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A Texas Matchmaker by Andy Adams

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A TEXAS MATCHMAKER

by

ANDY ADAMS

Author of 'The Log of a Cowboy'

ILLUSTRATED BY E. BOYD SMITH

1904

[Illustration: ROLLING THE BULL OVER LIKE A HOOP (page 207)]

TO

FRANK H. EARNEST

MOUNTED INSPECTOR U.S. CUSTOMS SERVICE

LAREDO, TEXAS

CONTENTS

CHAPTER

I. LANCE LOVELACE

II. SHEPHERD'S FERRY

III. LAS PALOMAS

IV. CHRISTMAS

V. A PIGEON HUNT

VI. SPRING OF '76

VII. SAN JACINTO DAY

VIII. A CAT HUNT ON THE FRIO

IX. THE ROSE AND ITS THORN

X. AFTERMATH

XI. A TURKEY BAKE

XII. SUMMER OF '77

XIII. HIDE HUNTING

XIV. A TWO YEARS' DROUTH

XV. IN COMMEMORATION

XVI. MATCHMAKING

XVII. WINTER AT LAS PALOMAS

XVIII. AN INDIAN SCARE

XIX. HORSE BRANDS

XX. SHADOWS

XXI. INTERLOCUTORY PROCEEDINGS

XXII. SUNSET

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

ROLLING THE BULL OVER LIKE A HOOP

WE GOT THE AMBULANCE OFF BEFORE SUNRISE

FLASHED A MESSAGE BACK

GAVE THE WILDEST HORSES THEIR HEADS

HE SPED DOWN THE COURSE

UTTERING A SINGLE PIERCING SNORT

CHAPTER I

LANCE LOVELACE

When I first found employment with Lance Lovelace, a Texas cowman, I
had not yet attained my majority, while he was over sixty. Though not
a native of Texas, "Uncle Lance" was entitled to be classed among its
pioneers, his parents having emigrated from Tennessee along with a party
of Stephen F. Austin's colonists in 1821. The colony with which his
people reached the state landed at Quintana, at the mouth of the Brazos
River, and shared the various hardships that befell all the early Texan
settlers, moving inland later to a more healthy locality. Thus the
education of young Lovelace was one of privation. Like other boys in
pioneer families, he became in turn a hewer of wood or drawer of
water, as the necessities of the household required, in reclaiming the
wilderness. When Austin hoisted the new-born Lone Star flag, and called
upon the sturdy pioneers to defend it, the adventurous settlers came
from every quarter of the territory, and among the first who responded
to the call to arms was young Lance Lovelace. After San Jacinto, when
the fighting was over and the victory won, he laid down his arms,
and returned to ranching with the same zeal and energy. The first
legislature assembled voted to those who had borne arms in behalf of the
new republic, lands in payment for their services. With this land scrip
for his pay, young Lovelace, in company with others, set out for the
territory lying south of the Nueces. They were a band of daring spirits.
The country was primitive and fascinated them, and they remained. Some
settled on the Frio River, though the majority crossed the Nueces, many
going as far south as the Rio Grande. The country was as large as the
men were daring, and there was elbow room for all and to spare. Lance
Lovelace located a ranch a few miles south of the Nueces River, and,
from the cooing of the doves in the encinal, named it Las Palomas.

"When I first settled here in 1838," said Uncle Lance to me one morning,
as we rode out across the range, "my nearest neighbor lived forty miles
up the river at Fort Ewell. Of course there were some Mexican families
nearer, north on the Frio, but they don't count. Say, Tom, but she was a
purty country then! Why, from those hills yonder, any morning you could
see a thousand antelope in a band going into the river to drink. And
wild turkeys? Well, the first few years we lived here, whole flocks
roosted every night in that farther point of the encinal. And in the
winter these prairies were just flooded with geese and brant. If you
wanted venison, all you had to do was to ride through those mesquite
thickets north of the river to jump a hundred deer in a morning's ride.
Oh, I tell you she was a land of plenty."

The pioneers of Texas belong to a day and generation which has almost
gone. If strong arms and daring spirits were required to conquer the
wilderness, Nature seemed generous in the supply; for nearly all were
stalwart types of the inland viking. Lance Lovelace, when I first met
him, would have passed for a man in middle life. Over six feet in
height, with a rugged constitution, he little felt his threescore
years, having spent his entire lifetime in the outdoor occupation of a
ranchman. Living on the wild game of the country, sleeping on the ground
by a camp-fire when his work required it, as much at home in the saddle
as by his ranch fireside, he was a romantic type of the strenuous
pioneer.

He was a man of simple tastes, true as tested steel in his friendships,
with a simple honest mind which followed truth and right as unerringly
as gravitation. In his domestic affairs, however, he was unfortunate.
The year after locating at Las Palomas, he had returned to his former
home on the Colorado River, where he had married Mary Bryan, also of the
family of Austin's colonists. Hopeful and happy they returned to their
new home on the Nueces, but before the first anniversary of their
wedding day arrived, she, with her first born, were laid in the same
grave. But grief does not kill, and the young husband bore his loss as
brave men do in living out their allotted day. But to the hour of his
death the memory of Mary Bryan mellowed him into a child, and, when
unoccupied, with every recurring thought of her or the mere mention of
her name, he would fall into deep reverie, lasting sometimes for hours.
And although he contracted two marriages afterward, they were simply
marriages of convenience, to which, after their termination, he
frequently referred flippantly, sometimes with irreverence, for they
were unhappy alliances.

On my arrival at Las Palomas, the only white woman on the ranch was
"Miss Jean," a spinster sister of its owner, and twenty years his
junior. After his third bitter experience in the lottery of matrimony,
evidently he gave up hope, and induced his sister to come out and
preside as the mistress of Las Palomas. She was not tall like her
brother, but rather plump for her forty years. She had large gray eyes,
with long black eyelashes, and she had a trick of looking out from under
them which was both provoking and disconcerting, and no doubt many an
admirer had been deceived by those same roguish, laughing eyes. Every
man, Mexican and child on the ranch was the devoted courtier of Miss
Jean, for she was a lovable woman; and in spite of her isolated life and
the constant plaguings of her brother on being a spinster, she fitted
neatly into our pastoral life. It was these teasings of her brother that
gave me my first inkling that the old ranchero was a wily matchmaker,
though he religiously denied every such accusation. With a remarkable
complacency, Jean Lovelace met and parried her tormentor, but her
brother never tired of his hobby while there was a third person to
listen.

Though an unlettered man, Lance Lovelace had been a close observer of
humanity. The big book of Life had been open always before him, and he
had profited from its pages. With my advent at Las Palomas, there were
less than half a dozen books on the ranch, among them a copy of Bret
Harte's poems and a large Bible.

"That book alone," said he to several of us one chilly evening, as we
sat around the open fireplace, "is the greatest treatise on humanity
ever written. Go with me to-day to any city in any country in
Christendom, and I'll show you a man walk up the steps of his church
on Sunday who thanks God that he's better than his neighbor. But you
needn't go so far if you don't want to. I reckon if I could see myself,
I might show symptoms of it occasionally. Sis here thanks God daily that
she is better than that Barnes girl who cut her out of Amos Alexander.
Now, don't you deny it, for you know it's gospel truth! And that book
is reliable on lots of other things. Take marriage, for instance. It is
just as natural for men and women to mate at the proper time, as it is
for steers to shed in the spring. But there's no necessity of making all
this fuss about it. The Bible way discounts all these modern methods.
'He took unto himself a wife' is the way it describes such events. But
now such an occurrence has to be announced, months in advance. And after
the wedding is over, in less than a year sometimes, they are glad to
sneak off and get the bond dissolved in some divorce court, like I did
with my second wife."

All of us about the ranch, including Miss Jean, knew that the old
ranchero's views on matrimony could be obtained by leading up to the
question, or differing, as occasion required. So, just to hear him talk
on his favorite theme, I said: "Uncle Lance, you must recollect this is
a different generation. Now, I've read books"--

"So have I. But it's different in real life. Now, in those novels you
have read, the poor devil is nearly worried to death for fear he'll not
get her. There's a hundred things happens; he's thrown off the scent
one day and cuts it again the next, and one evening he's in a heaven of
bliss and before the dance ends a rival looms up and there's hell to
pay,--excuse me, Sis,--but he gets her in the end. And that's the way it
goes in the books. But getting down to actual cases--when the money's on
the table and the game's rolling--it's as simple as picking a sire and a
dam to raise a race horse. When they're both willing, it don't require
any expert to see it--a one-eyed or a blind man can tell the symptoms.
Now, when any of you boys get into that fix, get it over with as soon as
possible."

"From the drift of your remarks," said June Deweese very innocently,
"why wouldn't it be a good idea to go back to the old method of letting
the parents make the matches?"

"Yes; it would be a good idea. How in the name of common sense could
you expect young sap-heads like you boys to understand anything about
a woman? I know what I'm talking about. A single woman never shows her
true colors, but conceals her imperfections. The average man is not to
be blamed if he fails to see through her smiles and Sunday humor. Now, I
was forty when I married the second time, and forty-five the last whirl.
Looks like I'd a-had some little sense, now, don't it? But I didn't. No,
I didn't have any more show than a snowball in--Sis, hadn't you better
retire. You're not interested in my talk to these boys.--Well, if ever
any of you want to get married you have my consent. But you'd better get
my opinion on her dimples when you do. Now, with my sixty odd years, I'm
worth listening to. I can take a cool, dispassionate view of a woman
now, and pick every good point about her, just as if she was a cow horse
that I was buying for my own saddle."

Miss Jean, who had a ready tongue for repartee, took advantage of the
first opportunity to remark: "Do you know, brother, matrimony is a
subject that I always enjoy hearing discussed by such an oracle as
yourself. But did it never occur to you what an unjust thing it was of
Providence to reveal so much to your wisdom and conceal the same from us
babes?"

It took some little time for the gentle reproof to take effect, but
Uncle Lance had an easy faculty of evading a question when it was
contrary to his own views. "Speaking of the wisdom of babes," said he,
"reminds me of what Felix York, an old '36 comrade of mine, once said.
He had caught the gold fever in '49, and nothing would do but he and
some others must go to California. The party went up to Independence,
Missouri, where they got into an overland emigrant train, bound for the
land of gold. But it seems before starting, Senator Benton had made a
speech in that town, in which he made the prophecy that one day there
would be a railroad connecting the Missouri River with the Pacific
Ocean. Felix told me this only a few years ago. But he said that all
the teamsters made the prediction a byword. When, crossing some of the
mountain ranges, the train halted to let the oxen blow, one bull-whacker
would say to another: 'Well, I'd like to see old Tom Benton get
his railroad over _this_ mountain.' When Felix told me this he
said--'There's a railroad to-day crosses those same mountain passes over
which we forty-niners whacked our bulls. And to think I was a grown man
and had no more sense or foresight than a little baby blinkin' its eyes
in the sun.'"

With years at Las Palomas, I learned to like the old ranchero. There was
something of the strong, primitive man about him which compelled a
youth of my years to listen to his counsel. His confidence in me was a
compliment which I appreciate to this day. When I had been in his employ
hardly two years, an incident occurred which, though only one of many
similar acts cementing our long friendship, tested his trust.

One morning just as he was on the point of starting on horseback to
the county seat to pay his taxes, a Mexican arrived at the ranch and
announced that he had seen a large band of _javalina_ on the border of
the chaparral up the river. Uncle Lance had promised his taxes by a
certain date, but he was a true sportsman and owned a fine pack of
hounds; moreover, the peccary is a migratory animal and does not wait
upon the pleasure of the hunter. As I rode out from the corrals to learn
what had brought the vaquero with such haste, the old ranchero cried,
"Here, Tom, you'll have to go to the county seat. Buckle this money belt
under your shirt, and if you lack enough gold to cover the taxes, you'll
find silver here in my saddle-bags. Blow the horn, boys, and get the
guns. Lead the way, Pancho. And say, Tom, better leave the road after
crossing the Sordo, and strike through that mesquite country," he called
back as he swung into the saddle and started, leaving me a sixty-mile
ride in his stead. His warning to leave the road after crossing the
creek was timely, for a ranchman had been robbed by bandits on that road
the month before. But I made the ride in safety before sunset, paying
the taxes, amounting to over a thousand dollars.

