B. M. Bower
Part 3 out of 5
man his friend.
The don had already fallen into the habit of presenting his orders
under the guise of ideas that needed the confirmation of the
majordomo, before they became definite plans; and it speaks much for
those two that neither of them suspected that it was so. Thus, Don
Andres' solution of the problem of preserving peace became the subject
for a conference that lasted more than an hour. The don was absolutely
candid; so candid that he spoke upon a delicate subject, and one that
carried a sting of which he little dreamed.
"One factor I cannot help recognizing," he said slowly. "I am not
blind, nor is the senora blind, to the--the--friendship that is
growing between Senor Jack and our daughter. We had hoped--but we have
long been resolved that in matters of the heart, our daughter shall
choose for herself so long as she does not choose one altogether
unworthy; which we do not fear, for to that extent we can protect her
by admitting to our friendship only those in whose characters we have
some confidence. Now that we understand each other so well, amigo,
I will say that I have had some correspondence with friends in San
Francisco, who have been so good as to make some investigations in
my behalf. Their Vigilance Committee," he said, smiling, "was not the
only tribunal which weighed evidence for and against your friend, nor
was it the only vindication he has received.
"I am assured that in the trouble which brought him to my house
he played the part of an honest gentleman fighting to uphold the
principles which all honest men espouse; and while he is hot-tempered
at times, and perhaps more thoughtless than we could wish, I hear no
ill of him save the natural follies of high-stomached youth.
"Therefore I am willing to abide by the choice of my daughter, whose
happiness is more dear to her parents than any hope they may have
cherished of the welding of two families who have long been friends.
I myself," he added reminiscently, "fled to the priest with my
sweetheart as if all the fiends of hell pursued us, because her
parents had chosen for her a husband whom she could not love. Since
we know the pain of choosing between a parent's wishes and the call of
the heart, we are resolved that our child shall be left free to choose
for herself. Therefore, I think our plan is a wise one; and the result
must be as the saints decree."
Dade, because he was engrossed with stifling the ache he had begun
to think was dead because it had grown numb, bowed his head without
speaking his assent and rose to his feet.
"I'll tell Jack," he said, as he started for the stables. "I guess
he'll do it, all right."
BILL WILSON GOES VISITING
"I Don't know what you've been doing to Jose Pacheco, lately," was
Dade's way of broaching the subject, "but Don Andres asked me to
'persuade' you not to go on rodeo, on account of some trouble between
you and Jose."
"He wants my scalp, is all," Jack explained easily, picking burrs from
the fringe of his sash--burrs he had gotten when he ran a race with
Teresita from the farther side of the orchard to the spring, a short
time before. "Valencia told me--and he got it from Manuel--that Jose is
right on the warpath. If it wasn't for his being laid up--"
"Oh, I know. You'd like to go over and have it out with him. But you
can't. The Pachecos and the Picardos are almost like one family. I don't
suppose Jose ever stayed away from here so long since he was a baby, as
he has since we came. It's bad enough to keep old friends away, without
mixing up a quarrel. Have you seen Jose lately? Don Andres seemed to
think so, but I told him you'd have said something about it to me if
"I met him in the trail, a week or so ago," Jack admitted with manifest
reluctance. "He wasn't overly friendly, but there wasn't any real
trouble, if that's what you're afraid of." He looked sidelong at the
other, saw the hurt in Dade's eyes at this evidence of the constraint
growing intangibly between them, and laughed defiantly.
"Upon my soul!" he exclaimed, "one would think I was simple-minded, the
way you act! D'you think a man never scowled my way before? D'you think
I'm afraid of Jose? D'you think I don't know enough to take care of
myself? What the devil do you think? Can't go on rodeo--you're afraid I
might get hurt! I ain't crazy to go, for that matter; but I don't know
as I relish this guardian-angel stunt you're playing. You've got your
hands full without that. You needn't worry about me; I've managed to
squeak along so far without getting my light put out--"
"By being a tolerably fair shot, yes," Dade assented, his face hardening
a little under the injustice. "But since I'm hired to look after Don
Andres' interests, you're going to do what I tell you. You'll stay here
and boss the peons while I'm gone. A friendship between two families
that has lasted as many years as you are old, ain't going to be busted
up now, if I can help it. It's strained to the snapping-point right now,
just because the don is friendly with us gringos. Of course, we can't
help that. He had his ideas on the subject before he ever saw me or you.
Just the same, it's up to us not to do the snapping; and I know one
gringo that's going to behave himself if I have to take him down and set
"Whee-ee! Somebody else is hitting the war-post, if I know the signs!"
Dade stirred to anger always tickled Jack immensely, perhaps because of
its very novelty, and restored him to good humor. "Have it your own way,
then, darn you! I don't want to go on rodeo, nohow."
"I know that, all right," snapped Dade, and started off with his hat
tilted over his eyes. No one, he reminded himself, would want to spend a
month or so riding the range when he could stay and philander with as
pretty a Spanish girl as ever played the game of cat-and-mouse with a
man. And Jack never had been the kind to go looking for trouble; truth
to tell, he had never found it necessary, for trouble usually flew to
meet him as a needle flies to the magnet.
But, a wound is not necessarily a deadly one because it sends
excruciating pain-signals to a man's heart and brain; and love seldom is
fatal, however painful it may be. Dade was slowly recovering, under the
rather heroic treatment of watching his successor writhe and exult by
turns, as the mood of the maiden might decree. Strong medicine, that, to
be swallowed with a wry face, if you will; but it is guaranteed to cure
if the sufferer is not a mental and moral weakling.
Dade was quite ready to go out to rodeo work; indeed, he was anxious to
go. But, not being a morbid young man, he did not contemplate carrying a
broken heart with him. Teresita was sweet and winsome and maddeningly
alluring; he knew it, he felt it still. Indeed, he was made to realize
it every time the whim seized her to punish Jack by smiling upon Dade.
But she was as capricious as beauty usually is, and he knew that also;
and after being used several times as a club with which to beat Jack
into proper humility (and always seeing very clearly that he was merely
the club and nothing more) he had almost reached the point where he
could shrug shoulders philosophically at her coquetry; and what is
better, do it without bitterness. At least, he could do it when he had
not seen her for several hours, which made rodeo time a relief for which
he was grateful.
What hurt him most, just now, was the constraint between him and Jack;
time was when Jack would have told him immediately of any unpleasant
meeting with Jose. It never occurred to Dade that he himself had
fostered the constraint by his moody aloofness when he was fighting the
first jealous resentment he had ever felt against the other in the years
of their constant companionship. An unexpected slap on the shoulder
almost sent him headlong.
"Say, old man, I didn't mean it," Jack began contritely, referring
perhaps to his petulant speech, rather than to his mode of making his
presence known. "But--come over here in the shade, and let's have it out
once for all. I know you aren't stuck up over being majordomo, but all
the same you're not the old Dade, whether you know it or not. You go
around as if--well--you know how you've been. What I wanted to say is,
what's the matter? Is it anything I've said or done?"
He sat down on the stone steps of a hut used for a storehouse and
reached moodily for his smoking material. "I know I didn't say anything
about running up against Jose--but it wasn't anything beyond a few
words; and, Dade, you've been almighty hard to talk to lately. If you've
got anything against me--"
"Oh, quit it!" Dade's face glowed darkly with the blood which shame
brought there. He opened his lips to say more, took a long breath
instead, closed them, and looked at Jack queerly. For one reckless
moment he meditated a plunge into that perfect candor which may be
either the wisest or the most foolish thing a man may do in all his
"I didn't think you noticed it," he said, his voice lowered
instinctively because of the temptation to tell the truth, and his
glance wandering absently over to the corral opposite, where Surry stood
waiting placidly until his master should have need of him. "There has
been a regular brick wall between us lately. I felt it myself and I
blamed you for it. I--"
"It wasn't my building," Jack cut in eagerly. "It's you, you old pirate.
Why, you'd hardly talk when we happened to be alone, and when I tried to
act as if nothing was wrong, you'd look so darned sour I just had to
close my sweet lips like the petals of a--"
"Cabbage," supplied Dade dryly, and placed his cigarette between lips
Former relations having thus been established after their own fashion,
Dade began to wonder how he had ever been fool enough to think of
confessing his hurt. It would have built that wall higher and thicker;
he saw it now, and with the lighting of his cigarette he swung back to a
more normal state of mind than he had been in for a month.
"I'm going up toward Manuel's camp, pretty soon," he observed lazily,
eying Jack meditatively through a thin haze of smoke. "Want to take a
ride up that way and let the sun shine on your nice new saddle?" Though
he called it Manuel's camp from force of habit, that hot-blooded
gentleman had not set foot over its unhewn doorsill for three weeks and
Jack hesitated, having in mind the possibility of persuading Teresita
that she ought to pay a visit to the Simpson cabin that day to display
her latest accomplishment by asking in real, understandable English, how
the pup was getting along; and to show the pretty senora the proper way
to pat tortillas out thin and smooth, as Margarita had been bribed to
teach Teresita herself to do.
"Sure, I'll go," he responded, before the hesitation had become
pronounced, and managed to inject a good deal of his old heartiness into
"I'm going to have the cattle pushed down this way," Dade explained, "so
you can keep an eye on them from here and we won't have to keep up that
camp. Since they made Bill Wilson captain of the Vigilantes, there isn't
quite so much wholesale stealing as there was, anyway, and enough
vaqueros went with Manuel so I'll need every one that's left. I'll leave
you Pedro, because he can't do any hard riding, after that fall he got
the other day. The two of you can keep the cattle pretty well down this
"All right. Say, what was it made you act so glum since we came down
here?" Jack, as occasionally happens with a friend, was not content to
forget a grievance while the cause of it remained clouded with mystery.
"Are you sore over that trouble I had in town? I know how you feel
about--well, about killings; but, Dade, I had to. I hate it myself. You
needn't think I like the idea, just because I haven't talked about it. A
fellow feels different," he added slowly, "when it's white men. When we
fought Injuns, I don't believe it worried either one of us to think we'd
killed some. We were generally glad of it. But these others--they were
mean enough and ornery enough; but they were humans. I was glad at the
time, but that wore off. And I've caught you looking at me kinda queer,
lately, as if you hated me, almost. You ought to know--"
"I know you're always going off half-cocked," chuckled Dade, quite
himself again. "No, now you mention it, I don't like the idea of
shooting first and finding out afterwards what it was all about, the way
so many fellows have got in the habit of doing. Guns are all right in
their place. And when you get away out where the law doesn't reach, and
you have to look out for yourself, they come in mighty handy. But like
every other kind of power, most men don't know when and how to use the
gun argument; and they make more trouble than they settle, half the
time. You had a right to shoot, that day, and shoot to kill. Why, didn't
the Committee investigate you, first thing after Bill was elected, and
find that you were justified? Didn't they wipe your reputation clean
with their official document, that Bill sent you a copy of? No, that
never bothered me at all, old man. You want to forget about it. You only
saved the Committee the trouble of hanging 'em, according to Bill. Say,
Valencia was telling me yesterday--"
"Well, what the dickens did ail you, then?"
