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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You're too late, young man," she said. "Shortly after you left last
night, Esther and Jack Oxenford took a private conveyance for Beeville,
and are married before this. You Las Palomas people are slow. Old Lance
Lovelace thought he was playing it cute San Jacinto Day, but I
saw through his little game. Somebody must have told him he was a
matchmaker. Well, just give him my regards, and tell him he don't know

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Online LibraryAndy AdamsA Texas Matchmaker → online text (page 8 of 21)