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A Texas Matchmaker by Andy Adams

Part 2 out of 5

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room with a shady, protecting stoop. It is constructed by standing
palisades on end in a trench. These constitute the walls. The floor is
earthen, while the roof is thatched with the wild grass which grows rank
in the overflow portions of the river valley. It forms a serviceable
shelter for a warm country, the peculiar roofing equally defying rain
and the sun's heat. Under the leadership of the mistress of the ranch,
assisted by the Mexican women, the _jacal_ was transformed into a rustic
bower; for Enrique was not only a favorite among the whites, but also
among his own people. A few gaudy pictures of Saints and the Madonna
ornamented the side walls, while in the rear hung the necessary
crucifix. At the time of its building the _jacal_ had been blessed, as
was customary before occupancy, and to Enrique's reasoning the potency
of the former sprinkling still held good.

Weddings were momentous occasions among the Mexican population at Las
Palomas. In outfitting the party to attend Enrique's wedding at Santa
Maria, the ranch came to a standstill. Not only the regular ambulance
but a second conveyance was required to transport the numerous female
relatives of the groom, while the men, all in gala attire, were mounted
on the best horses on the ranch. As none of the whites attended,
Deweese charged Tiburcio with humanity to the stock, while the mistress
admonished every one to be on his good behavior. With greetings to Santa
Maria, the wedding party set out. They were expected to return the
following evening, and the ranch was set in order to give the bride a
rousing reception on her arrival at Las Palomas. The largest place on
the ranch was a warehouse, and we shifted its contents in such a manner
as to have quite a commodious ball-room. The most notable decoration
of the room was an immense heart-shaped figure, in which was worked in
live-oak leaves the names of the two ranches, flanked on either side
with the American and Mexican flags. Numerous other decorations,
expressing welcome to the bride, were in evidence on every hand. Tallow
was plentiful at Las Palomas, and candles were fastened at every
possible projection.

The mounted members of the wedding party returned near the middle of
the afternoon. According to reports, Santa Maria had treated them most
hospitably. The marriage was simple, but the festivities following had
lasted until dawn. The returning guests sought their _jacals_ to snatch
a few hours' sleep before the revelry would be resumed at Las Palomas.
An hour before sunset the four-mule ambulance bearing the bride and
groom drove into Las Palomas with a flourish. Before leaving the bridal
couple at their own _jacal_, Tiburcio halted the ambulance in front of
the ranch-house for the formal welcome. In the absence of her brother,
Miss Jean officiated in behalf of Las Palomas, tenderly caressing the
bride. The boys monopolized her with their congratulations and welcome,
which delighted Enrique. As for the bride, she seemed at home from the
first, soon recognizing me as the _padrino segundo_ at the time of her
betrothal.

Quite a delegation of the bride's friends from Santa Maria accompanied
the party on their return, from whom were chosen part of the musicians
for the evening--violins and guitars in the hands of the native element
of the two ranches making up a pastoral orchestra. I volunteered my
services; but so much of the music was new to me that I frequently
excused myself for a dance with the senoritas. In the absence of Uncle
Lance, our _segundo_, June Deweese, claimed the first dance of the
evening with the bride. Miss Jean lent only the approval of her
presence, not participating, and withdrawing at an early hour. As all
the American element present spoke Spanish slightly, that became the
language of the evening. But, further than to countenance with our
presence the festivities, we were out of place, and, ere midnight, all
had excused themselves with the exception of Aaron Scales and myself. On
the pleadings of Enrique, I remained an hour or two longer, dancing with
his bride, or playing some favorite selection for the delighted groom.

Several days after the wedding Uncle Lance returned. He had been
successful in contracting a trail herd of thirty-five hundred cattle,
and a _remuda_ of one hundred and twenty-five saddle horses with which
to handle them. The contract called for two thousand two-year-old steers
and fifteen hundred threes. There was a difference of four dollars a
head in favor of the older cattle, and it was the ranchero's intention
to fill the latter class entirely from the Las Palomas brand. As to the
younger cattle, neighboring ranches would be invited to deliver twos
in filling the contract, and if any were lacking, the home ranch would
supply the deficiency. Having ample range, the difference in price was
an inducement to hold the younger cattle. To keep a steer another year
cost nothing, while the ranchero returned convinced that the trail might
soon furnish an outlet for all surplus cattle. In the matter of the
horses, too, rather than reduce our supply of saddle stock below the
actual needs of the ranch, Uncle Lance concluded to buy fifty head in
making up the _remuda_. There were several hundred geldings on the ranch
old enough for saddle purposes, but they would be as good as useless in
handling cattle the first year after breaking.

As this would be the first trail herd from Las Palomas, we naturally
felt no small pride in the transaction. According to contract,
everything was to be ready for final delivery on the twenty-fifth of
March. The contractors, Camp & Dupree, of Fort Worth, Texas, were to
send their foreman two weeks in advance to receive, classify, and pass
upon the cattle and saddle stock. They were exacting in their demands,
yet humane and reasonable. In making up the herd no cattle were to be
corralled at night, and no animal would be received which had been
roped. The saddle horses were to be treated likewise. These conditions
would put into the saddle every available man on the ranch as well as on
the ranchitas. But we looked eagerly forward to the putting up of the
herd. Letters were written and dispatched to a dozen ranches within
striking distance, inviting them to turn in two-year-old steers at the
full contract price. June Deweese was sent out to buy fifty saddle
horses, which would fill the required standard, "fourteen hands or
better, serviceable and gentle broken." I was dispatched to Santa Maria,
to invite Don Mateo Gonzales to participate in the contract. The range
of every saddle horse on the ranch was located, so that we could gather
them, when wanted, in a day. Less than a month's time now remained
before the delivery day, though we did not expect to go into camp for
actual gathering until the arrival of the trail foreman.

In going and returning from San Antonio my employer had traveled by
stage. As it happened, the driver of the up-stage out of Oakville was
Jack Martin, the son-in-law of Mrs. McLeod. He and Uncle Lance being
acquainted, the old ranchero's matchmaking instincts had, during the
day's travel, again forged to the front. By roundabout inquiries he had
elicited the information that Mrs. McLeod had, immediately after the
holidays, taken Esther to San Antonio and placed her in school. By
innocent artful suggestions of his interest in the welfare of the
family, he learned the name of the private school of which Esther was a
pupil. Furthermore, he cultivated the good will of the driver in various
ways over good cigars, and at parting assured him on returning he would
take the stage so as to have the pleasure of his company on the return
trip--the highest compliment that could be paid a stage-driver.

From several sources I had learned that Esther had left the ranch for
the city, but on Uncle Lance's return I got the full particulars. As
a neighboring ranchman, and bearing self-invented messages from
the family, he had the assurance to call at the school. His honest
countenance was a passport anywhere, and he not only saw Esther but
prevailed on her teachers to give the girl, some time during his visit
in the city, a half holiday. The interest he manifested in the girl won
his request, and the two had spent an afternoon visiting the parks and
other points of interest. It is needless to add that he made hay in my
behalf during this half holiday. But the most encouraging fact that he
unearthed was that Esther was disgusted with her school life and was
homesick. She had declared that if she ever got away from school, no
power on earth could force her back again.

"Shucks, Tom," said he, the next morning after his return, as we were
sitting in the shade of the corrals waiting for the _remuda_ to come in,
"that poor little country girl might as well be in a penitentiary as in
that school. She belongs on these prairies, and you can't make anything
else out of her. I can read between the lines, and any one can see that
her education is finished. When she told me how rudely her mother had
treated you, her heart was an open book and easily read. Don't you lose
any sleep on how you stand in her affections--that's all serene. She'll
he home on a spring vacation, and that'll be your chance. If I was your
age, I'd make it a point to see that she didn't go back to school.
She'll run off with you rather than that. In the game of matrimony, son,
you want to play your cards boldly and never hesitate to lead trumps."

To further matters, when returning by stage my employer had ingratiated
himself into the favor of the driver in many ways, and urged him to send
word to Mrs. McLeod to turn in her two-year-olds on his contract. A few
days later her foreman and son-in-law, Tony Hunter, rode down to Las
Palomas, anxious for the chance to turn in cattle. There had been little
opportunity for several years to sell steers, and when a chance like
this came, there would have been no trouble to fill half a dozen
contracts, as supply far exceeded demand.

Uncle Lance let Mrs. McLeod's foreman feel that in allotting her five
hundred of the younger cattle, he was actuated by old-time friendship
for the family. As a mark of special consideration he promised to send
the trail foreman to the San Miguel to pass on the cattle on their home
range, but advised the foreman to gather at least seven hundred steers,
allowing for two hundred to be culled or cut back. Hunter remained over
night, departing the next morning, delighted over his allowance of
cattle and the liberal terms of the contract.

It was understood that, in advance of his outfit, the trail foreman
would come down by stage, and I was sent into Oakville with an extra
saddle horse to meet him. He had arrived the day previous, and we lost
no time in starting for Las Palomas. This trail foreman was about thirty
years of age, a quiet red-headed fellow, giving the name of Frank
Nancrede, and before we had covered half the distance to the ranch I was
satisfied that he was a cowman. I always prided myself on possessing a
good eye for brands, but he outclassed me, reading strange brands at
over a hundred yards, and distinguishing cattle from horse stock at a
distance of three miles.'

We got fairly well acquainted before reaching the ranch, but it was
impossible to start him on any subject save cattle. I was able to give
him a very good idea of the _remuda_, which was then under herd and
waiting his approval, and I saw the man brighten into a smile for the
first time on my offering to help him pick out a good mount for his own
saddle. I had a vague idea of what the trail was like, and felt the
usual boyish attraction for it; but when I tried to draw him out in
regard to it, he advised me, if I had a regular job on a ranch, to let
trail work alone.

We reached the ranch late in the evening and I introduced Nancrede to
Uncle Lance, who took charge of him. We had established a horse camp for
the trail _remuda_, north of the river, and the next morning the trail
foreman, my employer, and June Deweese, rode over to pass on the
saddle stock. The _remuda_ pleased him, being fully up to the contract
standard, and he accepted it with but a single exception. This exception
tickled Uncle Lance, as it gave him an opportunity to annoy his sister
about Nancrede, as he did about every other cowman or drover who visited
the ranch. That evening, as I was chatting with Miss Jean, who was
superintending the Mexican help milking at the cow pen, Uncle Lance
joined us.

"Say, Sis," said he, "our man Nancrede is a cowman all right. I tried to
ring in a 'hipped' horse on him this morning,--one hip knocked down just
the least little bit,--but he noticed it and refused to accept him. Oh,
he's got an eye in his head all right. So if you say so, I'll give him
the best horse on the ranch in old Hippy's place. You're always making
fun of slab-sided cowmen; he's pony-built enough to suit you, and I kind
o' like the color of his hair myself. Did you notice his neck?--he'll
never tie it if it gets broken. I like a short man; if he stubs his toe
and falls down he doesn't reach halfway home. Now, if he has as good cow
sense in receiving the herd as he had on the _remuda_, I'd kind o' like
to have him for a brother-in-law. I'm getting a little too old for
active work and would like to retire, but June, the durn fool, won't get
married, and about the only show I've got is to get a husband for you.
I'd as lief live in Hades as on a ranch without a woman on it. What do
you think of him?"

"Why, I think he's an awful nice fellow, but he won't talk. And besides,
I'm not baiting my hook for small fish like trail foremen; I was aiming
to keep my smiles for the contractors. Aren't they coming down?"

"Well, they might come to look the herd over before it starts out. Now,
Dupree is a good cowman, but he's got a wife already. And Camp, the
financial man of the firm, made his money peddling Yankee clocks. Now,
you don't suppose for a moment I'd let you marry him and carry you away
from Las Palomas. Marry an old clock peddler?--not if he had a million!
The idea! If they come down here and I catch you smiling on old Camp,
I'll set the hounds on you. What you want to do is to set your cap for
Nancrede. Of course, you're ten years the elder, but that needn't cut
any figure. So just burn a few smiles on the red-headed trail foreman!
You know you can count on your loving brother to help all he can."

The conversation was interrupted by our _segundo_ and the trail foreman
riding up to the cow pen. The two had been up the river during the
afternoon, looking over the cattle on the range, for as yet we had
not commenced gathering. Nancrede was very reticent, discovering a
conspicuous lack of words to express his opinion of what cattle Deweese
had shown him.

The second day after the arrival of the trail foreman, we divided our
forces into two squads and started out to gather our three-year-olds. By
the ranch records, there were over two thousand steers of that age in
the Las Palomas brand. Deweese took ten men and half of the ranch saddle
horses and went up above the mouth of the Ganso to begin gathering.
Uncle Lance took the remainder of the men and horses and went down the
river nearly to Shepherd's, leaving Dan Happersett and three Mexicans to
hold and night-herd the trail _remuda._ Nancrede declined to stay at the
ranch and so joined our outfit on the down-river trip. We had postponed
the gathering until the last hour, for every day improved the growing
grass on which our mounts must depend for subsistence, and once we
started, there would be little rest for men or horses.