Dade threw out both hands helplessly and gave a rueful laugh. "You're
harder to dodge than an old cow when you've got her calf on the saddle,"
"The trouble was," he explained gravely, "that these last boots of mine
pinched like the devil, and I've been mad for a month because my feet
are half a size bigger than yours. I wanted to stump you for a trade,
only I knew yours would cripple me up worse than these did. But I've got
'em broke in now, so I can walk without tying my face into a hard knot.
There's nothing on earth," he declared earnestly, "will put me on the
fight as quick as a pair of boots that don't fit."
Jack paid tribute to Dade's mendaciousness by looking at him doubtfully,
not quite sure whether to believe him; and Dade chuckled again, well
pleased with himself. Even when Jack finally told him quite frankly that
he was a liar, he only laughed and went over to where Surry stood
rolling the wheel in his bit. He would not answer Jack's chagrined
vilifications, except with an occasional amused invitation to go to the
So the wall of constraint crumbled to the nothingness out of which it
was built, and the two came close together again in that perfect
companionship that may choose whatever medium the mood of man may
direct, and still hold taut the bond of their friendship.
While they rode together up the valley, Jack told the details of the
encounter with Jose, and declared that he was doing all that even Dade
could demand of him by resisting the desire to ride down to Santa Clara
and make Jose swallow his words.
"I'd have done it anyway, as soon as I brought Teresita home," he added,
with a hint of apology for his seeming weakness. "But, darn it, I knew
all the time that she made him think she was running away from me. It
did look that way, when she stopped as soon as she met him; I can't
swear right now whether Tejon was running away, or whether he was just
simply running!" He laughed ruefully. "She's an awful little tease--just
plumb full of the old Nick, even if she does look as innocent and as
meek as their pictures of the Virgin Mary. She had us both guessing,
let me tell you! He was pretty blamed insulting, though, and I'd have
licked the stuffing out of him right then and there, if she hadn't swung
in and played the joker the way she did. Made Jose look as if he'd been
doused with cold water--and him breathing fire and brimstone the minute
"It was funny, I reckon--to Teresita; we didn't see the joke. Every time
I bring up the subject of that runaway, she laughs; but she won't say
whether it was a runaway, no matter how I sneak the question in. So I
just let it go, seeing Jose is laid up now; only, next time I bump into
Jose Pacheco, he's going to act pretty, or there's liable to be a little
"I wish I had my pistols. I wrote to Bill Wilson about them again, the
other day; if he doesn't send them down pretty soon, I'm going after
them." He stopped, his attention arrested by the peculiar behavior of a
herd of a hundred or more cattle, a little distance from the road.
"Now, what do you suppose is the excitement over there?" he asked; and
for answer Dade turned from the trail to investigate.
"Maybe they've run across the carcass of a critter that's been killed,"
he hazarded, "though this is pretty close home for beef thieves to get
in their work. Most of the stock is killed north and east of Manuel's
The cattle, moving restlessly about and jabbing their long, wicked horns
at any animal that got in the way, lifted heads to stare at them
suspiciously, before they turned tail and scampered off through the
mustard. From the live oak under which they had been gathered came a
welcoming shout, and the two, riding under the tent-like branches,
craned necks in astonishment.
"Hello, Jack," spoke the voice again. "I'm almighty glad to see yuh!
Hello, Dade, how are yuh?"
"Bill Wilson, by thunder!" Jack's tone was incredulous.
Bill, roosting a good ten feet from the ground on a great, horizontal
limb, flicked the ashes from the cigar he was smoking and grinned down
at them unabashed.
"You sure took your time about getting here," he remarked, hitching
himself into a more comfortable posture on the rough bark. "I've been
praying for you, two hours and more. Say, don't ever talk to me about
hungry wolf-packs, boys. I'll take 'em in preference to the meek-eyed
cow-bossies, any time."
They besought him for details and got them in Bill's own fashion of
telling. Briefly, he had long had in mind a trip down to the Picardo
ranch, just to see the boys and the country and have a talk over the
stirring events of the past month; and, he added, he wanted to bring
Jack his pistols himself, because it was not reasonable to expect any
greaser to withstand the temptation of keeping them, once he got them in
Therefore, having plenty of excuses for venturing so far from his place,
and having "tied the dove of peace to the ridge-pole" of town by means
of some thorough work on the part of the new Committee, he had boldly
set forth that morning, soon after sunrise, upon a horse which somebody
had sworn that a lady could ride.
Bill confessed frankly that he wasn't any lady, however; and so, when
the horse ducked unexpectedly to one side of the trail, because of
something he saw in the long grass, Bill surprised himself very much by
getting his next clear impression of the situation from the ground.
"I dunno how I got there, but I was there, all right, and it didn't feel
good, either. But I'd been making up my mind to get off and try walking
though, so I done it. Say, I don't see nothing so damned attractive
about riding horseback, anyway!"
He yelled at the horse to stop, but it appeared that his whoas were so
terrifying that the horse ran for its life. So Bill started to walk,
beguiling the time, by soliloquizing upon--well, Bill put it this way:
"I walked and I cussed, and I cussed and I walked, for about four hours
and a half. Say! How do you make out it's only twenty miles?"
"Nearer thirty" corrected Dade, and Bill grunted and went on with the
story of his misfortunes. Walking became monotonous, and he wearied of
soliloquy before the cattle discovered him.
"Met quite a band, all of a sudden," said Bill. "They throned up their
heads and looked at me like I was wild Injuns, and I shooed 'em off--or
tried to. They did run a little piece, and then they all turned and
looked a minute, and commenced coming again, heads up and tails
a-rising. And," he added naively, "I commenced going!" He said he
thought that he could go faster than they could come; but the faster he
departed, the more eager was their arrival. "Till we was all of us on
the gallop and tongues a-hanging."
Bill was big, and he was inclined to flesh because of no exercise more
strenuous than quelling incipient riots in his place, or weighing the
dust that passed into his hands and ownership. He must have run for some
distance, since he swore by several forbidden things that the chase
lasted for five miles--"And if you don't believe it, you can ride back
up the trail till you come to the dent I made with my toes when I
Other cattle came up and joined in the race, until Bill had quite a
following; and when he was gasping for breath and losing hope of seeing
another day, he came upon a live oak, whose branches started almost from
the roots and inclined upward so gently that even a fat man who has lost
his breath need not hesitate over the climbing.
"Thank the good Lord he don't cut all his trees after the same pattern,"
finished Bill fervently, "and that live oaks ain't built like redwoods.
If they was, you'd be wiping off my coat-buttons right now, trying to
identify my remains!"
Being polite young men, and having a sincere liking for Bill, they hid
certain exchanges of grins and glances under their hat-brims (Bill being
above them and the brims being wide) and did not by a single word
belittle the escape he had had from man-eating cows. Instead, Dade
coaxed him down from the tree and onto Surry, swearing solemnly that the
horse was quite as safe as the limb to which Bill showed a disposition
to cling. Bill was hard to persuade, but since Dade was a man who
inspired faith instinctively, the exchange was finally accomplished,
Bill still showing that strange, clinging disposition that made him grip
the saddle-horn as a drowning man is said to grasp at a straw.
So they got him to the house, the two riding Jack's peppery palimeno
with some difficulty; while Surry stepped softly that he might not
dislodge that burden in the saddle, whose body lurched insecurely and
made the horse feel at every step the ignorance of the man. They got him
and themselves to the house; and his presence there did its part towards
strengthening Don Andres' liking for gringos, while Bill himself gained
a broader outlook, a keener perception of the rights of the native-born
Up in San Francisco there was a tendency to make light of those rights.
It was commonly accepted that the old land grants were outrageous, and
that the dons who prated of their rights were but land pirates who would
be justly compelled by the government to disgorge their holdings. Bill
had been in the habit of calling all Spaniards "greasers," just as the
average Spaniard spoke of all Americans as "gringos," or heathenish
But on the porch of Don Andres, his saddle-galled person reclining at
ease in a great armchair behind the passion vines, with the fragile stem
of a wine-glass twirling between his white, sensitive, gambler-fingers
while he listened to the don's courtly utterances as translated
faithfully by Dade (Jack being absent on some philandering mission of
his own), big Bill Wilson opened his eyes to the other side of the
question and frankly owned himself puzzled to choose.
"Seems like the men that came here when there wasn't anything but Injuns
and animals, and built up the country outa raw material, ought to have
some say now about who's going to reap the harvest," he admitted to
Dade. "Don't look so much like gobbling, when you get right down to
cases, does it? But at the same time, all these men that leave the east
and come out here to make homes--seems like they've got a right to
settle down and plow up a garden patch if they want to. They're going to
do it, anyway. Looks like these grandees'll have to cash in their chips
and quit, but it's a darned shame."
As to the town, Bill told them much that had happened. Politics were
still turbulent; but Perkins' gang of hoodlums was fairly wiped out, and
the Committee was working systematically and openly for the best
interests of the town. There had been a hanging the week before; a
public hanging in the square, after a trial as fair as any court
properly authorized could give.
"Not much like that farce they pulled off that day with Jack," asserted
Bill. "Real lawyers, we had, and real evidence for and against the
feller, and tried him for real murder. Things are cooling down fast, up
there, and you can walk the streets now without hanging onto your money
with one hand and your gun with the other. Jack and you can come back
any time. And say, Jack!" Having heard his voice beyond the vines, Bill
made bold to call him somewhat peremptorily.
"There's some gold left, you know, that belongs to you. I didn't send it
all down; didn't like the looks of that--er--" He checked himself on the
point of saying greaser. "And seeing you're located down here for the
summer, and don't need it, why don't you put it into lots? You two can
pick up a couple of lots that will grow into good money, one of these
days. Fact is, I've got a couple in mind. I'd like to see you fellows
get some money to workin' for you. This horseback riding is too blamed
"That looks reasonable to me," said Dade. "We've got the mine, of
course, but the town ought to go on growing, and lots should be a good
place to sink a thousand or two. I've got a little that ain't working."
Then seeing the inquiring look in the eyes of Don Andres, he explained
to him what Bill had suggested.
Don Andres nodded his white head approvingly. "The Senor Weelson is
right," he said. "You would do well, amigos, to heed his advice."
"Just as Jack says," Dade concluded; and Jack amended that statement by
saying it was just as Bill said. If Bill knew of a lot or two and
thought it would be a good investment, he could buy them in their names.
And Bill snorted at their absolute lack of business instinct and let the
subject drop into the background with the remark that, for men that had
come west with the gold fever, they surely did seem to care very little
about the gold they came after.
"The fun of finding it is good enough," declared Jack, unashamed, "so
long as we have all we need. And when we need more than we've got,
there's the mine; we can always find more. Just now--"
He waved his cigarette towards the darkening hills; and in the little
silence that followed they heard the sweet, high tenor of a vaquero
somewhere, singing plaintively a Spanish love-song. When the voice
trailed into a mournful, minor "Adios, adios," a robin down in the
orchard added a brief, throaty note of his own.
Bill sighed and eased his stiffened muscles in the big chair. "Well, I
don't blame either one of you," he drawled somewhat wistfully. "If I was
fifteen years limberer and fifty pounds slimmer, I dunno but what I'd
set into this ranch game myself. It's sure peaceful."
Foolishly they agreed that it was.
In those days of large leisure and cyclonic bursts of excitement and
activity; of midday siestas and moonlight serenades--and a duel,
perchance, at sunrise--the spring rodeo was one of the year's events, to
be looked forward to all winter by the vaqueros; and when it was over,
to be talked of afterwards for months. A mark from which to measure the
passing of time, it was; a date for the fixing of incidents in the
memory of men.
