Again the man stood up and started across the wash. He no longer had his rifle. "It is as I thought," Pablo soliloquized. "He has buried the rifle in the sand."
Pablo watched the man start resolutely across the three-mile stretch of flat ground between the river and the hills to the south. Don Nicolas Sandoval had remarked that the stranger had come in over the hills to the south. Very well! Believing himself undetected, he would depart in the same direction. The Rancho Palomar stretched ten miles to the south and it would be a strange coincidence if, in that stretch of rolling, brushy country, a human being should cross his path.
The majordomo quickly crawled back into the draw where the black mare patiently awaited him. Leading her, he started cautiously down, taking advantage of every tuft of cover until, arrived at the foot of the draw, he discovered that some oaks effectually screened his quarry from sight. Reasoning quite correctly that the same oaks as effectually screened him from his quarry, Pablo mounted and galloped straight across country for his man.
He rode easily, for he was saving the mare's speed for a purpose. The fugitive, casting a guilty look to the rear, saw him coming and paused, irresolute, but observing no evidences of precipitate haste, continued his retreat, which (Pablo observed, grimly) was casual now, as if he desired to avert suspicion.
Pablo pulled the mare down to a trot, to a walk. He could afford to take his time and it was not part of his plan to bungle his work by undue baste. The fugitive was crossing through a patch of lilac and Pablo desired to overhaul him in a wide open space beyond, so he urged the mare to a trot again and jogged by on a parallel course, a hundred yards distant.
"Buena dias, senor," he called, affably, and waved his hand at the stranger, who waved back.
On went the old majordomo, across the clear space and into the oaks beyond. The fugitive, his suspicions now completely lulled, followed and when he was quite in the center of this chosen ground, Pablo emerged from the shelter of the oaks and bore down upon him. The mare was at a fast lope and Pablo's rawhide riata was uncoiled now; the loop swung in slow, fateful circles—
There could be no mistaking his purpose. With a cry that was curiously animal-like, the man ran for the nearest brush. Twenty feet from him, Pablo made his cast and shrieked exultantly as the loop settled over his prey. A jerk and it was fast around the fellow's mid-riff; a half hitch around the pommel, a touch of a huge Mexican spur to the flank of the fleet little black thoroughbred and Pablo Artelan was headed for home! He picked his way carefully in order that he might not snag in the bushes that which he dragged behind him, and he leaned forward in the saddle to equalize the weight of the THING that bumped and leaped and slid along the ground behind him. There had been screams at first, mingled with Pablo's exultant shouts of victory, but by the time the river was reached there was no sound but a scraping, slithering one—the sound of the vengeance of Pablo Artelan.
When he reached the wagon road he brought the mare to a walk. He did not look back, for he knew his power; the scraping, slithering sound was music to his ears; it was all the assurance he desired. As calmly as, during the spring round-up, he dragged a calf up to the branding fire, he dragged his victim up into the front yard of the Rancho Palomar and paused before the patio gate.
"Ho! Senor Parker!" he shouted. "Come forth. I have something for the senor. Queeck, Senor!"
The gate opened and John Parker stepped out. "Hello, Pablo! What's all the row about?"
Pablo turned in his saddle and pointed. "Mira! Look!" he croaked.
"Good God!" Parker cried. "What is that?"
"Once he use' for be one Jap. One good friend of you, I theenk, Senor Parker. He like for save you much trouble, I theenk, so he keel my Don Mike—an' for that I have—ah, but you see! An' now, senor, eet is all right for take the Rancho Palomar! Take eet, take eet! Ees nobody for care now—nobody! Eef eet don' be for you daughter I don't let you have eet. No, sir, I keel it you so queeck—but my Don Mike hes never forget hes one great caballero—so Pablo Artelan mus' not forget, too—you sleep in theese hacienda, you eat the food—ah, senor, I am so 'shame' for you—and my Don Mike—hees dead—hees dead—"
He slid suddenly off the black mare and lay unconscious in the dust beside her.
Once again a tragic scene had been enacted under the shade of the catalpa tree before the Farrel hacienda. The shock of a terrible, unexpected trend of events heralded by the arrival of Pablo Artelan and his victim had, seemingly, paralyzed John Parker mentally and physically. He felt again a curious cold, weak, empty feeling in his breast. It was the concomitant of defeat; he had felt it twice before when he had been overwhelmed and mangled by the wolves of Wall Street.
He was almost nauseated. Not at sight of the dusty, bloody, shapeless bundle that lay at the end of Pablo's riata, but with the realization that, indirectly, he had been responsible for all of this.
Pablo's shrill, agonized denunciation had fallen upon deaf ears, once the old majordomo had conveyed to Parker the information of Don Mike's death.
"The rope—take it off!" he protested to the unconscious Pablo. "It's cutting him in two. He looks like a link of sausage! Ugh! A Jap! Horrible! I'm smeared—I can't explain—nobody in this country will believe me—Pablo will kill me—"
He sat down on the bench under the catalpa tree, covered his face with his hands and closed his eyes. When he ventured again to look up, he observed that Pablo, in falling from his horse, had caught one huge Mexican spur on the cantle of his saddle and was suspended by the heel, grotesquely, like a dead fowl. The black mare, a trained roping horse, stood patiently, her feet braced a little, still keeping a strain on the riata.
Parker roused himself. With his pocket knife he cut the spur strap, eased the majordomo to the ground, carried him to the bench and stretched him out thereon. Then, grasping the mare by the bridle, he led her around the adobe wall; he shuddered inwardly as he heard the steady, slithering sound behind her.
"Got to get that Thing out of the way," he mumbled. The great barn door was open; from within he could hear his chauffeur whistling. So he urged the mare to a trot and got past the barn without having been observed. An ancient straw stack stood in the rear of the barn and in the shadow of this he halted, removed the riata from the pommel, dragged the body close to the stack, and with a pitchfork he hastily covered it with old, weather-beaten straw. All of this he accomplished without any purpose more definite than a great desire to hide from his wife and from his daughter this offense which Pablo had thrust upon him.
He led the black mare into the barn and tied her. Then he returned to Pablo.
The old Indian was sitting up. At sight of Parker he commenced to curse bitterly, in Spanish and English, this invader who had brought woe upon the house of Farrel. But John Parker was a white man.
"Shut up, you saddle-colored old idol," he roared, and shook Pablo until the latter's teeth rattled together. "If the mischief is done it can't be helped—and it was none of my making. Pull yourself together and tell me where this killing occurred. We've got to get Don Miguel's body."
For answer Pablo snarled and tried to stab him, so Parker, recalling a fragment of the athletic lore of his youth, got a wristlock on the old man and took the dirk away from him. "Now then," he commanded, as he bumped Pablo's head against the adobe wall, "you behave yourself and help me find Don Miguel and bring him in."
Pablo's fury suddenly left him; again he was the servant, respectful, deferential to his master's guest. "Forgive me, senor," he muttered, "I have been crazy in the head."
"Not so crazy that you didn't do a good job on that Jap murderer. Come now, old chap. Buck up! We can't go after him in my automobile. Have you some sort of wagon?"
"Then come inside a moment. We both need a drink. We're shaking like a pair of dotards."
He picked up Pablo's dirk and give it back to the old man. Pablo acknowledged this courtesy with a bow and followed to Parker's room, where the latter poured two glasses of whisky. Silently they drank.
"Gracias, senor. I go hitch up one team," Pablo promised, and disappeared at once.
For about ten minutes Parker remained in his room, thinking. His wife and Kay had started, afoot, to visit the Mission shortly after Don Mike and Pablo had left the ranch that morning, and for this Parker was duly grateful to Providence. He shuddered to think what the effect upon them would have been had they been present when Pablo made his spectacular entrance; he rejoiced at an opportunity to get himself in hand against the return of Kay and her mother to the ranch house.
"That wretched Okada!" he groaned. "He concluded that the simplest and easiest way to an immediate consummation of our interrupted deal would be the removal of young Farrel. So he hired one of his countrymen to do the job, believing or at least hoping, that suspicion would naturally be aroused against that Basque, Loustalot, who is known to have an old feud with the Farrels. Kate is right. I've trained with white men all my life; the moment I started to train with pigmented mongrels and Orientals I had to do with a new psychology, with mongrelized moral codes—ah, God, that splendid, manly fellow killed by the insatiable lust of an alien race for this land of his they covet! God forgive me! And poor Kay—"
He was near to tears now; fearful that he might be caught in a moment of weakness, he fled to the barn and helped Pablo hitch a team of draft horses to an old spring wagon. Pablo's customary taciturnity and primitive stoicism had again descended upon him like a protecting garment; his madness had passed and he moved around the team briskly and efficiently. Parker climbed to the seat beside him as Pablo gathered up the reins and started out of the farmyard at a fast trot.
Ten minutes later they paused at the mouth of the draw down which Farrel had been riding when fired upon. Pablo turned the team, tied them to an oak tree and started up the draw at a swift dog trot, with Parker at his heels.
Jammed rather tightly in a narrow little dry water-course that ran through the center of the draw they found the body of Don Mike. He was lying face downward; Parker saw that flies already rosetted a wound thick with blood clots on top of his head.
"Poor, poor boy," Parker cried agonizedly.
Pablo straddled the little watercourse, got a grip around his master's body and lifted it out to Parker, who received it and laid the limp form out on the grass. While he stood looking down at Don Mike's white, relaxed face, Pablo knelt, made the sign of the cross and commenced to pray for the peaceful repose of his roaster's soul. It was a long prayer; Parker, waiting patiently for him to finish, did not know that Pablo recited the litany for the dying.
"Come, Pablo, my good fellow, you've prayed enough," he suggested presently. "Help me carry Don Miguel down to the wagon—Pablo, he's alive!"
"Hah!" Pablo's exclamation was a sort of surprised bleat. "Madre de Cristo! Look to me, Don Miguel. Ah, little dam' fool, you make believe to die, no?" he charged hysterically.
