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A Texas Matchmaker by Andy Adams

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"My children, peace and happiness in this life is a priceless blessing.
I should be untrue to my trust did I counsel a marriage that would give
a parent a moment of unhappiness. My blessing upon this house and its
dwellers, and upon its sons and daughters as they go forth to homes of
their own." While he lifted his hand in benediction, the old couple and
myself bowed our heads for a moment, after which the padre and I passed
outside.

I was as solemn as an owl, yet inwardly delighted at the turn of
affairs. But Father Norquin had nothing to conceal, while delight was
wreathed all over his rosy countenance. Again and again he stopped me
to make inquiries about Fidel, the new vaquero. That lucky rascal was a
good-looking native, a much larger youth than the aspiring Don Blas, and
I pictured him to the padre as an Adonis. To the question if he was in
the ranch at present, fortune favored me, as Fidel and nearly all the
regular vaqueros were cutting timbers in the encinal that day with which
to build new corrals at one of the outlying tanks. As he would not
return before dark, and I knew the padre was due at Santa Maria that
evening, my description of him made Don Blas a mere pigmy in
comparison. But we finally reached the house, and on our reentering
the sitting-room, young Travino very courteously arose and stood until
Father Norquin should be seated. But the latter faced his parishioner,
saying:--

"You young simpleton, what did you drag me up here for on a fool's
errand? I was led to believe that our generous host was the instigator
of the unfavorable answer to your uncle's negotiations last summer. Now
I have the same answer repeated from the lips of the girl's parents.
Consider the predicament in which you have placed a servant of the
Church. Every law of hospitality has been outraged through your
imbecility. And to complete my humiliation, I have received only
kindness on every hand. The chapel which I have desired for years is
now a certainty, thanks to the master and mistress of Las Palomas. What
apology can I offer for your"--

"Hold on there, Father," interrupted Uncle Lance. "If you owe this ranch
any apology, save your breath for a more important occasion. Don Blas is
all right; any suitor who would not be jealous over a girl like Juana is
not welcome at Las Palomas. Why, when I was his age I was suspicious of
my sweetheart's own father, and you should make allowance for this young
man's years and impetuosity. Sit down, Father, and let's have a talk
about this chapel--that's what interests me most right now. You see,
within a few days my boys will have all the palisades cut for the new
corrals, and then we can turn our attention to getting out the rock for
the chapel. We have a quarry of nice soft stone all opened up, and I'll
put a dozen vaqueros to blocking out the rock in a few days. We always
have a big stock of _zacahuiste_ grass on hand for thatching _jacals_,
plenty of limestone to burn for the lime, sand in abundance, and all we
lack is the masons. You'll have to send them out from the Mission, but
I'll pay them. Oh, I reckon the good Lord loves Las Palomas, for you see
He's placed everything convenient with which to build the chapel."

Father Norquin could not remain seated, but paced the room enumerating
the many little adornments which the mother church would be glad to
supply. Enthusiastic as a child over a promised toy, no other thought
entered the simple padre's mind, until dinner was announced. And all
during the meal, the object of our guest's mission was entirely lost
sight of, in contemplation of the coming chapel. The padre seemed as
anxious to avoid the subject of matchmaking as his host, while poor Don
Blas sat like a willing sacrifice, unable to say a word. I sympathized
with him, for I knew what it was to meet disappointment. At the
conclusion of the mid-day repast, Father Norquin flew into a great
bustle in preparing to start for Santa Maria, and I was dispatched for
the horses. Our guests and my employer were waiting at the stile when I
led up their mounts, and at final parting the old matchmaker said to the
priest:--

"Now, remember, I expect you to have this chapel completed by Easter
Sunday, when I want you to come out and spend at least two weeks with us
and see that it is finished to suit you, and arrange for the dedication.
Las Palomas will build the chapel, but when our work is done yours
commences. And I want to tell you right now, there's liable to be
several weddings in it before the mortar gets good and dry. I have it on
pretty good authority that one of my boys and Pierre Vaux's eldest girl
are just about ready to have you pronounce them man and wife. No, he's
not of any faith, but she's a good Catholic. Now, look here, Father
Norquin, if I have to proselyte you to my way of thinking, it'll never
hurt you any. I was never afraid to do what was right, and when at Las
Palomas you needn't be afraid either, even if we have to start a new
creed. Well, good-by to both of you."

We had a windmill to repair that afternoon, some five miles from the
ranch, so that I did not return to the house until evening; but when all
gathered around the supper table that night, Uncle Lance was throwing
bouquets at himself for the crafty manner in which he had switched the
padre from his mission, and yet sent him away delighted. He admitted
that he was scared on the appearance of Father Norquin as a _padrino_,
on account of the fact that a priest was usually supreme among his own
people. That he had early come to the conclusion if there was to be any
coercion used in this case, he was determined to get in his bluff first.
But Miss Jean ridiculed the idea that there was any serious danger.

"Goodness me, Lance," said she, "I could have told you there was no
cause for alarm. In this case between Fidel and Juana, I've been a very
liberal chaperon. Oh, well, now, never mind about the particulars. Once,
to try his nerve, I gave him a chance, and I happen to know the rascal
kissed her the moment my back was turned. Oh, I think Juana will stay at
Las Palomas."

CHAPTER XVII

WINTER AT LAS PALOMAS

The winter succeeding the drouth was an unusually mild one, frost and
sleet being unseen at Las Palomas. After the holidays several warm rains
fell, affording fine hunting and assuring enough moisture in the soil to
insure an early spring. The preceding winter had been gloomy, but this
proved to be the most social one since my advent, for within fifty miles
of the ranch no less than two weddings occurred during Christmas week.
As to little neighborhood happenings, we could hear of half a dozen
every time we went to Shepherd's after the mail.

When the native help on the ranch was started at blocking out the stone
for the chapel, Uncle Lance took the hounds and with two of the boys
went down to Wilson's ranch for a hunt. Gallup went, of course, but
just why he took Scales along, unless with the design of making a match
between one of the younger daughters of this neighboring ranchman and
the Marylander, was not entirely clear. When he wanted to, Scales could
make himself very agreeable, and had it not been for his profligate
disposition, his being taken along on the hunt would have been no
mystery. Every one on the ranch, including the master and mistress,
were cognizant of the fact that for the past year he had maintained
a correspondence with a girl in Florida--the one whose letter and
photograph had been found in the box of oranges. He hardly deserved the
confidence of the roguish girl, for he showed her letters to any one who
cared to read them. I had read every line of the whole correspondence,
and it was plain that Scales had deceived the girl into believing that
he was a prominent ranchman, when in reality the best that could be said
of him was that he was a lovable vagabond. From the last letter, it was
clear that he had promised to marry the girl during the Christmas week
just past, but he had asked for a postponement on the ground that the
drouth had prevented him from selling his beeves.

When Uncle Lance made the discovery, during a cow hunt the fall before,
of the correspondence between Scales and the Florida girl, he said to us
around the camp-fire that night: "Well, all I've got to say is that that
girl down in Florida is hard up. Why, it's entirely contrary to a girl's
nature to want to be wooed by letter. Until the leopard changes his
spots, the good old way, of putting your arm around the girl and
whispering that you love her, will continue to be popular. If I was to
hazard an opinion about that girl, Aaron, I'd say that she was ambitious
to rise above her surroundings. The chances are that she wants to get
away from home, and possibly she's as much displeased with the young men
in the orange country as I sometimes get with you dodrotted cow hands.
Now, I'm not one of those people who're always harping about the youth
of his day and generation being so much better than the present. That's
all humbug. But what does get me is, that you youngsters don't profit
more by the experience of an old man like me who's been married three
times. Line upon line and precept upon precept, I have preached this
thing to my boys for the last ten years, and what has it amounted to?
Not a single white bride has ever been brought to Las Palomas. They
can call me a matchmaker if they want to, but the evidence is to the
contrary." This was on the night after we passed Shepherd's, where
Scales had received a letter from the Florida girl. But why he should
accompany the hunt now to Remirena, unless the old ranchero proposed
reforming him, was too deep a problem for me.

On leaving for Wilson's, there was the usual bustle; hounds responding
to the horn and horses under saddle champing their bits. I had hoped
that permission to go over to the Frio and San Miguel would be given
John and myself, but my employer's mind was too absorbed in something
else, and we were overlooked in the hurry to get away. Since the
quarrying of the rock had commenced, my work had been overseeing the
native help, of which we had some fifteen cutting and hauling. In
numerous places within a mile of headquarters, a soft porous rock
cropped out. By using a crowbar with a tempered chisel point, the
Mexicans easily channeled the rock into blocks, eighteen by thirty
inches, splitting each stone a foot in thickness, so that when hauled to
the place of use, each piece was ready to lay up in the wall. The ranch
house at headquarters was built out of this rock, and where permanency
was required, it was the best material available, whitening and
apparently becoming firmer with time and exposure.

I had not seen my sweetheart in nearly a month, but there I was, chained
to a rock quarry and mule teams. The very idea of Gallup and the
profligate Scales riding to hounds and basking in the society of
charming girls nettled me. The remainder of the ranch outfit was under
Deweese, building the new corrals, so that I never heard my own tongue
spoken except at meals and about the house. My orders included the
cutting of a few hundred rock extra above the needs of the chapel, and
when this got noised among the help, I had to explain that there was
some talk of building a stone cottage, and intimated that it was for
Juana and Fidel. But that lucky rascal was one of the crew cutting rock,
and from some source or other he had learned that I was liable to need
a cottage at Las Palomas in the near future. The fact that I was acting
_segundo_ over the quarrying outfit, was taken advantage of by Fidel
to clear his skirts and charge the extra rock to my matrimonial
expectations. He was a fast workman, and on every stone he split from
the mother ledge, he sang out, "Otro piedra por Don Tomas!" And within a
few minutes' time some one else would cry out, "Otro cillar por Fidel y
Juana," or "Otro piedra por padre Norquin."

A week passed and there was no return of the hunters. We had so
systematized our work at the quarry that my presence was hardly needed,
so every evening I urged Cotton to sound the mistress for permission
to visit our sweethearts. John was a good-natured fellow who could be
easily led or pushed forward, and I had come to look upon Miss Jean as
a ready supporter of any of her brother's projects. For that reason her
permission was as good as the master's; but she parried all Cotton's
hints, pleading the neglect of our work in the absence of her brother.
I was disgusted with the monotony of quarry work, and likewise was John
over building corrals, as no cow hand ever enthuses over manual labor,
when an incident occurred which afforded the opportunity desired. The
mistress needed some small article from the store at Shepherd's, and a
Mexican boy had been sent down on this errand and also to get the mail
of the past two weeks. On the boy's return, he brought a message from
the merchant, saying that Henry Annear had been accidentally killed by a
horse that day, and that the burial would take place at ten o'clock the
next morning.

The news threw the mistress of Las Palomas into a flutter. Her brother
was absent, and she felt a delicacy in consulting Deweese, and very
naturally turned to me for advice. Funerals in the Nueces valley were so
very rare that I advised going, even if the unfortunate man had stood
none too high in our estimation. Annear lived on the divide between
Shepherd's and the Frio at a ranch called Las Norias. As this ranch was
not over ten miles from the mouth of the San Miguel, the astute mind can
readily see the gleam of my ax in attending. Funerals were such events
that I knew to a certainty that all the countryside within reach would
attend, and the Vaux ranch was not over fifteen miles distant from Las
Norias. Acting on my advice, the mistress ordered the ambulance to be
ready to start by three o'clock the next morning, and gave every one on
the ranch who cared, permission to go along. All of us took advantage
of the offer, except Deweese, who, when out of hearing of the mistress,
excused himself rather profanely.

The boy had returned late in the day, but we lost no time in acting on
Miss Jean's orders. Fortunately the ambulance teams were in hand hauling
rock, but we rushed out several vaqueros to bring in the _remuda_ which
contained our best saddle horses. It was after dark when they returned
with the mounts wanted, and warning Tiburcio that we would call him at
an early hour, every one retired for a few hours' rest. I would resent
the charge that I am selfish or unsympathetic, yet before falling asleep
that night the deplorable accident was entirely overlooked in the
anticipated pleasure of seeing Esther.

As it was fully a thirty-five-mile drive we started at daybreak, and to
encourage the mules Quayle and Happersett rode in the lead until sun-up,
when they dropped to the rear with Cotton and myself. We did not go by
way of Shepherd's, but crossed the river several miles above the ferry,
following an old cotton road made during the war, from the interior of
the state to Matamoras, Mexico. It was some time before the hour named
for the burial when we sighted Las Norias on the divide, and spurred
up the ambulance team, to reach the ranch in time for the funeral.
The services were conducted by a strange minister who happened to be
visiting in Oakville, but what impressed me in particular was the
solicitude of Miss Jean for the widow. She had been frequently
entertained at Las Palomas by its mistress, as the sweetheart of June
Deweese, though since her marriage to Annear a decided coolness had
existed between the two women. But in the present hour of trouble, the
past was forgotten and they mingled their tears like sisters.

