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the blankets, ready to retreat at the first lunge of open warfare. He
breathed relief, however, when Dade got up and stretched his arms
to the dried tules overhead, and laughed a lazy surrender of the
argument, if not of his opinion upon the subject.

"You're surely the most ambitious trouble-hunter I ever saw," he said,
returning to his habitual humorous drawl, with the twinkle in his eyes
that went with it. "Just the same, we'll not go back to the mine just
yet. Till the dust settles, we're both better off down here with
Don Andres Picardo. I don't want to be hung for the company I keep.
Besides - "

"I'll bet ten ounces there's a señorita," hazarded. Jack maliciously.
"You're like Bill Wilson; but you can preach caution till your jaws
ache; you can't fool me into believing you're afraid to go back to the
mine. Is there a señorita?"

"You shut up and go to sleep," snapped Dade, and afterward would not
speak at all.

Manuel, in the shadow, frowned over the only words he understood - Don
Andres Picardo and señorita. The señors were agreeable companions, and
they were his guests. But they were gringos, after all. And if
they should presume to lift desireful eyes to the little Señorita
Teresa - Teresita, they called her fondly who knew her - Manuel's
mustache lifted suddenly at one side at the bare possibility.




CHAPTER VI

THE VALLEY


In the valley of Santa Clara, which lies cradled easily between
mountains and smiles up at the sun nearly the whole year through,
Spring has a winter home, wherein she dwells contentedly while the
northern land is locked in the chill embrace of the Snow King. In
February, unless the north wind sweeps down jealously and stays her
hand, she flings a golden brocade of poppies over the green hillsides
and the lower slopes which the forest has left her. Time was when she
spread a deep-piled carpet of mustard over the floor of the valley
as well, and watched smiling while it grew thicker and higher and the
lemon-yellow blossoms vied with the orange of the poppies, until the
two set all the valley aglow.

Now it was March, and the hillsides were ablaze with the poppies,
and the valley floor was soft green and yellow to the knees; with
the great live oaks standing grouped in stately calm, like a herd
of gigantic, green elephants scattered over their feeding-ground and
finding the peace of repletion with the coming of the sun.

The cabin of Manuel squatted upon a little rise of ground at the head
of the valley. When Jack stood in the doorway and looked down upon the
green sweep of grazing ground with the hills behind, and farther away
another range facing him, he owned to himself that it was good to be
there. The squalidness of the town he had left so tumultuously struck
upon his memory nauseatingly.

Spring was here in the valley, even though the mountains shone white
beyond. A wind had come out of the south and driven the fog back to
the bay, and the sun shone warmly down upon the land. Two robins
sang exultantly in the higher branches of the oak, where they had
breakfasted satisfyingly upon the first of the little, green worms
that gave early promise of being a pest until such time as they
stiffened and clung inertly, waiting for the dainty, gray wings to
grow and set them aflutter over the tree upon which they had fed.
One of them dropped upon Jack's arm while he stood there and crawled
aimlessly from the barren buckskin to his wrist. He flung it off
mechanically. Spring was here of a truth; in the town he had not
noticed her coming.

"You're right, Dade," he declared suddenly, over his shoulder. "This
beats getting up at noon and going through the motions of living for
twelve or fourteen hours in town. I believe I'll have Manuel get me
a riding outfit, if he will. Maybe I'll take you up on that rodeo
proposition. Reckon your old don will give me a job?"

"Won't cost a peso to find out," said Dade, coming out and standing
beside him in the sun. "I've been talking to Manuel, and he thinks
we'd better pull out right away. Valencia's got an extra saddle here,
and Manuel says he'll catch a horse for you."

"I believe I'll send a letter to Bill," proposed Jack. "He'll give
Manuel enough dust to buy what I need; and I ought to let him know how
we made out, anyway."

A blank leaf from the little memorandum book he always carried, and a
bullet for pencil - perforce, the note was brief; but it told what he
wanted: gold to buy a riding outfit, his pistols which Perkins had
taken from him, and news of Bill's well-being. When the paper would
hold no more and hold it legibly, he folded it carefully so that it
would not smudge, and gave it to his host.

"What if the Committee catches you with that buckskin, Manuel?" he
asked abruptly. The risk Manuel would run had not before occurred to
him. "Dade he's liable to get into trouble, if they catch him with
that horse; let's turn the darned thing loose."

