From his coat pocket Dick took the letter Don Bartolome had written to his son, and from his vest pocket a match. He twisted the envelope into a spill, lit one end, and found a cigarette. Very deliberately he puffed the cigarette to a glow, holding the letter in his fingers until it had burned to a black flake. This he dropped in the fireplace, and along with it the unsmoked cigarette.
[Illustration: Holding the letter in his fingers until it had burned to a black flake]
“Easiest way to settle that little matter,” he said negligently.
“I judge you’re a little impulsive, too, sometimes, Mr. Gordon,” Valencia replied coldly.
“I never rode all night over the mountains to save a man who was trying to rob me of my land,” he retorted.
This brought a sparkle to her eyes. “I had to think of my foolish men who were getting into trouble.”
“Was that why you offered a hundred dollars’ reward for the arrest of these same men?” came his indolent, satiric reply.
“Don Manuel offered the reward,” she told him haughtily.
An impish smile was in his eyes. “At your suggestion, he tells me. And I understand you insisted on paying the bill, Miss Valdes.”
“Why should he pay it? The men worked for me. They were brought up on my father’s place. They are my responsibility, not his,” she claimed with visible irritation.
“And now they’re my responsibility, too—until I land them in the penitentiary,” he added cheerfully.
From his pocket he took a billbook and selected two fifty-dollar bills. These he offered to Valencia.
She stood very straight. “You owe me nothing, sir.”
“I owe you the hundred dollars you paid to get hold of Sebastian. And I’m going to pay it.”
“I don’t acknowledge the debt. I wanted Sebastian for his sake, not yours. Certainly I shall not accept the money.”
“Just as you say. It isn’t mine. Care if I smoke again?” he asked genially.
She caught his meaning in a flash. “Not at all. Burn them if you like.”
“Now, see here,” interrupted Davis amiably. “You’re both acting like a pair of kids. I’m not going to stand for any hundred-dollar smokes, Dick. Gimme those bills.” He snatched them from his friend and put them in his pocket. “When you two get reasonable again we’ll decide whose money it is. Till then I expect I’ll draw the interest on it.”
“And now, since our business is ended, I think I’ll not detain you any longer, Mr. Gordon, except to warn you that it will be foolhardy to return to the Rio Chama Valley with intentions such as you have.”
“Good of you to warn me, Miss Valdes. It’s not the first time, either, is it? But I’m that bull-headed. Steve will give me a recommend as the most sot chump in New Mexico. Won’t you Steve?”
“I sure will—before a notary if you like. You’ve got a government mule backed off the map.”