"Do you mean to tell me, Miss Owens," Parker asked, "that you despair of educating these little Japanese children to be useful American citizens?"
"I do. The Buddhist school over yonder is teaching them to be Japanese citizens; under Japanese law all Japanese remain Japanese citizens at heart, even if they do occasionally vote here. The discipline of my school is very lax," she continued. "It would be, of course, in view of the total lack of parental support. In that other school, however, the discipline is excellent."
She continued to discourse with them, giving them an intimate picture of life in this little Japan and interesting revelations upon the point of view, family life and business ethics of the parents of her pupils, until it was time to "take up" school again, when she reluctantly returned to her poorly paid and unappreciated efforts.
"Well, of course, these people are impossible socially," John Parker admitted magnanimously, "but they do know how to make things grow. They are not afraid of hard work. Perhaps that is why they have supplanted the white farmers."
"Indeed they do know how, Mr. Parker. And they can produce good crops more cheaply than a white farmer. A Japanese with a wife and two fairly well-grown daughters saves the wages of three hired men. Thus he is enabled to work his ground more thoroughly. When he leases land he tries to acquire rich land, which he robs of its fertility in three years and then passes on to renew the outrage elsewhere. Where he owns land, however, he increases fertility by proper fertilization."
"So you do not believe it possible for a white man to compete economically with these people, Farrel?"
"Would you, if you were a white farmer, care to compete with the Japanese farmers of this valley? Would you care to live in a rough board shack, subsist largely on rice, labor from daylight to dark and force your wife and daughter to labor with you in the fields? Would you care to live in a kennel and never read a book or take an interest in public affairs or thrill at a sunset or consider that you really ought to contribute a dollar toward starving childhood in Europe? Would you?"
"You paint a sorry picture, Farrel." Parker was evasive.
"I paint what I see before me," he answered doggedly. "This—in five years. And if this be progress as we view progress—if this be desirable industrial or agricultural evolution, then I'm out of tune with my world and my times, and as soon as I am certain of it I'll blow my brains out."
Parker chuckled at this outburst and Kay prodded him with her elbow—a warning prod. The conversation languished immediately. Don Mike sat staring out upon the little green farms and the little brown men and women who toiled on them.
"Angry, Don Mike?" the girl asked presently. He bent upon her a glance of infinite sadness.
"No, my dear girl, just feeling a little depressed. It's hard for a man who loves his country so well that he would gladly die a thousand dreadful deaths for it, to have to fight the disloyal thought that perhaps, after all, it isn't really worth fighting for and dying for. If we only had the courage and the foresight and the firmness of the Australians and New Zealanders! Why, Kay, those sane people will not even permit an Indian prince—a British subject, forsooth—to enter their country except under bond and then for six months only. When the six months have expired—heraus mit em! You couldn't find a Jap in Australia, with a search warrant. But do you hear any Japanese threats of war against Australia for this alleged insult to her national honor? You do not. They save that bunkum for pussy-footing, peace-loving, backward-looking, dollar-worshiping Americans. As a nation we do not wish to be awakened from our complacency, and the old theory that a prophet is without honor in his own country is a true one. So perhaps it would be well if we discuss something else—luncheon, for instance. Attention! Silence in the ranks! Here we are at the Hotel De Las Rosas."
Having dined his guests, Farrel excused himself, strolled over to the railroad station and arranged with the agent for cattle cars to be spotted in on the siding close to town three days later. From the station he repaired to the office of his father's old attorney, where he was closeted some fifteen minutes, after which he returned to his guests, awaiting his return on the wide hotel veranda.
"Have you completed your business?" Parker inquired.
"Yes, sir, I have. I have also completed some of yours. Coming away from the office of my attorney, I noticed the office of your attorney right across the hall, so I dropped in and accepted service of the complaint in action for the foreclosure of your confounded old mortgage. This time your suit is going to stick! Furthermore, as I jogged down Main Street, I met Judge Morton, of the Superior Court, and made him promise that if the suit should be filed this afternoon he would take it up on his calendar to-morrow morning and render a judgment in your favor."
"By George," Parker declared, apparently puzzled, "one gathers the impression that you relish parting with your patrimony when you actually speed the date of departure."
Mrs. Parker took Don Mike by the lapel of his coat. "You have a secret," she charged.
He shook his head.
"You have," Kay challenged. "The intuition of two women cannot be gainsaid."
Farrel took each lady by the arm and with high, mincing steps, simulating the utmost caution in his advance, he led them a little way down the veranda out of hearing of the husband and father.
"It isn't a secret," he whispered, "because a secret is something which one has a strong desire to conceal. However, I do not in the least mind telling you the cause of the O-be-joyful look that has aroused your curiosity. Please lower your heads and incline your best ears toward me. . . . There! I rejoice because I have the shaggy old wolf of Wall Street, more familiarly known as John Parker, beaten at his favorite indoor sport of high and lofty finance. 'Tis sad, but true. The old boy's a gone fawn. Le roi est mort! vive le roi!"
Kay's eyes danced. "Really, Miguel?"
"Not really or actually, Kay, but—er—morally certain."
"Oh!" There was disappointment in her voice. Her mother was looking at Don Mike sharply, shrewdly, but she said nothing, and Farrel had a feeling that his big moment had fallen rather flat.
"How soon will John be called upon to bow his head and take the blow?" Mrs. Parker finally asked. "Much as I sympathize with you, Miguel, I dislike the thought of John hanging in suspense, as it were."
"Oh, I haven't quite made up my mind," he replied. "I could do it within three days, I think, but why rush the execution? Three months hence will be ample time. You see," he confided, "I like you all so well that I plan to delay action for six months or a year, unless, of course, you are anxious for an excuse to leave the ranch sooner. If you really want to go as soon as possible, of course I'll get busy and cook Senor Parker's goose, but—"
"You're incorrigible!" the lady declared. "Procrastinate, by all means. It would be very lonely for you without us, I'm sure."
"Indeed, it would be. That portion of me which is Irish would picture my old hacienda alive at night with ghosts and banshees."
Mrs. Parker was looking at him thoughtfully; seemingly she was not listening. What she really was doing was saying to herself: "What marvelous teeth he has and what an altogether debonair, captivating young rascal he is, to be sure! I cannot understand why he doesn't melt John's business heart. Can it be that under that gay, smiling, lovable surface John sees something he doesn't quite like? I wonder."
As they entered the waiting automobile and started for home, Farrel, who occupied the front seat with the chauffeur, turned and faced the Parkers. "From this day forward," he promised them, "we are all going to devote ourselves to the serious task of enjoying life to the utmost. For my part, I am not going to talk business or Japanese immigration any more. Are you all grateful?"
"We are," they cried in unison.
He thanked them with his mirthful eyes, faced around in his seat and, staring straight ahead, was soon lost in day dreams. John Parker and his wife exchanged glances, then both looked at their daughter, seated between them. She, too, was building castles in Spain!
When they alighted from the car before the hacienda, Mrs. Parker lingered until the patio gate had closed on her daughter and Farrel; then she drew her husband down beside her on the bench under the catalpa tree.
"John, Miguel Farrel says he has you beaten."
"I hope so, dear," he replied feelingly. "I know of but one way out for that young man, and if he has discovered it so readily I'd be a poor sport indeed not to enjoy his victory."
"You never really meant to take his ranch away from him, did you, John?"
"I did, Kate. I do. If I win, my victory will prove to my entire satisfaction that Don Miguel Jose Federico Noriaga Farrel is a throwback to the Manana family, and in that event, my dear, we will not want him in ours. We ought to improve our blood-lines, not deteriorate them."
"Yet you would have sold this valley to that creature Okada."
"Farrel has convinced me of my error there. I have been anti-Jap since the day Farrel was thrown from his horse and almost killed—by a Jap."
"I'm sure Kay is in love with him, John."
"Propinquity," he grunted.
"Fiddlesticks! The man is perfectly charming."
"Perhaps. We'll decide that point later. Do you think Farrel is interested in Kay?"
"I do not know, John," his better half declared hopelessly. "If he is, he possesses the ability to conceal it admirably."
"I'll bet he's a good poker-player. He has you guessing, old girl, and the man who does that is a rara avis. However, Katie dear, if I were you I wouldn't worry about this—er—affair."
"John, I can't help it. Naturally, I'm curious to know the thoughts in the back of that boy's head, but when he turns that smiling innocent face toward me, all I can see is old-fashioned deference and amiability and courtesy. I watch him when he's talking to Kay—when he cannot possibly know I am snooping, and still, except for that frank friendliness, his face is as communicative as this old adobe wall. A few days ago he rode in from the range with a great cluster of wild tiger-lilies—and he presented them to me. Any other young man would have presented them to my daughter."
"I give it up, Kate, and suggest that we turn this mystery over to Father Time. He'll solve it."
"But I don't want Kay to fall in love with Don Mike if he isn't going to fall in love with her," she protested, in her earnestness raising her voice, as was frequently her habit.
The patio gate latch clicked and Pablo Artelan stood in the aperture.