On our return, which was to be by way of the Vauxes', I joined those
from the McLeod ranch, while Happersett and Cotton accompanied the
ambulance to the Vaux home. Nearly every one going our way was on
horseback, and when the cavalcade was some distance from Las Norias, my
sweetheart dropped to the rear for a confidential chat and told me that
a lawyer from Corpus Christi, an old friend of the family, had come
up for the purpose of taking the preliminary steps for securing her
freedom, and that she expected to be relieved of the odious tie which
bound her to Oxenford at the May term of court. This was pleasant news
to me, for there would then be no reason for delaying our marriage.

Happersett rode down to the San Miguel the next morning to inform Quayle
and myself that the mistress was then on the way to spend the night with
the widow Annear, and that the rest of us were to report at home the
following evening. She had apparently inspected the lines on the Frio,
and, finding everything favorable, turned to other fields. I was
disappointed, for Esther and I had planned to go up to the Vaux ranch
during the visit. Dan suggested that we ride home together by way of the
Vauxes'. But Quayle bitterly refused even to go near the ranch. He felt
very sore and revengeful over being jilted by Frances after she had let
him crown her Queen of the ball at the tournament dance. So, agreeing
to meet on the divide the next day for the ride back to Las Palomas, we
parted.

The next afternoon, on reaching the divide between the Frio and the home
river, Theodore and I scanned the horizon in vain for any horsemen. We
dismounted, and after waiting nearly an hour, descried two specks to the
northward which we knew must be our men. On coming up they also threw
themselves on the ground, and we indulged in a cigarette while we
compared notes. I had nothing to conceal, and frankly confessed that
Esther and I expected to marry during the latter part of May. Cotton,
though, seemed reticent, and though Theodore cross-questioned him
rather severely, was non-committal and dumb as an oyster; but before we
recrossed the Nueces that evening, John and I having fallen far to the
rear of the other two, he admitted to me that his wedding would occur
within a month after Lent. It was to be a confidence between us, but I
advised him to take Uncle Lance into the secret at once.

But on reaching the ranch we learned that the hunting party had not
returned, nor had the mistress. The next morning we resumed our work,
Quayle and Cotton at corral building and I at the rock quarry. The work
had progressed during my absence, and the number of pieces desired was
nearing completion, and with but one team hauling the work-shop was
already congested with cut building stone. By noon the quarry was so
cluttered with blocks that I ordered half the help to take axes and
go to the encinal to cut dry oak wood for burning the lime. With the
remainder of my outfit we cleaned out and sealed off the walls of an old
lime kiln, which had served ever since the first rock buildings rose on
Las Palomas. The oven was cut in the same porous formation, the interior
resembling an immense jug, possibly twelve feet in diameter and fifteen
feet in height to the surface of the ledge. By locating the kiln near
the abrupt wall of an abandoned quarry, ventilation was given from below
by a connecting tunnel some twenty feet in length. Layers of wood and
limestone were placed within until the interior was filled, when it was
fired, and after burning for a few hours the draft was cut off below and
above, and the heat retained until the limestone was properly burned.

Near the middle of the afternoon, the drivers hauling the blocks drove
near the kiln and shouted that the hunters had returned. Scaling off the
burnt rock in the interior and removing the debris made it late before
our job was finished; then one of the vaqueros working on the outside
told us that the ambulance had crossed the river over an hour before,
and was then in the ranch. This was good news, and mounting our horses
we galloped into headquarters and found the corral outfit already there.
Miss Jean soon had our _segundo_ an unwilling prisoner in a corner, and
from his impatient manner and her low tones it was plain to be seen
that her two days' visit with Mrs. Annear had resulted in some word
for Deweese. Not wishing to intrude, I avoided them in search of my
employer, finding him and Gallup at an outhouse holding a hound while
Scales was taking a few stitches in an ugly cut which the dog had
received from a _javeline_. Paying no attention to the two boys, I gave
him the news, and bluntly informed him that Esther and I expected to
marry in May.

"Bully for you, Tom," said he. "Here, hold this fore foot, and look out
he don't bite you. So she'll get her divorce at the May term, and then
all outdoors can't stand in your way the next time. Now, that means that
you'll have to get out fully two hundred more of those building rock,
for your cottage will need three rooms. Take another stitch, knot your
thread well, and be quick about it. I tell you the _javeline_ were
pretty fierce; this is the fifth dog we've doctored since we returned."

On freeing the poor hound, we both looked the pack over carefully, and
as no others needed attention, Aaron and Glenn were excused. No sooner
were they out of hearing than I suggested that the order be made for
five hundred stone, as no doubt John Cotton would also need a cottage
shortly after Lent. The old matchmaker beamed with smiles. "Is that
right, Tom?" he inquired. "Of course, you boys tell each other what you
would hardly tell me. And so they have made the riffle at last? Why, of
course they shall have a cottage, and have it so near that I can hear
the baby when it cries. Bully for tow-headed John. Oh, I reckon Las
Palomas is coming to the front this year. Three new cottages and three
new brides is not to be sneezed at! Does your mistress know all this
good news?"

I informed him that I had not seen Miss Jean to speak to since the
funeral, and that Cotton wished his intentions kept a secret. "Of
course," he said; "that's just like a sap-headed youth, as if getting
married was anything to be ashamed of. Why, when I was the age of you
boys I'd have felt proud over the fact. Wants it kept a secret, does he?
Well, I'll tell everybody I meet, and I'll send word to the ferry and to
every ranch within a hundred miles, that our John Cotton and Frank Vaux
are going to get married in the spring. There's nothing disgraceful in
matrimony, and I'll publish this so wide that neither of them will dare
back out. I've had my eye on that girl for years, and now when there's a
prospect of her becoming the wife of one of my boys, he wants it kept a
secret? Well, I don't think it'll keep."

After that I felt more comfortable over my own confession. Before we
were called to supper every one in the house, including the Mexicans
about headquarters, knew that Cotton and I were soon to be married. And
all during the evening the same subject was revived at every lull in
the conversation, though Deweese kept constantly intruding the corral
building and making inquiries after the hunt. "What difference does it
make if we hunted or not?" replied Uncle Lance to his foreman with some
little feeling. "Suppose we did only hunt every third or fourth day?
Those Wilson folks have a way of entertaining friends which makes riding
after hounds seem commonplace. Why, the girls had Glenn and Aaron on the
go until old man Nate and myself could hardly get them out on a hunt at
all. And when they did, provided the girls were along, they managed to
get separated, and along about dusk they'd come slouching in by pairs,
looking as innocent as turtle-doves. Not that those Wilson girls can't
ride, for I never saw a better horsewoman than Susie--the one who took
such a shine to Scales."

I noticed Miss Jean cast a reproving glance at her brother on his
connecting the name of Susie Wilson with that of his vagabond employee.
The mistress was a puritan in morals. That Scales fell far below her
ideal there was no doubt, and the brother knew too well not to differ
with her on this subject. When all the boys had retired except Cotton
and me, the brother and sister became frank with each other.

"Well, now, you must not blame me if Miss Susie was attentive to Aaron,"
said the old matchmaker, in conciliation, pacing the room. "He was
from Las Palomas and their guest, and I see no harm in the girls being
courteous and polite. Susie was just as nice as pie to me, and I hope
you don't think I don't entertain the highest regard for Nate Wilson's
family. Suppose one of the girls did smile a little too much on Aaron,
was that my fault? Now, mind you, I never said a word one way or the
other, but I'll bet every cow on Las Palomas that Aaron Scales, vagabond
that he is, can get Susie Wilson for the asking. I know your standard
of morals, but you must make allowance for others who look upon things
differently from you and me. You remember Katharine Vedder who married
Carey Troup at the close of the war. There's a similar case for you.
Katharine married Troup just because he was so wicked, at least that was
the reason she gave, and she and you were old run-togethers. And you
remember too that getting married was the turning-point in Carey Troup's
life. Who knows but Aaron might sober down if he was to marry? Just
because a man has sown a few wild oats in his youth, does that condemn
him for all time? You want to be more liberal. Give me the man who has
stood the fire tests of life in preference to one who has never been
tempted."

"Now, Lance, you know you had a motive in taking Aaron down to
Wilson's," said the sister, reprovingly. "Don't get the idea that
I can't read you like an open book. Your argument is as good as an
admission of your object in going to Ramirena. Ever since Scales got up
that flirtation with Suzanne Vaux last summer, it was easy to see that
Aaron was a favorite with you. Why don't you take Happersett around and
introduce him to some nice girls? Honest, Lance, I wouldn't give poor
old Dan for the big beef corral full of rascals like Scales. Look how he
trifled with that silly girl in Florida."

Instead of continuing the argument, the wily ranchero changed the
subject.

"The trouble with Dan is he's too old. When a fellow begins to get a
little gray around the edges, he gets so foxy that you couldn't bait him
into a matrimonial trap with sweet grapes. But, Sis, what's the matter
with your keeping an eye open for a girl for Dan, if he's such a
favorite with you? If I had half the interest in him that you profess, I
certainly wouldn't ask any one to help. It wouldn't surprise me if the
boys take to marrying freely after John and Tom bring their brides to
Las Palomas. Now that Mrs. Annear is a widow, there's the same old
chance for June. If Glenn don't make the riffle with Miss Jule, he ought
to be shot on general principles. And I don't know, little sister, if
you and I were both to oppose it, that we could prevent that rascal of
an Aaron from marrying into the Wilson family. You have no idea what a
case Susie and Scales scared up during our ten days' hunt. That only
leaves Dan and Theodore. But what's the use of counting the chickens
so soon? You go to bed, for I'm going to send to the Mission to-morrow
after the masons. There's no use in my turning in, for I won't sleep a
wink to-night, thinking all this over."

CHAPTER XVIII

AN INDIAN SCARE

Near the close of January, '79, the Nueces valley was stirred by an
Indian scare. I had a distinct recollection of two similar scares in my
boyhood on the San Antonio River, in which I never caught a glimpse of
the noble red man. But whether the rumors were groundless or not, Las
Palomas set her house in order. The worst thing we had to fear was the
loss of our saddle stock, as they were gentle and could be easily run
off and corralled on the range by stretching lariats. At this time
the ranch had some ten _remudas_ including nearly five hundred saddle
horses, some of them ranging ten or fifteen miles from the ranch, and on
receipt of the first rumor, every _remuda_ was brought in home and put
under a general herd, night and day.

"These Indian scares," said Uncle Lance, "are just about as regular as
drouths. When I first settled here, the Indians hunted up and down this
valley every few years, but they never molested anything. Why, I got
well acquainted with several bucks, and used to swap rawhide with them
for buckskin. Game was so abundant then that there was no temptation to
kill cattle or steal horses. But the rascals seem to be getting worse
ever since. The last scare was just ten years ago next month, and kept
us all guessing. The renegades were Kickapoos and came down the Frio
from out west. One Sunday morning they surprised two of Waugh's vaqueros
while the latter were dressing a wild hog which they had killed. The
Mexicans had only one horse and one gun between them. One of them took
the horse and the other took the carbine. Not daring to follow the
one with the gun for fear of ambuscade, the Indians gave chase to the
vaquero on horseback, whom they easily captured. After stripping him of
all his clothing, they tied his hands with thongs, and pinned the poor
devil to a tree with spear thrusts through the back.

"The other Mexican made his escape in the chaparral, and got back to the
ranch. As it happened, there was only a man or two at Waugh's place at
the time, and no attempt was made to follow the Indians, who, after
killing the vaquero, went on west to Altita Creek--the one which puts
into the Nueces from the north, just about twenty miles above the Ganso.
Waugh had a sheep camp on the head of Altito, and there the Kickapoos
killed two of his _pastors_ and robbed the camp. From that creek on
westward, their course was marked with murders and horse stealing, but
the country was so sparsely settled that little or no resistance could
be offered, and the redskins escaped without punishment. At that time
they were armed with bow and arrow and spears, but I have it on good
authority that all these western tribes now have firearms. The very name
of Indians scares women and children, and if they should come down this
river, we must keep in the open and avoid ambush, as that is an Indian's
forte."

All the women and children at the outlying ranchitas were brought into
headquarters, the men being left to look after the houses and their
stock and flocks. In the interim, Father Norquin and the masons had
arrived and the chapel was daily taking shape. But the rumors of the
Indian raid thickened. Reports came in of shepherds shot with their
flocks over near Espontos Lake and along the Leona River, and Las
Palomas took on the air of an armed camp. Though we never ceased to ride
the range wherever duty called, we went always in squads of four or
five.