Don Mike's black eyes opened slightly and his slack lower jaw tightened in a ghastly little grimace. The transported Pablo seized him and shook him furiously, meanwhile deluging Don Mike with a stream of affectionate profanity that fell from his lips like a benediction.
"Listen," Don Mike murmured presently. "Pablo's new litany."
"Rascal! Little, wicked heretic! Blood of the devil! Speak, Don Miguel."
"Shut up! Took your—time—getting me—out—confounded ditch—damned—lazy—beggar—"
Pablo leaped to his feet, his dusky face radiant.
"You hear!" he yelled. "Senor Parker, you hear those boy give to me hell like old times, no?"
"You ran—you colorado maduro good-for-nothing—left me stuck in—ditch—let bushwhacker—get away—fix you for this, Pablo."
Pablo's eyes popped in ecstasy. He grinned like a gargoyle. "You hear those boy, senor?" he reiterated happily. "I tell you those boy he like ol' Pablo. The night he come back he rub my head; yesterday he poke the rib of me with the thumb—now pretty soon he say sometheeng, I bet you."
"Shut up, I tell you." Don Mike's voice, though very faint, was petulant. "You're a total idiot. Find my horse—get rifle—trail that man—who shot me—get him—damn your prayers—get him—"
"Ah, Don Miguel," Pablo assured him in Spanish, in tones that were prideful beyond measure, "that unfortunate fellow has been shaking hands with the devil for the last forty-five minutes."
Don Mike opened his eyes widely. He was rapidly regaining his full consciousness. "Your work, Pablo?"
"Mine—with the help of God, as your illustrious grandfather, the first Don Miguel, would have said. But you are pleased to doubt me so I shall show you the carcass of the animal. I roped him and dragged him for two miles behind the black mare."
Don Mike smiled and closed his eyes. "I will go home," he said presently, and Pablo and Parker lifted him between them and carried him down to the waiting wagon. Half an hour later he was stretched on his bed at the hacienda, while Carolina washed his head with a solution of warm water and lysol. John Parker, rejoiced beyond measure, stood beside him and watched this operation with an alert and sympathetic eye.
"That doesn't look like a bullet wound," he declared, after an examination of the rent in Don Mike's scalp. "Resembles the wound made by what reporters always refer to as 'some blunt instrument.' The scalp is split but the flesh around the wound is swollen as from a blow. You have a nice lump on your head, Farrel."
"Aches terribly," Don Mike murmured. "I had dismounted to tighten my cinch; going down hill the saddle had slid up on my horse's withers. I was tucking in the latigo. When I woke up I was lying on my face, wedged tightly in that little dry ditch; I was ill and dazed and too weak to pull myself out; I was lying with my head down hill and I suppose I lost consciousness again, after awhile. Pablo!"
"You caught the man who shot me. What did you do with him?"
"Oh, those fellow plenty good and dead, Don Miguel."
"He dragged the body home at the end of his rope," Parker explained. "He thought you had been done for and he must have gone war mad. I covered the body of the Jap with straw from that stack out by the barn."
"Jap, eh?" Don Mike smiled. Then, after a long silence. "I suppose, Mr. Parker, you understand now—"
"Yes, yes, Farrel. Please do not rub it in."
"Okada wants the San Gregorio rather badly, doesn't he? Couldn't wait. The enactment of that anti-alien land bill that will come up in the legislature next year—do Mrs. Parker and your daughter know about this attempt to assassinate me?"
"They must not know. Plant that Jap somewhere and do it quickly. Confound you, Pablo, you should have known better than to drag your kill home, like an old she-cat bringing in a gopher. As for my head—well, I was thrown from my horse and struck on a sharp rock. The ladies would be frightened and worried if they thought somebody was gunning for me. When Bill Conway shows up with your spark plugs I'd be obliged, Mr. Parker, if you'd run me in to El Toro. I'll have to have my head tailored a trifle, I think."
With a weak wave of his hand he dismissed everybody, so Parker and Pablo adjourned to the stables to talk over the events of the morning. Standing patiently at the corral gate they found the gray horse, waiting to be unsaddled—a favor which Pablo proceeded at once to extend.
"Mira!" he called suddenly and directed Parser's attention to the pommel of Don Mike's fancy saddle, The rawhide covering on the shank of the pommel had been torn and scored and the steel beneath lay exposed. "You see?" Pablo queried. "You understan', senor?"
"No, I must confess I do not, Pablo."
"Don Miguel is standing beside thees horse. He makes tighter the saddle; he is tying those latigo and he have the head bent leetle hit while he pull those latigo through the ring. Bang! Those Jap shoot at Don Miguel. He miss, but the bullet she hit thees pommel, she go flat against the steel, she bounce off and hit Don Miguel on top the head. The force for keel heem is use' up when the bullet hit thees pommel, but still those bullet got plenty force for knock Don Miguel seelly, no?"
"Spent ball, eh? I think you're right, Pablo."
Pablo relapsed into one of his infrequent Gringo solecisms. "You bet you my life you know eet," he said.
John Parker took a hundred dollar bill from his pocket. "Pablo," he said with genuine feeling, "you're a splendid fellow. I know you don't like me, but perhaps that is because you do not know me very well. Don Miguel knows I had nothing to do with this attempt to kill him, and if Don Miguel bears me no ill-will, I'm sure you should not. I wish you would accept this hundred dollar bill, Pablo?"
Pablo eyed the bill askance. "What for?" he demanded.
"For the way you handled that murdering Jap. Pablo, that was a bully job of work. Please accept this bill. If I didn't like you I would not offer it to you."
"Well, I guess Carolina mebbeso she can use eet. But first I ask Don Miguel if eet is all right for me take eet." He departed for the house to return presently with an anticipatory smile on his dusky countenance. "Don Miguel say to me, senor: 'Pablo, any people she's stay my house he's do what she please.' Gracias, Senor Parker." And he pouched the bill. "Mille gracias, senor."
"Pray, do not mention it, Pablo."
"All right," Pablo agreed. "Eef you don't like eet, well, I don' tell somebody!"
Bill Conway driving up the San Gregorio in his prehistoric automobile, overtook Kay and her mother walking home from the Mission, and drove them the remainder of the distance back to the hacienda. Arrived here, old Conway resurrected the stolen spark plugs and returned them to Parker's chauffeur, after which he invited himself to luncheon. Apparently his raid of the night previous rested lightly on his conscience, and Parker's failure to quarrel with him lifted him immediately out of any fogs of apprehension that may have clouded his sunny soul.
"Hello, Conway," Parker greeted him, as the old contractor came into the dining room and hung his battered old hat on a wall peg. "Did you bring back my spark plugs?"
"Did better'n that," Conway retorted. "The porcelain on one plug was cracked and sooner or later you were bound to have trouble with it. So I bought you a new one."
"Do any good for yourself in El Toro this morning?"
"Nope. Managed to put over a couple of deals that will help the boy out a little, though. Attached your bank account and your bank stock. I would have plastered your two automobiles, but that tender-hearted Miguel declared that was carrying a grudge too far. By the way, where is our genial young host?"
"Horse bucked him off this morning. He lit on a rock and ripped a furrow in his sinful young head. So he's sleeping off a headache."
"Oh, is he badly hurt?" Kay cried anxiously.
"Not fatally," Parker replied with a faintly knowing smile. "But he's weak and dizzy and he's lost a lot of blood; every time he winks for the next month his head will ache, however."
"Which horse policed him?" Bill Conway queried casually.
"The gray one—his father's old horse."
"Hum-m-m!" murmured Conway and pursued the subject no further, nor did he evince the slightest interest in the answers which Parker framed glibly to meet the insistent demand for information from his wife and daughter. The meal concluded, he excused himself and sought Pablo, of whom he demanded and received a meticulous account of the "accident" to Miguel Farrel. For Bill Conway knew that the gray horse never bucked and that Miguel Farrel was a hard man to throw.
"Guess I'll have to sit in at this game," he decided, and forthwith climbed into his rattletrap automobile and returned to El Toro.
During the drive in he surrendered his mind to a contemplation of all of the aspects of the case, and arrived at the following conclusions:
Item. Don Nicolas Sandoval had seen the assassin walking in from the south about sunset the day previous. If the fellow had walked all the way across country from La Questa valley he must have started about two P.M.
Item. The Potato Baron had left the Farrel hacienda about one o'clock the same day and had, doubtless, arrived in El Toro about two o'clock. Evidently he had communicated with the man from La Questa valley (assuming that Don Miguel's assailant had come from there) by telephone from El Toro.
Arrived in El Toro, Bill Conway drove to the sheriff's office. Don Nicolas Sandoval had returned an hour previous from the Rancho Palomar and to him Conway related the events of the morning. "Now, Nick," he concluded, "you drift over to the telephone office and in your official capacity cast your eye over the record of long distance telephone calls yesterday afternoon and question the girl on duty."
"Bueno!" murmured Don Nicolas and proceeded at once to the telephone office. Ten minutes later he returned.
"Okada talked to one Kano Ugichi, of La Questa, at 2:08 yesterday afternoon," he reported.
"Considerable water will run under the bridges before Kano Ugichi returns to the bosom of his family," Conway murmured sympathetically. "He's so badly spoiled, Nick, we've decided to call him a total loss and not put up any headstone to his memory. It is Farrel's wish that the matter be forgotten by everybody concerned."
"I have already forgotten it, my friend," the urbane Don Nicolas replied graciously, and Bill Conway departed forthwith for the Hotel de Las Rosas.
"Got a Jap name of Okada stopping here?" he demanded, and was informed that Mr. Okada occupied room 17, but that he was ill and could not be seen.
