“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 ‘Si, Senor,’ 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.
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.