"Me, I shall not ride where the gringos will see me," broke in Manuel
briskly. "The señors need not be alarmed. I shall keep away from El
Camino Real. At the Mission I will buy what the señor desires, and I
will bring it to him at the hacienda."

"Get the best they've got," Jack adjured him. "An outfit better than
Dade's, if you can find one. Bill Wilson has got about twelve hundred
dollars of mine; get the best if it cleans the sack." He grinned at
Dade. "If you're going to bully me into turning vaquero again, I'm
going to have the fun of riding in style, anyway. You've set the pace,
you know. I never saw you so gaudy. Er - what did you say her name is?"

"I didn't say."

"Must be serious. Too bad." Jack shook his head dolefully. "Say,
Manuel, do you know a good riata, when you see one lying around
loose?"

"Sí, Señor. Me, I have braided the riatas and bridles since I was
so high." From the height of his measuring hand from the beaten clay
beneath the oak, he proclaimed himself an infant prodigy; but Jack did
not happen to be looking at him and so remained unamazed.

"Well, you ought to know something about them. Get the best riata you
can find. I leave it to your judgment."

"Sí, Señor. To-morrow I will bring them to you." He hesitated, his
eyes dwelling curiously upon the coppery hair of this stranger, whose
presence he was not quite sure that he did not resent vaguely. Dade he
had come to accept as a man whose innate kindliness, which was as much
a part of him as the blood in his veins, wiped out any stain of alien
birth; but this blue-eyed one - "The señor himself is perhaps a judge
of riatas?" he insinuated, politely veiling the quick jealousy of his
nature.

"We-el-l - you bring me one ready to fall all to pieces, and I reckon I
could tell it was poor, after it had stranded."

Dade laughed. "Judge of riatas? You wait till you see him with one in
his hand!"

Manuel's teeth shone briefly, but the smile did not come from his
heart. "Me, I shall surely bring the señor a riata worthy even of his
skill," he declared sententiously, as he walked away with his bridle
slung over his arm and his back very straight.

"That sounded sarcastic," commented Jack, looking after him. "What's
the matter? Is the old fellow jealous?" Dade flicked his cigarette
against the trunk of the oak to remove the white crown of ashes, and
shook his head. "What of?" he asked bluntly. "Half your trouble, Jack,
comes from looking for it. Manuel's a fine old fellow. I stayed a few
days with him here when I first left town, and rode around with him.
He's straight as the road to heaven, and I never heard him brag about
anything, except the goodness of his 'patron,' and the things some of
his friends can do. I'll have to ask you to saddle up for me, Jack;
this arm of mine's pretty stiff and sore this morning. Watch how
Surry's trained! You wouldn't believe some of the things he'll do."

He turned towards the horse, feeding knee-deep in grass and young
mustard in the opening farther down the slope, and whistled a long,
high note. The white head went up with a fling of the heavy mane, to
perk ears forward at the sound. Then he turned and came towards them
at a long, swinging walk that was a joy to behold.

"Do you know, I hate the way nature's trimmed down the life of a horse
to a few measly years," said Dade. "A good horse you can love like a
human - and fifteen years is about as long as he can expect to live and
amount to anything. Surry's four now, by his teeth. In fifteen years
I'll still be at my best; I'll want that horse like the very devil;
and he'll be dead of old age, if he lasts that long. And a turtle,"
he added resentfully after a pause, "lives hundreds of years, just
because the darned things aren't any good on earth!"

"Trade him for a camel," drawled Jack unsympathetically. "They're more
durable."

"Watch him come, now!" Dade gave three short, shrill whistles, and
with a toss of head by way of answer, Surry came tearing up the slope,
straight for his master. The shadow of the oak was all about him when
he planted his front feet stiffly and stopped; flared his nostrils in
a snort and, because Dade waved his hand to the right, wheeled that
way, circled the oak at a pace which set his body aslant and stopped
again quite as suddenly as before. Dade held out his hand, and Surry
came up and rubbed the palm playfully with his soft muzzle.

"For a camel, did you say?" Dade grinned triumphantly at the other
over the sleek back of his pet.

"What'll you take for him?"