"He'll see me," quoth Bill Conway, and clumped up the stairs. He rapped peremptorily on the door of room 17, then tried the knob. The door opened and the old contractor stepped into the room to find the Potato Baron sitting up in bed, staring at him. Uttering no word, Bill Conway strode to the bed, seized the Japanese by the throat and commenced to choke him with neatness and dispatch. When the man's face was turning purple and his eyes rolling wildly, Conway released his death-grip and his victim fell back on the mattress, whereupon Bill Conway sat down on the edge of the bed and watched life surge back into the little brown man.
"If you let one little peep out of you, Okada," he threatened—and snarled ferociously.
"Please, please," Okada pleaded. "I no unnerstan'. 'Scuse, please. You make one big mistake, yes, I zink so."
"I do, indeed. I permit you to live, which I wouldn't do if I knew where to hide your body. Listen to me, Okada. You sent a countryman of yours from the La Questa valley over to the Rancho Palomar to kill Don Miguel Farrel. I have the man's name, I know the hour you telephoned to him, I know exactly what you said to him and how much you paid him to do the job. Well, this friend of yours overplayed his hand; he didn't succeed in killing Farrel, but he did succeed in getting himself captured."
He paused, with fine dramatic instinct, to watch the effect of this broadside. A faint nervous twitch of the chin and the eyelids—then absolute immobility. The Potato Baron had assumed the "poker face" of all Orientals—wherefore Bill Conway knew the man was on his guard and would admit nothing. So he decided not to make any effort to elicit information, but to proceed on the theory that everything was known to him.
"Naturally," he continued, "that man Pablo has ways and means of making even a stubborn Jap tell everything he knows. Now listen, O child of Nippon, to the white man's words of wisdom. You're going to depart from El Toro in a general northerly direction and you're going to do it immediately if not sooner. And you're never coming back. The day you do, that day you land in the local calaboose with a charge of conspiracy to commit murder lodged against you. We have the witnesses to prove our case and any time you're tried by a San Marcos County jury before a San Marcos County judge you'll rot in San Quentin for life. And further: If Miguel Farrel should, within the next two years, die out of his own bed and with his boots on, you will be killed on general principles, whether you're guilty or not. Do I make myself clear or must I illustrate the point with motion pictures?"
"Yes, sir. 'Scuse, please. Yes, sir, I zink I go very quick, sir."
"Three cheers! The sooner the quicker—the next train, let us say. I'll be at the station to see you off."
He was as good as his word. The Potato Baron, mounting painfully the steps of the observation car, made hasty appraisal of the station platform and observed Bill Conway swinging his old legs from his perch on an express truck. He favored Okada with a very deliberate nod and a sweeping, semi-military salute of farewell.
When the train pulled out, the old contractor slid off the express truck and waddled over to his automobile. "Well, Liz," he addressed that interesting relic, "I'll bet a red apple I've put the fear of Buddha in that Jap's soul. He won't try any more tricks in San Marcos County. He certainly did assimilate my advice and drag it out of town muy pronto. Well, Liz, as the feller says: 'The wicked flee when no man pursueth and a troubled conscience addeth speed to the hind legs.'"
As he was driving out of town to the place of his labors at Agua Caliente basin, he passed the Parker limousine driving in. Between John Parker's wife and John Parker's daughter, Don Miguel Jose Farrel sat with white face and closed eyes. In the seat beside his chauffeur John Parker sat, half turned and gazing at Don Miguel with troubled eyes.
"That girl's sweeter than a royal flush," Bill Conway murmured. "I wonder if she's good for a fifty thousand dollar touch to pay my cement bill pending the day I squeeze it out of her father? Got to have cement to build a dam—got to have cash to get cement—got to have a dam to save the Rancho Palomar—got to have the Rancho Palomar before we can pull off a wedding—got to pull off a wedding in order to be happy—got to be happy or we all go to hell together. . . . Well . . . I'm going down to Miguel's place to dinner to-night. I'll ask her."
The entire Parker family was present when the doctor in El Toro washed and disinfected Farrel's wound and, at the suggestion of Kay, made an X-ray photograph of his head. The plate, when developed, showed a small fracture, the contemplation of which aroused considerable interest in all present, with the exception of the patient. Don Mike was still dizzy; because his vision was impaired he kept his eyes closed; he heard a humming noise as if a lethargic bumble bee had taken up his residence inside the Farrel ears. Kay, observing him closely, realized that he was very weak, that only by the exercise of a very strong will had he succeeded in sitting up during the journey in from the ranch. His brow was cold and wet with perspiration, his breathing shallow; his dark, tanned face was now a greenish gray.
The girl saw a shadow of deep apprehension settle over her father's face as the doctor pointed to the fracture. "Any danger?" she heard him whisper,
The doctor shook his head. "Nothing to worry about. An operation will not be necessary. But he's had a narrow squeak. With whom has he been fighting?"
"Thrown from his horse and struck his head on a rock," Parker replied glibly.
Kay saw the doctor's eyebrows lift slightly. "Did he tell you that was what happened?"
Parker hesitated a moment and nodded an affirmative.
"Wound's too clean for that story to impress me," the doctor whispered. "Not a speck of foreign matter in it. Moreover, the wound is almost on top of his head. Now, if he had been thrown from a horse and had struck on top of his head on a rock with sufficient force to lacerate his scalp and produce a minor fracture, he would, undoubtedly, have crushed his skull more thoroughly or broken his neck. Also, his face would have been marred more or less! And if that isn't good reasoning, I might add that Miguel Farrel is one of the two or three men in this world who have ridden Cyclone, the most famous outlaw horse in America."
Parker shrugged and, by displaying no interest in the doctor's deductions, brought the conversation to a close.
That the return trip to the ranch, in Don Mike's present condition, was not to be thought of, was apparent from the patient's condition. He was, therefore, removed to the single small hospital which El Toro boasted, and after seeing him in charge of a nurse the Parker family returned to the ranch. Conversation languished during the trip; a disturbed conscience on the part of the father, and on the part of Kay and her mother an intuition, peculiar to their sex and aroused by the doctor's comments, that events of more than ordinary portent had occurred that day, were responsible for this.
At the ranch Parker found his attorney who had motored out from El Toro, waiting to confer with him regarding Bill Conway's adroit manoeuver of the morning. Mrs. Parker busied herself with some fancy work while her daughter sought the Farrel library and pretended to read. An atmosphere of depression appeared to have settled over the rancho; Kay observed that even Pablo moved about in a furtive manner; he cleaned and oiled his rifle and tested the sights with shots at varying ranges. Carolina's face was grave and her sweet falsetto voice was not raised in song once during the afternoon.
About four o'clock when the shadows began to lengthen, Kay observed Pablo riding forth on his old pinto pony. Before him on the saddle he carried a pick and shovel and in reply to her query as to what he purposed doing, he replied that he had to clean out a spring where the cattle were accustomed to drink. So she returned to the library and Pablo repaired to a willow thicket in the sandy wash of the San Gregorio and dug a grave. That night, at twilight, while the family and servants were at dinner, Pablo dragged his problem down to this grave, with the aid of the pinto pony, and hid it forever from the sight of men. Neither directly nor indirectly was his exploit ever referred to again and no inquiry was ever instituted to fathom the mystery of the abrupt disappearance of Kano Ugichi. Indeed, the sole regret at his untimely passing was borne by Pablo, who, shrinking from the task of removing his riata from his victim (for he had a primitive man's horror of touching the dead), was forced to bury his dearest possession with the adventurer from La Questa—a circumstance which served still further to strengthen his prejudice against the Japanese race.
The following morning Pablo saddled Panchito for Kay and, at her request, followed her, in the capacity of groom, to Bill Conway's camp at Agua Caliente basin. The old schemer was standing in the door of his rough temporary office when Kay rode up; he advanced to meet her.
"Well, young lady," he greeted her, "what's on your mind this morning in addition to that sassy little hat."
"A number of things. I want to know what really happened to Mr. Farrel yesterday forenoon."
"My dear girl! Why do you consult me?"
She leaned from her horse and lowered her voice. "Because I'm your partner and between partners there should be no secrets."
"Well, we're supposed to keep it a secret, just to save you and your mother from worrying, but I'll tell you in confidence if you promise not to tell a soul I told you."
"Well, then, that scoundrel, Okada, sent a Jap over from La Questa valley to assassinate Miguel and clear the way for your father to acquire this ranch without further legal action and thus enable their interrupted land deal to be consummated."
"My father was not a party to that—oh, Mr. Conway, surely you do not suspect for a moment—"
"Tish! Tush! Of course not. That's why Miguel wanted it given out that his horse had policed him. Wanted to save you the resultant embarrassment."
"The poor dear! And this wretch from La Questa shot him?"
"What became of the assassin?"
Bill Conway pursed his tobacco-stained lips and whistled a few bars of "Listen to the Mocking Bird." Subconsciously the words of the song came to Kay's mind.
She's sleeping in the valley, In the valley, She's sleeping in the valley, And the mocking bird is singing where she lies.
"I'm afraid I don't want to discuss that boy and his future movements, Miss Parker," he sighed presently. "I might compromise a third party. In the event of a show-down I do not wish to be forced under oath to tell what I know—or suspect. However, I am in a position to assure you that Oriental activities on this ranch have absolutely ceased. Mr. Okada has been solemnly assured that, in dealing with certain white men, they will insist upon an eye for an optic and a tusk for a tooth; he knows that if he starts anything further he will go straight to that undiscovered country where the woodbine twineth and the whangdoodle mourneth for its mate."
"What has become of Okada?"
"He has dragged it out of here—drifted and went hence—for keeps."
"Are you quite sure?"
"Cross my heart and hope to die." With an unclean thumb Mr. Conway drew a large X on the geometrical center of his ample circumference. "When you've been in the contracting business as long as I have, Miss Parker," he continued sagely, "you'll learn never to leave important details to a straw boss. Attend to 'em yourself—and get your regular ration of sleep. That's my motto."
