel suggested, weakly. "Pablo is a trifle jealous of the job of waiting on me. We'll iron everything out in the morning. Good-night, Murray."
"Buenas noches, mono mio," Pablo grunted.
"I have a slight knowledge of the Spanish tongue, sir," Murray protested. "This blackamoor has insulted me, sir. Just now he said, in effect, 'Good-night, monkey mine.' Earlier in the evening, he attempted to murder Mr. Parker's guest, Mr. Okada."
"It's a pity he didn't succeed," Don Miguel replied, and drew a dollar from his pocket. "You are very kind, Murray, but hereafter I shall not require your attendance. Pablo, give Murray his pistol."
Pablo returned the weapon.
"She ees one of those leetle lady-pistols, Don Miguel. She can't kill somebody if she try," he declared, contemptuously. Murray pouched the dollar gratefully and beat a hurried retreat.
From under his denim jumper, Pablo brought forth a pint of claret.
"When the damned proheebeetion she's come, you father hee's sell fifty cow and buy plenty booze," he explained. He broke off into Spanish. "This wine, we stored in the old bakery, and your father entrusted me with the key. It is true. Although it is not lawful to permit one of my blood to have charge of wines and liquors, nevertheless, your sainted father reposed great confidence in me. Since his death, I have not touched one drop, although I was beset with temptation, seeing that if we did not drink it, others would. But Carolina would have none of it, and, as you know, your father, who is now, beyond doubt, an archangel, was greatly opposed to any man who drank alone. How often have I heard him declare that such fellows were not of the gente! And Carolina always refused to believe that you were dead. As a result, the years will be many before that wine is finished."
"My good Pablo, your great faith deserves a great reward. It is my wish that, to-night, you and Carolina shall drink one pint each to my health. Have you given some of this wine to the Parkers?"
Pablo shook his head vigorously.
"That fellow, El Mono, was desirous of serving some to his master, and demanded of me the key, which I refused. Later, Senor Parker made the same demand. Him I refused also. This made him angry, and he ordered me to depart from El Palomar. Naturally, I told him to go to the devil. Don Miguel, this gringo grub appears to be better than I had imagined."
Farrel had little appetite for food, but, to please Pablo, he drank the soup and toyed with a piece of toast and a glass of wine while the majordomo related to him the events which had taken place at El Palomar since that never-to-be-forgotten day when Tony Moreno had ridden in with the telegram from Washington.
"Your beloved father—may the smile of Jesus warm him!—said nothing when he read this accursed message, Don Miguel. For three days, he tasted no food; throughout the days he sat beside me on the bench under the catalpa tree, gazing down into the San Gregorio as if he watched for you to ride up the road. He shed no tears—at least, not in the presence of his servants—but he was possessed of a great trembling. At the end of the third day, I rode to the mission and informed Father Dominic. Ah, Don Miguel, my heart was afflicted tenfold worse than before to see that holy man weep for you. When he had wept a space, he ordered Father Andreas to say a high mass for the repose of your soul, while he came up to the hacienda to remind your father of the comforts of religion. Whereat, for the first time since that vagabond Moreno came with his evil tidings, your father smiled. 'Good Father Dominic,' said he, 'I have need of the comfort of your presence and your friendship, but I would not blot out with thoughts of religion the memory of the honor that has come upon my house. God has been good to me. To me has been given the privilege of siring a man, and I shall not affront him with requests for further favors. To-morrow, in El Toro, a general will pin on my breast the medal for gallantry that belongs to my dead son. As for this trembling, it is but a palsy that comes to many men of my age.'"
"He had a slight touch of it before I left," Don Miguel reminded Pablo.
"The following day," Pablo continued, "I assisted him to dress, and was overjoyed to observe that the trembling had abated by half. By his direction, I saddled Panchito with the black carved-leather saddle, and he mounted with my aid and rode to El Toro. I followed on the black mare. At El Toro, in the plaza, in the presence of all the people, a great general shook your father's hand and pinned upon his breast the medal that belongs to you. It was a proud moment for all of us. Then we rode back to the San Gregorio. At the mission, your father dismounted and went into the chapel to pray for your soul. For two hours, I waited before entering to seek him. I found him kneeling with his great body spread out over the prie-dieu where the heads of your house have prayed since the Mission de la Madre Dolorosa was built. His brain was alive, but one side of him was dead, and he smiled with his eyes. We carried him home in Father Dominic's automobile, and, two weeks later, he died in sanctity. The gente of San Marcos County attended his funeral.
"In February came Senor Parker, with great assurance, and endeavored to take possession. He showed me a paper, but what do I know of papers? I showed him your rifle, and he departed, to return with Don Nicolas Sandoval, the sheriff, who explained matters to me and warned me to avoid violence. I have dwelt here since in sorrow and perplexity, and because I have ridden the fences and watched over the stock, there has been no great effort made to disturb me. They have a cook—a Japanese, and two Japanese women servants. Also, this evening, Senor Parker brought with him as a guest another Japanese, whom he treats with as much consideration as if the fellow were your sainted father. I do not understand such people. This Japanese visitor was given this room, but this honor I denied him."
"My father's business affairs are greatly tangled, Pablo. I shall have quite a task to place them in order," Don Miguel informed him, sadly.
"If it is permitted an old servant to appear curious, Don Miguel, how long must we submit to the presence of these strangers?"
"For the present, Pablo, I am the master here; therefore, these people are my guests. It has never been the custom with my people to be discourteous to guests."
"I shall try to remember that," Pablo replied, bitterly. "Forgive me, Don Miguel, for forgetting it. Perhaps I have not played well my part as the representative of my master during his absence."
"Do not distress yourself further in the matter, Pablo. What food have we at the ranch? Is there sufficient with which to enable Carolina to serve breakfast?"