During all our acquaintance, extending over a period of twenty years,
Lance Lovelace was a constant revelation to me, for he was original in
all things. Knowing no precedent, he recognized none which had not the
approval of his own conscience. Where others were content to follow, he
blazed his own pathways--immaterial to him whether they were followed by
others or even noticed. In his business relations and in his own way, he
was exact himself and likewise exacting of others. Some there are who
might criticise him for an episode which occurred about four years after
my advent at Las Palomas.

Mr. Whitley Booth, a younger man and a brother-in-law of the old
ranchero by his first wife, rode into the ranch one evening, evidently
on important business. He was not a frequent caller, for he was also a
ranchman, living about forty miles north and west on the Frio River, but
was in the habit of bringing his family down to the Nueces about twice a
year for a visit of from ten days to two weeks' duration. But this time,
though we had been expecting the family for some little time, he came
alone, remained over night, and at breakfast ordered his horse, as if
expecting to return at once. The two ranchmen were holding a conference
in the sitting-room when a Mexican boy came to me at the corrals and
said I was wanted in the house. On my presenting myself, my employer
said: "Tom, I want you as a witness to a business transaction. I'm
lending Whit, here, a thousand dollars, and as we have never taken any
notes between us, I merely want you as a witness. Go into my room,
please, and bring out, from under my bed, one of those largest bags of
silver."

The door was unlocked, and there, under the ranchero's bed,
dust-covered, were possibly a dozen sacks of silver. Finding one tagged
with the required amount, I brought it out and laid it on the table
between the two men. But on my return I noticed Uncle Lance had turned
his chair from the table and was gazing out of the window, apparently
absorbed in thought. I saw at a glance that he was gazing into the past,
for I had become used to these reveries on his part. I had not been
excused, and an embarrassing silence ensued, which was only broken as he
looked over his shoulder and said: "There it is, Whit; count it if you
want to."

But Mr. Booth, knowing the oddities of Uncle Lance, hesitated.
"Well--why--Look here, Lance. If you have any reason for not wanting to
loan me this amount, why, say so."

"There's the money, Whit; take it if you want to. It'll pay for the
hundred cows you are figuring on buying. But I was just thinking: can
two men at our time of life, who have always been friends, afford to
take the risk of letting a business transaction like this possibly make
us enemies? You know I started poor here, and what I have made and
saved is the work of my lifetime. You are welcome to the money, but if
anything should happen that you didn't repay me, you know I wouldn't
feel right towards you. It's probably my years that does it, but--now, I
always look forward to the visits of your family, and Jean and I always
enjoy our visits at your ranch. I think we'd be two old fools to allow
anything to break up those pleasant relations." Uncle Lance turned in
his chair, and, looking into the downcast countenance of Mr. Booth,
continued: "Do you know, Whit, that youngest girl of yours reminds me of
her aunt, my own Mary, in a hundred ways. I just love to have your girls
tear around this old ranch--they seem to give me back certain glimpses
of my youth that are priceless to an old man."

"That'll do, Lance," said Mr. Booth, rising and extending his hand. "I
don't want the money now. Your view of the matter is right, and our
friendship is worth more than a thousand cattle to me. Lizzie and the
girls were anxious to come with me, and I'll go right back and send them
down."

CHAPTER II

SHEPHERD'S FERRY

Within a few months after my arrival at Las Palomas, there was a dance
at Shepherd's Ferry. There was no necessity for an invitation to such
local meets; old and young alike were expected and welcome, and a dance
naturally drained the sparsely settled community of its inhabitants from
forty to fifty miles in every direction. On the Nueces in 1875, the
amusements of the countryside were extremely limited; barbecues,
tournaments, and dancing covered the social side of ranch life, and
whether given up or down our home river, or north on the Frio, so they
were within a day's ride, the white element of Las Palomas could always
be depended on to be present, Uncle Lance in the lead.

Shepherd's Ferry is somewhat of a misnomer, for the water in the river
was never over knee-deep to a horse, except during freshets. There may
have been a ferry there once; but from my advent on the river there was
nothing but a store, the keeper of which also conducted a road-house
for the accommodation of travelers. There was a fine grove for picnic
purposes within easy reach, which was also frequently used for
camp-meeting purposes. Gnarly old live-oaks spread their branches like
a canopy over everything, while the sea-green moss hung from every limb
and twig, excluding the light and lazily waving with every vagrant
breeze. The fact that these grounds were also used for camp-meetings
only proved the broad toleration of the people. On this occasion I
distinctly remember that Miss Jean introduced a lady to me, who was the
wife of an Episcopal minister, then visiting on a ranch near Oakville,
and I danced several times with her and found her very amiable.

On receipt of the news of the approaching dance at the ferry, we set
the ranch in order. Fortunately, under seasonable conditions work on
a cattle range is never pressing. A programme of work outlined for a
certain week could easily be postponed a week or a fortnight for that
matter; for this was the land of "la manana," and the white element
on Las Palomas easily adopted the easy-going methods of their Mexican
neighbors. So on the day everything was in readiness. The ranch was a
trifle over thirty miles from Shepherd's, which was a fair half day's
ride, but as Miss Jean always traveled by ambulance, it was necessary to
give her an early start. Las Palomas raised fine horses and mules, and
the ambulance team for the ranch consisted of four mealy-muzzled brown
mules, which, being range bred, made up in activity what they lacked in
size.

Tiburcio, a trusty Mexican, for years in the employ of Uncle Lance, was
the driver of the ambulance, and at an early morning hour he and his
mules were on their mettle and impatient to start. But Miss Jean had
a hundred petty things to look after. The lunch--enough for a
round-up--was prepared, and was safely stored under the driver's seat.
Then there were her own personal effects and the necessary dressing and
tidying, with Uncle Lance dogging her at every turn.

"Now, Sis," said he, "I want you to rig yourself out in something
sumptuous, because I expect to make a killing with you at this dance.
I'm almost sure that that Louisiana mule-drover will be there. You know
you made quite an impression on him when he was through here two years
ago. Well, I'll take a hand in the game this time, and if there's any
marry in him, he'll have to lead trumps. I'm getting tired of having my
dear sister trifled with by every passing drover. Yes, I am! The next
one that hangs around Las Palomas, basking in your smiles, has got to
declare his intentions whether he buys mules or not. Oh, you've got a
brother, Sis, that'll look out for you. But you must play your part.
Now, if that mule-buyer's there, shall I"--

"Why, certainly, brother, invite him to the ranch," replied Miss Jean,
as she busied herself with the preparations. "It's so kind of you to
look after me. I was listening to every word you said, and I've got my
best bib and tucker in that hand box. And just you watch me dazzle that
Mr. Mule-buyer. Strange you didn't tell me sooner about his being in the
country. Here, take these boxes out to the ambulance. And, say, I put
in the middle-sized coffee pot, and do you think two packages of ground
coffee will be enough? All right, then. Now, where's my gloves?"

We were all dancing attendance in getting the ambulance off, but Uncle
Lance never relaxed his tormenting, "Come, now, hurry up," said he, as
Jean and himself led the way to the gate where the conveyance stood
waiting; "for I want you to look your best this evening, and you'll be
all tired out if you don't get a good rest before the dance begins. Now,
in case the mule-buyer don't show up, how about Sim Oliver? You see, I
can put in a good word there just as easily as not. Of course, he's a
widower like myself, but you're no spring pullet--you wouldn't class
among the buds--besides Sim branded eleven hundred calves last year. And
the very last time I was talking to him, he allowed he'd crowd thirteen
hundred close this year--big calf crop, you see. Now, just why he should
go to the trouble to tell me all this, unless he had his eye on you, is
one too many for me. But if you want me to cut him out of your string of
eligibles, say the word, and I'll chouse him out. You just bet, little
girl, whoever wins you has got to score right. Great Scott! but you have
good taste in selecting perfumery. Um-ee! it makes me half drunk to walk
alongside of you. Be sure and put some of that ointment on your kerchief
when you get there."

"Really," said Miss Jean, as they reached the ambulance, "I wish you
had made a little memorandum of what I'm expected to do--I'm all in a
flutter this morning. You see, without your help my case is hopeless.
But I think I'll try for the mule-buyer. I'm getting tired looking at
these slab-sided cowmen. Now, just look at those mules--haven't had a
harness on in a month. And Tiburcio can't hold four of them, nohow.
Lance, it looks like you'd send one of the boys to drive me down to the
ferry."

"Why, Lord love you, girl, those mules are as gentle as kittens; and you
don't suppose I'm going to put some gringo over a veteran like Tiburcio.
Why, that old boy used to drive for Santa Anna during the invasion
in '36. Besides, I'm sending Theodore and Glenn on horseback as a
bodyguard. Las Palomas is putting her best foot forward this morning in
giving you a stylish turnout, with outriders in their Sunday livery. And
those two boys are the best ropers on the ranch, so if the mules run off
just give one of your long, keen screams, and the boys will rope and
hog-tie every mule in the team. Get in now and don't make any faces
about it."

It was pettishness and not timidity that ailed Jean Lovelace, for a
pioneer woman like herself had of course no fear of horse-flesh. But
the team was acting in a manner to unnerve an ordinary woman. With
me clinging to the bits of the leaders, and a man each holding the
wheelers, as they pawed the ground and surged about in their creaking
harness, they were anything but gentle; but Miss Jean proudly took her
seat; Tiburcio fingered the reins in placid contentment; there was a
parting volley of admonitions from brother and sister--the latter was
telling us where we would find our white shirts--when Uncle Lance
signaled to us; and we sprang away from the team. The ambulance gave a
lurch, forward, as the mules started on a run, but Tiburcio dexterously
threw them on to a heavy bed of sand, poured the whip into them as they
labored through it; they crossed the sand bed, Glenn Gallup and Theodore
Quayle, riding, at their heads, pointed the team into the road, and they
were off.

The rest of us busied ourselves getting up saddle horses and dressing
for the occasion. In the latter we had no little trouble, for dress
occasions like this were rare with us. Miss Jean had been thoughtful
enough to lay our clothes out, but there was a busy borrowing of collars
and collar buttons, and a blacking of boots which made the sweat stand
out on our foreheads in beads. After we were dressed and ready to start,
Uncle Lance could not be induced to depart from his usual custom, and
wear his trousers outside his boots. Then we had to pull the boots off
and polish them clear up to the ears in order to make him presentable.
But we were in no particular hurry about starting, as we expected to out
across the country and would overtake the ambulance at the mouth of the
Arroyo Seco in time for the noonday lunch. There were six in our party,
consisting of Dan Happersett, Aaron Scales, John Cotton, June Deweese,
Uncle Lance, and myself. With the exception of Deweese, who was nearly
twenty-five years old, the remainder of the boys on the ranch were young
fellows, several of whom besides myself had not yet attained their
majority. On ranch work, in the absence of our employer, June was
recognized as the _segundo_ of Los Palomas, owing to his age and his
long employment on the ranch. He was a trustworthy man, and we younger
lads entertained no envy towards him.

It was about nine o'clock when we mounted our horses and started. We
jollied along in a party, or separated into pairs in cross-country
riding, covering about seven miles an hour. "I remember," said Uncle
Lance, as we were riding in a group, "the first time I was ever at
Shepherd's Ferry. We had been down the river on a cow hunt for about
three weeks and had run out of bacon. We had been eating beef, and
venison, and antelope for a week until it didn't taste right any longer,
so I sent the outfit on ahead and rode down to the store in the hope of
getting a piece of bacon. Shepherd had just established the place at the
time, and when I asked him if he had any bacon, he said he had, 'But is
it good?' I inquired, and before he could reply an eight-year-old boy of
his stepped between us, and throwing back his tow head, looked up into
my face and said: 'Mister, it's a little the best I ever tasted.'"