Dade pulled the heavy forelock straight with fingers that caressed
with every touch. "José Pacheco asked me that, and I came pretty near
hitting him. I don't reckon I'll ever be drunk enough to name a price.
But I might - "

Jack glanced at him, and saw that his lips were half parted in a smile
born of some fancy of his own, and that his eyes were seeing dreams.
Jack stared for a full minute before Dade's thoughts jerked back to
his surroundings. Dade was not a dreamer; or if he were, Jack had
never had occasion to suspect him of it, and he wondered a little what
it was that had sent Dade into dreams at that hour of the morning.
But Manuel was returning, riding one pony and leading another; so Jack
threw away his cigarette stub and picked up the saddle blanket.

Manuel came up and saddled his mount silently, his deft fingers
working mechanically while his black eyes stole sidelong looks at
Jack saddling Surry, as if he would measure the man anew. While he was
anathematizing the buckskin in language for which he would need to do
a penance later on, if he confessed the blasphemy to the padre, Jack
threw Valencia's saddle upon the little sorrel pony Manuel had led up
for him to ride.

"Truly one would not like to die for having stolen such a beast,"
stated Manuel earnestly, knotting a macarte around the neck of the
buckskin. "He is only fit to carry men to hangings. Come, accursed
one! The Vigilantes are weeping for one so like themselves. Adios,
Señors!"

He rode away, still heaping opprobrium upon the reluctant buckskin,
and speedily he disappeared behind a clump of willows clothed in the
pale green of new leaves.

Dade dropped the bullock hide which served for a door, to signify that
the master of the house was absent. Though the old don's cattle might
be butchered under his very nose, Manuel's few belongings would not be
molested, though only the dingy brown hide of a bull long since gone
the way of all flesh barred the way; a week, one month or six the hut
would stand inviolate from despoliation; for such was the unwritten
law of a land where life was held cheaper than the things necessary to
preserve life.

On such a morning, when the air was like summer and all the birds were
rehearsing most industriously their parts in the opening chorus with
which Spring meant to celebrate her return to the northern land, a
ride down the valley was pure joy to any man whose soul was tuned in
harmony with the great outdoors; and trouble lagged and could not keep
pace with the riders.

Half-way down, they met Valencia, a slim young Spaniard with one of
those amazing smiles that was like a flash of sunlight, what with his
perfect teeth, his eyes that could almost laugh out loud, and a sunny
soul behind them. Valencia, having an appetite for acquiring wisdom of
various kinds and qualities, knew some English and was not averse to
making strangers aware of the accomplishment.

Therefore, when the two greeted him in Spanish, he calmly replied:
"Hello, pardner," and pulled up for a smoke.

"How you feel for my dam-close call to-morrow?" he wanted to know of
Jack, when he learned his name.

"Pretty well. How did you know - ?" began Jack, but the other cut him
short.

"José, she heard on town. The patron, she's worry leetle. She's 'fraid
for Señor Hunter be keel. Me, I ride to find for-sure." Valencia
dropped his match, and leaned negligently from the saddle and picked
it out of the grass, his eyes stealing a look at the stranger as he
came up.

"Good work," commented Jack under his breath to Dade. But Valencia's
ears were keen for praise; he heard, and from that moment he was
Jack's friend.

"I borrowed your saddle, Valencia," Jack announced, meaning to promise
a speedy return of it.

"Not my saddle; yours and mine, amigo," amended Valencia quite simply
and sincerely. "Mine, she's yours also. You keep him." While he
smoked the little, corn-husk cigarette, he eyed with admiration the
copper-red hair upon which Manuel had looked with disfavor.

Before they rode on and left him, his friendliness had stamped
an agreeable impression upon Jack's consciousness. He looked back
approvingly at the sombreroed head bobbing along behind a clump of
young manzanita just making ready to bloom daintily.

"I like that vaquero," he stated emphatically. "He's worth two of
Manuel, to my notion."

"Valencia? He's not half the man old Manuel is. He gambles worse than
an Injun, and never has anything more than his riding outfit and the
clothes on his back, they tell me. And he fights like a catamount when
the notion strikes him; and it doesn't seem to make much difference
whether he's got an excuse or not. He's a good deal like you, in that
respect," he added, with that perfect frankness which true friendship
affects as a special privilege earned by its loyalty.

"Manuel's got tricky eyes," countered Jack. "He's the kind of Spaniard
that will 'Sí, Señor,' while he's hitching his knife loose to get you
in the back. I know the breed; I lived amongst 'em before I ever saw
you. Valencia's the kind I'd tie to."

