On A Mexican Ranche by G. A. Henty
There were few wider estates in Texas than that of
Don Garcia Novales. It lay on the western frontier,
and indeed nearly half of it lay on the Mexican side
of the frontier line. Thousands of horses and tens of
thousands of cattle ranged over its broad expanse. It is
true that, with few exceptions, the whole of these animals
were almost, if not quite wild. That was indeed rather an
advantage, as they gave but little trouble to their owners
till the time came when they were wanted for the market.
Ten years before they were almost valueless, for there
were no purchasers; but with the severance of Texas from
Mexico a great change had taken place. American enterprise
was changing the whole state of things. Capitalists
were taking up great tracts of hitherto almost useless land,
purchasing the titles for a trifle from the Mexican owners,
and stocking them with cattle which they purchased from
great ranches like that of Don Garcia Novales.
Speculators bought herds to drive east into the border
States, breaking them up and disposing of them by scores
or hundreds to settlers there. The animals, therefore,
which had hitherto been so valueless that they had scarcely
been reckoned as one of the sources of income of their
owner, now became an important item in his possessions.
Don Garcia himself would gladly have dispensed with the
addition. Like most of his countrymen, he hated the men
who had disturbed the sleepy tranquillity of life in Texas.
His income from his tobacco plantations, his mines in
Mexico, the hides, and his cotton-fields, was larger than
sufficed for his needs. His table was supplied from the
estates. Horses, when required, could be lassoed, brought
in, and broken in in any numbers. Indian corn, rice,
sugar, the chief items of food of the slaves, were all raised
on the estates, while meat was forthcoming to any amount.
Save for dresses and jewels for his daughter, and a few
imported luxuries, such as wine, the calls upon his purse
The changes, then, that went on were a source of almost
unmixed annoyance: there were complaints from his
herdsmen, of cattle being driven off by parties of reckless
whites; disputes arose with the cowboys of an American
company which had purchased a large tract of land to
the north, and more than one fray had taken place
between his peons and their men, owing to the cattle
of one or other party straying beyond their limits and
getting mixed with those of their neighbour. He had,
so far refused to resort to the method adopted by
many other Mexican proprietors, of engaging several white
overlookers and cowboys. These were paid but a small
salary, but were given a fixed proportion—a third or a
fourth—of the increase of the herds they looked after.
It was therefore to their interest to guard them closely,
and to protect them both from cattle-stealers and from
the cowboys of other ranches. It was found that much
trouble was saved by this method, and quarrels avoided
with their unwelcome neighbours, while the profits were
larger than those made when matters were looked after
by the indolent natives. Don Garcia had for some time
refused to adopt this method; but he hated trouble, and
there were such constant complaints of theft from his
herds that he began to feel that it would be necessary to
adopt the practice, at any rate on the northern part of his
estates. He had now, with his daughter, been paying a
visit to a friend whose estate lay eighty miles to the south.
The trip had its business side. Don Ramon de Vaga had
a son, and the two fathers had agreed that an alliance
between their houses would be a desirable matter.
Some months before, Don Ramon and his son Don
Pedro had paid a visit to the ranche of Don Garcia, but
the result had not been altogether satisfactory. Pedro, a
hot-headed young fellow who had never been thwarted in
a single wish, had indeed been greatly struck with Isabella
Novales. But the young seņora had by no means been
favourably impressed with him; his temper was an ungovernable
one, and the violence with which on two or
three occasions he treated his grooms for some trifling act
of disobedience or forgetfulness, had excited her indignation
and disgust. In her home, slaves were kindly treated;
her father was of easy temper; he was proud of his race,
which was of the purest Spanish, without the admixture
of a single drop of Indian blood, and very proud of his
daughter. He would have resented any slight upon the
part of his equals; but so that everything went on with its
usual regularity at the hacienda, he was content, and left
its entire management to his major-domo, Sancho Valdez,
in whom he had implicit confidence.
The return visit was intended to undo the bad effect of
the first. Don Ramon had assured his friend that he had
spoken very strongly to his son, and pointed out to him
that unless he put some restraint on himself, there was
no probability that the match on which he had already
set his mind would come off. Their visit, however, had
not been altogether a success. Don Pedro had been
most attentive to Isabella, and had studiously kept his
temper in check; but the girl saw plainly enough that the
slaves were all in the greatest fear of him, and that they
shrunk as if expecting a blow when he addressed them.
"It is no use, father," she said one day before the
termination of the visit, when she was alone with Don
Garcia, "for you to promise my hand to Don Pedro;
nothing could induce me to marry him. I would rather
a thousand times enter a convent, though I have always
thought that anything would be better than a life between
four walls, brought up as I have been, to mount my horse
and gallop across the country as I choose; but even that
would be preferable to a life with Don Pedro. He is
handsome and can be agreeable, but he is a tyrant among
his own people, and I should be most wretched; and I
am convinced that the idea had better be altogether
Isabella was now between fourteen and fifteen, an age
at which girls are not unfrequently married in Mexico,
where they reach maturity some years younger than
among Northern people. She was strikingly pretty, even
for one of her race and age, and bade fair to be a beautiful
woman in another year or two. She had lost her
mother when she was but a year old, and had been the
constant companion of her father from the time when she
had learnt to sit on a quiet pony. By the time she was
ten she could ride any broken horse on the estate, and
was absolutely fearless in the saddle. Thus, while her
figure retained the grace so general among the women of
her race, her life in the open air had given it a firmness
and vigour rare among them. She was a good shot with
the rifle, and was often away on horseback with her dogs
from early morning until dusk, when she would return
with her game slung from the saddle behind her.