"Senora," he said gravely. "Ef I am you I don' worry very much about those boy. Before hee's pretty parteecular. All those hightone' senorita in El Toro she give eet the sweet look to Don Miguel, jus' the same like thees—" Here Pablo relaxed his old body, permitted his head to loll sideways and his lower jaw to hang slackly, the while his bloodshot eyes gazed amorously into the branches of the catalpa tree. "But those boy he don' pay some attention. Hee's give beeg smile to thees senorita, beeg smile to thees one, beeg smile to that one, beeg smile for all the mama, but for the querida I tell to you Don Miguel hee's pretty parteecular. I theenk to myself—Carolina, too—'Look here, Pablo. What he ees the matter weeth those boy? I theenk mebbeso those boy she's goin' be old bach. What's the matter here? When I am twenty-eight anos my oldes' boy already hee's bust one bronco'." Here Pablo paused to scratch his head. "But now," he resumed, "by the blood of those devil I know sometheeng!"
"What do you know, you squidgy-nosed old idol, you?" Parker demanded, with difficulty repressing his laughter.
"I am ol' man," Pablo answered with just the correct shade of deprecation, "but long time ago I have feel like my corazon—my heart—goin' make barbecue in my belly. I am in love. I know. Nobody can fool me. An' those boy, Don Miguel, I tell you, senor, hee's crazy for love weeth the Senorita Kay."
Parker crooked his finger, and in obedience to the summons Pablo approached the bench.
"How do you know all this, Pablo?"
Let us here pause and consider. In the summer of 1769 a dashing, care-free Catalonian soldier in the company of Don Gaspar de Portola, while swashbuckling his way around the lonely shores of San Diego Bay, had encountered a comely young squaw. Mira, senores! Of the blood that flowed in the veins of Pablo Artelan, thirty-one-thirty-seconds was Indian, but the other one-thirty-second was composed of equal parts of Latin romance and conceit.
Pablo's great moment had arrived. Lowly peon that he was, he knew himself at this moment to be a most important personage; death would have been preferable to the weakness of having failed to take advantage of it.
"Why I know, Senor Parker?" Pablo laughed briefly, lightly, mirthlessly, his cacchination carefully designed to convey the impression that he considered the question extremely superfluous. With exasperating deliberation he drew forth his little bag of tobacco and a brown cigarette paper; he smiled as he dusted into the cigarette paper the requisite amount of tobacco. With one hand he rolled the cigarette; while wetting the flap with his garrulous tongue, he gazed out upon the San Gregorio as one who looks beyond a lifted veil.
He answered his own question. "Well, senor—and you, senora! I tell you. Por nada—forgeeve; please, I speak the Spanish—for notheeng, those boy he poke weeth hee's thumb the rib of me."
"No?" cried John Parker, feigning profound amazement.
"Es verdad. Eet ees true, senor. Those boy hee's happy, no? Eh?"
"You bet you my life. Well, las' night those boy hee's peench weeth his thumb an' theese fingair—what you suppose?"
"I give it up, Pablo."
Pablo wiped away with a saddle-colored paw a benignant and paternal smile. He wagged his head and scuffed his heel in the dirt. He feasted his soul on the sensation that was his.
"Those boy hee's peench—" a dramatic pause. Then:
"Eef you tell to Don Miguel those things I tol' you—Santa Marias—Hees cut my throat."
"We will respect your confidence, Pablo," Mrs. Parker hastened to assure the traitor.
"All right. Then I tol' to you what those boy peench—weeth hees thumb an' thees fingair. Mira. Like thees."
"Cut out the pantomime and disgorge the information, for the love of heaven," Parker pleaded.
"He peench"—Pablo's voice rose to a pseudo-feminine screech—"the cheek of"—he whirled upon Mrs. Parker and transfixed her with a tobacco-stained index finger—"Senorita Parker, so help me, by Jimmy, eef I tell you some lies I hope I die pretty queeck."
Both the Parkers stared at the old man blankly. He continued:
"He peench—queeck—like that. He don' know hee's goin' for peench—hees all time queeck like that—he don' theenk. But after those boy hee's peench the cheen of those girl, hee's got red in the face like black-bird's weeng. 'Oh,' he say, 'I am sky-blue eedete-ot,' an' he run away queeck before he forget heemself an' peench those girl some more."
John Parker turned gravely to his wife. "Old hon," he murmured softly, "Don Mike Farrel is a pinch-bug. He pinched Kay's chin during a mental lapse; then he remembered he was still under my thumb and he cursed himself for a sky-blue idiot."
"Oh, John, dear, I'm so glad." There were tears in Mrs. Parker's eyes. "Aren't you, John?"
"No, I'm not," he replied savagely. "I think it's an outrage and I'd speak to Farrel about it if it were not apparent nobody realizes more keenly than does he the utter impossibility of permitting his fancy to wander in that direction."
"John Parker, you're a hard-hearted man," she cried, and left him in high dudgeon, to disappear into the garden. As the gate closed behind her, John Parker drew forth his pocket book and abstracted from it a hundred-dollar bill, which he handed to Pablo Artelan.
"We have had our little differences, Pablo," he informed that astounded individual, "but we're gradually working around toward a true spirit of brotherly love. In the language of the classic, Pablo, I'm here to tell the cock-eyed world that you're one good Indian."
Pablo swept his old sombrero to the ground, "Gracias, senor, mille gracias," he murmured, and shuffled away with his prize.
Verily, the ways of this Gringo were many and mysterious. To-day one hated him; to-morrow—
"There is no doubt about it," Pablo soliloquized, "it is better to be the head of a mouse than the tail of a lion!"
The following day Don Mike, Pablo and the latter's male relatives, who had so mysteriously appeared on the premises, were early ahorse, driving to El Toro the three hundred-odd head of cattle of all ages and sizes rounded up on the Palomar. The cattle were corraled at a ranch half-way to El Toro the first night, and there watered and fed; the following night they were in the cattle pens at El Toro, and the following day Farrel loaded them aboard the cars and shipped them out to Los Angeles, accompanying the shipment personally. Two days later he was back on the ranch, and the Parkers noticed that his exuberant spirits had not in the least subsided.
"I'd give a ripe peach to know what that fellow is up to," John Parker complained. "Confidentially, I've had him shadowed from the moment he arrived in Los Angeles until the moment he returned to El Toro and started back for the ranch. He has conferred with nobody except the stock-yard people. Nevertheless, he has a hen on."
"Yes, and that hen will hatch a young bald-headed eagle to scratch your eyes out," his daughter reminded him, whereat he chuckled.
"Old Bill Conway's drilling away at his dam-site," he volunteered presently, "and his suit against me for damages, due to breach of contract, is set for trial so far down Judge Morton's calendar that the old judge will have to use a telescope to find it. However, I shouldn't charge the judge with a lack of interest in my affairs, for he has rendered a judgment in my favor in the matter of that mortgage foreclosure and announced from the bench that if this judgment doesn't stick he'll throw the case out of court the next time it is presented for trial. I wonder what Farrel's next move will be?"
"I heard him announce that he was going to get ready for the fiesta," Kay replied.
For two weeks he was busy harrowing, disking and rolling the old race-track; he repainted the weather-beaten poles and reshingled the judge's stand; he repaired the fence and installed an Australian starting-gate, dug a pit for the barbecue and brought forth, repaired and set up under the oaks close to the race-tracks, thirty long wooden tables at which, in an elder and more romantic day, the entire countryside, as guests of the Farrels and Noriagas, had gathered to feast. Farrel worked hard and saw but little of his guests, except at meal-times; he retired somewhat early each night and, insofar as his guests could note, he presented a most commendable example of a young man whose sole interest in life lay in his work.
"When do you plan to give your fiesta, Miguel?" Kay inquired one evening as they sat, according to custom, on the veranda.
"In about a month," he replied. "I've got to fatten my steers and harden them on a special diet before we barbecue them. Don Nicolas Sandoval will have charge of the feast, and if I furnished him with thin, tough range steers, he'd charge me with modernism and disown me. Old Bill Conway never would forget it. He'd nag me to my grave."
"When do we give Panchito his try-out, Don Mike?"
"The track is ready for it now, Kay, and Pablo tells me Panchito's half-brother is now a most dutiful member of society and can get there in a hurry when he's sent for. But he's only a half thoroughbred. Shall we start training to-morrow?"
"Oh, goody. By all means."
The long and patient methods of education to which a green race-horse is subjected were unknown on the Rancho Palomar. Panchito was a trained saddle animal, wise, sensible, courageous and with a prodigious faith that his rider would get him safely out of any jam into which they might blunder together. The starting-gate bothered him at first, but after half a dozen trials, he realized that the web, flying upward, had no power to hurt him and was, moreover, the signal for a short, jolly contest of speed with his fellows of the rancho. Before the week was out he was "breaking" from the barrier with speed and serenity born of the knowledge that this was exactly what was expected of him; whereupon the other horses that Don Mike used to simulate a field of competitors, took heart of hope at Panchito's complacency and broke rather well with him.
Those were long, lazy days on the Palomar. June had cast its withering smile upon the San Gregorio and the green hills had turned to a parched brown. Grasshoppers whirred everywhere; squirrels whistled; occasional little dust-devils whirled up the now thoroughly dry river-bed and the atmosphere was redolent of the aroma of dust and tarweed. Pablo and his dusky relatives, now considerably augmented (albeit Don Mike had issued no invitation to partake of his hospitality), trained colts as roping horses or played Mexican monte in the shade of the help's quarters. Occasionally they roused themselves long enough to justify their inroads upon Don Mike's groceries by harvesting a forty-acre field of alfalfa and irrigating it for another crop, for which purpose a well had been sunk in the bed of the dry San Gregorio.
The wasted energies of these peons finally commenced to irritate John Parker.