"And I was working with 'em when you were saying 'pitty horsey!' My
first job was with a Spanish outfit. A Mexican majordomo licked me
into shape when I was sweet sixteen. And," he clinched the argument
mercilessly, "I was sixteen and drawing a man's pay on rodeo when you
wore your pants buttoned on to your waist!"

"And you don't know anything yet!" Jack came back at him. Whereat they
laughed and called a truce, which was the way of them.




CHAPTER VII

THE LORD OF THE VALLEY


Scattered, grazing herds of wild, long-horned cattle that ran from
their approach gave place to feeding mustangs with the mark of the
saddle upon them. Later, an adobe wall confronted them; and this they
followed through a grove of great live oaks and up a grassy slope
beyond, to where the long, low adobe house sat solidly upon a natural
terrace, with the valley lying before and the hills at its back;
a wide-armed, wide-porched, red-roofed adobe such as the Spanish
aristocracy loved to build for themselves. The sun shone warmly upon
the great, latticed porch, screened by the passion vines that hid
one end completely from view. To the left, a wing stretched out
generously, with windows curtained primly with some white stuff that
flapped desultorily in the fitful breeze from the south. At the right,
so close that they came near being a part of the main structure and
helped to give the general effect of a hollow, open-sided square,
stood a row of small adobe huts; two of them were tiled like the
house, and the last, at the outer end, was thatched with tules.

Into the immaculate patio thus formed before the porch, Dade led the
way boldly, as one sure of his welcome. Behind the vines a girl's
voice, speaking rapidly and softly with a laugh running all through
the tones, hushed as suddenly as does a wild bird's twitter when
strange steps approach. And just as suddenly did Dade's nostrils
flare with the quick breath he drew; for tones, if one listens
understandingly, may tell a great deal. Even Jack knew instinctively
that a young man sat with the girl behind the vines.

After the hush they heard the faint swish of feminine movement. She
came and stood demurely at the top of the wide steps, a little hoop
overflowing soft, white embroidered stuff in her hands.

"Welcome home, Señor Hunter," she said, and made him a courtesy that
was one-third politeness and the rest pure mockery. "My father will
be relieved in his mind when he sees you. I think he slept badly last
night on your account."

Wistfulness was in Dade's eyes when he looked at her; as though he
wanted to ask if she also were relieved at seeing him. But there was
the man behind the lattice where the vines were thickest; the man who
was young and whom she had found a pleasant companion. Also there was
Jack, who was staring with perfect frankness, his eyes a full
shade darker as he looked at her. And there was the peon scampering
barefooted across from one of the huts to take their horses. Dade
therefore confined himself to conventional phrases.

"Señorita, let me present to you my friend, Jack Allen," he said.
"Jack, this is the Señorita Teresa Picardo."

His nostrils widened again when he looked casually at Jack; for Jack's
sombrero was swept down to his knees in salute - though it was not
that; it was the look in his face that sent Dade's glance seeking
Teresita's eyes for answer.

But Teresita only showed him how effectively black lashes contrast
with the faint flush of cheeks just hinting at dimples, and he got no
answer there.

She made another little courtesy, lifting her lashes unexpectedly
for a swift glance at Jack, as he dismounted hastily and went up two
steps, his hand outstretched to her.

"We Americanos like to shake hands upon a new friendship," he said
boldly.

The señorita laughed a little, changed her embroidery hoop from her
right hand to her left, laid her fingers in his palm, blushed when his
hand closed upon them eagerly, and laughed again when her gold thimble
slipped and rolled tinkling down the steps.

Dade picked the thimble out of a matted corner of a violet bed, and
returned it to her unsmilingly; got a flash of her eyes and a little
nod for his reward, and stood back, waiting her further pleasure.

"You have had adventures, Señor, since yesterday morning," she said
to him lightly. "Truly, you Americanos do very wonderful things!
José, here is Señor Hunter and his friend whom he stole away from the
Vigilantes yesterday! Did you have the invisible cap, Señor? It was
truly a miracle such as the padres tell of, that the blessed saints
performed in the books. José told us what he heard - but when I have
called my mother, you yourself must tell us every little bit of it."

While she was talking she was also pulling forward two of the easiest
chairs, playing the hostess prettily and stealing a lash-hidden glance
now and then at the tall señor with such blue eyes and hair the like
of which she had never seen, and the mouth curved like the lips of a
woman.