The younger cattle for the herd were made up within a week after the
invitations were sent to the neighboring ranches. Naturally they would
be the last cattle to be received and would come in for delivery between
the twentieth and the last of the month. With the plans thus outlined,
we started our gathering. Counting Nancrede, we had twelve men in the
saddle in our down-river outfit. Taking nothing but three-year-olds, we
did not accumulate cattle fast; but it was continuous work, every man,
with the exception of Uncle Lance, standing a guard on night-herd. The
first two days we only gathered about five hundred steers. This number
was increased by about three hundred on the third day, and that
evening Dan Happersett with a vaquero rode into camp and reported that
Nancrede's outfit had arrived from San Antonio. He had turned the
_remuda_ over to them on their arrival, sending the other two Mexicans
to join Deweese above on the river.

The fourth day finished the gathering. Nancrede remained with us to the
last, making a hand which left no doubt in any one's mind that he was
a cowman from the ground up. The last round-up on the afternoon of the
fourth day, our outriders sighted the vaqueros from Deweese's outfit,
circling and drifting in the cattle on their half of the circle. The
next morning the two camps were thrown together on the river opposite
the ranch. Deweese had fully as many cattle as we had, and when the two
cuts had been united and counted, we lacked but five head of nineteen
hundred. Several of Nancrede's men joined us that morning, and within an
hour, under the trail foreman's directions, we cut back the overplus,
and the cattle were accepted.

Under the contract we were to road-brand them, though Nancrede ordered
his men to assist us in the work. Under ordinary circumstances we should
also have vented the ranch brand, but owing to the fact that this herd
was to be trailed to Abilene, Kansas, and possibly sold beyond that
point, it was unnecessary and therefore omitted. We had a branding chute
on the ranch for grown cattle, and the following morning the herd was
corralled and the road-branding commenced. The cattle were uniform in
size, and the stamping of the figure '4' over the holding "Lazy L"
of Las Palomas, moved like clockwork. With a daybreak start and an
abundance of help the last animal was ironed up before sundown. As a
favor to Nancrede's outfit, their camp being nearly five miles distant,
we held them the first night after branding.

No sooner had the trail foreman accepted our three-year-olds than he and
Glen Gallup set out for the McLeod ranch on the San Miguel. The day our
branding was finished, the two returned near midnight, reported the San
Miguel cattle accepted and due the next evening at Las Palomas. By dawn
Nancrede and myself started for Santa Maria, the former being deficient
in Spanish, the only weak point, if it was one, in his make-up as a
cowman. We were slightly disappointed in not finding the cattle ready to
pass upon at Santa Maria. That ranch was to deliver seven hundred, and
on our arrival they had not even that number under herd. Don Mateo, an
easy-going ranchero, could not understand the necessity of such haste.
What did it matter if the cattle were delivered on the twenty-fifth or
twenty-seventh? But I explained as delicately as I could that this was
a trail man, whose vocabulary did not contain _manana_. In interpreting
for Nancrede, I learned something of the trail myself: that a herd
should start with the grass and move with it, keeping the freshness of
spring, day after day and week after week, as they trailed northward.
The trail foreman assured Don Mateo that had his employers known that
this was to be such an early spring, the herd would have started a week
sooner.

By impressing on the ranchero the importance of not delaying this trail
man, we got him to inject a little action into his corporal. We asked
Don Mateo for horses and, joining his outfit, made three rodeos that
afternoon, turning into the cattle under herd nearly two hundred and
fifty head by dark that evening. Nancrede spent a restless night, and at
dawn, as the cattle were leaving the bed ground, he and I got an easy
count on them and culled them down to the required number before
breakfasting. We had some little trouble explaining to Don Mateo the
necessity of giving the bill of sale to my employer, who, in turn, would
reconvey the stock to the contractors. Once the matter was made clear,
the accepted cattle were started for Las Palomas. When we overtook them
an hour afterward, I instructed the corporal, at the instance of the
red-headed foreman, to take a day and a half in reaching the ranch; that
tardiness in gathering must not be made up by a hasty drive to the point
of delivery; that the animals must be treated humanely.

On reaching the ranch we found that Mr. Booth and some of his neighbors
had arrived from the Frio with their contingent. They had been allotted
six hundred head, and had brought down about two hundred extra cattle
in order to allow some choice in accepting. These were the only mixed
brands that came in on the delivery, and after they had been culled down
and accepted, my employer appointed Aaron Scales as clerk. There were
some five or six owners, and Scales must catch the brands as they were
freed from the branding chute. Several of the owners kept a private
tally, but not once did they have occasion to check up the Marylander's
decisions. Before the branding of this hunch was finished, Wilson, from
Ramirena, rode into the ranch and announced his cattle within five miles
of Las Palomas. As these were the last two hundred to be passed upon,
Nancrede asked to have them in sight of the ranch by sun-up in the
morning.

On the arrival of the trail outfit from San Antonio, they brought a
letter from the contractors, asking that a conveyance meet them at
Oakville, as they wished to see the herd before it started. Tiburcio
went in with the ambulance to meet them, and they reached the ranch late
at night. On their arrival twenty-six hundred of the cattle had already
been passed upon, branded, and were then being held by Nancrede's outfit
across the river at their camp. Dupree, being a practical cowman,
understood the situation; but Camp was restless and uneasy as if he
expected to find the cattle in the corrals at the ranch. Camp was years
the older of the two, a pudgy man with a florid complexion and nasal
twang, and kept the junior member busy answering his questions. Uncle
Lance enjoyed the situation, jollying his sister about the elder
contractor and quietly inquiring of the red-haired foreman how and where
Dupree had picked him up.

The contractors had brought no saddles with them, so the ambulance was
the only mode of travel. As we rode out to receive the Wilson cattle
the next morning, Uncle Lance took advantage of the occasion to jolly
Nancrede further about the senior member of the firm, the foreman
smiling appreciatingly. "The way your old man talked last night," said
he, "you'd think he expected to find the herd in the front yard. Too
bad to disappoint him; for then he could have looked them over with a
lantern from the gallery of the house. Now, if they had been Yankee
clocks instead of cattle, why, he'd been right at home, and could have
taken them in the house and handled them easily. It certainly beats the
dickens why some men want to break into the cattle business. It won't
surprise me if he asks you to trail the herd past the ranch so he can
see them. Well, you and Dupree will have to make him some _dinero_ this
summer or you will lose him for a partner. I can see that sticking out."

We received and branded the two hundred Wilson cattle that forenoon,
sending them to the main herd across the river. Mr. Wilson and Uncle
Lance were great cronies, and as the latter was feeling in fine fettle
over the successful fulfillment of his contract, he was tempted also to
jolly his neighbor ranchero over his cattle, which, by the way, were
fine. "Nate," said he to Mr. Wilson, "it looks like you'd quit breeding
goats and rear cattle instead. Honest, if I didn't know your brand, I'd
swear some Mexican raised this bunch. These Fort Worth cowmen are an
easy lot, or yours would never have passed under the classification."

An hour before noon, Tomas Martines, the corporal of Santa Maria, rode
up to inquire what time we wished his cattle at the corrals. They were
back several miles, and he could deliver them on an hour's notice. One
o'clock was agreed upon, and, never dismounting, the corporal galloped
away to his herd. "Quirk," said Nancrede to me, noticing the Mexican's
unaccustomed air of enterprise, "if we had that fellow under us awhile
we'd make a cow-hand out of him. See the wiggle he gets on himself now,
will you?" Promptly at the hour, the herd were counted and corralled,
Don Mateo Gonzales not troubling to appear, which was mystifying to the
North Texas men, but Uncle Lance explained that a mere incident like
selling seven hundred cattle was not sufficient occasion to arouse the
ranchero of Santa Maria when his corporal could attend to the business.

That evening saw the last of the cattle branded. The herd was completed
and ready to start the following morning. The two contractors were
driven across the river during the afternoon to look over the herd
and _remuda_. At the instance of my employer, I wrote a letter of
congratulation to Don Mateo, handing it to his corporal, informing him
that in the course of ten days a check would he sent him in payment.
Uncle Lance had fully investigated the financial standing of the
contractors, but it was necessary for him to return with them to San
Antonio for a final settlement.

The ambulance made an early start for Oakville on the morning of the
twenty-sixth, carrying the contractors and my employer, and the rest
of us rode away to witness the start of the herd. Nancrede's outfit
numbered fifteen,--a cook, a horse wrangler, himself, and twelve
outriders. They comprised an odd mixture of men, several barely my age,
while others were gray-haired and looked like veteran cow-hands. On
leaving the Nueces valley, the herd was strung out a mile in length, and
after riding with them until they reached the first hills, we bade them
good-by. As we started to return Frank Nancrede made a remark to June
Deweese which I have often recalled: "You fellows may think this is a
snap; but if I had a job on as good a ranch as Las Palomas, you'd never
catch me on a cattle trail."

CHAPTER VII

SAN JACINTO DAY

A few days later, when Uncle Lance returned from San Antonio, we had a
confidential talk, and he decided not to send me with the McLeod check
to the San Miguel. He had reasons of his own, and I was dispatched to
the Frio instead, while to Enrique fell the pleasant task of a similar
errand to Santa Maria. In order to grind an axe, Glenn Gallup was sent
down to Wilson's with the settlement for the Ramirena cattle, which
Uncle Lance made the occasion of a jovial expression of his theory of
love-making. "Don't waste any words with old man Nate," said he, as he
handed Glenn the check; "but build right up to Miss Jule. Holy snakes,
boy, if I was your age I would make her dizzy with a big talk. Tell
her you're thinking of quitting Las Palomas and driving a trail herd
yourself next year. Tell it big and scary. Make her eyes fairly bulge
out, and when you can't think of anything else, tell her she's pretty."

I spent a day or two at the Booth ranch, and on my return found the Las
Palomas outfit in the saddle working our horse stock. Yearly we made up
new _manadas_ from the two-year-old fillies. There were enough young
mares to form twelve bands of about twenty-five head each. In selecting
these we were governed by standard colors, bays, browns, grays, blacks,
and sorrels forming separate _manadas,_ while all mongrel colors went
into two bands by themselves. In the latter class there was a tendency
for the colors of the old Spanish stock,--coyotes, and other hybrid
mixtures,--after being dormant for generations, to crop out again. In
breaking these fillies into new bands, we added a stallion a year or
two older and of acceptable color, and they were placed in charge of a
trusty vaquero, whose duty was to herd them for the first month after
being formed. The Mexican in charge usually took the band round the
circuit of the various ranchitas, corralling his charge at night,
drifting at will, so that by the end of the month old associations would
be severed, and from that time the stallion could be depended on as
herdsman.

In gathering the fillies, we also cut out all the geldings three years
old and upward to break for saddle purposes. There were fully two
hundred of these, and the month of April was spent in saddle-breaking
this number. They were a fine lot of young horses, and under the master
eye of two perfect horsemen, our _segundo_ and employer, every horse was
broken with intelligence and humanity. Since the day of their branding
as colts these geldings had never felt the touch of a human hand; and it
required more than ordinary patience to overcome their fear, bring them
to a condition of submission, and make serviceable ranch horses out of
them. The most difficult matter was in overcoming their fear. It was
also necessary to show the mastery of man over the animal, though this
process was tempered with humanity. We had several circular, sandy
corrals into which the horse to be broken was admitted for the first
saddling. As he ran round, a lasso skillfully thrown encircled his front
feet and he came down on his side. One fore foot was strapped up, a
hackamore or bitless bridle was adjusted in place, and he was allowed
to arise. After this, all depended on the patience and firmness of the
handler. Some horses yielded to kind advances and accepted the saddle
within half an hour, not even offering to pitch, while others repelled
every kindness and fought for hours. But in handling the gelding of
spirit, we could always count on the help of an extra saddler.

While this work was being done, the herd of geldings was held close at
hand. After the first riding, four horses were the daily allowance of
each rider. With the amount of help available, this allowed twelve to
fifteen horses to the man, so that every animal was ridden once in three
or four days. Rather than corral, we night-herded, penning them by dawn
and riding our first horse before sun-up. As they gradually yielded, we
increased our number to six a day and finally before the breaking
was over to eight. When the work was finally over they were cut into
_remudas_ of fifty horses each, furnished a gentle bell mare, when
possible with a young colt by her side, and were turned over to a
similar treatment as was given the fillies in forming _manadas._ Thus
the different _remudas_ at Las Palomas always took the name of the bell
mare, and when we were at work, it was only necessary for us to hobble
the princess at night to insure the presence of her band in the morning.