Her position as the young mistress of the hacienda,
within whose wide limits she reigned as a little queen, and
her close intercourse with her father, had given her a
certain decision and firmness in strong contrast to the
languor and love of careless ease of Mexican girls. She
was acquainted with every man on the estate, and was
so thoroughly acquainted with its working, that her father
frequently consulted her as to any changes he proposed
making in the arrangements; and when she affirmed, with
even more than her usual decision, that nothing could
induce her to marry Don Pedro de Vaga, her father
acquiesced in her decision, saying—
"Well, Isabella, if that is so, there is an end of the
matter. I own that I am not myself altogether pleased
with the young man. When I gave my word to his
father that he should marry you, it was some years ago,
and it appeared a very suitable match in all respects; but
I guarded myself by saying that 'while I agree most
heartily, Don Ramon, to your proposal, and will do all
in my power to bring the match about, I say fairly that
I have made up my mind that when the child comes to
an age to know her own mind, I shall in no way force her
inclination. My estates now are larger than one man can
well manage, and it is not to increase them that I would
marry my daughter to your son, but because you and I
are old friends, and that I would gladly see our families
united by a closer bond; therefore, while I will in every
way further your son's suit, I will put no force upon her
should she in time, though I have little fear of such a
thing happening, feel repugnance to the match.'"
"Thank you, father. I am sorry indeed that in this
case I cannot do as you would wish me, but Don Pedro
is absolutely hateful to me; he is a tyrant, and I would
rather pass my life as the poorest peon on the estate
than trust myself to him. I believe him to be capable
of anything, and the very thought of a life spent with him
"Well, we will say no more about it, dear. I have
already told Don Ramon that I feared it could never be,
but I am sorry to say that my old friend would not take
the refusal as final, and insisted that it was but a girlish
freak on your part, and that in time you would come to
look at matters more sensibly."
"Well, father, he will get the same answer whenever
he comes, and the more seldom he comes the better I
shall be pleased; but if he came once a month until I am
a hundred, his answer would be always the same."
"At any rate, Isabel, we must receive him hospitably
when he comes. I could not all at once explain the full
extent of your dislike of the match to Don Ramon, and
though I said that I did not think that you would alter
your mind, I told him that at any rate his son would be
welcome when he came, and if as time went on you should
look more favourably on his suit, that matters could go on
as we proposed. An abrupt statement of your views would
have led to an estrangement between the families, which
would be very painful to me, and I should be sorry indeed
to have a quarrel with my old friend. In time I will
write to him and tell him that your resolve is immovable."
Don Garcia and his daughter started on their return
journey in the family carriage drawn by six mules. Isabella's
maid sat on the box with the driver, and four well-armed
servants rode beside it. On the second day of the
journey, as they were passing through a wood in a narrow
valley, a shot was fired, and one of the servants fell from
his horse; it was followed by a scattered discharge, and
six men sprang out from the trees. Another of the
servants was shot, the other two were pulled from their
horses, while a man climbing on to the box with a pistol
in his hand compelled the driver to alight and lie down
in the road. The Spaniard and his daughter were then
ordered to alight. As the former's pistols were unloaded,
he was forced to obey, and was in the act of handing
Isabella out when the sound of a horse's tread at full
gallop was heard, and a moment later a young man
dashed up. He was armed with a revolver, at that time
a novel weapon; the pistol cracked twice, and two of the
Mexicans fell, both shot through the head. Their companions
with loud imprecations rushed at him, discharging
their pistols and drawing their knives. He shifted the
revolver to his left hand, and two more of the Mexicans
fell, while the others with a shout of terror plunged into
"You had better loose your servants, seņor," the young
man said quietly. "I don't think the fellows will return;
but it is as well to be prepared for them, and just at present
I am not up to further fighting."
The Don at once released the two servants, and angrily
commanded the maid, who had been screaming loudly from
the moment the first shot was fired, to be silent; gave the
coachman a kick and told him to rise, and then turned
to thank their rescuer. He had dismounted and was leaning
against his horse, and Isabella was eagerly inquiring
as to his injury.
"Do not alarm yourself, seņora," he replied, "it is
of no consequence. My right arm is broken by a pistol
bullet, and I have got another somewhere near my hip,
I think; but do not trouble about me. I know some
people a few miles away, and shall manage to get there
"I cannot think of such a thing, seņor," Don Garcia
said; "you have most nobly saved us from a great peril,
and I cannot dream of leaving you here. You take your
place in the carriage again, Isabella. I will see to this
gentleman's wounds; I have had some experience that way,
as you know."
The arm was broken a short distance above the elbow.
By Don Garcia's direction the coachman cut a strip of bark
a foot long from a tree some four inches in diameter. The
wound was first carefully bandaged, and then laid in the
case of bark, which was tightly wound round it; a similar
piece of bark was used as a sling to the forearm. To the
other wound, which was an inch or two in front of the hip,
nothing could be done save applying a bandage to stop
the bleeding, which was, however, but slight.
"Now, seņor," he said, "you must let us place you in
my coach. I am Don Garcia de Novales; my hacienda is
three days' journey, but by pressing the mules we will get
there by to-morrow night, then you will have every care
and attention, and I will send off one of my servants to-morrow
morning, so that he may get a surgeon there by
the time we arrive. The journey is a long one, but I think
that you will do well to come with us; you certainly cannot
sit your horse, and can hardly be so well attended to in
any place about here."
The young man murmured something about not
liking to give trouble, but he was too faint to offer anything
like a vigorous protest. Isabella was called out of
the carriage, two pieces of wood were laid between the
seats, and on these one of the cushions was placed, so that
he could rest, and indeed lie down, for the carriage was
a large one. While the Spaniard had been dressing the
wound, the two servants had dug a shallow grave by the
roadside, and in this they placed the bodies of their dead
comrades and covered them with earth. They now assisted
Don Garcia and the coachman to lift the young man into
the coach, where he was laid in a reclining position, with
blankets and rugs under his head and shoulders. The
Spaniard took his place beside him, and Isabella occupied
the remaining seat. The servants then mounted.
"We shall not stop where we intended," Don Garcia
said to the coachman, "we must get home to-morrow
evening. We had best stop for the night at San Lorenzo,
we can find accommodation at the priest's there. Be careful
how you drive; you must go fast, but avoid all stones
and rough places."