The first abatement of the scare took place when one evening a cavalcade
of Texas Rangers reached our ranch from DeWitt County. They consisted of
fifteen mounted men under Lieutenant Frank Barr, with a commissary of
four pack mules. The detachment was from one of the crack companies of
the state, and had with them several half-blood trailers, though every
man in the squad was more or less of an expert in that line. They were
traveling light, and had covered over a hundred miles during the day and
a half preceding their arrival at headquarters. The hospitality of Las
Palomas was theirs to command, and as their most urgent need was mounts,
they were made welcome to the pick of every horse under herd. Sunrise
saw our ranger guests on their way, leaving the high tension relaxed and
every one on the ranch breathing easier. But the Indian scare did not
prove an ill wind to the plans of Father Norquin. With the concentration
of people from the ranchitas and those belonging at the home ranch, the
chapel building went on by leaps and bounds. A native carpenter had been
secured from Santa Maria, and the enthusiastic padre, laying aside his
vestments, worked with his hands as a common laborer. The energy with
which he inspired the natives made him a valuable overseer. From
assisting the carpenter in hewing the rafters, to advising the masons in
laying a keystone, or with his own hands mixing the mortar and tamping
the earth to give firm foundation to the cement floor, he was the
directing spirit. Very little lumber was used in the construction of
buildings at Las Palomas. The houses were thatched with a coarse salt
grass, called by the natives _zacahuiste_. Every year in the overflowed
portions of the valley, great quantities of this material were cut by
the native help and stored against its need. The grass sometimes grew
two feet in height, and at cutting was wrapped tightly and tied in
"hands" about two inches in diameter. For fastening to the roofing lath,
green blades of the Spanish dagger were used, which, after being roasted
over a fire to toughen the fibre, were split into thongs and bound the
hands securely in a solid mass, layer upon layer like shingles. Crude as
it may appear, this was a most serviceable roof, being both rain proof
and impervious to heat, while, owing to its compactness, a live coal of
fire laid upon it would smoulder but not ignite.

No sooner had the masons finished the plastering of the inner walls and
cementing the floor, than they began on a two-roomed cottage. As its
white walls arose conjecture was rife as to who was to occupy it. I made
no bones of the fact that I expected to occupy a _jacal_ in the near
future, but denied that this was to be mine, as I had been promised
one with three rooms. Out of hearing of our employer, John Cotton also
religiously denied that the tiny house was for his use. Fidel, however,
took the chaffing without a denial, the padre and Uncle Lance being his
two worst tormentors.

During the previous visit of the padre, when the chapel was decided on,
the order for the finishing material for the building had been placed
with the merchant at Shepherd's, and was brought up from Corpus Christi
through his freighters. We now had notice from the merchant that his
teamsters had returned, and two four-mule teams went down to the
ferry for the lumber, glassware, sash and doors. Miss Jean had been
importuning the padre daily to know when the dedication would take
place, as she was planning to invite the countryside.

"Ah, my daughter," replied the priest, "we must learn to cultivate
patience. All things that abide are of slow but steady growth, and my
work is for eternity. Therefore I must be an earnest servant, so that
when my life's duty ends, it can be said in truth, 'Well done, thou good
and faithful servant.' But I am as anxious to consecrate this building
to the Master's service as any one. My good woman, if I only had a few
parishioners like you, we would work wonders among these natives."

On the return of the mule teams, the completion of the building could be
determined, and the padre announced the twenty-first of February as the
date of dedication. On reaching this decision, the ranch was set in
order for an occasion of more than ordinary moment. Fidel and Juana were
impatient to be married, and the master and mistress had decided that
the ceremony should be performed the day after the dedication, and all
the guests of the ranch should remain for the festivities. The padre,
still in command, dispatched a vaquero to the Mission, announcing the
completion of the chapel, and asking for a brother priest to bring out
certain vestments and assist in the dedicatory exercises. The Indian
scare was subsiding, and as no word had come from the rangers confidence
grew that the worst was over, so we scattered in every direction
inviting guests. From the Booths on the Frio to the Wilsons of Ramirena,
and along the home river as far as Lagarto, our friends were bidden in
the name of the master and mistress of Las Palomas.

On my return from taking the invitations to the ranches north, the
chapel was just receiving the finishing touches. The cross crowning the
front glistened in fresh paint, while on the interior walls shone cheap
lithographs of the Madonna and Christ. The old padre, proud and jealous
as a bridegroom over his bride, directed the young friar here and there,
himself standing aloof and studying with an artist's eye every effect
in color and drapery. The only discordant note in the interior was the
rough benches, in the building of which Father Norquin himself had
worked, thus following, as he repeatedly admonished us, in the footsteps
of his Master, the carpenter of Galilee.

The ceremony of dedication was to be followed by mass at high noon. Don
Mateo Gonzales of Santa Maria sent his regrets, as did likewise Don
Alejandro Travino of the Mission, but the other invited guests came
early and stayed late. The women and children of the outlying ranchitas
had not yet returned to their homes, and with our invited guests made an
assembly of nearly a hundred and fifty persons. Unexpectedly, and within
two hours of the appointed time for the service to commence, a cavalcade
was sighted approaching the ranch from the west. As they turned in
towards headquarters, some one recognized the horses, and a shout of
welcome greeted our ranger guests of over two weeks before. Uncle Lance
met them as if they had been expected, and invited the lieutenant and
his men to dismount and remain a few days as guests of Las Palomas. When
they urged the importance of continuing on their journey to report to
the governor, the host replied:--

"Lieutenant Barr, that don't go here. Fall out of your saddles and
borrow all the razors and white shirts on the ranch, for we need you
for the dedication of a chapel to-day, and for a wedding and infare for
to-morrow. We don't see you along this river as often as we'd like to,
and when you do happen along in time for a peaceful duty, you can't
get away so easily. If you have any special report to make to your
superiors, why, write her out, and I'll send a vaquero with it to
Oakville this afternoon, and it'll go north on the stage to-morrow. But,
lieutenant, you mustn't think you can ride right past Las Palomas when
you're not under emergency orders. Now, fall off those horses and spruce
up a little, for I intend to introduce you to some as nice girls as you
ever met. You may want to quit rangering some day, and I may need a man
about your size, and I'm getting tired of single ones."

Lieutenant Barr surrendered. Saddles were stripped from horses, packs
were unlashed from mules, and every animal was sent to our _remudas_
under herd. The accoutrements were stacked inside the gate like
haycocks, with slickers thrown over them; the carbines were thrown on
the gallery, and from every nail, peg, or hook on the wall belts and
six-shooters hung in groups. These rangers were just ordinary looking
men, and might have been mistaken for an outfit of cow hands. In age
they ranged from a smiling youth of twenty to grizzled men of forty,
yet in every countenance was written a resolute determination. All
the razors on the ranch were brought into immediate use, while every
presentable shirt, collar, and tie in the house was unearthed and placed
at their disposal. While arranging hasty toilets, the men informed us
that when they reached Espontos Lake the redskins had left, and that
they had trailed them south until the Indians had crossed the Rio Grande
into Mexico several days in advance of their arrival. The usual number
of isolated sheepherders killed, and of horses stolen, were the features
of the raid.

The guests had been arriving all morning. The Booths had reached the
ranch the night before, and the last to put in an appearance was the
contingent from the Frio and San Miguel. Before the appearance of the
rangers, they had been sighted across the river, and they rode up with
Pierre Vaux, like a captain of the Old Guard, in the lead.

"Ah, Don Lance," he cried, "vat you tink? Dey say Don Pierre no ride
fas' goin' to church. Dese youngsters laff all time and say I never get
here unless de dogs is 'long. Sacre! Act all time lak I vas von ol' man.
_Humbre_, keep away from dis horse; he allow nobody but me to lay von
han' on him--keep away, I tol' you!"

I helped the girls to dismount, Miss Jean kissing them right and left,
and bustling them off into the house to tidy up as fast as possible; for
the hour was almost at hand. On catching sight of Mrs. Annear, fresh and
charming in her widow's weeds, Uncle Lance brushed Don Pierre aside and
cordially greeted her. Vaqueros took the horses, and as I strolled up
the pathway with Esther, I noticed an upper window full of ranger faces
peering down on the girls. Before this last contingent had had time to
spruce up, Pasquale's eldest boy rode around all the _jacals_, ringing
a small handbell to summon the population to the dedication. Outside of
our home crowd, we had forty white guests, not including the two Booth
children and the priests. As fast as the rangers were made presentable,
the master and mistress introduced them to all the girls present. Of
course, there were a few who could not be enticed near a woman, but
Quayle and Happersett, like kindred spirits, took the backward ones
under their wing, and the procession started for the chapel.

The audience was typical of the Texas frontier at the close of the
'70's. Two priests of European birth conducted the services. Pioneer
cowmen of various nationalities and their families intermingled and
occupied central seats. By the side of his host, a veteran of '36, when
Mexican rule was driven from the land, sat Lieutenant Barr, then engaged
in accomplishing a second redemption of the state from crime and
lawlessless. Lovable and esteemed men were present, who had followed the
fortunes of war until the Southern flag, to which they had rallied, went
down in defeat. The younger generation of men were stalwart in physique,
while the girls were modest in their rustic beauty. Sitting on the
cement floor on three sides of us were the natives of the ranch,
civilized but with little improvement over their Aztec ancestors.

The dedicatory exercises were brief and simple. Every one was invited to
remain for the celebration of the first mass in the newly consecrated
building. Many who were not communicants accepted, but noticing the
mistress and my sweetheart taking their leave, I joined them and
assisted in arranging the tables so that all our guests could be seated
at two sittings. At the conclusion of the services, dinner was waiting,
and Father Norquin and Mr. Nate Wilson were asked to carve at one table,
while the young friar and Lieutenant Barr, in a similar capacity,
officiated at the other. There was so much volunteer help in the kitchen
that I was soon excused, and joined the younger people on the gallery.
As to whom Cotton and Gallup were monopolizing there was no doubt, but I
had a curiosity to notice what Scales would do when placed between two
fires. But not for nothing had he cultivated the acquaintance of a
sandy-mustached young ranger, who was at that moment entertaining
Suzanne Vaux in an alcove at the farther end of the veranda. Aaron, when
returning from the chapel with Susie Wilson, had succeeded in getting no
nearer the house than a clump of oak trees which sheltered an old rustic
settee. And when the young folks were called in to dinner, the vagabond
Scales and Miss Wilson of Ramirena had to be called the second time.

In seating the younger generation, Miss Jean showed her finesse. Nearly
all the rangers had dined at the first tables, but the widow Annear
waited for the second one--why, only a privileged few of us could guess.
Artfully and with seeming unconsciousness on the part of every one,
Deweese was placed beside the charming widow, though I had a suspicion
that June was the only innocent party in the company. Captain Byler and
I were carving at the same table at which our foreman and the widow were
seated, and, being in the secret, I noted step by step the progress of
the widow, and the signs of gradual surrender of the corporal _segundo_.
I had a distinct recollection of having once smashed some earnest
resolves, and of having capitulated under similar circumstances, and now
being happily in love, I secretly wished success to the little god Cupid
in the case in hand. And all during the afternoon and evening, it was
clearly apparent to any one who cared to notice that success was very
likely.

The evening was a memorable one at Las Palomas. Never before in my
knowledge had the ranch had so many and such amiable guests. The rangers
took kindly to our hospitality, and Father Norquin waddled about,
God-blessing every one, old and young, frivolous and sedate. Owing
to the nature of the services of the day, the evening was spent in
conversation among the elders, while the younger element promenaded the
spacious gallery, or occupied alcoves, nooks, and corners about the
grounds. On retiring for the night, the men yielded the house to the
women guests, sleeping on the upper and lower verandas, while the ranger
contingent, scorning beds or shelter, unrolled their blankets under the
spreading live-oaks in the yard.