"How long are you going to tolerate the presence of this healthy lot of cholo loafers and grafters, Farrel?" he demanded one day. "Have you any idea of what it is costing you to support that gang?"
"Yes," Farrel replied. "About ten dollars a day."
"You cannot afford that expense."
"I know it. But then, they're the local color, they've always been and they will continue to be while I have title to this ranch. Why, their hearts would be broken if I refused them permission to nestle under the cloak of my philanthropy, and he is a poor sort of white man who will disappoint a poor devil of a cholo."
"You're absolutely incomprehensible," Parker declared.
Farrel laughed. "You're not," he replied. "Know anything about a stop-watch?"
"I know all about one."
"Well, your daughter has sent to San Francisco for the best stop-watch money can buy, and it's here. I've had my father's old stop-watch cleaned and regulated. Panchito's on edge and we're going to give him a half-mile tryout to-morrow, so I want two stop-watches on him. Will you oblige, sir?"
Parker willingly consented, and the following morning Farrel and his guests repaired to the race-track. Kay, mounted on Panchito in racing gear, was, by courtesy, given a position next to the rail. Eighty pounds of dark meat, answering to the name of Allesandro Trujillo and claiming Pablo Artelan as his grandfather, drew next position on Peep-sight, as Farrel had christened Panchito's half-brother, while three other half-grown cholo youths, gathered at random here and there, faced the barrier on the black mare, the old gray roping horse and a strange horse belonging to one of the volunteer jockeys.
There was considerable backing, filling and some bucking at the barrier, and Pablo and two of his relatives, acting as starters, were kept busy straightening out the field. Finally, with a shrill yip, Pablo released the web and the flighty young Peep-sight was away in front, with the black mare's nose at his saddle-girth and the field spread out behind him, with Panchito absolutely last.
At the quarter-pole Kay had worked her mount easily up through the ruck to contend with Peep-sight. The half-thoroughbred was three years old and his muscles had been hardened by many a wild scramble up and down the hills of El Palomar; he was game, he was willing, and for half a mile he was marvelously fast, as Farrel had discovered early in the tryouts. Indeed, as a "quarter-horse" Farrel knew that few horses might beat the comparatively green Peep-sight and he had been indiscreet enough to make that statement in the presence of youthful Allesandro Trujillo, thereby filling that young hopeful with a tremendous ambition to race the famed Panchito into submission for the mere sport of a race.
In a word, Allesandro's Indian blood was up. If there was anything he loved, it was a horse-race for money, chalk, marbles or fun. Therefore when a quick glance over his shoulder showed Panchito's blazed face at Peep-sight's rump, Allesandro clucked to his mount, gathered the reins a trifle tighter and dug his dirty bare heels into Peep-sight's ribs, for he was riding bareback, as an Indian should. Peep-sight responded to the invitation with such alacrity that almost instantly he had opened a gap of two full lengths between himself and Kay on Panchito.
Farrel and Parker, holding their stop-watches, watched the race from the judge's stand.
"By Jove, that Peep-sight is a streak," Parker declared admiringly. "He can beat Panchito at that distance, even at proportionate weights and with an even break at the start."
Farrel nodded, his father's old racing-glass fixed on Allesandro and Kay. The girl had "gathered" her mount; she was leaning low on his powerful neck and Farrel knew that she was talking to him, riding him out as he had never been ridden before. And he was responding. Foot by foot he closed the distance that Peep-sight had opened up, but within a hundred yards of the finish Allesandro again called upon his mount for some more of the same, and the gallant Peep-sight flattened himself perceptibly and held his own; nor could Panchito's greatest efforts gain upon the flying half-breed a single inch.
"Bully for the Indian kid," Parker yelled. "Man, man, that's a horse race."
"They'll never stop at the half-mile pole," Farrel laughed. "That race will be won by Panchito when Panchito wins it. Ah, I told you so."
"Well, Peep-sight wins at the half by one open length—and the cholo boy is using a switch on him!"
"He's through. Panchito is gaining on him. He'll pass him at the three-quarter pole."
"Right-o, Farrel. Panchito wins by half a length at the three-quarter pole—"
"I wish Kay would pull him up," Farrel complained. "He's gone too far already and there she is still heading for home like the devil beating tan-bark . . . well, if she breaks him down she's going to be out the grandest saddle animal in the state of California. That's all I have to say. . . . Kay, Kay, girl, what's the matter with you? Pull him up . . . by the blood of the devil, she can't pull him up. She's broken a rein and he's making a run of it on his own."
"Man, look at that horse go."
"Man, look at him come!"
Panchito had swung into the home-stretch, his white face and white front legs rising and falling with the strong, steady rhythm of the horse whose stout heart refuses to acknowledge defeat, the horse who still has something left for a supreme effort at the finish.
"There is a true race-horse," Parker cried exultantly. "I once won a ten-thousand-dollar purse with a dog that wasn't fit to appear on the same track with that Panchito."
The big chestnut thudded by below them, stretched to the limit of his endurance, passed what would have been the finish had the race been a mile and a sixteenth, and galloped up the track with the broken bridle-rein dangling. He slowed down as he came to the other horses in the race, now jogging back to the judge's stand, and one of the cholo youths spurred alongside of him, caught the dangling rein and led him back to the judge's stand.
Kay's face was a little bit white as she smiled up at her father and Farrel. "The old darling ran away with me," she called.
Farrel was instantly at her side and had lifted her out of the saddle. She clung to him for the barest moment, trembling with fear and excitement, before turning to examine Panchito, from whom Pablo had already stripped the saddle. He was badly blown, as trembly as the girl herself, and dripping with sweat, but when Pablo slipped the headstall on him and commenced to walk him up and down to "cool him out," Don Mike's critical eye failed to observe any evil effects from the long and unaccustomed race.
John Parker came down out of the grand stand, his thumb still tightly pressing the stem of his stop-watch, which he thrust under Farrel's nose.
"Look, you star-spangled ignoramus, look," he yelled. "You own a horse that's fit to win the Melbourne Cup or the American Derby, and you don't know it. What do you want for him? Give you ten thousand for him this minute—and I am not so certain that race hasn't hurt him."
"Oh, I don't want to sell Panchito. I can make this ranch pay ten thousand dollars, but I cannot breed another Panchito on it."
"Farrel, if you refuse to sell me that horse I'm going to sit right down here and weep. Son, I don't know a soul on earth who can use twelve—yes, fifteen—thousand dollars handier than you can."
Don Mike smiled his lazy, tantalizing smile. "I might as well be broke as the way I am," he protested. "What's a paltry fifteen thousand dollars to a man who needs half a million? Mr. Parker, my horse is not for sale at any price."
"You mean that?"
John Parker sighed. Since that distant day when he had decided that he could afford such a luxury, his greatest delight had been in owning and "fussing" with a few really great race-horses. He had owned some famous sprinters, but his knowledge of the racing game had convinced him that, could he but acquire Panchito, he would be the owner of a true king of the turf. The assurance that, with all his great wealth, this supreme delight was denied him, was a heavy blow.
Kay slipped her arm through his. "Don't cry, pa, please! We'll wait until Don Mike loses all his sheep and cow money and then we'll buy Panchito for a song."
"Oh, Kay, little girl, that horse is a peach. I think I'd give a couple of toes for the fun of getting my old trainer Dan Leighton out here, training this animal quietly up here in the valley where nobody could get a line on his performances, then shipping him east to Saratoga, where I'd put a good boy on him, stick him in rotten company and win enough races to qualify him for the biggest event of the year. And then! Oh, how I would steal the Derby from John H. Hatfield and his four-year-old wonder. I owe Hatfield a poke anyhow. We went raiding together once and the old sinner double-crossed me."
"Who is John H. Hatfield?" Don Mike queried mildly.
"Oh, he's an aged sinner down in Wall Street. He works hard to make the New Yorkers support his racing stables. Poor old John! All he has is some money and one rather good horse."
"And you wish to police this Hatfield person, sir?"
"If I could, I'd die happy, Farrel."
"Very well. Send for your old trainer, train Panchito, try him out a bit at Tia Juana, Lower California, at the meeting this winter, ship him to Saratoga and make Senor Hatfield curse the day he was born. I have a very excellent reason for not selling Panchito to you, but never let it be said that I was such a poor sport I refused to loan him to you—provided, of course, Kay agrees to this course. He's her mount, you know, while she's on El Palomar."
Parker turned to his daughter. "Kay," he demanded, "do you love your poor old father?"
"Yes, I do, pa, but you can't have Panchito until you do something for me."
"Up jumped the devil! What do you want?"
"If you accept a favor from Miguel Farrel you ought to be sport enough to grant him one. If you ever expect to see Panchito in your racing colors out in front at the American Derby, Miguel must have a renewal of his mortgage."
"Oh, the devil take that mortgage. You and your mother never give me a moment's peace about it. You make me feel like a criminal; it's getting so I'll have to sit around playing mumbley-peg in order to get a thrill in my old age. You win, Kay. Farrel, I will grant you a renewal of the mortgage. I'm weary of being a Shylock."
"Thanks ever so much. I do not desire it, Mr. Parker. One of these bright days when I get around to it, and provided luck breaks my way, I'll take up that mortgage before the redemption period expires. I have resolved to live my life free from the shadow of an accursed mortgage. Let me see, now. We were talking about horse-racing, were we not?"