The young man who had so opportunely come to their
rescue was apparently scarce twenty years old, and though
bronzed to a deep brown by the sun, his hair showed that
his complexion was naturally fair. He was attired in a
coloured flannel shirt, Mexican trousers with fringed sides,
and high riding-boots. On his head he wore one of the
thick stiff hats with wide brim, encircled with a scarlet
and gold cord, in use alike by the cowboys and Mexican
vaqueros. Isabella filled a cup with water and acidulated
juice of fruit from a bottle hanging from the roof of
the carriage, and handed it to her father, who held it to
the young man's lips. He drank it eagerly.
"I am ashamed to be of so much trouble," he said
"Why should you be ashamed?" Don Garcia asked
heartily; "you have rendered us an invaluable service.
Doubtless they would have put us to a very heavy ransom,
if worse had not befallen us. You are an American, I
"No, I am English, seņor; my name is Harry Denham;
but I have been knocking about this country for the
last five years, sometimes working on a ranche, sometimes
hunting. I have been staying for the last few days with
a vaquero and his family. I was just starting north to
look for work, as I could hear of none here, and as I came
down upon the road I saw your coach ahead of me. I
was a quarter of a mile behind when I heard some shots
fired, and thinking that I might be of some use, I rode on
at full speed, and of course did what I could."
He was speaking very faintly now, and Don Garcia
said, "We will talk it all over later on; at present it
would be best if you could doze off to sleep."
Harry Denham, although still little more than a lad,
had led a life of adventure for the past five years. He
was but fourteen when his father, a consulting physician,
died suddenly. Harry had been a year at Rugby, and
would have returned to school in the course of a few days,
when his father's death deranged everything. His mother
had died some years before, and his brother Tom, who had
now been a year at Cambridge, was his only near relative.
The day after the funeral Tom returned from a visit to
the office of his father's trustee, with whom he had had a
"What day do you think I had better go down to
"Well, Harry, I am sorry to say that I think there is
very little chance of your going back at all, or of my
returning to Cambridge."
Harry opened his eyes in surprise—"Why not?"
"Well, because as far as I can see at present we are
in a hole altogether. Mr. Ellerman has been telling me
that, so far as he knows, there is really no property whatever.
You see father had for years very uphill work.
When ten years ago he moved into Harley Street, and set
up as a consulting physician, he thought that, having made
his mark as one of the staff of Guy's, and having a good
private connection, he could soon obtain a practice. However,
for the first three or four years it came in but slowly.
Of course his expenses were heavy with this house and
his carriage and all that sort of thing, and he had to
borrow money. Things got better, and gradually he paid,
I believe, most of this loan off. Still, he saw his way and
was able to send me to Harrow. Then, of course, you
have been for the last four years at an expensive school,
preparing for Rugby, and everything was going on well
till eighteen months ago he fell ill, as you know, and had
to go away to the south of France for four months. That,
of course, meant not only a heavy expense, but the loss
"He told me something about it before I went up
last year, and, of course, I said at once that I would give
up going to the 'Varsity, and would go in for the army or
anything else he liked. I said that I would enlist for a
year or two, and then, if things went on all right, he could
buy me a commission—anyhow I did not want to be an
expense to him; but he said, 'There is no occasion for
that, Tom, things will soon improve again; I have no doubt
that in a few months I shall be straight again.' Well, he
was right, as far as the practice was concerned. I spoke
to him about it when I came down last, and he said that
he was now doing better again, and that there was no
occasion for him to make any alteration in his plans for
me or for you, and that in the course of a few months
he expected that he should be a free man again, and
could calculate upon making a clear Ģ2000 a year.
"Well, you see, Harry, he did not have more than two
months, and the result is that I was not surprised to-day,
on talking the matter over with Mr. Ellerman, to hear
that, although the loan he had obtained on his furniture is
partly paid off, there is practically nothing left but the
balance of what the furniture and the horses and carriage
will fetch. Of course there are bills to be paid, and one
thing and another, and I fancy that a couple of hundred
pounds is about all that we shall have between us. The
question is, What is to be done? It has not come quite as
a surprise to me. For the last year, you see, I have
known that everything depended on his health, and though
I never thought of this, I did think that he might be
obliged, as he was before, to give up practice again and
go away to a warm climate, and I made up my mind
that if he did so I would go out to America and rough
"I spoke to Mr. Ellerman about it to-day—he was
father's solicitor as well as trustee, you know—and he says
that he thinks that it is about the best thing that I could
do, and that a client of his has a large ranche down in
Texas, and that he is sure that if he speaks to him about
it he will give me an introduction to his agent, and that
he will put me on to some work. That is all straightforward
enough. The question is, What is to be done with
"Why cannot you take me out with you, Tom? I
could do something, you know—I don't know what, but I
suppose a boy is worth something out there, just as he is
here; at any rate, I might earn my food, and not be much
bother to you. Even if there were money to keep me at
school, I would a thousand times rather do that than be
here all by myself. Besides, I could not go to a good
school, and I should hate to go to some beastly little
place after being at Rugby. Besides, what could I do
when I left school?—get a place in an office? I would
a thousand times rather go out with you if you will
"Well, you are a little beggar for that sort of thing,
Harry," his brother said, looking at him as if estimating
"I am not little at all for my age, Tom; and I could
thrash any fellow in my form at Rugby, anyhow."
"Well, I must think it over," Tom said. "Of course
I should like to have you with me; as you say, you might
be able to earn your grub, and anyhow that cannot cost
much out there, and I dare say there will be something
left after paying our passage out; but it will be rough
work for you, you know—precious hard work."
"Well, it will be much pleasanter work, at any rate,
Tom, than grinding away at Greek and algebra."
Tom did think it over, and the result was that after a
consultation with Mr. Ellerman he told Harry that he
would take him with him. Their trustee had fallen in
with the idea at once. He was a man with a large family
of his own, and the problem what to do with Harry had
been on his mind ever since his client's death, and this
solution of the difficulty was very welcome to him. Two
months later Tom and his brother arrived at the ranche in
Texas. Tom was at once attached to one of the parties
of cowboys, and Harry was kept at the home station, and
was to make himself generally useful in aiding the men
in looking after the horses and herds maintained there.
