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A Texas Matchmaker by Andy Adams

Part 3 out of 5

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"But then there were the young doctor and the storekeeper still in the
game. Curly was off the scene temporarily, but the other two were riding
their best horses to a shadow. Miss Sallie's folks were pulling like bay
steers for the merchant, who had some money, while the young doctor had
nothing but empty pill bags and a saddle horse or two. The doctor was
the better looking, and, before meeting Curly Thorn, Miss Sallie had
favored him. Knowing ones said they were engaged. But near the close of
the race there was sufficient home influence used for the storekeeper to
take the lead and hold it until the show down came. Her folks announced
the wedding, and the merchant received the best wishes of his friends,
while the young doctor took a trip for his health. Well, it developed
afterwards that she was engaged to both the storekeeper and the doctor
at the same time. But that's nothing. My experience tells me that a girl
don't need broad shoulders to carry three or four engagements at the
same time.

"Well, within a week of the wedding, who should drift in to spend
Christmas but Curly Thorn. His cousins, of course, lost no time in
giving him the lay of the land. But Curly acted indifferent, and never
even offered to call on Miss Sallie. Us fellows joked him about his girl
going to marry another fellow, and he didn't seem a little bit put out.
In fact, he seemed to enjoy the sudden turn as a good joke on himself.
But one morning, two days before the wedding was to take place, Miss
Sallie was missing from her home, as was likewise Curly Thorn from the
neighborhood. Yes, Thorn had eloped with her and they were married the
next morning in Nacogdoches. And the funny thing about it was, Curly
never met her after his return until the night they eloped. But he had
a girl cousin who had a finger in the pie. She and Miss Sallie were as
thick as three in a bed, and Curly didn't have anything to do but play
the hand that was dealt him.

"Before I came to Las Palomas, I was over round Fort McKavett and met
Curly. We knew each other, and he took me home and had me stay overnight
with him. They had been married then four years. She had a baby on each
knee and another in her arms. There was so much reality in life that
she had no time to become a dreamer. Matrimony in that case was a good
leveler of imaginary rank. I always admired Curly for the indifferent
hand he played all through the various stages of the courtship. He never
knew there was such a thing as difference. He simply coppered the play
to win, and the cards came his way."

"Bully for Curly!" said Uncle Lance, arising and fixing the fire, as the
rest of us unrolled our blankets. "If some of my rascals could make
a ten strike like that it would break a streak of bad luck which has
overshadowed Las Palomas for over thirty years. Great Scott!--but those
gobblers smell good. I can hear them blubbering and sizzling in their
shells. It will surely take an axe to crack that clay in the morning.
But get under your blankets, lads, for I'll call you for a turkey
breakfast about dawn."

CHAPTER XII

SUMMER OF '77

During our trip into Mexico the fall before, Deweese contracted for
three thousand cows at two haciendas on the Rio San Juan. Early in the
spring June and I returned to receive the cattle. The ranch outfit
under Uncle Lance was to follow some three weeks later and camp on the
American side at Roma, Texas. We made arrangements as we crossed into
Mexico with a mercantile house in Mier to act as our bankers, depositing
our own drafts and taking letters of credit to the interior. In buying
the cows we had designated Mier, which was just opposite Roma, as the
place for settlement and Uncle Lance on his arrival brought drafts
to cover our purchases, depositing them with the same merchant. On
receiving, we used a tally mark which served as a road brand, thus
preventing a second branding, and throughout--much to the disgust of the
Mexican vaqueros--Deweese enforced every humane idea which Nancrede had
practiced the spring before in accepting the trail herd at Las Palomas.
There were endless quantities of stock cattle to select from on the two
haciendas, and when ready to start, under the specifications, a finer
lot of cows would have been hard to find. The worst drawback was that
they were constantly dropping calves on the road, and before we reached
the river we had a calf-wagon in regular use. On arriving at the Rio
Grande, the then stage of water was fortunately low and we crossed
the herd without a halt, the import papers having been attended to in
advance.

Uncle Lance believed in plenty of help, and had brought down from Las
Palomas an ample outfit of men and horses. He had also anticipated the
dropping of calves and had rigged up a carrier, the box of which was
open framework. Thus until a calf was strong enough to follow, the
mother, as she trailed along beside the wagon, could keep an eye on her
offspring. We made good drives the first two or three days; but after
clearing the first bottoms of the Rio Grande and on reaching the
tablelands, we made easy stages of ten to twelve miles a day. When near
enough to calculate on our arrival at Las Palomas, the old ranchero quit
us and went on into the ranch. Several days later a vaquero met the herd
about thirty miles south of Santa Maria, and brought the information
that the Valverde outfit was at the ranch, and instructions to veer
westward and drive down the Ganso on approaching the Nueces. By these
orders the delivery on the home river would occur at least twenty miles
west of the ranch headquarters.

As we were passing to the westward of Santa Maria, our employer and
one of the buyers rode out from that ranch and met the herd. They had
decided not to brand until arriving at their destination on the Devil's
River, which would take them at least a month longer. While this
deviation was nothing to us, it was a gain to them. The purchaser was
delighted with the cattle and our handling of them, there being fully
a thousand young calves, and on reaching their camp on the Ganso, the
delivery was completed--four days in advance of the specified time. For
fear of losses, we had received a few head extra, and, on counting them
over, found we had not lost a single hoof. The buyers received the
extra cattle, and the delivery was satisfactorily concluded. One of the
partners returned with us to Las Palomas for the final settlement, while
the other, taking charge of the herd, turned them up the Nueces. The
receiving outfit had fourteen men and some hundred and odd horses. Aside
from their commissary, they also had a calf-wagon, drawn by two yoke of
oxen and driven by a strapping big negro. In view of the big calf crop,
the partners concluded that an extra conveyance would not be amiss, and
on Uncle Lance making them a reasonable figure on our calf-wagon and the
four mules drawing it, they never changed a word but took the outfit.
As it was late in the day when the delivery was made, the double outfit
remained in the same camp that night, and with the best wishes, bade
each other farewell in the morning. Nearly a month had passed since
Deweese and I had left Las Palomas for the Rio San Juan, and, returning
with the herd, had met our own outfit at the Rio Grande. During the
interim, before the ranch outfit had started, the long-talked-of
tournament on the Nueces had finally been arranged. The date had been
set for the fifth of June, and of all the home news which the outfit
brought down to the Rio Grande, none was as welcome as this. According
to the programme, the contests were to include riding, roping, relay
races, and handling the lance. Several of us had never witnessed a
tournament; but as far as roping and riding were concerned, we all
considered ourselves past masters of the arts. The relay races were
simple enough, and Dan Happersett volunteered this explanation of a
lance contest to those of us who were uninitiated:--

"Well," said Dan, while we were riding home from the Ganso, "a straight
track is laid off about two hundred yards long. About every forty yards
there is a post set up along the line with an arm reaching out over the
track. From this there is suspended an iron ring about two inches in
diameter. The contestant is armed with a wooden lance of regulation
length, and as he rides down this track at full speed and within a
time limit, he is to impale as many of these rings as possible. Each
contestant is entitled to three trials and the one impaling the most
rings is declared the victor. That's about all there is to it, except
the award. The festivities, of course, close with a dance, in which the
winner crowns the Queen of the ball. That's the reason the girls always
take such an interest in the lancing, because the winner has the
choosing of his Queen. I won it once, over on the Trinity, and chose
a little cripple girl. Had to do it or leave the country, for it was
looked upon as an engagement to marry. Oh, I tell you, if a girl is
sweet on a fellow, it's a mighty strong card to play."

Before starting for the Rio Grande, the old ranchero had worked our
horse stock, forming fourteen new _manadas_, so that on our return about
the only work which could command our attention was the breaking of
more saddle horses. We had gentled two hundred the spring before, and
breaking a hundred and fifty now, together with the old _remudas_, would
give Las Palomas fully five hundred saddle horses. The ranch had the
geldings, the men had time, and there was no good excuse for not
gentling more horses. So after a few days' rest the oldest and heaviest
geldings were gathered and we then settled down to routine horse work.
But not even this exciting employment could keep the coming tournament
from our minds. Within a week after returning to the ranch, we laid off
a lancing course, and during every spare hour the knights of Las Palomas
might be seen galloping over the course, practicing. I tried using the
lance several times, only to find that it was not as easy as it looked,
and I finally gave up the idea of lancing honors, and turned my
attention to the relay races.

Miss Jean had been the only representative of our ranch at Shepherd's on
San Jacinto Day. But she had had her eyes open on that occasion, and on
our return had a message for nearly every one of us. I was not expecting
any, still the mistress of Las Palomas had met my old sweetheart and her
sister, Mrs. Hunter, at the ferry, and the three had talked the matter
over and mingled their tears in mutual sympathy. I made a blustering
talk which was to cover my real feelings and to show that I had grown
indifferent toward Esther, but that tactful woman had not lived in vain,
and read me aright.

"Tom," said she, "I was a young woman when you were a baby. There's lots
of things in which you might deceive me, but Esther McLeod is not one of
them. You loved her once, and you can't tell me that in less than a year
you have forgotten her. I won't say that men forget easier than women,
but you have never suffered one tenth the heartaches over Esther McLeod
that she has over you. You can afford to be generous with her, Tom.
True, she allowed an older sister to browbeat and bully her into
marrying another man, but she was an inexperienced girl then. If you
were honest, you would admit that Esther of her own accord would never
have married Jack Oxenford. Then why punish the innocent? Oh, Tom, if
you could only see her now! Sorrow and suffering have developed the
woman in her, and she is no longer the girl you knew and loved."

Miss Jean was hewing too close to the line for my comfort. Her
observations were so near the truth that they touched me in a vulnerable
spot. Yet as I paced the room, I expressed myself emphatically as never
wishing to meet Esther McLeod again. I really felt that way. But I had
not reckoned on the mistress of Las Palomas, nor considered that her
strong sympathy for my former sweetheart had moved her to more than
ordinary endeavor.

The month of May passed. Uncle Lance spent several weeks at the Booth
ranch on the Frio. At the home ranch practice for the contests went
forward with vigor. By the first of June we had sifted the candidates
down until we had determined on our best men for each entry. The old
ranchero and our _segundo_, together with Dan Happersett, made up a good
set of judges on our special fitness for the different contests, and we
were finally picked in this order: Enrique Lopez was to rope; Pasquale
Arispe was to ride; to Theodore Quayle fell the chance of handling the
lance, while I, being young and nimble on my feet, was decided on as the
rider in the ten-mile relay race.

In this contest I was fortunate in having the pick of over three hundred
and fifty saddle horses. They were the accumulation of years of the best
that Las Palomas bred, and it was almost bewildering to make the final
selection. But in this I had the benefit of the home judges, and when
the latter differed on the speed of a horse, a trial usually settled the
point. June Deweese proved to be the best judge of the ranch horses, yet
Uncle Lance never yielded his opinion without a test of speed. When the
horses were finally decided on, we staked off a half-mile circular track
on the first bottom of the river, and every evening the horses were sent
over the course. Under the conditions, a contestant was entitled to use
as many horses as he wished, but must change mounts at least twenty
times in riding the ten miles, and must finish under a time limit of
twenty-five minutes. Out of our abundance we decided to use ten mounts,
thus allotting each horse two dashes of a half mile with a rest between.

The horse-breaking ended a few days before the appointed time. Las
Palomas stood on the tiptoe of expectancy over the coming tourney. Even
Miss Jean rode--having a gentle saddle horse caught up for her use, and
taking daily rides about the ranch, to witness the practice, for she was
as deeply interested as any of us in the forthcoming contests. Born to
the soil of Texas, she was a horsewoman of no ordinary ability, and rode
like a veteran. On the appointed day, Las Palomas was abandoned; even
the Mexican contingent joining in the exodus for Shepherd's, and only a
few old servants remaining at the ranch. As usual, Miss Jean started by
ambulance the afternoon before, taking along a horse for her own saddle.
The white element and the vaqueros made an early start, driving a
_remuda_ of thirty loose horses, several of which were outlaws, and a
bell mare. They were the picked horses of the ranch--those which we
expected to use in the contests, and a change of mounts for the entire
outfit on reaching the martial field. We had herded the horses the night
before, and the vaqueros were halfway to the ferry when we overtook
them. Uncle Lance was with us and in the height of his glory, in one
breath bragging on Enrique and Pasquale, and admonishing and cautioning
Theodore and myself in the next.

On nearing Shepherd's, Uncle Lance preceded us, to hunt up the committee
and enter a man from Las Palomas for each of the contests. The ground
had been well chosen,--a large open bottom on the north side of the
river and about a mile above the ferry. The lancing course was laid off;
temporary corrals had been built, to hold about thirty range cattle
for the roping, and an equal number of outlaw horses for the riding
contests; at the upper end of the valley a half-mile circular racecourse
had been staked off. Throwing our outlaws into the corral, and leaving
the _remuda_ in charge of two vaqueros, we galloped into Shepherd's with
the gathering crowd. From all indications this would be a red-letter day
at the ferry, for the attendance drained a section of country fully a
hundred miles in diameter. On the north from Campbellton on the Atascosa
to San Patricio on the home river to the south, and from the Blanco on
the east to well up the Frio and San Miguel on the west, horsemen were
flocking by platoons. I did not know one man in twenty, but Deweese
greeted them all as if they were near neighbors. Later in the morning,
conveyances began to arrive from Oakville and near-by points, and the
presence of women lent variety to the scene.

