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That night, Miguel Farrel did not sleep in the great bed of his ancestors. Instead, he lay beneath his grandmother's silk crazy-quilt and suffered. The shock incident to the discovery of the desperate straits to which he had been reduced had, seemingly, deprived him of the power to think coherently. Along toward daylight, however, what with sheer nervous exhaustion, he fell into a troubled doze from which he was awakened at seven o'clock by the entrance of Pablo, with a pitcher of hot water for his shaving.
"Carolina will serve breakfast, Don Miguel," he announced. "The Japanese cook tried to throw her out of the kitchen; so I have locked him up in the room where of old I was wont to place vaqueros who desired to settle their quarrels without interference."
"How about food, Pablo?"
"Unfortunately, Father Dominic had neither sugar nor cream. It appears such things are looked upon at the mission as luxuries, and the padres have taken the vow of poverty. He could furnish nothing save half a ham, which is of Brother Flavio's curing, and very excellent. I have tasted it before. I was forced to ride to the Gonzales rancho for the cream and sugar this morning, and have but a few moments ago returned."
Having deposited the pitcher of hot water, Pablo retired and, for several minutes, Miguel Farrel lay abed, gazing at the row of portraits of Noriagas and Farrels. His heart was heavy enough still, but the first benumbing shock of his grief and desperation had passed, and his natural courage and common sense were rapidly coming to his aid. He told himself that, with the dawning of the new day, he would no longer afford the luxury of self-pity, of vain repining for the past. He had to be up and doing, for a man's-sized task now confronted him. He had approximately seven months in which to rehabilitate an estate which his forebears had been three generations in dissipating, and the Gaelic and Celtic blood in him challenged defeat even in the very moment when, for all he knew to the contrary, his worldly assets consisted of approximately sixty dollars, the bonus given him by the government when parting with his services.
"I'll not give up without a battle," he told his ancestors aloud. "You've all contributed to my heavy load, but while the pack-straps hold and I can stand and see, I'll carry it. I'll fight this man Parker up to the moment he hands the county recorder the commissioner's deed and the Rancho Palomar has slipped out of my hands forever. But I'll fight fair. That splendid girl--ah, pooh! Why am I thinking of her?"
Disgusted with himself for having entertained, for a fleeting instant, a slight sentimental consideration for the daughter of his enemy--for as such he now regarded this man who planned to colonize the San Gregorio with Japanese farmers--he got out of bed and under the cold shower-bath he had installed in the adjoining room years before. It, together with the tub-bath formerly used by his father, was the only plumbing in the hacienda, and Farrel was just a little bit proud of it. He shaved, donned clean linen and an old dressing-gown, and from his closet brought forth a pair of old tan riding-boots, still in an excellent state of repair. From his army-kit he produced a boot-brush and a can of tan polish, and fell to work, finding in the accustomed task some slight surcease from his troubles.
His boots polished to his satisfaction, he selected from the stock of old civilian clothing a respectable riding-suit of English whip-cord, inspected it carefully for spots, and, finding none, donned it. A clean starched chambray shirt, set off by a black-silk Windsor tie, completed his attire, with the exception of a soft, wide, flat-brimmed gray-beaver hat, and stamped him as that which he had once been but was no longer--a California rancher of taste and means somewhat beyond the average.
It was twenty-five minutes past eight when he concluded his leisurely toilet; so he stepped out of his room, passed round two sides of the porched patio, and entered the dining-room. The long dining-table, hewed by hand from fir logs by the first of the Noriagas, had its rough defects of manufacture mercifully hidden by a snow-white cloth, and he noted with satisfaction that places had been set for five persons. He hung his hat on a wall-peg and waited with his glance on the door.
Promptly at eight-thirty, Carolina, smiling, happy, resplendent in a clean starched calico dress of variegated colors, stepped outside the door and rang vigorously a dinner-bell that had called three generations of Noriagas and an equal number of generations of Farrels to their meals. As its musical notes echoed through the dewy patio, Murray, the butler, appeared from the kitchen. At sight of Farrel, he halted, puzzled, but recognized in him almost instantly the soldier who had so mysteriously appeared at the house the night before. El Mono was red of face and obviously controlling with difficulty a cosmic cataclysm.
"Sir," he announced, respectfully, "that Indian of yours has announced that he will shoot me if I attempt to serve breakfast."
Farrel grinned wanly.
"In that event, Murray," he replied, "if I were you, I should not attempt to serve breakfast. You might be interested to know that I am now master here and that, for the present, my own servants will minister to the appetites of my guests. Thank you for your desire to serve, but, for the present, you will not be needed here. If you will kindly step into the kitchen, Carolina will later serve breakfast to you and the maids."
