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A Texas Matchmaker by Andy Adams

Part 5 out of 5

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Lance was nearing his eighty-second birthday, physically feeble, but
mentally as active as the first morning of our long acquaintance. Miss
Jean, over twenty years the junior of the ranchero, had mellowed into a
ripeness consistent with her days, and in all my aimless wanderings
I never saw a brother and sister of their ages more devoted to, or
dependent on each other.

On the occasion of this past visit, I was in the employ of a live-stock
commission firm. A member of our house expected to attend the cattle
convention at Forth Worth in the near future, and I had been sent into
the range sections to note the conditions of stock and solicit for my
employers. The spring before, our firm had placed sixty thousand cattle
for customers. Demand continued, and the house had inquiry sufficient to
justify them in sending me out to secure, of all ages, not less than a
hundred thousand steer cattle. And thus once more I found myself a guest
of Las Palomos.

"Don't talk cattle to me," said Uncle Lance, when I mentioned my
business; "go to June--he'll give you the ages and numbers. And whatever
you do, Tom, don't oversell us, for wire fences have cut us off, until
it seems like old friends don't want to neighbor any more. In the days
of the open range, I used to sell every hoof I had a chance to, but
since then things have changed. Why, only last year a jury indicted a
young man below here on the river for mavericking a yearling, and sent
him to Huntsville for five years. That's a fair sample of these modern
days. There isn't a cowman in Texas to-day who amounts to a pinch of
snuff, but got his start the same way, but if a poor fellow looks out of
the corner of his eye now at a critter, they imagine he wants to steal
it. Oh, I know them; and the bigger rustlers they were themselves on the
open range, the bitterer their persecution of the man who follows their
example."

June Deweese was then the active manager of the ranch, and after
securing a classification of their salable stock, I made out a
memorandum and secured authority in writing, to sell their holdings at
prevailing prices for Nueces river cattle. The remainder of the day was
spent with my old friends in a social visit, and as we delved into the
musty past, the old man's love of the land and his matchmaking instincts
constantly cropped out.

"Tom," said he, in answer to a remark of mine, "I was an awful fool to
think my experience could be of any use to you boys. Every last rascal
of you went off on the trail and left me here with a big ranch to
handle. Gallup was no better than the rest, for he kept Jule Wilson
waiting until now she's an old maid. Sis, here, always called Scales a
vagabond, but I still believe something could have been made of him with
a little encouragement. But when the exodus of the cattle to the north
was at its height, he went off with a trail herd just like the rest of
you. Then he followed the trail towns as a gambler, saved money, and
after the cattle driving ended, married an adventuress, and that's the
end of him. The lack of a market was one of the great drawbacks to
ranching, but when the trail took every hoof we could breed and every
horse we could spare, it also took my boys. Tom, when you get old,
you'll understand that all is vanity and vexation of spirit. But I am
perfectly resigned now. In my will, Las Palomas and everything I have
goes to Jean. She can dispose of it as she sees fit, and if I knew she
was going to leave it to Father Norquin or his successor, my finger
wouldn't be raised to stop it. I spent a lifetime of hard work acquiring
this land, and now that there is no one to care for the old ranch, I
wash my hands of it."

Knowing the lifetime of self-sacrifice in securing the land of Las
Palomas, I sympathized with the old ranchero in his despondency.

"I never blamed you much, Tom," he resumed after a silence; "but
there's something about cattle life which I can't explain. It seems to
disqualify a man for ever making a good citizen afterward. He roams and
runs around, wasting his youth, and gets so foxy he never marries."

"But June and the widow made the riffle finally," I protested.

"Yes, they did, and that's something to the good, but they never had
any children. Waited ten years after Annear was killed, and then got
married. That was one of Jean's matches. Tom, you must go over and see
Juana before you go. There was a match that I made. Just think of it,
they have eight children, and Fidel is prouder over them than I ever was
of this ranch. The natives have never disappointed me, but the Caucasian
seems to be played out."

I remained overnight at the ranch. After supper, sitting in his chair
before a cheerful fire, Uncle Lance dozed off to sleep, leaving his
sister and myself to entertain each other. I had little to say of my
past, and the future was not encouraging, except there was always work
to do. But Miss Jean unfolded like the pages of an absorbing chronicle,
and gave me the history of my old acquaintances in the valley. Only a
few of the girls had married. Frances Vaux, after flirting away her
youth, had taken the veil in one of the orders in her church. My old
sweetheart was contentedly living a life of seclusion on the ranch on
which she was born, apparently happy, but still interested in any word
of me in my wanderings. The young men of my acquaintance, except where
married, were scattered wide, the whereabouts of nearly all of them
unknown. Tony Hunter had held the McLeod estate together, and it had
prospered exceedingly under his management. My old friend, Red Earnest,
who outrode me in the relay race at the tournament in June, '77, was
married and serving in the Customs Service on the Rio Grande as a
mounted river guard.

The next morning, I made the round of the Mexican quarters, greeting my
old friends, before taking my leave and starting for the railroad.
The cottage which had been built for Esther and me stood vacant and
windowless, being used only for a storehouse for _zacahuiste_. As I rode
away, the sight oppressed me; it brought back the June time of my youth,
even the hour and instant in which our paths separated. On reaching the
last swell of ground, several miles from the ranch, which would give me
a glimpse of headquarters, I halted my horse in a farewell view. The
sleepy old ranch cosily nestled among the encinal oaks revived a
hundred memories, some sad, some happy, many of which have returned in
retrospect during lonely hours since.

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