"Miguel Farrel, you'd anger a sheep," Parker cried wrathfully, and strode away toward his automobile waiting in the infield. Kay and Don Mike watched him drive straight across the valley to the road and turn in the direction of El Toro.
"Wilder than a March hare," Don Mike commented.
"Not at all," Kay assured him. "He's merely risking his life in his haste to reach El Toro and telegraph Dan Leighton to report immediately."
John Parker's boredom had been cured by a stop-watch. One week after Panchito had given evidence of his royal breeding, Parker's old trainer, Dan Leighton, arrived at the Palomar. Formerly a jockey, he was now in his fiftieth year, a wistful little man with a puckered, shrewd face, which puckered more than usual when Don Mike handed him Panchito's pedigree.
"He's a marvelous horse, Danny," Parker assured the old trainer.
"No thanks to him. He ought to be," Leighton replied. His cool glance measured Allesandro Trujillo, standing hard by. "I'll have that dusky imp for an exercise boy," he announced. "He's built like an aeroplane—all superstructure and no solids."
For a month the training of Panchito went on each morning. Pablo's grandson, under Danny Leighton's tuition, proved an excellent exercise boy. He learned to sit his horse in the approved jockey fashion; proud beyond measure at the part he was playing, he paid strict attention to Leighton's instructions and progressed admirably.
Watching the horse develop under skilled scientific training, it occurred to Don Mike each time he held his father's old stop-watch on Panchito that race-horses had, in a great measure, conduced to the ruin of the Noriagas and Farrels, and something told him that Panchito was likely to prove the instrument for the utter financial extinction of the last survivor of that famous tribe. "If he continues to improve," Farrel told himself, "he's worth a bet—and a mighty heavy one. Nevertheless, Panchito's grandfather, leading his field by six open lengths in the home-stretch, going strong and a sure-fire winner, tangled his feet, fell on his nose and cost my father a thousand steers six months before they were ready for market. I ought to leave John Parker to do all the betting on Panchito, but—well, he's a race-horse—and I'm a Farrel."
"When will Panchito be ripe to enter in a mile and a sixteenth race?" he asked Parker.
"About the middle of November. The winter meeting will be on at Tia Juana, Baja California, then, and Leighton wants to give him a few try-outs there in fast company over a much shorter course. We will win with him in a field of ordinary nags and we will be careful not to win too far or too spectacularly. We have had his registry brought up to date and of course you will be of record as his owner. In view of our plans, it would never do for Danny and me to be connected with him in any way."
Don Mike nodded and rode over to Agua Caliente Basin to visit Bill Conway. Mr. Conway was still on the job, albeit Don Mike hazarded a guess that the old schemer had spent almost two hundred thousand dollars. His dam was, as he facetiously remarked, "taking concrete shape," and he was rushing the job in order to have the structure thoroughly dry and "set" against the coming of the winter rains. To his signal relief, Farrel asked him no embarrassing questions regarding the identity of the extremely kind-hearted person who was financing him; he noticed that his young friend appeared a trifle pre-occupied and depressed. And well he might be. The secret knowledge that he was obligated to Kay Parker to the extent of the cost of this dam was irritating to his pride; while he felt that her loving interest and sympathy, so tremendously manifested, was in itself a debt he would always rejoice in because he never could hope to repay it, it did irk him to be placed in the position of never being able to admit his knowledge of her action. He prayed that Bill Conway would be enabled to complete the dam as per his contract; that Judge Morton would then rush to trial Conway's suit for damages against Parker for non-performance of contract; that Conway would be enabled immediately to reimburse himself through Parker's assets which he had attached, repay Kay and close the transaction.
On November fifteenth Danny Leighton announced that Panchito was "right on edge" and, with a few weeks of experience in professional company, fit to make the race of his career. The winter meeting was already on at Tia Juana and, with Farrel's consent, Panchito was lovingly deposited in a well-padded crate mounted on a motor truck and transported to El Toro. Here he was loaded in an express car and, guarded by Don Mike, shipped not to Tia Juana, as Parker and his trainer both supposed he would be, but to San Diego, sixteen miles north of the international boundary—a change of plan originating with Farrel and by him kept a secret from Parker and Danny Leighton. With Panchito went an ancient Saratoga trunk, Pablo Artelan, and little Allesandro Trujillo, ragged and bare-footed as usual.
Upon arriving in San Diego Don Mike unloaded Panchito at the Santa Fe depot. Gone now were the leg bandages and the beautiful blanket with which Danny Leighton had furnished Panchito at starting. These things proclaimed the race-horse, and that was not part of Don Mike's plan. He led the animal to a vacant lot a few blocks from the depot and, leaving him there in charge of Pablo, went up town to the Mexican consulate and procured passports into Baja California for himself and Allesandro. From the consulate he went to a local stock-yard and purchased a miserable, flea-bitten, dejected saddle mule, together with a dilapidated old stock saddle with a crupper, and a well-worn horse-hair hackamore.
Returning to the depot, he procured his old Saratoga trunk from the station master and removed from it the beautiful black-leather, hand-carved, silver-mounted stock saddle he had won at a rodeo some years previous; a pair of huge, heavy, solid silver Mexican spurs, with tan carved-leathern straps, and a finely plaited hand-made rawhide bridle, sans throat-latch and brow-band and supporting a long, cruel, solid silver Spanish bit, with silver chain chin-strap and heavily embossed. In this gear he arrayed Panchito, and then mounted him. Allesandro mounted the flea-bitten mule, the old Saratoga trunk was turned over to Pablo, and with a fervent "Adios, Don Miguel. Go with God!" from the old majordomo, Don Mike and his little companion rode south through the city toward the international boundary.
They crossed at Tecarte next day and in the somnolent little border town Don Mike made sundry purchases and proceeded south on the road toward Ensenada.
Meanwhile, John Parker, his wife and daughter and Danny Leighton had motored to San Diego and taken rooms at a hotel there. Each day they attended the races at Tia Juana, and as often as they appeared there they looked long and anxiously for Don Miguel Jose Federico Noriaga Farrel. But in vain.
Three days before Thanksgiving the entries for the Thanksgiving handicap were announced, and when Danny Leighton read them in the morning paper he at once sought his employer.
"That fellow Farrel has spoiled everything," he complained furiously. "He's entered Panchito in the Thanksgiving Handicap at a mile and a sixteenth, for a ten thousand dollar purse. There he is!"
Parker read the list and sighed. "Well, Panchito is his horse, Danny. He has a right to enter him if he pleases—hello! Katie! Kay! Here's news for you. Listen!"
He read aloud:
DON QUIXOTE AND SANCHO PANZA, JR.
ARRIVE AT TIA JUANA—THEY ENTER PANCHITO IN THE THANKSGIVING HANDICAP
By the Rail Bird
Considerable interest having developed among the followers of the sport of kings at Tia Juana race-track anent the entry of Panchito in the Thanksgiving Handicap, and the dope books yielding nothing, your correspondent hied him to the office of the secretary of the Lower California Jockey Club; whereupon he was regaled with the following extraordinary tale:
Two days ago a Mexican rode into Tia Juana from the south. He was riding Panchito and his outfit was the last word in Mexican magnificence. His saddle had cost him not a real less than five hundred dollars gold; his silver spurs could have been pawned in any Tia Juana loan office for twenty-five dollars and many a longing glance was cast on a magnificent bridle that would have cost any bricklayer a month's pay. Panchito, a splendid big chestnut with two white stockings and a blazed face, was gray with sweat and alkali dust and shod like a plow horse. He wore cactus burrs in his tail and mane and had evidently traveled far.
His rider claimed to have been on the road a week, and his soiled clothing and unshaven face gave ample testimony of that fact. He was arrayed in the traditional costume of the Mexican ranchero of means and spoke nothing but Spanish, despite which handicap the racing secretary gleaned that his name was Don Miguel Jose Maria Federico Noriaga Farrelle. Following Don Miguel came Sancho Panza, Junior, a stringy Indian youth of fourteen summers, mounted on an ancient flea-bitten mule. The food and clothing of these two adventurers were carried behind them on their saddles.
An interpreter informed the secretary that Don Miguel was desirous of entering his horse, Panchito, in the Thanksgiving Handicap. The horse's registration papers being in order, the entry was accepted, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Junior, were each given a badge, and a stall was assigned to Panchito. At the same time Don Quixote made application for an apprentice license for young Sancho Panza, who answers to the name of Allesandro Trujillo, when the enchiladas are ready.
Panchito, it appears, is a five-year-old, bred by Michael J. Farrel, whose post-office address is El Toro, San Marcos County, California. He is bred in the purple, being a descendant of Duke of Norfolk and, according to his present owner, Don Quixote, he can run circles around an antelope and has proved it in a number of scrub races at various fiestas and celebrations. According to Don Quixote, his horse has never hitherto appeared on a public race-track. Panchito knows far more about herding and roping steers than he does about professional racing, and enters the list with no preparation other than the daily exercise afforded in bearing his owner under a forty-pound stock saddle and scrambling through the cactus after longhorns. Evidently Don Quixote knows it all. He brushed aside with characteristic Castilian grace some well-meant advice tendered him by his countrymen, who have accumulated much racing wisdom since the bang-tails have come to Tia Juana. He spent the entire day yesterday telling everybody who understands Spanish what a speed marvel is his Panchito, while Sancho Panza, Junior, galloped Panchito gently around the track and warmed him in a few quarter-mile sprints. It was observed that the cactus burrs were still decorating Panchito's tail and mane.