It was not long before he learnt to sit the most vicious
broncho, and to throw a lasso fairly; then he was sent out as
boy with one of the outfits. Here his duties were to look
after the bunches of cowboy horses. He was earning
wages now, whereas at the home station he had only got
his grub; and when not engaged with the horses, he
practised continually with his revolver—the greatest ambition
of all the boys out on the plains being to become
first-rate pistol shots.
Six months later he received the sudden news that
his brother Tom had been shot by one of the other cowboys
in his outfit, a man who was notorious as one of the
best shots there, and who in a quarrel had shot Tom
down before the latter could even lay his hand on his
pistol. This was a terrible blow to Harry, who had only
seen his brother a few times since they came out, and
who had hoped ere long that he should be posted to the
same outfit with him. He learned that the deed had
aroused such indignation among the other cowboys that
Jake Swindon had been obliged to leave the ranche.
Had the occurrence been altogether opposed to the
rules governing the conduct of the cowboys in such matters,
he would have been shot down at once; but there had
been a serious quarrel, and according to their notions
Tom should have been ready to draw when his companion
did so; still, it was felt that as dealing with a young hand
who had never been engaged in such an affair before, Jake
had not given him a fair chance.
Tom's belongings were handed over to Harry. For
the next three years Harry practised assiduously with his
revolver, and at the end of that time was acknowledged
as being the best shot in his outfit. He was now regarded
as no longer a boy, but took his place as a cowboy; he
was now nineteen, and the life he had led had hardened
and strengthened him exceedingly; he stood five feet ten,
he was lithe and sinewy, and the muscles of his arms and
shoulders stood up in cords through his clear skin.
It now came to his knowledge that Jake was at work
in an adjoining ranche, and taking two of his comrades
with him, he rode over there. As usual, they were at once,
on their arrival, invited to sit down and join the others
"I cannot do that," Harry said, "until I have settled
accounts with one Jake Swindon."
A figure sprang at once to his feet with his hand behind
him, but already Harry's pistol was levelled at his head.
"Hands up," he shouted. "Now," he went on,
"I am not going to murder you in cold blood, as you
murdered my brother, Tom Denham; I am going to give
you a fair chance—more than a skunk like you deserves.
Now, Dick, do you take thirty paces; we will be placed that
distance apart, with our backs to each other, and when the
word is given we will shoot as we like. That is fair, isn't
There was a murmur of assent.
"Very well. Now my two mates will walk with that
fellow to his mark, I would not trust him not to shoot
directly my back is turned. Two of you can walk with
me if you like; but as I have not shot him now when I
could do so face to face, I am not likely to do so when his
back is turned. Now I want two others of you to stand
close to us, pistol in hand, till the word is given, and if
either of us moves before that, shoot him down. I want a
third to give the signal; when you say one, the men standing
by will draw back, and the two with pistols will level
them at us; at the word three we turn round and can fire
as we like. No one can say that I have not given this
fellow a fair chance."
"No; that is fair enough," the other cowboys agreed,
all greatly interested in this arrangement for a duel of a
kind quite unknown to them, as in cowboy disputes the
custom is for each to draw at once and fire as quickly as
he can. Jake was led off, livid with rage. As a matter of
formality, two of Jake's companions walked with Harry to
the firing point, and two others drawing their colts, placed
themselves a couple of yards from the combatants. There
was a dead stillness for a moment, and then a voice asked,
"Are you ready? One," and the four men standing by the
combatants stepped back; "Two," and then after a pause,
As if moved by a spring, Harry and his opponent faced
round. Both were confident in their skill, and neither held
their fire a moment. Two shots rang out as one. Harry
felt as if a hot iron had passed along his cheek. Jake's
passion at being thus bearded by a mere lad had slightly
unsteadied his hand, while Harry's arm was as steady as if
carved in marble. Jake fell back with a bullet in the centre
of his forehead. Even among the man's comrades there
was no feeling of regret at his death; he was disliked and
feared among them; he had in the course of his career
killed a dozen men, and the retribution that had fallen upon
him was felt to be richly deserved.
A week later Harry rode in to headquarters, and told
the manager that he had better send another man out to
take his place, for that he wanted a change for a bit, and
intended to go shooting. He drew the hundred pounds
remaining after paying their expenses out, and which Tom
had deposited in the manager's care, and paying for the
horse that he had ridden in, which was the best of those he
had used at his work, he rode to the nearest town, some
sixty miles away, bought a rifle and a large store of ammunition,
some tea, sugar, and flour, and started out again
for the plains. Here for six months he hunted game,
taking the skins in for sale occasionally to the towns,
paying his expenses and enjoying the life. Then he rode
down south in search of employment on one of the
Mexican ranches, but failing to find anything to suit him,
was returning north when he came upon the band engaged
in the attack on Don Garcia's carriage.
It was a month before Harry Denham was convalescent.
The surgeon had fortunately found and extracted
the ball from his hip on the day following his arrival at
the hacienda; but he had for several days lain between life
and death. Then youth and a constitution hardened by
hard exercise, and the life he had been leading, triumphed,
and he slowly recovered. Don Garcia had been unremitting
in his attention to him; Isabella had visited his
sick-room several times each day, and had seen to his
comforts. When he began to recover, the father and
daughter talked over what should be done for him.
Many times indeed they had discussed how they could
best recognise the service that he had done for them.
After hearing from him his story they felt that he would
strongly resent the offer of any pecuniary payment. But
one day when he had been saying that he liked the life
he had been leading, and that although without capital
it could not be said to be a paying one, it seemed to him
that there was a fascination about the constant adventure
and excitement, the life in the open air, and the hard
exercise, that as soon as he got well enough to take part
in it again, he should look for a fresh berth, Don Garcia
said to his daughter, "Do you know, last night a scheme
occurred to me by which he will better his fortunes without
hurting his feelings."
"What is that, father?" she asked eagerly.