Under the rules, all entries were to be made before ten o'clock. The
contests were due to begin half an hour later, and each contestant was
expected to be ready to compete in the order of his application. There
were eight entries in the relay race all told, mine being the seventh,
which gave me a good opportunity to study the riding of those who
preceded me. There were ten or twelve entries each in the roping and
riding contests, while the knights of the lance numbered an even thirty.
On account of the large number of entries the contests would require a
full day, running the three classes simultaneously, allowing a slight
intermission for lunch. The selection of disinterested judges for each
class slightly delayed the commencement. After changing horses on
reaching the field, the contests with the lance opened with a lad from
Ramirena, who galloped over the course and got but a single ring. From
the lateness of our entries, none of us would be called until afternoon,
and we wandered at will from one section of the field to another. "Red"
Earnest, from Waugh's ranch on the Frio, was the first entry in the
relay race. He had a good mount of eight Spanish horses which he rode
bareback, making many of his changes in less than fifteen seconds
apiece, and finishing full three minutes under the time limit. The feat
was cheered to the echo, I joining with the rest, and numerous friendly
bets were made that the time would not be lowered that day. Two other
riders rode before the noon recess, only one of whom came under the time
limit, and his time was a minute over Earnest's record.

Miss Jean had camped the ambulance in sight of the field, and kept open
house to all comers. Suspecting that she would have Mrs. Hunter and
Esther for lunch, if they were present, I avoided our party and took
dinner with Mrs. Booth. Meanwhile Uncle Lance detailed Deweese and
Happersett to handle my horses, allowing us five vaqueros, and
distributing the other men as assistants to our other three contestants.
The day was an ideal one for the contests, rather warm during the
morning, but tempered later by a fine afternoon breeze. It was after
four o'clock when I was called, with Waugh's man still in the lead.
Forming a small circle at the starting-point, each of our vaqueros led
a pair of horses, in bridles only, around a ring,--constantly having in
hand eight of my mount of ten. As handlers, I had two good men in our
_segundo_ and Dan Happersett. I crossed the line amid the usual shouting
with a running start, determined, if possible, to lower the record of
Red Earnest. In making the changes, all I asked was a good grip on the
mane, and I found my seat as the horse shot away. The horses had broken
into an easy sweat before the race began, and having stripped to the
lowest possible ounce of clothing, I felt that I was getting out of them
every fraction of speed they possessed. The ninth horse in my mount, a
roan, for some unknown reason sulked at starting, then bolted out on the
prairie, but got away with the loss of only about ten seconds, running
the half mile like a scared wolf. Until it came the roan's turn to go
again, no untoward incident happened, friendly timekeepers posting me
at every change of mounts. But when this bolter's turn came again, he
reared and plunged away stiff-legged, crossed the inward furrow, and
before I could turn him again to the track, cut inside the course for
two stakes or possibly fifty yards. By this time I was beyond recall,
but as I came round and passed the starting-point, the judges attempted
to stop me, and I well knew my chances were over. Uncle Lance promptly
waived all rights to the award, and I was allowed to finish the race,
lowering Earnest's time over twenty seconds. The eighth contestant, so I
learned later, barely came under the time limit.

The vaqueros took charge of the relay mounts, and, reinvesting myself in
my discarded clothing, I mounted my horse to leave the field, when who
should gallop up and extend sympathy and congratulations but Miss Jean
and my old sweetheart. There was no avoiding them, and discourtesy to
the mistress of Las Palomas being out of the question, I greeted Esther
with an affected warmth and cordiality. As I released her hand I could
not help noticing how she had saddened into a serious woman, while the
gentleness in her voice condemned me for my attitude toward her. But
Miss Jean artfully gave us little time for embarrassment, inviting me to
show them the unconcluded programme. From contest to contest, we rode
the field until the sun went down, and the trials ended.

It was my first tournament and nothing escaped my notice. There were
fully one hundred and fifty women and girls, and possibly double that
number of men, old and young, every one mounted and galloping from one
point of the field to another. Blushing maidens and their swains dropped
out of the throng, and from shady vantage points watched the crowd
surge back and forth across the field of action. We were sorry to miss
Enrique's roping; for having snapped his saddle horn with the first
cast, he recovered his rope, fastened it to the fork of his saddletree,
and tied his steer in fifty-four seconds, or within ten of the winner's
record. When he apologized to Miss Jean for his bad luck, hat in hand
and his eyes as big as saucers, one would have supposed he had brought
lasting disgrace on Las Palomas.

We were more fortunate in witnessing Pasquale's riding. For this contest
outlaws and spoilt horses had been collected from every quarter. Riders
drew their mounts by lot, and Pasquale drew a cinnamon-colored coyote
from the ranch of "Uncle Nate" Wilson of Ramirena. Uncle Nate was
feeling in fine fettle, and when he learned that his contribution to
the outlaw horses had been drawn by a Las Palomas man, he hunted up the
ranchero. "I'll bet you a new five-dollar hat that that cinnamon horse
throws your vaquero so high that the birds build nests in his crotch
before he hits the ground." Uncle Lance took the bet, and disdainfully
ran his eye up and down his old friend, finally remarking, "Nate, you
ought to keep perfectly sober on an occasion like this--you're liable to
lose all your money."

Pasquale was a shallow-brained, clownish fellow, and after saddling
up, as he led the coyote into the open to mount, he imitated a drunken
vaquero. Tipsily admonishing the horse in Spanish to behave himself, he
vaulted into the saddle and clouted his mount over the head with his
hat. The coyote resorted to every ruse known to a bucking horse to
unseat his rider, in the midst of which Pasquale, languidly lolling
in his saddle, took a small bottle from his pocket, and, drinking its
contents, tossed it backward over his head. "Look at that, Nate," said
Uncle Lance, slapping Mr. Wilson with his hat; "that's one of the Las
Palomas vaqueros, bred with just sense enough to ride anything that
wears hair. We'll look at those new hats this evening."

In the fancy riding which followed, Pasquale did a number of stunts.
He picked up hat and handkerchief from the ground at full speed, and
likewise gathered up silver dollars from alternate sides of his horse
as the animal sped over a short course. Stripping off his saddle and
bridle, he rode the naked horse with the grace of an Indian, and but
for his clownish indifference and the apparent ease with which he did
things, the judges might have taken his work more seriously. As it
was, our outfit and those friendly to our ranch were proud of his
performance, but among outsiders, and even the judges, it was generally
believed that he was tipsy, which was an injustice to him.

On the conclusion of the contest with the lance, among the thirty
participants, four were tied on honors, one of whom was Theodore Quayle.
The other contests being over, the crowd gathered round the lancing
course, excitement being at its highest pitch. A lad from the Blanco was
the first called for on the finals, and after three efforts failed to
make good his former trial. Quayle was the next called, and as he sped
down the course my heart stood still for a moment; but as he returned,
holding high his lance, five rings were impaled upon it. He was entitled
to two more trials, but rested on his record until it was tied or
beaten, and the next man was called. Forcing her way through the crowded
field, Miss Jean warmly congratulated Theodore, leaving Esther to my
tender care. But at this juncture, my old sweetheart caught sight of
Frances Vaux and some gallant approaching from the river's shade, and
together we galloped out to meet them. Miss Vaux's escort was a neighbor
lad from the Frio, but both he and I for the time being were relegated
to oblivion, in the prospects of a Las Palomas man by the name of Quayle
winning the lancing contest. Miss Frances, with a shrug, was for denying
all interest in the result, but Esther and I doubled on her, forcing her
to admit "that it would be real nice if Teddy should win." I never was
so aggravated over the indifference of a girl in my life, and my regard
for my former sweetheart, on account of her enthusiasm for a Las Palomas
lad, kindled anew within me.

[Illustration: HE SPED DOWN THE COURSE]

But as the third man sped over the course, we hastily returned to watch
the final results. After a last trial the man threw down his lance, and,
riding up, congratulated Quayle. The last contestant was a red-headed
fellow from the Atascosa above Oakville, and seemed to have a host of
friends. On his first trial over the course, he stripped four rings, but
on neither subsequent effort did he equal his first attempt. Imitating
the former contestant, the red-headed fellow broke his lance and
congratulated the winner.

The tourney was over. Esther and I urged Miss Frances to ride over with
us and congratulate Quayle. She demurred; but as the crowd scattered I
caught Theodore's eye and, signaling to him, he rode out of the crowd
and joined us. The compliments of Miss Vaux to the winner were insipid
and lifeless, while Esther, as if to atone for her friend's lack of
interest, beamed with happiness over Quayle's good luck. Poor Teddy
hardly knew which way to turn, and, nice girl as she was, I almost hated
Miss Frances for her indifferent attitude. A plain, blunt fellow though
he was, Quayle had noticed the coolness in the greeting of the young
lady whom he no doubt had had in mind for months, in case he should win
the privilege, to crown as Queen of the ball. Piqued and unsettled in
his mind, he excused himself on some trivial pretense and withdrew.
Every one was scattering to the picnic grounds for supper, and under the
pretense of escorting Esther to the Vaux conveyance, I accompanied the
young ladies. Managing to fall to the rear of Miss Frances and her
gallant for the day, I bluntly asked my old sweetheart if she understood
the attitude of her friend. For reply she gave me a pitying glance,
saying, "Oh, you boys know so little about a girl! You see that Teddy
chooses Frances for his Queen to-night, and leave the rest to me."

On reaching their picnic camp, I excused myself, promising to meet them
later at the dance, and rode for our ambulance. Tiburcio had supper all
ready, and after it was over I called Theodore to one side and repeated
Esther's message. Quayle was still doubtful, and I called Miss Jean to
my assistance, hoping to convince him that Miss Vaux was not unfriendly
towards him. "You always want to judge a woman by contraries," said Miss
Jean, seating herself on the log beside us. "When it comes to acting her
part, always depend on a girl to conceal her true feelings, especially
if she has tact. Now, from what you boys say, my judgment is that she'd
cry her eyes out if any other girl was chosen Queen."

Uncle Lance had promised Mr. Wilson to take supper with his family, and
as we were all sprucing up for the dance, he returned. He had not been
present at the finals of the lancing contest, but from guests of the
Wilsons' had learned that one of his boys had won the honors. So on
riding into camp, as the finishing touches were being added to our
rustic toilets, he accosted Quayle and said: "Well, Theo, they tell me
that you won the elephant. Great Scott, boy, that's the best luck that
has struck Las Palomas since the big rain a year ago this month! Of
course, we all understand that you're to choose the oldest Vaux girl.
What's that? You don't know? Well, I do. I've had that all planned out,
in case you won, ever since we decided that you was to contest as the
representative of Las Palomas. And now you want to balk, do you?"

Uncle Lance was showing some spirit, but his sister checked him with
this explanation: "Just because Miss Frances didn't show any enthusiasm
over Theo winning, he and Tom somehow have got the idea in their minds
that she don't care a rap to be chosen Queen. I've tried to explain it
to them, but the boys don't understand girls, that's all. Why, if Theo
was to choose any other girl, she'd set the river afire."

"That's it, is it?" snorted Uncle Lance, pulling his gray mustaches.
"Well, I've known for some time that Tom didn't have good sense, but I
have always given you, Theo, credit for having a little. I'll gamble my
all that what Jean says is Bible truth. Didn't I have my eye on you and
that girl for nearly a week during the hunt a year ago, and haven't you
been riding my horses over to the Frio once or twice a month ever since?
You can read a brand as far as I can, but I can see that you're as blind
as a bat about a girl. Now, young fellow, listen to me: when the master
of ceremonies announces the winners of the day, and your name is called,
throw out your brisket, stand straight on those bow-legs of yours, step
forward and claim your privilege. When the wreath is tendered you,
accept it, carry it to the lady of your choice, and kneeling before her,
if she bids you arise, place the crown on her brow and lead the grand
march. I'd gladly give Las Palomas and every hoof on it for your years
and chance."

The festivities began with falling darkness. The master of ceremonies,
a school teacher from Oakville, read out the successful contestants and
the prizes to which they were entitled. The name of Theodore Quayle was
the last to be called, and excusing himself to Miss Jean, who had him in
tow, he walked forward with a military air, executing every movement in
the ceremony like an actor. As the music struck up, he and the blushing
Frances Vaux, rare in rustic beauty and crowned with a wreath of
live-oak leaves, led the opening march. Hundreds of hands clapped in
approval, and as the applause quieted down, I turned to look for a
partner, only to meet Miss Jean and my former sweetheart. Both were in a
seventh heaven of delight, and promptly took occasion to remind me of
my lack of foresight, repeating in chorus, "Didn't I tell you?" But the
music had broken into a waltz, which precluded any argument, and on
the mistress remarking "You young folks are missing a fine dance,"
involuntarily my arm encircled my old sweetheart, and we drifted away
into elysian fields.