Don Quixote is a dead game Mexican sport, however. He has a roll that would choke a hippopotamus and appears willing to bet them as high as a hound's back.
Figure it out for yourself. You pays your money and you takes your choice. Bobby Wilson, the handicapper, says Don Quixote smokes marihuana, but the jefe politico says he knows it's the fermented juice of the century plant. However, Bobby is taking no chances as the wise ones will note when they check the weights. Panchito, being a powerful horse and (according to Don Quixote) absolutely unbeatable, faces the barrier with an impost of 118 pounds, not counting his shoes, cactus burrs and stable accumulations.
Watch for Sancho Panza, Junior. He rides barefooted in a two-piece uniform, to wit, one "nigger" shirt and a pair of blue bib overalls, and he carries a willow switch.
Viva Panchito. Viva Don Quixote. Ditto Sancho Panza, Junior.
John Parker finished reading and his glance sought Leighton's. "Danny," he informed the trainer in a low voice, "here is what I call a dirty, low, Irish trick. I suppose he's been making a night-bird out of Panchito, but you can bet your last nickel he isn't neglecting him when they're alone in the barn together. He gets a grooming then; he gets well fed and well rubbed and the cactus burrs and the stable accumulations are only scenery when Panchito's on parade. He removed the racing plates you put on Panchito and substituted heavy work shoes, but—Panchito will go to the post with racing plates. I think we had better put a bet down on him."
"I wouldn't bet tin money on him," Danny Leighton warned. "He can outrun anything in that field, even if he has broken training a little, but those wise little jockeys on the other horses will never let him win. They'll pocket him and keep him there."
"They'll not!" Kay's voice rose sharply. "Panchito will be off first, no matter what position he draws, and Don Mike's orders to Allesandro will be to keep him in front. But you are not to bet on him, father."
"Why not? Of course I shall bet on him."
"You know very well, Dad, that there are no book-makers of Tia Juana to make the odds. The Paris Mutuel system obtains here and the public makes the odds. Consequently the more money bet on Panchito the lower will be his price. I'm certain Don Mike will bet every dollar he has in the world on Panchito, but he will bet it, through trusted agents, in pool-rooms all over the country. The closing price here should be such that the pool-rooms should pay Don Mike not less than fifteen to one."
"So you've been his confidante, have you?" Parker scrutinized his daughter quizzically.
"He had to take somebody into his confidence in order to have his plans protected," she confessed blushingly.
"Quite so! Somebody with a deal of influence," Mrs. Parker interjected. "John, this is simply delicious. That rascal of a Don Miguel has reverted to type. He has put aside his Celtic and Gaelic blood and turned Mexican. He tells people the truth about his horse and a reporter with a sense of humor has advertised these truths by writing a funny story about him and Panchito and the Indian imp."
"They'll have him up in the judge's stand for an explanation five minutes after the race is won," Danny Leighton declared. "Panchito will be under suspicion of being a ringer and the payment of bets will be held up."
"In which case, dad," Kay reminded him demurely, "you and Mr. Leighton will be furnished with an excellent opportunity to prove yourselves heroes. Both of you will go to the judge's stand immediately and vouch for Don Mike and Panchito. If you do not I shall—and I fancy John Parker's daughter's testimony will be given some consideration, Mr. John Parker being very well known to every racing judge in America."
"There are days," murmured John Parker sadly, "when I find it impossible to lay up a cent. I have nurtured a serpent in my bosom."
"Tush! There are no snakes in Ireland," his humorous wife reminded him. "What if Don Mike has hoisted you on your own petard? Few men have done as much," and she pinched his arm lovingly.
Four days before Thanksgiving Brother Anthony returned from El Toro with Father Dominic's little automobile purring as it had not purred for many a day, for expert mechanics had given the little car a thorough overhauling and equipped it with new tires and brake lining at the expense of Miguel Farrel. Father Dominic looked the rejuvenated ruin over with prideful eyes and his saintly old face puckered in a smile.
"Brother Anthony," he declared to that mildly crack-brained person, "that little conveyance has been responsible for many a furious exhibition of temper on your part. But God is good. He will forgive you, and has He not proved it by moving our dear Don Mike to save you from the plague of repairing it for many months to come?"
Brother Anthony, whose sense of humor, had he ever possessed one, had long since been ruined in his battles with Father Dominic's automobile, raised a dour face.
"Speaking of Don Miguel, I am informed that our young Don Miguel has gone to Baja California, there to race Panchito publicly for a purse of ten thousand dollars gold. I would, Father Dominic, that I might see that race."
Father Dominic laid his hand on poor Brother Anthony's shoulder. "Because you have suffered for righteousness' sake, Brother Anthony, your wish shall be granted. Tomorrow you shall drive Pablo and Carolina and me to Tia Juana in Baja California to see Panchito race on the afternoon of Thanksgiving Day. We will attend mass in San Diego in the morning and pray for victory for him and his glorious young master."
Big tears stood in Brother Anthony's eyes. At last! At last! Poor Brother Anthony was a human being, albeit his reason tottered on its throne at certain times of the moon. He did love race-horses and horse-races, and for a quarter of a century he had been trying to forget them in the peace and quiet of the garden of the Mission de la Madre Dolorosa.
"Our Don Mike has made this possible?" he quavered. Father Dominic nodded.
"God will pay him," murmured Brother Anthony, and hastened away to the chapel to remind the Almighty of the debt.
Against the journey to Baja California, Carolina had baked a tremendous pot of brown beans and fried a hundred tortillas. Pablo had added some twenty pounds of jerked meat and chilli peppers, a tarpaulin Don Mike had formerly used when camping, and a roll of bedding; and when Brother Anthony called for them at daylight the following morning, both were up and arrayed in their Sunday clothes and gayest colors. In an empty tobacco sack, worn like an amulet around her fat neck and resting on her bosom, Carolina carried some twenty-eight dollars earned as a laundress to Kay and her mother; while in the pocket of Pablo's new corduroy breeches reposed the two hundred-dollar bills; given him by the altogether inexplicable Senor Parker. Knowing Brother Anthony to be absolutely penniless (for he had taken the vow of poverty) Pablo suffered keenly in the realization that Panchito, the pride of El Palomar, was to run in the greatest horse race known to man, with not a centavo of Brother Anthony's money bet on the result. Pablo knew better than to take Father Dominic into his confidence when the latter joined them at the Mission, but by the time they had reached El Toro, he had solved the riddle. He changed one of his hundred dollar bills, made up a little roll of ten two-dollar bills and slipped it in the pocket of the brown habit where he knew Brother Anthony kept his cigarette papers and tobacco.
At Ventura, when they stopped at a garage to take on oil and gasoline, Brother Anthony showed Pablo the roll of bills, amounting to twenty dollars, and ascribed his possession of them to nothing more nor less than a divine miracle. Pablo agreed with him. He also noticed that for reasons best known to himself, Brother Anthony made no mention of this miracle to his superior, Father Dominic.
At about two o'clock on Thanksgiving Day the pilgrims from the San Gregorio sputtered up to the entrance of the Lower California Jockey Club at Tia Juana, parked, and approached the entrance. They were hesitant, awed by the scenes around them. Father Dominic's rusty brown habit and his shovel hat constituted a novel sight in these worldly precincts, and the old Fedora hat worn by Brother Anthony was the subject of many a sly nudge and smile. Pablo and Carolina, being typical of the country, passed unnoticed.
Father Dominic had approached the gateman and in his gentle old voice had inquired the price of admittance. It was two dollars and fifty cents! Scandalous! He was about to beat the gatekeeper down; surely the management had special rates for prelates—
A hand fell on his shoulder and Don Miguel Jose Maria Federico Noriaga Farrel was gazing down at him with beaming eyes.
"Perhaps, Father Dominic," he suggested in Spanish and employing the old-fashioned courtly tone of the haciendado, "you will permit me the great honor of entertaining you." And he dropped a ten-dollar bill in the cash box and ushered the four San Gregorianos through the turn-stile.
"My son, my son," murmured Father Dominic. "What means this unaccustomed dress? One would think you dwelt in the City of Mexico. You are unshaven—you resemble a loafer in cantinas. That sombrero is, perhaps, fit for a bandit like Pancho Villa, but, my son, you are an American gentleman. Your beloved grandfather and your equally beloved father never assumed the dress of our people—"
"Hush! I'm a wild and woolly Mexican sport for a day, padre. Say nothing and bid the others be silent and make no comment. Come with me to the grandstand, all of you, and look at the races. Panchito will not appear until the fifth race."
Father Dominic bent upon Brother Anthony a glance which had the effect of propelling the brother out of earshot, whereupon the old friar took his young friend by the arm and lifted his seamed, sweet old face toward him with all the insouciance of a child.
"Miguel," he whispered, "I'm in the throes of temptation. I told you of the thousand dollars which the Senora Parker, in a moment of that great-heartedness which distinguishes her (what a triumph, could I but baptize her in our faith!) forced Senor Parker to present to me. I contemplate using it toward the needed repairs to the roof of our Mission. These repairs will cost at least three thousand dollars, and the devil has whispered to me—"
"Say no more about it, but bet the money," said Miguel. "Be a sport, Father Dominic, for the opportunity will never occur again. Before the sun shall set this day, your one thousand will have grown to ten. Even if Panchito should lose, I will guarantee you the return of your money."
