“Will you then leave it to her to punish these men?”
“No. I pay my own debts.”
Manuel was troubled. He had expected to find the prisoner so eager for release that he would consent at once to his proposal. Instead, he found a man hard and cold as steel. Yet he had to admit that Gordon claimed only his rights. No man could be expected to stand without an appeal to the law such outrageous treatment as he had been given.
“Will you consent then to settle the matter with me, man to man? These men are but peons. They are like cattle and do not think. But I—I am a more worthy foeman. Let me take the burden of their misdeeds on my shoulders.”
Dick wagged a forefinger at him warningly. “Now you’ve got that swashbuckler notion of a duel again. I’m no cavalier of Spain, but a plain American business man, Don Quixote. As for these jail-birds”—his hand swept the room to include the Mexicans—“since I’m an unregenerate human I mean to make ’em pay for what they’ve done. That’s all there is to it.”
Don Manuel bowed. “Very good, Mr. Gordon. We shall see. I promise you that I shall stand between them and prison. I offer you a chance to win the friendship of the Mexicans in the valley. You decline. So be it. I wash my hands, sir.”
He turned away and gave directions to Pablo, who left the room at once. The Spaniard called for candles and lit two. He pointedly ignored Gordon, but sat with his hands in his pockets whistling softly a popular air.
About a quarter of an hour later Pablo returned with a hot meal on a tray. Gordon, having done without food for two days, ate his ham and eggs and drank his coffee with an appetite given to few men. Meanwhile Pesquiera withdrew to the passage and laid down an ultimatum to the Mexicans. They must take horse at once and get back to the hills above the Rio Chama Valley. He would bring saddle horses from a stable so that they could start within the hour and travel all night.
The Mexicans listened sullenly. But they knew that the matter was now out of their hands. Since the arrival of Pesquiera it had become manifestly impossible to hold their prisoner longer. They agreed to the plan of the Spaniard reluctantly.
After Pablo and Sebastian had taken horse Pesquiera returned to the prisoner.
“We will, if it pleases you, move upstairs, Mr. Gordon,” he announced. “To-night I must ask you to remain in the house with me to give those poor fools a little start on their ride for freedom. We shall find better beds upstairs no doubt.”
“They’re hitting the trail, are they?” Dick asked negligently as he followed his guide.
“Yes. If you’ll give me your parole till morning, Mr. Gordon, I shall be able to return to Miss Valdes and let her know that all is well. Otherwise I shall be obliged to sit up and see that you do not get active in interfering with the ride of Pablo and his friend.”