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Miguel Farrel pulled up his pinto on the brow of a hill which, along the Atlantic seaboard, would have received credit for being a mountain, and gazed down into the Agua Caliente basin. Half a mile to his right, the slope dipped into a little saddle and then climbed abruptly to the shoulder of El Palomar, the highest peak in San Marcos County. The saddle was less than a hundred yards wide, and through the middle of it a deep arroyo had been eroded by the Rio San Gregorio tumbling down from the hills during the rainy season. This was the only outlet to the Agua Caliente basin, and Don Mike saw at a glance that Parker's engineers had discovered this, for squarely in the outlet a dozen two-horse teams were working, scraping out the foundation for the huge concrete dam for which Parker had contracted. Up the side of El Palomar peak, something that resembled a great black snake had been stretched, and Farrel nodded approvingly as he observed it.
"Good idea, that, to lay a half-mile of twelve-inch steel pipe up to that limestone deposit," he remarked to Parker, who had reined his horse beside Don Mike's. "Only way to run your crushed rock down to the concrete mixer at the dam-site. You'll save a heap of money on delivering the rock, at any rate. Who's your contractor, Mr. Parker?"
"A man named Conway."
"Old Bill Conway, of Santa Barbara?"
"The same, I believe," Parker replied, without interest.
"Great old chap, Bill! One of my father's best friends, although he was twenty years younger than dad. He must feel at home on the Rancho Palomar."
Mrs. Parker could not refrain from asking why.
"Well, ever since Bill Conway was big enough to throw a leg over a horse and hold a gun to his shoulder, he's been shooting deer and quail and coursing coyotes on this ranch. Whenever he felt the down-hill drag, he invited himself up to visit us. Hello! Why, I believe the old horse-thief is down there now; at least that's his automobile. I'd know that ruin anywhere. He bought it in 1906, and swears he's going to wear it out if it takes a lifetime. Let's go down and see what they're up to there. Come on, folks!" And, without waiting to see whether or not he was followed, he urged the pinto over the crest and rode down the hillside at top speed, whooping like a wild Indian to attract the attention of Bill Conway. In a shower of weeds and gravel the pinto slid on his hind quarters down over the cut-bank where the grading operations had bitten into the hillside, and landed with a grunt among the teams and scrapers.
"Bill Conway! Front and center!" yelled the master of Palomar.
"Here! What's the row?" a man shouted, and, from a temporary shack office a hundred yards away, a man stepped out.
"What do you mean by cutting into my dam-site without my permission?" Farrel yelled and drove straight at the contractor. "Hey, there, old settler! Mike Farrel, alive and kicking!" He left the saddle while the pinto was still at a gallop, landed on his feet in front of Bill Conway and took that astounded old disciple of dump-wagon and scraper in a bearlike embrace.
"Miguel! You young scoundrel!" Conway yelled, and forthwith he beat Farrel between the shoulder-blades with a horny old fist and cursed him lovingly.
"Cut out the profanity, Mr. Conway," Don Mike warned him. "Some ladies are about due on the job."
"When'd you light in the Palomar, boy? Gimme your hand. What the--say, ain't it a pity the old man couldn't have lasted until you got back? Ain't it, now, son?"
"A very great pity, Mr. Conway. I got home last night."
"Boy, I'm glad to see you. Say, you ran into surprises, didn't you?" he added, lowering his voice confidentially.
"Rather. But, then, so did the other fellow. In fact, sir, a very pleasant time was had by all. By the way, I hope you're not deluding yourself with the belief that I'm going to pay you for building this dam."
"By Judas priest," the alert old contractor roared, "you certainly do file a bill of complications! I'll have to see Parker about this right away--why, here he is now."
The Parkers had followed more decorously than had Farrel; nevertheless, they had arrived in more or less of a hurry. John Parker rode directly to Conway and Farrel.
"Well, Mr. Conway," he shouted pleasantly, "the lost sheep is found again."
"Whereat there is more rejoicing in San Marcos County than there will be over the return of some other sheep--and a few goats--I know of. How do you do, Mr. Parker?" Conway extended his hand, and, as Kay and her mother rode up, Farrel begged their permission to present him to them. Followed the usual commonplaces of introduction, which Farrel presently interrupted.