In the valley of Santa Clara, rodeo time really began when the Picardo
vaqueros cinched saddles upon restive mustangs some misty morning, and
with shouts and laughter and sombreros waving high over black heads in
adieu to those who remained behind, swept down the slope like a charge
of gayly caparisoned cavalry, driving the loose saddle horses before
them. Past the stone and adobe wall of the home pasture, past the fences
where the rails were held to their posts with rawhide thongs, which the
coyotes sometimes chewed to pulp and so made extra work for the peons,
they raced, exultant with life. Slim young Spaniards they were, clothed
picturesquely in velvet and braid and gay sashes; with cumbersome, hairy
chaparejos, high-crowned sombreros and big-roweled, silver spurs to mark
their calling; caballeros to flutter the heart of a languorous-eyed
senorita, and to tingle the pulse of the man who could command and see
them ride gallantly to do his bidding.
Fairly in the midst of them, quite as gaudy to look upon and every whit
as reckless in their horsemanship, rode Dade and Jack. If their hearts
were not as light, their faces gave no sign; and their tongues flung
back the good-humored jibes of their fellows in Spanish as fluent as any
When they left the highway and rode straight down the valley through the
mustard that swept the chests of their plunging horses with dainty
yellow and green, the two fell behind and slowing their horses to an
easy lope, separated themselves from their exuberant fellows.
"I wish you were going along," Dade observed tritely. "If Jose Pacheco
changes his mind and stays at home, I'll send you word and you can come
on, if you want to."
"Thanks." Jack's tone, however, did not sound thankful. "If I wanted to
go, do you think I'd hang back because he's going?"
"No, I don't. I think the prospect of a fine, large row would be a
temptation; and I must say I'm kinda surprised that you've been able to
resist it. Still, I realize there's compensations."
"Sure, there are. I never denied it, did I?"
"Never. I reckon you've sent by Bill Wilson for a trumpet to proclaim--"
"Oh, shut up. I think," Jack decided suddenly and without any visible
cause, "I'll turn off here and ride around by Jerry Simpson's. Adios,
old man, and heaps of good luck to you." He swung abruptly off to the
right and galloped away, looking back over his shoulder when he had
ridden a hundred paces, to wave his sombrero and shout a last word or
two of farewell.
"Truly, Jose will be disappointed when he does not see Senor Jack
amongst us," smiled Valencia, reining in beside Dade and looking after
the departing horseman with friendly eyes. "Though if he had good sense,
he would be thankful. Me, I should not like to have trouble with that
friend of yours, Senor. In San Francisco they talk yet of that day when
he fired three times from a galloping horse and killed three men. Dios!
That was pretty shooting. I would have given much to see it. There will
be few men so bold now as to make war with that blue-eyed hombre; but
Jose is a fool, when his will is crossed. Me, I fight--yes, and love the
heat of fighting in my blood; but I do not bellow threats before, as
Jose has been doing. Carramba! To hear him, one would think he believed
that men may die of curses; if they did, the Senor Jack would be lying
now with candles burning at his head and his feet! Truly, love takes the
sense out of a man quicker than wine."
Dade agreed with him, though his lips did not open to form any words
upon the subject.
Their first stopping place was Jose's ranch down near Santa Clara, and
he wondered just how far Jose's hatred of him would interfere with the
traditions of hospitality. It was not likely that Jose's vaqueros would
be ready to start that day; and although he carried his own camp
equipment on pack-horses, and, guided by Valencia, ordered the camp set
up in its accustomed place beside a little stream half a mile from the
house, he sent many a questioning glance that way.
If he feared a hostile reception, he was soon reassured. Jose and Manuel
speedily appeared, galloping side-by-side through the lush yellow and
green. Jose's manner was irreproachable, his speech carefully
considered. If his eyes lacked their usual warm glow of friendliness,
it was because he could not bring that look at will to beam upon the
guest whom his heart failed to welcome. He invited Dade to dinner with
him; and Dade, hoping to establish a better understanding between them,
Dade had not lived half his life amongst the dark-skinned race for
nothing. He sipped the home-made wine with Jose, talked of many things
in his soft, easy-natured drawl, and by letting his inner friendliness
with the whole world look out of his eyes when they dwelt upon his host,
went Jose one better in courtesy. And Jose, sauntering afterward across
the patio to the porch, met Manuel face to face and paid tribute to Don
Andres' new majordomo in a single sentence.
"If all gringos were like this Senor Hunter, one could tolerate their
coming to live amongst us," he said frankly.
"Si," grudged Manuel. "But then, he is not all gringo. Many years he
dwelt with our people in Texas, so that he has the Spanish ways; but me,
I want none of him."
Jose laughed without much mirth to lighten the sound. "The blue-eyed
one--did you find from the vaqueros why he did not come? He need not
have been afraid of me--not if his fame was earned honestly." If his
tone were patronizing, Jose perhaps had some excuse, since Fame had not
altogether passed him by with face averted.
"Part of the way he came, and turned back. The vaqueros do not know why,
except Valencia. And Valencia--he is growing a gringo heart, like the
patron. He will speak nothing but boasts of what that blue-eyed one can
do. Me, I came near fighting with Valencia; only he would not do
anything but smile foolishly, when I told him what I think of traitors
"Let him smile," advised Jose, "while he may." Which was not a threat,
in spite of its resemblance to one, but rather a vague reference to the
specter of trouble that stalks all men as a fox stalks a quail, and
might some day wipe that broad smile from the face of Valencia, as it
had swept all the gladness from his own.
He went back and smoked a final cigarette in Dade's company; and if he
said little, his silences held no hint of antagonism. It was not until
Dade rose to return to camp for the night that Jose put the question
that had tickled the tongue of him ever since the arrival on his ranch
of the Picardo vaqueros.
"Your friend, the Senor Allen--he is to join you later, perhaps?"
"Jack was left to look after the ranch." Dade's eyes were level in
their glance, his voice quiet with the convincing ring of truth. "He
won't be on rodeo at all."
Jose went paler than he had been two weeks before with his hurt, but a
simple word of polite surprise held all his answer. For Jack to stay at
home, to be near Teresita every day, to have nothing in the way of his
love-making--nothing, since those doting two, her parents, would but
smile at whatever she might choose to do--there was acid enough in that
thought to eat away all the warmth, all the generosity Jose possessed.
He let Dade go without even the perfunctory phrases of regret, which
custom had made almost compulsory; and Manuel, sitting in silent wrath
upon the porch, listened to the steady footfalls moving up and down the
room behind him until the moon, that had been shining in his smoldering
eyes, slipped over the red tiles of the roof and left all but the
tree-tops in black shade.
"Dios! There will be one gringo the less when those two meet," he
muttered, staring at the tiny glow of his cigarette; and afterward
folded his arms tightly over a chest that heaved with the impatience
within. When those two met, Manuel meant to be there also to see. "Me, I
should like to drag him to death with the six-strand riata he despised!"
was the beautiful thought he took to bed with him.
Sunshine was lifting the morning fog high above the tree-tops when the
old, gray mare, whose every movement tinkled the bell hung around her
neck, shook her rough coat vigorously to free it from the moisture which
the fog had left; and so jangled a peremptory summons to the herd of
saddle horses that bore the brand of Don Andres Picardo upon their right
thighs. At the camp upon the bank of the Guadalupe, the embaladors were
shouting curses, commands, jokes, and civilities to one another while
they brought orderly packs out of the chaos of camp-equipment that
littered the ground.
The vaqueros were saddling their mounts and fairly bubbling with a
purely animal joy in the open; and Dade, his cigarette sending up a tiny
ribbon of aromatic smoke as if he were burning incense before the altar
of the soul of him that looked steadfastly out of his eyes, walked among
them with that intangible air of good-fellowship which is so hard to
describe, but which carries more weight among men than any degree of
imperious superiority. Valencia looked up and flashed him a smile as he
came near; and Pancho, the lean vaquero with the high beak and the
tender heart, turned to see what Valencia was smiling at and gave
instant glimpse of his own white teeth when he saw Dade behind him.
"To-day will be hot, Senor," he said. "Me, I wish we were already at
"No, you don't," grinned Dade, "for then you would not have the Sunal
rancho before you, to build hopes upon, but behind you--and hope, they
say, is sweeter than memory, Pancho."
Pancho, being ugly to look upon, liked to be rallied upon the one
senorita in the valley whose eyes brightened at sight of him. He grinned
gratifiedly and said no more.
A faint medley of sounds blended by distance turned heads towards the
east; and presently, breasting the mustard field that lay level and
yellow to the hills, came Jose's squad of vaqueros, with Jose himself
leading the group at a pace that was recklessly headlong, his crimson
sash floating like a pennant in the breeze he stirred to life as he
charged down upon them.
"Only for the silver trimmings, you looked like a band of warlike Injuns
coming down on us with the sun at your back," laughed Dade, as Jose
swung down near him. "They're riders--the Indians back there on the
plains; and when they pop over a ridge and come down on you like a tidal
wave, your backbone squirms a little in spite of you. The way your
vaqueros parted and galloped around our camp was a pretty good imitation
of their preliminary flourishes."
"Still, I do not come in war," Jose returned, and looked full at the
other. "I hope that we shall have peace, Senor Hunter; though one day I
shall meet that friend of yours in war, if the saints permit. And may
the day come soon."
"Whatever quarrel you may have with Jack, I hope it will not hinder us
from working together without bad feeling between us." Dade threw away
his cigarette and took a step nearer, so that the vaqueros could not
"Don Jose, I know you don't like a gringo major domo to lead Don Andres'
vaqueros on rodeo. I don't blame you Californians for being prejudiced
against Americans, because you've been treated pretty shabbily by a
certain class of them. But you're not so narrow you can't see that we're
not all alike. I'd like to be friends, if you will, but I'm not going to
apologize for being a gringo, nor for being here in charge of this camp.
I didn't choose my nationality, and I didn't ask for my job. I'll give
you a square deal, and I want you to know that if there's any grudge
between us, it's all on your side."
Jose's fingers fumbled the little corn-husk wrapping for the cigarette
he meant to make. "Senor, I repeat what I said to Manuel last night," he
said, after a pause. "If all gringos were like you, we Californians
would like the name better. But I thought you would stand by your
"And so I will, to the last--" Not being of a theatrical temperament,
Dade balked at protestations of his loyalty. "Jack and I have worked and
fought and played elbow to elbow for a long time, Don Jose. But I don't
mix into his personal quarrels, unless I see him getting a crooked deal.
I believe you'll fight fair. The rest lies between you two."
"But is it not your boast that the Senor Allen is the supreme caballero
of California?" Jose was frank, at least, and Dade liked him the better
for it. "For three years I have held the medalla oro [gold medal] for
riding and for riata throwing; if it is true that you boast--"
Dade, as was the way of him when disgust or chagrin seized him, flung
out both hands impatiently. "I did say he couldn't be beat. I said it to
Manuel, when Manuel was sneering that Jack didn't know a good riata from
a bad one. I won't take it back. I haven't seen your work in the saddle,
Don Jose. I have seen Jack's, and I never saw any better. So, until I
do, I can believe he's the best, can't I?"