When this month's work was two thirds over, we enjoyed a holiday. All
good Texans, whether by birth or adoption, celebrate the twenty-first of
April,--San Jacinto Day. National holidays may not always he observed
in sparsely settled communities, but this event will remain a great
anniversary until the sons and daughters of the Lone Star State lose
their patriotism or forget the blessings of liberty. As Shepherd's Ferry
was centrally located, it became by common consent the meeting-point for
our local celebration. Residents from the Frio and San Miguel and as far
south on the home river as Lagarto, including the villagers of Oakville,
usually lent their presence on this occasion. The white element of Las
Palomas was present without an exception. As usual, Miss Jean went by
ambulance, starting the afternoon before and spending the night at a
ranch above the ferry. Those remaining made a daybreak start, reaching
Shepherd's by ten in the morning.

While on the way from the ranch to the ferry, I was visited with some
misgivings as to whether Esther McLeod had yet returned from San
Antonio. At the delivery of San Miguel's cattle at Las Palomas, Miss
Jean had been very attentive to Tony Hunter, Esther's brother-in-law,
and through him she learned that Esther's school closed for the summer
vacation on the fifteenth of April, and that within a week afterward she
was expected at home. Shortly after our reaching the ferry, a number
of vehicles drove in from Oakville. One of these conveyances was an
elaborate six-horse stage, owned by Bethel & Oxenford, star route mail
contractors between San Antonio and Brownsville, Texas. Seated by young
Oxenford's side in the driver's box sat Esther McLeod, while inside the
coach was her sister, Mrs. Martin, with the senior member of the firm,
his wife, and several other invited guests. I had heard something of the
gallantry of young Jack Oxenford, who was the nephew of a carpet-bag
member of Congress, and prided himself on being the best whip in the
country. In the latter field I would gladly have yielded him all honors,
but his attentions to Esther were altogether too marked to please either
me or my employer. I am free to admit that I was troubled by this turn
of affairs. The junior mail contractor made up in egotism what he lacked
in appearance, and no doubt had money to burn, as star route mail
contracting was profitable those days, while I had nothing but my
monthly wages. To make matters more embarrassing, a blind man could have
read Mrs. Martin's approval of young Oxenford.

The programme for the forenoon was brief--a few patriotic songs and an
oration by a young lawyer who had come up from Corpus Christi for the
occasion. After listening to the opening song, my employer and I took
a stroll down by the river, as we were too absorbed in the new
complications to pay proper attention to the young orator.

"Tom," said Uncle Lance, as we strolled away from the grove, "we are up
against the real thing now. I know young Oxenford, and he's a dangerous
fellow to have for a rival, if he really is one. You can't tell much
about a Yankee, though, for he's usually egotistical enough to think
that every girl in the country is breaking her neck to win him. The
worst of it is, this young fellow is rich--he's got dead oodles of money
and he's making more every hour out of his mail contracts. One good
thing is, we understand the situation, and all's fair in love and war.
You can see, though, that Mrs. Martin has dealt herself a hand in the
game. By the dough on her fingers she proposes to have a fist in the
pie. Well, now, son, we'll give them a run for their money or break a
tug in the effort. Tom, just you play to my lead to-day and we'll see
who holds the high cards or knows best how to play them. If I can cut
him off, that'll be your chance to sail in and do a little close-herding
yourself."

We loitered along the river bank until the oration was concluded, my
employer giving me quite an interesting account of my rival. It seems
that young Oxenford belonged to a family then notoriously prominent
in politics. He had inherited quite a sum of money, and, through the
influence of his congressional uncle, had been fortunate enough to
form a partnership with Bethel, a man who knew all the ropes in mail
contracting. The senior member of the firm knew how to shake the tree,
while the financial resources of the junior member and the political
influence of his uncle made him a valuable man in gathering the plums on
their large field of star route contracts. Had not exposure interrupted,
they were due to have made a large fortune out of the government.

On our return to the picnic grounds, the assembly was dispersing for
luncheon. Miss Jean had ably provided for the occasion, and on reaching
our ambulance on the outer edge of the grove, Tiburcio had coffee all
ready and the boys from the home ranch began to straggle in for dinner.
Miss Jean had prevailed on Tony Hunter and his wife, who had come down
on horseback from the San Miguel, to take luncheon with us, and from the
hearty greetings which Uncle Lance extended to the guests of his
sister, I could see that the owner and mistress of Las Palomas were
diplomatically dividing the house of McLeod. I followed suit, making
myself agreeable to Mrs. Hunter, who was but very few years the elder of
Esther. Having spent a couple of nights at their ranch, and feeling a
certain comradeship with her husband, I decided before dinner was
over that I had a friend and ally in Tony's wife. There was something
romantic about the young matron, as any one could see, and since the
sisters favored each other in many ways, I had hopes that Esther might
not overvalue Jack Oxenford's money.

After luncheon, as we were on our way to the dancing arbor, we met the
Oakville party with Esther in tow. I was introduced to Mrs. Martin, who,
in turn, made me acquainted with her friends, including her sister,
perfectly unconscious that we were already more than mere acquaintances.
From the demure manner of Esther, who accepted the introduction as a
matter of course, I surmised she was concealing our acquaintance from
her sister and my rival. We had hardly reached the arbor before Uncle
Lance created a diversion and interested the mail contractors with a
glowing yarn about a fine lot of young mules he had at the ranch, large
enough for stage purposes. There was some doubt expressed by the stage
men as to their size and weight, when my employer invited them to
the outskirts of the grove, where he would show them a sample in our
ambulance team. So he led them away, and I saw that the time had come to
play to my employer's lead. The music striking up, I claimed Esther for
the first dance, leaving Mrs. Martin, for the time being, in charge of
her sister and Miss Jean. Before the first waltz ended I caught sight
of all three of the ladies mingling in the dance. It was a source of no
small satisfaction to me to see my two best friends, Deweese and Gallup,
dancing with the married sisters, while Miss Jean was giving her whole
attention to her partner, Tony Hunter. With the entire Las Palomas crowd
pulling strings in my interest, and Father, in the absence of Oxenford,
becoming extremely gracious, I grew bold and threw out my chest like the
brisket on a beef steer.

I permitted no one to separate me from Esther. We started the second
dance together, but no sooner did I see her sister, Mrs. Martin, whirl
by us in the polka with Dan Happersett, than I suggested that we drop
out and take a stroll. She consented, and we were soon out of sight,
wandering in a labyrinth of lover's lanes which abounded throughout this
live-oak grove. On reaching the outskirts of the picnic grounds, we came
to an extensive opening in which our saddle horses were picketed. At
a glance Esther recognized Wolf, the horse I had ridden the Christmas
before when passing their ranch. Being a favorite saddle horse of the
old ranchero, he was reserved for special occasions, and Uncle Lance had
ridden him down to Shepherd's on this holiday. Like a bird freed from a
cage, the ranch girl took to the horses and insisted on a little ride.
Since her proposal alone prevented my making a similar suggestion,
I allowed myself to be won over, but came near getting caught in
protesting. "But you told me at the ranch that Wolf was one of ten in
your Las Palomas mount," she poutingly protested.

"He is," I insisted, "but I have loaned him to Uncle Lance for the day."

"Throw the saddle on him then--I'll tell Mr. Lovelace when we return
that I borrowed his horse when he wasn't looking."

Had she killed the horse, I felt sure that the apology would have been
accepted; so, throwing saddles on the black and my own mount, we were
soon scampering down the river. The inconvenience of a man's saddle, or
the total absence of any, was a negligible incident to this daughter of
the plains. A mile down the river, we halted and watered the horses.
Then, crossing the stream, we spent about an hour circling slowly about
on the surrounding uplands, never being over a mile from the picnic
grounds. It was late for the first flora of the season, but there was
still an abundance of blue bonnets. Dismounting, we gathered and
wove wreaths for our horses' necks, and wandered picking the Mexican
strawberries which grew plentifully on every hand.

But this was all preliminary to the main question. When it came up for
discussion, this one of Quirk's boys made the talk of his life in behalf
of Thomas Moore. Nor was it in vain. When Esther apologized for the
rudeness her mother had shown me at her home, that afforded me the
opening for which I was longing. We were sitting on a grassy hummock,
weaving garlands, when I replied to the apology by declaring my
intention of marrying her, with or without her mother's consent.
Unconventional as the declaration was, to my surprise she showed neither
offense nor wonderment. Dropping the flowers with which we were working,
she avoided my gaze, and, turning slightly from me, began watching our
horses, which had strayed away some distance. But I gave her little
time for meditation, and when I aroused her from her reverie, she rose,
saying, "We'd better go back--they'll miss us if we stay too long."

Before complying with her wish, I urged an answer; but she, artfully
avoiding my question, insisted on our immediate return. Being in a
quandary as to what to say or do, I went after the horses, which was a
simple proposition. On my return, while we were adjusting the garlands
about the necks of our mounts, I again urged her for an answer, but in
vain. We stood for a moment between the two horses, and as I lowered my
hand on my knee to afford her a stepping-stone in mounting, I thought
she did not offer to mount with the same alacrity as she had done
before. Something flashed through my addled mind, and, withdrawing the
hand proffered as a mounting block, I clasped the demure maiden closely
in my arms. What transpired has no witnesses save two saddle horses,
and as Wolf usually kept an eye on his rider in mounting, I dropped the
reins and gave him his freedom rather than endure his scrutiny. When we
were finally aroused from this delicious trance, the horses had strayed
away fully fifty yards, but I had received a favorable answer, breathed
in a voice so low and tender that it haunts me yet.

As we rode along, returning to the grove, Esther requested that our
betrothal be kept a profound secret. No doubt she had good reasons, and
it was quite possible that there then existed some complications which
she wished to conceal, though I avoided all mention of any possible
rival. Since she was not due to return to her school before September,
there seemed ample time to carry out our intentions of marrying. But as
we jogged along, she informed me that after spending a few weeks with
her sister in Oakville, it was her intention to return to the San Miguel
for the summer. To allay her mother's distrust, it would be better for
me not to call at the ranch. But this was easily compensated for when
she suggested making several visits during the season with the Vaux
girls, chums of hers, who lived on the Frio about thirty miles due north
of Las Palomas. This was fortunate, since the Vaux ranch and ours were
on the most friendly terms.

We returned by the route by which we had left the grounds. I repicketed
the horses and we were soon mingling again with the revelers, having
been absent little over an hour. No one seemed to have taken any notice
of our absence. Mrs. Martin, I rejoiced to see, was still in tow of her
sister and Miss Jean, and from the circle of Las Palomas courtiers who
surrounded the ladies, I felt sure they had given her no opportunity
even to miss her younger sister. Uncle Lance was the only member of our
company absent, but I gave myself no uneasiness about him, since the
mail contractors were both likewise missing. Rejoining our friends and
assuming a nonchalant air, I flattered myself that my disguise was
perfect.

During the remainder of the afternoon, in view of the possibility that
Esther might take her sister, Mrs. Martin, into our secret and win her
as an ally, I cultivated that lady's acquaintance, dancing with her and
leaving nothing undone to foster her friendship. Near the middle of the
afternoon, as the three sisters, Miss Jean, and I were indulging in
light refreshment at a booth some distance from the dancing arbor, I
sighted my employer, Dan Happersett, and the two stage men returning
from the store. They passed near, not observing us, and from the defiant
tones of Uncle Lance's voice, I knew they had been tampering with the
'private stock' of the merchant at Shepherd's. "Why, gentlemen," said
he, "that ambulance team is no exception to the quality of mules I'm
raising at Las Palomas. Drive up some time and spend a few days and take
a look at the stock we're breeding. If you will, and I don't show you
fifty mules fourteen and a half hands or better, I'll round up five
hundred head and let you pick fifty as a pelon for your time and
trouble. Why, gentlemen, Las Palomas has sold mules to the government."

On the return of our party to the arbor, Happersett claimed a dance with
Esther, thus freeing me. Uncle Lance was standing some little distance
away, still entertaining the mail contractors, and I edged near enough
to notice Oxenford's florid face and leery eye. But on my employer's
catching sight of me, he excused himself to the stage men, and taking my
arm led me off. Together we promenaded out of sight of the crowd. "How
do you like my style of a man herder?" inquired the old matchmaker, once
we were out of hearing. "Why, Tom, I'd have held those mail thieves
until dark, if Dan hadn't drifted in and given me the wink. Shepherd
kicked like a bay steer on letting me have a second quart bottle, but it
took that to put the right glaze in the young Yank's eye. Oh, I had him
going south all right! But tell me, how did you and Esther make it?"

We had reached a secluded spot, and, seating ourselves on an old fallen
tree trunk, I told of my success, even to the using of his horse. Never
before or since did I see Uncle Lance give way to such a fit of hilarity
as he indulged in over the perfect working out of our plans. With his
hat he whipped me, the ground, the log on which we sat, while his peals
of laughter rang out like the reports of a rifle. In his fit of ecstasy,
tears of joy streaming from his eyes, he kept repeating again and again,
"Oh, sister, run quick and tell pa to come!"