"To serve it where, Don Miguel?"
"Where but in my home?"
"Blood of the devil!" Pablo slapped his thigh and grinned in the knowledge that the last of the Farrels, having come home, had decided to waste no time in assuming his natural position as the master of the Rancho Palomar. "We have oranges," he began, enumerating each course of the forthcoming meal on his tobacco-stained fingers. "Then there is flour in my possession for biscuits, and, two weeks ago, I robbed a bee-tree; so we have honey. Our coffee is not of the best, but it is coffee. And we have eggs."
"Any butter, sugar, and cream?"
"Alas, no, Don Miguel!"
"Saddle a horse at once, go down to the mission, and borrow some from Father Dominic. If he has none, ride over to the Gonzales rancho and get it. Bacon, also, if they have it. Tell Carolina I will have breakfast for five at half after eight."
"But this Japanese cook of Senor Parker's, Don Miguel?"
"I am not in a mood to be troubled by trifles tonight, Pablo."
"I understand, Don Miguel. The matter may safely be entrusted to me." He picked up the tray. "Sweet rest to you, sir, and may our Saviour grant a quick healing to your bruised heart. Good-night."
"Good-night, Pablo." Farrel rose and laid his hand on the old retainer's shoulder. "I never bothered to tell you this before, Pablo, but I want you to know that I do appreciate you and Carolina tremendously. You've stuck to me and mine, and you'll always have a home with me."
"Child," Pablo queried, huskily, "must we leave the rancho?"
"I'm afraid we must, Pablo. I shall know more about our plans after I have talked with Senor Parker."
That night, Miguel Farrel did not sleep in the great bed of his ancestors. Instead, he lay beneath his grandmother's silk crazy-quilt and suffered. The shock incident to the discovery of the desperate straits to which he had been reduced had, seemingly, deprived him of the power to think coherently. Along toward daylight, however, what with sheer nervous exhaustion, he fell into a troubled doze from which he was awakened at seven o'clock by the entrance of Pablo, with a pitcher of hot water for his shaving.
"Carolina will serve breakfast, Don Miguel," he announced. "The Japanese cook tried to throw her out of the kitchen; so I have locked him up in the room where of old I was wont to place vaqueros who desired to settle their quarrels without interference."
"How about food, Pablo?"
"Unfortunately, Father Dominic had neither sugar nor cream. It appears such things are looked upon at the mission as luxuries, and the padres have taken the vow of poverty. He could furnish nothing save half a ham, which is of Brother Flavio's curing, and very excellent. I have tasted it before. I was forced to ride to the Gonzales rancho for the cream and sugar this morning, and have but a few moments ago returned."
Having deposited the pitcher of hot water, Pablo retired and, for several minutes, Miguel Farrel lay abed, gazing at the row of portraits of Noriagas and Farrels. His heart was heavy enough still, but the first benumbing shock of his grief and desperation had passed, and his natural courage and common sense were rapidly coming to his aid. He told himself that, with the dawning of the new day, he would no longer afford the luxury of self-pity, of vain repining for the past. He had to be up and doing, for a man's-sized task now confronted him. He had approximately seven months in which to rehabilitate an estate which his forebears had been three generations in dissipating, and the Gaelic and Celtic blood in him challenged defeat even in the very moment when, for all he knew to the contrary, his worldly assets consisted of approximately sixty dollars, the bonus given him by the government when parting with his services.
"I'll not give up without a battle," he told his ancestors aloud. "You've all contributed to my heavy load, but while the pack-straps hold and I can stand and see, I'll carry it. I'll fight this man Parker up to the moment he hands the county recorder the commissioner's deed and the Rancho Palomar has slipped out of my hands forever. But I'll fight fair. That splendid girl—ah, pooh! Why am I thinking of her?"
Disgusted with himself for having entertained, for a fleeting instant, a slight sentimental consideration for the daughter of his enemy—for as such he now regarded this man who planned to colonize the San Gregorio with Japanese farmers—he got out of bed and under the cold shower-bath he had installed in the adjoining room years before. It, together with the tub-bath formerly used by his father, was the only plumbing in the hacienda, and Farrel was just a little bit proud of it. He shaved, donned clean linen and an old dressing-gown, and from his closet brought forth a pair of old tan riding-boots, still in an excellent state of repair. From his army-kit he produced a boot-brush and a can of tan polish, and fell to work, finding in the accustomed task some slight surcease from his troubles.
His boots polished to his satisfaction, he selected from the stock of old civilian clothing a respectable riding-suit of English whip-cord, inspected it carefully for spots, and, finding none, donned it. A clean starched chambray shirt, set off by a black-silk Windsor tie, completed his attire, with the exception of a soft, wide, flat-brimmed gray-beaver hat, and stamped him as that which he had once been but was no longer—a California rancher of taste and means somewhat beyond the average.
It was twenty-five minutes past eight when he concluded his leisurely toilet; so he stepped out of his room, passed round two sides of the porched patio, and entered the dining-room. The long dining-table, hewed by hand from fir logs by the first of the Noriagas, had its rough defects of manufacture mercifully hidden by a snow-white cloth, and he noted with satisfaction that places had been set for five persons. He hung his hat on a wall-peg and waited with his glance on the door.
Promptly at eight-thirty, Carolina, smiling, happy, resplendent in a clean starched calico dress of variegated colors, stepped outside the door and rang vigorously a dinner-bell that had called three generations of Noriagas and an equal number of generations of Farrels to their meals. As its musical notes echoed through the dewy patio, Murray, the butler, appeared from the kitchen. At sight of Farrel, he halted, puzzled, but recognized in him almost instantly the soldier who had so mysteriously appeared at the house the night before. El Mono was red of face and obviously controlling with difficulty a cosmic cataclysm.
