"At least," Parker defended, "they are a more wholesome people than southern Europeans. And they are not Mongolians."
Farrel's eyebrows arched.
"You have been reading Japanese propaganda," he replied. "Of course they are Mongolians. Everybody who has reached the age of reason knows that. One does not have to be a biologist to know that they are Mongolians. Indeed, the only people who deny it are the Japanese, and they do not believe it. As for southern Europeans, have you not observed that nearly all of them possess brachycephalic skulls, indicating the influence upon them of Mongolian invasions thousands of years ago and supplying, perhaps, a very substantial argument that, if we find the faintly Mongoloid type of emigrant repugnant to us, we can never expect to assimilate the pure-bred Mongol."
"What do you mean, 'brachycephalic'?" Parker queried, uneasily.
"They belong to the race of round heads. Didn't you know that ethnologists grub round in ancient cemeteries and tombs and trace the evolution and wanderings of tribes of men by the skulls they find there?"
"I did not."
Kay commenced to giggle at her father's confusion. The latter had suddenly, as she realized, made the surprising discovery that in this calm son of the San Gregorio he had stumbled upon a student, to attempt to break a conversational lance with whom must end in disaster. His daughter's mirth brought him to a realization of the sorry figure he would present in argument.
"Well, my dear, what are you laughing at?" he demanded, a trifle austerely.
"I'm laughing at you. You told me yesterday you were loaded for these Californians and could flatten their anti-Japanese arguments in a jiffy."
"Perhaps I am loaded still. Remember, Kay, Mr. Farrel has done all of the talking and we have been attentive listeners. Wait until I have had my innings."
"By the way, Mr. Parker," Farrel asked, "who loaded you up with pro-Japanese arguments?"
Parker flushed and was plainly ill at ease. Farrel turned to Kay.
"I do not know yet where you folks came from, but I'll make a bet that I can guess—in one guess."
"What will you bet, my erudite friend?" the girl bantered.
"I'll bet you Panchito against a box of fifty of the kind of cigars your father smokes."
"Taken. Where do we hail from, Don Mike?"
"From New York city."
"Dad, send Mr. Farrel a box of cigars."
"Now, I'll make you another bet. I'll stake Panchito against another box of the same cigars that your father is a member of the Japan Society, of New York city."
"Send Mr. Farrel another box of cigars, popsy-wops. Don Mike, how did you guess it?"
"Oh, all the real plutocrats in New York have been sold memberships in that instrument of propaganda by the wily sons of Nippon. The Japan Society is supposed to be a vehicle for establishing friendlier commercial and social relations between the United States and Japan. The society gives wonderful banquets and yammers away about the Brotherhood of Man and sends out pro-Japanese propaganda. Really, it's a wonderful institution, Miss Parker. The millionaire white men of New York finance the society, and the Japs run it. It was some shrewd Japanese member of the Japan Society who sent you to Okada on this land-deal, was it not, Mr. Parker?"
"You're too good a guesser for comfort," the latter parried. "I'm going to write some letters. I'm motoring in to El Toro this afternoon, and I'll want to mail them."
"'Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof'," Don Miguel assured him lightly. "Whenever you feel the urge for further information about yourself and your Japanese friends, I am at your service. I expect to prove to you in about three lessons that you have unwittingly permitted yourself to develop into a very poor citizen, even if you did load up with Liberty Bonds and deliver four-minute speeches during all of the loan drives."
"Oh, I'm as good as the average American, despite what you say," retorted the banker, good-naturedly, as he left them.
The master of Palomar gazed after the retreating figure of his guest. In his glance there was curiosity, pain, and resignation. He continued to stare at the door through which Parker had disappeared, until roused from his reverie by Kay's voice.
"The average American doesn't impress you greatly, does he, Don Mike?"
"Oh, I'm not one of that supercilious breed of Americans which toadies to an alleged European culture by finding fault with his own people," he hastened to assure her. "What distresses me is the knowledge that we are a very moral nation, that we have never subjugated weaker peoples, that we have never coveted our neighbor's goods, that we can outthink and outwork and outgame and outinvent every nation under heaven, and yet haven't brains enough to do our own thinking in world-affairs. It is discouraging to contemplate the smug complacency, whether it be due to ignorance or apathy, which permits aliens to reside in our midst and set up agencies for our destruction and their benefit. If I— Why, you're in riding-costume, aren't you?"
"You will never be popular with women if you do not mend your ways," she informed him, with a little grimace of disapproval. "Do you not know that women loathe non-observing men?"
"So do I. Stodgy devils! Sooner or later, the fool-killer gets them all. Please do not judge me to-day, Miss Parker. Perhaps, after a while, I may be more discerning. By Jupiter, those very becoming riding-togs will create no end of comment among the natives!"
"You said Panchito was to be mine while I am your guest, Don Mike."
"I meant it."
"I do not relish the easy manner in which you risk parting with him. The idea of betting that wonder-horse against a box of filthy cigars!"
"Oh, I wasn't risking him," he retorted, dryly. "However, before you ride Panchito, I'll put him through his paces. He hasn't been ridden for three or four months, I dare say, and when he feels particularly good, he carries on just a little."
"If he's sober-minded, may I ride him to-day?"
"We shall quarrel if you insist upon treating yourself as company. My home and all I possess are here for your happiness. If your mother and father do not object—"
"My father doesn't bother himself opposing my wishes, and mother—by the way, you've made a perfectly tremendous hit with mother. She told me I could go riding with you."
He blushed boyishly at this vote of confidence. Kay noted the blush, and liked him all the better for it.
"Very well," he answered. "We'll ride down to the mission first. I must pay my respects to my friends there—didn't bother to look in on them last night, you know. Then we will ride over to the Sepulvida ranch for luncheon. I want you to know Anita Sepulvida. She's a very lovely girl and a good pal of mine. You'll like her."
"Let's go," she suggested, "while mother is still convoying Mr. Okada. He is still interested in that sweet-lime tree. By the way," she continued, as they rose and walked down the porch together, "I have never heard of a sweet-lime before."
"It's the only one of its kind in this country, Miss Parker, and it is very old. Just before it came into bearing for the first time, my grandmother, while walking along the porch with a pan of sugar in her hands, stubbed her toe and fell off the porch, spilling her pan of sugar at the base of the tree. The result of this accident is noticeable in the fruit to this very day."
She glanced up at him suspiciously, but not even the shadow of a smile hovered on his grave features. He opened the rear gate for her and they passed out into the compound.
"That open fireplace in the adobe wall under the shed yonder was where the cowboys used to sit and dry themselves after a rainy day on the range," he informed her. "In fact, this compound was reserved for the help. Here they held their bailies in the old days."
"What is that little building yonder—that lean-to against the main adobe wall?" Kay demanded.
"That was the settlement-room. You must know that the possessors of dark blood seldom settle a dispute by argument, Miss Parker. In days gone by, whenever a couple of peons quarreled (and they quarreled frequently), the majordomo, or foreman of the ranch, would cause these men to be stripped naked and placed in this room to settle their row with nature's weapons. When honor was satisfied, the victor came to this grating and announced it. Not infrequently, peons have emerged from this room minus an ear or a nose, but, as a general thing, this method of settlement was to be preferred to knife or pistol."
Farrel tossed an empty box against the door and invited the girl to climb up on it and peer into the room. She did so. Instantly a ferocious yell resounded from the semi-darkness within.
"Good gracious! Is that a ghost?" Kay cried, and leaped to the ground.
"No; confound it!" Farrel growled. "It's your Japanese cook. Pablo locked him in there this morning, in order that Carolina might have a clear field for her culinary art. Pablo!"
His cry brought an answering hail from Pablo, over at the barn, and presently the old majordomo entered the compound. Farrel spoke sternly to him in Spanish, and, with a shrug of indifference, Pablo unlocked the door of the settlement-room and the Japanese cook bounded out. He was inarticulate with frenzy, and disappeared through the gate of the compound with an alacrity comparable only to that of a tin-canned dog.
"I knew he had been placed here temporarily," Don Miguel confessed, "but I did think Pablo would have sense enough to let him out when breakfast was over. I'm sorry."
"I'm not. I think that incident is the funniest I have ever seen," the girl laughed. "Poor outraged fellow!"
"Well, if you think it's funny, so do I. Any sorrow I felt at your cook's incarceration was due to my apprehension as to your feelings, not his."
"What a fearful rage he is in, Don Mike!"
"Oh, well, he can help himself to the fruit of our famous lime-tree and get sweet again. Pablo, you russet scoundrel, no more rough stuff if you know what's good for you. Where is Panchito?"
"I leave those horse loose in the pasture," Pablo replied, a whit abashed. "I like for see if those horse he got some brains like before you go ride heem. For long time Panchito don' hear hees boss call heem. Mebbeso he forget—no?"
"We shall see, Pablo."
They walked out to the barn. In a little green field in the oak-studded valley below, a dozen horses were feeding. Farrel whistled shrilly. Instantly, one of the horses raised his head and listened. Again Farrel whistled, and a neigh answered him as Panchito broke from the herd and came galloping up the slope. When his master whistled again, the gallop developed into a furious burst of speed; whereat Farrel slipped inside the barn and shut the door, while round and round the barn Panchito galloped, seeking the lost master.