As we neared the grounds returning, he stopped me and we had a further
brief confidential talk together. I was young and egotistical enough to
think that I could defy all the rivals in existence, but he cautioned
me, saying: "Hold on, Tom. You're young yet; you know nothing about the
weaker sex, absolutely nothing. It's not your fault, but due to your
mere raw youth. Now, listen to me, son: Don't underestimate any rival,
particularly if he has gall and money, most of all, money. Humanity is
the same the world over, and while you may not have seen it here among
the ranches, it is natural for a woman to rave over a man with money,
even if he is only a pimply excuse for a creature. Still, I don't see
that we have very much to fear. We can cut old lady McLeod out of the
matter entirely. But then there's the girl's sister, Mrs. Martin, and
I look for her to cut up shameful when she smells the rat, which she's
sure to do. And then there's her husband to figure on. If the ox knows
his master's crib, it's only reasonable to suppose that Jack Martin
knows where his bread and butter comes from. These stage men will stick
up for each other like thieves. Now, don't you be too crack sure. Be
just a trifle leary of every one, except, of course, the Las Palomas
outfit."

I admit that I did not see clearly the reasoning behind much of this
lecture, but I knew better than reject the advice of the old matchmaker
with his sixty odd years of experience. I was still meditating over his
remarks when we rejoined the crowd and were soon separated among the
dancers. Several urged me to play the violin; but I was too busy looking
after my own fences, and declined the invitation. Casting about for the
Vaux girls, I found the eldest, with whom I had a slight acquaintance,
being monopolized by Theodore Quayle and John Cotton, friendly rivals
and favorites of the young lady. On my imploring the favor of a dance,
she excused herself, and joined me on a promenade about the grounds,
missing one dance entirely. In arranging matters with her to send me
word on the arrival of Esther at their ranch, I attempted to make her
show some preference between my two comrades, under the pretense of
knowing which one to bring along, but she only smiled and maintained an
admirable neutrality.

After a dance I returned the elder Miss Vaux to the tender care of
John Cotton, and caught sight of my employer leaving the arbor for the
refreshment booth with a party of women, including Mrs. Martin and
Esther McLeod, to whom he was paying the most devoted attention.
Witnessing the tireless energy of the old matchmaker, and in a quarter
where he had little hope of an ally, brought me to thinking that there
might be good cause for alarm in his warnings not to be overconfident.
Miss Jean, whom I had not seen since luncheon, aroused me from my
reverie, and on her wishing to know my motive for cultivating the
acquaintance of Miss Vaux and neglecting my own sweetheart, I told her
the simple truth. "Good idea, Tom," she assented. "I think I'll just ask
Miss Frances home with me to spend Sunday. Then you can take her across
to the Frio on horseback, so as not to offend either John or Theodore.
What do you think?"

I thought it was a good idea, and said so. At least the taking of the
young lady home would be a pleasanter task for me than breaking horses.
But as I expressed myself so, I could not help thinking, seeing Miss
Jean's zeal in the matter, that the matchmaking instinct was equally
well developed on both sides of the Lovelace family.

The afternoon was drawing to a close. The festivities would conclude
by early sundown. Miss Jean would spend the night again at the halfway
ranch, returning to Las Palomas the next morning; we would start on our
return with the close of the amusements. Many who lived at a distance
had already started home. It lacked but a few minutes of the closing
hour when I sought out Esther for the "Home, Sweet Home" waltz, finding
her in company of Oxenford, chaperoned by Mrs. Martin, of which there
was need. My sweetheart excused herself with a poise that made my heart
leap, and as we whirled away in the mazes of the final dance, rivals and
all else passed into oblivion. Before we could realize the change in the
music, the orchestra had stopped, and struck into "My Country, 'tis of
Thee," in which the voice of every patriotic Texan present swelled the
chorus until it echoed throughout the grove, befittingly closing San
Jacinto Day.

CHAPTER VIII

A CAT HUNT ON THE FRIO

The return of Miss Jean the next forenoon, accompanied by Frances Vaux,
was an occasion of more than ordinary moment at Las Palomas. The Vaux
family were of creole extraction, but had settled on the Frio River
nearly a generation before. Under the climatic change, from the swamps
of Louisiana to the mesas of Texas, the girls grew up fine physical
specimens of rustic Southern beauty. To a close observer, certain traces
of the French were distinctly discernible in Miss Frances, notably in
the large, lustrous eyes, the swarthy complexion, and early maturity of
womanhood. Small wonder then that our guest should have played havoc
among the young men of the countryside, adding to her train of gallants
the devoted Quayle and Cotton of Las Palomas.

Aside from her charming personality, that Miss Vaux should receive a
cordial welcome at Las Palomas goes without saying, since there were
many reasons why she should. The old ranchero and his sister chaperoned
the young lady, while I, betrothed to another, became her most obedient
slave. It is needless to add that there was a fair field and no favor
shown by her hosts, as between John and Theodore. The prize was worthy
of any effort. The best man was welcome to win, while the blessings of
master and mistress seemed impatient to descend on the favored one.

In the work in hand, I was forced to act as a rival to my friends, for
I could not afford to lower my reputation for horsemanship before Miss
Frances, when my betrothed was shortly to be her guest. So it was not
to be wondered at that Quayle and Cotton should abandon the _medeno_ in
mounting their unbroken geldings, and I had to follow suit or suffer
by comparison. The other rascals, equal if not superior to our trio in
horsemanship, including Enrique, born with just sense enough to be a
fearless vaquero, took to the heavy sand in mounting vicious geldings;
but we three jauntily gave the wildest horses their heads and even
encouraged them to buck whenever our guest was sighted on the gallery.
What gave special vim to our work was the fact that Miss Frances was a
horsewoman herself, and it was with difficulty that she could be kept
away from the corrals. Several times a day our guest prevailed on Uncle
Lance to take her out to witness the roping. From a safe vantage place
on the palisades, the old ranchero and his protege would watch us
catching, saddling, and mounting the geldings. Under those bright eyes,
lariats encircled the feet of the horse to be ridden deftly indeed, and
he was laid on his side in the sand as daintily as a mother would lay
her babe in its crib. Outside of the trio, the work of the gang was
bunglesome, calling for many a protest from Uncle Lance,--they had no
lady's glance to spur them on,--while ours merited the enthusiastic
plaudits of Miss Frances.

[Illustration: GAVE THE WILDEST HORSES THEIR HEADS]

Then came Sunday and we observed the commandment. Miss Jean had planned
a picnic for the day on the river. We excused Tiburcio, and pressed the
ambulance team into service to convey the party of six for the day's
outing among the fine groves of elm that bordered the river in several
places, and afforded ample shade from the sun. The day was delightfully
spent. The chaperons were negligent and dilatory. Uncle Lance even
fell asleep for several hours. But when we returned at twilight, the
ambulance mules were garlanded as if for a wedding party.

The next morning our guest was to depart, and to me fell the pleasant
task of acting as her escort. Uncle Lance prevailed on Miss Frances to
ride a spirited chestnut horse from his mount, while I rode a _grulla_
from my own. We made an early start, the old ranchero riding with us
as far as the river. As he held the hand of Miss Vaux in parting, he
cautioned her not to detain me at their ranch, as he had use for me at
Las Palomas. "Of course," said he, "I don't mean that you shall hurry
him right off to-day or even to-morrow. But these lazy rascals of mine
will hang around a girl a week, if she'll allow it. Had John or Theodore
taken you home, I shouldn't expect to see either of them in a fortnight.
Now, if they don't treat you right at home, come back and live with us.
I'll adopt you as my daughter. And tell your pa that the first general
rain that falls, I'm coming over with my hounds for a cat hunt with him.
Good-by, sweetheart."

It was a delightful ride across to the Frio. Mounted on two splendid
horses, we put the Nueces behind us as the hours passed. Frequently we
met large strings of cattle drifting in towards the river for their
daily drink, and Miss Frances insisted on riding through the cows,
noticing every brand as keenly as a vaquero on the lookout for strays
from her father's ranch. The young calves scampered out of our way, but
their sedate mothers permitted us to ride near enough to read the brands
as we met and passed. Once we rode a mile out of our way to look at a
_manada_. The stallion met us as we approached as if to challenge all
intruders on his domain, but we met him defiantly and he turned aside
and permitted us to examine his harem and its frolicsome colts.

But when cattle and horses no longer served as a subject, and the wide
expanse of flowery mesa, studded here and there with Spanish daggers
whose creamy flowers nodded to us as we passed, ceased to interest us,
we turned to the ever interesting subject of sweethearts. But try as I
might, I could never wring any confession from her which even suggested
a preference among her string of admirers. On the other hand, when she
twitted me about Esther, I proudly plead guilty of a Platonic friendship
which some day I hoped would ripen into something more permanent, fully
realizing that the very first time these two chums met there would be an
interchange of confidences. And in the full knowledge that during these
whispered admissions the truth would be revealed, I stoutly denied that
Esther and I were even betrothed.

But during that morning's ride I made a friend and ally of Frances Vaux.
There was some talk of a tournament to be held during the summer at
Campbellton on the Atascosa. She promised that she would detain Esther
for it and find a way to send me word, and we would make up a party and
attend it together. I had never been present at any of these pastoral
tourneys and was hopeful that one would be held within reach of our
ranch, for I had heard a great deal about them and was anxious to see
one. But this was only one of several social outings which she outlined
as on her summer programme, to all of which I was cordially invited as
a member of her party. There was to be a dance on St. John's Day at the
Mission, a barbecue in June on the San Miguel, and other local meets for
the summer and early fall. By the time we reached the ranch, I was just
beginning to realize that, socially, Shepherd's Ferry and the Nueces was
a poky place.

The next morning I returned to Las Palomas. The horse-breaking was
nearing an end. During the month of May we went into camp on a new tract
of land which had been recently acquired, to build a tank on a dry
_arroyo_ which crossed this last landed addition to the ranch. It was a
commercial peculiarity of Uncle Lance to acquire land but never to part
with it under any consideration. To a certain extent, cows and land had
become his religion, and whenever either, adjoining Las Palomas, was for
sale, they were looked upon as a safe bank of deposit for any surplus
funds. The last tract thus secured was dry, but by damming the _arroyo_
we could store water in this tank or reservoir to tide over the
dry spells. All the Mexican help on the ranch was put to work with
wheelbarrows, while six mule teams ploughed, scraped, and hauled rock,
one four-mule team being constantly employed in hauling water over ten
miles for camp and stock purposes. This dry stream ran water, when
conditions were favorable, several months in the year, and by building
the tank our cattle capacity would be largely increased.

One evening, late in the month, when the water wagon returned, Tiburcio
brought a request from Miss Jean, asking me to come into the ranch that
night. Responding to the summons, I was rewarded by finding a letter
awaiting me from Frances Vaux, left by a vaquero passing from the Frio
to Santa Maria. It was a dainty missive, informing me that Esther was
her guest; that the tournament would not take place, but to be sure and
come over on Sunday. Personally the note was satisfactory, but that I
was to bring any one along was artfully omitted. Being thus forced to
read between the lines, on my return to camp the next morning by dawn,
without a word of explanation, I submitted the matter to John and
Theodore. Uncle Lance, of course, had to know what had called me in to
the ranch, and, taking the letter from Quayle, read it himself.

"That's plain enough," said he, on the first reading. "John will go with
you Sunday, and if it rains next month, I'll take Theodore with me when
I go over for a cat hunt with old man Pierre. I'll let him act as master
of the horse,--no, of the hounds,--and give him a chance to toot his own
horn with Frances. Honest, boys, I'm getting disgusted with the white
element of Las Palomas. We raise most everything here but white babies.
Even Enrique, the rascal, has to live in camp now to hold down his
breakfast. But you young whites--with the country just full of young
women--well, it's certainly discouraging. I do all I can, and Sis helps
a little, but what does it amount to--what are the results? That poem
that Jean reads to us occasionally must be right. I reckon the Caucasian
is played out."

Before the sun was an hour high, John Cotton and myself rode into the
Vaux ranch on Sunday morning. The girls gave us a cheerful welcome.
While we were breakfasting, several other lads and lasses rode up, and
we were informed that a little picnic for the day had been arranged.
As this was to our liking, John and I readily acquiesced, and shortly
afterward a mounted party of about a dozen young folks set out for a
hackberry grove, up the river several miles. Lunch baskets were taken
along, but no chaperons. The girls were all dressed in cambric and
muslin and as light in heart as the fabrics and ribbons they flaunted.
I was gratified with the boldness of Cotton, as he cantered away with
Frances, and with the day before him there was every reason to believe
that his cause would he advanced. As to myself, with Esther by my side
the livelong day, I could not have asked the world to widen an inch.

It was midnight when we reached Las Palomas returning. As we rode along
that night, John confessed to me that Frances was a tantalizing enigma.
Up to a certain point, she offered every encouragement, but beyond that
there seemed to be a dead line over which she allowed no sentiment to
pass. It was plain to be seen that he was discouraged, but I told him I
had gone through worse ordeals.