"Now, June," said Uncle Lance, as we rode along, "I want you to let
Henry Annear's wife strictly alone to-night. You know what a stink it
raised all along the river, just because you danced with her once, last
San Jacinto day. Of course, Henry made a fool of himself by trying to
borrow a six-shooter and otherwise getting on the prod. And I'll admit
that it don't take the best of eyesight to see that his wife to-day
thinks more of your old boot than she does of Annear's wedding suit,
yet her husband will be the last man to know it. No man can figure to a
certainty on a woman. Three guesses is not enough, for she will and she
won't, and she'll straddle the question or take the fence, and when you
put a copper on her to win, she loses. God made them just that way,
and I don't want to criticise His handiwork. But if my name is Lance
Lovelace, and I'm sixty-odd years old, and this a chestnut horse that
I'm riding, then Henry Annear's wife is an unhappy woman. But that fact,
son, don't give you any license to stir up trouble between man and wife.
Now, remember, I've warned you not to dance, speak to, or even notice
her on this occasion. The chances are that that locoed fool will come
heeled this time, and if you give him any excuse, he may burn a little
powder."

June promised to keep on his good behavior, saying: "That's just what
I've made up my mind to do. But look'ee here: Suppose he goes on the war
path, you can't expect me to show the white feather, nor let him run any
sandys over me. I loved his wife once and am not ashamed of it, and he
knows it. And much as I want to obey you, Uncle Lance, if he attempts to
stand up a bluff on me, just as sure as hell's hot there'll be a strange
face or two in heaven."

I was a new man on the ranch and unacquainted with the facts, so shortly
afterwards I managed to drop to the rear with Dan Happersett, and got
the particulars. It seems that June and Mrs. Annear had not only been
sweethearts, but that they had been engaged, and that the engagement had
been broken within a month of the day set for their wedding, and that
she had married Annear on a three weeks' acquaintance. Little wonder
Uncle Lance took occasion to read the riot act to his _segundo_ in the
interests of peace. This was all news to me, but secretly I wished June
courage and a good aim if it ever came to a show-down between them.

We reached the Arroyo Seco by high noon, and found the ambulance in camp
and the coffee pot boiling. Under the direction of Miss Jean, Tiburcio
had removed the seats from the conveyance, so as to afford seating
capacity for over half our number. The lunch was spread under an old
live-oak on the bank of the Nueces, making a cosy camp. Miss Jean had
the happy knack of a good hostess, our twenty-mile ride had whetted
our appetites, and we did ample justice to her tempting spread. After
luncheon was over and while the team was being harnessed in, I noticed
Miss Jean enticing Deweese off on one side, where the two held a
whispered conversation, seated on an old fallen tree. As they returned,
June was promising something which she had asked of him. And if
there was ever a woman lived who could exact a promise that would be
respected, Jean Lovelace was that woman; for she was like an elder
sister to us all.

In starting, the ambulance took the lead as before, and near the middle
of the afternoon we reached the ferry. The merry-makers were assembling
from every quarter, and on our arrival possibly a hundred had come,
which number was doubled by the time the festivities began. We turned
our saddle and work stock into a small pasture, and gave ourselves over
to the fast-gathering crowd. I was delighted to see that Miss Jean
and Uncle Lance were accorded a warm welcome by every one, for I was
somewhat of a stray on this new range. But when it became known that I
was a recent addition to Las Palomas, the welcome was extended to me,
which I duly appreciated.

The store and hostelry did a rushing business during the evening hours,
for the dance did not begin until seven. A Mexican orchestra, consisting
of a violin, an Italian harp, and two guitars, had come up from Oakville
to furnish the music for the occasion. Just before the dance commenced,
I noticed Uncle Lance greet a late arrival, and on my inquiring of June
who he might be, I learned that the man was Captain Frank Byler from
Lagarto, the drover Uncle Lance had been teasing Miss Jean about in the
morning, and a man, as I learned later, who drove herds of horses north
on the trail during the summer and during the winter drove mules and
horses to Louisiana, for sale among the planters. Captain Byler was a
good-looking, middle-aged fellow, and I made up my mind at once that he
was due to rank as the lion of the evening among the ladies.

It is useless to describe this night of innocent revelry. It was a
rustic community, and the people assembled were, with few exceptions,
purely pastoral. There may have been earnest vows spoken under those
spreading oaks--who knows? But if there were, the retentive ear which
listened, and the cautious tongue which spake the vows, had no intention
of having their confidences profaned on this page. Yet it was a night
long to be remembered. Timid lovers sat apart, oblivious to the gaze
of the merry revelers. Matrons and maidens vied with each other in
affability to the sterner sex. I had a most enjoyable time.

I spoke Spanish well, and made it a point to cultivate the acquaintance
of the leader of the orchestra. On his learning that I also played the
violin, he promptly invited me to play a certain new waltz which he was
desirous of learning. But I had no sooner taken the violin in my hand
than the lazy rascal lighted a cigarette and strolled away, absenting
himself for nearly an hour. But I was familiar with the simple dance
music of the country, and played everything that was called for. My
talent was quite a revelation to the boys of our ranch, and especially
to the owner and mistress of Las Palomas. The latter had me play several
old Colorado River favorites of hers, and I noticed that when she had
the dashing Captain Byler for her partner, my waltzes seemed never long
enough to suit her.

After I had been relieved, Miss Jean introduced me to a number of nice
girls, and for the remainder of the evening I had no lack of partners.
But there was one girl there whom I had not been introduced to, who
always avoided my glance when I looked at her, but who, when we were in
the same set and I squeezed her hand, had blushed just too lovely. When
that dance was over, I went to Miss Jean for an introduction, but she
did not know her, so I appealed to Uncle Lance, for I knew he could
give the birth date of every girl present. We took a stroll through the
crowd, and when I described her by her big eyes, he said in a voice so
loud that I felt sure she must hear: "Why, certainly, I know her. That's
Esther McLeod. I've trotted her on my knee a hundred times. She's the
youngest girl of old man Donald McLeod who used to ranch over on the
mouth of the San Miguel, north on the Frio. Yes, I'll give you an
interslaption." Then in a subdued tone: "And if you can drop your rope
on her, son, tie her good and fast, for she's good stock."

I was made acquainted as his latest adopted son, and inferred the old
ranchero's approbation by many a poke in the ribs from him in the
intervals between dances; for Esther and I danced every dance together
until dawn. No one could charge me with neglect or inattention, for I
close-herded her like a hired hand. She mellowed nicely towards me after
the ice was broken, and with the limited time at my disposal, I made
hay. When the dance broke up with the first signs of day, I saddled
her horse and assisted her to mount, when I received the cutest little
invitation, 'if ever I happened over on the Sau Miguel, to try and
call.' Instead of beating about the bush, I assured her bluntly that if
she ever saw me on Miguel Creek, it would be intentional; for I should
have made the ride purely to see her. She blushed again in a way which
sent a thrill through me. But on the Nueces in '75, if a fellow took a
fancy to a girl there was no harm in showing it or telling her so.

I had been so absorbed during the latter part of the night that I had
paid little attention to the rest of the Las Palomas outfit, though
I occasionally caught sight of Miss Jean and the drover, generally
dancing, sometimes promenading, and once had a glimpse of them
tete-a-tete on a rustic settee in a secluded corner. Our employer seldom
danced, but kept his eye on June Deweese in the interests of peace, for
Annear and his wife were both present. Once while Esther and I were
missing a dance over some light refreshment, I had occasion to watch
June as he and Annear danced in the same set. I thought the latter
acted rather surly, though Deweese was the acme of geniality, and was
apparently having the time of his life as he tripped through the mazes
of the dance. Had I not known of the deadly enmity existing between
them, I could never have suspected anything but friendship, he was
acting the part so perfectly. But then I knew he had given his plighted
word to the master and mistress, and nothing but an insult or indignity
could tempt him to break it.

On the return trip, we got the ambulance off before sunrise, expecting
to halt and breakfast again at the Arroyo Seco. Aaron Scales and Dan
Happersett acted as couriers to Miss Jean's conveyance, while the rest
dallied behind, for there was quite a cavalcade of young folks going a
distance our way. This gave Uncle Lance a splendid chance to quiz the
girls in the party. I was riding with a Miss Wilson from Ramirena, who
had come up to make a visit at a near-by ranch and incidentally attend
the dance at Shepherd's. I admit that I was a little too much absorbed
over another girl to be very entertaining, but Uncle Lance helped out by
joining us. "Nice morning overhead, Miss Wilson," said he, on riding up.
"Say, I've waited just as long as I'm going to for that invitation to
your wedding which you promised me last summer. Now, I don't know so
much about the young men down about Ramirena, but when I was a youngster
back on the Colorado, when a boy loved a girl he married her, whether it
was Friday or Monday, rain or shine. I'm getting tired of being put
off with promises. Why, actually, I haven't been to a wedding in three
years. What are we coming to?"

[Illustration: WE GOT THE AMBULANCE OFF BEFORE SUNRISE]

On reaching the road where Miss Wilson and her party separated from us,
Uncle Lance returned to the charge: "Now, no matter how busy I am when I
get your invitation, I don't care if the irons are in the fire and the
cattle in the corral, I'll drown the fire and turn the cows out. And if
Las Palomas has a horse that'll carry me, I'll merely touch the high
places in coming. And when I get there I'm willing to do anything,--give
the bride away, say grace, or carve the turkey. And what's more, I never
kissed a bride in my life that didn't have good luck. Tell your pa you
saw me. Good-by, dear."

On overtaking the ambulance in camp, our party included about twenty,
several of whom were young ladies; but Miss Jean insisted that every
one remain for breakfast, assuring them that she had abundance for
all. After the impromptu meal was disposed of, we bade our adieus and
separated to the four quarters. Before we had gone far, Uncle Lance
rode alongside of me and said: "Tom, why didn't you tell me you was a
fiddler? God knows you're lazy enough to be a good one, and you ought to
be good on a bee course. But what made me warm to you last night was the
way you built to Esther McLeod. Son, you set her cush about right. If
you can hold sight on a herd of beeves on a bad night like you did her,
you'll be a foreman some day. And she's not only good blood herself, but
she's got cattle and land. Old man Donald, her father, was killed in
the Confederate army. He was an honest Scotchman who kept Sunday and
everything else he could lay his hands on. In all my travels I never met
a man who could offer a longer prayer or take a bigger drink of whiskey.
I remember the first time I ever saw him. He was serving on the grand
jury, and I was a witness in a cattle-stealing case. He was a stranger
to me, and we had just sat down at the same table at a hotel for dinner.
We were on the point of helping ourselves, when the old Scot arose and
struck the table a blow that made the dishes rattle. 'You heathens,'
said he, 'will you partake of the bounty of your Heavenly Father without
returning thanks?' We laid down our knives and forks like boys caught in
a watermelon patch, and the old man asked a blessing. I've been at his
house often. He was a good man, but Secession caught him and he never
came back. So, Quirk, you see, a son-in-law will be a handy man in the
family, and with the start you made last night I hope for good results."
The other boys seemed to enjoy my embarrassment, but I said nothing in
reply, being a new man with the outfit. We reached the ranch an hour
before noon, two hours in advance of the ambulance; and the sleeping we
did until sunrise the next morning required no lullaby.

CHAPTER III

LAS PALOMAS

There is something about those large ranches of southern Texas that
reminds one of the old feudal system. The pathetic attachment to the
soil of those born to certain Spanish land grants can only be compared
to the European immigrant when for the last time he looks on the land of
his birth before sailing. Of all this Las Palomas was typical. In the
course of time several such grants had been absorbed into its baronial
acres. But it had always been the policy of Uncle Lance never to disturb
the Mexican population; rather he encouraged them to remain in his
service. Thus had sprung up around Las Palomas ranch a little Mexican
community numbering about a dozen families, who lived in _jacals_ close
to the main ranch buildings. They were simple people, and rendered their
new master a feudal loyalty. There were also several small _ranchites_
located on the land, where, under the Mexican regime, there had been
pretentious adobe buildings. A number of families still resided at these
deserted ranches, content in cultivating small fields or looking after
flocks of goats and a few head of cattle, paying no rental save a
service tenure to the new owner.