The night after the first tournament at Shepherd's on the Nueces in
June, '77, lingers as a pleasant memory. Veiled in hazy retrospect,
attempting to recall it is like inviting the return of childish dreams
when one has reached the years of maturity. If I danced that night with
any other girl than poor Esther McLeod, the fact has certainly escaped
me. But somewhere in the archives of memory there is an indelible
picture of a stroll through dimly lighted picnic grounds; of sitting on
a rustic settee, built round the base of a patriarchal live-oak, and
listening to a broken-hearted woman lay bare the sorrows which less than
a year had brought her. I distinctly recall that my eyes, though unused
to weeping, filled with tears, when Esther in words of deepest sorrow
and contrition begged me to forgive her heedless and reckless act. Could
I harbor resentment in the face of such entreaty? The impulsiveness of
youth refused to believe that true happiness had gone out of her life.
She was again to me as she had been before her unfortunate marriage, and
must be released from the hateful bonds that bound her. Firm in this
resolve, dawn stole upon us, still sitting at the root of the old oak,
oblivious and happy in each other's presence, having pledged anew our
troth for time and eternity.

With the breaking of day the revelers dispersed. Quite a large
contingent from those present rode several miles up the river with our
party. The _remuda_ had been sent home the evening before with the
returning vaqueros, while the impatience of the ambulance mules
frequently carried them in advance of the cavalcade. The mistress of Las
Palomas had as her guest returning, Miss Jule Wilson, and the first time
they passed us, some four or five miles above the ferry, I noticed Uncle
Lance ride up, swaggering in his saddle, and poke Glenn Gallup in the
ribs, with a wink and nod towards the conveyance as the mules dashed
past. The pace we were traveling would carry us home by the middle
of the forenoon, and once we were reduced to the home crowd, the old
matchmaker broke out enthusiastically:--

"This tourney was what I call a success. I don't care a tinker's darn
for the prizes, but the way you boys built up to the girls last night
warmed the sluggish blood in my old veins. Even if Cotton did claim a
dance or two with the oldest Vaux girl, if Theo and her don't make the
riffle now--well, they simply can't help it, having gone so far. And did
any of you notice Scales and old June and Dan cutting the pigeon wing
like colts? I reckon Quirk will have to make some new resolutions this
morning. Oh, I heard about your declaring that you never wanted to see
Esther McLeod again. That's all right, son, but hereafter remember that
a resolve about a woman is only good for the day it is made, or until
you meet her. And notice, will you, ahead yonder, that sister of mine
playing second fiddle as a matchmaker. Glenn, if I was you, the next
time Miss Jule looks back this way, I'd play sick, and maybe they'd let
you ride in the ambulance. I can see at a glance that she's being poorly
entertained."

CHAPTER XIII

HIDE HUNTING

During the month of June only two showers fell, which revived the grass
but added not a drop of water to our tank supply or to the river. When
the coast winds which followed set in, all hope for rain passed for
another year. During the residence of the old ranchero at Las Palomas,
the Nueces valley had suffered several severe drouths as disastrous
in their effects as a pestilence. There were places in its miles of
meanderings across our range where the river was paved with the bones
of cattle which had perished with thirst. Realizing that such disasters
repeat themselves, the ranch was set in order. That fall we branded the
calf crop with unusual care. In every possible quarter, we prepared for
the worst. A dozen wells were sunk over the tract and equipped with
windmills. There was sufficient water in the river and tanks during the
summer and fall, but by Christmas the range was eaten off until the
cattle, ranging far, came in only every other day to slake their thirst.

The social gayeties of the countryside received a check from the
threatened drouth. At Las Palomas we observed only the usual Christmas
festivities. Miss Jean always made it a point to have something extra
for the holiday season, not only in her own household, but also among
the Mexican families at headquarters and the outlying ranchites. Among a
number of delicacies brought up this time from Shepherd's was a box of
Florida oranges, and in assisting Miss Jean to fill the baskets for each
_jacal_, Aaron Scales opened this box of oranges and found a letter,
evidently placed there by some mischievous girl in the packery from
which the oranges were shipped. There was not only a letter but a
visiting card and a small photograph of the writer. This could only be
accepted by the discoverer as a challenge, for the sender surely knew
this particular box was intended for shipment to Texas, and banteringly
invited the recipient to reply. The missive certainly fell upon fertile
soil, and Scales, by right of discovery, delegated to himself the
pleasure of answering.

Scales was the black sheep of Las Palomas. Born of a rich, aristocratic
family in Maryland, he had early developed into a good-natured but
reckless spendthrift, and his disreputable associates had contributed no
small part in forcing him to the refuge of a cattle ranch. He had been
offered every opportunity to secure a good education, but during his
last year in college had been expelled, and rather than face parental
reproach had taken passage in a coast schooner for Galveston, Texas.
Then by easy stages he drifted westward, and at last, to his liking,
found a home at Las Palomas. He made himself a useful man on the ranch,
but, not having been bred to the occupation and with a tendency to
waywardness, gave a rather free rein to the vagabond spirit which
possessed him. He was a good rider, even for a country where every
one was a born horseman, but the use of the rope was an art he never
attempted to master.

With the conclusion of the holiday festivities and on the return of the
absentees, a feature, new to me in cattle life, presented itself--hide
hunting. Freighters who brought merchandise from the coast towns to the
merchants of the interior were offering very liberal terms for return
cargoes. About the only local product was flint hides, and of these
there were very few, but the merchant at Shepherd's Ferry offered so
generous inducements that Uncle Lance investigated the matter; the
result was his determination to rid his range of the old, logy,
worthless bulls. Heretofore they had been allowed to die of old age, but
ten cents a pound for flint hides was an encouragement to remove these
cumberers of the range, and turn them to some profit. So we were ordered
to kill every bull on the ranch over seven years old.

In our round-up for branding, we had driven to the home range all
outside cattle indiscriminately. They were still ranging near, so that
at the commencement of this work nearly all the bulls in our brand were
watering from the Nueces. These old residenter bulls never ranged over
a mile away from water, and during the middle of the day they could be
found along the river bank. Many of them were ten to twelve years old,
and were as useless on the range as drones in autumn to a colony of
honey-bees. Las Palomas boasted quite an arsenal of firearms, of every
make and pattern, from a musket to a repeater. The outfit was divided
into two squads, one going down nearly to Shepherd's, and the other
beginning operations considerably above the Ganso. June Deweese took the
down-river end, while Uncle Lance took some ten of us with one wagon on
the up-river trip. To me this had all the appearance of a picnic. But
the work proved to be anything but a picnic. To make the kill was most
difficult. Not willing to leave the carcasses near the river, we usually
sought the bulls coming in to water; but an ordinary charge of powder
and lead, even when well directed at the forehead, rarely killed and
tended rather to aggravate the creature. Besides, as we were compelled
in nearly every instance to shoot from horseback, it was almost
impossible to deliver an effective shot from in front. After one or more
unsuccessful shots, the bull usually started for the nearest thicket,
or the river; then our ropes came into use. The work was very slow; for
though we operated in pairs, the first week we did not average a hide a
day to the man; after killing, there was the animal to skin, the hide to
be dragged from a saddle pommel into a hide yard and pegged out to dry.

Until we had accumulated a load of hides, Tiburcio Leal, our teamster,
fell to me as partner. We had with us an abundance of our best horses,
and those who were reliable with the rope had first choice of the
_remuda_. Tiburcio was well mounted, but, on account of his years, was
timid about using a rope; and well he might be, for frequently we found
ourselves in a humorous predicament, and sometimes in one so grave that
hilarity was not even a remote possibility.

The second morning of the hunt, Tiburcio and I singled out a big black
bull about a mile from the river. I had not yet been convinced that
I could not make an effective shot from in front, and, dismounting,
attracted the bull's attention and fired. The shot did not even stagger
him and he charged us; our horses avoided his rush, and he started for
the river. Sheathing my carbine, I took down my rope and caught him
before he had gone a hundred yards. As I threw my horse on his haunches
to receive the shock, the weight and momentum of the bull dragged my
double-cinched saddle over my horse's head and sent me sprawling on the
ground. In wrapping the loose end of the rope around the pommel of the
saddle, I had given it a half hitch, and as I came to my feet my saddle
and carbine were bumping merrily along after Toro. Regaining my horse, I
soon overtook Tiburcio, who was attempting to turn the animal back from
the river, and urged him to "tie on," but he hesitated, offering me his
horse instead. As there was no time to waste, we changed horses like
relay riders. I soon overtook the animal and made a successful cast,
catching the bull by the front feet. I threw Tiburcio's horse, like a
wheeler, back on his haunches, and, on bringing the rope taut, fetched
Toro to his knees; but with the strain the half-inch manila rope snapped
at the pommel like a twine string. Then we were at our wit's end, the
bull lumbering away with the second rope noosed over one fore foot, and
leaving my saddle far in the rear. But after a moment's hesitation my
partner and I doubled on him, to make trial of our guns, Tiburcio having
a favorite old musket while I had only my six-shooter. Tiburcio, on my
stripped horse, overtook the bull first, and attempted to turn him, but
El Toro was not to be stopped. On coming up myself, I tried the same
tactics, firing several shots into the ground in front of him but
without deflecting the enraged bull from his course. Then I unloosed a
Mexican blanket from Tiburcio's saddle, and flaunting it in his face,
led him like a matador inviting a charge. This held his attention until
Tiburcio, gaining courage, dashed past him from the rear and planted a
musket ball behind the base of his ear, and the patriarch succumbed.

After the first few days' work, we found that the most vulnerable
spot was where the spinal cord connects with the base of the brain. A
well-directed shot at this point, even from a six-shooter, never failed
to bring Toro to grass; and some of us became so expert that we could
deliver this favorite shot from a running horse. The trouble was to
get the bull to run evenly. That was one thing he objected to, and yet
unless he did we could not advantageously attack him with a six-shooter.
Many of these old bulls were surly in disposition, and even when they
did run, there was no telling what moment they would sulk, stop without
an instant's notice, and attempt to gore a passing horse.

We usually camped two or three days at a place, taking in both sides of
the river, and after the work was once well under way we kept our wagon
busy hauling the dry hides to a common yard on the river opposite Las
Palomas. Without apology, it can be admitted that we did not confine our
killing to the Las Palomas brand alone, but all cumberers on our range
met the same fate. There were numerous stray bulls belonging to distant
ranches which had taken up their abode on the Nueces, all of which were
fish to our net. We kept a brand tally of every bull thus killed; for
the primary motive was not one of profit, but to rid the range of these
drones.

When we had been at work some two weeks, we had an exciting chase one
afternoon in which Enrique Lopez figured as the hero. In coming in to
dinner that day, Uncle Lance told of the chase after a young _ladino_
bull with which we were all familiar. The old ranchero's hatred to wild
cattle had caused him that morning to risk a long shot at this outlaw,
wounding him. Juan Leal and Enrique Lopez, who were there, had both
tried their marksmanship and their ropes on him in vain. Dragging down
horses and snapping ropes, the bull made his escape into a chaparral
thicket. He must have been exceedingly nimble; for I have seen Uncle
Lance kill a running deer at a hundred yards with a rifle. At any rate,
the entire squad turned out after dinner to renew the attack. We saddled
the best horses in our _remuda_ for the occasion, and sallied forth
to the lair of the _ladino_ bull, like a procession of professional
bull-fighters.

The chaparral thicket in which the outlaw had taken refuge lay about a
mile and a half back from the river and contained about two acres. On
reaching the edge of the thicket, Uncle Lance called for volunteers to
beat the brush and rout out the bull. As this must be done on foot,
responses were not numerous. But our employer relieved the embarrassment
by assigning vaqueros to the duty, also directing Enrique to take one
point of the thicket and me the other, with instructions to use our
ropes should the outlaw quit the thicket for the river. Detailing
Tiburcio, who was with us that afternoon, to assist him in leading the
loose saddle horses, he divided the six other men into two squads under
Theodore Quayle and Dan Happersett. When all was ready, Enrique and
myself took up our positions, hiding in the outlying mesquite brush;
leaving the loose horses under saddle in the cover at a distance. The
thicket was oval in form, lying with a point towards the river, and we
all felt confident if the bull were started he would make for the timber
on the river. With a whoop and hurrah and a free discharge of firearms,
the beaters entered the chaparral. From my position I could see Enrique
lying along the neck of his horse about fifty yards distant; and I had
fully made up my mind to give that bucolic vaquero the first chance.
During the past two weeks my enthusiasm for roping stray bulls had
undergone a change; I was now quite willing that all honors of the
afternoon should fall to Enrique. The beaters approached without giving
any warning that the bull had been sighted, and so great was the strain
and tension that I could feel the beating of my horse's heart beneath
me. The suspense was finally broken by one or two shots in rapid
succession, and as the sound died away, the voice of Juan Leal rang
out distinctly: "Cuidado por el toro!" and the next moment there was a
cracking of brush and a pale dun bull broke cover.

