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 you said—”
“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 walked—”
“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 the—”
“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, Senor?”
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.