"Si." Jose smiled without effort. "You are honest, Senor Hunter, and
that pleases me well. I do not like you less because you are loyal to
your friend; but that friend I hope one day to kill." He looked at the
other questioningly. "Now I am honest also," his eyes said plainly.
"That's your affair and Jack's, as long as you don't try to get him when
he isn't looking."
"I am not an assassin, Senor Hunter," Jose retorted stiffly.
"Then we understand each other, I guess. Let's get these fellows
started. It's going to be hot, they say, and the horses are soft yet--at
least, ours are. We took them off pasture yesterday, most of them."
"Mine are the same, Senor. But to-day's marcha will be an easy one. To
Sunal Rancho is not far." He turned to remount and give the signal for
starting. And with a little of the pride that had impelled Jack to show
off his skill that day when the Captain of the Committee commanded him
to mount the buckskin, Jose also vaulted into the saddle without
deigning to touch the stirrup.
There was doubt in the senor's mind about his horsemanship being the
best in all California? Very good. The senor would have the opportunity
to judge for himself. Still, Jose had put to sleep most of his
antagonism towards Dade, and his attitude of friendliness was not so
deliberately forced as Manuel, watching eagerly for the first sign of a
clash, believed it to be.
WHEN CAMP-FIRES BLINK
Down the valley they rode, gathering numbers to swell the cavalcade at
each ranch they passed. La Laguna Seca, San Vincente, Las Uvas sent
their quota of vaqueros, each headed by a majordomo and accompanied by
embaladors with the camp equipment and supplies packed upon steady-going
little mustangs. The bell-mares of the various herds jangled a chorus of
pleasant discords with their little, iron bells. The scent of the
mustard rose pungently under the trampling hoofs. At dusk, the
camp-fires blinked at one another through the purpling shadows; and the
vaqueros, stretched lazily upon their saddle blankets in the glow,
stilled the night noises beneath the pleasant murmur of their voices
while they talked. From the camp of the San Vincente riders rose a voice
beautifully clear and sweet, above the subdued clamor.
Dade was listening to the song and dreaming a little while he listened,
with his head lying cradled in his clasped hands and his face to the
stars, when the group around the next camp-fire tittered and broke into
an occasional laugh. Then a question was called to whoever might be
"Who's the best vaquero in California?"
"Jack Allen, the gringo!" shouted a dozen voices, so that every camp
must hear. Then came jeering laughter from every camp save one, the camp
of the Picardo vaqueros.
Valencia's dark head lifted from the red and green blanket beyond the
blaze; and Dade, watching, could see his profile sharply defined in the
yellow light of the fire, as he stared toward the offending camp. The
lips that smiled so often were drawn tight and thin; the nostrils flared
like a frightened horse. While the laughs were still cackling derision,
Valencia jumped up and ran; and Dade, even before he sat up to look,
knew where he was going.
At the fire where the question was put, a young fellow, whose heavy,
black mustache prudently hid lips coarse and sneering, came to his feet
like a dummy of a man and glared dazedly at his companions, as if their
faces should tell him whose hand it was that gripped the braided collar
of his jacket. He was not long in doubt, however. The voice of Valencia
grated vitriolic sentences in his ear, and the free hand of Valencia was
lifted to deal him a blow fair upon the blank face of him. The circle
of faces watched, motionless, above crouched bodies as quiet as the
A hand grasped Valencia's wrist while his arm was lifted to strike, so
that the three men stood, taut-muscled and still, like a shadowy,
sculptured group that pictured some mythological conflict.
"Let go, Valencia. This is nothing to fight over. Let go."
Valencia's angry eyes questioned the unreadable ones of his majordomo;
but he did not let go, and so the three stood for a moment longer.
"But they insult the Senor Allen with their jeers," he protested. "Me, I
fight always for my friends who are not present to fight for themselves.
Would not the Senor Allen fight this fool who flouts him so?"
"No!" Dade's eyes flicked the circle of faces upon which the firelight
danced. "If the Senor Allen were here, there would be no jeering."
"And for that will I fight them all!" Valencia twisted his arm a little,
in the hope that Dade would let go his wrist. "Ah, Senor! Shall a man
not be true to his friends?"
"Si, he shall be true, and he shall be sensible. Is the Senor Jack a
weakling, that he cannot fight for himself?"
"But he is not here! If he were--" The tone of him gloated over the
picture of what would happen in that case.
"There shall be no fighting." If Dade's voice was quiet, it did not
carry the impression of weakness, or indecision. "Come to your own fire,
Valencia. If it is necessary to fight for the Senor Allen--I am also his
"You are right. There shall be no fighting." Dade started and glanced at
Jose, standing beside him. "If the Senor Allen thinks himself the best,
surely it is I, who hold the medalla that calls me el vaquero supremo,
who have the right to question his boast; not you, amigos!"
"Who's the best vaquero, the bravest and the best in California?"
queried a voice--the voice of the singer, who had come up with others to
see what was going on here. And at his elbow another made answer boldly:
"Don Jose Pacheco!"
Jose smiled and lifted his shoulders deprecatingly at the tribute, while
fifty voices shouted loyally his name. Dade, pressing his hand upon
Valencia's shoulder, led him back into the dancing shadows that lay
between the fires.
"Let it go," he urged. "Don Jose holds the medal, and he's entitled to
the glory. We must keep peace, Valencia, or else I must leave the rodeo.
Personal quarrels must wait."
"Si, Senor, personal quarrels must wait," assented Jose, again coming up
unexpectedly behind them. "I but wish to say that I regret the bad
manners of those caballeros, whose best excuse is that they are my
friends. I hope the senor does not accuse me of spreading the news of
the senor's boast. There are others, as the senor well knows, who heard
it before even it came to my ears."
"It doesn't matter," Dade repeated. "They'll have their joke, and I
don't blame them for putting the joke on a stranger, especially when
he's a gringo--and absent."
"The senor is wise as he is loyal," stated Jose and bowed himself into
the shadows. "Buenos noches, Senor."
"Good-night," answered Dade, speaking English to show he was not ashamed
of it; and rolled himself in his blankets as a deliberate hint to
Valencia that he did not want to discuss the incident, much to that
It is to be feared that Valencia did not share in Dade's determination
to keep the peace; for, before he slept, he promised himself that he
would yet tell that pig-faced vaquero from Las Uvas what he thought of
him. But outwardly the incident was closed, and closed permanently.
The sun was not risen above the mountains before they were hurriedly
drinking their black coffee, and making ready to break camp; the flurry
of emotions seemed to have died with the evening fire. If the men of the
other camps were cool in their manner towards Dade when they met him, at
least they were civil; except Manuel, who passed him by with lowered
brows, and of him Dade took no notice. If he were watched curiously, in
hope of detecting the awkwardness which would betray unfamiliarity with
his work, Dade took no notice of that, either, except to grin now and
then when he rode away. Altogether, he was well pleased with his
reception and inclined to laugh at the forebodings he had felt;
forebodings born of the knowledge that, unless these natives of
California were minded to tolerate the presence of a gringo majordomo,
it would be absolutely useless for him to attempt to work with them.
If he had only known it, his own men had done much towards lessening the
prejudice of those who joined the main outfit. Valencia was not the only
one of the Picardo vaqueros whose friendship might be counted upon. Like
Manuel before he became jealous, they forgot that Dade was not of
Spanish birth; for his eyes and his hair were dark as many of the
native-born Californians, and his speech was as their own; he was
good-humored, just in his judgments, reasonable in his demands. He could
tell a good story well if he liked, or he could keep silent and listen
with that sympathetic attention that never fails to flatter the teller
of a tale. To a man they liked him, and they were not slow to show their
liking after the manner of their kind.
By the time they reached Tres Pinos, which was the rendezvous of all the
vaqueros from the Picardo ranch on the north to San Miguel on the south,
Dade had quite lost the constraint that comes of feeling that one is
disliked and only tolerated for the moment. He whistled while he rode
along the creek bank looking for a comfortable camp site; and when
Valencia loped up to him, as he was hesitating over a broad, shaded
strip under a clump of willows, he turned and smiled upon his head
"See, Senor, how well we Californians work together!" cried Valencia,
pointing pridefully. "Here they come, the vaqueros from Agua Amargo,
Durasno, Corral de Terre, Salinas--not yet have our embaladors thrown
off the ropes from our packs, before they are here, these others whom we
came to meet! Not one hour late, even! And the word was given weeks ago
that we would meet this day."
From the mouth of the canyon trotted a band of saddle horses, kicking up
a dust cloud that filmed the picture made by the gay caballeros who
galloped behind. A gallant company were they; and when they met and
mingled with those who came down from the north, it was as though a
small army was giving itself a holiday in that vivid valley, with the
Tres Pinos gurgling at the fun.
Having had experience in these matters, Dade was able to do his part and
do it like a veteran, although he tactfully left to the other majordomos
all those little details that would make of the various camps one
orderly company. Two men he chose from his outfit and sent to the
captain, as the Picardo contribution to the detail told off to herd the
horses, but beyond that he confined himself chiefly to making himself as
unobtrusive as was consistent with dignity.
Six men were sent out after beef; and although Dade had many times in
Texas done exactly what they were doing, he watched interestedly these
Californians at their work.
Cattle were everywhere except in the immediate vicinity of the camp.
Half a mile or so the vaqueros galloped; then two of the leaders singled
out a fat, young steer and made after him with their riatas hissing as
the rawhide circled over their heads.
A loop dropped neatly over the wide horns, and a moment later the second
settled upon the first. The first man turned and headed towards camp
with the steer at his heels, ready at the slightest opportunity to make
use of those long, sharp-pointed horns which nature had given him for
just such need as this. The steer quite forgot the man behind, until he
made a vicious lunge and was checked by the rope that had hung slack and
unnoticed over his back. Furious, the steer turned and charged
resentfully at the caballero who was following him and shouting taunts.
But there again he was checked by the first.
So, charging this way and that; galloping wildly in pursuit of the man
who seemed to be fleeing for his life, or wheeling to do battle with the
rider who kept just so far in his rear, he was decoyed to the very
outskirts of the camp.
If he had been qualified to weigh motives, the heart that brindle-roan
steer would surely have burst at; the pure effrontery of the thing: not
only must he yield his life and give his body for meat, that those
yearning stomachs might be filled with his flesh; he must deliver that
meat at the most convenient spot, as a butcher brings our chops to the
kitchen door. For that purpose alone they were cunningly luring him
closer and closer, that they need not carry the meat far when they had
At least his last moments were lighted with hope. He made one grand,
final dash, tripped in a noose that had somehow dropped neatly in the
way of his front feet, and went down with a crash and a bellow of
dismay. Some one ran lightly in--he did not see that it was the vaquero
he had been pursuing all this time--and drove a dagger into the brain
just back of the horns. Thus that particular gust of rage was wiped out
of existence forever.
Later, when the camp-fires burned low, the pleasant odor of meat
broiling upon the forked ends of long, willow branches over the red
coals, proved how even a brindle steer may, at the last, in every savory
morsel have justified his existence.
Life in those days was painted upon a big canvas, with broad sweep of
brushes dipped in vivid colors. Although the branding of the season's
calves was a matter of pure business, the manner in which that work was
accomplished was a spectacle upon which we of the present generation
would give much to look.