Throughout southern Texas and the country tributary to the Nueces River,
we always looked for our heaviest rainfall during the month of June.
This year in particular, we were anxious to see a regular downpour to
start the _arroyo_ and test our new tank. Besides, we had sold for
delivery in July, twelve hundred beef steers for shipment at Rockport on
the coast. If only a soaking rain would fall, making water plentiful, we
could make the drive in little over a hundred miles, while a dry season
would compel; us to follow the river nearly double the distance.

We were riding our range thoroughly, locating our fattest beeves, when
one evening as June Deweese and I were on the way back from the Ganso,
a regular equinoctial struck us, accompanied by a downpour of rain and
hail. Our horses turned their backs to the storm, but we drew slickers
over our heads, and defied the elements. Instead of letting up as
darkness set in, the storm seemed to increase in fury and we were forced
to seek shelter. We were at least fifteen miles from the ranch, and it
was simply impossible to force a horse against that sheeting rain.
So turning to catch the storm in our backs, we rode for a ranchita
belonging to Las Palomas. By the aid of flashes of lightning and the
course of the storm, we reached the little ranch and found a haven. A
steady rain fell all night, continuing the next day, but we saddled
early and rode for our new reservoir on the _arroyo_. Imagine our
surprise on sighting the embankment to see two horsemen ride up from the
opposite direction and halt at the dam. Giving rein to our horses and
galloping up, we found they were Uncle Lance and Theodore Quayle. Above
the dam the _arroyo_ was running like a mill-tail. The water in the
reservoir covered several acres and had backed up stream nearly a
quarter mile, the deepest point in the tank reaching my saddle skirts.
The embankment had settled solidly, holding the gathering water to our
satisfaction, and after several hours' inspection we rode for home.

With this splendid rain, Las Palomas ranch took on an air of activity.
The old ranchero paced the gallery for hours in great glee, watching the
downpour. It was too soon yet by a week to gather the beeves. But under
the glowing prospect, we could not remain inert. The next morning the
_segunao_ took all the teams and returned to the tank to watch the dam
and haul rock to rip-rap the flanks of the embankment. Taking extra
saddle horses with us, Uncle Lance, Dan Happersett, Quayle, and myself
took the hounds and struck across for the Frio. On reaching the Vaux
ranch, as showers were still falling and the underbrush reeking with
moisture, wetting any one to the skin who dared to invade it, we did not
hunt that afternoon. Pierre Vaux was enthusiastic over the rain, while
his daughters were equally so over the prospects of riding to the
hounds, there being now nearly forty dogs in the double pack.

At the first opportunity, Frances confided to me that Mrs. McLeod had
forbidden Esther visiting them again, since some busybody had carried
the news of our picnic to her ears. But she promised me that if I could
direct the hunt on the morrow within a few miles of the McLeod ranch,
she would entice my sweetheart out and give me a chance to meet her.
There was a roguish look in Miss Frances's eye during this disclosure
which I was unable to fathom, but I promised during the few days' hunt
to find some means to direct the chase within striking distance of the
ranch on the San Miguel.

I promptly gave this bit of news in confidence to Uncle Lance, and was
told to lie low and leave matters to him. That evening, amid clouds of
tobacco smoke, the two old rancheros discussed the best hunting in the
country, while we youngsters danced on the gallery to the strains of a
fiddle. I heard Mr. Vaux narrating a fight with a cougar which killed
two of his best dogs during the winter just passed, and before we
retired it was understood that we would give the haunts of this same old
cougar our first attention.

CHAPTER IX

THE ROSE AND ITS THORN

Dawn found the ranch astir and a heavy fog hanging over the Frio valley.
Don Pierre had a _remuda_ corralled before sun-up, and insisted on our
riding his horses, an invitation which my employer alone declined.
For the first hour or two the pack scouted the river bottoms with no
success, and Uncle Lance's verdict was that the valley was too soggy for
any animal belonging to the cat family, so we turned back to the divide
between the Frio and San Miguel. Here there grew among the hills many
Guajio thickets, and from the first one we beat, the hounds opened on a
hot trail in splendid chorus. The pack led us through thickets for over
a mile, when they suddenly turned down a ravine, heading for the river.
With the ground ill splendid condition for trailing, the dogs in full
cry, the quarry sought every shelter possible; but within an hour of
striking the scent, the pack came to bay in the encinal. On coming up
with the hounds, we found the animal was a large catamount. A single
shot brought him from his perch in a scraggy oak, and the first chase of
the day was over. The pelt was worthless and was not taken.

It was nearly noon when the kill was made, and Don Pierre insisted
that we return to the ranch. Uncle Lance protested against wasting the
remainder of the day, but the courteous Creole urged that the ground
would be in fine condition for hunting at least a week longer; this hunt
he declared was merely preliminary--to break the pack together and give
them a taste of the chase before attacking the cougar. "Ah," said Don
Pierre, with a deprecating shrug of the shoulders, "you have nothing to
hurry you home. I come by your rancho an' stay one hol' week. You
come by mine, al' time hurry. Sacre! Let de li'l dogs rest, an' in de
mornin', mebbe we hunt de cougar. Ah, Meester Lance, we must haff de
pack fresh for him. By Gar, he was one dam' wil' fellow. Mek one two
pass, so. Biff! two dog dead."

Uncle Lance yielded, and we rode back to the ranch. The next morning our
party included the three daughters of our host. Don Pierre led the way
on a roan stallion, and after two hours' riding we crossed the San
Miguel to the north of his ranch. A few miles beyond we entered some
chalky hills, interspersed with white chaparral thickets which were just
bursting into bloom, with a fragrance that was almost intoxicating.
Under the direction of our host, we started to beat a long chain of
these thickets, and were shortly rewarded by hearing the pack give
mouth. The quarry kept to the cover of the thickets for several miles,
impeding the chase until the last covert in the chain was reached, where
a fight occurred with the lead hound. Don Pierre was the first to reach
the scene, and caught several glimpses of a monster puma as he slunk
away through the Brazil brush, leaving one of the Don's favorite hounds
lacerated to the bone. But the pack passed on, and, lifting the wounded
dog to a vaquero's saddle, we followed, lustily shouting to the hounds.

The spoor now turned down the San Miguel, and the pace was such that
it took hard riding to keep within hearing. Mr. Vaux and Uncle Lance
usually held the lead, the remainder of the party, including the girls,
bringing up the rear. The chase continued down stream for fully an hour,
until we encountered some heavy timber on the main Frio, our course
having carried us several miles to the north of the McLeod ranch. Some
distance below the juncture with the San Miguel the river made a large
horseshoe, embracing nearly a thousand acres, which was covered with a
dense growth of ash, pecan, and cypress. The trail led into this jungle,
circling it several times before leading away. We were fortunately
able to keep track of the chase from the baying of the hounds without
entering the timber, and were watching its course, when suddenly it
changed; the pack followed the scent across a bridge of driftwood on the
Frio, and started up the river in full cry.

As the chase down the San Miguel passed beyond the mouth of the creek,
Theodore Quayle and Frances Vaux dropped out and rode for the McLeod
ranch. It was still early in the day, and understanding their motive, I
knew they would rejoin us if their mission was successful. By the sudden
turn of the chase, we were likely to pass several miles south of the
home of my sweetheart, but our location could be easily followed by the
music of the pack. Within an hour after leaving us, Theodore and Frances
rejoined the chase, adding Tony Hunter and Esther to our numbers. With
this addition, I lost interest in the hunt, as the course carried us
straightaway five miles up the stream. The quarry was cunning and
delayed the pack at every thicket or large body of timber encountered.
Several times he craftily attempted to throw the hounds off the scent
by climbing leaning trees, only to spring down again. But the pack were
running wide and the ruse was only tiring the hunted. The scent at times
left the river and circled through outlying mesquite groves, always
keeping well under cover. On these occasions we rested our horses, for
the hunt was certain to return to the river.

From the scattering order in which we rode, I was afforded a good
opportunity for free conversation with Esther. But the information I
obtained was not very encouraging. Her mother's authority had grown so
severe that existence under the same roof was a mere armistice between
mother and daughter, while this day's sport was likely to break the
already strained relations. The thought that her suffering was largely
on my account, nerved me to resolution.

The kill was made late in the day, in a bend of the river, about fifteen
miles above the Vaux ranch, forming a jungle of several thousand acres.
In this thickety covert the fugitive made his final stand, taking refuge
in an immense old live-oak, the mossy festoons of which partially
screened him from view. The larger portion of the cavalcade remained in
the open, but the rest of us, under the leadership of the two rancheros,
forced our horses through the underbrush and reached the hounds. The
pack were as good as exhausted by the long run, and, lest the animal
should spring out of the tree and escape, we circled it at a distance.
On catching a fair view of the quarry, Uncle Lance called for a carbine.
Two shots through the shoulders served to loosen the puma's footing,
when he came down by easy stages from limb to limb, spitting and hissing
defiance into the upturned faces of the pack. As he fell, we dashed in
to beat off the dogs as a matter of precaution, but the bullets had done
their work, and the pack mouthed the fallen feline with entire impunity.

Dan Happersett dragged the dead puma out with a rope over the neck for
the inspection of the girls, while our horses, which had had no less
than a fifty-mile ride, were unsaddled and allowed a roll and a half
hour's graze before starting back. As we were watering our mounts, I
caught my employer's ear long enough to repeat what I had learned about
Esther's home difficulties. After picketing our horses, we strolled away
from the remainder of the party, when Uncle Lance remarked: "Tom, your
chance has come where you must play your hand and play it boldly. I'll
keep Tony at the Vaux ranch, and if Esther has to go home to-night, why,
of course, you'll have to take her. There's your chance to run off and
marry. Now, Tom, you've never failed me yet; and this thing has gone far
enough. We'll give old lady McLeod good cause to hate us from now on.
I've got some money with me, and I'll rob the other boys, and to-night
you make a spoon or spoil a horn. Sabe?"

I understood and approved. As we jogged along homeward, Esther and I
fell to the rear, and I outlined my programme. Nor did she protest when
I suggested that to-night was the accepted time. Before we reached the
Vaux ranch every little detail was arranged. There was a splendid moon,
and after supper she plead the necessity of returning home. Meanwhile
every cent my friends possessed had been given me, and the two best
horses of Las Palomas were under saddle for the start. Uncle Lance was
arranging a big hunt for the morrow with Tony Hunter and Don Pierre,
when Esther took leave of her friends, only a few of whom were cognizant
of our intended elopement.

With fresh mounts under us, we soon covered the intervening distance
between the two ranches. I would gladly have waived touching at the
McLeod ranch, but Esther had torn her dress during the day and insisted
on a change, and I, of necessity, yielded. The corrals were at some
distance from the main buildings, and, halting at a saddle shed
adjoining, Esther left me and entered the house. Fortunately her mother
had retired, and after making a hasty change of apparel, she returned
unobserved to the corrals. As we quietly rode out from the inclosure,
my spirits soared to the moon above us. The night was an ideal one.
Crossing the Frio, we followed the divide some distance, keeping in the
open, and an hour before midnight forded the Nueces at Shepherd's. A
flood of recollections crossed my mind, as our steaming horses bent
their heads to drink at the ferry. Less than a year before, in this
very grove, I had met her; it was but two months since, on those hills
beyond, we had gathered flowers, plighted our troth, and exchanged our
first rapturous kiss. And the thought that she was renouncing home and
all for my sake, softened my heart and nerved me to every exertion.

Our intention was to intercept the south-bound stage at the first
road house south of Oakville. I knew the hour it was due to leave the
station, and by steady riding we could connect with it at the first
stage stand some fifteen miles below. Lighthearted and happy, we set
out on this last lap of our ride. Our horses seemed to understand the
emergency, as they put the miles behind them, thrilling us with their
energy and vigor. Never for a moment in our flight did my sweetheart
discover a single qualm over her decision, while in my case all scruples
were buried in the hope of victory. Recrossing the Nueces and entering
the stage road, we followed it down several miles, sighting the stage
stand about two o'clock in the morning. I was saddle weary from the
hunt, together with this fifty-mile ride, and rejoiced in reaching our
temporary destination. Esther, however, seemed little the worse for the
long ride.

The welcome extended by the keeper of this relay station was gruff
enough. But his tone and manner moderated when he learned we were
passengers for Corpus Christi. When I made arrangements with him to look
after our horses for a week or ten days at a handsome figure, he became
amiable, invited us to a cup of coffee, and politely informed us that
the stage was due in half an hour. But on its arrival, promptly on time,
our hearts sank within us. On the driver's box sat an express guard
holding across his knees a sawed-off, double-barreled shotgun. As it
halted, two other guards stepped out of the coach, similarly armed. The
stage was carrying an unusual amount of treasure, we were informed, and
no passengers could be accepted, as an attempted robbery was expected
between this and the next station.