She beamed gratefully upon him. "Need any money, Bill, old timer?" she flashed at him suddenly, with delightful camaraderie.
"There should be no secrets between partners. I do."
"Cinquenta mille pesos oro, senorita."
"Fifty thousand bucks, iron men, simoleons, smackers, dollars—"
She reached down and removed a fountain pen from his upper vest pocket. Then she drew a check book and, crooking her knee over Panchito's neck and using that knee for a desk, she wrote him a check on a New York bank for fifty thousand dollars.
"See here," Bill Conway demanded, as she handed him the check, "how much of a roll you got, young woman?"
"About two hundred thousand in cash and half a million in Liberty bonds. When I was about five years old my uncle died and left me his estate, worth about a hundred thousand. It has grown under my father's management. He invested heavily in Steel Common, at the outbreak of the war, and sold at the top of the market just before the armistice was signed."
"Well," Conway sighed, "there is a little justice in the world, after all. Here at last, is one instance where the right person to handle money gets her hands on a sizable wad of it. But what I want to know, my dear young lady, is this: Why purchase philanthropy in fifty thousand dollar installments? If you want to set that boy's mind at ease, loan him three hundred thousand dollars to take up the mortgage your father holds on his ranch; then take a new mortgage in your own name to secure the loan. If you're bound to save him in the long run, why keep the poor devil in suspense?"
She made a little moue of distaste. "I loathe business. The loaning of money on security—the taking advantage of another's distress. Mr. Bill, it never made a hit with me. I'm doing this merely because I realize that my father's course, while strictly legal, is not kind. I refuse to permit him to do that sort of thing to a Medal of Honor man." He noticed a pretty flush mount to her lovely cheeks. "It isn't sporty, Mr. Bill Conway. However, it isn't nice to tell one's otherwise lovable father that he's a poor sport and a Shylock, is it? I cannot deliberately pick a fight with my father by interfering in his business affairs, can I? Also, it seems to me that Don Mike Farrel's pride is too high to permit of his acceptance of a woman's pity. I do not wish him to be under obligation to me. He might misconstrue my motive—oh, you understand, don't you? I'm sure I'm in an extremely delicate position."
He nodded sagely. "Nevertheless," he pursued, "he will be under obligation to you."
"He will never know it. I depend upon you to keep my secret. He will think himself under obligation to you—and you're such an old and dear friend. Men accept obligations from each other and think nothing of it. By the way, I hold you responsible for the return of that fifty thousand dollars, not Don Mike Farrel. You are underwriting his battle with my father, are you not?"
"Yes, I am," he retorted briskly, "and I've got more conceit than a barber's cat for daring to do it. Wait a minute and I'll give you my promissory note. I'm paying seven per cent for bank accommodations lately. That rate of interest suit you?"
She nodded and followed him to his office, where he laboriously wrote and signed a promissory note in her favor. Pablo, remaining politely out of sound of their conversation, wondered vaguely what they were up to.
"Don Mike has told us something of the indolent, easy-going natures of his people," Kay continued, as she tucked the note in her coat pocket. "I have wondered if, should, he succeed in saving his ranch without too great an expenditure of effort, he would continue to cast off the spell of 'the splendid, idle forties' and take his place in a world of alert creators and producers. Do you not think, Mr. Bill, that he will be the gainer through my policy of keeping him in ignorance of my part in the re-financing of his affairs—if he dare not be certain of victory up to the last moment? Of course it would be perfectly splendid if he could somehow manage to work out his own salvation, but of course, if he is unable to do that his friends must do it for him. I think it would be perfectly disgraceful to permit a Medal of Honor man to be ruined, don't you, Mr. Bill?"
"Say, how long have you known this fellow Miguel?"
"Seventy-two hours, more or less."
He considered. "Your father's nerve has been pretty badly shaken by the Jap's attempt to kill Miguel. He feels about that pretty much as a dog does when he's caught sucking eggs. Why not work on your father now while he's in an anti-Jap mood? You might catch him on the rebound, so to speak. Take him over to La Questa valley some day this week and show him a little Japan; show him what the San Gregorio will look like within five years if he persists. Gosh, woman, you have some influence with him haven't you?"
"Very little in business affairs, I fear."
"Well, you work on him, anyhow, and maybe he'll get religion and renew Miguel's mortgage. Argue that point about giving a Medal of Honor man another chance."
The girl shook her head. "It would be useless," she assured him. "He has a curious business code and will not abandon it. He will only quote some platitude about mixing sentiment and business."
"Then I suppose the battle will have to go the full twenty rounds. Well, Miss Parker, we're willing. We've already drawn first blood and with your secret help we ought to about chew the tail off your old man."
"Cheerio." She held out her dainty little gloved hand to him. "See me when you need more money, Mr. Bill. And remember! If you tell on me I'll never, never forgive you."
He bent over her hand and kissed it. His caress was partly reverence, partly a habit of courtliness surviving from a day that is done in California, for under that shabby old tweed suit there beat the gallant heart of a true cavalier.
When Miss Parker had ridden away with Pablo at her heels, Bill Conway unburdened himself of a slightly ribald little chanson entitled: "What Makes the Wild Cat Wild?" In the constant repetition of this query it appeared that the old Californian sought the answer to a riddle not even remotely connected with the mystifying savagery of non-domestic felines.
Suddenly he slapped his thigh. "Got it," he informed the payroll he had been trying to add for half an hour. "Got it! She does love him. Her explanation of her action is good but not good enough for me. Medal of Honor man! Rats. She could loan him the money to pay her father, on condition that her father should never know the source of the aid, but if they reduced their association to a business basis he would have to decide between the ranch and her. She knows how he loves this seat of his ancestors—she fears for the decision. And if he decided for the ranch there would be no reasonable excuse for the Parker family to stick around, would there? There would not. So he is not to be lost sight of for a year. Yes, of course that's it. Methinks the lady did protest too much. God bless her. I wonder what he thinks of her. One can never tell. It might be just her luck to fail to make a hit with him. Oh, Lord, if that happened I'd shoot him, I would for a fact. Guess I'll drop in at the ranch some day next week and pump the young idiot. . . . No, I'll not. My business is building dams and bridges and concrete highways . . . well, I might take a chance and sound him out . . . still, what thanks would I get . . . no, I'll be shot if I will . . . oh, to the devil with thanks. If he don't like it he can lump it. . . ."
"What makes the wild cat wild, boys, Oh, what makes the wild cat wild?"
It was fully two weeks before Miguel returned to the ranch from the little hospital at El Toro. During that period the willows had already started to sprout on the last abiding place of Kano Ugichi, the pain had left the Farrel head and the Farrel attorney had had Andre Loustalot up in the Superior Court, where he had won a drawn verdict. The cash in bank was proved to have been deposited there by Loustalot personally; it had been subject to his personal check, and was accordingly adjudged to be his personal property and ordered turned over to Miguel Farrel in partial liquidation of the ancient judgment which Farrel held against the Basque. A preponderance of testimony, however (Don Nicolas Sandoval swore it was all perjured and paid for) indicated that but one quarter of the sheep found on the Rancho Palomar belonged to Loustalot, the remainder being owned by his foreman and employees. To Farrel, therefore, these sheep were awarded, and in some occult manner Don Nicolas Sandoval selected them from the flock; then, acting under instructions from Farrel, he sold the sheep back to Loustalot at something like a dollar a head under the market value and leased to the amazed Basque for one year the grazing privilege on the Rancho Palomar. In return for the signing of this lease and the payment of the lease money in advance, Farrel executed to Loustalot a satisfaction in full of the unpaid portion of the judgment. "For," as the sheriff remarked to Farrel, "while you hold the balance of that judgment over this fellow's head your own head is in danger. It is best to conciliate him, for you will never again have an opportunity to levy against his assets."
"I think you're right, Don Nicolas," Farrel agreed. "I can never feel wholly safe until I strike a truce with that man. Tell him I'll give him back his eight thousand dollar automobile if he will agree on his own behalf and that of his employees, agents and friends, not to bushwhack me or any person connected with me."
"I have already made him a tentative offer to that effect, my boy, and, now that the first flush of his rage is over, he is a coyote lacking the courage to kill. He will agree to your proposal, and I shall take occasion to warn him that if he should ever break his word while I am living, I shall consider, in view of the fact that I am the mediator in this matter, that he has broken faith with me, and I shall act accordingly."
The arrangement with Loustalot was therefore made, and immediately upon his return to the ranch Farrel, knowing that the sheep would spoil his range for the few hundred head of cattle that still remained of the thousands that once had roamed El Palomar, rounded up these cattle and sold them. And it was in the performance of this duty that he discovered during the roundup, on the trail leading from the hacienda to Agua Caliente basin, a rectangular piece of paper. It lay, somewhat weather-stained, face up beside the trail, and because it resembled a check, he leaned easily from his horse and picked it up. To his amazement he discovered it to be a promissory note, in the sum of fifty thousand dollars, in favor of Kay Parker and signed by William D. Conway.
Pablo was beating the thickets in the river bottom, searching out some spring calves he knew were lurking there, when his master reined up beside him.
"Pablo," he demanded, "has Senor Conway been to the ranch during my absence?"
"No, Don Miguel, he has not."
"Has Senorita Parker ridden Panchito over to Senor Conway's camp at Agua Caliente basin?"
"Yes, Don Miguel. I rode behind her, in case of accident."
"What day was that?"
Pablo considered. "The day after you were shot, Don Miguel."
"Did you see Senorita Parker give Senor Conway a writing?"
"I did, truly. She wrote from a small leathern book and tore out the page whereon she wrote. In return Senor Conway made a writing and this he gave to Senorita Parker who accepted it.
"Thank you, Pablo. That is all I desired to know." And he was away again, swinging his lariat and whooping joyously at the cattle. Pablo watched narrowly.