For a moment he halted on the border of the thicket: then, as the din of
the beaters increased, struck boldly across the prairie for the river.
Enrique and I were after him without loss of time. Enrique made a
successful cast for his horns, and reined in his horse; but when the
slack of the rope was taken up the rear cinch broke, the saddle was
jerked forward on the horse's withers, and Enrique was compelled to free
the rope or have his horse dragged down. I saw the mishap, and, giving
my horse the rowel, rode at the bull and threw my rope. The loop neatly
encircled his front feet, and when the shock came between horse and
bull, it fetched the toro a somersault in the air, but unhappily took
off the pommel of my saddle. The bull was on his feet in a jiffy, and
before I could recover my rope, Enrique, who had reset his saddle,
passed me, followed by the entire squad. Uncle Lance had been a witness
to both mishaps, and on overtaking us urged me to tie on to the bull
again. For answer I could only point to my missing pommel; but every man
in the squad had loosened his rope, and it looked as if they would all
fasten on to the _ladino_, for they were all good ropers. Man after man
threw his loop on him; but the dun outlaw snapped the ropes as if they
had been cotton strings, dragging down two horses with their riders and
leaving them in the rear. I rode up alongside Enrique and offered him my
rope, but he refused it, knowing it would be useless to try again with
only a single cinch on his saddle. The young rascal had a daring idea
in mind. We were within a quarter mile of the river, and escape of the
outlaw seemed probable, when Enrique rode down on the bull, took up his
tail, and, wrapping the brush on the pommel of his saddle, turned his
horse abruptly to the left, rolling the bull over like a hoop, and of
course dismounting himself in the act. Then before the dazed animal
could rise, with the agility of a panther the vaquero sprang astride his
loins, and as he floundered, others leaped from their horses. Toro was
pinioned, and dispatched with a shot.

Then we loosened cinches to allow our heaving horses to breathe, and
threw ourselves on the ground for a moment's rest. "That's the best kill
we'll make on this trip," said Uncle Lance as we mounted, leaving
two vaqueros to take the hide. "I despise wild cattle, and I've been
hungering to get a shot at that fellow for the last three years.
Enrique, the day the baby is born, I'll buy it a new cradle, and Tom
shall have a new saddle and we'll charge it to Las Palomas--she's the
girl that pays the bills."

Scarcely a day passed but similar experiences were related around the
camp-fire. In fact, as the end of the work came in view, they became
commonplace with us. Finally the two outfits were united at the general
hide yard near the home ranch. Coils of small rope were brought from
headquarters, and a detail of men remained in camp, baling the flint
hides, while the remainder scoured the immediate country. A crude press
was arranged, and by the aid of a long lever the hides were compressed
into convenient space for handling by the freighters.

When we had nearly finished the killing and baling, an unlooked-for
incident occurred. While Deweese was working down near Shepherd's Ferry,
report of our work circulated around the country, and his camp had been
frequently visited by cattlemen. Having nothing to conceal, he
had showed his list of outside brands killed, which was perfectly
satisfactory in most instances. As was customary in selling cattle, we
expected to make report of every outside hide taken, and settle for
them, deducting the necessary expense. But in every community there
are those who oppose prevailing customs, and some who can always see
sinister motives. One forenoon, when the baling was nearly finished, a
delegation of men, representing brands of the Frio and San Miguel, rode
up to our hide yard. They were all well-known cowmen, and Uncle Lance,
being present, saluted them in his usual hearty manner. In response
to an inquiry--"what he thought he was doing"--Uncle Lance jocularly
replied:--

"Well, you see, you fellows allow your old bulls to drift down on my
range, expecting Las Palomas to pension them the remainder of their
days. But that's where you get fooled. Ten cents a pound for flint hides
beats letting these old stagers die of old age. And this being an idle
season with nothing much to do, we wanted to have a little fun. And
we've had it. But laying all jokes aside, fellows, it's a good idea to
get rid of these old varmints. Hereafter, I'm going to make a killing
off every two or three years. The boys have kept a list of all stray
brands killed, and you can look them over and see how many of yours we
got. We have baled all the stray hides separate, so they can be looked
over. But it's nearly noon, and you'd better all ride up to the ranch
for dinner--they feed better up there than we do in camp."

Rather than make a three-mile ride to the house, the visitors took
dinner with the wagon, and about one o'clock Deweese and a vaquero came
in, dragging a hide between them. June cordially greeted the callers,
including Henry Annear, who represented the Las Norias ranch, though I
suppose it was well known to every one present that there was no love
lost between them. Uncle Lance asked our foreman for his list of outside
brands, explaining that these men wished to look them over. Everything
seemed perfectly satisfactory to all parties concerned, and after
remaining in camp over an hour, Deweese and the vaquero saddled fresh
horses and rode away. The visitors seemed in no hurry to go, so Uncle
Lance sat around camp entertaining them, while the rest of us proceeded
with our work of baling. Before leaving, however, the entire party in
company of our employer took a stroll about the hide yard, which was
some distance from camp. During this tour of inspection, Annear asked
which were the bales of outside hides taken in Deweese's division,
claiming he represented a number of brands outside of Las Norias. The
bales were pointed out and some dozen unbaled hides looked over. On a
count the baled and unbaled hides were found to tally exactly with the
list submitted. But unfortunately Annear took occasion to insinuate that
the list of brands rendered had been "doctored." Uncle Lance paid little
attention, though he heard, but the other visitors remonstrated with
Annear. This only seemed to make him more contentious. Finally matters
came to an open rupture when Annear demanded that the cordage be cut on
certain bales to allow him to inspect them. Possibly he was within his
rights, but on the Nueces during the seventies, to question a man's word
was equivalent to calling him a liar; and _liar_ was a fighting word all
over the cattle range.

"Well, Henry," said Uncle Lance, rather firmly, "if you are not
satisfied, I suppose I'll have to open the bales for you, but before I
do, I'm going to send after June. Neither you nor any one else can cast
any reflections on a man in my employ. No unjust act can be charged in
my presence against an absent man. The vaqueros tell me that my foreman
is only around the bend of the river, and I'm going to ask all you
gentlemen to remain until I can send for him."

John Cotton was dispatched after Deweese. Conversation meanwhile became
polite and changed to other subjects. Those of us at work baling hides
went ahead as if nothing unusual was on the tapis. The visitors were all
armed, which was nothing unusual, for the wearing of six-shooters was as
common as the wearing of hoots. During the interim, several level-headed
visitors took Henry Annear to one side, evidently to reason with him and
urge an apology, for they could readily see that Uncle Lance was justly
offended. But it seemed that Annear would listen to no one, and while
they were yet conversing among themselves, John Cotton and our foreman
galloped around the bend of the river and rode up to the yard. No doubt
Cotton had explained the situation, but as they dismounted Uncle Lance
stepped between his foreman and Annear, saying:--

"June, Henry, here, questions the honesty of your list of strays killed,
and insists on our cutting the bales for his inspection." Turning to
Annear, Uncle Lance inquired, "Do you still insist on opening the
bales?"

"Yes, sir, I do."

Deweese stepped to one side of his employer, saying to Annear: "You
offer to cut a bale here to-day, and I'll cut your heart out. Behind my
back, you questioned my word. Question it to my face, you dirty sneak."

Annear sprang backward and to one side, drawing a six-shooter in the
movement, while June was equally active. Like a flash, two shots rang
out. Following the reports, Henry turned halfway round, while Deweese
staggered a step backward. Taking advantage of the instant, Uncle Lance
sprang like a panther on to June and bore him to the ground, while the
visitors fell on Annear and disarmed him in a flash. They were dragged
struggling farther apart, and after some semblance of sanity had
returned, we stripped our foreman and found an ugly flesh wound crossing
his side under the armpit, the bullet having been deflected by a rib.
Annear had fared worse, and was spitting blood freely, and the marks of
exit and entrance of the bullet indicated that the point of one lung had
been slightly chipped.

"I suppose this outcome is what you might call the _amende honorable_"
smilingly said George Nathan, one of the visitors, later to Uncle Lance.
"I always knew there was a little bad blood existing between the boys,
but I had no idea that it would flash in the pan so suddenly or I'd have
stayed at home. Shooting always lets me out. But the question now is,
How are we going to get our man home?"

Uncle Lance at once offered them horses and a wagon, in case Annear
would not go into Las Palomas. This he objected to, so a wagon was
fitted up, and, promising to return it the next day, our visitors
departed with the best of feelings, save between the two belligerents.
We sent June into the ranch and a man to Oakville after a surgeon, and
resumed our work in the hide yard as if nothing had happened. Somewhere
I have seen the statement that the climate of California was especially
conducive to the healing of gunshot wounds. The same claim might be made
in behalf of the Nueces valley, for within a month both the combatants
were again in their saddles.

Within a week after this incident, we concluded our work and the hides
were ready for the freighters. We had spent over a month and had taken
fully seven hundred hides, many of which, when dry, would weigh one
hundred pounds, the total having a value of between five and six
thousand dollars. Like their predecessors the buffalo, the remains of
the ladinos were left to enrich the soil; but there was no danger of the
extinction of the species, for at Las Palomas it was the custom to allow
every tenth male calf to grow up a bull.

CHAPTER XIV

A TWO YEARS' DROUTH

The spring of '78 was an early one, but the drouth continued, and after
the hide hunting was over we rode our range almost night and day.
Thousands of cattle had drifted down from the Frio River country, which
section was suffering from drouth as badly as the Nueces. The new wells
were furnishing a limited supply of water, but we rigged pulleys on the
best of them, and when the wind failed we had recourse to buckets and a
rope worked from the pommel of a saddle. A breeze usually arose about
ten in the morning and fell about midnight. During the lull the buckets
rose and fell incessantly at eight wells, with no lack of suffering
cattle in attendance to consume it as fast as it was hoisted. Many
thirsty animals gorged themselves, and died in sight of the well; weak
ones being frequently trampled to death by the stronger, while flint
hides were corded at every watering point. The river had quit flowing,
and with the first warmth of spring the pools became rancid and
stagnant. In sandy and subirrigated sections, under a March sun, the
grass made a sickly effort to spring; but it lacked substance, and so
far from furnishing food for the cattle, it only weakened them.

This was my first experience with a serious drouth. Uncle Lance,
however, met the emergency as though it were part of the day's work,
riding continually with the rest of us. During the latter part of March,
Aaron Scales, two vaqueros, and myself came in one night from the Ganso
and announced not over a month's supply of water in that creek. We also
reported to our employer that during our two days' ride, we had skinned
some ten cattle, four of which were in our own brand.

"That's not as bad as it might be," said the old ranchero,
philosophically. "You see, boys, I've been through three drouths since
I began ranching on this river. The second one, in '51, was the worst;
cattle skulls were as thick along the Nueces that year as sunflowers in
August. In '66 it was nearly as bad, there being more cattle; but it
didn't hurt me very much, as mavericking had been good for some time
before and for several years following, and I soon recovered my losses.
The first one lasted three years, and had there been as many cattle
as there are now, half of them would have died. The spring before the
second drouth, I acted as _padrino_ for Tiburcio and his wife, who was
at that time a mere slip of a girl living at the Mission. Before they
had time to get married, the dry spell set in and they put the wedding
off until it should rain. I ridiculed the idea, but they were both
superstitious and stuck it out. And honest, boys, there wasn't enough
rain fell in two years to wet your shirt. In my forty years on the
Nueces, I've seen hard times, but that drouth was the toughest of them
all. Game and birds left the country, and the cattle were too poor to
eat. Whenever our provisions ran low, I sent Tiburcio to the coast with
a load of hides, using six yoke of oxen to handle a cargo of about a
ton. The oxen were so poor that they had to stand twice in one place
to make a shadow, and we wouldn't take gold for our flint hides but
insisted on the staples of life. At one point on the road, Tiburcio had
to give a quart of flour for watering his team both going and coming.
They say that when the Jews quit a country, it's time for the gentiles
to leave. But we old timers are just like a horse that chooses a new
range and will stay with it until he starves or dies with old age."

I could see nothing reassuring in the outlook. Near the wells and along
the river the stock had trampled out the grass until the ground was as
bare as a city street. Miles distant from the water the old dry grass,
with only an occasional green blade, was the only grazing for the
cattle. The black, waxy soil on the first bottom of the river, on which
the mesquite grass had flourished, was as bare now as a ploughed field,
while the ground had cracked open in places to an incredible depth, so
that without exercising caution it was dangerous to ride across. This
was the condition of the range at the approach of April. Our horse
stock, to be sure, fared better, ranging farther and not requiring
anything like the amount of water needed by the cattle. It was nothing
unusual to meet a Las Palomas _manada_ from ten to twelve miles from the
river, and coming in only every second or third night to quench their
thirst. We were fortunate in having an abundance of saddle horses,
which, whether under saddle or not, were always given the preference in
the matter of water. They were the motive power of the ranch, and during
this crisis, though worked hard, must be favored in every possible
manner.