"Well, you confounded old ditch-digger! How about you?"
"Still making little rocks out of big ones, son. Say, Mr. Parker, how do we stack up on this contract, now that Little Boy Blue is back on the Palomar, blowing his horn?"
Parker strove gallantly to work up a cheerful grin.
"Oh, he's put a handful of emery dust in my bearings, confound him, Mr. Conway! It begins to look as if I had leaped before looking."
"Very reprehensible habit, Mr. Parker. Well--I'm getting so old and worthless nowadays that I make it a point to look before I leap. Mike, my son, do you happen to be underwriting this contract?"
Don Mike looked serious. He pursed his lips, arched his brows, drew some bills and small coins from his pocket, and carefully counted them.
"The liquid assets of the present owner of that dirt you're making so free with, Mr. Conway, total exactly sixty-seven dollars and nine cents. And I never thought the day would come when a pair of old-time Californians like us would stoop to counting copper pennies. Before I joined the army, I used to give them away to the cholo children, and when there were no youngsters handy to give the pennies to, I used to throw them away."
"Yes," Bill Conway murmured sadly. "And I remember the roar that went up from the old-timers five years ago when the Palace Hotel in San Francisco reduced the price of three fingers of straight whisky from twenty-five cents to fifteen. Boy, they're crowding us out."
"Who's been doing most of the crowding in San Marcos County while I've been away, Mr. Conway?" Farrel queried innocently.
"Japs, my son. Say, they're comin' in here by the ship-load."
"You don't tell me! Why, two years ago there wasn't a Jap in San Marcos County with the exception of a couple of shoemakers and a window-washing outfit in El Toro."
"Well, those hombres aren't mending shoes or washing windows any more, Miguel. They saved their money and now they're farming--garden-truck mostly. There must be a thousand Japanese in the county now--all farmers or farm-laborers. They're leasing and buying every acre of fertile land they can get hold of."
"Have they acquired much acreage?"
"Saw a piece in the El Toro Sentinel last week to the effect that nine thousand and twenty acres have been alienated to the Japs up to the first of the year. Nearly all the white men have left La Questa valley since the Japs discovered they could raise wonderful winter celery there."
"But where do these Japanese farmers come from, Mr. Conway?" Parker inquired. "They do not come from Japan because, under the gentlemen's agreement, Japan restricts emigration of her coolie classes."
"Well, now," Bill Conway began judicially. "I'll give Japan the benefit of any doubts I have as to the sincerity with which she enforces this gentlemen's agreement. The fact remains, however, that she does not restrict emigration to Mexico, and, unfortunately, we have an international boundary a couple of thousand miles long and stretching through a sparsely settled, brushy country. To guard our southern boundary in such an efficient manner that no Jap could possibly secure illegal entry to the United States via the line, we would have to have sentries scattered at hundred-yard intervals and closer than that on dark nights. The entire standing army of the United States would be required for the job. In addition to the handicap of this unprotected boundary, we have a fifteen-hundred-mile coast-line absolutely unguarded. Japanese fishermen bring their nationals up from the Mexican coast in their trawlers and set them ashore on the southern California coast. At certain times of the year, any landlubber can land through the surf at low tide; in fact, ownerless skiffs are picked up on the south-coast beaches right regularly."
"Well, you can't blame the poor devils for wanting to come to this wonderful country, Mr. Conway. It holds for them opportunities far greater than in their own land."
"True, Mr. Parker. But their gain is our loss, and, as a matter of common sense, I fail to see why we should accord equal opportunity to an unwelcome visitor who enters our country secretly and illegally. I grant you it would prove too expensive and annoying to make a firm effort to stop this illegal immigration by preventive measures along our international boundary and coast-line, but if we destroy the Jap's opportunity for profit at our expense, we will eliminate the main incentive for his secret and illegal entry, which entry is always very expensive. I believe seven hundred and fifty dollars is the market-price for smuggling Japs and Chinamen into the United States of America."