"Sir," he announced, respectfully, "that Indian of yours has announced that he will shoot me if I attempt to serve breakfast."
Farrel grinned wanly.
"In that event, Murray," he replied, "if I were you, I should not attempt to serve breakfast. You might be interested to know that I am now master here and that, for the present, my own servants will minister to the appetites of my guests. Thank you for your desire to serve, but, for the present, you will not be needed here. If you will kindly step into the kitchen, Carolina will later serve breakfast to you and the maids."
"I'm quite certain I've never heard of anything so extraordinary," Murray murmured. "Mrs. Parker is not accustomed to being summoned to breakfast with a bell."
"Indeed? I'm glad you mentioned that, Murray. Perhaps you would be good enough to oblige me by announcing breakfast to Mr. and Mrs. Parker, Miss Parker, and their guest, Mr. Okada."
"Thank you, sir," Murray murmured, and departed on his errand.
The first to respond to the summons was Kay. She was resplendent in a stunning wash-dress and, evidently, was not prepared for the sight of Farrel standing with his back to the black adobe fireplace. She paused abruptly and stared at him frankly. He bowed.
"Good-morning, Miss Parker. I trust that, despite the excitement of the early part of the night, you have enjoyed a very good rest."
"Good-morning, Don Miguel. Yes; I managed rather well with my sleep, all things considered."
"You mustn't call me 'Don Miguel,'" he reminded her, with a faint smile. "I am only Don Miguel to the Indians and pelados and a few of my father's old Spanish friends who are sticklers for etiquette. My father was one of the last dons in San Marcos County, and the title fitted him because he belonged to the generation of dons. If you call me, 'Don Miguel,' I shall feel a little bit alien."
"Well, I agree with you, Mr. Farrel. You are too young and modern for such an antiquated title. I like 'Don Mike' better."
"There is no further need for that distinguishing appellation," he reminded her, "since my father's death."
She looked at him for several seconds and said:
"I'm glad to see you've gotten a firm grip on yourself so soon. That will make it ever so much nicer for everybody concerned. Mother and father are fearfully embarrassed."
"I shall endeavor to relieve them of their embarrassment the instant I meet them."
"Here they come now," Kay warned, and glanced at him appealingly.
Her mother entered first, followed by the potato baron, with Parker bringing up the rear. Mrs. Parker's handsome face was suffused with confusion, and, from the hesitant manner in which she entered, Farrel realized she was facing an ordeal.
"Mother, this is Mr. Miguel Farrel," Kay announced.
"You are welcome to my poor house, Mrs. Parker," Farrel informed her, gravely, as he crossed the room and bent over her hand for a moment, releasing it to grasp the reluctant hand of her husband. "A double welcome, sir," he said, addressing Kay's father, who mumbled something in reply and introduced him to the potato baron, who bowed ceremoniously.
"Won't you please be seated?" Farrel pleaded. He gently steered Kay's mother to the seat on his right, and tucked her chair in under her, while Parker performed a similar service for his daughter. With the assurance of one whose right to do was unquestioned, Farrel took his seat at the head of the table and reached for the little silver call-bell beside his plate, while Parker took an unaccustomed seat opposite the potato baron.
"Considering the distressing circumstances under which I arrived," Farrel observed, addressing himself to Mrs. Parker, and then, with a glance, including the rest of the company, "I find myself rather happy in the possession of unexpected company. The situation is delightfully unique—don't you think so, Mrs. Parker?"
"It isn't the least bit delightful, Mr. Farrel," the lady declared frankly and forcibly; "but it's dear of you to be so nice about it."
Mr. Parker's momentary embarrassment had passed, and with the feeling that his silence was a trifle disconcerting, he rallied to meet Miguel Farrel's attempt at gaiety.
"Well, Mr. Farrel, we find ourselves in a unique position, as you say. Kay informs me, however, that you are conversant with the circumstances that have conspired to make us your guests."
"Pray do not mention it. Under the peculiar conditions existing, I quite realize that you followed the only logical and sensible course."
Mrs. Parker heaved a small sigh of relief and gazed upon Farrel with new interest. He returned her gaze with one faintly quizzical, whereat, emboldened, she demanded,
"Well, what do you think of us for a jolly little band of usurpers, Mr. Farrel?"
"Why, I think I'm going to like you all very much if you'll give me half a chance."
"I'd give you almost anything rather than be kicked out of this house," she replied, in her somewhat loud, high-pitched voice. "I love it, and I think it's almost sinful on your part to have bobbed up so unexpectedly."
"Mother!" Kay cried reproachfully.
"Tut, tut, Kay, dear! When an obnoxious heir is reported dead, he should have the decency to stay dead, although, now that our particular nuisance is here, alive and well, I suppose we ought to let bygones be bygones and be nice to him—provided, of course, he continues to be nice to us. Are you inclined to declare war, Mr. Farrel?"
"Not until every diplomatic course has been tried and found wanting," he replied.
Carolina entered, bearing five portions of sliced oranges.
"O Lord, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us," Mrs. Parker cried. "Where is Murray?"
Farrel glanced down at his oranges and grinned.
"I'm afraid I excused Murray," he confessed.
Mrs. Parker burst into shrill laughter.
"John," she demanded of her husband, "what do you think of this young man?"
"Pick up the marbles, Mr. Farrel," Parker replied, with poorly assumed good humor. "You win."
"I think this is a jolly adventure," Kay struck in, quick to note the advantage of her outspoken mother's course. "Here you have been more than two months, mother, regarding yourself as the mistress of the Rancho Palomar, retinting rooms, putting in modern plumbing, and cluttering up the place with a butler and maids, when—presto!—overnight a stranger walks in and says kindly, 'Welcome to my poor house!' After which, he appropriates pa's place at the head of the table, rings in his own cook and waitress, forces his own food on us, and makes us like it. Young man, I greatly fear we're going to grow fond of you."