Father Dominic trembled. "Ah, my son, I feel like a little old devil," he quavered, but—he protested no more. When Don Mike settled him in a seat in the grand-stand, Father Dominic whispered wistfully, "God will not hold this worldliness against me, Miguel. I feel I am here on His business, for is not Panchito running for a new roof for our beloved Mission? I will pray for victory."
"Now you are demonstrating your sound common sense," Don Mike assured him. His right hand closed over the roll of bills Father Dominic surreptitiously slipped him. Scarcely had he transferred the Restoration Fund to his trousers' pocket when Brother Anthony nudged him and slipped a tiny roll into Don Miguel's left hand, accompanying the secret transfer with a wink that was almost a sermon.
"What news, Don Miguel?" Pablo ventured presently.
"We will win, Pablo."
"Valgame dios! I will wager my fortune on Panchito. Here it is, Don Miguel—one hundred and eighty dollars. I know not the ways of these Gringo races, but if the stakeholder be an honest man and known personally to you, I will be your debtor forever if you will graciously consent to attend to this detail for me."
"With pleasure, Pablo."
Carolina drew her soiled little tobacco bag from her bosom, bit the string in two and handed bag and contents to her master, who nodded and thrust it in his pocket.
Two tiers up and directly in back of Don Miguel and his guests, two men glanced meaningly at each other.
"Did you twig that?" one of them whispered. "That crazy Greaser is a local favorite, wherever he comes from. Those two monks and that cholo and his squaw are giving him every dollar they possess to bet on this quarter horse entered in a long race, and I'll bet five thousand dollars he'll drop it into that machine, little realizing that every dollar he bets on his horse here will depress the odds proportionately."
"It's a shame, Joe, to see all that good money dropping into the maw of those Paris Mutuel sharks. Joe, we ought to be kicked if we allow it."
"Can you speak Spanish?"
"Not a word."
"Well, let's get an interpreter. That Tia Juana policeman yonder will do."
"All right. I'll split the pot with you, old timer."
Directly after the first race a Mexican policeman touched Farrel on the arm. "Your pardon, senor," he murmured politely, "but two American gentlemen have asked me to convey to you a message of importance. Will the senor be good enough to step down to the betting ring with me?"
"With the utmost delight," Don Miguel replied in his mother tongue and followed the policeman, who explained as they proceeded toward the betting ring the nature of the message.
"These two gentlemen," he exclaimed, "are book-makers. While book-makers who lay their own odds are not permitted to operate openly and with the approval of the track authorities, there are a number of such operating quietly here. One may trust them implicitly. They always pay their losses—what you call true blue sports. They have much money and it is their business in life to take bets. These two gentlemen are convinced that your horse, Panchito, cannot possibly win this race and they are prepared to offer you odds of ten to one for as much money as the senor cares to bet. They will not move from your side until the race is run and the bet decided. The odds they offer you are greater than you can secure playing your money in the Mutuel."
Don Mike halted in his tracks. "I have heard of such men. I observed the two who talked with you and the jefe politico assured me yesterday that they are reliable gentlemen. I am prepared to trust them. Why not? Should they attempt to escape with my money when Panchito wins—as win he will—I would quickly stop those fine fellows." He tapped his left side under the arm-pit, and while the policeman was too lazy and indifferent to feel this spot himself, he assumed that a pistol nestled there.
"I will myself guard your bet," he promised.
They had reached the two book-makers and the policeman promptly communicated to them Don Mike's ultimatum. The pair exchanged glances.
"If we don't take this lunatic's money," one of them suggested presently, "some other brave man will. I'm game."
"It's a shame to take it, but—business is business," his companion laughed. Then to the policeman: "How much is our high-toned Mexican friend betting and what odds does he expect?"
The policeman put the question. The high-toned Mexican gentleman bowed elaborately and shrugged deprecatingly. Such a little bet! Truly, he was ashamed, but the market for steers down south had been none too good lately, and as for hides, one could not give them away. The American gentlemen would think him a very poor gambler, indeed, but twelve hundred and twenty-eight dollars was his limit, at odds of ten to one. If they did not care to trifle with such a paltry bet, he could not blame them, but—
"Holy Mackerel. Ten to one. Joe, this is like shooting fish on a hillside. I'll take half of it."
"I'll take what's left."
They used their cards to register the bet and handed the memorandum to Don Mike, who showed his magnificent white teeth in his most engaging smile, bowed, and insisted upon shaking hands with them both, after which the quartet sauntered back to the grand-stand and sat down among the old shepherd and his flock.
As the bugle called out the horses for the handicap, Father Dominic ceased praying and craned forward. There were ten horses in the race, and the old priest's faded eyes popped with wonder and delight as the sleek, beautiful thoroughbreds pranced out of the paddock and passed in single file in front of the grand-stand. The fifth horse in the parade was Panchito—and somebody had cleaned him up, for his satiny skin glowed in the semi-tropical sun. All the other horses in the race had ribbons interlaced in their manes and tails, but Panchito was barren of adornment.
"Well, Don Quixote has had him groomed and they've combed the cactus burrs out of his mane and tail, at any rate. He'd be a beautiful animal if he was dolled up like the others," the book-maker, Joe, declared.
"Got racing plates on to-day, and that cholo kid sits him like he intended to ride him," his companion added. "Joe, I have a suspicion that nag is a ringer. He looks like a champion."
"If he wins we'll know he's a ringer," Joe replied complacently. "We'll register a protest at once. Of course, the horse is royally bred, but he hasn't been trained, he's never been on a track before and even if he has speed, both early and late, he'll probably be left at the post. He's carrying one hundred and eighteen pounds and a green cholo kid has the leg up. No chance, I tell you. Forget it."
Don Mike, returning from the paddock after saddling Panchito and giving Allesandro his final instructions, sat majestically in his seat, but Father Dominic, Brother Anthony, Pablo and Carolina paid vociferous tribute to their favorite and the little lad who rode him. Allesandro's swarthy hands and face were sharply outlined against a plain white jockey suit; somebody had loaned him a pair of riding boots and a cap of red, white and blue silk. This much had Don Mike sacrificed for convention, but not the willow switch. Allesandro waved it at his master and his grandparents as he filed past.
Pablo stood up and roared in English: "Kai! Allesandro! Eef you don' win those race you grandfather hee's goin' cut you throat sure. I look to you all the time, muchacho. You keep the mind on the bus-i-ness. You hear, Allesandro mio?"
Allesandro nodded, the crowd laughed and the horses went to the post. They were at the post a minute, but got away to a perfect start.
"Sancho Panza leads on Panchito!" the book-maker, Joe, declared as the field swept past the grand-stand. He was following the flying horses through his racing glasses. "Quarter horse," he informed his companion. "Beat the gate like a shot out of a gun. King Agrippa, the favorite, second by two lengths. Sir Galahad third. At the quarter! Panchito leads by half a length, Sir Galahad second. King Agrippa third! At the half! Sir Galahad first, Panchito second, King Agrippa third! At the three-quarter pole! King Agrippa first, Panchito second, Polly P. third. Galahad's out of it. Polly P's making her spurt, but she can't last. Into the stretch with Panchito on the rail and coming like he'd been sent for and delayed. Oh, Lord, Jim, that's a horse—and we thought he was a goat! Look at him come! He's an open length in front of Agrippa and the cholo hasn't used his willow switch. Jim, we're sent to the cleaner's—"
It was a Mexican race-track, but the audience was American and it is the habit of Americans to cheer a winner, regardless of how they have bet their money. A great sigh went up from the big holiday crowd. Then, "Panchito! Come on, you Panchito! Come on, Agrippa! Ride him, boy, ride him!" A long, hoarse howl that carried with it the hint of sobs.
At the paddock the gallant King Agrippa gave of the last and the best that was in him and closed the gap in a dozen furious jumps until, as the field swept past the grand-stand, Panchito and King Agrippa were for a few seconds on such even terms that a sudden hush fell on the race-mad crowd. Would this be a dead heat? Would this unknown Panchito, fresh from the cattle ranges, divide first money with the favorite?
The silence was broken by a terrible cry from Pablo Artelan.
"Allesandro! I cut your throat!"
Whether Allesandro heard the warning or whether he had decided that affairs had assumed a dangerous pass, matters not. He rose a trifle in his saddle, leaned far out on Panchito's withers and delivered himself of a tribal yell. It was a cry meant for Panchito, and evidently Panchito understood, for he responded with the only answer a gallant race-horse has for such occasions. A hundred feet from the wire King Agrippa's wide-flung nostrils were at Panchito's saddle girth; under the stimulus of a rain of blows he closed the gap again, only to drop back and finish with daylight showing between his head and Panchito's flowing tail.
Father Dominic stood gazing down the track. He was trembling violently. Brother Anthony turned lack-luster eyes toward Farrel.
"You win, Brother Anthony," Don Mike said quietly.
"How good is God," murmured Brother Anthony. "He has granted me a joy altogether beyond my deserts. And the joy is sufficient. The money will buy a few shingles for our roof." He slumped down in his seat and wiped away great tears.
Pablo waited not for congratulations or exultations, but scrambled down through the grand-stand to the railing, climbed over it and dropped down into the track, along which he jogged until he met Allesandro galloping slowly back with Panchito. "Little treasure of the world," he cried to the boy, "I am happy that I do not have to cut your throat," and he lifted Allesandro out of the saddle and pressed him to his heart. That was the faint strain of Catalonian blood in Pablo.