Our situation became embarrassing. For the first time during our ride,
Esther showed the timidity of her sex. The chosen destination of our
honeymoon, nearly a hundred miles to the south, was now out of the
question. To return to Oakville, where a sister and friends of my
sweetheart resided, seemed the only avenue open. I had misgivings that
it was unsafe, but Esther urged it, declaring that Mrs. Martin would
offer no opposition, and even if she did, nothing now could come that
would ever separate us. We learned from the keeper that Jack Martin was
due to drive the north-bound stage out of Oakville that morning, and was
expected to pass this relay station about daybreak. This was favorable,
and we decided to wait and allow the stage to pass north before resuming
our journey.

On the arrival of the stage, we learned that the down coach had been
attacked, but the robbers, finding it guarded, had fled after an
exchange of shots in the darkness. This had a further depressing effect
on my betrothed, and only my encouragement to be brave and face the
dilemma confronting us kept her up. Bred on the frontier, this little
ranch girl was no weakling; but the sudden overturn of our well-laid
plans had chilled my own spirits as well as hers. Giving the up stage
a good start of us, we resaddled and started for Oakville, slightly
crestfallen but still confident. In the open air Esther's fears
gradually subsided, and, invigorated by the morning and the gallop, we
reached our destination after our night's adventure with hopes buoyant
and colors flying.

Mrs. Martin looked a trifle dumfounded at her early callers, but I lost
no time in informing her that our mission was an elopement, and asked
her approval and blessing. Surprised as she was, she welcomed us to
breakfast, inquiring of our plans and showing alarm over our experience.
Since Oakville was a county seat where a license could be secured, for
fear of pursuit I urged an immediate marriage, but Mrs. Martin could see
no necessity for haste. There was, she said, no one there whom she would
allow to solemnize a wedding of her sister, and, to my chagrin, Esther
agreed with her.

This was just what I had dreaded; but Mrs. Martin, with apparent
enthusiasm over our union, took the reins in her own hands, and decided
that we should wait until Jack's return, when we would all take the
stage to Pleasanton, where an Episcopal minister lived. My heart sank
at this, for it meant a delay of two days, and I stood up and stoutly
protested. But now that the excitement of our flight had abated, my own
Esther innocently sided with her sister, and I was at my wit's end. To
all my appeals, the sisters replied with the argument that there was no
hurry--that while the hunt lasted at the Vaux ranch Tony Hunter could be
depended upon to follow the hounds; Esther would never be missed until
his return; her mother would suppose she was with the Vaux girls, and
would be busy preparing a lecture against her return.

Of course the argument of the sisters won the hour. Though dreading some
unforeseen danger, I temporarily yielded. I knew the motive of the hunt
well enough to know that the moment we had an ample start it would be
abandoned, and the Las Palomas contingent would return to the ranch. Yet
I dare not tell, even my betrothed, that there were ulterior motives
in my employer's hunting on the Frio, one of which was to afford an
opportunity for our elopement. Full of apprehension and alarm, I took a
room at the village hostelry, for I had our horses to look after,
and secured a much-needed sleep during the afternoon. That evening I
returned to the Martin cottage, to urge again that we carry out our
original programme by taking the south-bound stage at midnight. But all
I could say was of no avail. Mrs. Martin was equal to every suggestion.
She had all the plans outlined, and there was no occasion for me to
do any thinking at all. Corpus Christi was not to be considered for a
single moment, compared to Pleasanton and an Episcopalian service. What
could I do?

At an early hour Mrs. Martin withdrew. The reaction from our escapade
had left a pallor on my sweetheart's countenance, almost alarming.
Noticing this, I took my leave early, hoping that a good night's rest
would restore her color and her spirits. Returning to the hostelry, I
resignedly sought my room, since there was nothing I could do but wait.
Tossing and pitching on my bed, I upbraided myself for having returned
to Oakville, where any interference with our plans could possibly
develop.

The next morning at breakfast, I noticed that I was the object of
particular attention, and of no very kindly sort. No one even gave me
a friendly nod, while several avoided my glances. Supposing that some
rumor of our elopement might be abroad, I hurriedly finished my meal
and started for the Martins'. On reaching the door, I was met by its
mistress, who, I had need to remind myself, was the sister of my
betrothed. To my friendly salutation, she gave me a scornful, withering
look.

"You're too late, young man," she said. "Shortly after you left last
night, Esther and Jack Oxenford took a private conveyance for Beeville,
and are married before this. You Las Palomas people are slow. Old Lance
Lovelace thought he was playing it cute San Jacinto Day, but I
saw through his little game. Somebody must have told him he was a
matchmaker. Well, just give him my regards, and tell him he don't know
the first principles of that little game. Tell him to drop in some time
when he's passing; I may be able to give him some pointers that I'm not
using at the moment. I hope your sorrow will not exceed my happiness.
Good-morning, sir."

CHAPTER X

AFTERMATH

My memory of what happened immediately after Mrs. Martin's contemptuous
treatment of me is as vague and indefinite as the vaporings of a fevered
dream. I have a faint recollection of several friendly people offering
their sympathy. The old stableman, who looked after the horses,
cautioned me not to start out alone; but I have since learned that I
cursed him and all the rest, and rode away as one in a trance. But I
must have had some little caution left, for I remember giving Shepherd's
a wide berth, passing several miles to the south.

The horses, taking their own way, were wandering home. Any exercise of
control or guidance over them on my part was inspired by an instinct
to avoid being seen. Of conscious direction there was none. Somewhere
between the ferry and the ranch I remember being awakened from my torpor
by the horse which I was leading showing an inclination to graze. Then
I noticed their gaunted condition, and in sympathy for the poor brutes
unsaddled and picketed them in a secluded spot. What happened at this
halt has slipped from my memory. But I must have slept a long time; for
I awoke to find the moon high overhead, and my watch, through neglect,
run down and stopped. I now realized the better my predicament, and
reasoned with myself whether I should return to Las Palomas or not. But
there was no place else to go, and the horses did not belong to me. If I
could only reach the ranch and secure my own horse, I felt that no power
on earth could chain me to the scenes of my humiliation.

The horses decided me to return. Resaddling at an unknown hour, I rode
for the ranch. The animals were refreshed and made good time. As I rode
along I tried to convince myself that I could slip into the ranch,
secure my own saddle horse, and meet no one except the Mexicans. There
was a possibility that Deweese might still be in camp at the new
reservoir, and I was hopeful that my employer might not yet be returned
from the hunt on the Frio. After a number of hours' riding, the horse
under saddle nickered. Halting him, I listened and heard the roosters
crowing in a chorus at the ranch. Clouds had obscured the moon, and so
by making a detour around the home buildings I was able to reach the
Mexican quarters unobserved. I rode up to the house of Enrique, and
quietly aroused him; told him my misfortune and asked him to hide me
until he could get up my horse. We turned the animals loose, and, taking
my saddle inside the _jacal_, held a whispered conversation. Deweese was
yet at the tank. If the hunting party had returned, they had done so
during the night. The distant range of my horse made it impossible to
get him before the middle of the forenoon, but Enrique and Dona Anita
assured me that my slightest wish was law to them. Furnishing me with a
blanket and pillow, they made me a couch on a dry cowskin on the dirt
floor at the foot of their bed, and before day broke I had fallen
asleep.

On awakening, I found the sun had already risen. Enrique and his wife
were missing from the room, but a peep through a crevice in the palisade
wall revealed Dona Anita in the kitchen adjoining. She had detected my
awakening, and soon brought me a cup of splendid coffee, which I drank
with relish. She urged on me also some dainty dishes, which had always
been favorites with me in Mexican cookery, but my appetite was gone.
Throwing myself back on the cowskin, I asked Dona Anita how long Enrique
had been gone in quest of my horse, and was informed that he left
before dawn, not even waiting for his customary cup of coffee. With the
kindness of a sister, the girl wife urged me to take their bed; but
I assured her that comfort was the least of my concerns, complete
effacement being my consuming thought.

Dona Anita withdrew, and as I lay pondering over the several possible
routes of escape, I heard a commotion in the ranch. I was in the act of
rising when Dona Anita burst into the _jacal_ to tell me that Don Lance
had been sighted returning. I was on my feet in an instant, heard the
long-drawn notes of the horn calling in the hounds, and, peering through
the largest crack, saw the cavalcade. As they approached, driving their
loose mounts in front of them, I felt that my ill luck still hung over
me; for among the unsaddled horses were the two which I had turned free
but a few hours before. The hunters had met the gaunted animals between
the ranch and the river, and were bringing them in to return them to
their own _remuda_. But at the same time the horses were evidence that I
was in the ranch. From the position of Uncle Lance, in advance, I could
see that he was riding direct to the house, and my absence there would
surely cause surprise. At best it was but a question of time until I was
discovered.

In the face of this new development, I gave up. There was no escaping
fate. Enrique might not return for two hours yet, and if he came,
driving in my horse, it would only prove my presence. I begged Dona
Anita to throw open the door and conceal nothing. But she was still
ready to aid in my concealment until night, offering to deny my
presence. But how could I conceal myself in a single room, and what was
so simple a device to a worldly man of sixty years' experience? To me
the case looked hopeless. Even before we had concluded our discussion,
I saw Uncle Lance and the boys coming towards the Mexican quarters,
followed by Miss Jean and the household contingent. The fact that
the door of Enrique's _jacal_ was closed, made it a shining mark for
investigation. Opening the inner door, I started to meet the visitors;
but Dona Anita planted herself at the outer entrance of the stoop, met the
visitors, and within my hearing and without being asked stoutly denied
my presence. "Hush up, you little liar," said a voice, and I heard a
step and clanking spurs which I recognized. I had sat down on the edge
of the bed, and was rolling a cigarette as the crowd filed into the
_jacal_. A fortunate flush of anger came over me which served to steady
my voice; but I met their staring, after all, much as if I had been a
culprit and they a vigilance committee.

"Well, young fellow, explain your presence here," demanded Uncle Lance.
Had it not been for the presence of Miss Jean, I had on my tongue's
end a reply, relative to the eleventh commandment, emphasized with
sulphurous adjectives. But out of deference to the mistress of the
ranch, I controlled my anger, and, taking out of my pocket a flint,
a steel, and, a bit of _yesca,_ struck fire and leisurely lighted my
cigarette. Throwing myself back on the bed, as my employer repeated
his demand, I replied, "Ask Anita." The girl understood, and, nothing
abashed, told the story in her native tongue, continually referring to
me as _pobre Tomas_. When her disconnected narrative was concluded,
Uncle Lance turned on me, saying:--

"And this is the result of all our plans. You went into Oakville, did
you? Tom, you haven't, got as much sense as a candy frog. Walked right
into a trap with your head up and sassy. That's right--don't you listen
to any one. Didn't I tell you that stage people would stick by each
other like thieves? And you forgot all my warnings and deliberately"--

"Hold on," I interrupted. "You must recollect that the horses had had a
fifty-mile forced ride, were jaded, and on the point of collapse. With
the down stage refusing to carry us, and the girl on the point of
hysteria, where else could I go?"

"Go to jail if necessary. Go anywhere but the place you went. The horses
were jaded on a fifty-mile ride, were they? Either one of them was good
for a hundred without unsaddling, and you know it. Haven't I told you
that this ranch would raise horses when we were all dead and gone?
Suppose you had killed a couple of horses? What would that have been,
compared to your sneaking into the ranch this way, like a whipped cur
with your tail between your legs? Now, the countryside will laugh at us
both."

"The country may laugh," I answered, "but I'll not be here to hear it.
Enrique has gone after my horse, and as soon as he gets in I'm leaving
you for good."

"You'll do nothing of the kind. You think you're all shot to pieces,
don't you? Well, you'll stay right here until all your wounds heal.
I've taken all these degrees myself, and have lived to laugh at them
afterward. And I have had lessons that I hope you'll never have to
learn. When I found out that my third wife had known a gambler before
she married me, I found out what the Bible means by rottenness of the
bones with which it says an evil woman uncrowns her husband. I'll tell
you about it some day. But you've not been scarred in this little
side-play. You're not even powder burnt. Why, in less than a month
you'll be just as happy again as if you had good sense."

Miss Jean now interrupted. "Clear right out of here," she said to her
brother and the rest. "Yes, the whole pack of you. I want to talk with
Tom alone. Yes, you too--you've said too much already. Run along out."

As they filed out, I noticed Uncle Lance pick up my saddle and throw it
across his shoulder, while Theodore gathered up the rancid blankets and
my fancy bridle, taking everything with them to the house. Waiting until
she saw that her orders were obeyed, Miss Jean came over and sat down
beside me on the bed. Anita stood like a fawn near the door, likewise
fearing banishment, but on a sign from her mistress she spread a
goatskin on the floor and sat down at our feet. Between two languages
and two women, I was as helpless as an ironed prisoner. Not that Anita
had any influence over me, but the mistress of the ranch had. In her
hands I was as helpless as a baby. I had come to the ranch a stranger
only a little over a year before, but had I been born there her interest
could have been no stronger. Jean Lovelace relinquished no one, any more
than a mother would one of her boys. I wanted to escape, to get away
from observation; I even plead for a month's leave of absence. But my
reasons were of no avail, and after arguing pro and con for over an
hour, I went with her to the house. If the Almighty ever made a good
woman and placed her among men for their betterment, then the presence
of Jean Lovelace at Las Palomas savored of divine appointment.