When the sun parted the fog and looked down inquisitively, the whole
valley was pulsing with life, alight with color. The first real work of
the rodeo was beginning, like the ensemble of some vast, spectacular
play; and the stage was managed by Nature herself, creator of the
harmony of colors. The dark, glossy green of live oak, the tender green
of new willow leaves, the pale green of the mustard half buried in the
paler yellow of its blossoms, had here and there a splash of orange and
blue, where the poppies were refusing to give place to the lupines which
April wished to leave for May, when she came smiling to dwell for one
sweet month in the valley. The poppies had had their day. March had
brought them, and then had gone away and left them for the April showers
to pelt and play with; and now, when the redwoods on the mountainsides
were singing that May was almost here, a whole slope of poppies lingered
rebelliously to nod and peer and preen over the delights of the valley
just below. The lupines were shaking their blue heads distressfully at
the impertinence; and then here came the vaqueros galloping, and even
the lupines and poppies forgot their dispute in the excitement of
watching the fun.
As the roundups of our modern cattlemen "ride circle," so did those
velvet-jacketed, silver-braided horsemen gallop forth in pairs from a
common center that was the chosen rodeo ground. As if they were tracing
the invisible spokes of a huge wheel laid flat and filling the valley
from mountain range to mountain range, they rode out until they had
reached the approximate rim of the circle. Then, turning, they rode more
slowly back to the rodeo ground, driving before them the cattle they
Not cattle only; here and there an antelope herd was caught in the
circle and ran bewilderedly toward the common center; beautiful
creatures with great eyes beseeching the human things to be kind, even
while riatas were hissing over their trembling backs. Many a rider rode
into camp with an antelope haunch tied to his gorgeous red and black
saddle; and the wooden spits held delicious bits of antelope steak that
night, broiling over the coals while the vaqueros sang old Spanish
love-songs to lighten the time of waiting.
A gallant company, they. A care-free, laughter-loving, brave company,
with every man a rider to make his womenfolk prate of his skill to all
who would listen; with every man a lover of love and of life and the
primitive joys of life. They worked, that company, and they made of
their work a game that every man of them loved to play. And Dade, loving
the things they loved and living the life they lived, speedily forgot
that there was still an undercurrent of antagonism beneath that surface
of work and play and jokes and songs and impromptu riding and roping
contests (from which Jose Pacheco was laughingly barred because of his
skill and in which Dade himself was, somehow, never invited to join). He
forgot that the antagonism was there--except when he came face to face
with Manuel, perhaps, or when he chanced to see on the face of Jose a
brooding look of dissatisfaction, and guessed that he was thinking of
Jack and Teresita.
"FOR WEAPONS I CHOOSE RIATAS"
There must have been a good deal of gossip amongst the vaqueros of the
various ranches, as they rode on circle or lay upon their saddle
blankets around the evening camp-fires. As is ever the case when a man
is young, handsome, rich, and holds proudly the gold medal which
proclaims him the champion of the whole State--the golden disk which
many a young vaquero longed to wrest from him in a fair test of
skill--there were those who would rather like to see Jose humbled. True,
they would never choose an alien to do the humbling, and the possibility
was discussed with various head-shakings amongst themselves.
But there were the Picardo vaqueros stanchly swearing by all the saints
they knew that these two gringos were not as other gringos; that these
two were worthy a place amongst true Californians. Could they not see
that this Senor Hunter was as themselves? And he was not more Spanish in
his speech and his ways than was the Senor Allen, albeit the Senor
Allen's eyes were blue as the lupines, and his hair the color of the
madrona bark when it grows dark with age--or nearly the color. And he
could shoot, that blue-eyed one!
Valencia, having an audience of a dozen or more one night, grew eloquent
upon the prowess of the blue-eyed one. And the audience, listening,
vowed that they would like to see him matched against Jose, who thought
himself supreme in everything.
"Not in fighting," amended Valencia, his teeth gleaming white in the
fire-glow, as he leaned to pull a brand from the blaze that he might
relight the cigarette which had gone out while he told the tale of that
running fight, when the two Americanos had shamed a whole crowd of
gringos--for so did Valencia make nice distinction of names.
"Not in fighting, amigos, nor yet in love! And because he knows that it
is so, the cheeks of Don Jose hang slack, and he rides with chin upon
his breast, when he thinks no one is looking. The medalla oro is his,
yes. But he would gladly give it for that which the Senor Allen
possesses. Me, I think that the Senor Allen could as easily win also the
medalla oro as he has won the other prize." There was a certain fineness
in Valencia that would never permit his tongue to fling the name of the
Senorita Teresa amongst these vaqueros; but he was sure that they caught
"Dios! me, I should like to see him try," cried a tall San Vincente
rider, shifting his position to ease a cramp in his long leg; and his
tone was neither contemptuous nor even doubtful, but merely eager for
the excitement there would be in the spectacle.
Some one in the shadows turned and walked quickly away to another
fire-glow with its ring of Rembrandt figures and faces, and none save
Valencia knew that it was Manuel gone to tell his master what had been
said. Valencia smiled while he smoked.
Presently Jose was listening unwillingly to Manuel's spite-tinged
version of the talk at the San Vincente camp. "The vaqueros are making a
mock of thy bravery and thy skill!" Manuel declared, with more passion
than truth. "They would see thee beaten, in fight as well as in love--"
The stiffening of Jose's whole figure stopped Manuel short but not
dissatisfied, for he saw there was no need that he should speak a single
word more upon the subject.
"They shall see him try, unless he is a coward." The voice of Jose was
muffled by the rage that filled him.
So it came to pass that Manuel saddled his best mustang within an hour
and rode away to the north. And when Valencia strolled artlessly to the
Pacheco fire and asked for him, Jose hesitated perceptibly before he
replied that Manuel had gone home with a message to the foreman there.
Valencia grinned his widest when he heard that, and over two cigarettes
he pondered the matter. Being a shrewd young man with an instinct for
nosing out mysteries, he flung all uncertainty away with the stub of his
second cigarette and sought Dade.
He found him standing alone beside a deep, still pool, staring at the
shadows and the moon-painted picture in the middle, and looking as if
his thoughts were gone on far journeys. Valencia was too full of his
news to heed the air of absolute detachment that surrounded Dade. He
went straight to the heart of his subject and as a precaution against
eavesdropping he put his meaning into the best English he knew.
"Jose, she's dam-mad on Senor Jack," he began eagerly. "She's hear talk
lak she's no good vaquero. Me, I hear San Vincente vaqueros talk, and
Manuel she's hear also and run queeck for tella Jose. Jose she's lak for
keela Senor Jack. Manuel, she's ride lak hell for say Jose, she lak for
fight Senor Jack. Me, I theenk Senor Jack keela Jose pretty dam-queeck!"
Dade had come to know Valencia very well; he turned now and eyed him
with some suspicion.
"Are you sure?" he asked, in the tone that demanded a truthful answer.
He had seen Manuel ride away in the white light of the moon, and he had
wondered a little and then had forgotten all about it in the spell of
utter loneliness which the moon brings to those who are cheated by Fate
from holding what they most desire.
"Sure, me." Valencia's tone was convincingly positive. "Manuel, she's go
lak hell for tella Senor Jack, Jose, she's lak for fight duelo. Sure.
Dade swung back and stared moodily at the moon-painted pool where the
trout, deceived by the brightness into thinking it was day, started
widening ripple-rings here and there, where they flicked the surface
with slaty noses; and the wavering rings were gold-tipped until they
slid into the shadows and were lost. Dade watched three rings start in
the center and ripple the whole pool.
"How quick could you get to the rancho?" he asked abruptly, just as
Valencia's spirits were growing heavy with disappointment. "Could you
overtake Manuel, do you think?"
"Me, I could with the caballo which I have in mind--Noches--I could
pass Manuel upon the way, though he had two more hours the start of me!"
English was too slow now for Valencia's eagerness. "Manuel is fat, and
he is not young, and he will not ride too fast for his fat to endure.
Also he will stop at the Pacheco hacienda for breakfast, and to rest his
bones. Me, I can be at the rancho two hours before Manuel, Senor."
Valencia was not a deceitful young man, as deceit goes; but he wanted
very much to be sent in haste to the ranch, for he was itching with
curiosity to know the truth of this matter and if he were indeed right.
If Manuel had gone bearing a challenge from Jose to the Senor Jack, then
he wanted to know the answer as soon as possible. Also there was Felice,
the daughter of Carlos, whose lips lured him with their sweetness.
Truly, Valencia would promise any miracle of speed.
The pool lay calm as the face of a dead child. Dade stooped and tossed a
pebble into it as if that stillness troubled him. He took his cigarette
from his lips, looked at the glowing tip, and over it at the eager face
"We mustn't let them fight. Take Noches and ride like the devil was at
your heels. Get there ahead of Manuel and tell Jack--" He stopped there
and bit his lips to hurry his slow thoughts. "Tell Jack he must go to
town right away, because--well, tell him Bill Wilson--"
Valencia's face had been lengthening comically, but hope began to live
again in his eyes. "If the senor would write what he wishes to say while
I am making ready for the start, he will then have more time to think of
what is best. The moon will ride clear to-night; and the sun will find
me at the rancho, Senor. Me, I have ridden Noches one hundred miles
without rest, before now; these sixty will be play for us both."
"Gracias, Valencia." Dade dropped a hand gratefully upon the shoulder of
the other. "I'll write a note, but you must do your part also. You know
your people, and I know Jack; if those two fight, the trouble will
spread like fire in the grass; for Don Jose has many friends to take up
the quarrel. You've had a long day in the saddle, amigo, and the sixty
miles will not be play. I would not ask it if the need were less
urgent--but you must beat Manuel. If you don't, Jack will accept the
challenge; and once he does that--" he flung out both hands in his
characteristic gesture of impatience or helplessness.
"Si, Senor. If the saints permit, Manuel shall not see him first." It
was like Valencia to shift the responsibility from his own conscience to
the shoulders of the saints, for now he could ride with a lighter heart.
Perhaps he was even sincere when he made the promise; but there were
sixty miles of moonlight in which his desire could ride with him and
tempt him; and of a truth, Valencia did greatly desire to see those two
come together in combat!
The saints were kind to Valencia, but they were also grimly just.
Because he so greatly desired an excuse for delay, they tricked Noches
with a broken willow branch that in the deceptive moonlight appeared to
be but the shadow of the branch above it. It caught him just under an
outflung knee as he galloped and flipped him neatly, heels to the stars.
He did not struggle to his feet even when Valencia himself, a bit dazed
by the fall, pulled upon the reins and called to him to rise. The horse
lay inert, a steaming, black mass in the road. The moon was sliding down
behind the Santa Cruz Mountains, and the chill breeze whispered that
dawn was coming fast upon the trail of the moonbeams.