"You know that we have been having constant bothers
with the new people of the north, and several of our
vaqueros have been killed, and I can obtain no redress,
for the white cowboys all declare that the vaqueros are
the aggressors. This young fellow is accustomed to the
work, and I don't think that I could do better than place
him in charge of the northern herds, paying him by commission
on their increase, giving him say a third. The
thing would be mutually advantageous to us. I should
let him choose his own hands, and he could either take
vaqueros or American cowboys, and I should get rid of
a great deal of trouble, while he, in a few years, would
have a good chance of making a fortune. I believe there
are some 20,000 head of cattle up there, for the most
part cows, and the increase, if they were well managed,
should be 15,000 a year. Perhaps the best way would
be to give him half, and let him pay his own hands."
Isabella's face showed that she heartily approved of the
plan, and the next day, when Harry was called into the
veranda, Don Garcia proposed it to him. "It will be
a mutual accommodation to us, Seņor Denham," he said,
after unfolding the plan. "I have had continual trouble
there for the last three years, and it has lately been getting
intolerable. The Americans care nothing for our
vaqueros; but if we work cattle on their system with white
men or with a mixture of whites and vaqueros, we should
have no more trouble. What do you say?"
"I can only say that I gratefully accept your offer,
seņor; it is a magnificent chance for me, far better than
anything that I have ever dreamt of. I know that herds
are often worked on shares, but not a herd so large as
yours. I accept your offer gratefully."
"Well, you must make haste and get strong again, so as
to take charge before I have any fresh troubles. Here
comes my daughter, she will be pleased to hear that the
matter is arranged."
A month later Harry Denham entered upon his duties
as overseer of the northern herds. He had already sent
a message to some of the best men on the ranche on
which he had worked, and they had at once thrown up
their berths and joined him. He had also six vaqueros
chosen from those working on the estates; these he had only
selected after he had gained strength enough to ride out
with the herds, and had seen them at work. A negro cook
completed the outfit. Don Garcia had advanced him a sum
of money for the payment and keep of the men, until the
sales of animals should commence. One of the cowboys
who had before been boss of an outfit was appointed as
head of the party. Harry himself had to look after the
general supervision and provisioning; for although able to
sit on a horse, he was unfit for the hard work of a cowboy's
life, and in order to avoid the heat of the plain he
erected a hut for himself among the hills some five miles
from the headquarters of the outfit.
Here he would be able to do a little hunting and shooting,
so as to vary the diet of the camp, while he was conveniently
situated, riding over to the hacienda seven miles
away to procure supplies. Six months passed; everything
had gone well; the work of branding the calves was over,
and had passed off without trouble. He had found that
it was impossible to prevent the cattle at times from wandering
from the limits of the estate or to restrain others
from entering it; he had therefore, with Don Garcia's
approval, adopted the system in use at the American
ranches, by which the cattle were by no means confined
to a certain tract of land, but wandered indiscriminately,
sometimes mixing with other herds, and being separated
only once in six months, on the occasion of the great
assemblage of all the cattle, known as the round up.
At the hacienda Denham was received most cordially
by Don Garcia, who always insisted on his coming in
and smoking a cigar with him, and who, after the usual
report as to the state of the herd, asked many questions
as to his own country. Isabella was generally present, or
if out of the room when he first came, was sure to appear,
shortly followed by a servant with a jug of cooling drink,
which she would herself pour out and place before her
father and Harry. Six months after he had commenced
his duties as overseer, Don Garcia said to him, "I told
you the errand from which we were returning when you
rescued us from those brigands."
"Yes, seņor, it was the question of the marriage of the
"That affair is quite over now; the young man wrote
very handsomely, saying that he would do everything
in his power to curb his hasty temper, assuring her that
he loved her passionately. I was touched by his letter,
which my daughter showed me, and by one which I
myself received from his father, and was in favour of
giving the young man a chance; but as my daughter is
even more determined than before to have nothing to
say to him, I fear that it will cause a quarrel between the
"I should say that that was of very slight consequence
compared with the happiness of your daughter, seņor. In
our country a father may object to his daughter marrying
a person of whom he does not approve, and may even,
according to law, prevent her doing so before she comes
of age; but he would never dream of compelling her to
marry a man to whom she objected—he would have no
shadow of right to do so."
"With us matters are settled by the parents, Don
Henry," the Spaniard said gravely, "and I think it is far
better so in most cases; but having lost my wife many
years ago, and Isabella being my only child, I have been
too indulgent, and let her have too completely her own
way, and I certainly could not bring myself to offer her
the alternative of taking the veil or marrying the man I
choose for her."
"But I understand, seņor, that although you at first
thought of this Don Pedro as your son-in-law, you yourself,
on closer acquaintance with him, felt that he would
not make the Seņoretta Isabella happy."
"Yes, that is so; but I think that I was a little hasty
and harsh; his letter is a charming one."
Harry Denham remained silent.
"No one could have written better," the Don went on,
and there was an interrogation in his tone.
"I do not know Don Pedro, seņor. As for writing a
charming letter, it seems to me that any one could do
that. I cannot help thinking that the seņoretta, who is
good and kind to every one, would not have taken such a
strong objection to him without there being some good
reason for so doing."
"It is a caprice on her part," the Don said irritably;
"he has good manners, he is handsome, rich, and of a
family equal to her own. He is passionate, I admit, and
I do not like his ways with his slaves and peons, but, after
all, I suppose there is no one perfect."
"I should think, seņor," Harry said quietly, "that
your daughter, who loves you dearly, as all can see, would
not have opposed your wishes upon a mere caprice; a
man who is harsh to his servants, or even to a horse or a
dog, would be likely to be harsh to his wife."
"Well, at any rate, it is settled," the Spaniard said,
lighting a fresh cigar with short irritable puffs; "I have
this morning sent off a letter of regret to my friend, saying
that my daughter's inclinations remain unchanged, and that,
as her happiness is my first consideration, it is impossible
that the proposed match can take place. Now, I suppose,
I shall have trouble. It is too annoying, coming just when
I have got rid of the troubles with the Americans. Somehow
one never seems to have peace."
Looking round the luxuriously furnished room, and
thinking of the wide possessions and easy life that he
led, Harry had difficulty in repressing a smile at the
querulous tone of the complaint. The conversation was
in Spanish, which Denham had learned to speak fluently
during his five years' residence on the plain, where, among
his companions, were generally a proportion of Mexicans.