Suddenly Don Miguel emerged and, with little affectionate nickerings, the beautiful animal trotted up to him, ran his head over the master's shoulder, and rubbed his sleek cheek against the man's. Farrel nuzzled him and rubbed him lovingly between the ears before producing a lump of sugar. Upon command, Panchito squatted on his hind quarters like a dog and held his head out stiffly. Upon his nose Farrel balanced the lump of sugar, backed away, and stood in front of him. The horse did not move. Suddenly Farrel snapped his fingers. With a gentle toss of his head, Panchito threw the lump of sugar in the air and made a futile snap at it as it came down. Then he rose, picked the lump up carefully, and, holding it between his lips, advanced and proffered his master a bite.
"Oh, you eat it yourself!" Farrel cried, and reached for the horse's unkempt mane. With the ease of long practice, he swung aboard the horse and, at the touch of his heels, Panchito bounded away. Far down the mesa he raced, Farrel guiding him with his knees; then back and over the six-foot corral-fence with something of the airy freedom of a bird. In the corral, Farrel slid off, ran with the galloping animal for fifty feet, grasping his mane, and sprang completely over him, ran fifty feet more and sprang back, as nimbly as a monkey. Panchito was galloping easily, steadily, now, at a trained gait, like a circus horse, so Farrel sat sideways on him and discarded his boots, after which he stood erect on the smooth, glossy back and rode him, first on one foot, then on the other. Next he sat down on the animal again and clapped his hands.
"Panchito, my boots!" he ordered. But Panchito only pinned his ears and shook his head. "You see," Farrel called to Kay, "he is a gentleman, and declines to perform a menial service. But I shall force him. Panchito, you rebel, pick up my boots and hand them to me."
For answer, Panchito threw his hind end aloft half a dozen times, and Kay's silvery laugh echoed through the corral as Farrel, appearing to lose his seat, slid forward on the horse's withers and clung with arms and legs round Panchito's neck, emulating terror. Thereupon, Panchito stood up on his hind legs, and Farrel, making futile clutchings at the horse's mane, slid helplessly back; over his mount's glossy rump and sat down rather solidly in the dust of the corral.
"Bravo!" the girl cried. "Why, he's a circus horse!"
"I've schooled him a little for trick riding at rodeos, Miss Parker. We've carried off many a prize, and when I dress in the motley of a clown and pretend to ride him rough and do that silly slide, most people enjoy it."
Farrel got up, recovered his boots, and put them on.
"He'll do, the old humorist," he announced, as he joined her. "He hasn't forgotten anything, and wasn't he glad to see me again? You use an English saddle, I dare say, and ride with a short stirrup?"
Panchito dutifully followed like a dog at heel to the tack-room, where Farrel saddled him and carefully fitted the bridle with the snaffle-bit. Following a commanding slap on the fore leg, the intelligent animal knelt for Kay to mount him, after which, Farrel adjusted the stirrup leathers for her.
In the meantime, Pablo was saddling a splendid, big dappled-gray gelding.
"One of the best roping-horses in California, and very fast for half a mile. He's half thoroughbred," Farrel explained. "He was my father's mount." He caressed the gray's head. "Do you miss him, Bob, old-timer?" he queried.
Kay observed her companion's saddle. It was of black, hand-carved leather, with sterling-silver trimmings and long tapaderas—a saddle to thrill every drop of the Castilian blood that flowed in the veins of its owner. The bridle was of finely plaited rawhide, with fancy sliding knots, a silver Spanish bit, and single reins of silver-link chain and plaited rawhide. At the pommel hung coiled a well-worn rawhide riata.
When the gray was saddled, Farrel did not mount, but came to Kay and handed her the horsehair leading-rope.
"If you will be good enough to take the horses round in front," he suggested, "I'll go back to the kennels and loose the hounds. On our way over to the Sepulvida rancho, we're liable to put up a panther or a coyote, and if we can get our quarry out into the open, we'll have a glorious chase. I've run coyotes and panthers down with Panchito and roped them. A panther isn't to be sneezed at," he continued, apologetically. "The state pays a bounty of thirty dollars for a panther-pelt, and then gives you back the pelt."
Five minutes later, when he came round the north corner of the old hacienda, his hounds frisking before him, he met Kay riding to meet him on Panchito, but the gray gelding was not in sight. The girl was excited.
"Where is my mount, Miss Parker?" he demanded.
"Just as I rode up in front, a man came out of the patio, and started that automobile hurriedly. He had scarcely gotten it turned round when one of his front tires blew out. This seemed to infuriate him and frighten him. He considered a minute or two, then suddenly ran over to me, snatched the leading-rope out of my hand, mounted, and fled down the avenue at top speed."
"'The wicked flee when no man pursueth'," the master of Palomar replied, quietly, and stepped over to the automobile for an examination of the license. "Ah, my father's ancient enemy!" he exclaimed, "Andre Loustalot has been calling on your father, and has just learned that I am living. I think I comprehend his reason for borrowing my horse and dusting out of here so precipitately."
"There he goes now!" Kay cried, as the gray burst from the shelter of the palms in the avenue and entered the long open stretch of white road leading down the San Gregorio.
Don Mike's movements were as casual as if the theft of a horse in broad daylight was an every-day occurrence.
"Unfortunately for that stupid fellow, he borrowed the wrong horse," he announced, gravely. "The sole result of his action will be to delay our ride until tomorrow. I'm sorry, but it now becomes necessary for me to ask you for Panchito."
She slid silently to the ground. Swiftly but calmly he readjusted the stirrups; then he faced the girl.
"Want to see some fun?" he demanded.
"Why—yes," she replied, breathlessly.
"You're a good little sport. Take your father's car and follow me. Please bring Pablo with you, and tell him I said he was to bring his rifle. If Loustalot gets me, he is to follow on Panchito and get Loustalot. Thank you, Miss Parker."
He swung lightly into the unaccustomed flat saddle and, disdaining to follow the road, cut straight across country; Panchito taking the fences easily, the hounds belling lustily as they strung out behind him. Kay did not wait to follow his flight, but calling for William to get out the car, she ran round to the barn and delivered Farrel's message to Pablo, who grunted his comprehension and started for his cabin at a surprising rate of speed for an old man. Five minutes after Farrel had left the Rancho Palomar, Kay and Pablo were roaring down the valley in pursuit.
Half a mile beyond the mission they came upon Don Mike and his father's enemy. In the first mile, the latter had ridden the gray out; spent, gasping, the gallant animal was proceeding at a leg-weary, lumbering gallop when Miguel Farrel, following on Panchito at half that gallant animal's speed, came up with Loustalot. Straight at the big gray he drove, "hazing" him off the road and stopping him abruptly. At the same time, he leaped from Panchito full on top of Loustalot, and bore the latter crashing to the ground.
The chase was over. Half-stunned, the enemy of Don Miguel Jose Farrel II lay flat on his back, blinking up at Don Miguel Farrel III as the latter's knees pressed the Loustalot breast, the while his fingers clasped the hairy Loustalot throat in a grip that was a promise of death if the latter struggled.
As Kay drew up in the car and, white-faced and wondering, gazed at the unwonted spectacle, Miguel Farrel released his captive and stood erect.
"So sorry to have made a brawl in your presence, Miss Parker, but he would have ruined our old Bob horse if I hadn't overtaken him." He turned to the man on the ground. "Get up, Loustalot!" The latter staggered to his feet. "Pablo," Farrel continued, "take this man back to the ranch and lock him up in your private calaboose. See that he does not escape, and permit no one to speak with him."
Prom the gray's saddle he took a short piece of rope, such as vaqueros use to tie the legs of an animal when they have roped and thrown it.
"Mount!" he commanded. Loustalot climbed wearily aboard the spent gray, and held his hands behind him with Farrel bound them securely. Pablo thereupon mounted Panchito, took the gray's leading-rope, and started back to the ranch.
"How white your face is!" Farrel murmured, deprecatingly, as he came to the side of the car. "So sorry our ride has been spoiled." He glanced at his wrist-watch. "Only ten o'clock," he continued. "I wonder if you'd be gracious enough to motor me in to El Toro. Your father plans to use the car after luncheon, but we will be back by twelve-thirty."
"Certainly. Delighted!" the girl replied, in rather a small, frightened voice.
"Thank you." He considered a moment. "I think it no less than fair to warn you, Miss Parker, that my trip has to do with a scheme that may deprive your father of his opportunity to acquire the Rancho Palomar at one-third of its value. I think the scheme may be at least partially successful, but if I am to succeed at all, I'll have to act promptly."
She held out her hand to him.
"My father plays fair, Don Mike. I hope you win."
And she unlatched the door of the tonneau and motioned him to enter.
The return of Pablo Artelan to the hacienda with his employer's prisoner was a silent and dignified one up to the moment they reached the entrance to the palm avenue. Here the prisoner, apparently having gathered together his scattered wits, turned in the saddle and addressed his guard.
"Artelan," he said, in Spanish, "if you will permit me to go, I will give you five thousand dollars."
"If you are worth five thousand dollars to me," the imperturbable Pablo replied, calmly, "how much more are you worth to Don Miguel Farrel?"
"Ten thousand! You will be wealthy."
"What need have I for wealth, Loustalot? Does not Don Miguel provide all things necessary for a happy existence?"
"I will give you twelve thousand. Do not be a fool, Artelan. Come; be sensible and listen to reason."
"Silence, animal! Is not the blood of my brother on your head? One word—"
"Fifteen thousand, Artelan. Quick. There is little time to—"
Pablo rode up beside him and quite deliberately smote the man heavily across the mouth with the back of his hand.