"You had planned to spend the summer here, had you not, Mrs. Parker?"
"Yes. John Parker, have you any idea what's going to become of us?"
"We'll go to Santa Barbara and take rooms at a hotel there for the present," he informed her.
"I loathe hotels," she protested.
"I think I informed you, Mrs. Parker, that you are welcome to my poor house," Farrel reminded her. "I shall be happy to have you remain here until I go away. After that, of course, you can continue to stay on without any invitation from me."
Parker spoke up.
"My dear Mr. Farrel, that is charming of you! Indeed, from all that we have heard of you, it is exactly the course we might expect you to take. Nevertheless, we shall not accept of your kindness. Now that you are here, I see no reason why I should impose the presence of my family and myself upon your hospitality, even if the court has given me the right to enter upon this property. I am confident you are competent to manage the ranch until I am eliminated or come into final possession."
"John, don't be a nut," his wife implored him. "We'll stay here. Yes, we shall, John. Mr. Farrel has asked us in good faith. You weren't trying to be polite just to put us at our ease, were you?" she demanded, turning to Farrel.
"Certainly not, Mrs. Parker. Of course, I shall do my level best to acquire the legal right to dispossess you before Mr. Parker acquires a similar right to dispossess me, but, in the interim, I announce an armistice. All those in favor of the motion will signify by saying 'Aye.'"
"Aye!" cried Kay, and "Aye!" shrilled her mother.
"No!" roared her husband.
"Excess of sound has no weight with me, Mr. Parker," their host announced. "The 'Ayes' have it, and it is so ordered. I will now submit a platform for the approval of the delegates. Having established myself as host and won recognition as such, the following rules and regulations will govern the convention."
"Hear! Hear!" cried Mrs. Parker, and tapped the table with her spoon.
"The rapid ringing of a bell will be the signal for meals."
"Approved!" cried Kay.
"Second the motion!" shrilled her mother.
"My cook, Carolina, is queen of the kitchen, and Spanish cuisine will prevail. When you weary of it, serve notice, and your Japanese cook will be permitted to vary the monotony."
"Great!" Mrs. Parker almost yelled. "Right as a fox!"
"Murray shall serve meals, and—"
Pablo appeared in the door leading to the kitchen and spoke to Farrel in Spanish.
"Pardon, folks. Pablo has a telegram for me. Bring it here, Pablo."
The master of Palomar excused himself to his guests long enough to read the telegram, and then continued the announcement of his platform.
"My old battery commander, to whom I had promised Panchito, wires me that, for his sins, he has been made a major and ordered to the Army of Occupation on the Rhine. Therefore, he cannot use Panchito, and forbids me to express the horse to him. Consequently, Miss Parker, Panchito is almost yours. Consider him your property while you remain my guest."
"You darling Don Miguel Farrel!"
"Exuberant, my dear," her curious mother remarked, dryly, "but, on the whole, the point is well taken." She turned to Farrel. "How about some sort of nag for mother?"
"You may ride my father's horse, if that animal is still on the ranch, Mrs. Parker. He's a beautiful single-footer." He addressed Parker. "We used to have a big gray gelding that you'd enjoy riding, sir. I'll look him up for you after breakfast."
"Thank you, Mr. Farrel," Parker replied, flushing slightly, "I've been riding him already."
"Fine! He needed exercising. I have a brown mare for Mr. Okada, and you are all invited out to the corral after luncheon to see me bust Panchito's wild young brother for my own use."
"Oh, splendid!" Kay cried, enthusiastically.
"The day starts more auspiciously than I had hoped," her mother declared. "I really believe the Rancho Palomar is going to develop into a regular place with you around, Mr. Farrel."
"I am convinced," said Miguel Farrel, as he followed his guests out of the dining-room onto the veranda, "that the Parkers' invasion of my home is something in the nature of a mixed misfortune. I begin to feel that my cloud has a silver lining."
"Of all the young men I have ever met, you can say the nicest things," Mrs. Parker declared. "I don't think you mean that last remark the least bit, but still I'm silly enough to like to hear you say it. Do sit down here awhile, Mr. Farrel, and tell us all about yourself and family."
"At the risk of appearing discourteous, Mrs. Parker, I shall have to ask you to excuse me this morning. I have a living to make. It is now a quarter past nine, and I should have been on the job at seven."
"But you only got home from the army last night," Kay pleaded. "You owe yourself a little rest, do you not?"
"Not a minute. I must not owe anything I cannot afford. I have approximately seven months in which to raise approximately a quarter of a million dollars. Since I am without assets, I have no credit; consequently, I must work for that money. From to-day I am Little Mike, the Hustler."
"What's your program, Mr. Farrel?" Parker inquired, with interest.
"I should be grateful for an interview with you, sir, if you can spare the time. Later, I shall ride out over the ranch and make an inventory of the stock. Tomorrow, I shall go in to El Toro, see my father's attorney, ascertain if father left a will, and, if so, whom he named as executor. If he died intestate, I shall petition for letters of administration."
"Come, Kay, dear," Mrs. Parker announced; "heavy business-man stuff! I can't bear it! Will you take a walk with us, Mr. Okada?"
"Very much pleased," the potato baron replied, and flashed his fine teeth in a fatuous grin.
Farrel smiled his thanks as the good lady moved off with her convoy. Parker indicated a chair and proffered a cigar.
"Now then, Mr. Farrel, I am quite at your service."
Miguel Farrel lighted his cigar and thoughtfully tossed the burnt match into a bed of pansies. Evidently, he was formulating his queries.
"What was the exact sum for which the mortgage on this ranch was foreclosed, Mr. Parker?"