The customs of these Mexican people were simple and primitive. They
blindly accepted the religious teachings imposed with fire and sword
by the Spanish conquerors upon their ancestors. A padre visited them
yearly, christening the babes, marrying the youth, shriving the
penitent, and saying masses for the repose of the souls of the departed.
Their social customs were in many respects unique. For instance,
in courtship a young man was never allowed in the presence of his
inamorata, unless in company of others, or under the eye of a chaperon.
Proposals, even among the nearest of neighbors or most intimate of
friends, were always made in writing, usually by the father of the
young man to the parents of the girl, but in the absence of such, by a
godfather or _padrino_. Fifteen days was the term allowed for a reply,
and no matter how desirable the match might be, it was not accounted
good taste to answer before the last day. The owner of Las Palomas
was frequently called upon to act as _padrino_ for his people, and so
successful had he always been that the vaqueros on his ranch preferred
his services to those of their own fathers. There was scarcely a vaquero
at the home ranch but, in time past, had invoked his good offices in
this matter, and he had come to be looked on as their patron saint.

The month of September was usually the beginning of the branding season
at Las Palomas. In conducting this work, Uncle Lance was the leader, and
with the white element already enumerated, there were twelve to fifteen
vaqueros included in the branding outfit. The dance at Shepherd's had
delayed the beginning of active operations, and a large calf crop, to
say nothing of horse and mule colts, now demanded our attention and
promised several months' work. The year before, Las Palomas had branded
over four thousand calves, and the range was now dotted with the crop,
awaiting the iron stamp of ownership.

The range was an open one at the time, compelling us to work far beyond
the limits of our employer's land. Fortified with our own commissary,
and with six to eight horses apiece in our mount, we scoured the country
for a radius of fifty miles. When approaching another range, it was our
custom to send a courier in advance to inquire of the ranchero when it
would be convenient for him to give us a rodeo. A day would be set, when
our outfit and the vaqueros of that range rounded up all the cattle
watering at given points. Then we cut out the Las Palomas brand, and
held them under herd or started them for the home ranch, where the
calves were to be branded. In this manner we visited all the adjoining
ranches, taking over a month to make the circuit of the ranges.

In making the tour, the first range we worked was that of rancho Santa
Maria, south of our range and on the head of Tarancalous Creek. On
approaching the ranch, as was customary, we prepared to encamp and ask
for a rodeo. But in the choice of a vaquero to be dispatched on this
mission, a spirited rivalry sprang up. When Uncle Lance learned that the
rivalry amongst the vaqueros was meant to embarrass Enrique Lopez, who
was _oso_ to Anita, the pretty daughter of the corporal of Santa Maria,
his matchmaking instincts came to the fore. Calling Enrique to one side,
he made the vaquero confess that he had been playing for the favor of
the senorita at Santa Maria. Then he dispatched Enrique on the mission,
bidding him carry the choicest compliments of Las Palomas to every Don
and Dona of Santa Maria. And Enrique was quite capable of adding a few
embellishments to the old matchmaker's extravagant flatteries.

Enrique was in camp next morning, but at what hour of the night he had
returned is unknown. The rodeo had been granted for the following day;
there was a pressing invitation to Don Lance--unless he was willing
to offend--to spend the idle day as the guest of Don Mateo. Enrique
elaborated the invitation with a thousand adornments. But the owner of
Las Palomas had lived nearly forty years among the Spanish-American
people on the Nueces, and knew how to make allowances for the exuberance
of the Latin tongue. There was no telling to what extent Enrique could
have kept on delivering messages, but to his employer he was avoiding
the issue.

"But did you get to see Anita?" interrupted Uncle Lance. Yes, he had
seen her, but that was about all. Did not Don Lance know the customs
among the Castilians? There was her mother ever present, or if she must
absent herself, there was a bevy of _tias comadres_ surrounding her,
until the Dona Anita dare not even raise her eyes to meet his. "To
perdition with such customs, no?" The freedom of a cow camp is a
splendid opportunity to relieve one's mind upon prevailing injustices.

"Don't fret your cattle so early in the morning, son," admonished
the wary matchmaker. "I've handled worse cases than this before. You
Mexicans are sticklers on customs, and we must deal with our neighbors
carefully. Before I show my hand in this, there's just one thing I want
to know--is the girl willing? Whenever you can satisfy me on that point,
Enrique, just call on the old man. But before that I won't stir a step.
You remember what a time I had over Tiburcio's Juan--that's so, you were
too young then. Well, June here remembers it. Why, the girl just cut up
shamefully. Called Juan an Indian peon, and bragged about her Castilian
family until you'd have supposed she was a princess of the blood royal.
Why, it took her parents and myself a whole day to bring the girl around
to take a sensible view of matters. On my soul, except that I didn't
want to acknowledge defeat, I felt a dozen times like telling her to
go straight up. And when she did marry you, she was as happy as a
lark--wasn't she, Juan? But I like to have the thing over with in--well,
say half an hour's time. Then we can have refreshments, and smoke, and
discuss the prospects of the young couple."

Uncle Lance's question was hard to answer. Enrique had known the girl
for several years, had danced with her on many a feast day, and never
lost an opportunity to whisper the old, old story in her willing ear.
Others had done the like, but the dark-eyed senorita is an adept in the
art of coquetry, and there you are. But Enrique swore a great oath he
would know. Yes, he would. He would lay siege to her as he had never
done before. He would become _un oso grande_. Just wait until the
branding was over and the fiestas of the Christmas season were on, and
watch him dog her every step until he received her signal of surrender.
Witness, all the saints, this row of Enrique Lopez, that the Dona Anita
should have no peace of mind, no, not for one little minute, until she
had made a complete capitulation. Then Don Lauce, the _padrino_ of Las
Palomas, would at once write the letter which would command the hand of
the corporal's daughter. Who could refuse such a request, and what was a
daughter of Santa Maria compared to a son of Las Palomas?

Tarancalous Creek ran almost due east, and rancho Santa Maria was
located near its source, depending more on its wells for water supply
than on the stream which only flowed for a few months during the year.
Where the watering facilities were so limited the rodeo was an easy
matter. A number of small round-ups at each established watering point,
a swift cutting out of everything bearing the Las Palomas brand, and we
moved on to the next rodeo, for we had an abundance of help at Santa
Maria. The work was finished by the middle of the afternoon. After
sending, under five or six men, our cut of several hundred cattle
westward on our course, our outfit rode into rancho Santa Maria proper
to pay our respects. Our wagon had provided an abundant dinner for our
assistants and ourselves; but it would have been, in Mexican etiquette,
extremely rude on our part not to visit the rancho and partake of a cup
of coffee and a cigarette, thanking the ranchero on parting for his
kindness in granting us the rodeo.

So when the last round-up was reached, Don Mateo and Uncle Lance turned
the work over to their corporals, and in advance rode up to Santa Maria.
The vaqueros of our ranch were anxious to visit the rancho, so it
devolved on the white element to take charge of the cut. Being a
stranger to Santa Maria, I was allowed to accompany our _segundo_,
June Deweese, on an introductory visit. On arriving at the rancho, the
vaqueros scattered among the _jacals_ of their _amigos_, while June and
myself were welcomed at the _casa primero_. There we found Uncle Lance
partaking of refreshment, and smoking a cigarette as though he had been
born a Senor Don of some ruling hacienda. June and I were seated at
another table, where we were served with coffee, wafers, and home-made
cigarettes. This was perfectly in order, but I could hardly control
myself over the extravagant Spanish our employer was using in expressing
the amity existing between Santa Maria and Las Palomas. In ordinary
conversation, such as cattle and ranch affairs, Uncle Lance had a good
command of Spanish; but on social and delicate topics some of his
efforts were ridiculous in the extreme. He was well aware of his
shortcomings, and frequently appealed to me to assist him. As a boy my
playmates had been Mexican children, so that I not only spoke Spanish
fluently but could also readily read and write it. So it was no surprise
to me that, before taking our departure, my employer should command
my services as an interpreter in driving an entering wedge. He was
particular to have me assure our host and hostess of his high regard for
them, and his hope that in the future even more friendly relations might
exist between the two ranches. Had Santa Maria no young cavalier for the
hand of some daughter of Las Palomas? Ah! there was the true bond for
future friendships. Well, well, if the soil of this rancho was so
impoverished, then the sons of Las Palomas must take the bit in their
teeth and come courting to Santa Maria. And let Dona Gregoria look well
to her daughters, for the young men of Las Palomas, true to their race,
were not only handsome fellows but ardent lovers, and would be hard to
refuse.

After taking our leave and catching up with the cattle, we pushed
westward for the Ganso, our next stream of water. This creek was a
tributary to the Nueces, and we worked down it several days, or until
we had nearly a thousand cattle and were within thirty miles of home.
Turning this cut over to June Deweese and a few vaqueros to take in
to the ranch and brand, the rest of us turned westward and struck the
Nueces at least fifty miles above Las Palomas. For the next few days
our dragnet took in both sides of the Nueces, and when, on reaching
the mouth of the Ganso, we were met by Deweese and the vaqueros we had
another bunch of nearly a thousand ready. Dan Happersett was dispatched
with the second bunch for branding, when we swung north to Mr. Booth's
ranch on the Frio, where we rested a day. But there is little recreation
on a cow hunt, and we were soon under full headway again. By the time we
had worked down the Frio, opposite headquarters, we had too large a herd
to carry conveniently, and I was sent in home with them, never
rejoining the outfit until they reached Shepherd's Ferry. This was a
disappointment to me, for I had hopes that when the outfit worked the
range around the mouth of San Miguel, I might find some excuse to visit
the McLeod ranch and see Esther. But after turning back up the home
river to within twenty miles of the ranch, we again turned southward,
covering the intervening ranches rapidly until we struck the Tarancalous
about twenty-five miles east of Santa Maria.

We had spent over thirty days in making this circle, gathering over five
thousand cattle, about one third of which were cows with calves by their
sides. On the remaining gap in the circle we lost two days in waiting
for rodeos, or gathering independently along the Tarancalous, and, on
nearing the Santa Maria range, we had nearly fifteen hundred cattle. Our
herd passed within plain view of the rancho, but we did not turn aside,
preferring to make a dry camp for the night, some five or six miles
further on our homeward course. But since we had used the majority of
our _remuda_ very hard that day, Uncle Lance dispatched Enrique and
myself, with our wagon and saddle horses, by way of Santa Maria, to
water our saddle stock and refill our kegs for camping purposes. Of
course, the compliments of our employer to the ranchero of Santa Maria
went with the _remuda_ and wagon.

I delivered the compliments and regrets to Don Mateo, and asked the
permission to water our saddle stock, which was readily granted. This
required some time, for we had about a hundred and twenty-five loose
horses with us, and the water had to be raised by rope and pulley from
the pommel of a saddle horse. After watering the team we refilled our
kegs, and the cook pulled out to overtake the herd, Enrique and I
staying to water the _remuda_. Enrique, who was riding the saddle horse,
while I emptied the buckets as they were hoisted to the surface, was
evidently killing time. By his dilatory tactics, I knew the young rascal
was delaying in the hope of getting a word with the Dona Anita. But
it was getting late, and at the rate we were hoisting darkness would
overtake us before we could reach the herd. So I ordered Enrique to the
bucket, while I took my own horse and furnished the hoisting power. We
were making some headway with the work, when a party of women, among
them the Dona Anita, came down to the well to fill vessels for house
use.

This may have been all chance--and then again it may not. But the
gallant Enrique now outdid himself, filling jar after jar and lifting
them to the shoulder of the bearer with the utmost zeal and amid a
profusion of compliments. I was annoyed at the interruption in our work,
but I could see that Enrique was now in the highest heaven of delight.
The Dona Anita's mother was present, and made it her duty to notice that
only commonplace formalities passed between her daughter and the ardent
vaquero. After the jars were all filled, the bevy of women started on
their return; but Dona Anita managed to drop a few feet to the rear of
the procession, and, looking back, quietly took up one corner of her
mantilla, and with a little movement, apparently all innocence, flashed
a message back to the entranced Enrique. I was aware of the flirtation,
but before I had made more of it Enrique sprang down from the abutment
of the well, dragged me from my horse, and in an ecstasy of joy,
crouching behind the abutments, cried: Had I seen the sign? Had I not
noticed her token? Was my brain then so befuddled? Did I not understand
the ways of the senoritas among his people?--that they always answered
by a wave of the handkerchief, or the mantilla? Ave Maria, Tomas! Such
stupidity! Why, to be sure, they could talk all day with their eyes.