"There will be no more talk of money," he commanded, tersely.
John Parker had finished writing his letters and was standing, with his wife and the potato baron, in front of the hacienda when Pablo and his prisoner rode into the yard. Thin rivulets of blood were trickling from the Basque's nose and lips; his face was ashen with rage and apprehension.
"Why, Loustalot, what has happened?" Parker cried, and stepped out to intercept the gray gelding, but Pablo, riding behind, struck the gray on the flank, and the animal bounded forward. But Parker was not to be denied. He, too, leaped, seized the reins, and brought the animal to a halt. Pablo glared at him hatefully; then, remembering that this man was no longer an interloper, but an honored guest of the house of Farrel, he removed his sombrero and bowed courteously.
"Senor Parker," he explained, "thees man, Loustalot, have made the beeg meestake to steal thees horse from Don Miguel Farrel. For long time since Don Miguel he's beeg like leetle baby, thees Basque he cannot set the foot on the Rancho Palomar, but to-day, because he theenk Don Miguel don' leeve, theese fellow have the beeg idea she's all right for come to theese rancho. Well, he come." Here Pablo shrugged. "I think mebbeso you tell theese Loustalot Don Miguel have come back. Car-ramba! He is scared like hell. Queeck, like rabbeet, he run for those automobile, but those automobile she have one leak in the wheel. Senor, thees is the judgment of God. Myself, I theenk the speerit of Don Miguel's father have put the nail where thees fellow can peeck heem up. Well, when hee's nothing for do, hee's got for do sometheeng, eh? Mira! If Don Miguel catch thees coyote on the Rancho Palomar, hee's cut off hees tail like that"—and Pablo snapped his tobacco-stained fingers. "Queeck! Hee's got for do something for make the vamose. The Senorita Parker, she rides Panchito and holds the gray horse for Don Miguel, who has gone for get the dogs. Thees animal, Loustalot, hee's go crazy with the fear, so he grab thees gray horse from the Senorita Parker and hee's ride away fast like the devil just when Don Miguel arrive with the hounds. Then Don Miguel, hee's take Panchito and go get thees man."
"But where are Don Miguel and Miss Parker now?"
"Mees Parker, she take the automobile; the senorita and Don Miguel go to El Toro. Me, I come back with thees Basque for put heem in the calaboose."
"But, Pablo, you cannot confine this man without a warrant."
Pablo, too polite to argue with a guest, merely bowed and smiled deprecatingly.
"My boss, hee's tell me put thees fellow in the calaboose. If trouble come from thees—well, Don Miguel have the fault, not Pablo Artelan. If the senor please for let go the gray horse—no?"
"Farrel has gone to El Toro to attach my bank-account and my sheep," the Basque explained in a whisper, leaning low over the gray's neck. "His father had an old judgment against me. When I thought young Farrel dead, I dared do business—in my own name—understand? Now, if he collects, you've lost the Rancho Palomar—help me, for God's sake, Parker!"
Parker's hand fell away from the reins.
"I have no sympathy for you, Loustalot," he replied, coldly. "If you have stolen this horse, you must pay the penalty. I shall not help you. This is no affair of mine." And he stepped aside and waved Loustalot back into Pablo's possession, who thanked him politely and rode away round the hacienda wall. Three minutes later, Loustalot, his hands unbound, was safe under lock and key in the settlement-room, and Pablo, rifle in lap, sat on a box outside the door and rolled a brown-paper cigarette.
Throughout the preceding colloquy, Mrs. Parker had said nothing. When Pablo and his prisoner had disappeared, she asked her husband:
"What did that man say to you? He spoke in such a low tone I couldn't hear him."
Parker, without hesitation, related to her, in the presence of Okada, the astonishing news which Loustalot had given him.
"Good!" the lady declared, emphatically. "I hope that delightful Don Mike collects every penny."
"Very poor business, I zink," Mr. Okada opined, thoughtfully.
"At any rate," Parker observed, "our host isn't letting the grass grow under his feet. I wonder if he'll attach Loustalot's automobile. It's new, and worth about eight thousand dollars. Well, we shall see what we shall see."
"I zink I take little walk. 'Scuse me, please," said Okada, and bowed to Parker and his wife. He gave both the impression that he had been an unwilling witness to an unhappy and distressing incident and wished to efface himself from the scene. Mrs. Parker excused him with a brief and somewhat wintry smile, and the little Oriental started strolling down the palm-lined avenue. No sooner had the gate closed behind them, however, than he hastened back to Loustalot's car, and at the end of ten minutes of furious labor had succeeded in exchanging the deflated tire for one of the inflated spare tires at the rear of the car. This matter attended to, he strolled over to the ranch blacksmith shop and searched through it until he found that which he sought—a long, heavy pair of bolt-clippers such as stockmen use for dehorning young cattle. Armed with this tool, he slipped quietly round to the rear of Pablo's "calaboose," and went to work noiselessly on the small iron-grilled window of the settlement-room.
The bars were an inch in diameter and too thick to be cut with the bolt-clippers, but Okada did not despair. With the tool he grasped the adobe window-ledge and bit deeply into it. Piece after piece of the ancient adobe came away, until presently the bases of the iron bars lay exposed; whereupon Okada seized them, one by one, in his hands and bent them upward and outward, backward and forward, until he was enabled to remove them altogether. Then he stole quietly back to the blacksmith shop, restored the bolt-clippers, went to the Basque's automobile, and waited.
Presently, Loustalot appeared warily round the corner. A glance at his automobile showed that the flat tire had been shifted; whereupon he nodded his thanks to the Japanese, who stared impassively while the Basque climbed into his car, threw out his low gear, let go his brakes, and coasted silently out of the yard and into the avenue. The hacienda screened him from Pablo's view as the latter, all unconscious of what was happening, dozed before the door of the empty settlement-room. Once over the lip of the mesa, Loustalot started his car and sped down the San Gregorio as fast as he dared drive.
Following his illuminating interview with Pablo and Loustalot, John Parker returned to a chair on the porch patio, lighted a fresh cigar, and gave himself up to contemplating the tangle in his hitherto well-laid plans. An orderly and methodical man always, it annoyed him greatly to discover this morning that a diabolical circumstance over which he had no control and which he had not remotely taken into consideration should have arisen to embarrass and distress him and, perchance, plunge him into litigation. Mrs. Parker, having possessed herself of some fancy work, took a seat beside him, and, for the space of several minutes, stitched on, her thoughts, like her husband's, evidently bent upon the affairs of Miguel Farrel.
"Who is this gory creature Pablo just brought in?" she demanded, finally.
"His name is Andre Loustalot, Kate, and he is a sheep-man from the San Carpojo country—a Basque, I believe. He hasn't a particularly good reputation in San Marcos County, but he's one of the biggest sheepmen in the state and a heavy depositor in the bank at El Toro. He was one of the reasons that moved me to buy the Farrel mortgage from the bank."
"Explain the reason, John."
"Well, I figured that eventually I would have to foreclose on old Don Miguel Farrel, and it would require approximately two years after that before my irrigation system would be completed and the valley lands ready for colonization. I was tolerably certain I would never restock the range with cattle, and I knew Loustalot would buy several thousand young sheep and run them on the Palomar, provided I leased the grazing-privilege to him for two years at a reasonable figure. I was here, under authority of a court order, to conserve the estate from waste, and my attorney assured me that, under that order, I had authority to use my own judgment in the administration of the estate, following the order of foreclosure. Now young Farrel shows up alive, and that will nullify my suit for foreclosure. It also nullifies my lease to Loustalot."
"I'm quite certain that fiery Don Mike will never consent to the lease, John," his wife remarked.
"If he declines to approve the lease, I shall be quite embarrassed I fear, Kate. You see, dear, Loustalot bought about fifteen thousand sheep to pasture on the Palomar, and now he's going to find himself in the unenviable position of having the sheep but no pasture. He'll probably sue me to recover his loss, if any."
"It's too bad you didn't wait ten days before signing that lease, John."
"Yes," he replied, a trifle testily. "But we all were convinced that young Farrel had been killed in Siberia."
"But you hadn't completed your title to this ranch, John?"
"You wouldn't murder a man who was going to commit suicide, would you? The ranch was as good as mine. If I had waited to make absolutely certain Farrel was dead, the wait might have cost me fifty thousand dollars. I rented the ranch at fifty cents per acre."
"One hundred thousand acres, more or less, for two years, at fifty cents per acre per annum. So, instead of making fifty thousand you've lost that sum," his wife mused aloud.
"I've lost one hundred thousand," he corrected. "A one-year lease is not desirable; Loustalot was my sole client, and I've lost him for good."
"Why despair, John? I've a notion that if you give Don Mike fifty thousand dollars to confirm Loustalot in the lease, he will forget his enmity and agree to the lease. That would, at least, prevent a law-suit."
Parker's face brightened.
"I might do that," he assented. "The title will remain in Farrel's name for another year, and I have always believed that half a loaf was better than none at all. If young Farrel subscribes to the same sentiments, all may yet go nicely."
"Fifty thousand dollars would be rather a neat sum to save out of the wreck," she observed, sagely. "He seems quite a reasonable young man."
"I like him," Parker declared. "I like him ever so much."
"So do I, John. He's an old-fashioned gentleman."
"He's a he man—the sort of chap I'd like to see Kay married to some day."