"Two hundred and eighty-three thousand, nine hundred and forty-one dollars, and eight cents, Mr. Farrel."
"A sizable wad. Mortgage covered the entire ranch?"
"When you secured control of the First National Bank of El Toro, you found that old mortgage carried in its list of assets. You also discovered that it had been renewed several times, each time for a larger sum, from which you deduced that the prospects for the ultimate payment of the mortgage were nebulous and distant. Your hypothesis was correct. The Farrels never did to-day a task that could be deferred until to-morrow. Well, you went out and looked over the security for that mortgage. You found it to be ample—about three to one, as a very conservative appraisal. You discovered that all of the stockholders in the First National were old friends of my father and extremely reluctant to foreclose on him. As a newcomer; you preferred not to antagonize your associates by forcing the issue upon them, so you waited until the annual election of stockholders, when you elected your own Board of Directors. Then this Board of Directors sold you the mortgage, and you promptly foreclosed it. The shock of this unexpected move was a severe one on my father; the erroneous report of my death killed him, and here you are, where you have every legal right in the world to be. We were never entitled to pity, never entitled to the half-century of courtesy and consideration we received from the bank. We met the fate that is bound to overtake impractical dreamers and non-hustlers in this generation. The Mission Indian disappeared before the onslaught of the earlier Californians, and the old-time Californians have had to take a back seat before the onslaught of the Go-get-'em boys from the Middle West and the East. Presently they, too, will disappear before the hordes of Japanese that are invading our state. Perhaps that is progress—the survival of the fittest. Quien sabe?"
He paused and smoked contemplatively. Parker cast a sidelong glance of curiosity at him, but said nothing, by his silence giving assent to all that the younger man had said.
"I suppose you wanted the Rancho Palomar," Miguel Farrel suggested, presently. "I dare say your purchase of this mortgage was not the mere outgrowth of an altruistic desire to relieve the First National Bank of El Toro of an annoyance and a burden."
"I think I admire your direct way of speaking, even if I hardly relish it," Parker answered, good-humoredly. "Yes; I wanted the ranch. I realized I could do things with it that nobody else in this county could do or would even think of doing."
"Perhaps you are right. For the sake of argument, I will admit that you are right. Now then, to business. This ranch is worth a million dollars, and at the close of the exemption period your claim against it will probably amount to approximately three hundred thousand dollars, principal and interest. If I can induce somebody to loan me three hundred thousand dollars wherewith to redeem this property, I can get the ranch back."
"Not much use getting it back, however, unless I can raise another hundred thousand to restock it with pure-bred or good-grade Herefords and purchase modern equipment to operate it." Parker nodded approvingly. "Otherwise," Farrel continued, "the interest would eat me alive, and in a few years I'd be back where I started."
"Do you think you can borrow four hundred thousand dollars in San Marcos County, Mr. Farrel?"
"No, sir. No private loan of that magnitude can be floated in this country. You control the only bank in the county that can even consider it—and you'll not consider it."
"Added to which handicap, I have no additional security to offer in the shape of previous reputation for ability and industry. I am the last of a long line of indolent, care-free spendthrifts."
"Yes; that is unfortunately true," Parker assented, gravely.
"Oh, not so unfortunate as it is embarrassing and inconvenient. We have always enjoyed life to the fullest, and, for that, only a fool would have regret. Would you be willing to file a satisfaction of that old mortgage and give me a new loan for five years for the amount now due on the property? I could induce one of the big packing companies to stake me to the cattle. All I would have to provide would be the range, and satisfy them that I am honest and know my business. And I can do that. Such an arrangement would give me time to negotiate a sale of part of the ranch and pay up your mortgage."
"I am afraid that my present plans preclude consideration of that suggestion," the banker replied, kindly, but none the less forcibly.
"I didn't think you would, but I thought I'd ask. As a general rule, it pays to try anything once when a fellow is in as desperate case as I am. My only hope, then, is that I may be able to sell the Farrel equity in the ranch prior to the twenty-second day of November."
"That would seem to be your best course, Mr. Farrel."
"When does the redemption period expire?"
Parker squirmed slightly.
"That is a difficult question to answer, Mr. Farrel. It seems your father was something of a lawyer—"
"Yes; he graduated in law. Why, nobody ever knew, for he never had the slightest intention of practising it. I believe it must have been because my grandfather, Michael Joseph I, had an idea that, since his son was a gentleman, he ought to have a college degree and the right to follow some genteel profession in case of disaster."
"Your father evidently kept abreast of the law," Parker laughed. "Before entering suit for foreclosure, I notified him by registered mail that the mortgage would not be renewed and made formal demand upon him for payment in full. When he received the notice from the El Toro postmaster to call for that registered letter, he must have suspected its contents, for he immediately deeded the ranch to you and then called for the registered letter."
Farrel began to chuckle.
"Good old dad!" he cried. "Put over a dirty Irish trick on you to gain time!"
"He did. I do not blame him for it. I would have done the same thing myself under the same circumstances." And Parker had the grace to join in the laugh. "When I filed suit for foreclosure," he continued, "he appeared in court and testified that the property belonged to his son, who was in the military service, in consequence of which the suit for foreclosure could not be pressed until after said son's discharge from the service."
"All praise to the power of the war-time moratoriums," Farrel declared. "I suppose you re-entered the suit as soon as the report of my death reached you."
"I did, Mr. Farrel, and secured a judgment. Then I took possession."
"Aren't you the picture of bad luck? Just when everything is shaping up beautifully for you, I appear in the flesh as exhibit A in the contention that your second judgment will now have to be set aside, because, at the time it was entered, it conflicted with the provisions of that blessed moratorium." Don Miguel smiled mirthlessly.