The next evening, as he was sitting with his men after
his supper was over and their pipes lighted, he said, "By the
way, do any of you know anything about a young Mexican
named Pedro de Vaga? His father's hacienda is some
eighty miles to the south."
"I know the place," one of the men said: "it is a big
estate, not so large as this in point of size, but better land,
and he owns a good many more slaves than Don Garcia
does. I was working down near there two years ago, and
I heard a good many stories of this Don Pedro. The old
man, they say, is a kind master; but the young one is a
tyrant, and his people are looking forward with dread to
the time when he will be boss of the estate. Fortunately
for them he is not very much there, being fond of going
to the big towns, where he gambles, they say, heavily.
I have heard that when he comes into them it will
require a large slice of the estates to pay off the money-lenders,
though his father has paid large sums for him
over and over again. I heard that he was at New Orleans
three years ago, and was lucky in getting off on board a
ship before he was arrested; so that it must have been
something pretty bad, as they are not squeamish at New
"He is a very bad man," one of the vaqueros, who
spoke a little English, put in. "I worked on the estate
four years back, and he was the worst sort of a fellow. He
has had a slave flogged to death more than once. A
man pretty nearly put an end to him; he struck him one
day in a fit of passion, and Lobe pulled out his knife and
laid his shoulder open with the first blow, and would have
killed him with the next had he not pulled out his pistol
and shot him dead. It was a pity that Lobe bungled the
first stroke. There was a rumour some months ago that
our seņorita was going to marry him; he and his father
came over here, and Don Garcia took her down there.
Caramba! I would have put my knife between his ribs,
if I swung for it afterwards, rather than see a pretty young
lady sacrificed to him."
"Right you are, Nunez," the cowboy who had first
spoken said; "you may count me in; the seņorita is a
daisy, you bet, and if there is any talk of this marriage, I
am with you in anything you may do to stop it."
Donna Isabella was indeed immensely popular among
the men, and on the occasion of a round up, or of any
assemblage of the herds, she would be sure to be there,
with her attendant behind her, watching the proceedings
with the greatest interest, and flushing with excitement
over any deed of daring horsemanship. She had several
times been out to the northern camp since it had been
formed, and would stand by her horse, by the circle
round the fire, asking questions as to the work, and chatting
brightly with the men, all whom she knew by name,
and before she rode away would be sure to produce from
a basket a bottle or two of pulque, a quantity of fruit, or
some other luxury.
"I am glad to tell you, Don Henry," the Mexican
said one day a month after his conversation with Harry
Denham, "that the matter I spoke to you of has passed
off without trouble. I received an answer shortly afterwards
from Don Ramon, saying that he deeply regretted
my daughter's decision, but that, as I was unwilling to use
my authority as her father, he could but acquiesce in
it. Three days ago I received a manly letter from his son,
saying that deeply as he regretted the destruction of his
fondest hopes, he trusted that the circumstance would
not lead to any breach in the friendship between the two
families, and he hoped to be allowed to pay me a visit in
order to assure me of his undiminished regard. Nothing
could be more excellent than the tone of his letter, and of
course I have answered it in the same spirit."
Harry Denham made no remark, but when alone
that evening in the hut he thought deeply over it. The
style of letter was in such entire contradiction to what he
had heard of Don Pedro's character, that it filled him
with distrust. The man was probably fond of Donna
Isabella; that he could easily understand; but he doubtless
had reckoned upon the dowry he would receive
with her to repair his own fortune, and perhaps to silence
pressing creditors, until at the death of Don Garcia he
would come into a noble inheritance. It was therefore
certain that his decisive rejection would not only humiliate
him, but rouse him to fury. This letter, then, could only
be a cloak to hide his real sentiments, and his proposed
visit certainly foreboded no good to Isabella.
Harry Denham was perfectly conscious that he loved
the Spanish girl. Her kindness to him when ill, her
bright companionship during his convalescence, and the
frank welcome that she gave him whenever he went to
the hacienda, completely won his heart. He did not for
a moment dream that anything could come of it. She
and her father were grateful to him for the service that
he had rendered them. They were good enough to treat
him as a friend rather than as an inferior, and the position
that they had given him was a substantial proof of their
gratitude; but that he, her father's overseer, could aspire
to the hand of one of the richest heiresses in Texas, was
That, however, need not prevent his doing what he
could to shield her from being molested or annoyed by
this Don Pedro, who was, by all accounts, in every respect
unworthy of her. There was no saying what such a
fellow might do. Her fortune was evidently of the most
importance to him, and heiresses had been carried off in
Texas and Mexico as well as elsewhere. One day a
month later he shot an unusually fine mountain lion in
a ravine a mile from his hut, and having carefully skinned
the animal, he had it prepared by the wife of one of the
vaqueros, who was famous for her skill in such matters,
and then took it over on his next visit to the hacienda as
a present to Isabella. The girl was in the garden as he
rode up, and was delighted with the skin.
"It is one of the finest that I have ever seen," she
said, "and there is not a single scratch on it. Most of
the skins are disfigured by the wounds the animals give
each other in their fights."
"I fancy he must have been a young one," Harry
said, "though so immensely large."
"I do not even see a bullet mark."
"No, it does not show. I came upon it suddenly,
and had just time to drop my rifle in my hand and fire,
as it was about to spring. The ball struck it just in the
centre of its throat, so that when the skin was divided the
cut passed through the bullet hole."
As they were speaking there was a step behind them,
and turning, Harry Denham saw a remarkably handsome
man who had just come out of the house unnoticed. He
was regarding him with an evil look, but the expression
vanished at once, as Isabella also turned, and he said
courteously, "I have come, seņora, on the part of my father,
who is somewhat indisposed, or he would have accompanied
me to pay my respects to Don Garcia and yourself."
"You are welcome, Don Pedro," the girl said coldly;
"my father will always be glad to see the son of his
old friend, Don Ramon de Vaga. This is Don Henry
Denham, the gentleman who saved my father and myself
when attacked by brigands on return from your father's.
Don Henry, this is Don Pedro de Vaga."