"I'm quite certain I've never heard of anything so extraordinary," Murray murmured. "Mrs. Parker is not accustomed to being summoned to breakfast with a bell."
"Indeed? I'm glad you mentioned that, Murray. Perhaps you would be good enough to oblige me by announcing breakfast to Mr. and Mrs. Parker, Miss Parker, and their guest, Mr. Okada."
"Thank you, sir," Murray murmured, and departed on his errand.
The first to respond to the summons was Kay. She was resplendent in a stunning wash-dress and, evidently, was not prepared for the sight of Farrel standing with his back to the black adobe fireplace. She paused abruptly and stared at him frankly. He bowed.
"Good-morning, Miss Parker. I trust that, despite the excitement of the early part of the night, you have enjoyed a very good rest."
"Good-morning, Don Miguel. Yes; I managed rather well with my sleep, all things considered."
"You mustn't call me 'Don Miguel,'" he reminded her, with a faint smile. "I am only Don Miguel to the Indians and pelados and a few of my father's old Spanish friends who are sticklers for etiquette. My father was one of the last dons in San Marcos County, and the title fitted him because he belonged to the generation of dons. If you call me, 'Don Miguel,' I shall feel a little bit alien."
"Well, I agree with you, Mr. Farrel. You are too young and modern for such an antiquated title. I like 'Don Mike' better."
"There is no further need for that distinguishing appellation," he reminded her, "since my father's death."
She looked at him for several seconds and said:
"I'm glad to see you've gotten a firm grip on yourself so soon. That will make it ever so much nicer for everybody concerned. Mother and father are fearfully embarrassed."
"I shall endeavor to relieve them of their embarrassment the instant I meet them."
"Here they come now," Kay warned, and glanced at him appealingly.
Her mother entered first, followed by the potato baron, with Parker bringing up the rear. Mrs. Parker's handsome face was suffused with confusion, and, from the hesitant manner in which she entered, Farrel realized she was facing an ordeal.
"Mother, this is Mr. Miguel Farrel," Kay announced.
"You are welcome to my poor house, Mrs. Parker," Farrel informed her, gravely, as he crossed the room and bent over her hand for a moment, releasing it to grasp the reluctant hand of her husband. "A double welcome, sir," he said, addressing Kay's father, who mumbled something in reply and introduced him to the potato baron, who bowed ceremoniously.
"Won't you please be seated?" Farrel pleaded. He gently steered Kay's mother to the seat on his right, and tucked her chair in under her, while Parker performed a similar service for his daughter. With the assurance of one whose right to do was unquestioned, Farrel took his seat at the head of the table and reached for the little silver call-bell beside his plate, while Parker took an unaccustomed seat opposite the potato baron.
"Considering the distressing circumstances under which I arrived," Farrel observed, addressing himself to Mrs. Parker, and then, with a glance, including the rest of the company, "I find myself rather happy in the possession of unexpected company. The situation is delightfully unique--don't you think so, Mrs. Parker?"
"It isn't the least bit delightful, Mr. Farrel," the lady declared frankly and forcibly; "but it's dear of you to be so nice about it."
Mr. Parker's momentary embarrassment had passed, and with the feeling that his silence was a trifle disconcerting, he rallied to meet Miguel Farrel's attempt at gaiety.
"Well, Mr. Farrel, we find ourselves in a unique position, as you say. Kay informs me, however, that you are conversant with the circumstances that have conspired to make us your guests."
"Pray do not mention it. Under the peculiar conditions existing, I quite realize that you followed the only logical and sensible course."
Mrs. Parker heaved a small sigh of relief and gazed upon Farrel with new interest. He returned her gaze with one faintly quizzical, whereat, emboldened, she demanded,
"Well, what do you think of us for a jolly little band of usurpers, Mr. Farrel?"
"Why, I think I'm going to like you all very much if you'll give me half a chance."
"I'd give you almost anything rather than be kicked out of this house," she replied, in her somewhat loud, high-pitched voice. "I love it, and I think it's almost sinful on your part to have bobbed up so unexpectedly."
"Mother!" Kay cried reproachfully.
"Tut, tut, Kay, dear! When an obnoxious heir is reported dead, he should have the decency to stay dead, although, now that our particular nuisance is here, alive and well, I suppose we ought to let bygones be bygones and be nice to him--provided, of course, he continues to be nice to us. Are you inclined to declare war, Mr. Farrel?"
"Not until every diplomatic course has been tried and found wanting," he replied.
Carolina entered, bearing five portions of sliced oranges.