But the real interest centred in the marriage of Fidel and Juana, which
took place at six o'clock the following evening. Every one, including
the native element, repaired to the new chapel to attend the wedding.
Uncle Lance and his sister had rivaled each other as to whether man or
maid should have the better outfit. Fidel was physically far above the
average of the natives, slightly bow-legged, stolid, and the coolest
person in the church. The bride was in quite a flutter, but having been
coached and rehearsed daily by her mistress, managed to get through the
ordeal. The young priest performed the ceremony, using his own native
tongue, the rich, silvery accents of Spanish. At the conclusion of the
service, every one congratulated the happy couple, the women and girls
in tears, the sterner sex without demonstration of feeling. When we were
outside the chapel, and waiting for our sweethearts to dry their tears
and join us, Uncle Lance came swaggering' over to John Cotton and me,
and, slapping us both on the back, said:--

"Boys, that rascal of a Fidel has a splendid nerve. Did you notice how
he faced the guns without a tremor; never batted an eye but took his
medicine like a little man. I hope both of you boys will show equally
good nerve when your turn comes. Why, I doubt if there was a ranger in
the whole squad, unless it was that red-headed rascal who kissed the
bride, who would have stood the test like that vaquero--without a
shiver. And it's something you can't get used to. Now, as you all know,
I've been married three times. The first two times I was as cool as
most, but the third whirl I trembled all over. Quavers ran through me,
my tongue was palsied, my teeth chattered, my knees knocked together,
and I felt like a man that was sent for and couldn't go. Now, mind you,
it was the third time and I was only forty-five."

What a night that was! The contents of the warehouse had been shifted,
native musicians had come up from Santa Maria, and every one about
the home ranch who could strum a guitar was pressed into service. The
storeroom was given over to the natives, and after honoring the occasion
with their presence as patrons, the master and mistress, after the
opening dance, withdrew in company with their guests. The night had
then barely commenced. Claiming two guitarists, we soon had our guests
waltzing on veranda, hall, and spacious dining-room to the music of my
fiddle. Several of the rangers could play, and by taking turns every one
had a joyous time, including the two priests. Among the Mexicans the
dancing continued until daybreak. Shortly after midnight our guests
retired, and the next morning found all, including the priests,
preparing to take their departure. As was customary, we rode a short
distance with our guests, bidding them again to Las Palomas and
receiving similar invitations in return. With the exception of Captain
Byler, the rangers were the last to take their leave. When the mules
were packed and their mounts saddled, the old ranchero extended them a
welcome whenever they came that way again.

"Well, now, Mr. Lovelace," said Lieutenant Barr, "you had better not
press that invitation too far. The good time we have had with you
discounts rangering for the State of Texas. Rest assured, sir, that we
will not soon forget the hospitality of Las Palomas, nor its ability
to entertain. Push on with the packs, boys, and I'll take leave of the
mistress in behalf of you all, and overtake the squad before it reaches
the river."

CHAPTER XIX

HORSE BRANDS

Before gathering the fillies and mares that spring, and while riding
the range, locating our horse stock, Pasquale brought in word late one
evening that a _ladino_ stallion had killed the regular one, and was
then in possession of the _manada_. The fight between the outlaw and the
ranch stallion had evidently occurred above the mouth of the Ganso and
several miles to the north of the home river, for he had accidentally
found the carcass of the dead horse at a small lake and, recognizing the
animal by his color, had immediately scoured the country in search of
the band. He had finally located the _manada_, many miles off their
range; but at sight of the vaquero the _ladino_ usurper had deserted
the mares, halting, however, out of gunshot, yet following at a safe
distance as Pasquale drifted them back. Leaving the _manada_ on their
former range, Pasquale had ridden into the ranch and reported. It was
then too late in the day to start against the interloper, as the range
was fully twenty-five miles away, and we were delayed the next morning
in getting up speedy saddle horses from distant and various _remudas_,
and did not get away from the ranch until after dinner. But then we
started, taking the usual pack mules, and provisioned for a week's
outing.

Included in the party was Captain Frank Byler, the regular home crowd,
and three Mexicans. With an extra saddle horse for each, we rode away
merrily to declare war on the _ladino_ stallion. "This is the third time
since I've teen ranching here," said Uncle Lance to Captain Frank, as
we rode along, "that I've had stallions killed. There always have been
bands of wild horses, west here between the Leona and Nueces rivers and
around Espontos Lake. Now that country is settling up, the people walk
down the bands and the stallions escape, and in drifting about find our
range. They're wiry rascals, and our old stallions don't stand any more
show with them than a fat hog would with a _javaline_. That's why I take
as much pride in killing one as I do a rattlesnake."

We made camp early that evening on the home river, opposite the range
of the _manada_. Sending out Pasquale to locate the band and watch them
until dark, Uncle Lance outlined his idea of circling the band and
bagging the outlaw in the uncertain light of dawn. Pasquale reported
on his return after dark that the _manada_ were contentedly feeding on
their accustomed range within three miles of camp. Pasquale had
watched the band for an hour, and described the _ladino_ stallion as a
cinnamon-colored coyote, splendidly proportioned and unusually large for
a mustang.

Naturally, in expectation of the coming sport, the horses became the
topic around the camp-fire that night. Every man present was a born
horseman, and there was a generous rivalry for the honor in telling
horse stories. Aaron Scales joined the group at a fortunate time to
introduce an incident from his own experience, and, raking out a coal of
fire for his pipe, began:--

"The first ranch I ever worked on," said he, "was located on the Navidad
in Lavaca County. It was quite a new country then, rather broken and
timbered in places and full of bear and wolves. Our outfit was working
some cattle before the general round-up in the spring. We wanted to move
one brand to another range as soon as the grass would permit, and we
were gathering them for that purpose. We had some ninety saddle horses
with us to do the work,--sufficient to mount fifteen men. One night we
camped in a favorite spot, and as we had no cattle to hold that night,
all the horses were thrown loose, with the usual precaution of hobbling,
except two or three on picket. All but about ten head wore the
bracelets, and those ten were pals, their pardners wearing the hemp.
Early in the evening, probably nine o'clock, with a bright fire burning,
and the boys spreading down their beds for the night, suddenly the
horses were heard running, and the next moment they hobbled into camp
like a school of porpoise, trampling over the beds and crowding up to
the fire and the wagon. They almost knocked down some of the boys, so
sudden was their entrance. Then they set up a terrible nickering for
mates. The boys went amongst them, and horses that were timid and shy
almost caressed their riders, trembling in limb and muscle the while
through fear, like a leaf. We concluded a bear had scented the camp, and
in approaching it had circled round, and run amuck our saddle horses.
Every horse by instinct is afraid of a bear, but more particularly a
range-raised one. It's the same instinct that makes it impossible to
ride or drive a range-raised horse over a rattlesnake. Well, after the
boys had petted their mounts and quieted their fears, they were still
reluctant to leave camp, but stood around for several hours, evidently
feeling more secure in our presence. Now and then one of the free ones
would graze out a little distance, cautiously sniff the air, then trot
back to the others. We built up a big fire to scare away any bear or
wolves that might he in the vicinity, but the horses stayed like invited
guests, perfectly contented as long as we would pet them and talk to
them. Some of the boys crawled under the wagon, hoping to get a little
sleep, rather than spread their bed where a horse could stampede over
it. Near midnight we took ropes and saddle blankets and drove them
several hundred yards from camp. The rest of the night we slept with one
eye open, expecting every moment to hear them take fright and return.
They didn't, but at daylight every horse was within five hundred yards
of the wagon, and when we unhobbled them and broke camp that morning, we
had to throw riders in the lead to hold them back."

On the conclusion of Scales's experience, there was no lack of
volunteers to take up the thread, though an unwritten law forbade
interruptions. Our employer was among the group, and out of deference to
our guest, the boys remained silent. Uncle Lance finally regaled us
with an account of a fight between range stallions which he had once
witnessed, and on its conclusion Theodore Quayle took his turn.

"The man I was working for once moved nearly a thousand head of mixed
range stock, of which about three hundred were young mules, from the San
Saba to the Concho River. It was a dry country and we were compelled to
follow the McKavett and Fort Chadbourne trail. We had timed our drives
so that we reached creeks once a day at least, sometimes oftener. It was
the latter part of summer, and was unusually hot and drouthy. There was
one drive of twenty-five miles ahead that the owner knew of without
water, and we had planned this drive so as to reach it at noon, drive
halfway, make a dry camp over night, and reach the pools by noon the
next day. Imagine our chagrin on reaching the watering place to find the
stream dry. We lost several hours riding up and down the _arroyo_ in the
hope of finding relief for the men, if not for the stock. It had been
dusty for weeks. The cook had a little water in his keg, but only enough
for drinking purposes. It was twenty miles yet to the Concho, and make
it before night we must. Turning back was farther than going ahead, and
the afternoon was fearfully hot. The heat waves looked like a sea of
fire. The first part of the afternoon drive was a gradual ascent for
fifteen miles, and then came a narrow plateau of a divide. As we reached
this mesa, a sorrier-looking lot of men, horses, and mules can hardly be
imagined. We had already traveled over forty miles without water for the
stock, and five more lay between us and the coveted river.

"The heat was oppressive to the men, but the herd suffered most from the
fine alkali dust which enveloped them. Their eyebrows and nostrils were
whitened with this fine powder, while all colors merged into one. On
reaching this divide, we could see the cotton-woods that outlined the
stream ahead. Before we had fully crossed this watershed and begun the
descent, the mules would trot along beside the riders in the lead, even
permitting us to lay our hands on their backs. It was getting late in
the day before the first friendly breeze of the afternoon blew softly in
our faces. Then, Great Scott! what a change came over man and herd. The
mules in front threw up their heads and broke into a grand chorus. Those
that were strung out took up the refrain and trotted forward. The horses
set up a rival concert in a higher key. They had scented the water five
miles off.

"All hands except one man on each side now rode in the lead. Every once
in a while, some enthusiastic mule would break through the line of
horsemen, and would have to be brought back. Every time we came to an
elevation where we could catch the breeze, the grand horse and mule
concert would break out anew. At the last elevation between us and the
water, several mules broke through, and before they could be brought
back the whole herd had broken into a run which was impossible to check.
We opened out then and let them go.

"The Concho was barely running, but had long, deep pools here and there,
into which horses and mules plunged, dropped down, rolled over, and then
got up to nicker and bray. The young mules did everything but drink,
while the horses were crazy with delight. When the wagon came up we went
into camp and left them to play out their hands. There was no herding
to do that night, as the water would hold them as readily as a hundred
men."

"Well, I'm going to hunt my blankets," said Uncle Lance, rising. "You
understand, Captain, that you are to sleep with me to-night. Davy
Crockett once said that the politest man he ever met in Washington
simply set out the decanter and glasses, and then walked over and looked
out of the window while he took a drink. Now I want to be equally polite
and don't want to hurry you to sleep, but whenever you get tired of
yarning, you'll find the bed with me in it to the windward of that
live-oak tree top over yonder."

Captain Frank showed no inclination to accept the invitation just then,
but assured his host that he would join him later. An hour or two passed
by.

"Haven't you fellows gone to bed yet?" came an inquiry from out of a
fallen tree top beyond the fire in a voice which we all recognized. "All
right, boys, sit up all night and tell fool stories if you want to. But
remember, I'll have the last rascal of you in the saddle an hour before
daybreak. I have little sympathy for a man who won't sleep when he has
a good chance. So if you don't turn in at all it will be all right, but
you'll be routed out at three in the morning, and the man who requires a
second calling will get a bucket of water in his face."

Captain Frank and several of us rose expecting to take the hint of our
employer, when our good intentions were arrested by a query from Dan
Happersett, "Did any of you ever walk down a wild horse?" None of us
had, and we turned back and reseated ourselves in the group.

"I had a little whirl of it once when I was a youngster," said Dan,
"except we didn't walk. It was well known that there were several bands
of wild horses ranging in the southwest corner of Tom Green County.
Those who had seen them described one band as numbering forty to fifty
head with a fine chestnut stallion as a leader. Their range was well
located when water was plentiful, but during certain months of the year
the shallow lagoons where they watered dried up, and they were compelled
to leave. It was when they were forced to go to other waters that
glimpses of them were to be had, and then only at a distance of one or
two miles. There was an outfit made up one spring to go out to their
range and walk these horses down. This season of the year was selected,
as the lagoons would be full of water and the horses would be naturally
reduced in flesh and strength after the winter, as well as weak and thin
blooded from their first taste of grass. We took along two wagons, one
loaded with grain for our mounts. These saddle horses had been eating
grain for months before we started and their flesh was firm and solid.

"We headed for the lagoons, which were known to a few of our party, and
when we came within ten miles of the water holes, we saw fresh signs of
a band--places where they had apparently grazed within a week. But it
was the second day before we caught sight of the wild horses, and too
late in the day to give them chase. They were watering at a large lake
south of our camp, and we did not disturb them. We watched them until
nightfall, and that night we planned to give them chase at daybreak.
Four of us were to do the riding by turns, and imaginary stations were
allotted to the four quarters of our camp. If they refused to leave
their range and circled, we could send them at least a hundred and fifty
miles the first day, ourselves riding possibly a hundred, and this
riding would be divided among four horses, with plenty of fresh ones at
camp for a change.