Mrs. Parker looked searchingly at her husband.
"He told Kay he was half greaser, John. Would you care to have our little daughter married to that sort of man?"
"How like a woman! You always take the personal viewpoint. I said I'd like to see Kay married to a he man like Miguel Farrel. And Farrel is not half greaser. A greaser is, I take it, a sort of mongrel—Indian and Spanish. Farrel is clean-strain Caucasian, Kate. He's a white man—inside and out."
"His financial situation renders him impossible, of course."
"I wish it were otherwise, Johnny. Perhaps, if you were a little easy with him—if you gave him a chance—"
"Kate, I'd always be afraid of his easy-going Latin blood. If I should put him on his feet, he would, in all probability, stand still. He might even walk a little, but I doubt me if he'd ever do a Marathon."
"John, you're wrong," Mrs. Parker affirmed, with conviction. "That young man will go far. What would you do if Kay should fall in love with him?"
"I'm sure I do not know, Kate. What would you do?"
"I do not know, John. Nevertheless, it is interesting to contemplate the situation. If he should win this ranch back from you, he could have her with my blessing."
"Likewise with mine. That would put him right up in the go-getter class, which is the class I want to see Kay marry into. But he will not win back this ranch, Kate."
"How do you know he will not?"
"Because I'm going to do everything in my power to keep him from redeeming it—and I'm neither a mental nor a financial cripple."
"Where did the potato baron go?" Mrs. Parker queried, suddenly changing the conversation.
"Down into the valley, I imagine, to look over the land."
"His presence here is not agreeable to Mr. Farrel, John. I think you might manage to indicate to Mr. Okada that now, Mr. Farrel having returned so unexpectedly, your land deal must necessarily be delayed for a year, and consequently, further negotiations at this time are impossible."
"Yes; I think I had better give him a strong hint to go away. It irritates Farrel to have him in the house, although he'd never admit it to us."
"I wonder, John, if it irritates him to have us in the house?"
"I wanted to leave to-day, but when he invited us to stay, you wouldn't permit me to consider leaving," he reminded her.
"But, John, his manner was so hearty and earnest we had to accept. Really, I think, we might have hurt his feelings if we had declined."
"Kay seemed happy to stay."
"That is another reason for accepting his invitation. I know she'll enjoy it so here."
"I wouldn't be at all surprised," Parker replied, dryly. "She has helped herself to the car and driver in order to aid Farrel at my expense."
His humorous wife smiled covertly. Parker smoked contemplatively for a quarter of an hour. Then,
"Here comes the smiling son of Nippon, John," Mrs. Parker remarked.
The potato baron entered the secluded patio and sat down beside them on the porch. With a preliminary whistling intake of breath, he remarked that it was a beautiful day and then proceeded, without delay, to discuss the subject closest to his heart—the fertile stretches of the San Gregorio valley.
Parker squirmed a trifle uneasily.
"As I explained to you this morning, Mr. Okada," he began, "our deal has become a trifle complicated by reason of the wholly unexpected return of Mr. Miguel Farrel."
"Very great misfortune," Okada sympathized. "Very great disappointment."
Mrs. Parker favored him with a look of violent dislike and departed abruptly, much to Okada's relief. Immediately he drew his chair close to Parker's.
"You zink Mr. Farrel perhaps can raise in one year the money to redeem property?" he demanded.
"I haven't the slightest information as to his money-raising ability, other than the information given me by that man Pablo has just locked up. If, as Loustalot informed me, Farrel has a judgment against him, he is extremely liable to raise a hundred thousand or more to-day, what with funds in bank and about fifteen thousand sheep."
"I zink Farrel not very lucky to-day wiz sheep, Mr. Parker."
"Well, whether he's lucky or not, he has our deal blocked for one year. I can do nothing now until title to this ranch is actually vested in me. I am morally certain Farrel will never redeem the property, but—well, you realize my predicament, Mr. Okada. Our deal is definitely hung up for one year."
"Very great disappointment!" Okada replied sadly. "Next year, I zink California legislature make new law so Japanese people have very much difficulty to buy land. Attorneys for Japanese Association of California very much frightened because they know Japanese treaty-rights not affected by such law. If my people can buy this valley before that law comes to make trouble for Japanese people, I zink very much better for everybody."
"But, my dear Mr. Okada, I cannot make a move until Miguel Farrel fails to redeem the property at the expiration of the redemption period, one year hence."
"Perhaps that sheeps-man kill Mr. Farrel," Okada suggested, hopefully. "I hoping, for sake of Japanese people, that sheeps-man very bad luck for Mr. Farrel."
"Well, I wouldn't care to have him for an enemy. However, I dare say Farrel knows the man well enough and will protect himself accordingly. By the way, Farrel is violently opposed to Japanese colonization of the San Gregorio."
"You zink he have prejudice against Japanese people?"
"I know it, Mr. Okada, and, for that reason, and the further reason that our deal is now definitely hung up for a year, I suggest that you return to El Toro with me this afternoon. I am no longer master here, but I shall be delighted to have you as my guest at the hotel in El Toro while you are making your investigations of the property. I wish to avoid the possibility of embarrassment to you, to Mr. Farrel, and to my family. I am sure you understand our position, Mr. Okada."
The potato baron nodded, scowling slightly.
At a point where the road, having left the valley and climbed a grade to a mesa that gave almost an air-plane view of the San Gregorio, Miguel Farrel looked back long and earnestly. For the first time since entering the car, at Kay Parker's invitation, he spoke.
"It's worth it," he announced, with conviction, "worth a fight to a finish with whatever weapons come to hand. If I— By the holy poker! Sheep! Sheep on the Rancho Palomar! Thousands of them. Look! Over yonder!"
"How beautiful they look against those green and purple and gold hillsides!" the girl exclaimed.
"Usually a sheep is not beautiful to a cow-man," he reminded her. "However, if those sheep belong to Loustalot, they constitute the fairest sight mine eyes have gazed upon to date."
"And who might he be?"
"That shaggy thief I manhandled a few minutes ago. He's a sheep-man from the San Carpojo, and for a quarter of a century he has not dared set foot on the Palomar. Your father, thinking I was dead and that the ranch would never be redeemed after foreclosure of the mortgage, leased the grazing-privilege to Loustalot. I do not blame him. I do not think we have more than five hundred head of cattle on the ranch, and it would be a shame to waste that fine green feed." Suddenly the sad and somber mien induced by his recent grief fled his countenance. He turned to her eagerly. "Miss Parker, if I have any luck worth while to-day, I think I may win back my ranch."
"I wish you could win it back, Don Mike. I think we all wish it."
"I hope you all do." He laughed joyously. "My dear Miss Parker, this is the open season on terrible practical jokes. I'm no judge of sheep in bulk, but there must be not less than ten thousand over on that hillside, and if the title to them is vested in Andre Loustalot to-day, it will be vested in me about a month from now. I shall attach them; they will be sold at pub-lie auction by the sheriff to satisfy in part my father's old judgment against Loustalot, and I shall bid them in—cheap. Nobody in San Marcos County will bid against me, for I can outbid everybody and acquire the sheep without having to put up a cent of capital. Oh, my dear, thoughtful, vengeful old dad! Dying, he assigned that judgment to me and had it recorded. I came across it in his effects last night.
"What are sheep worth, Don Mike?"
"I haven't the slightest idea, but I should say that by next fall, those sheep should be worth not less than six dollars a head, including the wool-clip. They will begin to lamb in February, and by the time your father dispossesses me a year hence, the increase will amount to considerable. That flock of sheep should be worth about one hundred thousand dollars by the time I have to leave the Palomar, and I know I'm going to collect at least fifty thousand dollars in cash in addition."
He drew from his vest pocket a check for that sum, signed by Andre Loustalot and drawn in favor of John Parker, Trustee.
"How did you come by that check?" Kay demanded. "It belongs to my father, so, if you do not mind, Mr. Farrel, I shall retain it and deliver it to my father." Quite deliberately, she folded the check and thrust it into her hand-bag. There was a bright spot of color in each cheek as she faced him, awaiting his explanation. He favored her with a Latin shrug.
"Your father will not accept the check, Miss Parker. Loustalot came to the hacienda this morning for the sole purpose of handing him this check, but your father refused to accept it on the plea that the lease he had entered into with Loustalot for the grazing-privilege of the ranch was now null and void."
"How do you know all this? You were not present."
"No; I was not present. Miss Parker, but—this check is present; those sheep are present; Andre Loustalot was present, then absent, and is now present again. I deduce the facts in the case. The information that I was alive and somewhere around the hacienda gave Loustalot the fright of his unwashed existence; that's why he appropriated that gray horse and fled so precipitately when he discovered his automobile had a fiat tire. The scoundrel feared to take time to shift wheels."
"He had the promise of a Farrel that a great misfortune would overtake him if he ever get foot on the Rancho Palomar. And he knows the tribe of Farrel."
"But how did you secure possession of that check, Don Mike?"
"Miss Parker, when a hard-boiled, unconvicted murderer and grass-thief borrows my horse without my permission, and I ride that sort of man down, upset him, sit on him, and choke him, the instincts of my ancestors, the custom of the country, common sense, and my late military training all indicate to me that I should frisk him for deadly weapons. I did that. Well, I found this check when I frisked Loustalot back yonder. And—if a poor bankrupt like myself may be permitted to claim a right, you are not so well entitled to that check as I am. At least, I claim it by right of discovery."