Early that spring the old ranchero sent Deweese to Lagarto in an attempt
to sell Captain Byler a herd of horse stock for the trail. The mission
was a failure, though our _segundo_ offered to sell a thousand, in the
straight Las Palomas brand, at seven dollars a head on a year's credit.
Even this was no inducement to the trail drover, and on Deweese's return
my employer tried San Antonio and other points in Texas in the hope of
finding a market. From several places favorable replies were received,
particularly from places north of the Colorado River; for the drouth was
local and was chiefly confined to the southern portion of the state.
There was enough encouragement in the letters to justify the old
ranchero's attempt to reduce the demand on the ranch's water supply, by
sending a herd of horse stock north on sale. Under ordinary conditions,
every ranchman preferred to sell his surplus stock at the ranch, and
Las Palomas was no exception, being generally congested with marketable
animals. San Antonio was, however, beginning to be a local horse and
mule market of some moment, and before my advent several small selected
bunches of mares, mules, and saddle horses had been sent there, and had
found a ready and profitable sale.

But this was an emergency year, and it was decided to send a herd of
stock horses up the country. Accordingly, before April, we worked every
_manada_ which we expected to keep, cutting out all the two-year-old
fillies. To these were added every mongrel-colored band to the number of
twenty odd, and when ready to start the herd numbered a few over twelve
hundred of all ages from yearlings up. A _remuda_ of fifty saddle
horses, broken in the spring of '76, were allotted to our use, and our
_segundo_, myself, and five Mexican vaqueros were detailed to drive
the herd. We were allowed two pack mules for our commissary, which was
driven with the _remuda_. With instructions to sell and hurry home, we
left our horse camp on the river, and started on the morning of the last
day of March.

Live-stock commission firms in San Antonio were notified of our coming,
and with six men to the herd and the seventh driving the _remuda_, we
put twenty miles behind us the first day. With the exception of water
for saddle stock, which we hoisted from a well, there was no hope of
watering the herd before reaching Mr. Booth's ranch on the Frio. He
had been husbanding his water supply, and early the second evening we
watered the herd to its contentment from a single shaded pool. From the
Frio we could not follow any road, but were compelled to direct our
course wherever there was a prospect of water. By hobbling the bell mare
of the _remuda_ at evening, and making two watches of the night-herding,
we easily systematized our work. Until we reached the San Antonio River,
about twenty miles below the city, not over two days passed without
water for all the stock, though, on account of the variations from our
course, we were over a week in reaching San Antonio. Having moved the
herd up near some old missions within five or six miles of the city,
with an abundance of water and some grass, Deweese went into town,
visiting the commission firms and looking for a buyer. Fortunately a
firm, which was expecting our arrival, had a prospective purchaser from
Fort Worth for about our number. Making a date with the firm to show our
horses the next morning, our _segundo_ returned to the herd, elated over
the prospect of a sale.

On their arrival the next morning, we had the horses already watered and
were grazing them along an abrupt slope between the first and second
bottoms of the river. The salesman understood his business, and drove
the conveyance back and forth on the down hill side, below the herd,
and the rise in the ground made our range stock look as big as American
horses. After looking at the animals for an hour, from a buckboard, the
prospective buyer insisted on looking at the _remuda_. But as these were
gentle, he gave them a more critical examination, insisting on their
being penned in a rope corral at our temporary camp, and had every
horse that was then being ridden unsaddled to inspect their backs. The
_remuda_ was young, gentle, and sound, many of them submitting to be
caught without a rope. The buyer was pleased with them, and when the
price came up for discussion Deweese artfully set a high figure on the
saddle stock, and, to make his bluff good, offered to reserve them and
take them back to the ranch. But Tuttle would not consider the herd
without the _remuda_, and sparring between them continued until all
three returned to town.

It was a day of expectancy to the vaqueros and myself. In examining the
saddle horses, the buyer acted like a cowman; but as regarding the range
stock, it was evident to me that his armor was vulnerable, and if he got
any the best of our _segundo_ he was welcome to it. Deweese returned
shortly after dark, coming directly to the herd where I and two vaqueros
were on guard, to inform us that he had sold lock, stock, and barrel,
including the two pack mules. I felt like shouting over the good news,
when June threw a damper on my enthusiasm by the news that he had sold
for delivery at Fort Worth.

"You see," said Deweese, by way of explanation, "the buyer is foreman
of a cattle company out on the forks of the Brazos in Young County. He
don't sabe range horses as well as he does cows, and when we had agreed
on the saddle stock, and there were only two bits between us on the
herd, he offered me six bits a head all round, over and above his offer,
if I would put them in Fort Worth, and I took him up so quick that I
nearly bit my tongue doing it. Captain Redman tells me that it's only
about three hundred miles, and grass and water is reported good. I
intended to take him up at his offer, anyhow, and seventy-five cents a
head extra will make the old man nearly a thousand dollars, which is
worth picking up. We'll put them there easy in three weeks, learn the
trail and see the country besides. Uncle Lance can't have any kick
coming, for I offered them to Captain Byler for seven dollars, and here
I'm getting ten six-bits--nearly four thousand dollars' advance, and we
won't be gone five weeks. Any money down? Well, I should remark! Five
thousand deposited with Smith & Redman, and I was particular to have it
inserted in the contract between us that every saddle horse, mare, mule,
gelding, and filly was to be in the straight 'horse hoof' brand. There
is a possibility that when Tuttle sees them again at Fort Worth, they
won't look as large as they did on that hillside this morning."

We made an early start from San Antonio the next morning, passing to the
westward of the then straggling city. The vaqueros were disturbed
over the journey, for Fort Worth was as foreign to them as a European
seaport, but I jollied them into believing it was but a little _pasear_.
Though I had never ridden on a train myself, I pictured to them the
luxuriant ease with which we would return, as well as the trip by stage
to Oakville. I threw enough enthusiasm into my description of the good
time we were going to have, coupled with their confidence in Deweese, to
convince them in spite of their forebodings. Our _segundo_ humored them
in various ways, and after a week on the trail, water getting plentiful,
using two guards, we only herded until midnight, turning the herd loose
from then until daybreak. It usually took us less than an hour to gather
and count them in the morning, and encouraged by their contentment, a
few days later, we loose-herded until darkness and then turned them
free. From then on it was a picnic as far as work was concerned, and our
saddle horses and herd improved every day.

After crossing the Colorado River, at every available chance en route we
mailed a letter to the buyer, notifying him of our progress as we swept
northward. When within a day's drive of the Brazos, we mailed our last
letter, giving notice that we would deliver within three days of date.
On reaching that river, we found it swimming for between thirty and
forty yards; but by tying up the pack mules and cutting the herd into
four bunches, we swam the Brazos with less than an hour's delay.
Overhauling and transferring the packs to horses, throwing away
everything but the barest necessities, we crossed the lightened
commissary, the freed mules swimming with the _remuda_. On the morning
of the twentieth day out from San Antonio, our _segundo_ rode into the
fort ahead of the herd. We followed at our regular gait, and near the
middle of the forenoon were met by Deweese and Tuttle, who piloted us to
a pasture west of the city, where an outfit was encamped to receive the
herd. They numbered fifteen men, and looked at our insignificant crowd
with contempt; but the count which followed showed we had not lost a
hoof since we left the Nueces, although for the last ten nights the
stock had had the fullest freedom.

The receiving outfit looked the brands over carefully. The splendid
grass and water of the past two weeks had transformed the famishing herd
of a month before, and they were received without a question. Rounding
in our _remuda_ for fresh mounts before starting to town, the vaqueros
and I did some fancy roping in catching out the horses, partially from
sheer lightness of heart because we were at our journey's end, and
partially to show this north Texas outfit that we were like the
proverbial singed cat--better than we looked. Two of Turtle's men rode
into town with us that evening to lead back our mounts, the outfit
having come in purposely to receive the horse herd and drive it to their
ranch in Young County. While riding in, they thawed nicely towards us,
but kept me busy interpreting for them with our Mexicans. Tuttle and
Deweese rode together in the lead, and on nearing town one of the
strangers bantered Pasquale to sell him a nice maguey rope which the
vaquero carried. When I interpreted the other's wish to him, Pasquale
loosened the lasso and made a present of it to Tuttle's man. I had
almost as good a rope of the same material, which I presented to the
other lad with us, and the drinks we afterward consumed over this slight
testimony of the amicable relations existing between a northern and
southern Texas outfit over the delivery and receiving of a horse herd,
showed no evidence of a drouth. The following morning I made inquiry for
Frank Nancrede and the drovers who had driven a trail herd of cattle
from Las Palomas two seasons before. They were all well known about the
fort, but were absent at the time, having put up two trail herds that
spring in Uvalde County. Deweese did not waste an hour more than was
necessary in that town, and while waiting for the banks to open,
arranged for our transportation to San Antonio. We were all ready to
start back before noon. Fort Worth was a frontier town at the time,
bustling and alert with live-stock interests; but we were anxious to get
home, and promptly boarded a train for the south. After entering the
train, our _segundo_ gave each of the vaqueros and myself some spending
money, the greater portion of which went to the "butcher" for fruits. He
was an enterprising fellow and took a marked interest in our comfort and
welfare. But on nearing San Antonio after midnight, he attempted to sell
us our choice of three books, between the leaves of one of which he
had placed a five-dollar bill and in another a ten, and offered us our
choice for two dollars, and June Deweese became suddenly interested.
Coming over to where we were sitting, he knocked the books on the
floor, kicked them under a seat, and threatened to bend a gun over the
butcher's head unless he made himself very scarce. Then reminding us
that "there were tricks in all trades but ours," he kept an eye over us
until we reached the city.

We were delayed another day in San Antonio, settling with the commission
firm and banking the money. The next morning we took stage for Oakville,
where we arrived late at night. When a short distance out of San Antonio
I inquired of our driver who would relieve him beyond Pleasanton, and
was gratified to hear that his name was not Jack Martin. Not that I had
anything particular against Martin, but I had no love for his wife, and
had no desire to press the acquaintance any further with her or her
husband. On reaching Oakville, we were within forty miles of Las
Palomas. We had our saddles with us, and early the next morning tried
to hire horses; but as the stage company domineered the village we were
unable to hire saddle stock, and on appealing to the only livery in town
we were informed that Bethel & Oxenford had the first claim on their
conveyances. Accordingly Deweese and I visited the offices of the
stage company, where, to our surprise, we came face to face with Jack
Oxenford. I do not think he knew us, though we both knew him at a
glance. Deweese made known his wants, but only asked for a conveyance as
far as Shepherd's. Yankeelike, Oxenford had to know who we were, where
we had been, and where we were going. Our _segundo_ gave him rather a
short answer, but finally admitted that we belonged at Las Palomas. Then
the junior member of the mail contractors became arrogant, claiming that
the only conveyance capable of carrying our party was being held for a
sheriff with some witnesses. On second thought he offered to send us
to the ferry by two lighter vehicles in consideration of five dollars
apiece, insolently remarking that we could either pay it or walk. I will
not repeat Deweese's reply, which I silently endorsed.

With the soil of the Nueces valley once more under our feet we felt
independent. On returning to the vaqueros, we found a stranger among
them, Bernabe Cruze by name, who was a _muy amigo_ of Santiago Ortez,
one of our Mexicans. He belonged at the Mission, and when he learned of
our predicament offered to lend us his horse, as he expected to be in
town a few days. The offer was gratefully accepted, and within a quarter
of an hour Manuel Flores had started for Shepherd's with an order to the
merchant to send in seven horses for us. It was less than a two hours'
ride to the ferry, and with the early start we expected Manuel to return
before noon. Making ourselves at home in a coffeehouse conducted by a
Mexican, Deweese ordered a few bottles of wine to celebrate properly
our drive and to entertain Cruze and our vaqueros. Before the horses
arrived, those of us who had any money left spent it in the _cantina_,
not wishing to carry it home, where it would be useless. The result was
that on the return of Flores with mounts we were all about three sheets
in the wind, reckless and defiant.

After saddling up, I suggested to June that we ride by the stage office
and show Mr. Oxenford that we were independent of him. The stage stand
and office were on the outskirts of the scattered village, and while we
could have avoided it, our _segundo_ willingly led the way, and called
for the junior member of the firm. A hostler came to the door and
informed us that Mr. Oxenford was not in.

"Then I'll just leave my card," said Deweese, dismounting. Taking a
brown cigarette paper from his pocket, he wrote his name on it; then
pulling a tack from a notice pasted beside the office door, he drew his
six-shooter, and with it deftly tacked the cigarette paper against the
office door jamb. Remounting his horse, and perfectly conscious that
Oxenford was within hearing, he remarked to the hostler: "When your
boss returns, please tell him that those fellows from Las Palomas will
neither walk with him nor ride with him. We thought he might fret as to
how we were to get home, and we have just ridden by to tell him that
he need feel no uneasiness. Since I have never had the pleasure of an
introduction to him, I've put my name on that cigarette paper. Good-day,
sir."