"Being the lightest rider in the party, it was decided that I was to
give them the first chase. We had a crafty plainsman for our captain,
and long before daylight he and I rode out and waited for the first peep
of day. Before the sun had risen, we sighted the wild herd within a mile
of the place where darkness had settled over them the night previous.
With a few parting instructions from our captain, I rode leisurely
between them and the lake where they had watered the evening before. At
first sight of me they took fright and ran to a slight elevation. There
they halted a moment, craning their necks and sniffing the air. This was
my first fair view of the chestnut stallion. He refused to break into
a gallop, and even stopped before the rest, turning defiantly on this
intruder of his domain. From the course I was riding, every moment I was
expecting them to catch the wind of me. Suddenly they scented me, knew
me for an enemy, and with the stallion in the lead they were off to the
south.

"It was an exciting ride that morning. Without a halt they ran twenty
miles to the south, then turned to the left and there halted on an
elevation; but a shot in the air told them that all was not well and
they moved on. For an hour and a half they kept their course to the
east, and at last turned to the north. This was, as we had calculated,
about their range. In another hour at the farthest, a new rider with
a fresh horse would take up the running. My horse was still fresh and
enjoying the chase, when on a swell of the plain I made out the rider
who was to relieve me; and though it was early yet in the day the
mustangs had covered sixty miles to my forty. When I saw my relief
locate the band, I turned and rode leisurely to camp. When the last two
riders came into camp that night, they reported having left the herd at
a new lake, to which the mustang had led them, some fifteen miles from
our camp to the westward.

"Each day for the following week was a repetition of the first with
varying incident. But each day it was plain to be seen that they were
fagging fast. Toward the evening of the eighth day, the rider dared not
crowd them for fear of their splitting into small bands, a thing to be
avoided. On the ninth day two riders took them at a time, pushing them
unmercifully but preventing them from splitting, and in the evening of
this day they could be turned at the will of the riders. It was then
agreed that after a half day's chase on the morrow, they could be
handled with ease. By noon next day, we had driven them within a mile of
our camp.

"They were tired out and we turned them into an impromptu corral made of
wagons and ropes. All but the chestnut stallion. At the last he escaped
us; he stopped on a little knoll and took a farewell look at his band.

"There were four old United States cavalry horses among our captive band
of mustangs, gray with age and worthless--no telling where they came
from. We clamped a mule shoe over the pasterns of the younger horses,
tied toggles to the others, and the next morning set out on our return
to the settlements."

Under his promise the old ranchero had the camp astir over an hour
before dawn. Horses were brought in from picket ropes, and divided into
two squads, Pasquale leading off to the windward of where the band was
located at dusk previous. The rest of the men followed Uncle Lance to
complete the leeward side of the circle. The location of the _manada_,
had been described as between a small hill covered with Spanish bayonet
on one hand, and a _zacahuiste_ flat nearly a mile distant on the other,
both well-known landmarks. As we rode out and approached the location,
we dropped a man every half mile until the hill and adjoining salt flat
had been surrounded. We had divided what rifles the ranch owned between
the two squads, so that each side of the circle was armed with four
guns. I had a carbine, and had been stationed about midway of the
leeward half-circle. At the first sign of dawn, the signal agreed upon,
a turkey call, sounded back down the line, and we advanced. The circle
was fully two miles in diameter, and on receiving the signal I rode
slowly forward, halting at every sound. It was a cloudy morning and
dawn came late for clear vision. Several times I dismounted and in
approaching objects at a distance drove my horse before me, only to find
that, as light increased, I was mistaken.

[Illustration: UTTERING A SINGLE PIERCING SNORT]

When both the flat and the dagger crowned hill came into view, not a
living object was in sight. I had made the calculation that, had the
_manada_ grazed during the night, we should be far to the leeward of the
band, for it was reasonable to expect that they would feed against the
wind. But there was also the possibility that the outlaw might have
herded the band several miles distant during the night, and while I was
meditating on this theory, a shot rang out about a mile distant and
behind the hill. Giving my horse the rowel, I rode in the direction of
the report; but before I reached the hill the _manada_ tore around it,
almost running into me. The coyote mustang was leading the band; but as
I halted for a shot, he turned inward, and, the mares intervening, cut
off my opportunity. But the warning shot had reached every rider on the
circle, and as I plied rowel and quirt to turn the band, Tio Tiburcio
cut in before me and headed them backward. As the band whirled away from
us the stallion forged to the front and, by biting and a free use of his
heels, attempted to turn the _manada_ on their former course. But it
mattered little which way they turned now, for our cordon was closing
round them, the windward line then being less than a mile distant.

As the band struck the eastward or windward line of horsemen, the mares,
except for the control of the stallion, would have yielded, but now,
under his leadership, they recoiled like a band of _ladinos_. But every
time they approached the line of the closing circle they were checked,
and as the cordon closed to less than half a mile in diameter, in spite
of the outlaw's lashings, the _manada_ quieted down and halted. Then we
unslung our carbines and rifles and slowly closed in upon the quarry.
Several times the mustang stallion came to the outskirts of the band,
uttering a single piercing snort, but never exposed himself for a shot.
Little by little as we edged in he grew impatient, and finally trotted
out boldly as if determined to forsake his harem and rush the line. But
the moment he cleared the band Uncle Lance dismounted, and as he knelt
the stallion stopped like a statue, gave a single challenging snort,
which was answered by a rifle report, and he fell in his tracks.

CHAPTER XX

SHADOWS

Spring was now at hand after an unusually mild winter. With the breaking
of the drouth of the summer before there had sprung up all through the
encinal and sandy lands an immense crop of weeds, called by the natives
_margoso_, fallow-weed. This plant had thriven all winter, and the
cattle had forsaken the best mesquite grazing in the river bottoms to
forage on it. The results showed that their instinct was true; for with
very rare exceptions every beef on the ranch was fit for the butcher's
block. Truly it was a year of fatness succeeding a lean one. Never
during my acquaintance with Las Palomas had I seen the cattle come
through a winter in such splendid condition. But now there was no
market. Faint rumors reached us of trail herds being put up in near-by
counties, and it was known that several large ranches in Nueces County
were going to try the experiment of sending their own cattle up the
trail. Lack of demand was discouraging to most ranchmen, and our range
was glutted with heavy steer cattle.

The first spring work of any importance was gathering the horses to fill
a contract we had with Captain Byler. Previous to the herd which Deweese
had sold and delivered at Fort Worth the year before, our horse stock
had amounted to about four thousand head. With the present sale the
ranch holdings would be much reduced, and it was our intention to retain
all _manadas_ used in the breeding of mules. When we commenced gathering
we worked over every one of our sixty odd bands, cutting out all the
fillies and barren mares. In disposing of whole _manadas_ we kept only
the geldings and yearlings, throwing in the old stallions for good
measure, as they would be worthless to us when separated from their
harems. In less than a week's time we had made up the herd, and as they
were all in the straight 'horse hoof' we did not road-brand them. While
gathering them we put them under day and night herd, throwing in five
_remudas_ as we had agreed, but keeping back the bell mares, as they
were gentle and would be useful in forming new bands of saddle horses.
The day before the appointed time for the delivery, the drover brought
up saddle horses and enough picked mares to make his herd number fifteen
hundred.

The only unpleasant episode of the sale was a difference between
Theodore Quayle and my employer. Quayle had cultivated the friendship of
the drover until the latter had partially promised him a job with the
herd, in case there was no objection. But when Uncle Lance learned that
Theodore expected to accompany the horses, he took Captain Frank to
task for attempting to entice away his men. The drover entered a strong
disclaimer, maintaining that he had promised Quayle a place only in case
it was satisfactory to all concerned; further, that in trail work with
horses he preferred Mexican vaqueros, and had only made the conditional
promise as a favor to the young man. Uncle Lance accepted the
explanation and apologized to the drover, but fell on Theodore Quayle
and cruelly upbraided him for forsaking the ranch without cause or
reason. Theodore was speechless with humiliation, but no sooner were
the hasty words spoken than my employer saw that he had grievously hurt
another's feelings, and humbly craved Quayle's pardon.

The incident passed and was apparently forgotten. The herd started north
on the trail on the twenty-fifth of March, Quayle stayed on at Las
Palomas, and we resumed our regular spring work on the ranch. While
gathering the mares and fillies, we had cut out all the geldings four
years old and upward to the number of nearly two hundred, and now our
usual routine of horse breaking commenced. The masons had completed
their work on all three of the cottages and returned to the Mission, but
the carpenter yet remained to finish up the woodwork. Fidel and Juana
had begun housekeeping in their little home, and the cosy warmth which
radiated from it made me impatient to see my cottage finished. Through
the mistress, arrangements had been made for the front rooms in both
John's cottage and mine to be floored instead of cemented.

Some two weeks before Easter Sunday, Cotton returned from the Frio,
where he had been making a call on his intended. Uncle Lance at once
questioned him to know if they had set the day, and was informed that
the marriage would occur within ten days after Lent, and that he
expected first to make a hurried trip to San Antonio for a wedding
outfit.

"That's all right, John," said the old ranchero approvingly, "and I
expect Quirk might as well go with you. You can both draw every cent due
you, and take your time, as wages will go right on the same as if you
were working. There will not be much to do except the usual horse
breaking and a little repairing about the ranch. It's quite likely I
shan't be able to spare Tom in the early summer, for if no cattle buyers
come along soon, I'm going to send June to the coast and let him sniff
around for one. I'd like the best in the world to sell about three
thousand beeves, and we never had fatter ones than we have to-day. If we
can make a sale, it'll keep us busy all the fore part of the summer. So
both you fellows knock off any day you want to and go up to the city.
And go horseback, for this ranch don't give Bethel & Oxenford's stages
any more of its money."

With this encouragement, we decided to start for the city the next
morning. But that evening I concluded to give a certain roan gelding a
final ride before turning him over to the vaqueros. He was a vicious
rascal, and after trying a hundred manoeuvres to unhorse me, reared and
fell backward, and before I could free my foot from the stirrup, caught
my left ankle, fracturing several of the small bones in the joint. That
settled my going anywhere on horseback for a month, as the next morning
I could not touch my foot to the ground. John did not like to go alone,
and the mistress insisted that Theodore was well entitled to a vacation.
The master consented, each was paid the wages due him, and catching up
their own private horses, the old cronies started off to San Antonio.
They expected to make Mr. Booth's ranch in a little over half a day, and
from there a sixty-mile ride would put them in the city.

After the departure of the boys the dull routine of ranch work went
heavily forward. The horse breaking continued, vaqueros rode the range
looking after the calf crop, while I had to content myself with nursing
a crippled foot and hobbling about on crutches. Had I been able to ride
a horse, it is quite possible that a ranch on the San Miguel would have
had me as its guest; but I must needs content myself with lying around
the house, visiting with Juana, or watching the carpenter finishing the
cottages. I tried several times to interest my mistress in a scheme to
invite my sweetheart over for a week or two, but she put me off on one
pretext and another until I was vexed at her lack of enthusiasm. But
truth compels me to do that good woman justice, and I am now satisfied
that my vexation was due to my own peevishness over my condition and not
to neglect on her part. And just then she was taking such an absorbing
interest in June and the widow, and likewise so sisterly a concern for
Dan Happersett, that it was little wonder she could give me no special
attention when I was soon to be married. It was the bird in the bush
that charmed Miss Jean.

Towards the close of March a number of showers fell, and we had a week
of damp, cloudy weather. This was unfortunate, as it called nearly every
man from the horse breaking to ride the range and look after the young
calves. One of the worst enemies of a newly born calf is screw worms,
which flourish in wet weather, and prove fatal unless removed; for no
young calf withstands the pest over a few days. Clear dry weather was
the best preventive against screw worms, but until the present damp
spell abated every man in the ranch was in the saddle from sunrise to
sunset.

In the midst of this emergency work a beef buyer by the name of Wayne
Orahood reached the ranch. He was representing the lessees of a
steamship company plying between New Orleans and Texas coast points. The
merchant at the ferry had advised Orahood to visit Las Palomas, but on
his arrival about noon there was not a white man on the ranch to show
him the cattle. I knew the anxiety of my employer to dispose of his
matured beeves, and as the buyer was impatient there was nothing to do
but get up horses and ride the range with him. Miss Jean was anxious
to have the stock shown, and in spite of my lameness I ordered saddle
horses for both of us. Unable to wear a boot and still hobbling on
crutches, I managed to Indian mount an old horse, my left foot still too
inflamed to rest in the stirrup. From the ranch we rode for the encinal
ridges and sandy lands to the southeast, where the fallow-weed still
throve in rank profusion, and where our heaviest steers were liable to
range. By riding far from the watering points we encountered the older
cattle, and within an hour after leaving the ranch I was showing some of
the largest beeves on Las Palomas.