Up in the grand-stand Carolina, in her great excitement, forgot that she was Farrel's cook. When he was a baby she had nursed him and she loved him for that. So she waddled down to him with beaming eyes—and he patted her cheek.
"Father Dominic," Don Mike called to the old friar, "your Mission Restoration Fund has been increased ten thousand dollars."
"So?" the gentle old man echoed. "Behold, Miguel, the goodness of God. He willed that Panchito should save for you from the heathen one little portion of our dear land; He was pleased to answer my prayers of fifty years that I be permitted to live until I had restored the Mission of our Mother of Sorrows." He closed his eyes. "So many long years the priest," he murmured, "so many long years! And I am base enough to be happy in worldly pleasures. I am still a little old devil."
Don Mike turned to the stunned book-makers. "For some reason best known to yourselves," he addressed them in English, bowing graciously, "you two gentlemen have seen fit to do business with me through this excellent representative of the civil authority of Tia Juana. We will dispense with his services, if you have no objection. Here, my good fellow," he added, and handed the policeman a ten-dollar bill.
"You're not a Mexican. You're an American," the book-maker Joe cried accusingly, "although you bragged like a Mexican."
"Quite right. I never claimed to be a Mexican, however. I heard about this Thanksgiving Handicap, and it seemed such a splendid opportunity to pick up a few thousand dollars that I entered my horse. I have complied with all the rules. This race was open to four-year-olds and up, regardless of whether they had been entered in a race previously or had won or lost a race. Panchito's registration will bear investigation; so will his history. My jockey rode under an apprentice license. May I trouble you for a settlement, gentlemen?"
"But your horse is registered under a Mexican's name, as owner."
"My name is Miguel Jose Maria Federico Noriaga Farrel."
"We'll see the judges first, Senor Farrel."
"By all means."
"You bet we will. The judges smell a rat, already. The winning numbers haven't been posted yet."
As Don Mike and his retinue passed the Parker box, John Parker and Danny Leighton fell in behind them and followed to the judges' stand. Five minutes later the anxious crowd saw Panchito's number go up as the winner. Don Mike's frank explanation that he had deceived nobody, but had, by refraining from doing things in the usual manner, induced the public to deceive itself and refrain from betting on Panchito, could not be gainsaid—particularly when an inspection of the records at the betting ring proved that not a dollar had been wagered on Panchito.
"You played the books throughout the country, Mr. Farrel?" one of the judges asked.
Don Mike smiled knowingly. "I admit nothing," he replied.
The testimony of Parker and Danny Leighton was scarcely needed to convince the judges that nothing illegal had been perpetrated. When Don Mike had collected his share of the purse and the book-makers, convinced that they had been out-generaled and not swindled, had issued checks for their losses and departed, smiling, John Parker drew Farrel aside.
"Son," he demanded, "did you spoil the Egyptians and put over a Roman holiday?"
Again Don Mike smiled his enigmatic smile. "Well," he admitted, "I'm ready to do a little mortgage lifting."
"I congratulate you with all my heart. For heaven's sake, take up your mortgage immediately. I do not wish to acquire your ranch—that way. I have never wished to, but if that droll scoundrel, Bill Conway, hadn't managed to dig up unlimited backing to build that dam despite me, and if Panchito hadn't cinched your case for you to-day, I would have had no mercy on you. But I'm glad you won. You have a head and you use it; you possess the power of decision, of initiative, you're a sporting, kindly young gentleman and I count it a privilege to have known you." He thrust out his hand and Don Mike shook it heartily.
"Of course, sir," he told Parker, "King Agrippa is a good horse, but nobody would ever think of entering him in a real classic. I told Allesandro to be careful not to beat him too far. The time was nothing remarkable and I do not think I have spoiled your opportunity for winning with him in the Derby."
"I noticed that. Thank you. And you'll loan him to me to beat that old scoundrel I told you about?"
"You'll have to arrange that matter with your daughter, sir. I have raced my first and my last race for anything save the sport of a horse-race, and I am now about to present Panchito to Miss Kay."
"Present him? Why, you star-spangled idiot, I offered you fifteen thousand dollars for him and you knew then I would have gone to fifty thousand."
Don Mike laid a patronizing hand on John Parker's shoulder. "Old settler, you're buying Panchito and you're paying a heavier price than you realize, only, like the overcoat in the traveling salesman's expense account, the item isn't apparent. I'm going to sell you a dam, the entire Agua Caliente Basin and watershed riparian rights, a site for a power station and a right of way for power transmission lines over my ranch. In return, you're going to agree to furnish me with sufficient water from your dam, in perpetuity, to irrigate every acre of the San Gregorio Valley."
John Parker could only stare, amazed. "On one condition, Miguel," he replied presently. "Not an acre of the farm lands of the San Gregorio shall ever be sold, without a proviso in the deed that it shall never be sold or leased to any alien ineligible to citizenship."
"Oh, ho! So you've got religion, eh?"
"I have. Pablo dragged it into the yard last spring at the end of his riata, and it lies buried in the San Gregorio. That makes the San Gregorio consecrated ground. I always had an idea I was a pretty fair American, but I dare say there's room for improvement. What do you want for that power property?"
"I haven't the least idea. We'll get together with experts some day and arrive at an equitable price.
"Thank you son. I'll not argue with you. You've given me a first-class thrashing and the man who can do that is quite a fellow. Nevertheless, I cannot see now where I erred in playing the game. Mind telling me, boy?"
"Not at all. It occurred to me—assistance by Bill Conway—that this property must be of vital interest to two power companies, the Central California Power Company and the South Coast Power Corporation. Two hypotheses presented themselves for consideration. First, if you were developing the property personally, you had no intention of operating it yourself. You intended to sell it. Second, you were not developing it personally, but as the agent of one of the two power companies I mentioned. I decided that the latter was the best hypothesis upon which to proceed. You are a multi-millionaire trained in the fine art of juggling corporations. In all probability you approached my father with an offer to buy the ranch and he declined. He was old and he was sentimental, and he loved me and would not sell me out of my birthright. You had to have that ranch, and since you couldn't buy it you decided to acquire it by foreclosure. To do that, however, you had to acquire the mortgage, and in order to acquire the mortgage you had to acquire a controlling interest in the capital stock of the First National Bank of El Toro. You didn't seem to fit into the small town banking business; a bank with a million dollars capital is small change to you."
"Proceed. You're on the target, son, and something tells me you're going to score a bull's-eye in a minute."
"When you had acquired the mortgage following such patient steps, my father checkmated you by making and recording a deed of gift of the ranch to me, subject of course to the encumbrance. The war-time moratorium, which protected men in the military or naval service from civil actions, forced you to sit tight and play a waiting game. Then I was reported killed in action. My poor father was in a quandary. As he viewed it, the ranch now belonged to my estate, and I had died intestate. Probate proceedings dragging over a couple of years were now necessary, and a large inheritance tax would have been assessed against the estate. My father broke under the blow and you took possession. Then I returned—and you know the rest.
"I knew you were powerful enough to block any kind of a banking loan I might try to secure and I was desperate until Bill Conway managed to arrange for his financing. Then, of course, I realized my power. With the dam completed before the redemption period should expire, I had something definite and tangible to offer the competitor of the power company in which you might be interested. I was morally certain I could save my ranch, so I disabused my mind of worry."
"Your logical conclusions do credit to your intelligence, Miguel. Proceed."
"I purchased, through my attorney, a fat little block of stock in each company. That gave me entree to the company books and records. I couldn't pick up your trail with the first company investigated—the Central California—but before my attorney could proceed to Los Angeles and investigate the list of stockholders and directors of the South Coast Power Corporation, a stranger appeared at my attorney's office and proceeded to make overtures for the purchase of the Agua Caliente property on behalf of an unknown client. That man was in conference with my attorney the day we all motored to El Toro via La Questa Valley, and the instant I poked my nose inside the door my attorney advised me—in Spanish,—which is really the mother tongue of El Toro—to trail his visitor. Out in the hall I met my dear friend, Don Nicolas Sandoval, the sheriff of San Marcos County, and delegated the job to him. Don Nicolas trailed this stranger to the First National Bank of El Toro and observed him in conference with the vice-president; from the First National Bank of El Toro Don Nicolas shadowed his man to the office of the president of the South Coast Power Corporation, in Los Angeles.
"We immediately opened negotiations with the Central California Power Company and were received with open arms. But, strange to relate, we heard no more from the South Coast Power Corporation. Very strange, indeed, in view of the fact that my attorney had assured their representative of my very great desire to discuss the deal if and when an offer should be made me."
John Parker was smiling broadly. "Hot, red hot, son," he assured Farrel. "Good nose for a long, cold trail."