"There's luck in odd numbers," Parker retorted, dryly. "The next time I shall make that judgment stick."
"Well, at any rate, all these false starts help me out wonderfully," Don Miguel reminded him. "As matters stand this morning, the mortgage hasn't been foreclosed at all; consequently, you are really and truly my guests and doubly welcome to my poor house." He rose and stretched himself, gazing down the while at Parker, who regarded him quizzically. "Thank you for the interview, Mr. Parker. I imagine we've had our first and last business discussion. When you are ready to enter your third suit for foreclosure, I'll drop round to your attorney's office, accept service of the summons, appear in court, and confess judgment." Fell a silence. Then, "Do you enjoy the study of people, sir?" Don Miguel demanded, apropos of nothing.
"Not particularly, Mr. Farrel. Of course, I try to know the man I'm doing business with, and I study him accordingly, but that is all."
"I have not made myself explicit," his host replied. "The racial impulses which I observed cropping out in my father—first Irish, then Spanish—and a similar observance of the raised impulses of the peons of this country, all of whom are Indian, with a faint admixture of Spanish blood—always interested me. I agree with Pope that 'the proper study of mankind is man.' I find it most interesting."
"For instance?" Parker queried. He had a feeling that in any conversation other than business which he might indulge in with this young man he would speedily find himself, as it were, in deep water close to the shore.
"I was thinking of my father. In looking through his effects last night, I came across indubitable evidence of his Celtic blood. Following the futile pursuit of an enemy for a quarter of a century, he died and left the unfinished job to me. Had he been all Spanish, he would have wearied of the pursuit a decade ago."
"I think every race has some definite characteristics necessary to the unity of that race," Parker replied, with interest. "Hate makes the Irish cohesive; pride or arrogance prevents the sun from setting on British territory; a passionate devotion to the soil has solidified the French republic in all its wars, while a blind submission to an overlord made Germany invincible in peace and terrible in war."
"I wonder what spiritual binder holds the people of the United States together, Mr. Parker?" Don Miguel queried naively.
"Love of country, devotion to the ideals of liberty and democracy," Parker replied promptly, just as his daughter joined them.
Farrel rose and surrendered to her his chair, then seated himself on the edge of the porch with his legs dangling over into a flower-bed. His face was grave, but in his black eyes there lurked the glint of polite contempt.
"Did you hear the question and the answer, Miss Parker?" he queried.
She nodded brightly.
"Do you agree with your father's premise?" he pursued.
"Yes, I do, Don Mike."
"I do not. The mucilage in our body politic is the press-agent, the advertising specialist, and astute propagandist. I wonder if you know that, when we declared war against Germany, the reason was not to make the world safe for democracy, for there are only two real reasons why wars are fought. One is greed and the other self-protection. Thank God, we have never been greedy or jealous of the prosperity of a neighbor. National aggrandizement is not one of our ambitions."
Kay stared at him in frank amazement.
"Then you mean that we entered the late war purely as a protective measure?"
"That's why I enlisted. As an American citizen, I was unutterably weary of having our hand crowded and our elbow joggled. I saw very clearly that, unless we interfered, Germany was going to dominate the world, which would make it very uncomfortable and expensive for us. I repeat that for the protection of our comfort and our bank-roll we declared war, and anybody who tells you otherwise isn't doing his own thinking, he isn't honest with himself, and he's the sort of citizen who is letting the country go to the dogs because he refuses to take an intelligent interest in its affairs."
"What a perfectly amazing speech from an ex-soldier!" Kay protested.
He smiled his sad, prescient smile.
"Soldiers deal with events, not theories. They learn to call a spade a spade, Miss Parker. I repeat: It wasn't a war to make the world safe for democracy. That phrase was just a slogan in a business campaign—the selling of stock in a military enterprise to apathetic Americans. We had to fight or be overrun; when we realized that, we fought. Are not the present antics of the Supreme Council in Paris sufficient proof that saving democracy was just another shibboleth? Is not a ghastly war to be followed by a ghastly peace? The press-agents and orators popularized the war with the unthinking and the hesitant, which is proof enough to me that we lack national unity and a definite national policy. We're a lot of sublimated jackasses, sacrificing our country to ideals that are worn at elbow and down at heel. 'Other times, other customs.' But we go calmly and stupidly onward, hugging our foolish shibboleths to our hearts, hiding behind them, refusing to do to-day that which we can put off until to-morrow. That is truly an Anglo-Saxon trait. In matters of secondary importance, we yield a ready acquiescence which emboldens our enemies to insist upon acquiescence in matters of primary importance. And quite frequently they succeed. I tell you the Anglo-Saxon peoples are the only ones under heaven that possess a national conscience, and because they possess it, they are generous enough to assume that other races are similarly endowed."
"I believe," Parker stuck in, as Don Miguel ceased from his passionate denunciation, "that all this is leading quite naturally to a discussion of Japanese emigration."
"I admit that the sight of Mr. Okada over in the corner of the patio, examining with interest the only sweet-lime tree in North America, inspired my outburst," Farrel answered smilingly.
"You speak of our national shibboleths, Don Mike Farrel," Kay reminded him. "If you please, what might they be?"
"You will recognize them instantly, Miss Parker. Let us start with our Declaration of Independence: 'All men are created equal.' Ah, if the framers of that great document had only written, 'All men are created theoretically equal!' For all men are not morally, intellectually, or commercially equal: For instance, Pablo is equal with me before the law, although I hazard the guess that if he and I should commit a murder, Pablo would be hanged and I would be sentenced to life imprisonment; eventually, I might be pardoned or paroled. Are you willing to admit that Pablo Artelan is not my equal?" he challenged suddenly.
"Certainly!" Kay and her father both cried in unison.
"Very well. Is Mr. Okada my equal?"