[Illustration: FLASHED A MESSAGE BACK]

A setting sun finally ended his confidences, and the watering was soon
finished, for Enrique lowered the bucket in a gallop. On our reaching
the herd and while we were catching our night horses, Uncle Lance strode
out to the rope corral, with the inquiry, what had delayed us. "Nothing
particular," I replied, and looked at Enrique, who shrugged his
shoulders and repeated my answer. "Now, look here, you young liars,"
said the old ranchero; "the wagon has been in camp over an hour, and,
admitting it did start before you, you had plenty of time to water the
saddle stock and overtake it before it could possibly reach the herd. I
can tell a lie myself, but a good one always has some plausibility. You
rascals were up to some mischief, I'll warrant."

I had caught out my night horse, and as I led him away to saddle up,
Uncle Lance, not content with my evasive answer, followed me. "Go to
Enrique," I whispered; "he'll just bubble over at a good chance to tell
you. Yes; it was the Dona Anita who caused the delay." A smothered
chuckling shook the old man's frame, as he sauntered over to where
Enrique was saddling. As the two led off the horse to picket in the
gathering dusk, the ranchero had his arm around the vaquero's neck, and
I felt that the old matchmaker would soon be in possession of the facts.
A hilarious guffaw that reached me as I was picketing my horse announced
that the story was out, and as the two returned to the fire Uncle Lance
was slapping Enrique on the back at every step and calling him a lucky
dog. The news spread through the camp like wild-fire, even to the
vaqueros on night herd, who instantly began chanting an old love song.
While Enrique and I were eating our supper, our employer paced backward
and forward in meditation like a sentinel on picket, and when we had
finished our meal, he joined us around the fire, inquiring of Enrique
how soon the demand should be made for the corporal's daughter, and was
assured that it could not be done too soon. "The padre only came once a
year," he concluded, "and they must be ready."

"Well, now, this is a pretty pickle," said the old matchmaker, as he
pulled his gray mustaches; "there isn't pen or paper in the outfit. And
then we'll be busy branding on the home range for a month, and I can't
spare a vaquero a day to carry a letter to Santa Maria. And besides, I
might not be at home when the reply came. I think I'll just take the
bull by the horns; ride back in the morning and set these old precedents
at defiance, by arranging the match verbally. I can make the talk that
this country is Texas now, and that under the new regime American
customs are in order. That's what I'll do--and I'll take Tom Quirk with
me for fear I bog down in my Spanish."

But several vaqueros, who understood some English, advised Enrique of
what the old matchmaker proposed to do, when the vaquero threw his hands
in the air and began sputtering Spanish in terrified disapproval. Did
not Don Lance know that the marriage usages among his people were their
most cherished customs? "Oh, yes, son," languidly replied Uncle Lance.
"I'm some strong on the cherish myself, but not when it interferes
with my plans. It strikes me that less than a month ago I heard you
condemning to perdition certain customs of your people. Now, don't get
on too high a horse--just leave it to Tom and me. We may stay a week,
but when we come back we'll bring your betrothal with us in our vest
pockets. There was never a Mexican born who can outhold me on palaver;
and we'll eat every chicken on Santa Maria unless they surrender."

As soon as the herd had started for home the next morning, Uncle Lance
and I returned to Santa Maria. We were extended a cordial reception by
Don Mateo, and after the chronicle of happenings since the two rancheros
last met had been reviewed, the motive of our sudden return was
mentioned. By combining the vocabularies of my employer and myself, we
mentioned our errand as delicately as possible, pleading guilty and
craving every one's pardon for our rudeness in verbally conducting the
negotiations. To our surprise,--for to Mexicans customs are as rooted
as Faith,--Don Mateo took no offense and summoned Dona Gregoria. I was
playing a close second to the diplomat of our side of the house, and
when his Spanish failed him and he had recourse to English, it is
needless to say I handled matters to the best of my ability. The Spanish
is a musical, passionate language and well suited to love making, and
though this was my first use of it for that purpose, within half an hour
we had won the ranchero and his wife to our side of the question.

Then, at Don Mateo's orders, the parents of the girl were summoned. This
involved some little delay, which permitted coffee being served, and
discussion, over the cigarettes, of the commonplace matters of the
country. There was beginning to be a slight demand for cattle to drive
to the far north on the trails, some thought it was the sign of a big
development, but neither of the rancheros put much confidence in the
movement, etc., etc. The corporal and his wife suddenly made their
appearance, dressed in their best, which accounted for the delay, and
all cattle conversation instantly ceased. Uncle Lance arose and greeted
the husky corporal and his timid wife with warm cordiality. I extended
my greetings to the Mexican foreman, whom I had met at the rodeo about a
month before. We then resumed our seats, but the corporal and his wife
remained standing, and with an elegant command of his native tongue Don
Mateo informed the couple of our mission. They looked at each other in
bewilderment. Tears came into the wife's eyes. For a moment I pitied
her. Indeed, the pathetic was not lacking. But the hearty corporal
reminded his better half that her parents, in his interests, had once
been asked for her hand under similar circumstances, and the tears
disappeared. Tears are womanly; and I have since seen them shed, under
less provocation, by fairer-skinned women than this simple, swarthy
daughter of Mexico.

It was but natural that the parents of the girl should feign surprise
and reluctance if they did not feel it. The Dona Anita's mother offered
several trivial objections. Her daughter had never taken her into her
confidence over any suitor. And did Anita really love Enrique Lopez of
Las Palomas? Even if she did, could he support her, being but a vaquero?
This brought Uncle Lance to the front. He had known Enrique since the
day of his birth. As a five-year-old, and naked as the day he was born,
had he not ridden a colt at branding time, twice around the big corral
without being thrown? At ten, had he not thrown himself across a gateway
and allowed a _caballada_ of over two hundred wild range horses to jump
over his prostrate body as they passed in a headlong rush through the
gate? Only the year before at branding, when an infuriated bull had
driven every vaquero out of the corrals, did not Enrique mount his
horse, and, after baiting the bull out into the open, play with him like
a kitten with a mouse? And when the bull, tiring, attempted to make
his escape, who but Enrique had lassoed the animal by the fore feet,
breaking his neck in the throw? The diplomat of Las Palomas dejectedly
admitted that the bull was a prize animal, but could not deny that he
himself had joined in the plaudits to the daring vaquero. But if there
were a possible doubt that the Dona Anita did not love this son of Las
Palomas, then Lance Lovelace himself would oppose the union. This was an
important matter. Would Don Mateo be so kind as to summon the senorita?

The senorita came in response to the summons. She was a girl of possibly
seventeen summers, several inches taller than her mother, possessing
a beautiful complexion with large lustrous eyes. There was something
fawnlike in her timidity as she gazed at those about the table. Dona
Gregoria broke the news, informing her that the ranchero of Las Palomas
had asked her hand in marriage for Enrique, one of his vaqueros. Did she
love the man and was she willing to marry him? For reply the girl hid
her face in the mantilla of her mother. With commendable tact Dona
Gregoria led the mother and daughter into another room, from which the
two elder women soon returned with a favorable reply. Uncle Lance arose
and assured the corporal and his wife that their daughter would receive
his special care and protection; that as long as water ran and grass
grew, Las Palomas would care for her own children.

We accepted an invitation to remain for dinner, as several hours had
elapsed since our arrival. In company with the corporal, I attended to
our horses, leaving the two rancheros absorbed in a discussion of Texas
fever, rumors of which were then attracting widespread attention in the
north along the cattle trails. After dinner we took our leave of host
and hostess, promising to send Enrique to Santa Maria at the earliest
opportunity.

It was a long ride across country to Las Palomas, but striking a free
gait, unencumbered as we were, we covered the country rapidly. I had
somewhat doubted the old matchmaker's sincerity in making this match,
but as we rode along he told me of his own marriage to Mary Bryan, and
the one happy year of life which it brought him, mellowing into a mood
of seriousness which dispelled all doubts. It was almost sunset when we
sighted in the distance the ranch buildings at Las Palomas, and half an
hour later as we galloped up to assist the herd which was nearing the
corrals, the old man stood in his stirrups and, waving his hat, shouted
to his outfit: "Hurrah for Enrique and the Dona Anita!" And as the last
of the cattle entered the corral, a rain of lassos settled over the
smiling rascal and his horse, and we led him in triumph to the house for
Miss Jean's blessing.

CHAPTER IV

CHRISTMAS

The branding on the home range was an easy matter. The cattle were
compelled to water from the Nueces, so that their range was never over
five or six miles from the river. There was no occasion even to take out
the wagon, though we made a one-night camp at the mouth of the Ganso,
and another about midway between the home ranch and Shepherd's Ferry,
pack mules serving instead of the wagon. On the home range, in gathering
to brand, we never disturbed the mixed cattle, cutting out only the cows
and calves. On the round-up below the Ganso, we had over three thousand
cattle in one rodeo, finding less than five hundred calves belonging to
Las Palomas, the bulk on this particular occasion being steer cattle.
There had been little demand for steers for several seasons and they had
accumulated until many of them were fine beeves, five and six years old.

When the branding proper was concluded, our tally showed nearly
fifty-one hundred calves branded that season, indicating about twenty
thousand cattle in the Las Palomas brand. After a week's rest, with
fresh horses, we re-rode the home range in squads of two, and branded
any calves we found with a running iron. This added nearly a hundred
more to our original number. On an open range like ours, it was not
expected that everything would be branded; but on quitting, it is safe
to say we had missed less than one per cent of our calf crop.

The cattle finished, we turned our attention to the branding of the
horse stock. The Christmas season was approaching, and we wanted to get
the work well in hand for the usual holiday festivities. There were some
fifty _manadas_ of mares belonging to Las Palomas, about one fourth of
which were used for the rearing of mules, the others growing our saddle
horses for ranch use. These bands numbered twenty to twenty-five brood
mares each, and ranged mostly within twenty miles of the home ranch.
They were never disturbed except to brand the colts, market surplus
stock, or cut out the mature geldings to be broken for saddle use. Each
_manada_ had its own range, never trespassing on others, but when they
were brought together in the corral there was many a battle royal among
the stallions.

I was anxious to get the work over in good season, for I intended to ask
for a two weeks' leave of absence. My parents lived near Cibollo Ford on
the San Antonio River, and I made it a rule to spend Christmas with my
own people. This year, in particular, I had a double motive in going
home; for the mouth of San Miguel and the McLeod ranch lay directly on
my route. I had figured matters down to a fraction; I would have a good
excuse for staying one night going and another returning. And it would
be my fault if I did not reach the ranch at an hour when an invitation
to remain over night would be simply imperative under the canons of
Texas hospitality. I had done enough hard work since the dance at
Shepherd's to drive every thought of Esther McLeod out of my mind if
that were possible, but as the time drew nearer her invitation to call
was ever uppermost in my thoughts.

So when the last of the horse stock was branded and the work was drawing
to a close, as we sat around the fireplace one night and the question
came up where each of us expected to spend Christmas, I broached my
plan. The master and mistress were expected at the Booth ranch on the
Frio. Nearly all the boys, who had homes within two or three days' ride,
hoped to improve the chance to make a short visit to their people. When,
among the others, I also made my application for leave of absence, Uncle
Lance turned in his chair with apparent surprise. "What's that? You want
to go home? Well, now, that's a new one on me. Why, Tom, I never knew
you had any folks; I got the idea, somehow, that you was won on a horse
race. Here I had everything figured out to send you down to Santa Maria
with Enrique. But I reckon with the ice broken, he'll have to swim out
or drown. Where do your folks live?" I explained that they lived on the
San Antonio River, northeast about one hundred and fifty miles. At this
I saw my employer's face brighten. "Yes, yes, I see," said he musingly;
"that will carry you past the widow McLeod's. You can go, son, and good
luck to you."

I timed my departure from Las Palomas, allowing three days for the trip,
so as to reach home on Christmas eve. By making a slight deviation,
there was a country store which I could pass on the last day, where I
expected to buy some presents for my mother and sisters. But I was in a
pickle as to what to give Esther, and on consulting Miss Jean, I found
that motherly elder sister had everything thought out in advance. There
was an old Mexican woman, a pure Aztec Indian, at a ranchita belonging
to Las Palomas, who was an expert in Mexican drawn work. The mistress of
the home ranch had been a good patron of this old woman, and the next
morning we drove over to the ranchita, where I secured half a dozen
ladies' handkerchiefs, inexpensive but very rare.