"I decided to smoke you out, so arbitrarily I terminated negotiations with the Central California Power Company. It required all of my own courage and some of Bill Conway's to do it, but—we did it. Within three days our Los Angeles friend again arrived in El Toro and submitted an offer higher than the one made us by the Central California Power Company. So then I decided to shadow you, the president of the South Coast Power Corporation, and the president of the Central California Power Company. On the fifteenth day of October, at eight o'clock, p.m., all three of you met in the office of your attorney in El Toro, and when this was reported to me, I sat down and did some thinking, with the following result:
"The backing so mysteriously given Bill Conway had you worried. You abandoned all thought of securing the ranch by foreclosure, and my careless, carefree, indifferent attitude confirmed you in this. Who, but one quite certain of his position, would waste his time watching a race-horse trained? I knew then that news of my overtures to the Central California people were immediately reported to the South Coast people. Evidently you had a spy on the Central California payroll, or else you and your associates controlled both companies. This last hypothesis seemed reasonable, in view of the South Coast Power Corporation's indifference when it seemed that I might do business with the Central California people, and the sudden revival of the South Coast interest when it appeared that negotiations with the Central people were terminated. But after that meeting on the fifteenth of October, my attorney couldn't get a rise out of either corporation, so I concluded that one had swallowed the other, or you had agreed to form a separate corporation to develop and handle the Agua Caliente plant, if and when, no matter how, the ranch should come into your possession. I was so certain you and your fellow-conspirators had concluded to stand pat and await events that I haven't been sleeping very well ever since, although not once did I abandon my confident pose.
"My position was very trying. Even with the dam completed, your power in financial circles might be such that you could block a new loan or a sale of the property, although the completion, of the dam would add a value of millions to the property and make it a very attractive investment to a great many people. I felt that I could save myself if I had time, but I might not have time before the redemption period should expire. I'd have to lift that mortgage before I could smoke you three foxes out of your hole and force you to reopen negotiations. Well, the only chance I had for accomplishing that was a long one—Panchito, backed by every dollar I could spare, in the Thanksgiving Handicap. I took that chance. I won. Tag! You're It."
"Yes, you've won, Miguel. Personally, it hurt me cruelly to do the things I did, but I was irrevocably tied up with the others. I hoped—I almost prayed—that the unknown who was financing Bill Conway, in order to render your property valuable and of quick sale, to save your equity, might also give you a loan and enable you to eliminate me. Then my companions in iniquity would be forced to abandon their waiting game and deal with you. You are right, Miguel. That waiting game might have been fatal to you."
"It would have been fatal to me, sir."
"Wouldn't Conway's friend come to your rescue?"
"I am not informed as to the financial resources of Bill Conway's friend and, officially, I am not supposed to be aware of that person's identity. Conway refused to inform me. I feel assured, however, that if it were at all possible for this person to save me, I would have been saved. However, even to save my ranch, I could not afford to suggest or request such action."
"Matter of pride. It would have meant the violation of my code in such matters."
"Ah, I apprehend. A woman, eh? That dashing Sepulvida girl?"
"Her mother would have saved me—for old sake's sake, but—I would have been expected to secure her investment with collateral in the shape of a six-dollar wedding ring."
"So the old lady wanted you for a son-in-law, eh? Smart woman. She has a long, sagacious nose. So she proceeded, unknown to you, to finance old Conway, eh?"
"No, she did not. Another lady did."
"What a devil you are with the women! Marvelous—for one who doesn't pay the slightest attention to any of them. May I ask if you are going to—ah—marry the other lady?
"Well, it would never have occurred to me to propose to her before Panchito reached the wire first, but now that I am my own man again and able to match her, dollar for dollar, it may be that I shall consider an alliance, provided the lady is gracious enough to regard me with favor."
"I wish you luck," John Parker replied, coldly. "Let us join the ladies."
Three days later, in El Toro, Don Mike and his attorney met in conference with John Parker and his associates in the office of the latter's attorney and completed the sale of the Agua Caliente property to a corporation formed by a merger of the Central California Power Company and the South Coast Power Corporation. A release of mortgage was handed Miguel Farrel as part payment, the remainder being in bonds of the South Coast Power Corporation, to the extent of two million dollars. In return, Farrel delivered a deed to the Agua Caliente property and right of way and a dismissal, by Bill Conway, of his suit for damages against John Parker, in return for which John Parker presented Farrel an agreement to reimburse Bill Conway of all moneys expended by him and permit him to complete the original contract for the dam.
"Well, that straightens out our muchly involved affairs," John Parker declared. "Farrel, you've gotten back your ranch, with the exception of the Agua Caliente Basin, which wasn't worth a hoot to you anyway, you have two million dollars in good sound bonds and all the money you won on Panchito. By the way, if I may be pardoned for my curiosity, how much money did you actually win that day?"
Don Mike smiled, reread his release of mortgage, gathered up his bundle of bonds, backed to the door, opened it and stood there, paused for night.
"Gentlemen," he declared, "I give you my word of honor—no, I'll give you a Spaniard's oath—I swear, by the virtue of my dead mother and the honor of my dead father, I did not bet one single centavo on Panchito for myself, although I did negotiate bets for Brother Anthony, Father Dominic, and my servants, Pablo and Carolina. Racing horses and betting on horse-racing has proved very disastrous to the Noriaga-Farrel tribe, and the habit ceased with the last survivor of our dynasty. I'm not such a fool, Senor Parker, as to risk my pride and my position and my sole hope of a poor but respectable future by betting the pitiful remnant of my fortune on a horse-race. No, sir, not if Panchito had been entered against a field of mules. Adios, senores!"
"In the poetical language of your wily Latin ancestors," John Parker yelled after him, "Adios! Go with God!" He turned to his amazed associates. "How would you old penny-pinchers and porch-climbers like to have a broth of a boy like that fellow for a son-in-law?" he demanded.
"Alas! My only daughter has already made me a grandfather," sighed the president of the Central California Power Company.
"Let's make him president of the merger," the president of the South Coast Power Corporation suggested. "He ought to make good. He held us up with a gun that wasn't loaded. Whew-w-w! Boys! Whatever happens, let us keep this a secret, Parker."
"Secret your grandmother! I'm going to tell the world. We deserve it. Moreover, that fine lad is going to marry my daughter; she's the genius who double-crossed her own father and got behind Bill Conway. God bless her. God bless him. Nobody can throttle my pride in that boy and his achievements. You two tried to mangle him and you forced me to play your game. While he was earning the medal of honor from Congress, I sat around planning to parcel out his ranch to a passel of Japs. I'll never be done with hating myself."
That night at the hacienda, Don Mike, taking advantage of Kay's momentary absence, drew Mr. and Mrs. Parker aside.
"I have the honor to ask you both for permission to seek your daughter's hand in marriage," he announced with that charming, old-fashioned Castilian courtliness which never failed to impress Mrs. Parker. Without an instant's hesitation she lifted her handsome face and kissed him.
"I move we make it unanimous," Parker suggested, and gripped Don Mike's hand.
"Fine," Don Mike cried happily. He was no longer the least bit Castilian; he was all Gaelic-American. "Please clear out and let me have air," he pleaded, and fled from the room. In the garden he met Kay, and without an instant's hesitation took her by the arm and led her over to the sweet lime tree.
"Kay," he began, "on such a moonlit night as this, on this same spot, my father asked my mother to marry him. Kay, dear, I love you. I always shall, I have never been in love before and I shall never be in love again. There's just enough Celt in me to make me a one-girl man, and since that day on the train when you cut my roast beef because my hand was crippled, you've been the one girl in the world for me. Until to-day, however, I did not have the right to tell you this and to ask you, as I now do, if you love me enough to marry me; if you think you could manage to live with me here most of the time—after I've restored the old place somewhat. Will you marry me, Kay—ah, you will, you will!"
She was in his arms, her flower face upturned to his for his first kiss.
They were married in the quaint, old-world chapel of the now restored Mission de la Madre Dolorosa by Father Dominic, and in accordance with ancient custom, revived for the last time, the master of Palomar gave his long-delayed fiesta and barbecue, and the rich and the poor, honest men and wastrels, the gente and the peons of San Marcos County came to dance at his wedding.
Their wedding night Don Mike and his bride spent, unattended save for Pablo and Carolina, in the home of his ancestors. It was still daylight when they found themselves speeding the last departing wedding guest; hand in hand they seated themselves on the old bench under the catalpa tree and gazed down into the valley. There fell between them the old sweet silence that comes when hearts are too filled with happiness to find expression in words. From the Mission de la Madre Dolorosa there floated up to them the mellow music of the Angelus; the hills far to the west were still alight on their crests, although the shadows were long in the valley, and Don Mike, gazing down on his kingdom regained, felt his heart filled to overflowing.
His wife interrupted his meditations. He was to learn later that this is a habit of all wives.
"Miguel, dear, what are you thinking about?"
"I cannot take time to tell you now, Kay, because my thoughts, if transmuted into print, would fill a book. Mostly, however, I have been thinking how happy and fortunate I am, and how much I love you and that—yonder. And when I look at it I am reminded that but for you it would not be mine. Mine? I loathe the word. From this day forward—ours! I have had the ranch homesteaded, little wife. It belongs to us both now. I owed you so much that I could never repay in cash—and I couldn't speak about it until I had the right—and now that Bill Conway has taken up all of his promissory notes to you, and his suit against your father has been dismissed and we've all smoked the pipe of peace, I've come to the conclusion that I cannot keep a secret any longer. Oh, my dear, my dear, you loved me so you wouldn't let them hurt me, would you?"
She was holding his hand in both of hers and she bent now and kissed the old red scar in the old tender, adoring way; but said nothing. So he was moved to query:
"And you, little wife—what are you thinking of now?"
"I was thinking, my husband, of the words of Ruth: entreat me not to leave thee, and to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest I will go; and where thou lodgest I will lodge; thy people shall be my people and thy God my God. Where thou diest will I die, and there will I be buried; the Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.'"