"It is worthless until my father endorses it, Don Mike."
"His clear, bold chirography will not add a mite to its value, Miss Parker. Checks by Andre Loustalot on the First National Bank of El Toro aren't going to be honored for some little time. Why? I'll tell you. Because Little Mike the Hustler is going to attach his bank-account this bright April morning."
She laughed happily.
"You haven't wasted much time in vain regret, have you?" she teased him. "When you start hustling for a living, you're a man what hustles, aren't you?"
"'Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,'" he quoted. "Those sheep weren't visible to us from the floor of the valley; so I take it I was not visible to Loustalot's shepherds from the top of those hills when I redeemed my father's promise to their employer. They'd never suspect the identity of either of us, I dare say. Well, Pablo will hold him incomunicado until I've completed my investigations."
"Why are you incarcerating him in your private bastile, Don Mike?"
"Well, I never thought to profane my private bastile with that fellow, but I have to keep him somewhere while I'm looking up his assets."
"But he may sue you for false imprisonment, kidnapping, or—or something."
"Yes; and I imagine he'd get a judgment against me. But what good would that do him? I haven't any assets."
"But you're going to acquire some rather soon, are you not?"
"I'll give all my money to my friend, Father Dominic, to do with as he sees fit. He'll see fit to loan it all back to me."
"But can you hide ten thousand sheep?"
"If that fellow tries to levy on my sheep, I'll about murder him," Farrel declared. "But we're crossing our bridges before we come to them."
"So we are, Don Mike. Tell me all about this ancient feud with Andre Loustalot."
"Certainly. Twenty-five-odd years ago, this county was pestered by a gang of petty cow-thieves. They'd run lots of from ten to twenty fat steers off the range at a time, slaughter them in El Toro, and bury the hides to conceal the identity of the animals—the brands, you understand. The meat they would peddle to butchers in towns along the railroad line. The ringleader owned a slaughter-house in El Toro, and, for a long time, nobody suspected him—the cattle were driven in at night. Well, my father grew weary of this form of old-fashioned profiteering, and it seemed to him that the sheriff of San Marcos County was too great a simpleton to do anything about it. So my father stood for the office as an independent candidate and was elected on a platform which read, 'No steers' taken off this ranch without permission in writing from the owner.' Within six months, dad had half a dozen of our prominent citizens in San Quentin Penitentiary; then he resigned the office to his chief deputy, Don Nicolas Sandoval, who has held it ever since.
"Now, during that political campaign, which was a warm and bitter one, Andre Loustalot permitted himself the privilege of libeling my father. He declared in a public address to a gathering of voters in the San Carpojo valley that my father was a crook, the real leader of the rustlers, and merely seeking the office of sheriff in order to protect the cow-thieves. When the campaign ended, my father swore to a warrant charging Loustalot with criminal libel and sued him for one hundred thousand dollars damages. A San Marcos County jury awarded my father a judgment in the sum prayed for. Loustalot appealed the case to the Supreme Court, but inasmuch as there wasn't the slightest doubt of his guilt, the higher court affirmed the decision of the Superior Court.
"Loustalot was a poor man in those days. He was foreman of a sheep outfit, with an interest in the increase of the flock, and inasmuch as these Basques seldom reduce their deals to writing, the sheriff could never satisfy himself that Loustalot had any assets in the shape of sheep. At any rate, the Basque and his employer and all of his Basque friends denied that Loustalot had any assets.
"For twenty-five years, my father has, whenever the statute of limitations threatened to kill this judgment, revived it by having Loustalot up on an order of court to be questioned regarding his ability to meet the judgment; every once in a while my father would sue out a new writ of execution, which would be returned unsatisfied by the sheriff. Six months ago, my father had the judgment revived by due legal process, and, for some reason best known to himself, assigned it to me and had the assignment recorded. Of course, when I was reported killed in Siberia, Loustalot's attorneys naturally informed him that my judgment had died with me unless I had left a will in favor of my father. But when my father died intestate and there were no known heirs, Loustalot doubtless felt that at last the curse had been lifted and probably began doing business in his own name. He's a thrifty fellow and, I dare say, he made a great deal of money on sheep during the war. I hope he has. That old judgment has been accumulating interest at seven per cent. for more than a quarter of a century, and in this state I believe the interest is compounded."
"But why did Loustalot hate your father so?" the girl queried.
"We had good fences on our ranch, but somehow those fences always needed repairing whenever Andre Loustalot's flock wandered over from the San Carpojo. In this state, one cannot recover for trespass unless one keeps one's fences in repair—and Loustalot used to trespass on our range quite frequently and then blame his cussedness on our fences. Of course, he broke our fences to let his sheep in to water at our waterholes, which was very annoying to us, because sheep befoul a range and destroy it; they eat down to the very grass-roots, and cattle will not drink at a water-hole patronized by sheep. Well, our patience was exhausted at last; so my father told Pablo to put out saltpeter at all of our water-holes. Saltpeter is not harmful to cattle but it is death to sheep, and the only way we could keep Loustalot off our range without resorting to firearms was to make his visits unprofitable. They were. That made Loustalot hate us, and one day, over in the Agua Caliente basin, when Pablo and his riders found Loustalot and his sheep there, they rushed about five hundred of his sheep over a rocky bench and dropped them a sheer two hundred feet into a canon. That started some shooting, and Pablo's brother and my first cousin, Juan Galvez, were killed. Loustalot, wounded, escaped on the pack-mule belonging to his sheep outfit, and after that he and my father didn't speak."
Kay turned in her seat and looked at Farrel curiously.
"If you were not so desperately situated financially," she wanted to know, "would you continue to pursue this man?"
He smiled grimly.
"Certainly. My father's honor, the blood of my kinsman, and the blood of a faithful servant call for justice, however long delayed. Also, the honor of my state demands it now. I am prepared to make any sacrifice, even of my life, and grasp eagerly at all legal means—to prevent your father putting through tins monstrous deal with Okada."
She was troubled of soul.
"Of course," she pleaded presently, "you'll play the game with dad as fairly as he plays it with you."
"I shall play the game with him as fairly as he plays it with this land to which he owes allegiance," he corrected her sternly.
It was eleven o'clock when the car rolled down the main street of El Toro. From the sidewalk, sundry citizens, of diverse shades of color and conditions of servitude, observing Minuet Farrel, halted abruptly and stared as if seeing a ghost. Don Mike wanted to shout to them glad words of greeting, of affectionate badinage, after the fashion of that easy-going and democratic community, but he feared to make the girl at his side conspicuous; so he contented himself by uncovering gravely to the women and waving debonairly to the men. This constituting ocular evidence that he was not a ghost or a man who bore a striking physical resemblance to one they mourned as dead, the men so saluted returned his greeting.
The few who had recognized him as he entered the town, quickly, by their cries of greeting, roused the loungers and idle conversationalists along the sidewalks further down the street. There was a rush to shop doors, a craning of necks, excited inquiries in Spanish and English; more shouts of greeting. A gaunt, hawk-faced elderly man, with Castilian features, rode up on a bay horse, showed a sheriff's badge to William, the chauffeur, and informed him he was arrested for speeding. Then he pressed his horse close enough to extend a hand to Farrel.
"Miguel, my boy," he said in English, out of deference to the girl in the car, "this is a very great—a very unexpected joy. We have grieved for you, my friend."
His faint clipped accent, the tears in his eyes, told Kay that this man was one of Don Miguel's own people. Farrel clasped the proffered hand and replied to him in Spanish; then, remembering his manners, he presented the horseman as Don Nicolas Sandoval, sheriff of the county. Don Nicolas bent low over his horse's neck, his wide gray hat clasped to his gallant heart.
"You will forgive the emotion of a foolish old man, Miss Parker," he said, "but we of San Marcos County love this boy."
Other friends now came running; in a few minutes perhaps a hundred men, boys, and women had surrounded the car, struggling to get closer, vying with each other to greet the hero of the San Gregorio. They babbled compliments and jocularities at him; they cheered him lustily; with homely bucolic wit they jeered his army record because they were so proud of it, and finally they began a concerted cry of; "Speech! Speech! Speech!"
Don Mike stood up in the tonneau and removed his hat. Instantly silence settled over the crowd, and Kay thought that she had never seen a more perfect tribute of respect paid anyone. He spoke to them briefly, with a depth of sentiment only possible in a descendant of two of the most sentimental races on earth; but he was not maudlin. When he had concluded his remarks, he repeated them in Spanish for the benefit of those who had never learned English very well or at all.
And now, although Kay did not understand a word of what he said, she realized that in his mother tongue he was infinitely more tender, more touching, more dramatic than he could possibly be in English, for his audience wagged approving' heads now and paid him the tribute of many a furtive tear.
Don Nicolas Sandoval rode his horse through the crowd presently and opened a path for the car.
"I'm afraid this has been a trifle embarrassing for you, Miss Parker," Farrel remarked, as they proceeded down the street. "I shall not recognize any more of them. I've greeted them all in general, and some day next week I'll come to town and greet them in detail. They were all glad I came back, though, weren't they?" he added, with a boy's eagerness. "Lord, but I was glad to see them!"
"I can hardly believe you are the same man I saw manhandling your enemy an hour ago," she declared.
"Oh," he replied, with a careless shrug, "fighting and loving are the only two worth-while things in life. Park in front of the court-house, William, please."