"Now whatever this mystery may be," he soliloquized, "the news I gave Don Miguel has certainly not displeased him. Ah, he is a sharp one, that boy. He learns everything and without effort, yet for all he knows he talks but little. Can it be that he has the gift of second sight? I wonder!"
Kay Parker was seated on the bench under the catalpa tree when Miguel Farrel rode up the palm-lined avenue to the hacienda, that night; his face, as he dismounted before her, conveyed instantly to the girl the impression that he was in a more cheerful and contented mood than she had observed since that day she had first met him in uniform.
She smiled a welcome. He swept off his hat and favored her with a bow which appeared to Kay to be slightly more ceremonious than usual.
"Your horse is tired," she remarked. "Are you?"
"'Something accomplished, something done, has earned a night's repose,'" he quoted cheerfully. "Rather a hard task to comb this ranch for a few hundred head of cattle when the number of one's riders is limited, but we have gotten the herd corraled at the old race-track." He unbuckled his old leathern chaps, and stepped out of them, threw them across the saddle and with a slap sent his horse away to the barn.
"You're feeling quite yourself again?" she hazarded hopefully.
"My foolish head doesn't bother me," he replied smilingly, "but my equally foolish heart—" he heaved a gusty Castilian sigh and tried to appear forlorn.
"Filled with mixed metaphors," he added. "May I sit here with you?"
She made room for him beside her on the bench. He seated himself, leaned back against the bole of the catalpa tree and stretched his legs, cramped from a long day in the saddle. The indolent gaze of his black eyes roved over her approvingly before shifting to the shadowy beauty of the valley and the orange-hued sky beyond, and a silence fell between them.
"I was thinking to-day," the girl said presently, "that you've been so busy since your return you haven't had time to call on any of your old friends."
"That is true, Miss Parker."
"You have called me Kay," she reminded him. "Wherefore this sudden formality, Don Mike?"
"My name is Miguel. You're right, Kay. Fortunately, all of my friends called on me when I was in the hospital, and at that time I took pains to remind them that my social activities would be limited for at least a year."
"Two of your friends called on mother and me today, Miguel."
"Anita Sepulvida and her mother?"
"Yes. She's adorable."
"They visited me in hospital. Very old friends—very dear friends. I asked them to call on you and your mother. I wanted you to know Anita."
"She's the most beautiful and charming girl I have ever met."
"She is beautiful and charming. Her family, like mine, had become more or less decayed about the time I enlisted, but fortunately her mother had a quarter section of land down in Ventura County and when a wild-cat oil operator on adjacent land brought in a splendid well, Senora Sepulvida was enabled to dispose of her land at a thousand dollars an acre and a royalty of one-eighth on all of the oil produced. The first well drilled was a success and in a few years the Sepulvida family will be far wealthier than it ever was. Meanwhile their ranch here has been saved from loss by foreclosure. Old Don Juan, Anita's father, is dead."
"Anita is the only child, is she not?"
He nodded. "Ma Sepulvida is a lady of the old school," he continued. "Very dignified, very proud of her distinguished descent—"
"And very fond of you," Kay interrupted.
"Always was, Kay. She's an old peach. Came to the hospital and cried over me and wanted to loan me enough money to lift the mortgage on my ranch."
"Then—then—your problem is—solved," Kay found difficulty in voicing the sentence.
He nodded. She turned her face away that he might not see the pallor that overspread it. "It is a very great comfort to me," he resumed presently, "to realize that the world is not altogether barren of love and kindness."
"It must be," she murmured, her face still averted.
"It was the dearest wish of my poor father and of Anita's that the ancient friendship between the families should be cemented by a marriage between Anita and me. For me Senora Sepulvida would be a marvelous mother-in-law, because she's my kind of people and we understand each other. Really, I feel tremendously complimented because, even before the oil strike saved the family from financial ruin, Anita did not lack opportunities for many a more brilliant match."
"She's—dazzling," Kay murmured drearily. "What a brilliant wife she will be for you!"
"Anita is far too fine a woman for such a sacrifice. I've always entertained a very great affection for her and she for me. There's only one small bug in our amber."
"We aren't the least bit in love with each other. We're children of a later day and we object to the old-fashioned method of a marriage arranged by papa and mama. I know there must be something radically wrong with me; otherwise I never could resist Anita."
"But you are going to marry her, are you not?"
"I am not. She wouldn't marry me on a bet. And of course I didn't accept her dear old mother's offer of financial aid. Couldn't, under the circumstances, and besides, it would not be kind of me to transfer my burden to them. I much prefer to paddle my own canoe."
He noticed a rush of color to the face as she turned abruptly toward him now. "What a heritage of pride you have, Miguel. But are you quite certain Anita does not love you? You should have heard all the nice things she said about you to-day."
"She ought to say nice things about me," he replied casually. "When she was quite a little girl she was given to understand that her ultimate mission in life was to marry me. Of course I always realized that it would not be a compliment to Anita to indicate that I was not head over heels in love with her; I merely pretended I was too bashful to mention it. Finally one day Anita suggested, as a favor to her and for the sake of my own self-respect, that I abandon the pose; with tears in her eyes she begged me to be a gallant rebel and save her from the loving solicitude of her parents to see her settled in life. At that moment I almost loved her, particularly when, having assured her of my entire willingness and ability to spoil everything, she kissed me rapturously on both cheeks and confided to me that she was secretly engaged to an engineer chap who was gophering for potash in Death Valley. The war interrupted his gophering, but Anita informs me that he found the potash, and now he can be a sport and bet his potash against Senora Sepulvida's crude oil. Fortunately, my alleged death gave Anita an opportunity to advance his claims, and he was in a fair way of becoming acceptable until my unexpected return rather greased the skids for him. Anita's mother is trying to give the poor devil the double-cross now, but I told Anita she needn't worry."
Kay's eyes danced with merriment—and relief. "But," she persisted, "you told me your problem was settled? And it isn't."
"It is. I'm going to sell about eighteen thousand dollars worth of cattle off this ranch, and I've leased the valley grazing privilege for one year for ten thousand dollars. My raid on Loustalot netted me sixty-seven thousand dollars, so that my total bankroll is now about ninety-five thousand dollars. At first I thought I'd let Bill Conway have most of my fortune to help him complete that dam, but I have now decided to stop work on the dam and use all of my energy and my fortune to put through such other deals as may occur to me. If I am lucky I shall emerge with sufficient funds to save the ranch. If I am unlucky, I shall lose the ranch. Therefore, the issue is decided. 'God's in his Heaven; all's right with the world.' What have you been doing all day?"
"Painting and sketching. I'll never be a worth-while artist, but I like to paint things for myself. I've been trying to depict on canvas the San Gregorio in her new spring gown, as you phrase it. The arrival of the Sepulvida family interrupted me, and I've been sitting here since they departed. We had tea."
"Getting a trifle bored with the country, Kay? I fancy you find it lonely out here."
"It was a trifle quiet while you were in hospital. Now that you're back I suppose we can ride occasionally and visit some of the places of local interest."
"By all means. As soon as I get rid of that little bunch of cattle I'm going to give a barbecue and festival to the countryside in honor of my guests. We'll eat a half dozen fat two-year-old steers and about a thousand loaves of bread and a couple of barrels of claret and a huge mess of chilli sauce. When I announce in the El Toro Sentinel that I'm going to give a fiesta and that everybody is welcome, all my friends and their friends and relatives will come and I'll be spared the trouble of visiting them individually. Don Nicolas Sandoval remarked when he collected that Loustalot judgment for me that he supposed I'd do the decent thing, now that I could afford it. Mother Sepulvida suggested it and Anita seconded the motion. It will probably be the last event of its kind on such a scale ever given in California, and when it is finished it will have marked my transition from an indolent ranchero to some sort of commercial go-getter."
"I see. Little Mike, the Hustler."
He nodded, rose and stood before her, smiling down at her with an inscrutable little smile. "Will you motor me in to El Toro to-morrow morning?" he pleaded. "I must go there to arrange for cattle cars."
"Thank you, Kay. Now, if I have your permission to withdraw, I think I shall make myself presentable for dinner."
He hesitated a moment before withdrawing, however, meanwhile gazing down on her with a gaze so intent that the girl flushed a little. Suddenly his hand darted out and he had her adorable little chin clasped between his brown thumb and forefinger, shaking it with little shakes of mock ferocity. He seemed about to deliver some important announcement—impassioned, even, but to her huge disgust he smothered the impulse, jerked his hand away as if he had scorched his fingers, and blushed guiltily. "Oh, I'm a sky-blue idiot," he half growled and left her abruptly.
A snort—to a hunter it would have been vaguely reminiscent of that of an old buck deer suddenly disturbed in a thicket—caused her to look up. At the corner of the wall Pablo Artelan stood, staring at her with alert interest; his posture was one of a man suddenly galvanized into immobility. Kay blushed, but instantly decided to appear nonchalant.
"Good evening, Pablo," she greeted the majordomo. "How do you feel after your long, hard day on the range?"
"Gracias, mees. Myself, I feel pretty good. When my boss hees happy—well—Pablo Artelan hees happy just the same."
The girl noted his emphasis. "That's very nice of you, Pablo, I'm sure. Have you any idea," she continued with bland innocence, "why Don Miguel is so happy this evening?"
Pablo leaned against the adobe wall, thoughtfully drew forth tobacco bag and brown cigarette paper and, while shaking his head and appearing to ponder Kay's question, rolled a cigarette and lighted it. "We-l-l, senorita," he began presently, "I theenk first mebbeso eet ees because Don Miguel find heem one leetle piece paper on the trail. I am see him peeck those paper up and look at heem for long time before he ride to me and ask me many question about the senorita and Senor Beel Conway those day we ride to Agua Caliente. He say to me: 'Pablo, you see Senor Beel Conway give to the senorita a writing?' 'Si, senor.' 'You see Senorita Parker give to Senor Beel Conway a writing?' 'Si, senor.' Then Don Miguel hee's don' say sometheeng more, but just shake hees cabeza like thees," and Pablo gave an imitation of a muchly puzzled man wagging his head to stimulate a flow of ideas.
