“I trust, senor, your experience of yesterday has not given you a wakeful night?”
“Slept like a top. Fact is, I’m just getting up. You heard this morning yet how Tom is?”
“The morning newspaper says he is doing very well indeed.”
“That’s good hearing. He’s a first-rate boy, and I’d hate to hear worse of him. But I mustn’t take your time over our affairs. I think you mentioned business, sir?”
The Castilian leaned forward and fixed his black, piercing eyes on the other. Straight into his business he plunged.
“Senor Gordon, have you ever heard of the Valdes grant?”
“Not to remember it. What kind of a grant is it?”
“It is a land grant, made by Governor Facundo Megares, of New Mexico, which territory was then a province of Spain, to Don Fernando Valdes, in consideration of services rendered the Spanish crown against the Indians.”
Dick shook his head. “You’ve got me, sir. If I ever heard of it the thing has plumb slipped my mind. Ought I to know about it?”
“Have you ever heard of the Moreno grant?”
Somewhere in the back of the young man’s mind a faint memory stirred. He seemed to see an old man seated at a table in a big room with a carved fireplace. The table was littered with papers, and the old gentleman was explaining them to a woman. She was his daughter, Dick’s mother. A slip of a youngster was playing about the room with two puppies. That little five-year-old was the young mine operator.
“I have,” he answered calmly.
“You know, then, that a later governor of the territory, Manuel Armijo, illegally carved half a million acres out of the former grant and gave it to Jose Moreno, from whom your grandfather bought it.”
The miner’s face froze to impassivity. He was learning news. The very existence of such a grant was a surprise to him. His grandfather and his mother had been dead fifteen years. Somewhere in an old trunk back in Kentucky there was a tin box full of papers that might tell a story. But for the present he preferred to assume that he knew what information they contained.
“I object to the word illegal, Don Manuel,” he answered curtly, not at all sure his objection had any foundation of law.
Pesquiera shrugged. “Very well, senor. The courts, I feel sure, will sustain my words.”
“Perhaps, and perhaps not.”
“The law is an expensive arbiter, Senor Gordon. Your claim is slight. The title has never been perfected by you. In fifteen years you have paid no taxes. Still your claim, though worthless in itself, operates as a cloud upon the title of my client, the Valdes heir.”
Dick looked at him steadily and nodded. He began to see the purpose of this visit. He waited silently, his mind very alert.
“Senor, I am here to ask of you a relinquishment. You are brave; no doubt, chivalrous——”