He excused himself to Kay and ran lightly up the steps. Fifteen minutes later, he returned.
"I have a writ of execution," he declared. "Now to find the sheriff and have him serve it."
They located Don Nicolas Sandoval at the post-office, one leg cocked over the pommel of his saddle, and the El Toro Sentinel spread on his knee.
"Father's old business with the Basque, Don Nicolas," Farrel informed him. "He has money deposited in his own name in the First National Bank of El Toro."
"I have grown old hunting that fellow's assets, Miguel, my boy," quoth Don Nicolas. "If I can levy on a healthy bank-account, I shall feel that my life has not been lived in vain."
He folded his newspaper, uncoiled his leg from the pommel, and started up the street at the dignified fast walk he had taught his mount. Farrel returned to the car and, with Kay, arrived before the portals of the bank a few minutes in advance of the sheriff, just in time to see Andre Loustalot leap from his automobile, dash up the broad stone steps, and fairly hurl himself into the bank.
"I don't know whether I ought to permit him to withdraw his money and have Don Nicolas attach it on his person or not. Perhaps that would be dangerous," Miguel remarked. He stepped calmly out of the car, assisted Kay to alight, and, with equal deliberation, entered the bank with the girl.
"Now for some fun," he whispered. "Behold the meanest man in America—myself!"
Loustalot was at the customers' desk writing a check to cash for his entire balance in bank. Farrel permitted him to complete the drawing of the check, watched the Basque almost trot toward the paying-teller's window, and as swiftly trotted after him.
"All—everything!" Loustalot panted, and reached over the shoulders of two customers in line ahead of him. But Don Miguel Farrel's arm was stretched forth also; his long brown fingers closed over the check and snatched it from the Basque's hand as he murmured soothingly:
"You will have to await your turn, Loustalot. For your bad manners, I shall destroy this check." And he tore the signature off and crumpled the little slip of paper into a ball, which he flipped into Loustalot's brutal face.
The Basque stood staring at him, inarticulate with fury; Don Mike faced his enemy with a bantering, prescient little smile. Then, with a great sigh that was in reality a sob, Loustalot abandoned his primal impulse to hurl himself upon Farrel and attempt to throttle; instead, he ran back to the customers' desk and started scribbling another check. Thereupon, the impish Farrel removed the ink, and when Loustalot moved to another ink-well, Farrel's hand closed over that. Helpless and desperate, Loustalot suddenly began to weep; uttering peculiar mewing cries, he clutched at Farrel with the fury of a gorilla. Don Mike merely dodged round the desk, and continued to dodge until out of the tail of his eye, he saw the sheriff enter the bank and stop at the cashier's desk. Loustalot, blinded with tears of rage, failed to see Don Nicolas; he had vision only for Don Mike, whom he was still pursuing round the customers' desk.
The instant Don Nicolas served his writ of attachment, the cashier left his desk, walked round in back of the various tellers' cages, and handed the writ to the paying teller; whereupon Farrel, pretending to be frightened, ran out of the bank. Instantly, Loustalot wrote his check and rushed again to the paying-tellers window.
"Too late, Mr. Loustalot. Your account has been attached," that functionary informed him.
Meanwhile, Don Nicolas had joined his friend on the sidewalk.
"Here is his automobile, Don Nicolas," Farrel said. "I think we had better take it away from him."
Don Nicolas climbed calmly into the driver's seat, filled out a blank notice of attachment under that certain duly authorized writ which his old friend's son had handed him, and waited until Loustalot came dejectedly down the bank steps to the side of the car; whereupon Don Nicolas served him with the fatal document, stepped on the starter, and departed for the county garage, where the car would be stored until sold at auction.
"Who let you out of my calaboose, Loustalot?" Don Mike queried amiably.
"That high-toned Jap friend of Parker's," the Basque replied, with malicious enjoyment.
"I'm glad it wasn't Mr. Parker. Well, you stayed there long enough to serve my purpose. By the way, your sheep are trespassing again."
"They aren't my sheep."
"Well, if you'll read that document, you'll see that all the sheep on the Rancho Palomar at this date are attached, whether they belong to you or not. Now, a word of warning to you, Loustalot: Do not come on the Rancho Palomar for any purpose whatsoever. Understand ?"
Loustalot's glance met his unflinchingly for fully ten seconds, and, in that glance, Kay thought she detected something tigerish.
"Home, William," she ordered the driver, and they departed from El Toro, leaving Andre Loustalot standing on the sidewalk staring balefully after them.
They were half-way home before Don Mike came out of the reverie into which that glance of Loustalot's had, apparently, plunged him.
"Some day very soon," he said, "I shall have to kill that man or be killed. And I'm sorry my guest, Mr. Okada, felt it incumbent upon himself to interfere. If, between them, they have hurt Pablo, I shall certainly reduce the extremely erroneous Japanese census records in California by one."
John Parker and his wife, with the unsuspecting Okada, were lingering over a late luncheon when Kay and Don Mike entered the dining-room.
"Well, you bold Spanish cavalier, what do you mean by running away with my little girl?" Mrs. Parker demanded.
Before Farrel could reply, Kay answered for him.
"We've had quite a wild and woolly Western adventure, mother dear. Have you seen Pablo since we left together?"
"I have," the lady replied. "He had Monsieur Loustalot in charge, and related to us the details of the adventure up to the moment you and Mr. Farrel left him with the prisoner while you two continued on to El Toro. What happened in El Toro?"
"Don Mike succeeded in attaching Loustalot's bank-account," Kay informed the company. "The loot will probably amount to something over fifty thousand dollars."
"I should say that isn't a half-bad stipend to draw for your first half-day pursuit of the nimble cart-wheel of commerce," Parker suggested.
Mrs. Parker pursed her lips comically.
"The boy is clever, John. I knew it the moment I met him this morning. Felicitations, Don Miguel. John intends to strip you down to your birthday suit—fairly, of course—so keep up the good work, and everything may still turn out right for you. I'll cheer for you, at any rate."
"Thank you, dear Mrs. Parker." Don Miguel slipped into his seat at the head of the table. "I have also attached Loustalot's new automobile,"
"You Shylock! What else?" Mrs. Parker demanded eagerly.
"About ten thousand sheep, more or less. I attached these on suspicion, although the burden of proving that Loustalot owns them will be upon me. However," he concluded, with a bright glance at Parker, "I believe that can readily be accomplished—with your aid."
"I shall be the poorest witness in the world, Mr. Farrel."
"Well, I shall see to it, Mr. Parker, that you are given an opportunity to tell the judge of the Superior Court in El Toro why Loustalot called on you this morning, why a great band of sheep is trespassing on the Rancho Palomar, why Loustalot drew a check in your favor for fifty thousand dollars, why you declined to take it, what you said to Loustalot this morning to cause him to steal one of my horses in his anxiety to get off the ranch, why your attorneys drew up a certain lease of the grazing-privilege to Loustalot, and why the deal fell through."
"Can you produce that fifty-thousand-dollar check? I happen to know it has not been cashed."
"No, I cannot, Mr. Parker."
Kay opened her purse and tossed the check across to her father.
"It was drawn in your favor, dad," she informed him; "so I concluded it was your property, and when Mr. Farrel came by it—ah, illegally—and showed it to me, I retained it."
"Good girl! Mr. Farrel, have you any objection to my returning this check?"
"Not the slightest. It has served its purpose. However, you will have to wait until you meet Loustalot somewhere outside the boundaries of the Rancho Palomar, sir. I had comforted myself with the thought that he was safe under lock and key here, but, to my vast surprise, I met him in the bank at El Toro making futile efforts to withdraw his cash before I could attach the account. The confounded ingrate informs me that Mr. Okada turned him loose."
There was no mistaking the disapproval in the glance which Parker turned upon Okada.
"Is this true, Mr. Okada?"
"It is not true," Okada replied promptly. "I know nozzing about. Nozzing."
"Well, Pablo thinks it is true, Mr. Okada." Don Miguel's voice was unruffled, his manner almost benignant. "The old man is outside, and absolutely broken-hearted. His honor appears to be quite gone. I imagine," Don Mike continued, with a fleeting and whimsical glance at the potato baron, "that he has evolved some primitive plan for making his honor whole again. Direct methods always did appeal to Pablo."
"Mr. Farrel," John Parker began, "I regret this incident more than I can say. I give you my word of honor I had nothing to do with it directly or indirectly—"
"John, for goodness' sake, old dear, give Mr. Farrel credit for some common sense. He knows very well you wouldn't break bread with him and then betray him. Don't you, Mr. Farrel?" Mrs. Parker pleaded.
"Of course, Mr. Parker's assurance is wholly unnecessary, Mrs. Parker."
"Mr. Okada is leaving this afternoon," Parker hastened to assure him.
"Mr. Okada shows commendable prudence." Don Mike's tones were exceedingly dry.
Okada rose and bowed his squinch-owl bow.
"I very sorry," he sputtered. "I zink that man Pablo one big liar. 'Scuse, please; I go."
"If he hadn't called Pablo a liar," Don Mike murmured plaintively, "I should have permitted him to march out with the honors of war. As the matter stands now, however, I invite all of you to listen attentively. In a few minutes you're going to hear something that will remind you of the distant whine of a sawmill. After all, Pablo is a poor old fellow who lives a singularly humdrum existence."