"O Lord, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us," Mrs. Parker cried. "Where is Murray?"
Farrel glanced down at his oranges and grinned.
"I'm afraid I excused Murray," he confessed.
Mrs. Parker burst into shrill laughter.
"John," she demanded of her husband, "what do you think of this young man?"
"Pick up the marbles, Mr. Farrel," Parker replied, with poorly assumed good humor. "You win."
"I think this is a jolly adventure," Kay struck in, quick to note the advantage of her outspoken mother's course. "Here you have been more than two months, mother, regarding yourself as the mistress of the Rancho Palomar, retinting rooms, putting in modern plumbing, and cluttering up the place with a butler and maids, when--presto!--overnight a stranger walks in and says kindly, 'Welcome to my poor house!' After which, he appropriates pa's place at the head of the table, rings in his own cook and waitress, forces his own food on us, and makes us like it. Young man, I greatly fear we're going to grow fond of you."
"You had planned to spend the summer here, had you not, Mrs. Parker?"
"Yes. John Parker, have you any idea what's going to become of us?"
"We'll go to Santa Barbara and take rooms at a hotel there for the present," he informed her.
"I loathe hotels," she protested.
"I think I informed you, Mrs. Parker, that you are welcome to my poor house," Farrel reminded her. "I shall be happy to have you remain here until I go away. After that, of course, you can continue to stay on without any invitation from me."
Parker spoke up.
"My dear Mr. Farrel, that is charming of you! Indeed, from all that we have heard of you, it is exactly the course we might expect you to take. Nevertheless, we shall not accept of your kindness. Now that you are here, I see no reason why I should impose the presence of my family and myself upon your hospitality, even if the court has given me the right to enter upon this property. I am confident you are competent to manage the ranch until I am eliminated or come into final possession."
"John, don't be a nut," his wife implored him. "We'll stay here. Yes, we shall, John. Mr. Farrel has asked us in good faith. You weren't trying to be polite just to put us at our ease, were you?" she demanded, turning to Farrel.
"Certainly not, Mrs. Parker. Of course, I shall do my level best to acquire the legal right to dispossess you before Mr. Parker acquires a similar right to dispossess me, but, in the interim, I announce an armistice. All those in favor of the motion will signify by saying 'Aye.'"
"Aye!" cried Kay, and "Aye!" shrilled her mother.
"No!" roared her husband.
"Excess of sound has no weight with me, Mr. Parker," their host announced. "The 'Ayes' have it, and it is so ordered. I will now submit a platform for the approval of the delegates. Having established myself as host and won recognition as such, the following rules and regulations will govern the convention."
"Hear! Hear!" cried Mrs. Parker, and tapped the table with her spoon.
"The rapid ringing of a bell will be the signal for meals."
"Approved!" cried Kay.
"Second the motion!" shrilled her mother.
"My cook, Carolina, is queen of the kitchen, and Spanish cuisine will prevail. When you weary of it, serve notice, and your Japanese cook will be permitted to vary the monotony."
"Great!" Mrs. Parker almost yelled. "Right as a fox!"
"Murray shall serve meals, and--"
Pablo appeared in the door leading to the kitchen and spoke to Farrel in Spanish.
"Pardon, folks. Pablo has a telegram for me. Bring it here, Pablo."
The master of Palomar excused himself to his guests long enough to read the telegram, and then continued the announcement of his platform.
"My old battery commander, to whom I had promised Panchito, wires me that, for his sins, he has been made a major and ordered to the Army of Occupation on the Rhine. Therefore, he cannot use Panchito, and forbids me to express the horse to him. Consequently, Miss Parker, Panchito is almost yours. Consider him your property while you remain my guest."
"You darling Don Miguel Farrel!"
"Exuberant, my dear," her curious mother remarked, dryly, "but, on the whole, the point is well taken." She turned to Farrel. "How about some sort of nag for mother?"
"You may ride my father's horse, if that animal is still on the ranch, Mrs. Parker. He's a beautiful single-footer." He addressed Parker. "We used to have a big gray gelding that you'd enjoy riding, sir. I'll look him up for you after breakfast."
"Thank you, Mr. Farrel," Parker replied, flushing slightly, "I've been riding him already."
"Fine! He needed exercising. I have a brown mare for Mr. Okada, and you are all invited out to the corral after luncheon to see me bust Panchito's wild young brother for my own use."
"Oh, splendid!" Kay cried, enthusiastically.
"The day starts more auspiciously than I had hoped," her mother declared. "I really believe the Rancho Palomar is going to develop into a regular place with you around, Mr. Farrel."
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