I owned a private horse, which had run idle all summer, and naturally
expected to ride him on this trip. But Uncle Lance evidently wanted me
to make a good impression on the widow McLeod, and brushed my plans
aside, by asking me as a favor to ride a certain black horse belonging
to his private string. "Quirk," said he, the evening before my
departure, "I wish you would ride Wolf, that black six-year-old in my
mount. When that rascal of an Enrique saddle-broke him for me, he always
mounted him with a free head and on the move, and now when I use him
he's always on the fidget. So you just ride him over to the San Antonio
and back, and see if you can't cure him of that restlessness. It may be
my years, but I just despise a horse that's always dancing a jig when I
want to mount him."

Glenn Gallup's people lived in Victoria County, about as far from Las
Palomas as mine, and the next morning we set out down the river. Our
course together only led a short distance, but we jogged along until
noon, when we rested an hour and parted, Glenn going on down the river
for Oakville, while I turned almost due north across country for the
mouth of San Miguel. The black carried me that afternoon as though the
saddle was empty. I was constrained to hold him in, in view of the
long journey before us, so as not to reach the McLeod ranch too early.
Whenever we struck cattle on our course, I rode through them to pass
away the time, and just about sunset I cantered up to the McLeod ranch
with a dash. I did not know a soul on the place, but put on a bold front
and asked for Miss Esther. On catching sight of me, she gave a little
start, blushed modestly, and greeted me cordially.

Texas hospitality of an early day is too well known to need comment;
I was at once introduced to the McLeod household. It was rather a
pretentious ranch, somewhat dilapidated in appearance--appearances
are as deceitful on a cattle ranch as in the cut of a man's coat. Tony
Hunter, a son-in-law of the widow, was foreman on the ranch, and during
the course of the evening in the discussion of cattle matters, I
innocently drew out the fact that their branded calf crop of that season
amounted to nearly three thousand calves. When a similar question was
asked me, I reluctantly admitted that the Las Palomas crop was quite a
disappointment this year, only branding sixty-five hundred calves, but
that our mule and horse colts ran nearly a thousand head without equals
in the Nueces valley.

I knew there was no one there who could dispute my figures, though Mrs.
McLeod expressed surprise at them. "Ye dinna say," said my hostess,
looking directly at me over her spectacles, "that Las Palomas branded
that mony calves thi' year? Why, durin' ma gudeman's life we alway
branded mair calves than did Mr. Lovelace. But then my husband would
join the army, and I had tae depend on greasers tae do ma work, and oor
kye grew up mavericks." I said nothing in reply, knowing it to be quite
natural for a woman or inexperienced person to feel always the prey of
the fortunate and far-seeing.

The next morning before leaving, I managed to have a nice private talk
with Miss Esther, and thought I read my title clear, when she surprised
me with the information that her mother contemplated sending her off to
San Antonio to a private school for young ladies. Her two elder sisters
had married against her mother's wishes, it seemed, and Mrs. McLeod was
determined to give her youngest daughter an education and fit her for
something better than being the wife of a common cow hand. This was the
inference from the conversation which passed between us at the gate. But
when Esther thanked me for the Christmas remembrance I had brought her,
I felt that I would take a chance on her, win or lose. Assuring her that
I would make it a point to call on my return, I gave the black a free
rein and galloped out of sight.

I reached home late on Christmas eve. My two elder brothers, who also
followed cattle work, had arrived the day before, and the Quirk family
were once more united, for the first time in two years. Within an hour
after my arrival, I learned from my brothers that there was to be a
dance that night at a settlement about fifteen miles up the river.
They were going, and it required no urging on their part to insure the
presence of Quirk's three boys. Supper over, a fresh horse was furnished
me, and we set out for the dance, covering the distance in less than
two hours. I knew nearly every one in the settlement, and got a cordial
welcome. I played the fiddle, danced with my former sweethearts, and,
ere the sun rose in the morning, rode home in time for breakfast. During
that night's revelry, I contrasted my former girl friends on the
San Antonio with another maiden, a slip of the old Scotch stock,
transplanted and nurtured in the sunshine and soil of the San Miguel.
The comparison stood all tests applied, and in my secret heart I knew
who held the whip hand over the passions within me.

As I expected to return to Las Palomas for the New Year, my time was
limited to a four days' visit at home. But a great deal can be said in
four days; and at the end I was ready to saddle my black, bid my adieus,
and ride for the southwest. During my visit I was careful not to betray
that I had even a passing thought of a sweetheart, and what parents
would suspect that a rollicking, carefree young fellow of twenty
could have any serious intentions toward a girl? With brothers too
indifferent, and sisters too young, the secret was my own, though Wolf,
my mount, as he put mile after mile behind us, seemed conscious that his
mission to reach the San Miguel without loss of time was of more than
ordinary moment. And a better horse never carried knight in the days of
chivalry.

On reaching the McLeod ranch during the afternoon of the second day, I
found Esther expectant; but the welcome of her mother was of a frigid
order. Having a Scotch mother myself, I knew something of arbitrary
natures, and met Mrs. McLeod's coolness with a fund of talk and stories;
yet I could see all too plainly that she was determinedly on the
defensive. I had my favorite fiddle with me which I was taking back to
Las Palomas, and during the evening I played all the old Scotch ballads
I knew and love songs of the highlands, hoping to soften her from the
decided stand she had taken against me and my intentions. But her
heritage of obstinacy was large, and her opposition strong, as several
well-directed thrusts which reached me in vulnerable places made me
aware, but I smiled as if they were flattering compliments. Several
times I mentally framed replies only to smother them, for I was the
stranger within her gates, and if she saw fit to offend a guest she was
still within her rights.

But the next morning as I tarried beyond the reasonable hour for my
departure, her wrath broke out in a torrent. "If ye dinna ken the way
hame, Mr. Quirk, I'll show it ye," she said as she joined Esther and me
at the hitch-rack, where we had been loitering for an hour. "And I dinna
care muckle whaur ye gang, so ye get oot o' ma sight, and stay oot o'
it. I thocht ye waur a ceevil stranger when ye bided wi' us last week,
but noo I ken ye are something mair, ridin' your fine horses an' makin'
presents tae ma lassie. That's a' the guid that comes o' lettin' her rin
tae every dance at Shepherd's Ferry. Gang ben the house tae your wark,
ye jade, an' let me attend tae this fine gentleman. Noo, sir, gin ye ony
business onywhaur else, ye 'd aye better be ridin' tae it, for ye are no
wanted here, ye ken."

"Why, Mrs. McLeod," I broke in politely. "You hardly know anything about
me."

"No, an' I dinna wish it. You are frae Las Palomas, an' that's aye
enough for me. I ken auld Lance Lovelace, an' those that bide wi' him.
Sma' wonder he brands sae mony calves and sells mair kye than a' the
ither ranchmen in the country. Ay, man, I ken him well."

I saw that I had a tartar to deal with, but if I could switch her
invective on some one absent, it would assist me in controlling myself.
So I said to the old lady: "Why, I've known Mr. Lovelace now almost a
year, and over on the Nueces he is well liked, and considered a cowman
whose word is as good as gold. What have you got against him?"

"Ower much, ma young freend. I kent him afore ye were born. I'm sorry
tae say that while ma gudeman was alive, he was a frequent visitor at
oor place. But we dinna see him ony mair. He aye keeps awa' frae here,
and camps wi' his wagons when he's ower on the San Miguel to gather
cattle. He was no content merely wi' what kye drifted doon on the
Nueces, but warked a big outfit the year around, e'en comin' ower on the
Frio an' San Miguel maverick huntin'. That's why he brands twice the
calves that onybody else does, and owns a forty-mile front o' land on
both sides o' the river. Ye see, I ken him weel."

"Well, isn't that the way most cowmen got their start?" I innocently
inquired, well knowing it was. "And do you blame him for running his
brand on the unowned cattle that roamed the range? I expect if Mr.
Lovelace was my father instead of my employer, you wouldn't be talking
in the same key," and with that I led my horse out to mount.

"Ye think a great deal o' yersel', because ye're frae Las Palomas.
Aweel, no vaquero of auld Lance Lovelace can come sparkin' wi' ma lass.
I've heard o' auld Lovelace's matchmaking. I'm told he mak's matches and
then laughs at the silly gowks. I've twa worthless sons-in-law the noo,
are here an' anither a stage-driver. Aye, they 're capital husbands for
Donald McLeod's lassies, are they no? Afore I let Esther marry the first
scamp that comes simperin' aroond here, I'll put her in a convent, an'
mak' a nun o' the bairn. I gave the ither lassies their way, an' look at
the reward. I tell ye I'm goin' to bar the door on the last one, an' the
man that marries her will be worthy o' her. He winna be a vaquero frae
Las Palomas either!"

I had mounted my horse to start, well knowing it was useless to argue
with an angry woman. Esther had obediently retreated to the safety of
the house, aware that her mother had a tongue and evidently willing to
be spared its invective in my presence. My horse was fidgeting about,
impatient to be off, but I gave him the rowel and rode up to the gate,
determined, if possible, to pour oil on the troubled waters. "Mrs.
McLeod," said I, in humble tones, "possibly you take the correct view of
this matter. Miss Esther and I have only been acquainted a few months,
and will soon forget each other. Please take me in the house and let me
tell her good-by."

"No, sir. Dinna set foot inside o' this gate. I hope ye know ye're no
wanted here. There's your road, the one leadin' south, an' ye'd better
be goin', I'm thinkin'."

I held in the black and rode off in a walk. This was the first clean
knock-out I had ever met. Heretofore I had been egotistical enough to
hold my head rather high, but this morning it drooped. Wolf seemed to
notice it, and after the first mile dropped into an easy volunteer walk.
I never noticed the passing of time until we reached the river, and the
black stopped to drink. Here I unsaddled for several hours; then went
on again in no cheerful mood. Before I came within sight of Las Palomas
near evening, my horse turned his head and nickered, and in a few
minutes Uncle Lance and June Deweese galloped up and overtook me. I had
figured out several very plausible versions of my adventure, but this
sudden meeting threw me off my guard--and Lance Lovelace was a hard man
to tell an undetected, white-faced lie. I put on a bold front, but his
salutation penetrated it at a glance.

"What's the matter, Tom; any of your folks dead?"

"No."

"Sick?"

"No."

"Girl gone back on you?"

"I don't think."

"It's the old woman, then?"

"How do you know?"

"Because I know that old dame. I used to go over there occasionally when
old man Donald was living, but the old lady--excuse me! I ought to
have posted you, Tom, but I don't suppose it would have done any good.
Brought your fiddle with you, I see. That's good. I expect the old lady
read my title clear to you."

My brain must have been under a haze, for I repeated every charge she
had made against him, not even sparing the accusation that he had
remained out of the army and added to his brand by mavericking cattle.

"Did she say that?" inquired Uncle Lance, laughing. "Why, the old
hellion! She must have been feeling in fine fettle!"

CHAPTER V

A PIGEON HUNT

The new year dawned on Las Palomas rich in promise of future content.
Uncle Lance and I had had a long talk the evening before, and under
the reasoning of the old optimist the gloom gradually lifted from my
spirits. I was glad I had been so brutally blunt that evening, regarding
what Mrs. McLeod had said about him; for it had a tendency to increase
the rancher's aggressiveness in my behalf. "Hell, Tom," said the old
man, as we walked from the corrals to the house, "don't let a little
thing like this disturb you. Of course she'll four-flush and bluff you
if she can, but you don't want to pay any more attention to the old lady
than if she was some _pelado_. To be sure, it would be better to have
her consent, but then"--

Glenn Gallup also arrived at the ranch on New Year's eve. He brought
the report that wild pigeons were again roosting at the big bend of the
river. It was a well-known pigeon roost, but the birds went to other
winter feeding grounds, except during years when there was a plentiful
sweet mast. This bend was about midway between the ranch and Shepherd's,
contained about two thousand acres, and was heavily timbered with ash,
pecan, and hackberry. The feeding grounds lay distant, extending from
the encinal ridges on the Las Palomas lands to live-oak groves a hundred
miles to the southward. But however far the pigeons might go for food,
they always returned to the roosting place at night.