Valencia, when he saw that Noches would never gallop again, because he
had managed to break his sweat-lathered neck in the fall, sat down
beside the trail and rolled a corn-husk cigarette. His mood swung from
regret over the passing of as fleet and true a horse as ever he
bestrode, to gratitude to the saints for their timely hindrance of his
prompt delivery of the note. Truly it was now no fault of his that he
could never reach the hacienda before Manuel! He would have to walk and
carry his saddle, heavy with silver and wide skirts of stamped leather;
and he was a long way from the end of his journey, when he must cover
the distance with his own feet. Eight or ten miles, he estimated it
roughly; for he had passed Jose's hacienda some time before, and had
resisted the temptation to turn aside and find out if Manuel were there
or had gone on. He had not passed Manuel in the trail as he had boasted
that he would do, and not once had he glimpsed him anywhere, though
there had been places where the road lay straight, and he could see it
clear in the moonlight for a mile or more.
When he had finished the cigarette and his thanks to Fate--or whatever
power had delayed him--he removed his saddle and bridle from the horse
and went on; and it was then that he began to understand that he must do
a penance for desiring war rather than peace amongst his fellows.
Valencia, after the first hour of tramping with his saddle on his
shoulders, had lost a good deal of his enthusiasm for the duel he felt
sure was already a certainty.
When he left the road for a straight cut to the hacienda, the wild range
cattle hindered him with their curiosity, so that, using all the methods
known to a seasoned vaquero for driving them back, his progress had been
slow. But he finally came out into the road again and was plodding along
the stone wall within half a mile of the house, his face very
disconsolate because of his protesting feet and the emptiness in his
stomach, when Manuel himself confronted him suddenly coming from the
Manuel was looking well pleased with himself, in spite of his night
ride. He pulled up and stared wide-eyed at Valencia, who had no smile
with which to greet him but swore instead a pensive oath.
"Dios! Is it for a wager that you travel thus?" grinned Manuel,
abominably comfortable upon a great, sorrel horse that pranced all round
Valencia in its anxiety to be upon its way home. "Look you, Valencia!
Since you are travelling, you had best go and tell the padres to make
ready the sacrament for your gringo friend, that blue-eyed one; for
truly his time on earth is short!"
Valencia, at that, looked up into Manuel's face and smiled in spite of
the pain in his feet and the emptiness in his stomach.
"Does it please you, then, Valencia? All night I rode to bear a message
to that blue-eyed one who thinks himself supremo in all things; a
challenge from Don Jose, to fight a duelo if he is not a coward; so did
Jose write. 'Unless you are afraid to meet me'--and the vanity of that
blue-eyed one is great, Valencia. Of a truth, the man is loco. What
think you, Valencia? He had the right to choose the weapons--and Jose
believed that he would choose those pistols of which you make so much
talk. Madre de Dios! What says the blue-eyed one, then?--and laughed in
my face while he spoke the words! 'Go tell Don Jose I will fight him
whenever and wherever he likes; and for weapons I choose riatas.' Heard
"Riatas!" Valencia's jaw dropped an inch before he remembered that
Manuel's eyes were sharp and eager to read the thoughts of a man in the
twitching muscles of his face.
"Si, riatas!" Manuel's whole fat body shook with laughter. "Even you,
who are wholly bewitched by those gringos, even you are dismayed! Tell
me, Valencia, have you seen him lasso anything?"
But Valencia, having pulled himself together, merely lifted his
shoulders and smiled wisely, so that even Manuel was almost deceived
into believing that Valencia's faith was great because it was built upon
a secret knowledge of what the blue-eyed one could do.
"Me, I heard you boasting to those San Vincente vaqueros," Manuel
accused, shifting the talk to generalities. "And the Senor Hunter boasts
also that the blue-eyed one is supremo with the riata, as he is with
everything else!" The tone of Manuel was exceeding bitter. "Well, he
will have the chance to prove what he can do. No gringo can come among
us Californians and flap the wings and crow upon the tule thatch for
naught. There has been overmuch crowing, Valencia. Me, I am glad that
boaster must do something more than crow upon the thatch, Valencia!"
"Si, there has been overmuch crowing," Valencia retorted, giving to his
smile the lift that made it a sneer, "but the thatch has not been of
Picardo tules. Me, I think they grew within hearing of the mission bells
of Santa Clara! And the gallo [rooster] which crows is old and fat, and
feeds too much upon the grapes that are sour! Adios! I must haste to
give congratulations to the Senor Jack, that he will have opportunity to
wring the necks of those loud-crowing gallos of the Pacheco thatches."
Whereupon he picked up his saddle and walked on, very straight in the
back and patently unashamed of the injustice of his charge; for it was
the crowing of Valencia himself beside the San Vincente camp-fire that
had brought Manuel with the message, and Valencia knew that perfectly
The family of Don Andres had been breakfasting upon the wide veranda
when Manuel strode grimly across the patio and confronted them. They
were still seated there when Valencia, having deposited his riding gear
at the saddle-hut, limped to the steps and stood with his sunny smile
upon his face and his sombrero brim trailing the dust. It seemed to
Valencia that the don was displeased; he read it in the set of his head,
in the hardness that was in his glance, in a certain inflexible quality
of his voice.
"Ah, Valencia," he said, rising as if the interruption was to put an end
to his lingering there, "you also seem to have ridden in haste from the
rodeo. Truly, I think that same rodeo has been but the breeding-ground
of gossip and ill-feeling, and is like to bear bitter fruit. Well, you
have a message, I'll warrant. What is it?"
Valencia's mien was respectful almost to the point of humility. "The
majordomo sent me with a letter, which I was to deliver into the hands
of the Senor Allen," he said simply. "My hope was that I might arrive
before Manuel"--he caught a flicker of wrath in the eyes of the don at
the name and smiled inwardly--"but the moonlight played tricks upon the
trail, and my caballo tripped upon a willow-branch and fell upon his
head so that his neck was twisted. I was forced to walk and carry the
saddle, and there were times when the cattle interrupted with their
foolish curiosity, and I must stop and set the riata hissing to frighten
them back, else they would perchance have trampled me. So I fear that I
arrive too late, Don Andres. But truly I did my best; a full hour behind
Manuel I started, and have walked ten miles of the sixty. The saints
Don Andres checked his apologies with a wave of the hand, and sat down
somewhat heavily in his favorite chair, as if he were tired, though the
day was but fairly begun.
"We do not doubt your zeal," he observed dryly. "Give the letter to the
senor and begone to your breakfast. And," he added impressively, "wait
you and rest well until the answer is ready; for perchance there will be
further need to test the kindness of the saints--and the speed of a
Valencia fumbled within his sash and brought forth the small, folded
square of paper, went up two steps and placed it in Jack's upturned
palm, gave Jack also a glance more kindly and loyal than ever he had
received from that minx, Teresita, and went away to the vaqueros'
quarters. Valencia had learned nothing from the meeting, except that the
don was in one of his rare fits of ill-temper.
"Yet I know that there will be a duelo," he comforted himself with
thinking, as he limped wearily across the patio. "The face of the patron
is black because of it, and a little devil-flame burns in the eyes of
the senorita because for love of her men would fight--(Such is the way
of women, to joy in those things which should give them, fear!)--and
the senora's face is sagged with worry, and Senor Jack--ah, there is the
fighting look in those eyes! Never have I seen them so dark: like the
bay when a storm is riding upon the wind. And it will be riatas--for so
Manuel told me. Me, I will wager my saddle upon the Senor Jack, even
though riatas be the weapons. For he is wily, that blue-eyed one; never
would he choose the rawhide unless he knew its hiss as he knows his own
heartbeats. Let it be riatas, then, if so the senor chooses!"
A FIESTA WE SHALL HAVE
Jack, unfolding the crumpled paper, read twice the note from Dade, and
at each reading gave a little snort. He folded the paper, unfolded it
and read again:
"If Jose wants to fight, take a fool's advice and don't. Better
quit the ranch and go back to town for a while--Valencia will
get there ahead of Manuel, he says, and you can pull out before
Manuel shows up. A licking might do Jose good, but it would stir
up a lot of trouble and raise hell all around, so crawl into any hole
you come to. I'll quit as soon as rodeo is over, and meet you in
town. Now don't be bull-headed. Let your own feelings go into
the discard for once, and do what's best for the whole valley.
Everything's going smooth here. Noah's dove ain't got any the best of
me and Jose, and the boys are working fine.
"At least your majordomo agrees with you, Don Andres," he said, twisting
the note unthinkingly in his fingers. "Dade wants me to sneak off to
town and hide in Bill Wilson's cellar." There was more resentment in his
tone than the note itself had put there; for the argument which Valencia
had unwittingly interrupted had been threatening to become acrimonious.
"My majordomo," replied Don Andres, his habitual courtesy just saving
the words from becoming a retort, "continues to show that rare good
sense which first attracted me to him."
The senora moved uneasily in her chair and smiled deprecatingly at Jack,
then imploringly at her husband. This was washing day, and those
shiftless ones within would overlook half the linen unless she was on
the spot to watch and direct. But these two had come to their first
clash of wills, and her husband had little liking for such firm defiance
of his wishes. Well she knew the little weather-signs in his face. When
his eyebrows took just that tilt, and when the nostrils were drawn in
and quivered with his breathing, then was it wise that she should remain
by his side. The senora knew well that words are never so harsh between
the male of our species when their women are beside them. So, suffering
mental torment because of the careless peonas, she, nevertheless, sent
Teresita after the fine, linen apron from which she meant to remove a
whole two inches of woof for the new pattern of drawnwork which the
Donna Lucia had sent her. She would remain as a buffer between these two
whose eyes were too hard when they looked at each other.
"It seems a pity that young men nowadays cannot contain themselves
without quarreling," sighed the senora, acting upon the theory that
anger is most dangerous when it is silent, and so giving the
conversational ball a push.
"Is there no way, Senor, in which you might avert this trouble? Truly it
saddens me to think of it, for Jose has been as my own son. His mother
and I were as twin sisters, Senor, and his mother prayed me to watch
over him when she had gone. 'Si, madre mia' would he tell me, when I
gave him the good counsel. And now he comes no more, and he wants to
fight the duelo! Is there no way, Senor?"
The hardness left Jack's lips but not his eyes, while he looked from her
to the don, smoking imperturbably his cigar beside her.
"There is no way, Senora, except for a coward. I have done what I could;
I know that Jose's skill is great with riatas, and the choice was mine.
I might have said pistols," he reminded her gently, but with meaning.
The plump hands of the senora went betrayingly into the air and her
earrings tinkled with the horror that shook her cushiony person. "Not
pistols! No, no--for then Jose would surely be killed! Gracias, Senor!
With riatas my Jose can surely give good account of himself. Three times
has he won the medalla oro in fair contest. He is a wizard with the
rawhide. Myself, I have wept with pride to see him throw it at the
"Mother mine, Margarita would have you come at once," the senorita
interrupted her. "Little Francisco has burned his legs with hot water,
and Margarita thinks that your poultice--"
With twittering exclamations of dismay over the, accident the two women
hurried away to minister to the burned legs of Francisco, and Jack rose
and flung away his cigarette. His mouth had again the stubborn look
which Dade knew so well, and dreaded also.
"I am sorry for this unpleasantness," he said perfunctorily, stopping
before Don Andres. "But as I told the senora, I have done all that I can
do. I have named riatas. I don't think even you, Don Andres, could ask
more of me. Surely you wouldn't want to know that your roof had
sheltered a coward?"