Arriving at Shepherd's, we rested several hours, and on the suggestion
of the merchant changed horses before starting home. At the ferry we
learned that there had been no serious loss of cattle so far, but that
nearly all the stock from the Frio and San Miguel had drifted across to
the Nueces. We also learned that the attendance on San Jacinto Day had
been extremely light, not a person from Las Palomas being present, while
the tournament for that year had been abandoned. During our ride up the
river before darkness fell, we passed a strange medley of brands, many
of which Deweese assured me were owned from fifty to a hundred miles to
the north and west. Riding leisurely, it was nearly midnight when we
sighted the ranch and found it astir. An extra breeze had been blowing,
and the vaqueros were starting to their work at the wells in order to
be on hand the moment the wind slackened. Around the two wells at
headquarters were over a thousand cattle, whose constant moaning reached
our ears over a mile from the ranch.

Our return was like entering a house of mourning. Miss Jean barely
greeted Deweese and myself, while Uncle Lance paced the gallery without
making a single inquiry as to what had become of the horse herd. On the
mistress's orders, servants set out a cold luncheon, and disappeared,
as if in the presence of death, without a word of greeting. Ever
thoughtful, Miss Jean added several little delicacies to our plain meal,
and, seating herself at the table with us, gave us a clear outline of
the situation. In seventy odd miles of the meanderings of the river
across our range, there was not a pool to the mile with water enough for
a hundred cattle. The wells were gradually becoming weaker, yielding
less water every week, while of four new ones which were commenced
before our departure, two were dry and worthless. The vaqueros were then
skinning on an average forty dead cattle a day, fully a half of which
were in the Las Palomas brand. Sympathetically as a sister could, she
accounted for her brother's lack of interest in our return by his
anxiety and years, and she cautioned us to let no evil report reach his
ears, as this drouth had unnerved him.

Deweese at once resumed his position on the ranch, and the next morning
the ranchero held a short council with him, authorizing him to spare
no expense to save the cattle. Deweese returned the borrowed horses by
Enrique, and sent a letter to the merchant at the ferry, directing him
to secure and send at least twenty men to Las Palomas. The first day
after our return, we rode the mills and the river. Convinced that to
sink other wells on the mesas would be fruitless, the foreman decided
to dig a number of shallow ones in the bed of the river, in the hope of
catching seepage water. Accordingly the next morning, I was sent with
a commissary wagon and seven men to the mouth of the Ganso, with
instructions to begin sinking wells about two miles apart. Taking
with us such tools as we needed, we commenced our first well at the
confluence of the Ganso with the Nueces, and a second one above. From
timber along the river we cut the necessary temporary curbing, and put
it in place as the wells were sunk. On the third day both wells became
so wet as to impede our work, and on our foreman riding by, he ordered
them curbed to the bottom and a tripod set up over them on which to rig
a rope and pulley. The next morning troughs and rigging, with a _remuda_
of horses and a watering crew of four strange vaqueros, arrived. The
wells were only about twenty feet deep; but by drawing the water as fast
as the seepage accumulated, each was capable of watering several hundred
head of cattle daily. By this time Deweese had secured ample help, and
started a second crew of well diggers opposite the ranch, who worked
down the river while my crew followed some fifteen miles above. By
the end of the month of May, we had some twenty temporary wells in
operation, and these, in addition to what water the pools afforded,
relieved the situation to some extent, though the ravages of death by
thirst went on apace among the weaker cattle.

With the beginning of June, we were operating nearly thirty wells. In
some cases two vaqueros could hoist all the water that accumulated in
three wells. We had a string of camps along the river, and at every
windmill on the mesas men were stationed night and day. Among the
cattle, the death rate was increasing all over the range. Frequently we
took over a hundred skins in a single day, while at every camp cords of
fallen flint hides were accumulating. The heat of summer was upon us,
the wind arose daily, sand storms and dust clouds swept across the
country, until our once prosperous range looked like a desert, withered
and accursed. Young cows forsook their offspring in the hour of their
birth. Motherless calves wandered about the range, hollow-eyed, their
piteous appeals unheeded, until some lurking wolf sucked their blood and
spread a feast to the vultures, constantly wheeling in great flights
overhead. The prickly pear, an extremely arid plant, affording both food
and drink to herds during drouths, had turned white, blistered by
the torrid sun until it had fallen down, lifeless. The chaparral was
destitute of foliage, and on the divides and higher mesas, had died. The
native women stripped their _jacals_ of every sacred picture, and hung
them on the withered trees about their doors, where they hourly prayed
to their patron saints. In the humblest homes on Las Palomas, candles
burned both night and day to appease the frowning Deity.

The white element on the ranch worked almost unceasingly, stirring the
Mexicans to the greatest effort. The middle of June passed without a
drop of rain, but on the morning of the twentieth, after working all
night, as Pasquale Arispe and I were drawing water from a well on the
border of the encinal I felt a breeze spring up, that started the
windmill. Casting my eyes upward, I noticed that the wind had veered to
a quarter directly opposite to that of the customary coast breeze. Not
being able to read aright the portent of the change in the wind, I had
to learn from that native-born son of the soil: "Tomas," he cried,
riding up excitedly, "in three days it will rain! Listen to me: Pasquale
Arispe says that in three days the _arroyos_ on the hacienda of Don
Lancelot will run like a mill-race. See, _companero_, the wind has
changed. The breeze is from the northwest this morning. Before three
days it will rain! Madre de Dios!"

The wind from the northwest continued steadily for two days, relieving
us from work. On the morning of the third day the signs in sky and air
were plain for falling weather. Cattle, tottering with weakness, came
into the well, and after drinking, playfully kicked up their heels on
leaving. Before noon the storm struck us like a cloud-burst. Pasquale
and I took refuge under the wagon to avoid the hailstones. In spite of
the parched ground drinking to its contentment, water flooded under the
wagon, driving us out. But we laughed at the violence of the deluge, and
after making everything secure, saddled our horses and set out for home,
taking our relay mounts with us. It was fifteen miles to the ranch and
in the eye of the storm; but the loose horses faced the rain as if they
enjoyed it, while those under saddle followed the free ones as a hound
does a scent. Within two hours after leaving the well, we reined in at
the gate, and I saw Uncle Lance and a number of the boys promenading the
gallery. But the old ranchero leisurely walked down the pathway to the
gate, and amid the downpour shouted to us: "Turn those horses loose;
this ranch is going to take a month's holiday."

CHAPTER XV

IN COMMEMORATION

A heavy rainfall continued the greater portion of two days. None of us
ventured away from the house until the weather settled, and meantime I
played the fiddle almost continuously. Night work and coarse living in
camps had prepared us to enjoy the comforts of a house, as well as to do
justice to the well-laden table. Miss Jean prided herself, on special
occasions and when the ranch had company, on good dinners; but in
commemoration of the breaking of this drouth, with none but us boys to
share it, she spread a continual feast. The Mexican contingent were not
forgotten by master or mistress, and the ranch supplies in the warehouse
were drawn upon, delicacies as well as staples, not only for the
_jacals_ about headquarters but also for the outlying ranchitas. The
native element had worked faithfully during the two years in which no
rain to speak of had fallen, until the breaking hour, and were not
forgotten in the hour of deliverance. Even the stranger vaqueros were
compelled to share the hospitality of Las Palomas like invited guests.

While the rain continued falling, Uncle Lance paced the gallery almost
night and day. Fearful lest the downpour might stop, he stood guard,
noting every change in the rainfall, barely taking time to eat or catch
an hour's sleep. But when the grateful rain had continued until the
evening of the second day, assuring a bountiful supply of water all
over our range, he joined us at supper, exultant as a youth of twenty.
"Boys," said he, "this has been a grand rain. If our tanks hold, we will
be independent for the next eighteen months, and if not another drop
falls, the river ought to flow for a year. I have seen worse drouths
since I lived here, but what hurt us now was the amount of cattle and
the heavy drift which flooded down on us from up the river and north on
the Frio. The loss is nothing; we won't notice it in another year. I
have kept a close tally of the hides taken, and our brand will be short
about two thousand, or less than ten per cent of our total numbers. They
were principally old cows and will not be missed. The calf crop this
fall will be short, but taking it up one side and down the other, we got
off lucky."

The third day after the rain began the sun rose bright and clear. Not a
hoof of cattle or horses was in sight, and though it was midsummer, the
freshness of earth and air was like that of a spring morning. Every one
felt like riding. While awaiting the arrival of saddle horses, the
extra help hired during the drouth was called in and settled with. Two
brothers, Fidel and Carlos Trujillo, begged for permanent employment.
They were promising young fellows, born on the Aransas River, and after
consulting with Deweese Uncle Lance took both into permanent service on
the ranch. A room in an outbuilding was allotted them, and they were
instructed to get their meals in the kitchen. The _remudas_ had wandered
far, but one was finally brought in by a vaquero, and by pairs we
mounted and rode away. On starting, the tanks demanded our first
attention, and finding all four of them safe, we threw out of gear all
the windmills. Theodore Quayle and I were partners during the day's ride
to the south, and on coming in at evening fell in with Uncle Lance and
our _segundo_, who had been as far west as the Ganso. Quayle and I had
discussed during the day the prospect of a hunt at the Vaux ranch, and
on meeting our employer, artfully interested the old ranchero regarding
the amount of cat sign seen that day along the Arroyo Sordo.

"It's hard luck, boys," said he, "to find ourselves afoot, and the
hunting so promising. But we haven't a horse on the ranch that could
carry a man ten miles in a straightaway dash after the hounds. It will
be a month yet before the grass has substance enough in it to strengthen
our _remudas_. Oh, if it hadn't been for the condition of saddle stock,
Don Pierre would have come right through the rain yesterday. But when
Las Palomas can't follow the hounds for lack of mounts, you can depend
on it that other ranches can't either. It just makes me sick to think of
this good hunting, but what can we do for a month but fold our hands and
sit down? But if you boys are itching for an excuse to get over on the
Frio, why, I'll make you a good one. This drouth has knocked all the
sociability out of the country; but now the ordeal is past, Theodore is
in honor bound to go over to the Vaux ranch. I don't suppose you boys
have seen the girls on the Frio and San Miguel in six months. Time?
That's about all we have got right now. Time?--we've got time to burn."

Our feeler had borne fruit. An excuse or permission to go to the Frio
was what Quayle and I were after, though no doubt the old matchmaker was
equally anxious to have us go. In expressing our thanks for the promised
vacation, we included several provisos--in case there was nothing to do,
or if we concluded to go--when Uncle Lance turned in his saddle and gave
us a withering look. "I've often wondered," said he, "if the blood in
you fellows is really red, or if it's white like a fish's. Now, when I
was your age, I had to steal chances to go to see my girl. But I never
gave her any show to forget me, and worried her to a fare-ye-well. And
if my observation and years go for anything, that's just the way girls
like to have a fellow act. Of course they'll bluff and let on they must
be wooed and all that, just like Frances did at the tournament a year
ago. I contend that with a clear field the only way to make any progress
in sparking a girl, is to get one arm around her waist, and with the
other hand keep her from scratching you. That's the very way they like
to be courted."

Theodore and I dropped behind after this lecture, and before we reached
the ranch had agreed to ride over to the Frio the next morning. During
our absence that day, there had arrived at Las Palomas from the Mission,
a _padrino_ in the person of Don Alejandro Travino. Juana Leal, only
daughter of Tiburcio, had been sought in marriage by a nephew of Don
Alejandro, and the latter, dignified as a Castilian noble, was then at
the house negotiating for the girl's hand. Juana was nearly eighteen,
had been born at the ranch, and after reaching years of usefulness had
been adopted into Miss Jean's household. To ask for her hand required
audacity, for to master and mistress of Las Palomas it was like asking
for a daughter of the house. Miss Jean was agitated and all in a
flutter; Tiburcio and his wife were struck dumb; for Juana was the baby
and only unmarried one of their children, and to take her from Las
Palomas--they could never consent to that. But Uncle Lance had gone
through such experiences before, and met the emergency with promptness.

"That's all right, little sister," said the old matchmaker to Miss Jean,
who had come out to the gate where we were unsaddling. "Don't you borrow
any trouble in this matter--leave things to me. I've handled trifles
like this among these natives for nearly forty years now, and I don't
see any occasion to try and make out a funeral right after the drouth's
been broken by a fine rain. Shucks, girl, this is a time for rejoicing!
You go back in the house and entertain Don Alejandro with your best
smiles till I come in. I want to have a talk with Tiburcio and his wife
before I meet the _padrino_. There's several families of those Travinos
over around the Mission and I want to locate which tribe this _oso_
comes from. Some of them are good people and some of them need a rope
around their necks, and in a case of keeps like getting married, it's
always safe to know what's what and who's who. Now, Sis, go on back in
the house and entertain the Don. Come with me, Tom."