How that beef buyer did ride! Scarcely giving the cattle a passing look,
he kept me leading the way from place to place where our salable stock
was to be encountered. Avoiding the ranchitos and wells, where the cows
and younger cattle were to be found, we circled the extreme outskirts of
our range, only occasionally halting, and then but for a single glance
over some prime beeves. We turned westward from the encinal at a gallop,
passing about midway between Santa Maria and the home ranch. Thence we
pushed on for the hills around the head of the Ganso. Not once in the
entire ride did we encounter any one but a Mexican vaquero, and there
was no relief for my foot in meeting him! Several times I had an
inclination to ask Mr. Orahood to remember my sore ankle, and on
striking the broken country I suggested we ride slower, as many of our
oldest beeves ranged through these hills. This suggestion enabled me to
ease up and to show our best cattle to advantage until the sun set. We
were then twenty-five miles from the ranch. But neither distance nor
approaching darkness checked Wayne Orahood's enthusiasm. A dozen times
he remarked, "We'll look at a few more cattle, son, and then ride in
home." We did finally turn homeward, and at a leisurely gait, but not
until it was too dark to see cattle, and it was several hours after
darkness when we sighted the lamps at headquarters, and finished the
last lap in our afternoon's sixty-mile ride.

My employer and Mr. Orahood had met before, and greeted each other with
a rugged cordiality common among cowmen. The others had eaten their
supper; but while the buyer and I satisfied the inner man, Uncle Lance
sat with us at the table and sparred with Orahood in repartee, or asked
regarding mutual friends, artfully avoiding any mention of cattle.
But after we had finished Mr. Orahood spoke of his mission, admitted
deprecatingly that he had taken a little ride south and west that
afternoon, and if it was not too much trouble he would like to look
over our beeves on the north of the Nueces in the morning. He showed
no enthusiasm, but acknowledged that he was buying for shipment, and
thought that another month's good grass ought to put our steers in fair
condition. I noticed Uncle Lance clouding up over the buyer's lack of
appreciation, but he controlled himself, and when Mr. Orahood expressed
a wish to retire, my employer said to his guest, as with candle in hand
the two stood in parting:--

"Well, now, Wayne, that's too bad about the cattle being so thin. I've
been working my horse stock lately, and didn't get any chance to ride
the range until this wet spell. But since the screw worms got so bad,
being short-handed, I had to get out and rustle myself or we'd lost a
lot of calves. Of course, I have noticed a steer now and then, and have
been sorry to find them so spring-poor. Actually, Wayne, if we were
expecting company, we'd have to send to the ferry and get a piece of
bacon, as I haven't seen a hoof fit to kill. That roast beef which you
had for supper--well, that was sent us by a neighbor who has fat cows.
About a year ago now, water was awful scarce with us, and a few old cows
died up and down this valley. I suppose you didn't hear of it, living
so far away. Heretofore, every time we had a drouth there was such a
volunteer growth of fallow-weed that the cattle got mud fat following
every dry spell. Still I'll show you a few cattle among the guajio brush
and sand hills on the divide in the morning and see what you think of
them. But of course, if they lack flesh, in case you are buying for
shipment I shan't expect you to bid on them."

The old ranchero and the buyer rode away early the next morning, and did
not return until near the middle of the afternoon, having already agreed
on a sale. I was asked to write in duplicate the terms and conditions.
In substance, Las Palomas ranch agreed to deliver at Rockport on the
coast, on the twentieth of May, and for each of the following three
months, twelve hundred and fifty beeves, four years old and upward.
The consideration was $27.50 per head, payable on delivery. I knew my
employer had oversold his holdings, but there would be no trouble in
making up the five thousand head, as all our neighbors would gladly turn
in cattle to fill the contract. The buyer was working on commission, and
the larger the quantity he could contract for, the better he was suited.
After the agreement had been signed in duplicate, Mr. Orahood smilingly
admitted that ours were the best beeves he had bought that spring. "I
knew it," said Uncle Lance; "you don't suppose I've been ranching in
this valley over forty years without knowing a fat steer when I see one.
Tom, send a _muchacho_ after a bundle of mint. Wayne, you haven't got a
lick of sense in riding--I'm as tired as a dog."

The buyer returned to Shepherd's the next morning. The horse breaking
was almost completed, except allotting them into _remudas_, assigning
bell mares, and putting each band under herd for a week or ten days. The
weather was fairing off, relieving the strain of riding the range, and
the ranch once more relaxed into its languid existence. By a peculiar
coincidence, Easter Sunday occurred on April the 13th that year, it
being also the sixty-sixth birthday of the ranchero. Miss Jean usually
gave a little home dinner on her brother's birthday, and had planned one
for this occasion, which was but a few days distant. In the mail which
had been sent for on Saturday before Easter, a letter had come from John
Cotton to his employer, saying he would start home in a few days, and
wanted Father Norquin sent for, as the wedding would take place on
the nineteenth of the month. He also mentioned the fact that Theodore
expected to spend a day or two with the Booths returning, but he would
ride directly down to the Vaux ranch, and possibly the two would reach
home about the same time.

I doubt if Uncle Lance ever enjoyed a happier birthday than this one.
There was every reason why he should enjoy it. For a man of his age, his
years rested lightly. The ranch had never been more prosperous. Even the
drouth of the year before had not proved an ill wind; for the damage
then sustained had been made up by conditions resulting in one of the
largest sales of cattle in the history of the ranch. A chapel and three
new cottages had been built without loss of time and at very little
expense. A number of children had been born to the soil, while the
natives were as loyal to their master as subjects in the days of
feudalism. There was but one thing lacking to fill the cup to
overflowing--the ranchero was childless. Possessed with a love of the
land so deep as to be almost his religion, he felt the need of an heir.

"Birthdays to a man of my years," said Uncle Lance, over Easter dinner,
"are food for reflection. When one nears the limit of his allotted
days, and looks back over his career, there is little that satisfies.
Financial success is a poor equivalent for other things. But here I am
preaching when I ought to be rejoicing. Some one get John's letter and
read it again. Let's see, the nineteenth falls on Saturday. Lucky
day for Las Palomas! Well, we'll have the padre here, and if he says
barbecue a beef, down goes the fattest one on the ranch. This is the
year in which we expect to press our luck. I begin to feel it in my old
bones that the turning-point has come. When Father Norquin arrives, I
think I'll have him preach us a sermon on the evils of single life. But
then it's hardly necessary, for most of you boys have got your eye on
some girl right now. Well, hasten the day, every rascal of you, and
you'll find a cottage ready at a month's notice."

The morning following Easter opened bright and clear, while on every
hand were the signs of spring. A vaquero was dispatched to the Mission
to summon the padre, carrying both a letter and the compliments of the
ranch. Among the jobs outlined for the week was the repairing of a well,
the walls of which had caved in, choking a valuable water supply with
debris. This morning Deweese took a few men and went to the well, to
raise the piping and make the necessary repairs, curbing being the most
important. But while the foreman and Santiago Ortez were standing on
a temporary platform some thirty feet down, a sudden and unexpected
cave-in occurred above them. Deweese saw the danger, called to his
companion, and, in a flash laid hold of a rope with which materials
were being lowered. The foreman's warning to his companion reached the
helpers above, and Deweese was hastily windlassed to the surface, but
the unfortunate vaquero was caught by the falling debris, he and the
platform being carried down into the water beneath. The body of Ortez
was recovered late that evening, a coffin was made during the night, and
the next morning the unfortunate man was laid in his narrow home.

The accident threw a gloom over the ranch. Yet no one dreamt that a
second disaster was at hand. But the middle of the week passed without
the return of either of the absent boys. Foul play began to be
suspected, and meanwhile Father Norquin arrived, fully expecting to
solemnize within a few days the marriage of one of the missing men.
Aaron Scales was dispatched to the Vaux ranch, and returned the next
morning by daybreak with the information that neither Quayle nor Cotton
had been seen on the Frio recently. A vaquero was sent to the Booth
ranch, who brought back the intelligence that neither of the missing
boys had been seen since they passed northward some two weeks before.
Father Norquin, as deeply affected as any one, returned to the Mission,
unable to offer a word of consolation. Several days passed without
tidings. As the days lengthened into a week, the master, as deeply
mortified over the incident as if the two had been his own sons, let
his suspicion fall on Quayle. And at last when light was thrown on the
mystery, the old ranchero's intuition proved correct.

My injured foot improved slowly, and before I was able to resume my
duties on the ranch, I rode over one day to the San Miguel for a short
visit. Tony Hunter had been down to Oakville a few days before my
arrival, and while there had met Clint Dansdale, who was well acquainted
with Quayle and Cotton. Clint, it appeared, had been in San Antonio and
met our missing men, and the three had spent a week in the city chumming
together. As Dansdale was also on horseback, the trio agreed to start
home the same time, traveling in company until their ways separated.
Cotton had told Dansdale what business had brought him to the city, and
received the latter's congratulations. The boys had decided to leave for
home on the ninth, and on the morning of the day set forth, moneyless
but rich in trinkets and toggery. But some where about forty miles south
of San Antonio they met a trail herd of cattle from the Aransas River.
Some trouble had occurred between the foreman and his men the day
before, and that morning several of the latter had taken French leave.
On meeting the travelers, the trail boss, being short-handed, had
offered all three of them a berth. Quayle had accepted without a
question. The other two had stayed all night with the herd, Dansdale
attempting to dissuade Cotton, and Quayle, on the other hand, persuading
him to go with the cattle. In the end Quayle's persuasions won. Dansdale
admitted that the opportunity appealed strongly to him, but he refused
the trail foreman's blandishments and returned to his ranch, while the
two Las Palomas lads accompanied the herd, neither one knowing or caring
where they were going.

When I returned home and reported this to my employer, he was visibly
affected. "So that explains all," said he, "and my surmises regarding
Theodore were correct. I have no particular right to charge him with
ingratitude, and yet this ranch was as much his home as mine. He had the
same to eat, drink, and wear as I had, with none of the concern, and yet
he deserted me. I never spoke harshly to him but once, and now I wish I
had let him go with Captain Byler. That would have saved me Cotton and
the present disgrace to Las Palomas. I ought to have known that a good
honest boy like John would be putty in the hands of a fellow like
Theodore. But it's just like a fool boy to throw away his chances in
life. They still sell their birthright for a mess of pottage. And there
stands the empty cottage to remind me that I have something to learn.
Old as I am, my temper will sometimes get away from me. Tom, you are my
next hope, and I am almost afraid some unseen obstacle will arise as
this one did. Does Frances know the facts?" I answered that Hunter had
kept the facts to himself, not even acquainting his own people
with them, so that aside from myself he was the first to know the
particulars. After pacing the room for a time in meditation, Uncle Lance
finally halted and asked me if Scales would be a capable messenger to
carry the news to the Vaux family. I admitted that he was the most
tactful man on the ranch. Aaron was summoned, given the particulars, and
commanded to use the best diplomacy at his command in transmitting the
facts, and to withhold nothing; to express to the ranchman and his
family the deep humiliation every one at Las Palomas felt over the
actions of John Cotton.

Years afterward I met Quayle at a trail town in the north. In the
limited time at our command, the old days we spent together in the
Nueces valley occupied most of our conversation. Unmentioned by me, his
desertion of Las Palomas was introduced by himself, and in attempting to
apologize for his actions, he said:--

"Quirk, that was the only dirty act I was ever guilty of. I never want
to meet the people the trick was practiced on. Leaving Las Palomas was
as much my privilege as going there was. But I was unfortunate enough to
incur a few debts while living there that nothing but personal revenge
could ever repay. Had it been any other man than Lance Lovelace, he or I
would have died the morning Captain Byler's horse herd started from the
Nueces River. But he was an old man, and my hand was held and my tongue
was silent. You know the tricks of a certain girl who, with her foot on
my neck, stretched forth a welcoming hand to a rival. Tom, I have lived
to pay her my last obligation in a revenge so sweet that if I die an
outcast on the roadside, all accounts are square."