A faintness seized the girl. "Didn't he say—anything?" she demanded sharply.
"Oh, well, yes, he say sometheeng. He say: 'Well, I'bedam!' Then that leetle smile he don' have for long time come back to Don Miguel's face and hee's happy like one baby. I don' understand those boy ontil I see thees business"—Pablo wiggled his tobacco-stained thumb and forefinger—"then I know sometheeng! For long time those boy hee's pretty parteecular. Even those so beautiful senorita, 'Nita Sepulvida, she don' rope those boy like you rope it, senorita." And with the license of an old and trusted servant, the sage of Palomar favored her with a knowing wink.
"He knows—he knows!" the girl thought. "What must he think of me! Oh, dear, oh, dear! if he mentions the subject to me I shall die." Tears of mortification were in her eyes as she turned angrily upon the amazed Pablo. "You—you—old sky-blue idiot!" she charged and fled to her room.
Kay's first coherent thought was to claim the privilege of her sex—a headache—and refrain from joining Don Mike and her parents at dinner. Upon consideration, however, she decided that since she would have to face the issue sooner or later, she might as well be brave and not try to evade it. For she knew now the fate of the promissory note Bill Conway had given her and which she had thrust into the pocket of her riding coat. It had worked out of her pocket and dropped beside the trail to Agua Caliente Basin, and fate had ordained that it should be found by the one person in the world not entitled to that privilege. Kay would have given fifty thousand dollars for some miraculous philter which, administered surreptitiously to Miguel Farrel, would cause him to forget what the girl now realized he knew of her secret negotiations with Bill Conway for the salvation of the ranch. Nevertheless, despite her overwhelming embarrassment and distress, the question occurred to her again and again: What would Don Miguel Farrel do about it? She hadn't the slightest doubt but that his tremendous pride would lead him to reject her aid and comfort, but how was he to accomplish this delicate procedure? The situation was fraught with as much awkwardness and embarrassment for him as for her.
She was late in joining the others at table. To her great relief, after rising politely at her entrance and favoring her with an impersonal smile, Farrel sat down and continued to discuss with John Parker and his wife the great natural resources of Siberia and the designs of the Japanese empire upon that territory. About the time the black coffee made its appearance, Kay's harassed soul had found sanctuary in the discussion of a topic which she knew would be of interest—one in which she felt she could join exuberantly.
"Do tell father and mother of your plans for a fiesta, Miguel," she pleaded presently.
"A fiesta, eh?" Mrs. Parker was instantly interested. "Miguel, that is, indeed, a bright thought. I volunteer as a patroness here and now. John, you can be a judge of the course, or something. Miguel, what is the occasion of your fiesta?"
"At a period in the world's history, Mrs. Parker, when butter is a dollar a pound and blue-denim over-alls sell freely for three dollars a pair, I think we ought to do something to dissipate the general gloom. I want to celebrate my return to civil life, and my more recent return from the grave. Also, I would just as lief indicate to the county at large that, outside of business hours, we constitute a very happy little family here; so if you all please, I shall announce a fiesta in honor of the Parker family."
"It will last all day and night and we are to have a Wild West show," Kay added eagerly.
"Where will it be held, Miguel?"
"Down at our old abandoned race-track, about a mile from here."
Mrs. Parker nodded approval. "John, you old dud," she decided, "you always liked horse-races and athletics. You're stuck for some prizes."
Her indulgent husband good-naturedly agreed, and at Kay's suggestion, Carolina brought a pencil and a large writing-tablet, whereupon the girl constituted herself secretary of the carnival committee and wrote the program, as arranged by Don Mike and her father. She thrilled when Farrel announced a race of six furlongs for ladies' saddle-horses, to be ridden by their owners.
"You ought to win that with Panchito," he suggested to Kay.
Kay's heart beat happily. In Farrel's suggestion that she ride Panchito in this race she decided that here was evidence that her host did not contemplate any action that would tend to render the ranch untenable for her prior to the fiesta; indeed, there was nothing in his speech or bearing that indicated the slightest mental perturbation now that he had discovered the compact existing between her and Bill Conway. Perhaps his pride was not so high as she had rated it; what if her action had been secretly pleasing to him?
Somehow, Kay found this latter thought disturbing and distasteful. It was long past midnight before she could dismiss the enigma from her thoughts and fall asleep.
It was later than that, however, before Don Miguel Jose Federico Noriaga Farrel dismissed her from his thoughts and succumbed to the arms of Morpheus. For quite a while after retiring to his room he sat on the edge of the bed, rubbing his toes with one hand and holding Bill Conway's promissory note before him with the other.
"That girl and her mother are my secret allies," he soliloquized. "Bless their dear kind hearts. Kay has confided in Conway and for reasons best known to himself he has secretly accepted of her aid. Now I wonder," he continued, "what the devil actuates her to double-cross her own father in favor of a stranger?"
He tucked the note back in his pocket, removed a sock and rubbed the other foot thoughtfully. "Well, whatever happens," he decided eventually, "I've got to keep my secret to myself, while at the same time effectually preventing this young lady from advancing Bill Conway any further funds for my relief. I cannot afford her pity or her charity; I can accept her sympathy, but not her aid. Conway cannot have so soon spent much of the money he borrowed from her, and if I insist on the cessation of operations in the Basin he'll promptly give her back her fifty thousand dollars in order to save the interest charges; in the meantime I shall mail Kay the note in a plain white envelope, with the address typewritten, so she will never know where it came from, for of course she'll have to hand Bill back his canceled note when he pays it."
He blew out the light and retired, not to sleep, but to revolve plan after plan for the salvation of the ranch. To float a new loan from any source in San Marcos County he dismissed for the hundredth time as a proposition too nebulous for consideration. His only hope of a bank loan lay in an attempt to interest outside bankers to a point where they would consent to have the property appraised. Perhaps the letter from Parker which he held would constitute evidence to cautious capitalists of the sufficiency of the security for the loan. It was for that purpose that he had cunningly inveigled Parker into making him that offer to clear out and leave him a fair field and no litigation. However, Don Mike knew that between bankers there exists a certain mutual dependence, a certain cohesiveness that makes for mutual protection. If, for instance (he told himself), he should apply to a San Francisco bank for a loan on the ranch, the bank, prior to wasting either time or mental energy on his application, would first ascertain from sources other than him, whether it was remotely worth while considering the loan up to a point of sending a representative down to appraise the land. Their first move, therefore, would be to write their correspondent in El Toro—John Parker's bank, the First National—for information regarding the Farrel family, the ranch and the history of the mortgage. Don Mike was not such an optimist as to believe that the report of Parker's bank would be such as to encourage the outside bank to proceed further in the deal.
He was also aware that the loan would not be attractive to commercial banks, who are forced, in self-protection, to loan their money on liquid assets. He must therefore turn to the savings-banks and trust companies. But here again he faced an impasse. Such institutions loan money for the purpose of securing interest on it; the last thing they wish to do is to be forced, in the protection of the loan, to foreclose a mortgage. Hence, should they entertain the slightest doubt of his inability to repay the mortgage; should they be forced to consider the probability of foreclosure eventually, he knew they would not consider the loan. Don Mike was bitterly aware of the fact that the history of his family bad been one of waste, extravagance, carelessness and inefficiency. In order to place the ranch on a paying basis and take up John Parker's mortgage, therefore, he would have to have a new loan of not less than half a million dollars, and at six per cent., the lowest rate of interest he could hope to obtain, his annual interest charge would be thirty thousand dollars. Naturally he would be expected to repay the loan gradually—say at the rate of fifty thousand dollars a year. By running ten thousand head of cattle on the Palomar he knew he could meet his payments of interest and principal without lessening his working capital, but he could not do it by attempting to raise scrub beef cattle. He would gradually produce a herd of pure-bred Herefords, but in the meantime he would have to buy "feeders," grow them out on the Palomar range and sell them at a profit. During the present high price of beef cattle, he dared not gamble on borrowed capital, else with a slump in prices he might be destroyed. It would be a year or two, at least, before he might accept that risk; indeed, the knowledge of this condition had induced him to lease the San Gregorio for one year to the Basque sheep man, Andre Loustalot. If, in the interim, he should succeed in saving the ranch, he knew that a rest of one year would enable the range to recover from the damage inflicted upon it by the sheep.
In his desolation there came to him presently a wave of the strong religious faith that was his sole unencumbered heritage. Once again he was a trustful little boy. He slid out of the great bed of his ancestors and knelt on the old rag mat beside it; he poured out an appeal for help from One who, he had been told—who, he truly believed—marked the sparrow's fall. Don Mike was far from being the orthodox person one ordinarily visualizes in a Spanish-Irish Catholic, but he was deeply religious, his religious impulse taking quite naturally a much more practical form and one most pleasing to himself and his neighbors, in that it impelled him to be brave and kind and hopeful, a gentleman in all that the word implies. He valued far more than he did the promise of a mansion in the skies a certain tranquillity of spirit which comes of conscious virtue.
When he rose from his knees he had a feeling that God had not lost track of him and that, despite a long list of debit entries, a celestial accountant had, at some period in Don Mike's life, posted a considerable sum to his credit in the Book of Things. "That credit may just balance the account," he reflected, "although it is quite probable I am still working in the red ink. Well—I've asked Him for the privilege of overdrawing my account . . . we shall see what we shall see."
At daylight he awakened suddenly and found himself quite mysteriously the possessor of a trend of reasoning that automatically forced him to sit up in bed.
Fifteen minutes later, mounted on Panchito, he was cantering up the San Gregorio, and just as the cook at Bill Conway's camp at Agua Caliente Basin came to the door of the mess hall and yelled: "Come an' git it or I'll throw it out," Panchito slid down the gravel cut-bank into camp.