"That means pigeon pie," said Uncle Lance, on receiving Glenn's report.
"Everybody and the cook can go. We only have a sweet mast about every
three or four years in the encinal, but it always brings the wild
pigeons. We'll take a couple of pack mules and the little and the big
pot and the two biggest Dutch ovens on the ranch. Oh, you got to parboil
a pigeon if you want a tender pie. Next to a fish fry, a good pigeon pie
makes the finest eating going. I've made many a one, and I give notice
right now that the making of the pie falls to me or I won't play. And
another thing, not a bird shall be killed more than we can use. Of
course we'll bring home a mess, and a few apiece for the Mexicans."

We had got up our horses during the forenoon, and as soon as dinner was
over the white contingent saddled up and started for the roost. Tiburcio
and Enrique accompanied us, and, riding leisurely, we reached the bend
several hours before the return of the birds. The roost had been in
use but a short time, but as we scouted through the timber there was
abundant evidence of an immense flight of pigeons. The ground was
literally covered with feathers; broken limbs hung from nearly every
tree, while in one instance a forked hackberry had split from the weight
of the birds.

We made camp on the outskirts of the timber, and at early dusk great
flocks of pigeons began to arrive at their roosting place. We only had
four shotguns, and, dividing into pairs, we entered the roost shortly
after dark. Glenn Gallup fell to me as my pardner. I carried the gunny
sack for the birds, not caring for a gun in such unfair shooting. The
flights continued to arrive for fully an hour after we entered the
roost, and in half a dozen shots we bagged over fifty birds. Remembering
the admonition of Uncle Lance, Gallup refused to kill more, and we sat
down and listened to the rumbling noises of the grove. There was a
constant chattering of the pigeons, and as they settled in great flights
in the trees overhead, whipping the branches with their wings in search
of footing, they frequently fell to the ground at our feet.

Gallup and I returned to camp early. Before we had skinned our kill the
others had all come in, disgusted with the ease with which they
had filled their bags. We soon had two pots filled and on the fire
parboiling, while Tiburcio lined two ovens with pastry, all ready for
the baking. In a short time two horsemen, attracted by our fire, crossed
the river below our camp and rode up.

"Hello, Uncle Lance," lustily shouted one of them, as he dismounted.
"It's you, is it, that's shooting my pigeons? All right, sir, I'll stay
all night and help you eat them. I had figured on riding back to the
Frio to-night, but I've changed my mind. Got any horse hobbles here?"
The two men, George Nathan and Hugh Trotter, were accommodated with
hobbles, and after an exchange of commonplace news of the country, we
settled down to story-telling. Trotter was a convivial acquaintance of
Aaron Scales, quite a vagabond and consequently a story-teller. After
Trotter had narrated a late dream, Scales unlimbered and told one of his
own.

"I remember a dream I had several years ago, and the only way I can
account for it was, I had been drinking more or less during the day.
I dreamt I was making a long ride across a dreary desert, and towards
night it threatened a bad storm. I began to look around for some
shelter. I could just see the tops of a clump of trees beyond a hill,
and rode hard to get to them, thinking that there might be a house
amongst them. How I did ride! But I certainly must have had a poor
horse, for I never seemed to get any nearer that timber. I rode and
rode, but all this time, hours and hours it seemed, and the storm
gathering and scattering raindrops falling, the timber seemed scarcely
any nearer.

"At last I managed to reach the crest of the hill. Well, sir, there
wasn't a tree in sight, only, under the brow of the hill, a deserted
adobe _jacal_, and I rode for that, picketed my horse and went in. The
_jacal_ had a thatched roof with several large holes in it, and in the
fireplace burned a roaring fire. That was some strange, but I didn't
mind it and I was warming my hands before the fire and congratulating
myself on my good luck, when a large black cat sprang from the outside
into an open window, and said: 'Pardner, it looks like a bad night
outside.'

"I eyed him a little suspiciously; but, for all that, if he hadn't
spoken, I wouldn't have thought anything about it, for I like cats.
He walked backward and forward on the window sill, his spine and tail
nicely arched, and rubbed himself on either window jamb. I watched him
some little time, and finally concluded to make friends with him. Going
over to the window, I put out my hand to stroke his glossy back, when
a gust of rain came through the window and the cat vanished into the
darkness.

"I went back to the fire, pitying the cat out there in the night's
storm, and was really sorry I had disturbed him. I didn't give the
matter overmuch attention but sat before the fire, wondering who could
have built it and listening to the rain outside, when all of a sudden
Mr. Cat walked between my legs, rubbing himself against my boots,
purring and singing. Once or twice I thought of stroking his fur, but
checked myself on remembering he had spoken to me on the window sill. He
would walk over and rub himself against the jambs of the fireplace, and
then come back and rub himself against my boots friendly like. I saw him
just as clear as I see those pots on the fire or these saddles lying
around here. I was noting every move of his as he meandered around, when
presently he cocked up an eye at me and remarked: 'Old sport, this is a
fine fire we have here.'

"I was beginning to feel a little creepy, for I'd seen mad dogs and
skunks, and they say a cat gets locoed likewise, and the cuss was
talking so cleverly that I began to lose my regard for him. After a
little while I concluded to pet him, for he didn't seem a bit afraid;
but as I put out my hand to catch him, he nimbly hopped into the roaring
fire and vanished. Then I did feel foolish. I had a good six-shooter,
and made up my mind if he showed up again I'd plug him one for luck. I
was growing sleepy, and it was getting late, so I concluded to spread
down my saddle blankets and slicker before the fire and go to sleep.
While I was making down my bed, I happened to look towards the fire,
when there was my black cat, with not even a hair singed. I drew my gun
quietly and cracked away at him, when he let out the funniest little
laugh, saying: 'You've been drinking, Aaron; you're nervous; you
couldn't hit a flock of barns.'

"I was getting excited by this time, and cut loose on him rapidly, but
he dodged every shot, jumping from the hearth to the mantel, from the
mantel to an old table, from there to a niche in the wall, and from the
niche clear across the room and out of the window. About then I was some
nervous, and after a while lay down before the fire and tried to go to
sleep.

"It was a terrible night outside--one of those nights when you can hear
things; and with the vivid imagination I was enjoying then, I was almost
afraid to try to sleep. But just as I was going into a doze, I raised
up my head, and there was my cat walking up and down my frame, his back
arched and his tail flirting with the slow sinuous movement of a snake.
I reached for my gun, and as it clicked in cocking, he began raking my
legs, sharpening his claws and growling like a tiger. I gave a yell and
kicked him off, when he sprang up on the old table and I could see his
eyes glaring at me. I emptied my gun at him a second time, and at every
shot he crouched lower and crept forward as if getting ready to spring.
When I had fired the last shot I jumped up and ran out into the rain,
and hadn't gone more than a hundred yards before I fell into a dry wash.
When I crawled out there was that d----d cat rubbing himself against my
boot leg. I stood breathless for a minute, thinking what next to do, and
the cat remarked: 'Wasn't that a peach of a race we just had!'

"I made one or two vicious kicks at him and he again vanished. Well,
fellows, in that dream I walked around that old _jacal_ all night in my
shirt sleeves, and it raining pitchforks. A number of times I peeped in
through the window or door, and there sat the cat on the hearth, in full
possession of the shack, and me out in the weather. Once when I looked
in he was missing, but while I was watching he sprang through a hole
in the roof, alighting in the fire, from which he walked out gingerly,
shaking his feet as if he had just been out in the wet. I shot away
every cartridge I had at him, but in the middle of the shooting he would
just coil up before the fire and snooze away.

"That night was an eternity of torment to me, and I was relieved when
some one knocked on the door, and I awoke to find myself in a good bed
and pounding my ear on a goose-hair pillow in a hotel in Oakville. Why,
I wouldn't have another dream like that for a half interest in the Las
Palomas brand. No, honest, if I thought drinking gave me that hideous
dream, here would be one lad ripe for reform."

"It strikes me," said Uncle Lance, rising and lifting a pot lid, "that
these birds are parboiled by this time. Bring me a fork, Enrique. Well,
I should say they were. I hope hell ain't any hotter than that fire.
Now, Tiburcio, if you have everything ready, we'll put them in the oven,
and bake them a couple of hours."

Several of us assisted in fixing the fire and properly coaling the
ovens. When this had been attended to, and we had again resumed our easy
positions around the fire, Trotter remarked: "Aaron, you ought to cut
drinking out of your amusements; you haven't the constitution to stand
it. Now with me it's different. I can drink a week and never
sleep; that's the kind of a build to have if you expect to travel and
meet all comers. Last year I was working for a Kansas City man on
the trail, and after the cattle were delivered about a hundred miles
beyond,--Ellsworth, up in Kansas,--he sent us home by way of Kansas
City. In fact, that was about the only route we could take. Well, it was
a successful trip, and as this man was plum white, anyhow, he concluded
to show us the sights around his burg. He was interested in a commission
firm out at the stockyards, and the night we reached there all the
office men, including the old man himself, turned themselves loose to
show us a good time.

"We had been drinking alkali water all summer, and along about midnight
they began to drop out until there was no one left to face the music
except a little cattle salesman and myself. After all the others quit
us, we went into a feed trough on a back street, and had a good supper.
I had been drinking everything like a good fellow, and at several places
there was no salt to put in the beer. The idea struck me that I would
buy a sack of salt from this eating ranch and take it with me. The
landlord gave me a funny look, but after some little parley went to the
rear and brought out a five-pound sack of table salt.

"It was just what I wanted, and after paying for it the salesman and
I started out to make a night of it. This yard man was a short, fat
Dutchman, and we made a team for your whiskers. I carried the sack of
salt under my arm, and the quantity of beer we killed before daylight
was a caution. About daybreak, the salesman wanted me to go to our
hotel and go to bed, but as I never drink and sleep at the same time,
I declined. Finally he explained to me that he would have to be at the
yards at eight o'clock, and begged me to excuse him. By this time he was
several sheets in the wind, while I could walk a chalk line without a
waver. Somehow we drifted around to the hotel where the outfit were
supposed to be stopping, and lined up at the bar for a final drink.
It was just daybreak, and between that Dutch cattle salesman and the
barkeeper and myself, it would have taken a bookkeeper to have kept a
check on the drinks we consumed--every one the last.

"Then the Dutchman gave me the slip and was gone, and I wandered into
the office of the hotel. A newsboy sold me a paper, and the next minute
a bootblack wanted to give me a shine. Well, I took a seat for a shine,
and for two hours I sat there as full as a tick, and as dignified as
a judge on the bench. All the newsboys and bootblacks caught on, and
before any of the outfit showed up that morning to rescue me, I had
bought a dozen papers and had my boots shined for the tenth time. If I'd
been foxy enough to have got rid of that sack of salt, no one could have
told I was off the reservation; but there it was under my arm. If ever
I make another trip over the trail, and touch at Kansas City returning,
I'll hunt up that cattle salesman, for he's the only man I ever met that
can pace in my class."

"Did you hear that tree break a few minutes ago?" inquired Mr. Nathan.
"There goes another one. It hardly looks possible that enough pigeons
could settle on a tree to break it down. Honestly, I'd give a purty to
know how many birds are in that roost to-night. More than there are
cattle in Texas, I'll bet. Why, Hugh killed, with both barrels,
twenty-two at one shot."

We had brought blankets along, but it was early and no one thought of
sleeping for an hour yet. Mr. Nathan was quite a sportsman, and after he
and Uncle Lance had discussed the safest method of hunting _javalina_,
it again devolved on the boys to entertain the party with stories.

"I was working on a ranch once," said Glenn Gallup, "out on the Concho
River. It was a stag outfit, there being few women then out Concho way.
One day two of the boys were riding in home when an accident occurred.
They had been shooting more or less during the morning, and one of them,
named Bill Cook, had carelessly left the hammer of his six-shooter on a
cartridge. As Bill jumped his horse over a dry _arroyo_, his pistol
was thrown from its holster, and, falling on the hard ground, was
discharged. The bullet struck him in the ankle, ranged upward,
shattering the large bone in his leg into fragments, and finally lodged
in the saddle.