I saw our plans for the morrow vanish into thin air. On arriving at the
jacal, we were admitted, but a gloom like the pall of death seemed to
envelop the old Mexican couple. When we had taken seats around a small
table, Tia Inez handed the ranchero the formal written request. As it
was penned in Spanish, it was passed to me to read, and after running
through it hastily, I read it aloud, several times stopping to interpret
to Uncle Lance certain extravagant phrases. The salutatory was in the
usual form; the esteem which each family had always entertained for the
other was dwelt upon at length, and choicer language was never used than
the _padrino_ penned in asking for the hand of Dona Juana. This dainty
missive was signed by the godfather of the swain, Don Alejandro Travino,
whose rubric riotously ran back and forth entirely across the delicately
tinted sheet. On the conclusion of the reading, Uncle Lance brushed the
letter aside as of no moment, and, turning to the old couple, demanded
to know to which branch of the Travino family young Don Blas belonged.

The account of Tiburcio and his wife was definite and clear. The father
of the swain conducted a small country store at the Mission, and besides
had landed and cattle interests. He was a younger brother of Don
Alejandro, who was the owner of a large land grant, had cattle in
abundance, and was a representative man among the Spanish element. No
better credentials could have been asked. But when their patron rallied
them as to the cause of their gloom, Tia Inez burst into tears,
admitting the match was satisfactory, but her baby would be carried away
from Las Palomas and she might never see her again. Her two sons who
lived at the ranch, allowed no day to pass without coming to see their
mother, and the one who lived at a distant ranchita came at every
opportunity. But if her little girl was carried away to a distant
ranch--ah! that made it impossible! Let Don Lance, worthy patron of his
people, forbid the match, and win the gratitude of an anguished mother.
Invoking the saints to guide her aright, Dona Inez threw herself on the
bed in hysterical lamentation. Realizing it is useless to argue with a
woman in tears, the old matchmaker suggested to Tiburcio that we delay
the answer the customary fortnight.

Promising to do nothing further without consulting them, we withdrew
from the _jacal_. On returning to the house, we found Miss Jean
entertaining the Don to the best of her ability, and, commanding my
presence, the old matchmaker advanced to meet the _padrino_, with whom
he had a slight acquaintance. Bidding his guest welcome to the ranch, he
listened to the Don's apology for being such a stranger to Las Palomas
until a matter of a delicate nature had brought him hither.

Don Alejandro was a distinguished-looking man, and spoke his native
tongue in a manner which put my efforts as an interpreter to shame.
The conversation was allowed to drift at will, from the damages of the
recent drouth to the prospect of a market for beeves that fall, until
supper was announced. After the evening repast was over we retired to
the gallery, and Uncle Lance reopened the matchmaking by inquiring of
Don Alejandro if his nephew proposed taking his bride to the Mission.
The Don was all attention. Fortunately, anticipating that the question
might arise, he had discussed that very feature with his nephew. At
present the young man was assisting his father at the Mission, and in
time, no doubt, would succeed to the business. However, realizing that
her living fifty miles distant might be an objection to the girl's
parents, he was not for insisting on that point, as no doubt Las Palomas
offered equally good advantages for business. He simply mentioned this
by way of suggestion, and invited the opinion of his host.

"Well, now, Don Alejandro," said the old matchmaker, in flutelike tones,
"we are a very simple people here at Las Palomas. Breeding a few horses
and mules for home purposes, and the rearing of cattle has been
our occupation. As to merchandising here at the ranch, I could not
countenance it, as I refused that privilege to the stage company when
they offered to run past Las Palomas. At present our few wants are
supplied by a merchant at Shepherd's Ferry. True, it's thirty miles, but
I sometimes wish it was farther, as it is quite a temptation to my boys
to ride down there on various pretexts. We send down every week for our
mail and such little necessities as the ranch may need. If there was
a store here, it would attract loafers and destroy the peace and
contentment which we now enjoy. I would object to it; 'one man to his
trade and another to his merchandise.'"

The _padrino_, with good diplomacy, heartily agreed that a store was a
disturbing feature on a ranch, and instantly went off on a tangent on
the splendid business possibilities of the Mission. The matchmaker in
return agreed as heartily with him, and grew reminiscent. "In the spring
of '51," said he, "I made the match between Tiburcio and Dona Inez,
father and mother of Juana. Tiburcio was a vaquero of mine at the time,
Inez being a Mission girl, and I have taken a great interest in the
couple ever since. All their children were born here and still live on
the ranch. Understand, Don Alejandro, I have no personal feeling in the
matter, beyond the wishes of the parents of the girl. My sister has
taken a great interest in Juana, having had the girl under her charge
for the past eight years. Of course, I feel a pride in Juana, and she is
a fine girl. If your nephew wins her, I shall tell the lucky rascal when
he comes to claim her that he has won the pride of Las Palomas. I take
it, Don Alejandro, that your visit and request was rather unexpected
here, though I am aware that Juana has visited among cousins at the
Mission several times the past few years. But that she had lost her
heart to some of your gallants comes as a surprise to me, and from what
I learn, to her parents also. Under the circumstances, if I were you, I
would not urge an immediate reply, but give them the customary period to
think it over. Our vaqueros will not be very busy for some time to come,
and it will not inconvenience us to send a reply by messenger to the
Mission. And tell Don Blas, even should the reply be unfavorable, not to
be discouraged. Women, you know, are peculiar. Ah, Don Alejandro, when
you and I were young and went courting, would we have been discouraged
by a first refusal?"

Senor Travino appreciated the compliment, and, with a genial smile,
slapped his host on the back, while the old matchmaker gave vent to a
vociferous guffaw. The conversation thereafter took several tacks, but
always reverted to the proposed match. As the hour grew late, the host
apologized to his guest, as no doubt he was tired by his long ride,
and offered to show him his room. The _padrino_ denied all weariness,
maintaining that the enjoyable evening had rested him, but reluctantly
allowed himself to be shown to his apartment. No sooner were the
good-nights spoken, than the old ranchero returned, and, snapping his
fingers for attention, motioned me to follow. By a circuitous route we
reached the _jacal_ of Tiburcio. The old couple had not yet retired, and
Juana blushingly admitted us. Uncle Lance jollied the old people like a
robust, healthy son amusing his elders. We took seats as before around
the small table, and Uncle Lance scattered the gloom of the _jacal_ with
his gayety.

"Las Palomas forever!" said he, striking the table with his bony fist.
"This _padrino_ from the Mission is a very fine gentleman but a poor
matchmaker. Just because young Don Blas is the son of a Travino, the
keeper of a picayune _tienda_ at the Mission, was that any reason to
presume for the hand of a daughter of Las Palomas? Was he any better
than a vaquero just because he doled out _frijoles_ by the quart, and
never saw a piece of money larger than a _media real_? Why, a Las
Palomas vaquero was a prince compared to a fawning attendant in a
Mission store. Let Tia Inez stop fretting herself about losing Juana--it
would not be yet awhile. Just leave matters to him, and he'd send Don
Alejandro home, pleased with his visit and hopeful over the match, even
if it never took place. And none of those frowns from the young lady!"

As we all arose at parting, the old matchmaker went over to Juana and,
shaking his finger at her, said: "Now, look here, my little girl, your
mistress, your parents, and myself are all interested in you, and don't
think we won't act for your best interests. You've seen this young
fellow ride by on a horse several times, haven't you? Danced with him
a few times under the eyes of a chaperon at the last _fiesta_, haven't
you? And that's all you care to know, and are ready to marry him. Well,
well, it's fortunate that the marriage customs of the Mexicans protect
such innocents as you. Now, if young Don Blas had worked under me for a
year as a vaquero, I might be as ready to the match as you are; for then
I'd know whether he was worthy of you. What does a girl of your age know
about a man? But when you have as many gray hairs in your head as your
mother has, you'll thank me for cautioning every one to proceed slowly
in this match. Now dry those tears and go to your mother."

The next morning Don Alejandro proposed returning to the Mission. But
the old ranchero hooted the idea, and informed his guest that he
had ordered the ambulance, as he intended showing him the recent
improvements made on Las Palomas. When the guest protested against a
longer absence from home, the host artfully intimated that by remaining
another day a favorable reply might possibly go with him. Don Alejandro
finally consented. I was pressed in as driver and interpreter, and our
team tore away from the ranch with a flourish. To put it mildly, I was
disgusted at having my plans for the day knocked in the head, yet knew
better than protest. As we drove along, myriads of grass-blades were
peeping up since the rain, giving every view a greenish cast. Nearly
every windmill on the ranch on our circuit was pointed out, and we
passed three of our four tanks, one of which was over half a mile in
length. After stopping at an outlying ranchita for refreshment, we spent
the afternoon in a similar manner. From a swell of the prairie some ten
miles to the westward of the ranch, we could distinctly see an outline
of the Ganso. Halting the ambulance, the old ranchero pointed out to his
guest the meanderings of that creek from its confluence with the parent
stream until it became lost in the hills to the southward.

"That tract of ground," said he, "is my last landed addition to Las
Palomas. It lies north and south, giving me six miles' frontage on
the Nueces. and extending north of the river about four miles, Don
Alejandro, when I note the great change which has come over this valley
since I settled here, it convinces me that if one wishes to follow
ranching he had better acquire title to what range he needs. Land has
advanced in price from a few cents an acre to four bits, and now they
say the next generation will see it worth a dollar. This Ganso grant
contains a hundred and fourteen sections, and I have my eye on one or
two other adjoining tracts. My generation will not need it, but the one
who succeeds me may. Now, as we drive home, I'll try to show you the
northern boundary of our range; it's fairly well outlined by the divide
between the Nueces and the Frio rivers."

From the conversation which followed until we reached headquarters, I
readily understood that the old matchmaker was showing the rose and
concealing its thorn. His motive was not always clear to me, for one
would have supposed from his almost boastful claims regarding its
extent and carrying capacity for cattle, he was showing the ranch to a
prospective buyer. But as we neared home, the conversation innocently
drifted to the Mexican element and their love for the land to which they
were born. Then I understood why I was driving four mules instead of
basking in the smiles of my own sweetheart on the San Miguel. Nor did
this boasting cease during the evening, but alternated from lands and
cattle to the native people, and finally centred about a Mexican girl
who had been so fortunate as to have been born to the soil of Las
Palomas.

When Don Alejandro asked for his horse the following morning on leaving,
Uncle Lance, Quayle, and myself formed a guard of honor to escort our
guest a distance on his way. He took leave of the mistress of Las
Palomas in an obeisance worthy of an old-time cavalier. Once we were
off, Uncle Lance pretended to have had a final interview with the
parents, in which they had insisted on the customary time in which to
consider the proposal. The _padrino_ graciously accepted the situation,
thanking his host for his interest in behalf of his nephew. On reaching
the river, where our ways separated, all halted for a few minutes at
parting.

"Well, Don Alejandro," said the old ranchero, "this is my limit of
escort to guests of the ranch. Now, the only hope I have in parting
is, in case the reply should he unfavorable, that Don Blas will not be
discouraged and that we may see you again at Las Palomas. Tender my
congratulations to your nephew, and tell him that a welcome always
awaits him in case he finds time and inclination to visit us. I take
some little interest in matches. These boys of mine are going north
to the Frio on a courting errand to-day. But our marriage customs are
inferior to yours, and our young people, left to themselves, don't seem
to marry. Don Alejandro, if you and I had the making of the matches,
there'd be a cradle rocking in every _jacal_." Both smiled, said their
"Adios, amigos," and he was gone.

As our guest cantered away, down the river road, Quayle and I began
looking for a ford. The river had been on a rampage, and while we were
seeking out a crossing our employer had time for a few comments. "The
Don's tickled with his prospects. He thinks he's got a half inch rope on
Juana right now; but if I thought your prospects were no better than I
know his are, you wouldn't tire any horse-flesh of mine by riding to the
Frio and the San Miguel. But go right on, and stay as long as you want
to, for I'm in no hurry to see your faces again. Tom, with the ice
broken as it is, as soon as Esther can remove her disabilities--well,
you won't have to run off the next time. And Theodore, remember what
I told you the other day about sparking a girl. You're too timid and
backward for a young fellow. I don't care if you come home with one eye
scratched out, just so you and Frances have come to an understanding and
named the day."

CHAPTER XVI

MATCHMAKING

After our return to the Frio, my first duty was writing, relative to the
proposed match, an unfavorable reply to Don Alejandro Travino.