"Where is Mr. Conway?" he demanded of the cook,
The latter jerked a greasy thumb toward the interior of the mess hall, so, leaving Panchito "tied to the breeze," Don Mike dismounted and entered.
"Hello there, young feller," Bill Conway roared at him.
"Top o' the morning to you, old dirt-digger," Farrel replied. "Please deal me a hand of your ham and eggs, sunny side up. How be ye, Willum?"
"R'arin' to go," Conway assured him.
"All right. Pack up and go to-day. You're through on this job."
"I've changed my mind about fighting Parker on this dam deal—and no profanity intended."
"But me no buts, even if you are the goat. You're through. I forbid the bans. The eggs, man! I'm famished. The midnight ride of Paul Revere was a mere exercise gallop, because he started shortly after supper, but the morning ride of Mike Farrel has been done on fresh air."
"You're a lunatic. If you knew what I know, Miguel—"
"Hush! I want to ascertain what you know. Bet you a dollar!" He slammed a dollar down on the table and held his palm over it.
Bill Conway produced a dollar and likewise covered it. "Very well, son," he replied. "I'll see your dollar. What's the nature of the bet?"
"I'm betting a dollar you didn't draw the plans for this dam."
Bill Conway flipped his dollar over to his guest.
"I'm betting two dollars!"
Conway took two silver dollars from his vest pocket and laid them on the table. "And the bet?" he queried.
"I'm betting two dollars the plans were drawn by an engineer in Los Angeles."
"Some days I can't lay up a cent," the old contractor complained, and parted with his two dollars.
"I'm betting four dollars!" Farrel challenged.
"See your four dollars," Conway retorted and covered the bet.
"I'm betting that those plans were drawn by the engineer of the South Coast Power Corporation."
"Death loves a shining mark, Michael, my boy. Hand over that four dollars."
Farrel produced a five dollar bill. "I'm betting five dollars," he challenged again.
"Not with me, son. You're too good. I suppose your next bet will be that the plans were drawn by the engineer of the Central California Power Company."
"Got a set of the plans with his name on them?"
"I want them."
"They're yours, provided you tell your Uncle Bill the Big Idea."
Don Mike flipped some pepper and salt on his eggs and while doing so proceeded to elucidate.
"If I had two projects in mind—one for irrigation and one for power, I would not, of course, unless I happened to be a public service corporation engaged in producing and selling electric power, consider for a moment wasting my time monkeying with the hydro-electric buzz-saw. Indeed, I would have to sell it, for with the juice developed here I could not hope to compete in a limited field with the established power companies. I would proceed to negotiate the sale of this by-product to the highest bidder. Bill, do you know that I've seen enough flood water running down the San Gregorio every winter to have furnished, if it could have been stored in Agua Caliente Basin, sufficient water to irrigate the San Gregorio Valley for five years?"
"I know it, Miguel."
"All a power company requires is the assurance that the dam you are building will impound in the Agua Caliente Basin during an ordinarily wet winter, sufficient run-off water to insure them against a shortage during the summer. After the water has passed over their wheels they're through with it and it can be used for irrigation, can it not?"
"Yes, of course, although you'd have to have a greater volume of water than the amount coming through the power company's pen-stocks. But that's easily arranged. Two ditches, Miguel!"
"If the engineer of the Central California Power Company had not examined the possibilities here and approved of them, it is reasonable to suppose that he would not have drawn the plans and Parker would not have engaged you to build the dam."
"You're on the target, son. Go on."
"Then Parker must have entered into an agreement to sell, and the Central California Power Company must have agreed to buy, if and when Parker could secure legal title to the Rancho Palomar, a certain number of miner's inches of water daily, in perpetuity, together with certain lands for a power station and a perpetual right of way for their power lines over the lands of this ranch."
"Well, son, that's what I would have done in a similar situation. Nothing to be made by letting that hydro-electric opportunity lie fallow. No profit in wasting kilowatts, Miguel. We haven't got a third of the power necessary for the proper development/of this state."
"In the absence of conclusive proof to the contrary, Bill, I am convinced that John Parker did enter into such a contract. Naturally, until he should secure the title to the ranch, the railroad commission, which regulates all public service corporations in this state, would not grant the power company permission to gamble on the truth of an official report that I had been killed in Siberia."
"Your reasoning is sound. Now eat, and after breakfast I'll tell you things. Your visit and your eager inquiries have started a train of thought in my thick head."
Don Mike obeyed, and while he devoted himself to his breakfast, old Bill Conway amused himself rolling pellets out of bread and flipping them at a knot-hole in the rough wall of the mess hall.
"You've been pretty well troubled, haven't you, son?" he remarked paternally when Don Mike, having completed his meal, sat back and commenced rolling a cigarette.
"Si. Got your train of thought ditched, Bill?"
"I have. Assuming that Parker has made a deal with the Central California Power Company, what I want to know is: Why did he do it?"
"I've just told you why he did it."
"You've just told me why he would make a deal with a power company, but you haven't explained why he should make a deal with this particular power company."
"I cannot answer that question, Bill."
"Nor can I. But there's a reason—perhaps two reasons. Territorially, this power site is the natural property of but two power corporations—the Central California and the South Coast. The South Coast is the second largest corporation of its kind in the state; the Central California is the fifth. Why go gunning for a dickey bird when you can tie up to an eagle?"
They were both silent, pondering the question. Then said Bill Conway, "Well, son, if I had as much curiosity regarding the reason for this situation as you have, I'd most certainly spend some money to find out."
"I have the money and I am prepared to spend it. How would you start, Bill?"
"Well, I'd buy a couple of shares of stock, in the Central California Power Company as a starter. Then I would descend upon the main office of the company, exhibit my stock and claim my stockholder's right to look over the list of stockholders and bondholders of record; also, the board of directors and the minutes of the previous meetings. You may not find John Parker's name listed either as stockholder, bondholder or director, but you might find the First National Bank of El Toro, represented by the cashier or the first vice-president of that institution. Also, if I were you, I'd just naturally hop the rattler for San Francisco, hie myself to some stockbroker's office to buy this stock, and while buying it look over the daily reports of the stock market for the past few years and see if the figures suggested anything to me."
"Thus endeth the first lesson, Miguel. At that it's only a vague suspicion. Get out of my way, boy. I'm going out to build a dam and you're not ready to stop me—yet."
"Bill, I'm serious about this. I want you to cease operations."
Bill Conway turned upon him almost angrily. "What for?" he demanded.
"I own the Rancho Palomar. I forbid it. I have a good and sufficient reason."
"But, son, I can finance the confounded dam. I have it financed already."
"So have I—if I cared to accept favors."
Bill Conway approached and took his young friend by each shoulder. "Son," he pleaded, "please let me build this dam. I was never so plumb interested in any job before. I'll take a chance. I know what I'm going to do and how I'm going to do it, and you aren't going to be obligated the least little bit. Isn't John Parker stuck for it all, in the long run? Why, I've got that hombre by the short hair."
"I know, but long before you can collect from him you'll be financially embarrassed."
"Don't worry. I've been a miser all my life and I've got a lot of money hid out. Please, son, quit interfering with me. You asked me to help you out, I accepted and I'm going to go through until stopped by legal procedure. And if you have the law on me I'll never speak to you again."
"Your attitude doesn't fit in with my plans, Bill Conway."
"Yours don't fit in with mine. Besides, I'm older than you and if there was one thing your father taught you it was respect for your elders. Two heads are better than one. You crack right along and try to save your ranch in your way and I'll crack right along and try to save it my way. You pay your way and I'll pay mine. That's fair, isn't it?"
"Fiddlesticks; on your way. You're wasting your breath arguing with me."
Don Mike knew it. "Well, let me have a set of the plans," he concluded sulkily.
Bill Conway handed him out a roll of blue-prints and Farrel mounted Panchito and returned to the hacienda. The blue-prints he hid in the barn before presenting himself at the house. He knew his absence from the breakfast-table would not be commented upon, because for a week, during the round-up of the cattle, he and Pablo and the latter's male relatives who helped in the riding, had left the hacienda at daylight after partaking of a four o'clock breakfast.
"We've been waiting for you, Miguel, to motor with us to El Toro," Kay greeted him as he entered the patio.
"So sorry to have delayed you, Kay. I'm ready to start now, if you are."
"Father and mother are coming also. Where have you been? I asked Pablo, but he didn't know."
"I've been over to Bill Conway's camp to tell him to quit work on that dam."
The girl paled slightly and a look of apprehension crept into her eyes. "And—and—he's—ceasing operations?" she almost quavered.
"He is not. He defied me, confound him, and in the end I had to let him have his way."
El Mono, the butler, interrupted them by appearing on the porch to announce that William waited in the car without. Mrs. Parker presently appeared, followed by her husband, and the four entered the waiting car. Don Mike, satisfied that his old riding breeches and coat were clean and presentable, had not bothered to change his clothes, an evidence of the democracy of his ranchero caste, which was not lost upon his guests.
"I know another route to El Toro," he confided to the Parkers as the car sped down the valley. "It's about twelve miles out of our way, but it is an inspiring drive. The road runs along the side of the high hills, with a parallel range of mountains to the east and the low foothills and flat farming lands sloping gradually west to the Pacific Ocean. At one point we can look down into La Questa Valley and it's beautiful."
"Let us try that route, by all means," John Parker suggested. "I have been curious to see La Questa Valley and observe the agricultural methods of the Japanese farmers there."
"I am desirous of seeing it again for the same reason, sir," Farrel replied. "Five years ago there wasn't a Jap in that valley and now I understand it is a little Japan."
"I understand," Kay struck in demurely, "that La Questa Valley suffered a slight loss in population a few weeks ago."
Both Farrel and her father favored her with brief, sharp, suspicious glances. "Who was telling you?" the latter demanded.