"They were about five miles from camp when the accident happened. After
they realized how bad he was hurt, Bill remounted his horse and rode
nearly a mile; but the wound bled so then that the fellow with him
insisted on his getting off and lying on the ground while he went into
the ranch for a wagon. Well, it's to be supposed that he lost no time
riding in, and I was sent to San Angelo for a doctor. It was just
noon when I got off. I had to ride thirty miles. Talk about your good
horses--I had one that day. I took a free gait from the start, but the
last ten miles was the fastest, for I covered the entire distance in
less than three hours. There was a doctor in the town who'd been on the
frontier all of his life, and was used to such calls. Well, before dark
that evening we drove into the ranch.

"They had got the lad into the ranch, had checked the flow of blood and
eased the pain by standing on a chair and pouring water on the wound
from a height. But Bill looked pale as a ghost from the loss of blood.
The doctor gave the leg a single look, and, turning to us, said: 'Boys,
she has to come off.'

"The doctor talked to Bill freely and frankly, telling him that it was
the only chance for his life. He readily consented to the operation, and
while the doctor was getting him under the influence of opiates we fixed
up an operating table. When all was ready, the doctor took the leg off
below the knee, cursing us generally for being so sensitive to cutting
and the sight of blood. There was quite a number of boys at the ranch,
but it affected them all alike. It was interesting to watch him cut and
tie arteries and saw the bones, and I think I stood it better than any
of them. When the operation was over, we gave the fellow the best bed
the ranch afforded and fixed him up comfortable. The doctor took the
bloody stump and wrapped it up in an old newspaper, saying he would take
it home with him.

"After supper the surgeon took a sleep, saying we would start back to
town by two o'clock, so as to be there by daylight. He gave instructions
to call him in case Bill awoke, but he hoped the boy would take a good
sleep. As I had left my horse in town, I was expected to go back with
him. Shortly after midnight the fellow awoke, so we aroused the doctor,
who reported him doing well. The old Doc sat by his bed for an hour and
told him all kinds of stories. He had been a surgeon in the Confederate
army, and from the drift of his talk you'd think it was impossible to
kill a man without cutting off his head.

"'Now take a young fellow like you,' said the doctor to his patient,
'if he was all shot to pieces, just so the parts would hang together, I
could fix him up and he would get well. You have no idea, son, how much
lead a young man can carry.' We had coffee and lunch before starting,
the doctor promising to send me back at once with necessary medicines.

"We had a very pleasant trip driving back to town that night. The
stories he could tell were like a song with ninety verses, no two alike.
It was hardly daybreak when we reached San Angelo, rustled out a sleepy
hostler at the livery stable where the team belonged, and had the horses
cared for; and as we left the stable the doctor gave me his instrument
case, while he carried the amputated leg in the paper. We both felt the
need of a bracer after our night's ride, so we looked around to see if
any saloons were open. There was only one that showed any signs of life,
and we headed for that. The doctor was in the lead as we entered, and
we both knew the barkeeper well. This barkeeper was a practical joker
himself, and he and the doctor were great hunting companions. We walked
up to the bar together, when the doctor laid the package on the counter
and asked: 'Is this good for two drinks?' The barkeeper, with a look
of expectation in his face as if the package might contain half a dozen
quail or some fresh fish, broke the string and unrolled it. Without a
word he walked straight from behind the bar and out of the house. If he
had been shot himself he couldn't have looked whiter.

"The doctor went behind the bar and said: 'Glenn, what are you going to
take?' 'Let her come straight, doctor,' was my reply, and we both took
the same. We had the house all to ourselves, and after a second round
of drinks took our leave. As we left by the front door, we saw the
barkeeper leaning against a hitching post half a block below. The doctor
called to him as we were leaving: 'Billy, if the drinks ain't on you,
charge them to me.'"

The moon was just rising, and at Uncle Lance's suggestion we each
carried in a turn of wood. Piling a portion of it on the fire, the blaze
soon lighted up the camp, throwing shafts of light far into the recesses
of the woods around us. "In another hour," said Uncle Lance, recoaling
the oven lids, "that smaller pie will be all ready to serve, but we'll
keep the big one for breakfast. So, boys, if you want to sit up awhile
longer, we'll have a midnight lunch, and then all turn in for about
forty winks." As the oven lid was removed from time to time to take
note of the baking, savory odors of the pie were wafted to our anxious
nostrils. On the intimation that one oven would be ready in an hour, not
a man suggested blankets, and, taking advantage of the lull, Theodore
Quayle claimed attention.

"Another fellow and myself," said Quayle, "were knocking around Fort
Worth one time seeing the sights. We had drunk until it didn't taste
right any longer. This chum of mine was queer in his drinking. If he
ever got enough once, he didn't want any more for several days: you
could cure him by offering him plenty. But with just the right amount on
board, he was a hail fellow. He was a big, ambling, awkward cuss, who
could be led into anything on a hint or suggestion. We had been knocking
around the town for a week, until there was nothing new to be seen.

"Several times as we passed a millinery shop, kept by a little blonde,
we had seen her standing at the door. Something--it might have been
his ambling walk, but, anyway, something--about my chum amused her,
for she smiled and watched him as we passed. He never could walk along
beside you for any distance, but would trail behind and look into the
windows. He could not be hurried--not in town. I mentioned to him that
he had made a mash on the little blond milliner, and he at once
insisted that I should show her to him. We passed down on the opposite
side of the street and I pointed out the place. Then we walked by several
times, and finally passed when she was standing in the doorway talking
to some customers. As we came up he straightened himself, caught her eye,
and tipped his hat with the politeness of a dancing master. She blushed
to the roots of her hair, and he walked on very erect some little
distance, then we turned a corner and held a confab. He was for playing
the whole string, discount or no discount, anyway.

"An excuse to go in was wanting, but we thought we could invent one;
however, he needed a drink or two to facilitate his thinking and loosen
his tongue. To get them was easier than the excuse; but with the drinks
the motive was born. 'You wait here,' said he to me, 'until I go round
to the livery stable and get my coat off my saddle.' He never encumbered
himself with extra clothing. We had not seen our horses, saddles, or
any of our belongings during the week of our visit. When he returned he
inquired, 'Do I need a shave?'

"'Oh, no,' I said, 'you need no shave. You may have a drink too many,
or lack one of having enough. It's hard to make a close calculation on
you.'

"'Then I'm all ready,' said he, 'for I've just the right gauge of
steam.' He led the way as we entered. It was getting dark and the shop
was empty of customers. Where he ever got the manners, heaven only
knows. Once inside the door we halted, and she kept a counter between us
as she approached. She ought to have called the police and had us run
in. She was probably scared, but her voice was fairly steady as she
spoke. 'Gentlemen, what can I do for you?'

"'My friend here,' said he, with a bow and a wave of the hand, 'was
unfortunate enough to lose a wager made between us. The terms of the
bet were that the loser was to buy a new hat for one of the dining-room
girls at our hotel. As we are leaving town to-morrow, we have just
dropped in to see if you have anything suitable. We are both totally
incompetent to decide on such a delicate matter, but we will trust
entirely to your judgment in the selection.' The milliner was quite
collected by this time, as she asked: 'Any particular style?--and about
what price?'

"'The price is immaterial,' said he disdainfully. 'Any man who will
wager on the average weight of a train-load of cattle, his own cattle,
mind you, and miss them twenty pounds, ought to pay for his lack of
judgment. Don't you think so, Miss--er--er. Excuse me for being unable
to call your name--but--but--' 'De Ment is my name,' said she with some
little embarrassment.

"'Livingstone is mine,' said he with a profound bow,' and this gentleman
is Mr. Ochiltree, youngest brother of Congressman Tom. Now regarding the
style, we will depend entirely upon your selection. But possibly the
loser is entitled to some choice in the matter. Mr. Ochiltree, have you
any preference in regard to style?'

"'Why, no, I can generally tell whether a hat becomes a lady or not, but
as to selecting one I am at sea. We had better depend on Miss De Ment's
judgment. Still, I always like an abundance of flowers on a lady's hat.
Whenever a girl walks down the street ahead of me, I like to watch the
posies, grass, and buds on her hat wave and nod with the motion of her
walk. Miss De Ment, don't you agree with me that an abundance of flowers
becomes a young lady? And this girl can't be over twenty.'

"'Well, now,' said she, going into matters in earnest, 'I can scarcely
advise you. Is the young lady a brunette or blonde?'

"'What difference does that make?' he innocently asked.

"'Oh,' said she, smiling, 'we must harmonize colors. What would suit one
complexion would not become another. What color is her hair?'

"'Nearly the color of yours,' said he. 'Not so heavy and lacks the
natural wave which yours has--but she's all right. She can ride a string
of my horses until they all have sore backs. I tell you she is a cute
trick. But, say, Miss De Ment, what do you think of a green hat, broad
brimmed, turned up behind and on one side, long black feathers run round
and turned up behind, with a blue bird on the other side swooping down
like a pigeon hawk, long tail feathers and an arrow in its beak? That
strikes me as about the mustard. What do you think of that kind of a
hat, dear?'

"'Why, sir, the colors don't harmonize,' she replied, blushing.

"'Theodore, do you know anything about this harmony of colors? Excuse
me, madam,--and I crave your pardon, Mr. Ochiltree, for using your given
name,--but really this harmony of colors is all French to me.'

"'Well, if the young lady is in town, why can't you have her drop in
and make her own selection?' suggested the blond milliner. He studied a
moment, and then awoke as if from a trance. 'Just as easy as not; this
very evening or in the morning. Strange we didn't think of that sooner.
Yes; the landlady of the hotel can join us, and we can count on your
assistance in selecting the hat.' With a number of comments on her
attractive place, inquiries regarding trade, and a flattering compliment
on having made such a charming acquaintance, we edged towards the door.
'This evening then, or in the morning at the farthest, you may expect
another call, when my friend must pay the penalty of his folly by
settling the bill. Put it on heavy.' And he gave her a parting wink.

"Together we bowed ourselves out, and once safe in the street he said:
'Didn't she help us out of that easy? If she wasn't a blonde, I'd go
back and buy her two hats for suggesting it as she did.'

"'Rather good looking too,' I remarked.

"'Oh, well, that's a matter of taste. I like people with red blood in
them. Now if you was to saw her arm off, it wouldn't bleed; just a
little white water might ooze out, possibly. The best-looking girl I
ever saw was down in the lower Rio Grande country, and she was milking
a goat. Theodore, my dear fellow, when I'm led blushingly to the altar,
you'll be proud of my choice. I'm a judge of beauty.'"

It was after midnight when we disposed of the first oven of pigeon
pot-pie, and, wrapping ourselves in blankets, lay down around the fire.
With the first sign of dawn, we were aroused by Mr. Nathan and Uncle
Lance to witness the return flight of the birds to their feeding
grounds. Hurrying to the nearest opening, we saw the immense flight of
pigeons blackening the sky overhead. Stiffened by their night's rest,
they flew low; but the beauty and immensity of the flight overawed us,
and we stood in mute admiration, no one firing a shot. For fully a
half-hour the flight continued, ending in a few scattering birds.

CHAPTER VI

SPRING OF '76

The spring of '76 was eventful at Las Palomas. After the pigeon hunt,
Uncle Lance went to San Antonio to sell cattle for spring delivery.
Meanwhile, Father Norquin visited the ranch and spent a few days among
his parishioners, Miss Jean acting the hostess in behalf of Las Palomas.
The priest proved a congenial fellow of the cloth, and among us, with
Miss Jean's countenance, it was decided not to delay Enrique's marriage;
for there was no telling when Uncle Lance would return. All the
arrangements were made by the padre and Miss Jean, the groom-to-be
apparently playing a minor part in the preliminaries. Though none of the
white element of the ranch were communicants of his church, the priest
apparently enjoyed the visit. At parting, the mistress pressed a gold
piece into his chubby palm as the marriage fee for Enrique; and, after
naming a day for the ceremony, the padre mounted his horse and left us
for the Tarancalous, showering his blessings on Las Palomas and its
people.

During the intervening days before the wedding, we overhauled an unused
_jacal_ and made it habitable for the bride and groom. The _jacal_ is a
crude structure of this semi-tropical country, containing but a single

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