"He is Pablo's superior," Parker felt impelled to declare.
"He is not your equal," Kay declared firmly. "Dad, you're begging the question."
"We-ll, no," he assented, "Not from the Anglo-Saxon point of view. He is, however, from the point of view of his own nationals."
"Two parallel lines continued into infinity will never meet, Mr. Parker. I am a believer in Asia for Asiatics, and, in Japan, I am willing to accord a Jap equality with me. In my own country, however, I would deny him citizenship, by any right whatsoever, even by birth, I would deny him the right to lease or own land for agricultural or other purposes, although I would accord him office and warehouse space to carry on legitimate commerce. The Jap does that for us and no more, despite his assertions to the contrary. I would deny the right of emigration to this country of all Japanese, with certain exceptions necessary to friendly intercourse between the two countries; I would deny him the privilege of economic competition and marriage with our women. When a member of the great Nordic race fuses with a member of a pigmented race, both parties to the union violate a natural law. Pablo is a splendid example of mongrelization."
"You are forgetting the shibboleths," Kay ventured to remind him.
"No; I am merely explaining their detrimental effect upon our development. The Japanese are an exceedingly clever and resourceful race. Brilliant psychologists and astute diplomatists, they have taken advantage of our pet shibboleth, to the effect that all men are equal. Unfortunately, we propounded this monstrous and half-baked ideal to the world, and a sense of national vanity discourages us from repudiating it, although we really ought to. And as I remarked before, we possess an alert national conscience in international affairs, while the Jap possesses none except in certain instances where it is obvious that honesty is the best policy. I think I am justified, however, in stating that, upon the whole, Japan has no national conscience in international affairs. Her brutal exploitation of China and her merciless and bloody conquest of Korea impel that point of view from an Anglo-Saxon. When, therefore, the Tokyo government says, in effect, to us: 'For one hundred and forty-four years you have proclaimed to the world that all men are equal. Very well. Accept us. We are a world-power. We are on a basis of equality with you,' and we lack the courage to repudiate this pernicious principle, we have tacitly admitted their equality. That is, the country in general has, because it knows nothing of the Japanese race—at least not enough for moderately practical understanding of the biological and economic issues involved. Indeed, for a long time, we Californians dwelt in the same fool's paradise as the remainder of the states. Finally, members of the Japanese race became so numerous and aggressive here that we couldn't help noticing them. Then we began to study them, and now, what we have learned amazes and frightens us, and we want the sister states to know all that we have learned, in order that they may cooperate with us. But, still, the Jap has us tiron in other ways."
"Has us what?" Parker interrupted.
"Tiron. Spanish slang. I mean he has us where the hair is short; we're hobbled."
"How?" Kay demanded.
His bright smile was triumphant.
"By shibboleths, of course. My friends, we're a race of sentimental idiots, and the Japanese know this and capitalize it. We have promulgated other fool shibboleths which we are too proud or too stupid to repudiate. 'America, the refuge for all the oppressed of the earth!' Ever hear that perfectly damnable shibboleth shouted by a Fourth of July orator? 'America, the hope of the world!' What kind of hope? Hope of freedom, social and political equality, equality of opportunity? Nonsense! Hope of more money, shorter hours, and license misnamed liberty; and when that hope has been fulfilled, back they go to the countries that denied them all that we give. How many of them feel, when they land at Ellis Island, that the ground whereon they tread is holy, sanctified by the blood and tears of a handful of great, brave souls who really had an ideal and died for it. Mighty few of the cattle realize what that hope is, even in the second generation."
"I fear," quoth Parker, "that your army experience has embittered you."
"On the contrary, it has broadened and developed me. It has been a liberal education, and it has strengthened my love for my country."
"Continue with the shibboleths, Don Mike," Kay pleaded. Her big, brown eyes were alert with interest now.
"Well, when Israel Zangwill coined that phrase: 'The Melting-Pot,' the title to his play caught the popular fancy of a shibboleth-crazy nation, and provided pap for the fanciful, for the theorists, for the flabby idealists and doctrinaires. If I melt lead and iron and copper and silver and gold in the same pot, I get a bastard metal, do I not? It is not, as a fused product, worth a tinker's hoot. Why, even Zangwill is not an advocate of the melting-pot. He is a Jew, proud of it, and extremely solicitous for the welfare of the Jewish race. He is a Zionist—a leader of the movement to crowd the Arabs out of Palestine and repopulate that country with Jews. He feels that the Jews have an ancient and indisputable right to Palestine, although, parenthetically speaking, I do not believe that any smart Jew who ever escaped from Palestine wants to go back. I wouldn't swap the Rancho Palomar for the whole country."
Kay and her father laughed at his earnest yet whimsical tirade. Don Miguel continued:
"Then we have that asinine chatter about 'America, the land of fair play.' In theory—yes. In actual practice—not always. You didn't accumulate your present assets, Mr. Parker, without taking an occasional chance on side-tracking equity when you thought you could beat the case. But the Jap reminds us of our reputation for fair play, and smilingly asks us if we are going to prejudice that reputation by discriminating unjustly against him?"
"It appears," the girl suggested, "that all these ancient national brags come home, like curses, to roost."
"Indeed they do, Miss Parker! But to get on with our shibboleths. We hear a great deal of twaddle about the law of the survival of the fittest. I'm willing to abide by such a natural law, provided the competition is confined to mine own people—and I'm one of those chaps, who, to date, has failed to survive. But I cannot see any common sense in opening the lists to Orientals. We Californians know we cannot win in competition with them." He paused and glanced at Kay. "Does all this harangue bore you, Miss Parker?"
"Not at all. Are there any more shibboleths?"