The young man whom she addressed as José rose negligently and greeted
them punctiliously; seated himself again, picked up a guitar and
strummed a minor chord lazily.

"Don Andres is busy at the corrals," José volunteered, when the girl
had gone. "He will return soon. You had a disagreeable experience,
Señor? One of my vaqueros heard the story in town. There was a rumor
that the Vigilantes were sending out parties to search for you when
Carlos started home. Señor Allen is lucky to get off so easily."

Jack held a match unlighted in his fingers while he studied the face
of José. The tone of him had jarred, but his features were wiped clean
of any expression save faint boredom; and his fingers, plucking a
plaintive fragment of a fandango from the strings, belied the sarcasm
Jack had suspected. Don Andres himself, at that moment coming eagerly
across from the hut at the end of the row, saved the necessity of
replying.

"Welcome home, amigo mio!" cried the don, hurrying up the steps,
sombrero in hand. "Never has sight of a horse pleased me as when Diego
led yours to the stable. Thrice welcome - since you bring your friend
to honor my poor household with his presence."

No need to measure guardedly those tones, or that manner. Don Andres
Picardo was as clean, as honest, and as kindly as the sunshine that
mellowed the dim distances behind him. The two came to their feet
unconsciously and received his handclasp with inner humility.
Don Andres held Dade's hand a shade longer than the most gracious
hospitality demanded, while his eyes dwelt solicitously upon his face,
browned near to the shade of a native son of those western slopes.

"I heard of your brave deed, Señor - of how you rode into the midst of
the Vigilantes and snatched your friend from under the very shadow of
the oak. I did not hear that you escaped their vengeance afterwards,
and I feared greatly lest harm had befallen you. Dios! It was
gallantly done, like a knight of olden times - "

"Oh, no. I didn't rescue any lady, Don Andres. Just Jack - and he was
in a fair way to rescue himself, by the way. It wasn't anything much,
but I suppose the story did grow pretty big by the time it got to
you."

"And does your friend also call it a little thing?" The don turned
quizzically to Jack.

"He does not," Jack returned promptly, although his ears were
listening attentively for a nearer approach of the girl-voice he heard
within the house. "He calls it one of the big things Dade is always
doing for his friends." He dropped a hand on Dade's shoulder and
shook him with an affectionate make-believe of disfavor. "He's always
risking his valuable neck to save my worthless one, Don Andres. He
means well, but he doesn't know any better. He packed me out of a nest
of Indians once, just as foolishly; we were coming out from Texas at
the time. You'd be amazed at some of the things I could tell you about
him - "

"And about himself, if he would," drawled Dade. "If he ever tells you
about the Indian scrape, Don Andres, ask him how he happened to get
into the nest. As to yesterday, perhaps you heard how it came that
Jack got so close to the oak!"

"No - I heard merely of the danger you were in. José's head vaquero
was in town when the Vigilantes returned with their Captain and those
others, and there were many rumors. This morning I sent Valencia to
learn the truth, and if you were in danger - Perhaps I could have done
little, but I should have tried to save you," he added simply. "I
should not like a clash with the gringos - pardon, Señors; I speak of
the class whom you also despise."

José laughed and swept the strings harshly with his thumb. "The clash
will come, Don Andres, whether you like it or not," he said. "This
morning I saw one more unasked tenant on your meadow, near the grove
of alders. What they call a 'prairie schooner.' A big, red-topped
hombre, and his woman - gringos of the class I despise; which
includes" - again he flung his thumb across the guitar string - "all
gringos!"

Jack's lips opened for hot answer, but Don Andres forestalled him
quietly.

"One more tenant does not harm me, José. When the American government
puts its seal upon the seal of Spain and restores my land to me, these
unasked tenants will go the way they came. There will be no clash."
But he sighed even while he made the statement, as if the subject were
neither new nor pleasant to dwell upon.

"Why," demanded José bitterly, "should the Americanos presume to
question our right to our land? You and my father made the valley what
it is; your shiploads of hides and tallow that you sent from Yerba
Buena made the town prosper, and called adventurers this way; and now
they steal your cattle and lands, and their government is the biggest
thief of all, for it tells them to steal more. They will make you
poor, Don Andres, while you wait for them to be just. No, I permit
no 'prairie schooner' to stop, even that their oxen may drink. My
vaqueros ride beside them till they have crossed the boundary. You,


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