"Senor Bill Conway."
"He ought to know better than to discuss the Japanese problem with you," Farrel complained, and her father nodded vigorous assent. Kay tilted her adorable nose at them.
"How delightful to have one's intelligence underrated by mere men," she retorted.
"Did Bill Conway indicate the direction of the tide of emigration from La Questa?" Farrel asked craftily, still unwilling to admit anything. The girl smiled at him, then leaning closer she crooned for his ear alone:
He's sleeping in the valley, The valley, The valley, He's sleeping in the valley, And the mocking bird is singing where he lies.
"Are you glad?" he blurted eagerly. She nodded and thrilled as she noted the smug little smile of approval and complete understanding that crept over his dark face like the shadow of clouds in the San Gregorio. Mrs. Parker was riding in the front seat with the chauffeur and Kay sat between her father and Don Mike in the tonneau. His hand dropped carelessly on her lap now, as he made a pretense of pulling the auto robe up around her; with quick stealth he caught her little finger and pressed it hurriedly, then dropped it as if the contact had burned him; whereat the girl realized that he was a man of few words, but—
"Dear old idiot," she thought. "If he ever falls in love he'll pay his court like a schoolboy."
"By the way, sir," Farrel spoke suddenly, turning to John Parker, "I would like very much to have your advice in the matter of an investment. I will have about ninety thousand dollars on hand as soon as I sell these cattle I've rounded up, and until I can add to this sum sufficient to lift the mortgage you hold, it scarcely seems prudent to permit my funds to repose in the First National Bank of El Toro without drawing interest."
"We'll give you two and one-half per cent. on the account, Farrel."
"Not enough. I want it to earn six or seven per cent. and it occurred to me that I might invest it in some good securities which I could dispose of at a moment's notice, whenever I needed the money. The possibility of a profit on the deal has even occurred to me."
Parker smiled humorously. "And you come to me for advice? Why, boy, I'm your financial enemy."
"My dear Mr. Parker, I am unalterably opposed to you on the Japanese colonization scheme and I shall do my best to rob you of the profit you plan to make at my expense, but personally I find you a singularly agreeable man. I know you will never resign a business advantage, but, on the other hand, I think that if I ask you for advice as to a profitable investment for my pitiful little fortune, you will not be base enough to advise me to my financial detriment. I trust you. Am I not banking with your bank?"
"Thank you, Farrel, for that vote of confidence. You possess a truly sporting attitude in business affairs and I like you for it; I like any man who can take his beating and smile. Yes, I am willing to advise an investment. I know of a dozen splendid securities that I can conscientiously recommend as a safe investment, although, in the event of the inevitable settlement that must follow the war and our national orgy of extravagance and high prices, I advise you frankly to wait awhile before taking on any securities. You cannot afford to absorb the inevitable shrinkage in the values of all commodities when the show-down comes. However, there is a new issue of South Coast Power Company first mortgage bonds that can be bought now to yield eight per cent. and I should be very much inclined to take a chance on them, Farrel. The debentures of the power corporations in this state are about the best I know of."
"I think you are quite right, sir," Farrel agreed. "Eventually the South Coast Company is bound to divide with the Pacific Company control of the power business of the state. I dare say that in the fullness of time the South Coast people will arrange a merger with the Central California Power Company."
"Perhaps. The Central California Company is under-financed and not particularly well managed, Farrel. I think it is, potentially, an excellent property, but its bonds have been rather depressed for a long time."
Farrel nodded his understanding. "Thank you for your advice, sir. When I am ready will your bank be good enough to arrange the purchase of the South Coast bonds for me?"
"Certainly. Happy to oblige you, Farrel. But do not be in too great a hurry. You may lose more in the shrinkages of values if you buy now than you would make in interest."
"I shall be guided by your advice, sir. You are very kind."
"By the way," Parker continued, with a deprecatory smile, "I haven't entered suit against you in the matter of that foreclosure. I didn't desire to annoy you while you were in hospital and you've been busy on the range ever since. When can I induce you to submit to a process-server?"
"This afternoon will suit me, Mr. Parker."
"I'll gladly wait awhile longer, if you can give me any tangible assurance of your ability to meet the mortgage."
"I cannot do that to-day, sir, although I may be able to do so if you will defer action for three days."
Parker nodded and the conversation languished. The car had climbed out of the San Gregorio and was mounting swiftly along the route to La Questa, affording to the Parkers a panorama of mountain, hill, valley and sea so startling in its vastness and its rugged beauty that Don Mike realized his guests had been silenced as much by awe as by their desire to avoid a painful and unprofitable conversation.
Suddenly they swung wide around a turn and saw, two thousand feet below them, La Questa Valley. The chauffeur parked the car on the outside of the turn to give his passengers a long, unobstructed view.
"Looks like a green checker-board with tiny squares," Parker remarked presently.
"Little Japanese farms."
"There must be a thousand of them, Farrel."
"That means not less than five thousand Japanese, Mr. Parker. It means that literally a slice of Japan has been transplanted in La Questa Valley, perhaps the fairest and most fruitful valley in the fairest and most fruitful state in the fairest and most fruitful country God ever made. And it is lost to white men!"
"Serves them right. Why didn't they retain their lands?"
"Why doesn't water run up hill? A few Japs came in and leased or bought lands long before we Californians suspected a 'yellow peril.' They paid good prices to inefficient white farmers who were glad to get out at a price in excess of what any white man could afford to pay. After we passed our land law in 1913, white men continued to buy the lands for a corporation owned by Japanese with white dummy directors, or a majority of the stock of the corporation ostensibly owned by white men. Thousands of patriotic Californians have sold their farms to Japanese without knowing it. The law provides that a Japanese cannot lease land longer than three years, so when their leases expire they conform to our foolish law by merely shifting the tenants from one farm to another. Eventually so many Japs settled in the valley that that white farmers, unable to secure white labor, unable to trust Japanese labor, unable to endure Japanese neighbors or to enter into Japanese social life weary of paying taxes to support schools for the education of Japanese children, weary of daily contact with irritable, unreliable and unassimilable aliens, sold or leased their farms in order to escape into a white neighborhood. I presume, Mr. Parker, that nobody can realize the impossibility of withstanding this yellow flood except those who have been overwhelmed by it. We humanitarians of a later day gaze with gentle sympathy upon the spectacle of a noble and primeval race like the Iroquois tribe of Indians dying before the advance of our Anglo-Saxon civilization, but with characteristic Anglo-Saxon inconsistency and stupidity we are quite loth to feel sorry for ourselves, doomed to death before the advance of a Mongolian civilization unless we put a stop to it—forcibly and immediately!"
"Let us go down and see for ourselves," Mrs. Parker suggested.
Having reached the floor of the valley, at Farrel's suggestion they drove up one side of it and down the other. Motor-truck after motor-truck, laden with crated vegetables, passed them on the road, each truck driven by a Japanese, some of them wearing the peculiar bamboo hats of the Japanese coolie class.
The valley was given over to vegetable farming and the fields were dotted with men, women and children, squatting on their heels between the rows or bending over them in an attitude which they seemed able to maintain indefinitely, but which would have broken the back of a white man.
"I know a white apologist for the Japanese who in a million pamphlets and from a thousand rostrums has cried that it is false that Japanese women labor in the fields," Farrel told his guests. "You have seen a thousand of them laboring in this valley. Hundreds of them carry babies on their backs or set them to sleep on a gunnysack between the rows of vegetables. There is a sixteen-year-old girl struggling with a one-horse cultivator, while her sisters and her mother hold up their end with five male Japs in the gentle art of hoeing potatoes."
"They live in wretched little houses," Kay ventured to remark.
"Anything that will shelter a horse or a chicken is a palace to a Jap, Kay. The furnishings of their houses are few and crude. They rise in the morning, eat, labor, eat, and retire to sleep against another day of toil. They are all growing rich in this valley, but have you seen one of these aliens building a decent home, or laying out a flower garden? Do you see anything inspiring or elevating to our nation due to the influence of such a race?"
"Yonder is a schoolhouse," Mrs. Parker suggested. "Let us visit it."
"The American flag floats over that little red school-house, at any rate," Parker defended.
William halted the car in the schoolhouse yard and Farrel got out and walked to the schoolhouse door. An American school-teacher, a girl of perhaps twenty, came to the door and met him with an inquiring look. "May we come in?" Farrel pleaded. "I have some Eastern people with me and I wanted to show them the sort of Americans you are hired to teach."
She smiled ruefully. "I am just about to let them out for recess," she replied. "Your friends may remain in their car and draw their own conclusions."
"Thank you." Don Mike returned to the car. "They're coming out for recess," he confided. "Future American citizens and citizenesses. Count 'em."
Thirty-two little Japanese boys and girls, three Mexican or Indian children and four of undoubted white parentage trooped out into the yard and gathered around the car, gazing curiously. The school-teacher bade them run away and play and, in her role of hostess, approached the car. "I am Miss Owens," she announced, "and I teach this school because I have to earn a living. It is scarcely a task over which one can enthuse, although I must admit that Japanese children are not unintelligent and their parents dress them nicely and keep them clean."
"I suppose, Miss Owens," Farrel prompted her, having introduced himself and the Parkers, "that you have to contend with the native Japanese schools."
She pointed to a brown house half a mile away. Over it flew the flag of Japan. "They learn ancestor worship and how to kow-tow to the Emperor's picture down there, after they have attended school here," she volunteered. "Poor little tots! Their heads must ache with the amount of instruction they receive. After they have learned here that Columbus discovered America on October 12th, 1492, they proceed to that Japanese school and are taught that the Mikado is a divinity and a direct descendant of the Sun God. And I suppose, also, they are taught that it is a fine, clean, manly thing to pack little, green, or decayed strawberries at the bottom of a crate with nice big ones on top—in defiance of a state law. Our weights and measures law and a few others are very onerous to our people in La Questa."