Don Andres waved away the challenge which the question carried. "Still,
it seems a pity that my family must be made the subject of gossip
because of the foolishness of two young men," he said doggedly,
returning to his argument. "They will say that it is because of my
daughter that you fight; and the friendship of years must be set aside
while two hot-heads vent their silly spite--"
"It need not." Jack's head went up an inch. "I can leave your employ,
Don Andres, at any moment. There is no need for you to be caught between
the duties of hospitality and those of friendship. I can do anything--I
am willing to do anything--except crawl into a hole, as Dade wrote for
me to do." A fine, spirited picture he made, standing there with the
flames of wrath in his eyes and with neck stiff and his jaws set hard
Don Andres looked up at him with secret approval. He did not love a
coward, and truly, this young fellow was brave. And Jose had
deliberately sought the quarrel from the first; justice compelled him to
"If it might be arranged--" The don was studying the situation and the
man together. "Almost have I grasped the thread that will unravel the
whole. No, no! I do not mean your going, Senor. That would but limber
the tongue of scandal; and besides, I do not mean that I withdraw my
friendship from you. A man must be narrow, indeed, if he cannot carry
more than one friendship in his soul.
"Sit you down, Senor, while I think a moment," he urged. "Surely it can
be arranged without hurt to the fair name of--of any. Riatas--ah, now I
have it, Senor! Dullard, not to have thought of it at once! Truly must I
be in my dotage!" He did not mean that, of course, and he was quite
openly pleased when Jack smiled and shook his head.
"Listen, Senor, and tell me if the plan is not a good one! To-morrow
Valencia shall ride back to the rodeo, with a message to all from me,
Don Andres Picardo. I shall proclaim a fiesta, Senor--such a fiesta as
even Monterey never rivaled in the good old days when we were subject to
his Majesty, the King. A fiesta we shall have, as soon as may be after
the rodeo is over. There will be sports such as you Americanos know
nothing of, Senor. And there openly, before all the people, you shall
contest with Jose for a prize which I shall give, and for the medalla
oro if you will; for you shall have the privilege of challenging Jose,
the champion, to contest for the medalla. And there will be a prize--and
I doubt not--" He was thinking that there would probably be two prizes,
though only one which he could proclaim publicly.
"Myself, I shall write to Jose and beg him to consider the honor of his
father's name and of the name of his father's friend, and consent that
the duelo shall take place under the guise of sport. It must not be to
the death, Senor. Myself, I shall insist that it shall not be to the
death. Before all the people, and women, and ninos--and besides, I do
not wish that Jose should--" There again he checked himself, and Jack's
lips twitched at the meaning he read into the break.
"But if there should be an accident?" Jack's eyes probed for the soul of
the old man; the real soul of the Spanish grandee under the
broad-minded, easy-natured, Californian gentleman. He probed, and he
thought he found what he was seeking; he thought it showed for just an
instant in his eyes and in the upward lift of his white mustache.
"An accident would be deplorable, Senor," he said. "We will hope that
there will be no accident. Still, Jose is a very devil when the riata is
hissing over his head, and he rides recklessly. Senor, permit me to warn
you that Jose is a demon in the saddle. Not for nothing does he hold the
"Gracias, Don Andres. I shall remember," said Jack, and walked away to
He felt that the heart of Don Andres Picardo was warring with his
intelligence. That although his wide outlook and his tolerance would
make friends of the gringos and of the new government--and quite
sincerely--still, the heart of him was true Spanish; and the fortunes of
his own blood-kin would send it beating fast or slow in sympathy, while
his brain weighed nicely the ethics of the struggle. Jack was not much
given to analyzing the inner workings of a man's mind and heart, but he
carried with him a conviction that it was so.
He hunted up Diego, and found him putting a deal of gratuitous labor
upon the silver trimmings of the new saddle. Diego being the peon in
whose behalf Jack had last winter interfered with Perkins, his gratitude
took the form of secret polishings upon the splendid riding-gear, the
cleaning of Jack's boots and such voluntary services. Now the silver
crescents which Teresita ridiculed were winking up at him to show they
could grow no brighter, and he was attacking vigorously the "milky way"
that rode behind the high cantle. Diego grinned bashfully when Jack's
shadow flung itself across the saddle and so announced his coming, and
stood up and waited humbly before the white senor who had fought for
him, a mere peon, born to kicks and cursings rather than to kindness,
and so had won the very soul of him.
"Bueno," praised Jack patronizingly. "Now I have some real work for you,
Diego, and it must be done quickly and well."
"Gracias, Senor," murmured Diego, abashed by such favor, and bowed low
before his god.
"The riata must be dressed now, Diego, and dressed until it is soft as a
silken cord, sinuous as the green snakes that live in the streams, and
not one strand must be frayed and weakened. Sabe? Too long have I
neglected to have it done, and now it must be done in haste--and done
well. Can you dress it so that it will be the most perfect riata in
California, Diego?" A twinkle was in Jack's eyes, but Diego was too
dazzled by the graciousness of his god to see it there. He made
obeisance more humble than before.
"Si, Senor," he promised breathlessly. "Never has riata been dressed as
this riata shall be. By the Holy Mother I swear it."
"Bueno. For listen! Much may hang upon the strength and the softness of
it." He fixed his eyes sternly upon the abject one. "It may mean my life
or my death, Diego. For in a contest with Don Jose Pacheco will I use
"Si, Senor," gasped Diego, awed into trembling. "By my soul I swear--"
"You needn't. Save some of your energy for the rawhide. You'll want all
you've got before you're through." Jack, having made an impression deep
enough to satisfy the most exacting of masters, dropped to his natural
tone and speech. "Get some one to help, and come with me to the
From the saddle-house he brought the six-strand, rawhide riata which
Manuel had bought for him and which his carelessness had left still
stiff and unwieldy, and walked slowly into the orchard, examining
critically each braided strand as he went. Manuel, he decided, was
right; the riata was perfect.
Diego, trailing two horsehair ropes and carrying a stout, smooth stick
of oak that had evidently been used before for the work, came running
after Jack as if he were going to put out a fire. Behind him trotted a
big, muscular peon who saw not half the reason for haste that blazoned
itself across the soul of Diego.
Thus the three reached the orchard, where Jack selected two pear trees
that happened to stand a few feet more than the riata length apart; and
Diego, slipping a hair rope through the hondo of the riata, made fast
the rope to a pear tree. The other end he tied to the second hair rope,
drew the riata taut and tied the rope securely to the second tree. He
picked up the oaken stick, examined it critically for the last time,
although he knew well that it was polished smooth as glass from its work
on other riatas, twisted the riata once around it and signed to the
Each grasping an end of the stick and throwing all their weight against
it, they pushed it before them along the stretched riata. As they
strained toward the distant pear tree the rawhide smoked with the
friction of the stick in the twist. It was killing work, that first trip
from tree to tree, but Diego joyed in thus serving his blue-eyed god.
As for the other, Roberto, he strained stolidly along the line, using
the strength that belonged to his master the patron just as
matter-of-factly as he had used it since he was old enough to be called
Jack, leaning against a convenient tree in the next row, smoked a
cigarette and watched their slow, toilsome progress. Killing work it
was, but the next trip would be easier after that rendering of the stiff
tissue. When the stick touched the hondo, the two stopped and panted for
a minute; then Diego grasped his end of the stick and signaled the
return trip. Again it took practically every ounce of strength they had
in their muscular bodies, but they could move steadily now, instead of
in straining, spasmodic jerks. The rawhide sizzled where it curled
around the stick. They reached the end and stopped, and Jack commanded
them to sit down and have a smoke before they did more.
"It is nothing, Senor. We can continue, since the senor has need of
haste," panted Diego, brushing from his eyes the sweat that dripped from
"Not such haste that you need to kill yourselves at it," grinned Jack,
and went to examine the riata. Those two trips had accomplished much
towards making it a pliable, live thing in the hands of one skilled to
direct its snaky dartings here and there, wherever one willed it to go.
Many trips it would require before the riata was perfect, and then--
"The senor is early at his prayers," observed a soft, mocking voice
Jack dropped the riata and turned, his whole face smiling a welcome. But
Teresita was in one of her perverse moods and the mockery was not all in
her voice; her eyes were maddeningly full of it as she looked from him
to the stretched riata.
"The senor is wise to tell the twists in his riata as I tell my beads--a
prayer for each," she cooed. "For truly he will need the prayers, and a
riata that will perform miracles of its own accord, if he would fight
Jose with rawhide." There was the little twist of her lips afterward
which Jack had come to know well and to recognize as a bull recognizes
the red serape of the matador.
"Senor," she added impressively, holding back her hair from blowing
across her face and gazing at him wide-eyed, with a wicked assumption of
guileless innocence, "at the Mission San Jose there is a very old and
very wise woman. She lives in a tule hut behind the very walls of the
Mission, and the Indians go to her by night when dreams have warned them
that death threatens. She is a terribly wise old woman, Senor, for she
can look into the past and part the curtain which hides the future. For
gold will she part it. And for gold will she put the curse or the
blessing where curse or blessing is needed most. Go you to the old woman
and have her put a blessing upon the riata when it is dressed and you
have prayed your prayers upon it, Senor! For five pesos will she bless
it and command it to fly straight wherever the senor desires that it
shall fly. Then can you meet Jose and not tremble so that the spur-bells
Jack went hot inside of him, but he made his lips smile at the jest; for
so do brave men try to make light of torment, whether it be fire or
flood or the tongue of the woman they love.
"All right," he said. "And I think I'll have the judges rule that the
fight shall be at fifty paces, as I would if we were to fight with
pistols." He tried to keep his irritation out of his voice, but there
must have been enough to betray him.
For Teresita smiled pleasedly and sent another barb. "It would be wise.
For truly, Jose's equal has never been seen, and caballeros I have known
who would swear that Jose's riata can stretch to fifty paces and more to
find its mark."
"Is it anxiety for me that makes you so solicitous?" demanded Jack,
speaking low so that the peons could not overhear.
"Perhaps--and perhaps it is pride; for I know well the skill and the
bravery of my Jose." Again the twist of her pretty, pouting lips,
blood-red and tempting.
Her Jose! For just a minute the face of Teresita showed vague to him
before his wrathful eyes.
"When you tell your beads again, Senorita," he advised her crisply, "say
a prayer or two for your Jose also. For I promise you now that I will
shame him before your face, and if he lives afterward to seek your
sympathy, it will be by grace of my mercy!"
"Santa Maria, what a fierce senor!" Her laughter mocked him. "Till the
fiesta I shall pray--for you!" Then she turned and ran, looking over her
shoulder now and again to laugh at him.
Always before, when she had teased and flouted and fled laughing, Jack
had pursued her with long strides, and in the first sequestered nook had
made her lips pay a penalty. But this time he stood still and let her
go--which must have puzzled the senorita very much, and perhaps piqued
her pride as well. For the girl who flouts and then flees laughing
surely invites pursuit and an inexorable exaction of the penalty. And if
she is left to flee in safety, then must the flouted one pay for his
stupidity, and pay high in the coin of love.
WHAT IS LOVE WORTH?
Valencia swung down from his belathered horse as lightly as though he
had not spent seven hours in the saddle and during those seven hours had
covered more miles than he would have years to live. His smile was wide
and went as deep as his emotions had thus far plumbed his nature, and
his voice had the exultant note of a child who has wonderful news to
tell. He gave Dade a letter, and his very gesture was triumphant; and
the eyes were eager that watched his majordomo read. He bubbled with
words that he would like to say, but he waited.