"I haven't begun to enumerate them. Take, for instance, that old pacifist gag, that Utopian dream that is crystallized in the words: 'The road to universal peace.' All the long years when we were not bothered by wars or rumors of wars, other nations were whittling each other to pieces. And these agonized neighbors, longing, with a great longing, for world-peace, looked to the United States as the only logical country in which a great cure-all for wars might reasonably be expected to germinate. So their propagandists came to our shores and started societies looking toward the establishment of brotherly love, and thus was born the shibboleth of universal peace, with Uncle Sam heading the parade like an old bell-mare in a pack train. What these peace-patriots want is peace at any price, although they do not advertise the fact. We proclaim to the world that we are a Christian nation. Ergo, we must avoid trouble. The avoidance of trouble is the policy of procrastinators, the vacillating, and the weak. For one cannot avoid real trouble. It simply will not be avoided; consequently, it might as well be met and settled for all time."
"But surely," Parker remarked, "California should subordinate herself to the wishes of the majority."
"Yes, she should," he admitted doggedly, "and she has in the past. I think that was before California herself really knew that Oriental emigration was not solely a California problem but a national problem of the utmost importance. Indeed, it is international. Of course, in view of the fact that we Californians are already on the firing-line, necessarily it follows that we must make some noise and, incidentally, glean some real first-hand knowledge of this so-called problem. I think that when our fellow citizens know what we are fighting, they will sympathize with us and promptly dedicate the United States to the unfaltering principle that ours is a white man's country, that the heritage we have won from the wilderness shall be held inviolate for Nordic posterity and none other."
"Nevertheless, despite your prejudice against the race, you are bound to admire the Japanese—their manners, thrift, industry, and cleanliness." Parker was employing one of the old stock protests, and Don Miguel knew it.
"I do not admire their manners, but I do admire their thrift, industry, and cleanliness. Their manners are abominable. Their excessive courtesy is neither instinctive nor genuine; it is camouflage for a ruthless, greedy, selfish, calculating nature. I have met many Japanese, but never one with nobility or generosity of soul. They are disciples of the principles of expediency. If a mutual agreement works out to their satisfaction, well and good. If it does not, they present a humble and saddened mien. 'So sorry. I zink you no understand me. I don't mean zat.' And their peculiar Oriental psychology leads them to believe they can get away with that sort of thing with the straight-thinking Anglo-Saxon. They have no code of sportsmanship; they are irritable and quarrelsome, and their contractual relations are incompatible with those of the Anglo-Saxon. They are not truthful. Individually and collectively, they are past masters of evasion and deceit, and therefore they are the greatest diplomatists in the world, I verily believe. They are wonderfully shrewd, and they have sense enough to keep their heads when other men are losing theirs. They are patient; they plan craftily and execute carefully and ruthlessly. Would you care to graft their idea of industry on the white race, Mr. Parker?"
"I would," Parker declared, firmly. "It is getting to be the fashion nowadays for white men to do as little work as possible, and half do that."
"I would not care to see my wife or my mother or my sister laboring twelve to sixteen hours a day as Japanese force their women to labor. I would not care to contemplate the future mothers of our race drawn from the ranks of twisted, stunted, broken-down, and prematurely aged women. Did you ever see a bent Japanese girl of twenty waddling in from a day of labor in a field? To emulate Japanese industry, with its peonage, its horrible, unsanitary factory conditions, its hopelessness, would be to thrust woman's hard-won sphere in modern civilization back to where it stood at the dawn of the Christian era. Do you know, Miss Parker, that love never enters into consideration when a Japanese contemplates marriage? His sole purpose in acquiring a mate is to beget children, to scatter the seed of Yamato over the world, for that is a religious duty. A Jap never kisses his wife or shows her any evidences of affection. She is a chattel, and if anybody should, by chance, discover him kissing his wife, he would be frightfully mortified."
"What of their religious views, Don Mike?"
"If Japan can be said to have an official religion, it is Shintoism, not Buddhism, as so many Occidental people believe. Shintoism is ancestor-worship, and ascribes divinity to the emperor. They believe he is a direct descendant of the sun-god, Yamato."
"Why, they're a heathen nation!" Kay's tones were indicative of amazement.
Farrel smiled his tolerant smile.
"I believe, Miss Parker, that any people who will get down on all fours to worship the picture of their emperor and, at this period of the world's progress, ascribe to a mere human being the attributes of divinity, are certainly deficient in common sense, if not in civilization. However, for the purpose of insuring the realization of the Japanese national aspirations, Shintoism is a need vital to the race. Without it, they could never agree among themselves for they are naturally quarrelsome, suspicious and irritable. However, by subordinating everything to the state via this religious channel, there has been developed a national unity that has never existed with any other race. The power of cohesion of this people is marvelous, and will enable it, in days to come, to accomplish much for the race. For that reason alone, our very lack of cohesion renders the aspirations of Japan comparatively easy of fulfilment unless we wake up and attend to business."
"How do you know all this, Mr. Farrel?" Parker demanded incredulously.
"I have read translations from editorials in Japanese newspapers both in Japan and California; I have read translations of the speeches of eminent Japanese statesmen; I have read translations from Japanese official or semi-official magazines, and I have read translations from patriotic Japanese novels. I know what I am talking about. The Japanese race holds firmly to the belief that it is the greatest race on the face of the globe, that its religion, Shintoism, is the one true faith, that it behooves it to carry this faith to the benighted of other lands and, if said benighted do not readily accept Shintoism, to force its blessings upon them willy-nilly. They believe that they know what is good for the world; they believe that the resources of the world were put here to be exploited by the people of the world, regardless of color, creed, or geographical limitation. They feel that they have as much right in North America as we have, and they purpose over-running us and making our country Japanese territory. And it was your purpose to aid in the consummation of this monstrous ambition," he charged bluntly.