"Ah, yes; let the poor fellow have his simple little pleasures," Mrs. Parker pleaded. "'All work and no play'—you know, Don Miguel."
"My dear," Parker answered testily, "there are occasions when your sense of humor is positively oppressive."
"Very well, John; I'll be serious." His wife turned to Farrel. "Mr. Farrel," she continued, "while you were away, I had a very bright idea. You are much too few in the family for such a large house, and it occurred to me that you might care to lease the Palomar hacienda to us for a year. I'm so weary of hotels and equally weary of a town house, with its social obligations and the insolence of servants—particularly cooks. John needs a year here, and we would so like to remain if it could be arranged. Your cook, Carolina, is not the sort that leaves one's employ in the middle of a dinner-party."
"Would five hundred dollars a month for the house and the use of Carolina and three saddle-horses interest you, Mr. Farrel? From our conversation of this morning, I judge you have abandoned hope of redeeming the property, and during the year of the redemption period, six thousand dollars might—ah—er—"
"Well, it would be better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick," Don Miguel replied genially. "I need the money; so I accept—but with certain reservations. I like Carolina's cooking, too; I have a couple of hundred head of cattle to look after, and I'd like to reserve one room, my place at this table, and my position as master of Palomar. Of course, I'm not so optimistic as to think you folks would accept of my hospitality for a year, so I suggest that you become what our British cousins call 'paying guests,' albeit I had never expected to fall low enough to make such a dastardly proposition. Really, it abases me. It's never been done before in this house."
"I declare you're the most comfortable young man to have around that I have ever known. Isn't he, Kay?" Mrs. Parker declared.
"I think you're very kind," the girl assured him. "And I think it will be very delightful to be paying guests to such a host, Don Mike Farrel."
"Then it's settled," Parker announced, much relieved.
"And let us here highly resolve that we shall always be good friends and dwell together in peace," Kay suggested.
"I made that resolve when you met me at the gate last night, Miss Parker. Hark! Methinks I hear a young riot. Well, we cannot possibly have any interest in it, and, besides, we're talking business now. Mr. Parker, there isn't the slightest hope of my earning sufficient money to pay the mortgage you hold against this ranch of mine, so I have resolved to gamble for it whenever and wherever I can. You have agreed to pay me six thousand dollars, in return for which I guarantee to feed you and your family and servants well, and house you comfortably and furnish three saddle-horses, with saddles and bridles, for a period of one year. Understand?"
Don Miguel Farrel took two dice out of his pocket and cuddled them in his palm.
"I'll roll you the bones, one flop, twelve thousand dollars or nothing, sir," he challenged.
"But if I win—"
"You want to know if I am in a position to support you all for one year if I lose? I am. There are cattle enough on the ranch to guarantee that."
"Well, while these little adventures are interesting, Mr. Farrel, the fact is I've always made it a rule not to gamble."
"Listen to the hypocrite!" his wife almost shouted. "Gambled every day of his life for twenty-five years on the New York Stock Exchange, and now he has the effrontery to make a statement like that! John Parker, roll them bones!"
"Not to-day," he protested. "This isn't my lucky day."
"Well, it's mine," the good soul retorted. "Miguel—you'll pardon my calling you by your first name: Miguel, but since I was bound to do so sooner or later, we'll start now—Miguel, I'm in charge of the domestic affairs of the Parker family, and I've never known a time when this poor tired old business man didn't honor my debts. Roll 'em, Mike, and test your luck."
"Mother!" Kay murmured reproachfully.
"Nonsense, dear! Miguel is the most natural gentleman, the first regular young man I've met in years. I'm for him, and I want him to know it. Are you for me, Miguel?"
"All the way!" Don Mike cried happily,
"There!" the curious woman declared triumphantly. "I knew we were going to be good friends. What do I see before me? As I live, a pair of box cars."
"Mother, where did you learn such slang?" her daughter pleaded.
"From the men your non-gambling father used to bring home to play poker and shoot craps," she almost shouted. "Well, let us see if I can roll two sixes and tie the score. I can! What's more, I do! Miguel, are these dice college-bred? Ah! Old Lady Parker rolls a wretched little pair of bull's-eyes!"
Don Miguel took the dice and rolled—a pair of deuces.
"I'm going to make big money operating a boarding-house," he informed the lady.
"'Landlord, fill the flowing bowl until it doth flow over,'" she sang gaily. "John, you owe Miguel twelve thousand dollars, payable at the rate of one thousand dollars a month for twelve months. Have your lawyer in El Toro draw the lease this afternoon."
Parker glanced at her with a broad hint of belligerence in his keen gray eyes.
"My dear," he rasped, "I wish you would take me seriously once in a while. For twenty-five years I've tried to keep step with you, and I've failed. One of these bright days I'm going to strike."
"I recall three occasions when you went on strike, John, and refused to accept my orders," the mischievous woman retorted sweetly. "At the conclusion of the strike, you couldn't go back to work. Miguel, three separate times that man has declined to cease money-making long enough to play, although I begged him with tears in my eyes. And I'm not the crying kind, either. And every time he disobeyed, he blew up. Miguel, he came home to me as hysterical as a high-school girl, wept on my shoulder, said he'd kill himself if he couldn't get more sleep, and then surrendered and permitted me to take him away for six months. Strange to relate, his business got along very nicely without him. Am I not right, Kay?"
"You are, mother dear. Dad reminds me of a horse at a livery-stable fire. You rescue him from the flames, but the instant you let go his halter-shank, he dashes into the burning barn." She winked ever so slightly at Farrel. "Thanks to you, Don Mike," she assured him, "father's claws are clipped for one year; thanks to you, again, we now have a nice, quiet place to incarcerate him."
Farrel could see that John Parker, while outwardly appearing to enjoy this combined attack against him, was secretly furious. And Don Mike knew why. His pride as a business man was being cruelly lacerated; he had foolishly crawled out on the end of a limb, and now there was a probability, although a remote one, that Miguel Farrel would saw off the limb before he could crawl back.
"Perhaps, Mr. Farrel," he replied, with a heroic attempt at jocularity, "you will understand now that it was not altogether a cold hard heart that prompted me to decline your request for a renewal of the mortgage this morning. I couldn't afford to. I had agreed to gamble one million dollars that you were thoroughly and effectually dead—I couldn't see one chance in a million where this ranch would get away from me."
"Well, do not permit yourself to become down-hearted, Mr. Parker," Don Mike assured him whimsically. "I cannot see one chance in a million where you are going to lose it."
"Thank you for the heartening effect of those words, Mr. Farrel."
"I think I understand the reason underlying all this speed, Mr. Parker. You and Okada feared that next year the people of this state will so amend their faulty anti-alien land law of 1913 that it will be impossible for any Oriental to own or lease California land then. So you proceeded with your improvements during the redemption period, confident that the ranch would never be redeemed, in order that you might be free to deal with Okada before the new law went into effect. Okada would not deal with you until he was assured the water could be gotten on the land."
"Pa's thrown out at first base!" Mrs. Parker shrilled. "Poor old pa!"
Don Mike's somber black eyes flashed with mirth. "I understand now why you leased the hacienda and why that twelve-thousand-dollar board bill hurt," he murmured. He turned to Kay and her mother. "Why the poor unfortunate man is forced to remain at the Rancho Palomar in order to protect his bet." His thick black brows lifted piously. "Don't cheer, boys," he cried tragically; "the poor devil is going fast now! Is there anybody present who remembers a prayer or who can sing a hymn?"
Kay's adorable face twitched as she suppressed a chuckle at her father's expense, but now that Parker was being assailed by all three, his loyal wife decided to protect him.
"Well, Johnny's a shrewd gambler after all," she declared. "If you do not redeem the ranch, he will get odds of two and a half to one on his million-dollar bet and clean up in a year. With water on the lands of the San Gregorio, Okada's people will pay five hundred dollars an acre cash for the fifty thousand acres."
"I grant you that, Mrs. Parker, but in the meantime he will have increased tremendously the value of all of my land in the San Gregorio valley, and what is to prevent me, nine months from now, from floating a new loan rather handily, by reason of that increased valuation, paying off Mr. Parker's mortgage and garnering for myself that two and a half million dollars' profit you speak of?"
"I fear you will have to excuse us from relishing the prospect of that joke, Don Mike," Kay murmured.
"Work on that irrigation project will cease on Saturday evening, Mr. Farrel," Parker assured his host.
Nevertheless, Farrel observed that his manner belied his words; obviously he was ill at ease. For a moment, the glances of the two men met; swift though that visual contact was, each read in the other's glance an unfaltering decision. There would be no surrender.
The gay mood into which Mrs. Parker's humorous sallies had thrown Farrel relaxed; there came back to him the memory of some graves in the valley, and his dark, strong face was somber again. Of a sudden, despite his victory of the morning, he felt old for all his twenty-eight years—old and sad and embittered, lonely, futile and helpless.
The girl, watching him closely, saw the light die out in his face, saw the shadows come, as when a thunder-cloud passes between the sun and a smiling valley. His chin dropped a little on his breast, and for perhaps ten seconds he was silent; by the far-away gleam in his eyes, Kay knew he was seeing visions, and that they were not happy ones.
Instinctively her hand crept round the corner of the table and touched his arm lightly. Her action was the result of impulse; almost as soon as she had touched him, she withdrew her hand in confusion.
But her mother had noticed the movement, and a swift glance toward her husband drew from him the briefest of nods, the most imperceptible of shrugs.