It seemed for a moment that the Spaniard was going
to speak, but he pressed his lips together and made the
slightest inclination of his head in reply to the equally
distant salutation of Harry.
"Let us go into the house," the girl said. "You will
come in, of course, Seņor Denham, and show my father
the beautiful skin that you have brought me."
"Thank you, seņora, but I have to ride out to the
camp at once; there are several matters I have to attend
to at once." So saying, he sprang on to his horse and
lifted his solbero and rode off.
Don Pedro did not speak as he re-entered the house
with Isabella. He knew that if he did so, he should ruin
any chance that he might have of winning her by fair
means. A feeling of passionate jealousy had seized him
as he saw the girl standing by the side of this stranger
and heard her chatting pleasantly with him, and the
changed manner and tone as she had addressed him
added to his anger. By the time that they entered the
room where Don Garcia was sitting, he had mastered
"Look at this lovely lion's skin that Don Henry has
brought me," she said, going over to her father and showing
him the skin, that she had got over her arm.
"Yes, it is a beautiful skin," he said, examining it
closely; "there is not a blemish in it. He shot it himself,
"Yes, in that ravine that runs from the valley half a
mile from this house. Fortunately the shot struck it in
the centre of the throat, and so you see it did not hurt
"Who is this gentleman?" Don Pedro asked quietly
of the haciendorer. "My father heard from you on
your return that you had got into some trouble with some
rough men, and that there was a skirmish between them
and some young fellow—I think you said an English cowboy—who
intervened in the matter."
"I did not put it at all in that way, Don Pedro, nor
was the affair so trifling as you represent. Two of my
servants were killed, and the other two bound. I myself
had alighted from the coach, and was handing my
daughter out under the pistols of these five ruffians, when
this gentleman arrived. He shot four of them, and himself
received wounds that for some time seemed likely to
be fatal. I may at that time have written of him as a
cowboy; but I had not at that time learned, as I have since
done, that he is a gentleman of an honourable family in
England. He is now overseer of the northern herds on
my estates, and in addition to my gratitude for the immense
service he rendered us, I have the fullest confidence
in him, and esteem for his character."
"Oh, he is an overseer, is he? I thought his attire would
hardly be in accordance with the title of Don, by which
the seņora introduced him. I suppose you have other
evidence besides his word as to his family. I believe most
of these cowboys claim to be members of noble families."
Don Garcia was about to reply when Isabella broke
in passionately: "You are insulting the man who saved
my father and myself from the greatest peril, and whom
I introduced to you as my friend, Don Pedro. We have
the best evidence that he is a gentleman—that of his own
manners and conduct, sir—who might be imitated in both
these respects with advantage by men who do not hesitate
to boast of the purest Spanish blood."
"Silence, Isabella," her father said sternly; "I am here,
and able to defend my absent friend. I should have
thought, Don Pedro, that professing, as you do, a regard
for our family, you would have shared to some extent our
gratitude towards a young man who had done us such
signal service, instead of sneering at him. With your
feeling towards him, however, I have nothing to do; but I
expect, at any rate, that courtesy will be shown in my
house to any guest I and my daughter choose to invite
Don Pedro bowed in silence, and then the Spaniard
went on more cordially: "Do not let us make too much
of this, Don Pedro. Of course, you were not fully aware
of our obligation to this gentleman, or you would not have
spoken as you did. Let us forget the matter altogether,"
and he at once began to talk upon another subject.
Three days later Don Pedro left, after a stormy interview
"I see that it is of no use remaining longer," he said.
"I came here in hopes that, in spite of your prejudice against
me, I might still succeed in winning your love. I see
now that it is useless, and can understand the real reason
of your refusal of it. I am not blind; and when I heard
you speaking to that young Englishman as you had never
spoken to me, I comprehended the whole matter."
The girl flushed angrily.
"You insult me," she said. "I am not one of your
slaves, Don Pedro; and my father will not forgive any one,
whosoever he may be, who insults his preserver. As to
your insinuation, it is contemptible. You know full well I
informed my father, after your first visit here, that nothing
would induce me to marry you, and I would rather enter
a convent than do so. My visit to your house confirmed
me in that determination; but at that time I had never
even seen this Englishman. Your insinuation proves to
me how rightly I judged your character. I would rather
marry the lowest peon on my father's estate than you.
You are here on false pretences, sir. You declared in
your letter to my father that you acquiesced in his and
my decision, and that you wished to come only as a friend;
it seems now that this was false."
"It was false, seņora, and I intend to make you my
wife. You may be cruel, you may be unjust, you may
even love another, but that will not turn me from my
purpose. Mine you shall be, by all the saints;" and,
without waiting to hear the indignant reply, he left the
"I am going, Don Garcia," he said abruptly, as he met
the latter coming from the stables. "My love is stronger
than my power of repressing it. I had hoped that I had
to some extent conquered it, but I cannot do so, and it
may be, Don Garcia, that you may some day be sorry that
you did not give my suit the support that my father and I
hoped and expected. I understand now the reason of my
refusal. There is another more fortunate than I am, and
you may some day bitterly regret that your kindness of
heart led you to open your doors to an adventurer;" and
without waiting he hurried forward to the stable, called for
his horse, and ordered the three men who had accompanied
him to saddle at once and follow him, and then
rode furiously away. He drew rein after riding a mile,
and waited until his followers came up. He called one
of them up to him, and with him went slowly on, the other
two falling behind.
"You have followed the orders I gave you the first
day we came here, Juan?"
"I have, sir; I have found out all about him: he does
not live with the others at the camp, but has a small hut in
a lonely valley some miles from here; he shoots and hunts
early in the morning, and then generally he breakfasts,
and afterwards rides over to the camp."
"That is excellent. I want you to stay behind here,
Juan, and put a stop to his riding—you understand. You
will be well paid for the business."
The man nodded. "I will do it, seņor. It is rather
risky, for they say that he is a first-rate shot."
"Well, then, you must manage so that he doesn't get a
shot at you, Juan. He is alone in the hut?"