CHAPTER XXI

INTERLOCUTORY PROCEEDINGS

A big summer's work lay before us. When Uncle Lance realized the
permanent loss of three men from the working force of Las Palomas, he
rallied to the situation. The ranch would have to run a double outfit
the greater portion of the summer, and men would have to be secured to
fill our ranks. White men who were willing to isolate themselves on a
frontier ranch were scarce; but the natives, when properly treated,
were serviceable and, where bred to the occupation and inclined to
domesticity, made ideal vaqueros. My injured foot improved slowly, and
as soon as I was able to ride, it fell to me to secure the extra help
needed. The desertion of Quayle and Cotton had shaken my employer's
confidence to a noticeable degree, and in giving me my orders to secure
vaqueros, he said:--

"Tom, you take a good horse and go down the Tarancalous and engage five
vaqueros. Satisfy yourself that the men are fit for the work, and hire
every one by the year. If any of them are in debt, a hundred dollars is
my limit of advance money to free them. And hire no man who has not
a family, for I'm losing confidence every minute in single ones,
especially if they are white. We have a few empty _jacals_, and the more
children that I see running naked about the ranch, the better it suits
me. I'll never get my money back in building that Cotton cottage until I
see a mother, even though she is a Mexican, standing in the door with
a baby in her arms. The older I get, the more I see my mistake in
depending on the white element."

I was gone some three days in securing the needed help. It was a
delicate errand, for no ranchero liked to see people leave his lands,
and it was only where I found men unemployed that I applied for and
secured them. We sent wagons from Las Palomas after their few effects,
and had all the families contentedly housed, either about headquarters
or at the outlying ranchitas, before the first contingent of beeves was
gathered. But the attempt to induce any of the new families to occupy
the stone cottage proved futile, as they were superstitious. There was
a belief among the natives, which no persuasion could remove, regarding
houses that were built for others and never occupied. The new building
was tendered to Tio Tiburcio and his wife, instead of their own
palisaded _jacal_, but it remained tenantless--an eyesore to its
builder.

Near the latter end of April, a contract was let for two new tanks on
the Ganso grant of land. Had it not been for the sale of beef, which
would require our time the greater portion of the summer, it was my
employer's intention to have built these reservoirs with the ranch help.
But with the amount of work we had in sight, it was decided to let the
contract to parties who made it their business and were outfitted for
the purpose. Accordingly in company with the contractor, Uncle Lance and
myself spent the last few days of the month laying off and planning the
reservoir sites on two small tributaries which formed the Ganso. We were
planning to locate these tanks several miles above the juncture of the
small rivulets, and as far apart as possible. Then the first rainfall
which would make running water, would assure us a year's supply on the
extreme southwestern portion of our range. The contractor had a big
outfit of oxen and mules, and the conditions called for one of the
reservoirs to be completed before June 15th. Thus, if rains fell when
they were expected, one receptacle at least would be in readiness.

When returning one evening from starting the work, we found Tony Hunter
a guest of the ranch. He had come over for the special purpose of seeing
me, but as the matter was not entirely under my control, my employer was
brought into the consultation. In the docket for the May term of court,
the divorce proceedings between Esther and Jack Oxenford would come
up for a hearing at Oakville on the seventh of the month. Hunter was
anxious, if possible, to have all his friends present at the trial. But
dates were getting a little close, for our first contingent of beeves
was due on the coast on the twentieth, and to gather and drive them
would require not less than ten days. A cross-bill had been filed by
Oxenford's attorney at the last hour, and a fight was going to be made
to prevent the decree from issuing. The judge was a hold-over from
the reconstruction regime, having secured his appointment through the
influence of congressional friends, one of whom was the uncle of the
junior stage man. Unless the statutory grounds were clear, there was a
doubt expressed by Esther's attorney whether the court would grant the
decree. But that was the least of Hunter's fears, for in his eyes the
man who would willfully abuse a woman had no rights, in court or out.
Tony, however, had enemies; for he and Oxenford had had a personal
altercation, and since the separation the Martin family had taken the
side of Jack's employer and severed all connections with the ranch. That
the mail contractors had the village of Oakville under their control,
all agreed, as we had tested that on our return from Fort Worth the
spring before. In all the circumstances, though Hunter had no misgivings
as to the ultimate result, yet being a witness and accused of being
the main instigator in the case, he felt that he ought, as a matter of
precaution, to have a friend or two with him.

"Well, now, Tony," said my employer, "this is crowding the mourners just
a trifle, but Las Palomas was never called on in a good cause but she
could lend a man or two, even if they had to get up from the dinner
table and go hungry. I don't suppose the trial will last over a day or
two at the furthest, and even if it did, the boys could ride home in the
night. In our first bunch and in half a day, we'll gather every beef in
two rodeos and start that evening. Steamships won't wait, and if we were
a day behind time, they might want to hold out demurrage on us. If it
wasn't for that, the boys could stay a week and you would be welcome
to them. Of course, Tom will want to go, and about the next best man
I could suggest would be June. I'd like the best in the world to go
myself, but you see how I'm situated, getting these cattle off and a new
tank building at the same time. Now, you boys make your own arrangements
among yourselves, and this ranch stands ready to back up anything you
say or do."

Tony remained overnight, and we made arrangements to meet him, either
at Shepherd's the evening before or in Oakville on the morning of the
trial. Owing to the behavior of Quayle and Cotton, none of us had
attended the celebration of San Jacinto Day at the ferry. Nor had any
one from the Vaux or McLeod ranches, for while they did not understand
the situation, it was obvious that something was wrong, and they had
remained away as did Las Palomas. But several of Hunter's friends from
the San Miguel had been present, as likewise had Oxenford, and reports
came back to the ranch of the latter's conduct and of certain threats he
had made when he found there was no one present to resent them. The next
morning, before starting home, Tony said to our _segundo_ and myself;--

"Then I'll depend on you two, and I may have a few other friends who
will want to attend. I don't need very many for a coward like Jack
Oxenford. He is perfectly capable of abusing an unprotected woman, or an
old man if he had a crowd of friends behind to sick him on. Oh, he's a
cur all right; for when I told him that he was whelped under a house, he
never resented it. He loves me all right, or has good cause to. Why, I
bent the cylinder pin of a new six-shooter over his head when he had a
gun on him, and he forgot to use it. I don't expect any trouble, but if
you don't look a sneaking cur right in the eye, he may slip up behind
and bite you."

After making arrangements to turn in two hundred beeves on our second
contingent, and send a man with them to the coast, Hunter returned home.
There was no special programme for the interim until gathering the
beeves commenced, yet on a big ranch like Las Palomas there is always
work. While Deweese finished curbing the well in which Ortez lost
his life, I sawed off and cut new threads on all the rods and piping
belonging to that particular windmill. With a tireless energy for one
of his years, Uncle Lance rode the range, until he could have told at
a distance one half his holdings of cattle by flesh marks alone. A few
days before the date set for the trial, Enrique brought in word one
evening that an outfit of strange men were encamped north of the river
on the Ganso Tract. The vaquero was unable to make out their business,
but was satisfied they were not there for pleasure, so my employer and I
made an early start the next morning to see who the campers were. On the
extreme northwestern corner of our range, fully twenty-five miles from
headquarters, we met them and found they were a corps of engineers,
running a preliminary survey for a railroad. They were in the employ
of the International and Great Northern Company, which was then
contemplating extending their line to some point on the Rio Grande.
While there was nothing definite in this prior survey, it sounded a note
of warning; for the course they were running would carry the line up the
Ganso on the south side of the river, passing between the new tanks, and
leaving our range through a sag in the hills on the south end of the
grant. The engineer in charge very courteously informed my employer that
he was under instructions to run, from San Antonio to different points
on the river, three separate lines during the present summer. He also
informed us that the other two preliminary surveys would be run farther
west, and there was a possibility that the Las Palomas lands would be
missed entirely, a prospect that was very gratifying to Uncle Lance.

"Tom," said he, as we rode away, "I've been dreading this very thing for
years. It was my wish that I would never live to see the necessity of
fencing our lands, and to-day a railroad survey is being run across Las
Palomas. I had hoped that when I died, this valley would be an open
range and as primitive as the day of my coming to it. Here a railroad
threatens our peace, and the signs are on every hand that we'll have to
fence to protect ourselves. But let it come, for we can't stop it. If
I'm spared, within the next year, I'll secure every tract of land for
sale adjoining the ranch if it costs me a dollar an acre. Then if it
comes to the pinch, Las Palomas will have, for all time, land and to
spare. You haven't noticed the changes in the country, but nearly all
this chaparral has grown up, and the timber is twice as heavy along the
river as when I first settled here. I hate the sight even of a necessity
like a windmill, and God knows we have no need of a railroad. To a ranch
that doesn't sell fat beeves over once in ten years, transportation is
the least of its troubles."

About dusk on the evening of the day preceding the trial, June Deweese
and I rode into Shepherd's, expecting to remain overnight. Shortly after
our arrival, Tony Hunter hastily came in and informed us that he had
been unable to get hotel accommodations for his wife and Esther in
Oakville, and had it not been that they had old friends in the village,
all of them would have had to return to the ferry for the night. These
friends of the McLeod family told Hunter that the stage people had
coerced the two hotels into refusing them, and had otherwise prejudiced
the community in Oxenford's favor. Hunter had learned also that the
junior member of the stage firm had collected a crowd of hangers-on,
and being liberal in the use of money, had convinced the rabble of the
village that he was an innocent and injured party. The attorney for
Esther had arrived, and had cautioned every one interested on their side
of the case to be reserved and careful under every circumstance, as they
had a bitter fight on their hands.

The next morning all three of us rode into the village. Court had been
in session over a week, and the sheriff had sworn in several deputies
to preserve the peace, as there was considerable bitterness between
litigants outside the divorce case. These under-sheriffs made it a point
to see that every one put aside his arms on reaching the town, and tried
as far as lay in their power to maintain the peace. During the early
days of the reconstruction regime, before opening the term the presiding
judge had frequently called on the state for a company of Texas Rangers
to preserve order and enforce the mandates of the court. But in '79
there seemed little occasion for such a display of force, and a few
fearless officers were considered sufficient. On reaching the village,
we rode to the house where the women were awaiting us. Fortunately
there was ample corral room at the stable, so we were independent
of hostelries and liveries. Mrs. Hunter was the very reverse of her
husband, being a timid woman, while poor Esther was very nervous under
the dread of the coming trial. But we cheered them with our presence,
and by the time court opened, they had recovered their composure.

Our party numbered four women and five men. Esther lacked several
summers of being as old as her sister, while I was by five years the
youngest of the men, and naturally looked to my elders for leadership.
Having left our arms at the house, we entered the court-room in as
decorous and well-behaved a manner as if it had been a house of worship
and this a Sabbath morning. A peculiar stillness pervaded the room,
which could have been mistaken as an omen of peace, or the tension
similar to the lull before a battle. Personally I was composed, but as
I allowed my eyes from time to time to rest upon Esther, she had never
seemed so near and dear to me as in that opening hour of court. She
looked very pale, and moved by the subtle power of love, I vowed that
should any harm come to or any insulting word be spoken of her, my
vengeance would be sure and swift.

Court convened, and the case was called. As might have been expected,
the judge held that under the pleadings it was not a jury case. The
panel was accordingly excused for the day, and joined those curiously
inclined in the main body of the room. The complaining witnesses were
called, and under direct examination the essential facts were brought
forth, laying the foundation for a legal separation. The plaintiff was
the last witness to testify. As she told her simple story, a hushed
silence fell over the room, every spectator, from the judge on the bench
to the sheriff, being eager to catch every syllable of the recital. But
as in duty bound to a client, the attorney for the defendant, a young
man who had come from San Antonio to conduct the case, opened a sharp
cross-questioning. As the examination proceeded, an altercation between
the attorneys was prevented only by the presence of the sheriff and
deputies. Before the inquiry progressed, the attorney for the plaintiff
apologized to the court, pleading extenuating circumstances in the
offense offered to his client. Under his teachings, he informed the
court, the purity of womanhood was above suspicion, and no man who
wished to be acknowledged as a gentleman among his equals would impugn
or question the statement of a lady. The witness on the stand was more
to him than an ordinary client, as her father and himself had been young
men together, had volunteered under the same flag, his friend offering
up his life in its defense, and he spared to carry home the news of an
unmarked grave on a Southern battle-field. It was a privilege to him to
offer his assistance and counsel to-day to a daughter of an old comrade,
and any one who had the temerity to offer an affront to this witness
would be held to a personal account for his conduct.

The first day was consumed in taking testimony. The defense introduced
much evidence in rebuttal. Without regard to the truth or their oaths, a
line of witnesses were introduced who contradicted every essential point
of the plaintiff's case. When the credibility of their testimony was
attacked, they sought refuge in the technicalities of the law, and were
supported by rulings of the presiding judge. When Oxenford took the
stand in his own behalf, there were not a dozen persons present who
believed the perjured statements which fell from his lips. Yet when his
testimony was subjected to a rigid cross-questioning, every attempt to
reach the truth precipitated a controversy between attorneys as
bitter as it was personal. That the defendant at the bar had escaped
prosecution for swindling the government out of large sums of money for
a mail service never performed was well known to every one present,
including the judge, yet he was allowed to testify against the character
of a woman pure as a child, while his own past was protected from
exposure by rulings from the bench.