"But we should take steps to discover these immigrants after they succeed in making entry--"
"Rats!" the bluff old contractor interrupted. "How are we going to do that under present conditions? The cry of the country is for economy in governmental affairs, so Congress prunes the already woefully inadequate appropriation for the Department of Labor and keeps our force of immigration inspectors down to the absolute minimum. These inspectors are always on the job; the few we have are splendid, loyal servants of the government, and they prove it by catching Japs, Chinamen, and Hindus every day in the week. But for every illegal entrant they apprehend, ten escape and are never rounded up. Confound them; they all look alike, anyhow! How are you going to distinguish one Jap from another?
"Furthermore, Mr. Parker, you must bear this fact in mind: The country at large is not interested in the problem of Oriental immigration. It hasn't thought about it; it doesn't know anything about it except what the Japs have told it, and a Jap is the greatest natural-born liar and purveyor of half-truths and sugar-coated misinformation this world has known."
"Easy, old timer!" Don Mike soothed, laying his hand on Conway's shoulder. "Don't let your angry passions rise."
"I always fly into a rage when I get talking about Japs," he explained deprecatingly to the ladies. "And it's such a helpless, hopeless rage. There's no outlet for it. You see," he began all over again, "the dratted Jap propagandist is so smart--he's so cunning that he has capitalized the fact that California was the first state to protest against the Japanese invasion. He has made the entire country believe that this is a dirty little local squabble of no consequence to our country at large. He keeps the attention of forty-seven states on California while he quietly proceeds to colonize Oregon, Washington, and parts of Utah. Lately he has passed blithely over the hot, lava-strewn, and fairly non-irrigated state of Arizona to the more fertile agricultural lands of Texas. And yet a couple of hundred prize boobs in Congress talk sagely about an amicable settlement of the Jap problem in California! When they want information, they consult the Japanese ambassador!"
"But why," Kay ventured to ask, "do the Japanese not acquire agricultural lands in the Middle West? There are no restrictions in those states in the matter of outright purchases of land, and surely the soil is fertile enough to suit the most exacting Jap."
"Ah, young lady," Bill Conway boomed. "I'm glad you asked me that question. The Jap is a product of the temperate zone; he does not take kindly to extremes of heat and cold. Unlike the white man he cannot stand such extremes and function with efficiency. That's why the extreme northern part of Japan, which is very cold in winter, is so sparsely populated, although excellent agricultural land. Why freeze to death up there when, by merely following the Japan Current as it laves the west coast of North America from British Columbia down, one can, in a pinch, dispense with an overcoat in January?"
"Enough of this anti-Japanese propaganda of yours, Seņor Conway," Don Mike interrupted. "Our friends here haven't listened to anything else since I got home last night. Mr. Parker, being quite ignorant of the real issue, has, of course, fallen under the popular delusion; and I've been trying my best to lead him to the mourner's bench, to convince him that when he acquires the Rancho Palomar--which, by the way, will not be for at least a year, now that I've turned up to nullify his judgment of foreclosure--that it will be a far more patriotic action on his part, even if less profitable, to colonize the San Gregorio with white men instead of Japs. In fact, Mr. Parker, I wouldn't be surprised if you should succeed in putting through a very profitable deal with the state of California to colonize the valley with ex-soldiers."
Old Bill Conway turned upon John Parker a smoldering gaze.
"So I'm building a dam to irrigate a lot of Jap truck-gardens, am I?" he rumbled.
The sly, ingenious manner in which Miguel Farrel had so innocently contrived to strew his already rough path with greater obstacles, infuriated Parker, and for an instant he lost control of himself.
"What do you care what it's for, Conway, provided you make your profit out of the contract?" he demanded brusquely.
"Ladies," the contractor replied, turning to Mrs. Parker and Kay, "I trust you will pardon me for discussing business in your presence just for a minute. Miguel, am I to understand that this ranch is still Farrel property?"
"You bet! And for a year to come."
"Then I gather that Mr. Parker has contracted with me to build a dam on your land and without your approval. Am I right?"
"You are, Mr. Conway. I am not even contemplating giving my approval to the removal of another scraper of dirt from that excavation."
Conway faced Parker.
"Am I to continue operations?" he demanded. "I have a cost-plus-fifteen-per-cent. contract with you, Mr. Parker, and if you are not going to be in position to go through with it, I want to know it now."