On resuming work, we spent six weeks baling hides, thus occupying our
time until the beginning of the branding season. A general round-up of
the Nueces valley, commencing on the coast at Corpus Christi Bay, had
been agreed upon among the cowmen of the country. In pursuance of the
plan four well-mounted men were sent from our ranch with Wilson's wagon
to the coast, our _segundo_ following a week later with the wagon,
_remuda_ and twelve men, to meet the rodeo at San Patricio as they
worked up the river. Our cattle had drifted in every direction during
the drouth and though many of them had returned since the range had
again become good, they were still widely scattered. So Uncle Lance took
the rest of us and started for the Frio, working down that river and
along the Nueces, until we met the round-up coming up from below. During
this cow hunt, I carried my fiddle with me in the wagon, and at nearly
every ranch we passed we stopped and had a dance. Not over once a week
did we send in cattle to the ranch to brand, and on meeting the rodeo
from below, Deweese had over three thousand of our cattle. After taking
these in and branding the calves, we worked over our home range until
near the holidays.

On our return to the ranch, we learned that young Blas Travino from
the Mission had passed Las Palomas some days before. He had stopped in
passing; but, finding the ranchero absent, plead a matter of business at
Santa Maria, promising to call on his return. He was then at the ranch
on the Tarancalous, and hourly expecting his reappearance, the women of
the household were in an agitated state of mind. Since the formal answer
had been sent, no word had come from Don Blas and a rival had meanwhile
sprung up in the person of Fidel Trujillo. Within a month after his
employment I noticed the new vaquero casting shy glances at Juana, but
until the cow hunt on the Frio I did not recognize the fine handwriting
of the old matchmaker. Though my services were never called for as
interpreter between Uncle Lance and the new man, any one could see there
was an understanding between them. That the old ranchero was pushing
Fidel forward was evident during the fall cow hunting by his sending
that Mexican into Las Palomas with every bunch of cattle gathered.

That evening Don Blas rode into the ranch, accompanied by Father
Norquin. The priest belonged at the Mission, and their meeting at Santa
Maria might, of course, have been accidental. None of the padre's
parishioners at headquarters were expecting him, however, for several
months, and padres are able _padrinos_,--sometimes, among their own
faith, even despotic. Taking account, as it appeared, of the ulterior
motive, Uncle Lance welcomed the arrivals with a hearty hospitality,
which to a stranger seemed so genuine as to dispel any suspicion. Not
in many a day had a visitor at Las Palomas received more courteous
consideration than did Father Norquin. The choicest mint which grew in
the inclosures about the wells was none too good for the juleps which
were concocted by Miss Jean. Had the master and mistress of the ranch
been communicants of his church, the rosy-cheeked padre could have
received no more marked attention.

The conversation touched lightly on various topics, until Santa Maria
ranch was mentioned, when Uncle Lance asked the padre if Don Mateo had
yet built him a chapel. The priest shrugged his shoulders deprecatingly
and answered the question with another,--when Las Palomas proposed
building a place of worship.

"Well, Father, I'm glad you've brought the matter up again," replied the
host. "That I should have lived here over forty years and never done
anything for your church or my people who belong to your faith, is
certainly saying little in my behalf. I never had the matter brought
home to me so clearly as during last summer's drouth. Do you remember
that old maxim regarding when the devil was sick? Well, I was good and
sick. If you had happened in then and had asked for a chapel,--not that
I have any confidence in your teaching,--you could have got a church
with a steeple on it. I was in such sore straits that the women were
kept busy making candles, and we burnt them in every _jacal_ until the
hour of deliverance."

Helping himself from the proffered snuffbox of the padre, the host
turned to his guest, and in all sincerity continued: "Yes, Father, I
ought to build you a nice place of worship. We could quarry the rock
during idle time, and burn our own lime right here on the ranch. While
you are here, give me some plans, and we'll show you that the white
element of Las Palomas are not such hopeless heretics as you suppose.
Now, if we build the chapel, I'm just going to ask one favor in return:
I expect to die and be buried on this ranch. You're a younger man by
twenty years and will outlive me, and on the day of my burial I want
you to lay aside your creed and preach my funeral in this little chapel
which you and I are going to build. I have been a witness to the
self-sacrifice of you and other priests ever since I lived here.
Father, I like an honest man, and the earnestness of your cloth for the
betterment of my people no one can question. And my covenant is, that
you are to preach a simple sermon, merely commemorating the fact that
here lived a man named Lovelace, who died and would be seen among his
fellow men no more. These being facts, you can mention them; but beyond
that, for fear our faiths might differ, the less said the better. Won't
you have another mint julep before supper? No? You will, won't you, Don
Blas?"

That the old ranchero was in earnest about building a chapel on Las
Palomas there was no doubt. In fact, the credit should be given to Miss
Jean, for she had been urging the matter ever since my coming to the
ranch. At headquarters and outlying ranchitas on the land, there were
nearly twenty families, or over a hundred persons of all ages. But that
the old matchmaker was going to make the most out of his opportunity by
erecting the building at an opportune time, there was not the shadow of
a question.

The evening passed without mention of the real errand of our guests. The
conversation was allowed to wander at will, during which several times
it drifted into gentle repartee between host and padre, both artfully
avoiding the rock of matchmaking. But the next morning, as if anxious to
begin the day's work early, Father Norquin, on arising, inquired for
his host, strutted out to the corrals, and, on meeting him, promptly
inquired why, during the previous summer, Don Alejandro Travino's
mission to obtain the hand of Juana Leal had failed.

"That's so," assented Uncle Lance, very affably, "Don Alejandro was here
as godfather to his nephew. And this young man with you is Don Blas,
the bear? Well, why did we waste so much time last night talking about
chapels and death when we might have made a match in less time? You
priests have everything in your favor as _padrinos_, but you are so slow
that a rival might appear and win the girl while you were drumming up
your courage. I don't write Spanish myself, but I have boys here on the
ranch who do. One of them, if I remember rightly, wrote the answer at
the request of Juana's mother. If my memory hasn't failed me entirely,
the parents objected to being separated from their only daughter. You
know how that is among your people; and I never like to interfere in
family matters. But from what I hear Don Blas has a rival now. Yes;
young Travino failed to press his suit, and a girl will stand for nearly
anything but neglect. But that's one thing they won't stand for, not
when there's a handsome fellow at hand to play the bear. Then the old
lover is easily forgotten for the new. Eh, Father?"

"Ah, Don Lance, I know your reputation as a matchmaker," replied Father
Norquin, in a rich French accent. "Report says had you not had a hand in
it the match would have been successful. The supposition is that it only
lacked your approval. The daughter of a vaquero refusing a Travino? Tut,
tut, man!"

A hearty guffaw greeted these aspersions. "And so you've heard I was a
matchmaker, have you? Of course, you believed it just like any other old
granny. Now, of course, when I'm asked by any of my people to act as
_padrino_, I never refuse any more than you do. I've made many a match
and hope to be spared to make several more. But come; they're calling us
to breakfast, and after that we'll take a walk over to the ranch burying
ground. It's less than a half mile--in that point of encinal yonder. I
want to show you what I think would be a nice spot for our chapel."

The conversation during breakfast was artfully directed by the host to
avoid the dangerous shoals, though the padre constantly kept an eye on
Juana as she passed back and forth. As we arose from the table and were
passing to the gallery, Uncle Lance nudged the priest, and, poking Don
Blas in the ribs, said: "Isn't Juana a stunning fine cook? Got up that
breakfast herself. There isn't an eighteen-year-old girl in Texas who
can make as fine biscuits as she does. But Las Palomas raises just as
fine girls as she does horses and cattle. The rascal who gets her for
a wife can thank his lucky stars. Don Blas, you ought to have me for
_padrino_. Your uncle and the padre here are too poky. Why, if I was
making a match for as fine a girl as Juana is, I'd set the river afire
before I'd let an unfavorable answer discourage me. Now, the padre and
I are going for a short walk, and we'll leave you here at the house to
work out your own salvation. Don't pay any attention to the mistress,
and I want to tell you right now, if you expect to win Juana, never
depend on old fogy _padrinos_ like your uncle and Father Norquin. Do a
little hustling for yourself."

The old ranchero and the priest were gone nearly an hour, and on their
return looked at another site in the rear of the Mexican quarters. It
was a pretty knoll, and as the two joined us where we were repairing a
windmill at the corrals, Father Norquin, in an ecstasy of delight, said:
"Well, my children, the chapel is assured at Las Palomas. Don Lance
wanted to build it over in the encinal, with twice as nice a site right
here in the rancho. We may need the building for a school some day,
and if we should, we don't want it a mile away. The very idea! And the
master tells me that a chapel has been the wish of his sister for years.
Poor woman--to have such a brother. I must hasten to the house and thank
her."

No sooner had the padre started than I was called aside by my employer.
"Tom," said he, "you slip around to Tia Inez's _jacal_ and tell her that
I'm going to send Father Norquin over to see her. Tell her to stand firm
on not letting Juana leave the ranch for the Mission. Tell her that I've
promised the padre a chapel for Las Palomas, and rather than miss it,
the priest would consign the whole Travino family to endless perdition.
Tell her to laugh at his scoldings and inform him that Juana can get a
husband without going so far. And that you heard me say that I was going
to give Fidel, the day he married her daughter, the same number of
heifers that all her brothers got. Impress it on Tia Inez's mind that it
means something to be born to Las Palomas."

I set out on my errand and he hastened away to overtake the padre
before the latter reached the house. Tia Inez welcomed me, no doubt
anticipating that I was the bearer of some message. When I gave her the
message her eyes beamed with gratitude and she devoutly crossed her
breast invoking the blessing of the saints upon the master. I added a
few words of encouragement of my own--that I understood that when we
quarried the rock for the chapel, there was to be enough extra cut to
build a stone cottage for Juana and Fidel. This was pure invention on my
part, but I felt a very friendly interest in Las Palomas, for I expected
to bring my bride to it as soon as possible. Therefore, if I could help
the present match forward by the use of a little fiction, why not?

Father Norquin's time was limited at Las Palomas, as he was under
appointment to return to Santa Maria that evening. Therefore it became
an active morning about the ranch. Long before we had finished the
repairs on the windmill, a _mozo_ from the house came out to the corrals
to say I was wanted by the master. Returning with the servant, I found
Uncle Lance and the mistress of the ranch entertaining their company
before a cheerful fire in the sitting-room. On my entrance, my employer
said:--

"Tom, I have sent for you because I want you to go over with the padre
to the _jacal_ of Juana's parents. Father Norquin here is such an old
granny that he believes I interfered, or the reply of last summer would
have been favorable. Now, Tom, you're not to open your mouth one way
or the other. The padre will state his errand, and the old couple will
answer him in your presence. Don Blas will remain here, and whatever the
answer is, he and I must abide by it. Really, as I have said, I have
no interest in the match, except the welfare of the girl. Go on now,
Father, and let's see what you can do as a _padrino_."

As we arose to go, Miss Jean interposed and suggested that, out of
deference to Father Norquin, the old couple be sent for, but her brother
objected. He wanted the parents to make their own answer beneath their
own roof, unembarrassed by any influence. As we left the room, the old
matchmaker accompanied us as far as the gate, where he halted and said
to the padre:--

"Father Norquin, in a case like the present, you will not mind my saying
that your wish is not absolute, and I am sending a witness with you to
see that you issue no peremptory orders on this ranch. And remember,
that this old couple have been over thirty years in my employ, and
temper your words to them as you would to your own parents, were they
living. Juana was born here, which means a great deal, and with the
approval of her parents, she'll marry the man of her choice, and no
_padrino_, let him be priest or layman, can crack his whip on the soil
of Las Palomas to the contrary. As my guest, you must excuse me for
talking so plain, but my people are as dear to me as your church is to
you."

As my employer turned and leisurely walked back to the house, Father
Norquin stood stock-still. I was slightly embarrassed myself, but it was
easily to be seen that the padre's plans had received a severe shock. I
made several starts toward the Mexican quarters before the priest shook
away his hesitations and joined me. That the old ranchero's words had
agitated him was very evident in his voice and manner. Several times he
stopped me and demanded explanations, finally raising the question of a
rival. I told him all I knew about the matter; that Fidel, a new vaquero
on the ranch, had found favor in Juana's eyes, that he was a favorite
man with master and mistress, but what view the girl's parents took
of the matter I was unable to say. This cleared up the situation
wonderfully, and the padre brightened as we neared the _jacal_.

Tiburcio was absent, and while awaiting his return, the priest became
amiable and delivered a number of messages from friends and relatives at
the Mission. Tia Inez was somewhat embarrassed at first, but gradually
grew composed, and before the return of her husband all three of us were
chatting like cronies. On the appearance of Tio Tiburcio, coffee was
ordered and the padre told several good stories, over which we all
laughed heartily. Cigarettes were next, and in due time Father Norquin
very good naturedly inquired why an unfavorable answer, regarding the
marriage of their daughter with young Blas Travino, had been returned
the previous summer. The old couple looked at each other a moment, when
the husband turned in his chair, and with a shrug of his shoulders and
a jerk of his head, referred the priest to his wife. Tia Inez met the
padre's gaze, and in a clear, concise manner, and in her native tongue,
gave her reasons. Father Norquin explained the prominence of the Travino
family and their disappointment over the refusal, and asked if the
decision was final, to which he received an affirmative reply. Instead
of showing any displeasure, he rose to take his departure, turning in
the doorway to say to the old couple:--

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