When the evidence was all in, court adjourned until the following day.
That evening our trio, after escorting the women to the home of their
friend, visited every drinking resort, hotel, and public house in the
village, meeting groups of Oxenford's witnesses, even himself as
he dispensed good cheer to his henchmen. But no one dared to say a
discourteous word, and after amusing ourselves by a few games of
billiards, we mounted our horses and returned to Shepherd's for the
night. As we rode along leisurely, all three of us admitted misgivings
as to the result, for it was clear that the court had favored the
defense. Yet we had a belief that the statutory grounds were sufficient,
and on that our hopes hung.

The next morning found our party in court at the opening hour. The
entire forenoon was occupied by the attorney for the plaintiff in
reviewing the evidence, analyzing and weighing every particle, showing
an insight into human motives which proved him a master in his
profession. After the noon recess, the young lawyer from the city
addressed the court for two hours, his remarks running from bombast to
flights of oratory, and from eulogies upon his client to praise of
the unimpeachable credibility of the witnesses for the defense. In
concluding, the older lawyer prefaced his remarks by alluding to the
divine intent in the institution of marriage, and contending that of
the two, women were morally the better. In showing the influence of the
stronger upon the weaker sex, he asserted that it was in the power of
the man to lift the woman or to sink her into despair. In his peroration
he rose to the occasion, and amid breathless silence, facing the court,
who quailed before him, demanded whether this was a temple of justice.
Replying to his own interrogatory, he dipped his brush in the sunshine
of life, and sketched a throne with womanhood enshrined upon it. While
chivalry existed among men, it mattered little, he said, as to the
decrees of courts, for in that higher tribunal, human hearts, woman
would remain forever in control. At his conclusion, women were
hysterical, and men were aroused from their usual languor by the
eloquence of the speaker. Had the judge rendered an adverse decision
at that moment, he would have needed protection; for to the men of the
South it was innate to be chivalrous to womanhood. But the court was
cautious, and after announcing that he would take the case under
advisement until morning, adjourned for the day.

All during the evening men stood about in small groups and discussed the
trial. The consensus of opinion was favorable to the plaintiff. But in
order to offset public opinion, Oxenford and a squad of followers made
the rounds of the public places, offering to wager any sum of money that
the decree would not be granted. Since feeling was running rather high,
our little party avoided the other faction, and as we were under the
necessity of riding out to the ferry for accommodation, concluded to
start earlier than the evening before. After saddling, we rode around
the square, and at the invitation of Deweese dismounted before a public
house for a drink and a cigar before starting. We were aware that the
town was against us, and to maintain a bold front was a matter of
necessity. Unbuckling our belts in compliance with the sheriff's orders,
we hung our six-shooters on the pommels of our saddles and entered the
bar-room. Other customers were being waited on, and several minutes
passed before we were served. The place was rather crowded, and as we
were being waited on, a rabble of roughs surged through a rear door, led
by Jack Oxenford. He walked up to within two feet of me where I stood
at the counter, and apparently addressing the barkeeper, as we were
charging our glasses, said in a defiant tone:--

"I'll bet a thousand dollars Judge Thornton refuses to grant a
separation between my wife and me."

The words flashed through me like an electric shock, and understanding
the motive, I turned on the speaker and with the palm of my hand dealt
him a slap in the face that sent him staggering back into the arms of
his friends. Never before or since have I felt the desire to take human
life which possessed me at that instant. With no means of defense in my
possession but a penknife, I backed away from him, he doing the like,
and both keeping close to the bar, which was about twenty feet long. In
one hand I gripped the open-bladed pocket knife, and, with the other
behind my back, retreated to my end of the counter as did Oxenford to
his, never taking our eyes off each other. On reaching his end of the
bar, I noticed the barkeeper going through motions that looked like
passing him a gun, and in the same instant some friend behind me laid
the butt of a pistol in my hand behind my back. Dropping the knife, I
shifted the six-shooter to my right hand, and, advancing on the object
of my hate, fired in such rapid succession that I was unable to tell
even whether my fire was being returned. When my gun was empty, the
intervening clouds of smoke prevented any view of my adversary; but my
lust for his life was only intensified when, on turning to my friends, I
saw Deweese supporting Hunter in his arms. Knowing that one or the other
had given me the pistol, I begged them for another to finish my work.
But at that moment the smoke arose sufficiently to reveal my enemy
crippling down at the farther end of the bar, a smoking pistol in his
hand. As Oxenford sank to the floor, several of his friends ran to his
side, and Deweese, noticing the movement, rallied the wounded man in his
arms. Shaking him until his eyes opened, June, exultingly as a savage,
cried, "Tony, for God's sake stand up just a moment longer. Yonder he
lies. Let me carry you over so you can watch the cur die." Turning to me
he continued: "Tom, you've got your man. Run for your life; don't let
them get you."

Passing out of the house during the excitement, I was in my saddle in an
instant, riding like a fiend for Shepherd's. The sun was nearly an hour
high, and with a good horse under me, I covered the ten miles to the
ferry in less than an hour. Portions of the route were sheltered by
timber along the river, but once as I crossed a rise opposite a large
bend, I sighted a posse in pursuit several miles to the rear. On
reaching Shepherd's, fortunately for me a single horse stood at the
hitch-rack. The merchant and owner of the horse came to the door as I
dashed up, and never offering a word of explanation, I changed horses.
Luckily the owner of the horse was Red Earnest, a friend of mine, and
feeling that they would not have long to wait for explanations, I shook
out the reins and gave him the rowel. I knew the country, and soon left
the river road, taking an air-line course for Las Palomas, which I
reached within two hours after nightfall. In few and profane words, I
explained the situation to my employer, and asked for a horse that would
put the Rio Grande behind me before morning. A number were on picket
near by, and several of the boys ran for the best mounts available. A
purse was forced into my pocket, well filled with gold. Meanwhile I had
in my possession an extra six-shooter, and now that I had a moment's
time to notice it, recognized the gun as belonging to Tony Hunter.
Filling the empty chambers, and waving a farewell to my friends, I
passed out by the rear and reached the saddle shed, where a well-known
horse was being saddled by dexterous hands. Once on his back, I soon
passed the eighty miles between me and the Rio Grande, which I swam on
my horse the next morning within an hour after sunrise.

CHAPTER XXII

SUNSET

Of my exile of over two years in Mexico, little need be said. By easy
stages, I reached the haciendas on the Rio San Juan where we had
received the cows in the summer of '77. The reception extended me was
all one could ask, but cooled when it appeared that my errand was one
of refuge and not of business. I concealed my offense, and was given
employment as corporal _segundo_ over a squad of vaqueros. But while
the hacienda to which I was attached was larger than Las Palomas, with
greater holdings in live-stock, yet my life there was one of penal
servitude. I strove to blot out past memories in the innocent pleasures
of my associates, mingling in all the social festivities, dancing with
the dark-eyed senoritas and gambling at every _fiesta_. Yet in the midst
of the dissipation, there was ever present to my mind the thought of
a girl, likewise living a life of loneliness at the mouth of the San
Miguel.

During my banishment, but twice did any word or message reach me from
the Nueces valley. Within a few months after my locating on the Rio San
Juan, Enrique Lopez, a trusted vaquero from Las Palomas, came to the
hacienda, apparently seeking employment. Recognizing me at a glance, at
the first opportunity he slipped me a letter unsigned and in an unknown
hand. After reading it I breathed easier, for both Hunter and Oxenford
had recovered, the former having been shot through the upper lobe of a
lung, while the latter had sustained three wounds, one of which resulted
in the loss of an arm. The judge had reserved his decision until the
recovery of both men was assured, but before the final adjournment of
court, refused the decree. I had had misgivings that this would be the
result, and the message warned me to remain away, as the stage company
was still offering a reward for my arrest. Enrique loitered around the
camp several days, and on being refused employment, made inquiry for a
ranch in the south and rode away in the darkness of evening. But we had
had several little chats together, in which the rascal delivered
many oral messages, one of which he swore by all the saints had been
intrusted to him by my own sweetheart while visiting at the ranch. But
Enrique was capable of enriching any oral message, and I was compelled
to read between the lines; yet I hope the saints, to whom he daily
prayed, will blot out any untruthful embellishments.

The second message was given me by Frank Nancrede, early in January,
'81. As was his custom, he was buying saddle horses at Las Palomas
during the winter for trail purposes, when he learned of my whereabouts
in Mexico. Deweese had given him directions where I could be found, and
as the Rio San Juan country was noted for good horses, Nancrede and a
companion rode directly from the Nueces valley to the hacienda where I
was employed. They were on the lookout for a thousand saddle horses, and
after buying two hundred from the ranch where I was employed, secured
my services as interpreter in buying the remainder. We were less than a
month in securing the number wanted, and I accompanied the herd to the
Rio Grande on its way to Texas. Nancrede offered me every encouragement
to leave Mexico, assuring me that Bethel & Oxenford had lost their mail
contract between San Antonio and Brownsville, and were now operating in
other sections of the state. He was unable to give me the particulars,
but frauds had been discovered in Star Route lines, and the government
had revoked nearly all the mail contracts in southern Texas. The trail
boss promised me a job with any of their herds, and assured me that a
cow hand of my abilities would never want a situation in the north.
I was anxious to go with him, and would have done so, but felt a
compunction which I did not care to broach to him, for I was satisfied
he would not understand.

The summer passed, during which I made it a point to meet other drovers
from Texas who were buying horses and cattle. From several sources the
report of Nancrede, that the stage line south from San Antonio was now
in new hands, was confirmed. One drover assured me that a national
scandal had grown out of the Star Route contracts, and several officials
in high authority had been arraigned for conspiracy to defraud. He
further asserted that the new contractor was now carrying the mail for
ten per cent, of what was formerly allowed to Bethel & Oxenford, and
making money at the reduced rate. This news was encouraging, and after
an exile of over two years and a half, I recrossed the Rio Grande on the
same horse on which I had entered. Carefully avoiding ranches where I
was known, two short rides put me in Las Palomas, reaching headquarters
after nightfall, where, in seclusion, I spent a restless day and night.

A few new faces were about the ranch, but the old friends bade me a
welcome and assured me that my fears were groundless. During the brief
time at my disposal, Miss Jean entertained me with numerous disclosures
regarding my old sweetheart. The one that both pleased and interested me
was that she was contented and happy, and that her resignation was due
to religious faith. According to my hostess's story, a camp meeting had
been held at Shepherd's during the fall after my banishment, by a sect
calling themselves Predestinarians. I have since learned that a belief
in a predetermined state is entertained by a great many good people, and
I admit it seems as if fate had ordained that Esther McLeod and I
should never wed. But it was a great satisfaction to know that she felt
resigned and could draw solace from a spiritual source, even though the
same was denied to me. During the last meeting between Esther and Miss
Jean, but a few weeks before, the former had confessed that there was
now no hope of our ever marrying.

As I had not seen my parents for several years, I continued my journey
to my old home on the San Antonio River. Leaving Las Palomas after
nightfall, I passed the McLeod ranch after midnight. Halting my horse to
rest, I reviewed the past, and the best reasoning at my command showed
nothing encouraging on the horizon. That Esther had sought consolation
from a spiritual source did not discourage me; for, under my
observation, where it had been put to the test, the love of man and wife
overrode it. But to expect this contented girl to renounce her faith and
become my wife, was expecting her to share with me nothing, unless it
was the chance of a felon's cell, and I remounted my horse and rode
away under a starry sky, somewhat of a fatalist myself. But I derived
contentment from my decision, and on reaching home no one could have
told that I had loved and lost. My parents were delighted to see me
after my extended absence, my sisters were growing fast into womanhood,
and I was bidden the welcome of a prodigal son. During this visit a new
avenue in life opened before me, and through the influence of my eldest
brother I secured a situation with a drover and followed the cattle
trail until the occupation became a lost one. My last visit to Las
Palomas was during the winter of 1894-95. It lacked but a few months of
twenty years since my advent in the Nueces valley. After the death of
Oxenford by small-pox, I had been a frequent visitor at the ranch,
business of one nature and another calling me there. But in this last
visit, the wonderful changes which two decades had wrought in the
country visibly impressed me, and I detected a note of decay in the
old ranch. A railroad had been built, passing within ten miles of the
western boundary line of the Ganso grant. The Las Palomas range had
been fenced, several large tracts of land being added after my severing
active connections with the ranch. Even the cattle, in spite of all the
efforts made for their improvement, were not so good as in the old days
of the open range, or before there was a strand of wire between the
Nueces and Rio Grande rivers. But the alterations in the country were
nothing compared to the changes in my old master and mistress. Uncle

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