"In the absence of Mr. Farrel's permission, I have no alternative save to ask you to suspend operations, Mr. Conway," Parker answered bitterly. "I expect, of course, to settle with you for the abrupt cancellation of the contract, but I believe we are both reasonable men and that no difficulty will arise in that direction."
"I'm naturally disappointed, Mr. Parker. I have a good crew and I like to keep the men busy--particularly when good men are as hard to procure as they are nowadays. However, I realize your predicament, and I never was a great hand to hit a man when he was down."
"Thank you, Mr. Conway. If you will drop in at the ranch-house to-morrow for dinner, we can put you up for the night, I dare say." He glanced at Farrel, who nodded. "We can then take up the matter of compensation for the cancelled contract."
"In the meantime, then, I might as well call the job off and stop the expense," Conway suggested. "We'll load up the equipment and pull out in the morning."
"Why be so precipitate, Mr. Conway?" Don Mike objected, almost fiercely. "You always were the most easy-going, tender-hearted old scout imaginable, and that's why you've never been able to afford a new automobile. Now, I have a proposition to submit to you, Mr. Conway, and inasmuch as it conflicts radically with Mr. Parker's interests, I feel that common courtesy to him indicates that I should voice that proposition in his presence. With the greatest good will in life toward each other, nevertheless we are implacable opponents. Mr. Parker has graciously spread, face up on the table for my inspection, an extremely hard hand to beat; so now it's quite in order for me to spring my little joker and try to take the odd trick. Mr. Conway, I want you to do something for me. Not for my sake or the sake of my dead father, who was a good friend of yours, but for the sake of this state where we were both born and which we love because it is symbolical of the United States. I want you to stand pat and refuse to cancel this contract. Insist on going through with it and make Mr. Parker pay for it. He can afford it, and he is good for it. He will not repudiate a promise to pay while he has money in bank or securities to hypothecate. He is absolutely responsible financially. He owns a controlling interest in the First National Bank of El Toro, and he has a three-hundred-thousand-dollar equity in this ranch in the shape of a first mortgage ripe for foreclosure--you can levy on those assets if he declines to go through with the contract. Force him to go through; force him, old friend of my father and mine and enemy of all Japanese! For God's sake, stand by me! I'm desperate, Mr. Conway--"
"Call me 'Bill,' son," Conway interrupted gently.
"You know what the Farrels have been up against always, Bill," Don Mike pleaded. "That easy-going Spanish blood! But, Bill, I'm a throw-back. By God, I am! Give me this chance--this God-given chance--and the fifty-per-cent, Celtic strain in me and the twenty-five-per-cent. Gaelic that came with my Galvez blood will save the San Gregorio to white men! Give me the water, Bill; give me the water that will make my valley bloom in the August heat, and then, with the tremendous increase in the value of the land, I'll find somebody, some place, who will trust me for three hundred thousand paltry dollars to give this man and save my ranch. This is a white-man's country, and John Parker is striving, for a handful of silver, to betray us and make it a yellow paradise."
His voice broke under the stress of his emotion; he gulped and the tears welled to his eyes.
"Oh, Bill, for God's sake don't fail me!" he begged. "You're a Californian! You've seen the first Japs come! Only fifteen years ago, they were such a rare sight the little boys used to chase them and throw rocks at them just to see them run in terror. But the little boys do not throw rocks at them now, and they no longer run. They have the courage of numbers and the prompt and forceful backing of a powerful fraternity across the Pacific. You've seen them spread gradually over the land--why, Bill, just think of the San Gregorio five years hence--the San Gregorio where you and I have hunted quail since I was ten years old. You gave me my first shot-gun--"
"Sonny," said old Bill Conway gently, passing his arm across Farrel's shoulders, "I wish to goodness you'd shut up! I haven't got three hundred thousand dollars, nor a tenth of it. If I had it I'd give it to you now and save argument. But I'll tell you what I have got, son, and that's a sense of humor. It's kept me poor all my life, but if you think it will make you rich you're welcome to it." He looked up, and his glance met Kay's. "This chap's a limited edition," he informed her gravely. "After the Lord printed one volume, he destroyed the plates. Mr. Parker, sir--" He stepped up to John Parker and smote the latter lightly on the breast--"Tag; you're it!" he announced pleasantly. "I'll cancel this contract when you hand me a certified check; for twenty-four billion, nine-hundred and eighty-two million, four hundred and seventeen thousand, six hundred and one dollars, nine cents, and two mills."