On reaching the yard, we rested a long time on a settee under a group
of china trees. The boys had dispersed, and after quite a friendly chat
together, we saw Uncle Lance sauntering out of the house, smiling as he
approached. "Tom's going to stay," said Miss Jean to her brother, as
the latter seated himself beside us; "but this abuse and blame you're
heaping on him must stop. He did what he thought was best under the
circumstances, and you don't know what they were. He has given me his
promise to stay, and I have given him mine that talk about this matter
will be dropped. Now that your anger has cooled, and I have you both
together, I want your word."

"Tom," said my employer, throwing his long bony arm around me, "I was
disappointed, terribly put out, and I showed it in freeing my mind. But
I feel better now--towards you, at least. I understand just how you felt
when your plans were thwarted by an unforeseen incident. If I don't know
everything, then, since the milk is spilt, I'm not asking for
further particulars. If you did what you thought was best under the
circumstances, why, that's all we ever ask of any one at Las Palomas.
A mistake is nothing; my whole life is a series of errors. I've been
trying, and expect to keep right on trying, to give you youngsters the
benefit of my years; but if you insist on learning it for yourselves,
well enough. When I was your age, I took no one's advice; but look how
I've paid the fiddler. Possibly it was ordained otherwise, but it looks
to me like a shame that I can't give you boys the benefit of my dearly
bought experience. But whether you take my advice or not, we're going to
be just as good friends as ever. I need young fellows like you on this
ranch. I've sent Dan out after Deweese, and to-morrow we're going to
commence gathering beeves. A few weeks' good hard work will do you
worlds of good. In less than a year, you'll look back at this as a
splendid lesson. Shucks! boy, a man is a narrow, calloused creature
until he has been shook up a few times by love affairs. They develop him
into the man he was intended to be. Come on into the house, Tom, and
Jean will make us a couple of mint juleps."

What a blessed panacea for mental trouble is work! We were in the saddle
by daybreak the next morning, rounding up _remudas_. Every available
vaquero at the outlying ranchitas had been summoned. Dividing the outfit
and horses, Uncle Lance took twelve men and struck west for the Ganso.
With an equal number of men, Deweese pushed north for the Frio, which
he was to work down below Shepherd's, thence back along the home river.
From the ranch books, we knew there were fully two thousand beeves over
five years old in our brand. These cattle had never known an hour's
restraint since the day they were branded, and caution and cool judgment
would be required in handling them. Since the contract only required
twelve hundred, we expected to make an extra clean gathering, using the
oldest and naturally the largest beeves.

During the week spent in gathering, I got the full benefit of every
possible hour in the saddle. We reached the Ganso about an hour before
sundown. The weather had settled; water was plentiful, and every one
realized that the work in hand would require wider riding than under dry
conditions. By the time we had caught up fresh horses, the sun had gone
down. "Boys," said Uncle Lance, "we want to make a big rodeo on the head
of this creek in the morning. Tom, you take two vaqueros and lay off to
the southwest about ten miles, and make a dry camp to-night. Glenn may
have the same help to the southeast; and every rascal of you be in your
saddles by daybreak. There are a lot of big _ladino_ beeves in those
brushy hills to the south and west. Be sure and be in your saddles early
enough to catch _all_ wild cattle out on the prairies. If you want to,
you can take a lunch in your pocket for breakfast. No; you need no
blankets--you'll get up earlier if you sleep cold."

Taking Jose Pena and Pasquale Arispe with me, I struck off on our course
in the gathering twilight. The first twitter of a bird in the morning
brought me to my feet; I roused the others, and we saddled and were
riding with the first sign of dawn in the east. Taking the outside
circle myself, I gave every bunch of cattle met on my course a good
start for the centre of the round-up. Pasquale and Jose followed several
miles to my rear on inner circles, drifting on the cattle which I had
started inward. As the sun arose, dispelling the morning mists, I could
see other cattle coming down in long strings out of the hills to the
eastward. Within an hour after starting, Gallup and I met. Our half
circle to the southward was perfect, and each turning back, we rode our
appointed divisions until the vaqueros from the wagon were sighted,
throwing in cattle and closing up the northern portion of the circle.
Before the sun was two hours high, the first rodeo of the day was
together, numbering about three thousand mixed cattle. In the few hours
since dawn, we had concentrated all animals in a territory at least
fifteen miles in diameter.

Uncle Lance was in his element. Detailing two vaqueros to hold the beef
cut within reach and a half dozen to keep the main herd compact, he
ordered the remainder of us to enter and begin the selecting of beeves.
There were a number of big wild steers in the round-up, but we left
those until the cut numbered over two hundred. When every hoof over five
years of age was separated, we had a nucleus for our beef herd numbering
about two hundred and forty steers. They were in fine condition for
grass cattle, and, turning the main herd free, we started our cut for
the wagon, being compelled to ride wide of them as we drifted down
stream towards camp, as there were a number of old beeves which showed
impatience at the restraint. But by letting them scatter well, by the
time they reached the wagon it required but two vaqueros to hold them.

The afternoon was but a repetition of the morning. Everything on the
south side of the Nueces between the river and the wagon was thrown
together on the second round-up of the day, which yielded less than two
hundred cattle for our beef herd. But when we went into camp, dividing
into squads for night-herding, the day's work was satisfactory to the
ranchero. Dan Happersett was given five vaqueros and stood the first
watch or until one A.M. Glenn Gallup and myself took the remainder of
the men and stood guard until morning. When Happersett called our guard
an hour after midnight, he said to Gallup and me as we were pulling on
our boots: "About a dozen big steers haven't laid down. There's only
one of them that has given any trouble. He's a pinto that we cut in the
first round-up in the morning. He has made two breaks already to get
away, and if you don't watch him close, he'll surely give you the slip."

While riding to the relief, Glenn and I posted our vaqueros to be on the
lookout for the pinto beef. The cattle were intentionally bedded loose;
but even in the starlight and waning moon, every man easily spotted
the _ladino_ beef, uneasily stalking back and forth like a caged tiger
across the bed ground. A half hour before dawn, he made a final effort
to escape, charging out between Gallup and the vaquero following up
on the same side. From the other side of the bed ground, I heard the
commotion, but dare not leave the herd to assist. There was a mile of
open country surrounding our camp, and if two men could not turn the
beef on that space, it was useless for others to offer assistance. In
the stillness of the morning hour, we could hear the running and see
the flashes from six-shooters, marking the course of the outlaw. After
making a half circle, we heard them coming direct for the herd. For fear
of a stampede, we raised a great commotion around the sleeping cattle;
but in spite of our precaution, as the _ladino_ beef reentered the herd,
over half the beeves jumped to their feet and began milling. But we held
them until dawn, and after scattering them over several hundred acres,
left them grazing contentedly, when, leaving two vaqueros with the
feeding herd, we went back to the wagon. The camp had been astir some
time, and when Glenn reported the incident of our watch, Uncle Lance
said: "I thought I heard some shooting while I was cat-napping at
daylight. Well, we can use a little fresh beef in this very camp. We'll
kill him at noon. The wagon will move down near the river this morning,
so we can make three rodeos from it without moving camp, and to-night
we'll have a side of Pinto's ribs barbecued. My mouth is watering this
very minute for a rib roast."

That morning after a big rodeo on the Nueces, well above the Ganso, we
returned to camp. Throwing into our herd the cut of less than a hundred
secured on the morning round-up, Uncle Lance, who had preceded us, rode
out from the wagon with a carbine. Allowing the beeves to scatter, the
old ranchero met and rode zigzagging through them until he came face to
face with the pinto _ladino_. On noticing the intruding horseman, the
outlaw threw up his head. There was a carbine report and the big fellow
went down in his tracks. By the time the herd had grazed away, Tiburcio,
who was cooking with our wagon, brought out all the knives, and the beef
was bled, dressed, and quartered.

"You can afford to be extravagant with this beef," said Uncle Lance to
the old cook, when the quarters had been carried in to the wagon. "I've
been ranching on this river nearly forty years, and I've always made it
a rule, where cattle cannot be safely handled, to beef them then and
there. I've sat up many a night barbecuing the ribs of a _ladino_. If
you have plenty of salt, Tiburcio, you can make a brine and jerk those
hind quarters. It will make fine chewing for the boys on night herd when
once we start for the coast."

Following down the home river, we made ten other rodeos before we met
Deweese. We had something over a thousand beeves while he had less than
eight hundred. Throwing the two cuts together, we made a count, and cut
back all the younger and smaller cattle until the herd was reduced to
the required number. Before my advent at Las Palomas, about the only
outlet for beef cattle had been the canneries at Rockport and Fulton.
But these cattle were for shipment by boat to New Orleans and other
coast cities. The route to the coast was well known to my employer, and
detailing twelve men for the herd, a horse wrangler and cook extra, we
started for it, barely touching at the ranch on our course. It was a
nice ten days' trip. After the first night, we used three guards of four
men each. Grazing contentedly, the cattle quieted down until on our
arrival half our numbers could have handled them. The herd was counted
and received on the outlying prairies, and as no steamer was due for a
few days, another outfit took charge of them.

Uncle Lance was never much of a man for towns, and soon after settlement
the next morning we were ready to start home. But the payment, amounting
to thirty thousand dollars, presented a problem, as the bulk of it came
to us in silver. There was scarcely a merchant in the place who would
assume the responsibility of receiving it even on deposit, and in the
absence of a bank, there was no alternative but to take it home. The
agent for the steamship company solicited the money for transportation
to New Orleans, mentioning the danger of robbery, and referring to the
recent attempt of bandits to hold up the San Antonio and Corpus Christi
stage. I had good cause to remember that incident, and was wondering
what my employer would do under the circumstances, when he turned from
the agent, saying:--

"Well, we'll take it home just the same. I have no use for money in New
Orleans. Nor do I care if every bandit in Texas knows we've got the
money in the wagon. I want to buy a few new guns, anyhow. If robbers
tackle us, we'll promise them a warm reception--and I never knew a thief
who didn't think more of his own carcass than of another man's money."

The silver was loaded into the wagon in sacks, and we started on our
return. It was rather a risky trip, but we never concealed the fact
that we had every dollar of the money in the wagon. It would have been
dangerous to make an attempt on us, for we were all well armed. We
reached the ranch in safety, rested a day, and then took the ambulance
and went on to San Antonio. Three of us, besides Tiburcio, accompanied
our employer, each taking a saddle horse, and stopping by night at
ranches where we were known. On the third day we reached the city in
good time to bank the money, much to my relief.

As there was no work pressing at home, we spent a week in the city,
thoroughly enjoying ourselves. Uncle Lance was negotiating for the
purchase of a large Spanish land grant, which adjoined our range on the
west, taking in the Ganso and several miles' frontage on both sides of
the home river. This required his attention for a few days, during which
time Deweese met two men on the lookout for stock cattle with which to
start a new ranch on the Devil's River in Valverde County. They were in
the market for three thousand cows, to be delivered that fall or the
following spring. Our _segundo_ promptly invited them to meet his
employer that evening at our hotel. As the ranges in eastern Texas
became of value for agriculture, the cowman moved westward, disposing
of his cattle or taking them with him. It was men of this class whom
Deweese had met during the day, and on filling their appointment in
the evening, our employer and the buyers soon came to an agreement.
References were exchanged, and the next afternoon a contract was entered
into whereby we were to deliver, May first, at Las Palomas ranch, three
thousand cows between the ages of two and four years.

There was some delay in perfecting the title to the land grant. "We'll
start home in the morning, boys," said Uncle Lance, the evening after
the contract was drawn. "You simply can't hurry a land deal. I'll get
that tract in time, but there's over a hundred heirs now of the original
Don. I'd just like to know what the grandee did for his king to get that
grant. Tickled his royal nibs, I reckon, with some cock and bull story,
and here I have to give up nearly forty thousand dollars of good honest
money. Twenty years ago I was offered this same grant for ten cents an
acre, and now I'm paying four bits. But I didn't have the money then,
and I'm not sure I'd have bought it if I had. But I need it now, and
I need it bad, and that's why I'm letting them hold me up for such a
figure."

Stopping at the "last chance" road house on the outskirts of the city
the next morning, for a final drink as we were leaving, Uncle Lance said
to us over the cattle contract: "There's money in it--good money, too.
But we're not going to fill it out of our home brand. Not in this year
of our Lord. I think too much of my cows to part with a single animal.
Boys, cows made Las Palomas what she is, and as long as they win for
me, I intend--to swear by them through thick and thin, in good and
bad repute, fair weather or foul. So, June, just as soon as the fall
branding is over, you can take Tom with you for an interpreter and start
for Mexico to contract these cows. Las Palomas is going to branch out
and spread herself. As a ranchman, I can bring the cows across for
breeding purposes free of duty, and I know of no good reason why I can't
change my mind and sell them. Dan, take Tiburcio out a cigar."