"So you didn't get there in time, after all," Dade observed, looking up
from Jack's characteristic signature, in which the tail of the "k"
curled around the whole like a mouse lying asleep. "Manuel came back
this morning, and the whole camp is talking nothing but duelo. I thought
"Senor, the saints would not permit that I should arrive first,"
Valencia explained virtuously. "A stick tripped Noches and he fell, and
broke his neck in the fall. The senor knows well the saints had a hand
in that, for hundreds of horses fall every day thus without hurt. Never
before in my life have I seen a horse die thus, Senor! I was compelled
to walk and carry the saddle, yet such haste I made that Manuel met me
by the stone wall as he was leaving. And at least twelve miles I
"Oh, all right," Dade waved away further apology. "I reckon you did your
best; it can't be helped now. They're going to fight with riatas, Manuel
says. Is that right?"
"But not the duelo, Senor--no, but in the contest. For sport, that all
may witness, and choose who is champion, after the bull-fighting, and
"What are you talking about, man?" Dade's hand fell heavily upon the
shoulder of Valencia, swaying his whole body with the impact. "Are you
loco, to talk of bull-fightings?"
"It is the fiesta, Senor! The patron himself has proclaimed the grand
fiesta, such as they have in Monterey, only this will be greater; and
then those two will fight their duelo with riatas, yes; but not to the
death, Senor. The patron himself has declared it. For the medalla oro
and also for a prize will they fight; and the prize--what think you,
Valencia, a-quiver with eagerness, laid a slim hand upon the braided
front of Dade's close-fitting buckskin jacket.
"The prize will be Solano! That beautiful caballo--beautiful even as thy
Surry--which the patron has not permitted rawhide to touch, except for
the branding. Like the sunshine he is, with his hair of gold; and the
tail that waves to his heels is like the ripples on the bay at sunrise.
Who wins the duelo shall have Solano for his own, and shall ride him
before all the people; for such is the patron's word. From his own lips
I heard it! Me, I think that will be the greatest sport of all, for he
is wild as the deer on the mountain slopes--that yellow caballo, and
strong as the bull which the patron will choose to fight the grizzly he
will bring from the mountains.
"Listen, Senor! The mother of Solano was a she-devil under the saddle,
and killed two men by throwing herself upon them; and the sire was
Satanas, of whom stories are told around the camp-fires as far south as
San Luis Obispo.
"Ah, he is wise, the patron! 'Then let them also prove their courage in
other ways. Let the victor pray to the saints and ride Solano, who is
five years old and has never felt the riata since he left his mother's
side--who was a devil.' Me, I heard the soul of the patron speak thus,
while the lips of the patron said to me:
"'Go back to the rodeo, Valencia, and proclaim to all that I will give
the grand fiesta with sports to please all. Tell them that already two
have agreed to contest with riatas for a prize--' Look you, Senor, how
wily is the patron!--'And for the prize I name the gelding, Solano, who
has never known weight of saddle. Tell them, Valencia, that the victor
shall ride his prize for all the crowd to see. And if he is thrown, then
Solano will be forfeit to the other, who must ride him also. There will
be other sports and other prizes, Valencia, and others may contest in
riding, in the lassoing and tying of wild steers, in running. But say
that Don Jose Pacheco and the Senor Jack Allen will contest with riatas
for the possession of Solano.' Ah, Senor--"
"Ah, Valencia, why not scatter some of your enthusiasm over the other
camp-fires?" Dade broke in quizzically. "Go and proclaim it, then. Tell
the San Vincente men, and the Las Uvas, and all the other vaqueros."
Valencia, grinned and departed, leaving behind him in the loose sand
tracks more than three feet apart to show how eager was his obedience;
and Dade sat down upon a dead log that had been dragged to the Picardo
camp-fire, to consider how this new phase of the affair would affect the
temper of the people who owned such warm hearts and such hot heads.
A fiesta, with the duelo fought openly under the guise of a contest for
the medal and a prize which was well worth any man's best
efforts--surely, Don Andres was wily, as Valencia said. But with all the
people of the valley there to see, their partisanship inflamed by the
wine of festivity and the excitement of the sports themselves--what
Dade thoughtfully rolled a corn-husk cigarette, and tried to peer into
the future. As it looked to him, he and Jack were rather between the
devil and the deep sea. If Jack were beaten, they would be scorned and
crowed over and humiliated beyond endurance. Neither was made of the
stuff to stand much of that, and they would probably wind up with both
hands and their hats full of trouble. And to himself he admitted that
there was a fair chance of that very result. He had not been blind, and
Jose had not shrunk into the background when there was riata-work and
riding to be done on the rodeo ground. Dade had watched him as jealously
as it was in his nature to do, and the eyes of jealousy are keen indeed;
and he had seen Jose make many throws, and never a miss. Which, if you
know anything of rope-work, was a remarkable record for any man. So
there was a good chance of Jose winning that fight. In his heart Dade
knew it, even if his lips never would admit it.
Well, supposing Jose was beaten; suppose Jack won! What then? Dade blew
a mouthful of smoke towards the camp-fire, deserted except for himself,
while his vaqueros disported themselves with their neighbors, and shook
his head. He had a little imagination; perhaps he had more than most men
of his type. He could see a glorious row, if Jose were beaten. It would,
on the whole, be more disastrous than if he won.
"And she's just fickle-minded enough to turn up her nose at Jack if he
got beat," Dade grumbled, thinking of a certain senorita. "And if he
don't, the whole bunch will pile onto us. Looks to me like a worse
combination than that Vigilance row, for Jack. If he wins, he gets
knifed; if he don't, he gets hell. And me the only one to back him up!
I'll wish I was about forty men seven foot high and armed with--"
"Pardon, Senor. The senor has of course heard the news?" Jose came out
of the shadows and stood with the firelight dancing on his face and
picking out the glittery places on his jacket, where was the braid. "I
have a letter from Don Andres. Would the senor care to read it? No? The
senor is welcome to read. I have no wish to keep anything hidden which
concerns this matter. I have brought the letter, and I want to say
that the wishes of my friend, Don Andres, shall be granted. Except," he
added, coming closer, "that I shall fight to the death. I wish the Senor
Allen to understand this, though it must he held a secret between us
three. An accident it must appear to those who watch, because the duelo
will be proclaimed a sport; but to the death I will fight, and I trust
that the Senor Allen will fight as I fight. Does the senor understand?"
"Yes, but I can't promise anything for Jack." Dade studied Jose quietly
through the smoke of his cigarette. "Jack will fight to please himself,
and nobody can tell how that will be, except that it won't be tricky. He
may want to kill you, and he may not. I don't know. If he does, he'll
try his damnedest, you can bank on that."
"But you, Senor--do you not see that to fight for a prize merely is to
belittle--" Jose waved a hand eloquently.
"I see you're taking life pretty serious," Dade retorted, moving farther
along the log. "Sit down, Jose, and be sociable. Nothing like seeing the
point of a joke, if there is one. Do you reckon anything's worth all the
heart-burnings you're indulging in? Some things are tough; I've waded
kinda deep, myself, so I know. But there's nothing you can't get over,
with time and lots of common sense, except being a sneak--and being
dead. To me, one's as bad as the other, with maybe first choice on
death. You aren't a sneak, and I don't see why you hanker to be dead.
What do you want to fight to the death for?"
[Illustration: "An accident it must appear to those who watch"]
Jose did not sit down beside Dade, but he came a little closer, "Why do
I want to fight to the death? I will tell you, Senor; I am not ashamed.
Since I was a child I have loved that senorita whom I will not name to
you. Only last Christmas time the senora, her mother, said I must wait
but a year longer till she was a little older. They would keep their
child a little longer, and truly her heart is the heart of a child. But
she knew; and I think she waited also and was happy. But look you,
Senor! Then comes a stranger and steals--
"Ah, you ask me why must I fight to the death? Senor, you are a man;
perchance you have loved--for of a truth I see sometimes the sadness in
your eyes. You know that I must fight thus. You know that to kill that
blue-eyed one is all there is left to do. Me, I could have put him out
of the way before now, for there are many knives ready to do me the
service. Kill him I shall, Senor; but it shall be in fight; and if the
senorita sees--good. She shall know then that at least it is not a
coward or a weakling who loves her. Do you ask why--"
Dade's hands went out, dismissing the question. "No, I don't ask another
blamed thing. Go ahead and fight. Fight to kill, if that's the only
thing that will satisfy you. You two aren't the first to lock horns over
a woman. Jack seems just as keen for it as you are, so I don't reckon
there's any stopping either one of you. But it does seem a pity!"
"Why does it seem a pity?" Jose's tone was insistent.
"It seems a pity," Dade explained doggedly, "to see two fine fellows
like you and Jack trying to kill each other for a girl--that isn't worth
the life of either one of you!"
In two steps Jose confronted him, his hand lifted to strike. Dade,
looking up at him, flicked the ashes from his cigarette with his
forefinger, but that was the only move he made. Jose's hand trembled and
came down harmlessly by his side.
"I was mistaken," he said, smiling queerly. "You have never loved any
woman, Senor; and I think the sadness I have seen in your eyes is for
yourself, that life has cheated you so. If you had known love, you could
never have said that. Love, Senor, is worth everything a man has to
give--even his life. You would know that, if you had ever loved." He
waited a moment, closed his teeth upon further words, turned abruptly on
his heel and went away into the fog-darkened night.
Dade, with a slight curl to his lips that did not look quite like a
smile, stared into the fire, where the embers were growing charred for
half their length, and the flames were waving wearily and shrinking back
to the coals, and the coals themselves were filmed with gray. The
cigarette went cold and clammy in his fingers, and in his eyes was that
sadness of which Jose had spoken; and something else besides.
They would fight, those two, and fight to kill. Since the world was
first peopled, men had fought as they would fight--for love; for the
possession of a pretty thing--warm, capricious, endearing, with possibly
a heart and a soul beneath; possibly. And love--what was love, after
all? What is love worth? He had loved her, too; at least, he had felt
all the emotions that either of them had felt for her. He was not sure
that he did not still feel them, or would if he let himself go. He did
not believe, however, that those emotions were worth more than
everything else in the world; more than his life, or honor, or
friendship. He had choked love, strangled it, starved it for sake of
friendship; and, sitting there staring abstractedly into the filming
coals, he wondered if he had done wrong; if those two were right, and
love was worth fighting for.
The man who fought the hardest, he felt, would in this case win that for
which he fought. For he felt in his heart, that Teresita was only a
pretty little animal, the primitive woman who would surrender to
strength; and that he would win in the end who simply refused to yield
before her coquetries.
With a quick, impatient gesture he threw his cigarette into the coals,
kicked viciously a lazily smoking brand which sent up a little blaze and
a spurt of sparks that died almost immediately to dull coals again.
"Love's like that," he muttered pessimistically, standing up and
stretching his arms mechanically. "And the winner loses in the end;
maybe not always, but he will in this case. Poor old Jack! After all,
she ain't worth it. If she was--" His chin went down for a minute or
two, while he stared again at the fire. "If she was, I'd--But she ain't.
Love's worth--what is love worth, anyway?"
He did not answer the question with any degree of positiveness, and he
went to bed wishing that he had never seen the valley of Santa Clara.
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