"Conway," Parker answered him quietly, "I like your sense of humor, even if it does hurt. However, you force me to fight the devil with fire. Still, for the sake of the amenities, we should always make formal declaration of war before beginning hostilities."
"And that's a trick you didn't learn in Japan," the old contractor reminded him.
"So I hereby declare war. I'm a past master at holding hard to whatever I do not wish the other fellow to take away from me, so build your dam and be damned to you. Of course, if you complete your contract eventually, you will force me to pay you for it, but in the interim you will have had to use clam-shells and woodpecker heads for money. I know I can stave off settlement of your judgment for a year; after that, should I acquire title to the Rancho Palomar, I will settle with you promptly."
"And if you shouldn't acquire title, I shall look to my young friend, Don Miguel Farrel, for reimbursement. While at present the future may look as black to Mike as the Earl of Hell's riding-boots, his credit is good with me. Is this new law you've promulgated retroactive?"
"What do you mean?"
"You'll settle with me for all work performed up to the moment of this break in diplomatic relations, won't you?"
"That's quite fair, Conway. I'll do that." Despite the chagrin of having to wage for the nonce a losing battle, Parker laughed heartily and with genuine sincerity. Don Mike joined with him and the charged atmosphere cleared instantly.
"Bill Conway, you're twenty-four carat all through." Farrel laid a hand affectionately on his father's old friend. "Be sure to come down to the hacienda tomorrow night and get your check. We dine at six-thirty."
"As is?" Conway demanded, surveying his rusty old business suit and hard, soiled hands.
"'As is,' Bill."
"Fine! Well, we've come to a complete understanding without falling out over it, haven't we?" he demanded of Kay and her mother. "With malice toward none and justice toward all--or words to that effect. Eh?"
"Oh, get back into your office, Conway, and cast up the account against me. Figure a full day for the men and the mules, although our break came at half-past three. I'm a contrary man, but I'm not small. Come on, Mr. Farrel, let's go home," Parker suggested.
"Little birds in their nest should agree," old Conway warned, as, with a sweep of his battered old hat to the ladies, he turned to re-enter his office. With a nod of farewell, John Parker and his wife started riding down the draw, while Farrel turned to unloosen his saddle-girth and adjust the heavy stock-saddle on the pinto's back. While he was thus engaged, Kay rode up to the door of Conway's rough little office, bent down from Panchito, and peered in.
"Bill Conway!" she called softly.
Bill Conway came to the door.
"What's the big idea, Miss Parker?"
The girl glanced around and saw that Don Mike was busy with the latigo, so she leaned down, drew her arm around the astounded Conway's neck, and implanted on his ruddy, bristly cheek a kiss as soft--so Bill Conway afterward described it--as goose-hair.
"You build that dam," she whispered, blushing furiously, "and see to it that it's a good dam and will hold water for years. I'm the reserve in this battle--understand? When you need money, see me, but, oh, please do not tell Don Mike about it. I'd die of shame."
She whirled Panchito and galloped down the draw, with Miguel Farrel loping along behind her, while, from the door of his shack of an office, old Bill Conway looked after them and thoughtfully rubbed a certain spot on his cheek. Long after the young folks had disappeared round the base of El Palomar, he continued to gaze. Eventually he was brought out of his reverie when a cur dog belonging to one of the teamsters on the grading gang thrust a cold muzzle into his hand.
"Purp," murmured Mr. Conway, softly, "this isn't a half-bad old world, even if a fellow does grow old, and finds himself hairless and childless and half broke and shackled to the worst automobile in the world, bar none. And do you know why it isn't such a rotten world as some folks claim? No? Well, I'll tell you, purp. It's because it keeps a-movin'. And do you know what keeps it a-movin'? Purp, it's love!"
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