CHAPTER XI

A TURKEY BAKE

Deweese and I came back from Mexico during Christmas week. On reaching
Las Palomas, we found Frank Nancrede and Add Tully, the latter being
also a trail foreman, at the ranch. They were wintering in San Antonio,
and were spending a few weeks at our ranch, incidentally on the lookout
for several hundred saddle horses for trail purposes the coming spring.
We had no horses for sale, but nevertheless Uncle Lance had prevailed on
them to make Las Palomas headquarters during their stay in the country.

The first night at the ranch, Miss Jean and I talked until nearly
midnight. There had been so many happenings during my absence that it
required a whole evening to tell them all. From the naming of Anita's
baby to the rivalry between John and Theodore for the favor of Frances
Vaux, all the latest social news of the countryside was discussed. Miss
Jean had attended the dance at Shepherd's during the fall, and had heard
it whispered that Oxenford and Esther were anything but happy. The
latest word from the Vaux ranch said that the couple had separated; at
least there was some trouble, for when Oxenford had attempted to force
her to return to Oakville, and had made some disparaging remarks, Tony
Hunter had crimped a six-shooter over his head. I pretended not to be
interested in this, but secretly had I learned that Hunter had killed
Oxenford, I should have had no very serious regrets.

Uncle Lance had promised Tully and Nancrede a turkey hunt during the
holidays, so on our unexpected return it was decided to have it at once.
There had been a heavy mast that year, and in the encinal ridges to the
east wild turkeys were reported plentiful. Accordingly we set out the
next afternoon for a camp hunt in some oak cross timbers which grew
on the eastern border of our ranch lands. Taking two pack mules and
Tiburcio as cook, a party of eight of us rode away, expecting to remain
overnight. Uncle Lance knew of a fine camping spot about ten miles from
the ranch. When within a few miles of the place, Tiburcio was sent on
ahead with the pack mules to make camp. "Boys, we'll divide up here,"
said Uncle Lance, "and take a little scout through these cross timbers
and try and locate some roosts. The camp will be in those narrows ahead
yonder where that burnt timber is to your right. Keep an eye open for
_javalina_ signs; they used to be plentiful through here when there
was good mast. Now, scatter out in pairs, and if you can knock down a
gobbler or two we'll have a turkey bake to-night."

Dan Happersett knew the camping spot, so I went with him, and together
we took a big circle through the encinal, keeping alert for game signs.
Before we had gone far, evidence became plentiful, not only of turkeys,
but of peccary and deer. Where the turkeys had recently been scratching,
many times we dismounted and led our horses--but either the turkeys were
too wary for us, or else we had been deceived as to the freshness of the
sign. Several successive shots on our right caused us to hurry out of
the timber in the direction of the reports. Halting in the edge of the
timber, we watched the strip of prairie between us and the next cover to
the south. Soon a flock of fully a hundred wild turkeys came running out
of the encinal on the opposite side and started across to our ridge.
Keeping under cover, we rode to intercept them, never losing sight of
the covey. They were running fast; but when they were nearly halfway
across the opening, there was another shot and they took flight, sailing
into cover ahead of us, well out of range. But one gobbler was so fat
that he was unable to fly over a hundred yards and was still in the
open. We rode to cut him off. On sighting us, he attempted to rise; but
his pounds were against him, and when we crossed his course he was so
winded that our horses ran all around him. After we had both shot a few
times, missing him, he squatted in some tall grass and stuck his head
under a tuft. Dismounting, Dan sprang on to him like a fox, and he was
ours. We wrung his neck, and agreed to report that we had shot him
through the head, thus concealing, in the absence of bullet wounds, our
poor marksmanship.

When we reached the camp shortly before dark, we found the others had
already arrived, ours making the sixth turkey in the evening's bag. We
had drawn ours on killing it, as had the others, and after supper Uncle
Lance superintended the stuffing of the two largest birds. While this
was in progress, others made a stiff mortar, and we coated each turkey
with about three inches of the waxy play, feathers and all. Opening our
camp-fire, we placed the turkeys together, covered them with ashes and
built a heaping fire over and around them. A number of haunts had been
located by the others, but as we expected to make an early hunt in the
morning, we decided not to visit any of the roosts that night. After
Uncle Lance had regaled us with hunting stories of an early day, the
discussion innocently turned to my recent elopement. By this time the
scars had healed fairly well, and I took the chaffing in all good humor.
Tully told a personal experience, which, if it was the truth, argued
that in time I might become as indifferent to my recent mishap as any
one could wish.

"My prospects of marrying a few years ago," said Tully, lying full
stretch before the fire, "were a whole lot better than yours, Quirk. But
my ambition those days was to boss a herd up the trail and get top-notch
wages. She was a Texas girl, just like yours, bred up in Van Zandt
County. She could ride a horse like an Indian. Bad horses seemed afraid
of her. Why, I saw her once when she was about sixteen, take a black
stallion out of his stable,--lead him out with but a rope about his
neck,--throw a half hitch about his nose, and mount him as though he
was her pet. Bareback and without a bridle she rode him ten miles for a
doctor. There wasn't a mile of the distance either but he felt the quirt
burning in his flank and knew he was being ridden by a master. Her
father scolded her at the time, and boasted about it later.

"She had dozens of admirers, and the first impression I ever made on her
was when she was about twenty. There was a big tournament being given,
and all the young bloods in many counties came in to contest for the
prizes. I was a double winner in the games and contests--won a roping
prize and was the only lad that came inside the time limit as a lancer,
though several beat me on rings. Of course the tournament ended with a
ball. Having won the lance prize, it was my privilege of crowning the
'queen' of the ball. Of course I wasn't going to throw away such a
chance, for there was no end of rivalry amongst the girls over it. The
crown was made of flowers, or if there were none in season, of live-oak
leaves. Well, at the ball after the tournament I crowned Miss Kate with
a crown of oak leaves. After that I felt bold enough to crowd matters,
and things came my way. We were to be married during Easter week,
but her mother up and died, so we put it off awhile for the sake of
appearances.

"The next spring I got a chance to boss a herd up the trail for Jesse
Ellison. It was the chance of my life and I couldn't think of refusing.
The girl put up quite a mouth about it, and I explained to her that a
hundred a month wasn't offered to every man. She finally gave in, but
still you could see she wasn't pleased. Girls that way don't sabe cattle
matters a little bit. She promised to write me at several points which
I told her the herd would pass. When I bade her good-by, tears stood in
her eyes, though she tried to hide them. I'd have gambled my life on her
that morning.

"Well, we had a nice trip, good outfit and strong cattle. Uncle Jess
mounted us ten horses to the man, every one fourteen hands or better,
for we were contracted for delivery in Nebraska. It was a five months'
drive with scarcely an incident on the way. Just a run or two and a dry
drive or so. I had lots of time to think about Kate. When we reached
the Chisholm crossing on Red River, I felt certain that I would find
a letter, but I didn't. I wrote her from there, but when we reached
Caldwell, nary a letter either. The same luck at Abilene. Try as I
might, I couldn't make it out. Something was wrong, but what it was, was
anybody's guess.

"At this last place we got our orders to deliver the cattle at the
junction of the middle and lower Loup. It was a terror of a long drive,
but that wasn't a circumstance compared to not hearing from Kate. I kept
all this to myself, mind you. When our herd reached its destination,
which it did on time, as hard luck would have it there was a hitch in
the payment. The herd was turned loose and all the outfit but myself
sent home. I stayed there two months longer at a little place called
Broken Bow. I held the bill of sale for the herd, and would turn it
over, transferring the cattle from one owner to another, on the word
from my employer. At last I received a letter from Uncle Jesse saying
that the payment in full had been made, so I surrendered the final
document and came home. Those trains seemed to run awful slow. But I got
home all too soon, for she had then been married three months.

"You see an agent for eight-day clocks came along, and being a stranger
took her eye. He was one of those nice, dapper fellows, wore a red
necktie, and could talk all day to a woman. He worked by the rule of
three,--tickle, talk, and flatter, with a few cutes thrown in for a
pelon; that gets nearly any of them. They live in town now. He's a
windmill agent. I never went near them."

Meanwhile the fire kept pace with the talk, thanks to Uncle Lance's
watchful eye. "That's right, Tiburcio, carry up plenty of good lena,"
he kept saying. "Bring in all the black-jack oak that you can find; it
makes fine coals. These are both big gobblers, and to bake them until
they fall to pieces like a watermelon will require a steady fire till
morning. Pile up a lot of wood, and if I wake up during the night, trust
to me to look after the fire. I've baked so many turkeys this way that
I'm an expert at the business."

"A girl's argument," remarked Dan Happersett in a lull of talk,
"don't have to be very weighty to fit any case. Anything she does is
justifiable. That's one reason why I always kept shy of women. I admit
that I've toyed around with some of them; have tossed my tug on one or
two just to see if they would run on the rope. But now generally I keep
a wire fence between them and myself if they show any symptoms of being
on the marry. Maybe so I was in earnest once, back on the Trinity. But
it seems that every time that I made a pass, my loop would foul or fail
to open or there was brush in the way."

"Just because you have a few gray hairs in your head you think you're
awful foxy, don't you?" said Uncle Lance to Dan. "I've seen lots of
independent fellows like you. If I had a little widow who knew her
cards, and just let her kitten up to you and act coltish, inside a week
you would he following her around like a pet lamb."

"I knew a fellow," said Nancrede, lighting his pipe with a firebrand,
"that when the clerk asked him, when he went for a license to marry, if
he would swear that the young lady--his intended--was over twenty-one,
said: 'Yes, by G--, I'll swear that she's over thirty-one.'"

At the next pause in the yarning, I inquired why a wild turkey always
deceived itself by hiding its head and leaving the body exposed. "That
it's a fact, we all know," volunteered Uncle Lance, "but the why and
wherefore is too deep for me. I take it that it's due to running to neck
too much in their construction. Now an ostrich is the same way, all neck
with not a lick of sense. And the same applies to the human family. You
take one of these long-necked cowmen and what does he know outside of
cattle. Nine times out of ten, I can tell a sensible girl by merely
looking at her neck. Now snicker, you dratted young fools, just as if
I wasn't talking horse sense to you. Some of you boys haven't got much
more sabe than a fat old gobbler."

"When I first came to this State," said June Deweese, who had been
quietly and attentively listening to the stories, "I stopped over on the
Neches River near a place called Shot-a-buck Crossing. I had an uncle
living there with whom I made my home the first few years that I lived
in Texas. There are more or less cattle there, but it is principally a
cotton country. There was an old cuss living over there on that river
who was land poor, but had a powerful purty girl. Her old man owned any
number of plantations on the river--generally had lots of nigger
renters to look after. Miss Sallie, the daughter, was the belle of
the neighborhood. She had all the graces with a fair mixture of the
weaknesses of her sex. The trouble was, there was no young man in
the whole country fit to hold her horse. At least she and her folks
entertained that idea. There was a storekeeper and a young doctor at the
county seat, who it seems took turns calling on her. It looked like it
was going to be a close race. Outside of these two there wasn't a one of
us who could touch her with a twenty-four-foot fish-pole. We simply took
the side of the road when she passed by.

"About this time there drifted in from out west near Fort McKavett,
a young fellow named Curly Thorn. He had relatives living in that
neighborhood. Out at the fort he was a common foreman on a ranch. Talk
about your graceful riders, he sat a horse in a manner that left nothing
to be desired. Well, Curly made himself very agreeable with all the
girls on the range, but played no special favorites. He stayed in the
country, visiting among cousins, until camp meeting began over at the
Alabama Camp Ground. During this meeting Curly proved himself quite a
gallant by carrying first one young lady and the next evening some
other to camp meeting. During these two weeks of the meeting, some one
introduced him to Miss Sallie. Now, remember, he didn't play her for a
favorite no more than any other. That's what miffed her. She thought he
ought to.

"One Sunday afternoon she intimated to him, like a girl sometimes will,
that she was going home, and was sorry that she had no companion for the
ride. This was sufficient for the gallant Curly to offer himself to her
as an escort. She simply thought she was stealing a beau from some other
girl, and he never dreamt he was dallying with Neches River royalty. But
the only inequality in that couple as they rode away from the ground was
an erroneous idea in her and her folks' minds. And that difference was
in the fact that her old dad had more land than he could pay taxes on.
Well, Curly not only saw her home, but stayed for tea--that's the name
the girls have for supper over on the Neches--and that night carried her
back to the evening service. From that day till the close of the session
he was devotedly hers. A month afterward when he left, it was the talk
of the country that they were to be married during the coming holidays.

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