"Come, Johnny dear," she urged, and her voice had lost its accustomed shrillness now; "let us go forth and see what has happened to the Little Old Man of the Spuds."
He followed her outside obediently, and arm in arm they walked around the patio toward the rear gate.
"Hello!" he murmured suddenly, and, with a firm hand under her chin, he tilted her handsome face upward. There were tears in her eyes. "What now?" he demanded tenderly. "How come, old girl?"
"Nothing, John, I'm just an old fool—laughing when I'm not weeping and weeping when I ought to be laughing."
Don Mike's assumption that Pablo would seek balm for his injured feelings at the expense of the potato baron was one born of a very intimate knowledge of the mental processes of Pablo and those of his breed. And Pablo, on that fateful day, did not disappoint his master's expectations. Old he was, and stiff and creaky of joint, but what he lacked in physical prowess he possessed in guile. Forbidden to follow his natural inclination, which was to stab the potato baron frequently and fatally with a businesslike dirk which was never absent from his person except when he slept, Pablo had recourse to another artifice of his peculiar calling—to wit, the rawhide riata.
As Okada emerged from the dining-room into the patio, Pablo entered from the rear gate, riata in hand; as the Japanese crossed the garden to his room in the opposite wing of the hacienda, Pablo made a deft little cast and dropped his loop neatly over the potato baron's body, pinioning the latter's arms securely to his sides. Keeping a stiff strain on the riata, Pablo drew his victim swiftly toward the porch, round an upright of which he had taken a hitch; in a surprisingly brief period, despite the Jap's frantic efforts to release himself, Pablo had his man lashed firmly to the porch column, whereupon he proceeded to flog his prisoner with a heavy quirt which, throughout the operation, had dangled from his left wrist. With each blow, old Pablo tossed a pleasantry at his victim, who took the dreadful scourging without an outcry, never ceasing a dogged effort to twist loose from his bonds until his straining and flinching loosed the ancient rusty nails at top and bottom of the upright, and, with a crash, the Oriental fell headlong backward on the porch, as a tree falls. Thereupon, Pablo kicked him half a dozen times for good measure, and proceeded to roll him over and over along the porch toward his room. Eventually this procedure unwound him from the riata; Pablo then removed the loop, and Okada staggered into his room and fell, half fainting, on his bed.
His honor now quite clean, Pablo departed from the patio. He had been less than five minutes on his mission of vengeance, and when John Parker and his wife came out of the dining-room, the sight of the imperturbable old majordomo unconcernedly coiling his "twine" roused in them no apprehension as to the punishment that had overtaken Okada.
Having finished their luncheon—a singularly pleasant tete-a-tete—Don Mike and Kay joined Mr. and Mrs. Parker. At once Farrel's glance marked the absence of the porch column.
"I declare," he announced, with mock seriousness, "a portion of my veranda has given way. I wonder if a man could have been tied do it. I heard a crash, and at the time it occurred to me that it was a heavy crash—heavier than the weight of that old porch column would produce. Mr. Parker, may I suggest that you investigate the physical condition of our Japanese friend? He is doubtless in his room."
Parker flashed his host a quick glance, almost of resentment, and went to Okada's room. When he returned, he said soberly:
"Pablo has beaten the little fellow into a pitiable condition. He tied him to that porch column and flogged him with a quirt. While I cannot defend Okada's action in releasing Loustalot, nevertheless, Mr. Farrel—" Don Mike's black eyes burned like live coals. "Nevertheless—I—well—" Parker hesitated.
Don Mike's lips were drawn a trifle in the ghost of a smile that was not good to see.
"I think, sir," he said softly, distinctly, and with chill suavity, "that Mr. Okada might be grateful for the services of the excellent Murray, if the potato baron is, as I shrewdly suspect he will be, leaving within five minutes."
"Good Heavens, man, I believe it will be an hour before he can walk!"
Farrel glanced critically at his wrist-watch and seemed to ponder this.
"I fear five minutes is all I can permit, sir," he replied. "If he should be unable to walk from his room, Murray, who is the soul of thoughtfulness, will doubtless assist him to the waiting automobile."
Five minutes later, the potato baron and the potato baron's suitcase were lifted into the tonneau of the car by Murray and William. From over by the blacksmith shop, Don Mike saw Parker bid his Japanese confrere adieu, and as the car dipped below the mesa, Parker came over and joined them.
"Thought you were going in to El Toro this afternoon," the young man suggested.
"I had planned to, but changed my mind after beholding that Nipponese ruin. To have driven to El Toro with him would have broken my heart."
"Never mind, pa," Mrs. Parker consoled him; "you'll have your day in court, will you not?"
"I think he's going to have several of them," Don Mike predicted maliciously, and immediately withdrew the sting from his words by placing his hand in friendly fashion on Parker's shoulder and shaking him playfully. "In the interim, however," he continued, "now that our unwelcome guests have departed and peace has been reestablished on El Palomar (for I hear Pablo whistling 'La Paloma' in the distance), what reason, if any, exists why we shouldn't start right now to get some fun out of life? I've had a wonderful forenoon at your expense, so I want you and the ladies to have a wonderful afternoon at mine." He glanced alertly from one to the other, questioningly.
"I wonder if the horses have recovered from their furious chase of this morning," Kay ventured.
"Of course. That was merely an exercise gallop. How would you all like to come for a ride with me over to the Agua Caliente basin?"
"Why the Agua Caliente basin?" Parker queried casually. "That's quite a distance from here, is it not?"
"About seven miles—fourteen over and back. Suppose William follows with the car after his return from El Toro. You can then ride back with him, and I'll bring the horses home. I realize fourteen miles is too great a distance for inexperienced riders."
"Isn't that going to considerable trouble?" Parker suggested suavely. "Suppose we ride down the valley. I prefer flat land to rolling country when I ride."
"No game down that way," Farrel explained patiently. "We'll take the hounds and put something up a tree over Caliente Basin way before we get back. Besides, I have a great curiosity to inspect the dam you're building and the artesian wells you're drilling over in that country."
"Confound you, Farrel! You realized the possibilities of that basin, then?"
"Years ago. The basin comes to a bottle-neck between two high hills; all you have to do is dam that narrow gorge, and when the Rio San Gregorio is up and brimming in freshet time, you'll have a lake a hundred feet deep, a mile wide, and five miles long before you know it. Did you ever consider the possibility of leading a ditch from the lake thus formed along the shoulder of El Palomar, that forty-five-hundred-foot peak for which the ranch is named, and giving it a sixty-five-per-cent. nine-hundred-foot drop to a snug little power-station at the base of the mountain. You could develop thirty or forty thousand horse-power very easily and sell it easier; after your water had passed through the penstock and delivered its power, you could run it off through a lateral to the main ditch down the San Gregorio and sell it to your Japanese farmers for irrigation."
"By Jupiter, I believe you would have done something with this ranch if you had had the backing, Farrel!"
"Never speculated very hard on securing the backing," Don Mike admitted, with a frank grin. "We always lived each day as if it were the last, you know. But over in Siberia, far removed from all my easy-going associations, both inherited and acquired, I commenced dreaming of possibilities in the Agua Caliente basin."
"Well then, since you insist, let's go over there and have your curiosity satiated," Parker agreed, with the best grace possible.
While the Parkers returned to the hacienda to change into their riding-clothes, Miguel Farrel strolled over to the corral where Pablo Artelan, wearing upon his leathery countenance the closest imitation of a smile that had ever lighted that dark expanse, joined him and, with Farrel, leaned over the corral fence and gazed at the horses within. For a long time, neither spoke; then, while his glance still appraised the horses, Don Mike stiffened a thumb and drove it with considerable force into Pablo's ancient ribs. Carolina, engaged in hanging out the Parker wash in the yard of her casa, observed Don Mike bestow this infrequent accolade of approbation and affection, and her heart swelled with pride. Ah, yes; it was good to have the child back on the rancho again.
Carolina and Pablo had never heard that the ravens fed Elijah; they had never heard of Elijah. Nevertheless, if they had, they would not have envied him the friendship of those divinely directed birds, for the Farrels had always fed Pablo and Carolina and their numerous brood, now raised and scattered over the countryside. At sight of that prod in the ribs, Carolina dismissed forever a worry that had troubled her vaguely during the period between old Don Miguel's death and the return of young Don Miguel—the fear that a lifetime of ease and plenty had ended. Presently, she lifted a falsetto voice in a Spanish love-song two centuries old.
I await the morrow, Nina mia, I await the morrow, all through the night, For the entrancing music and dancing With thee, my song-bird, my heart's delight. Come dance, my Nina, in thy mantilla, Think of our love and do not say no; Hasten then my treasure, grant me this pleasure, Dance then tomorrow the bolero!
Over at the corral, Pablo rolled a cigarette, lighted it, and permitted a thin film of smoke to trickle through his nostrils. He, too, was content.
"Carolina," he remarked presently, in English, "is happy to beat hell."
"I haven't any right to be, but, for some unknown reason, I'm feeling gay myself," his master replied.
He started toward the harness-room to get the saddle for Panchito, and Pablo lingered a moment at the fence, gazing after him curiously. Could it be possible that Don Miguel Jose Maria Federico Noriaga Farrel had, while sojourning in the cold land of the bewhiskered men, lost a modicum of that particularity with women which had formerly distinguished him in the eyes of his humble retainers?