"Yes, except that he has a dog Don Garcia gave him,
a fierce beast that would let no one into the hut without
awakening its master. It cannot be done that way. When
he is away I must hide in the bushes near his hut, and
shoot him as he returns."
"Well, don't blunder over the business, Juan. If you
are doubtful about yourself, hire a man or two to help
you, there is never any difficulty in picking up a man for
that sort of work."
"I can put my hand on the men. My brother was one
of those who made the attack on Don Garcia and his
daughter, and this Englishman shot him, therefore I should
be ready to do the job without being paid for it, though I
don't say it is not sweeter to get both gold and revenge at
one stroke. I know where the two men who got away
are, and they will be glad to join me; they are but two
days' ride away, but I suppose a few hours earlier or later
would make no difference to you. It is on the road back
to the hacienda."
"That will do very well. Mind you do not bring my
name into the matter with them; simply say you want to
revenge your brother's death."
"I understand, seņor," and Juan dropped back to his
comrades. Before the end of the day, however, Don Pedro
had formed another plan, which he communicated to Juan
"You understand," he said, "you will get those two
men you spoke about, and half-a-dozen others; I shall
get eight or ten of our own men, say twenty in all—that
will be enough. My business must be settled first; after
we have gone, you and the other two can carry out this
affair with that accursed Englishman. There will be no
risk in it, for when I have once got the girl, Don Garcia
will be glad enough to hush up the affair."
Three weeks afterwards Harry Denham was preparing
his breakfast, which consisted of slices of venison that he
had shot an hour before, when the dog suddenly pricked
up its ears with a low warning growl.
"What is it, Don? Is some one coming? Yes, you
are right," he went on, after stopping to listen for a
moment, "I can hear horses' hoofs." He went to the
door, and opening it, looked out; then he gave a sudden
exclamation, ran in and seized his rifle, and then ran
out again. At a distance of a hundred yards Isabella
Novales was riding at full gallop, while half that distance
behind were some twenty horsemen, evidently in hot
pursuit of her.
"Go in, Don," he said sternly as the dog was about to
leap forward; "go in and lie down."
The girl drew up her horse suddenly as she reached
the hut, and leaped off.
"Lead the horse in, seņora," Harry exclaimed, as levelling
his rifle he fired, and one of the horsemen fell from
his saddle, while a yell of rage broke from the others.
There was not a moment to be lost, and running in he
closed the door and fastened the stout bar across it; then
catching up a double-barrelled gun, he thrust it through the
window and discharged both barrels into the crowd as
they rode up. Two more men fell. The rest dismounted,
and flung themselves against the door, but three shots of
a revolver through a small sliding panel caused them to
draw back, and a moment later, in spite of the angry
shouts of one of their number, they ran off with their
horses, and taking refuge in the bushes, opened a straggling
fire on the hut.
"What does it all mean, seņora?" Harry asked, turning
to the girl, who had without a moment's hesitation seized
the rifle he had dropt, and began to load it from a powder-horn
hanging from a peg in the wall.
"I don't know," she said. "I was out for a ride this
morning, when a number of mounted men suddenly dashed
out from a clump of trees, and I saw another party ride
out of some bushes farther on, evidently intending to cut
me off. From the glimpse I had of them it seemed to me
that their faces were all blackened. I turned my horse
to ride back, but some more men had posted themselves
there. I struck Violetta sharply and she galloped off like
an arrow. I had to pass close to one of the party, and I
was afraid they might lasso me. One man did take up his
lariat as he galloped, but another shouted, 'No, ride her
down,' and I shot by them, though they were within a few
yards of me.
"I thought of the camp, but I knew that at this hour
most of the men would be out with the herds. Then I
thought of your hut. I knew it was up this valley, though
I had never been here. I was sure that if you were in you
would protect me; if you were not, I should have ridden
on. They must be brigands who intended to carry me
off to get a ransom for me; but it seemed to me when
that man shouted to the others not to lasso me, that I
knew his voice, and I feel almost sure it was Don Pedro.
He said when he went away he would marry me some
day, and I cannot help thinking that perhaps he has made
up his mind to carry me off. What is to be done, seņor?
I would kill myself rather than fall into his hands. Why
should he want to marry a girl who hates him?"
"Because, as I hear, he wants money, seņora. I hear
that he has very heavy debts, and has already gambled
away much of the estate that will come to him at his
father's death. Now, seņora, I must send a few shots
back in answer to their fire, or they will be making
another rush, and the door was never made to stand a
serious assault. I only hope that if Don Pedro is there
he will let me get a shot at him."
He took out some moss that had been thrust into several
chinks in the wall, and fired several shots into the bush. A
loud yell told that at least one had taken effect.
"That will do for the present," he said; "now let us
think over what had best be done. I fear there is little
chance of this firing being heard; the herd is eight or
ten miles away. Your horse is fast, and you might possibly
get there before you were overtaken; but some of these
men will be well mounted, and it would be a risk. They
have stopped firing, but are certainly round the hut, and
might lasso you before you had gone twenty yards. If
I had my horse here I could have ridden with you, and
could have beaten off any well-mounted men who might
come up; but he was grazing a hundred yards away when
I came in, and there is no getting at him. I see nothing
to do but to wait and see what they intend to do next. If
they were only brigands they might give it up; but if your
suspicions are correct, and they have Don Pedro with
them, I fear there is no chance of that. I know a cave,
four miles away, that I could hold against them for any
time, while this hut is not meant to stand a siege, but there
is no getting there."
"What are you growling at, Don? Do you hear some
one creeping up there?"
A moment later there were three crashes as a heap of
faggots were thrown down against the end of the hut.
He sprang towards that direction, pushed the moss from
a loop-hole, and thrusting his rifle out, shot a man who
was approaching with a blazing brand.
"Too late," he exclaimed bitterly a minute afterwards,
"it has fired the dry grass; the wind is towards us, and
those faggots will be kindled, and the flames will light the
"I will go out and surrender," Isabella said suddenly;
"you shall not throw away your life, Don Henry."
"Your surrender would not save my life, seņora, even
if I were to venture to make the sacrifice. I have killed
five or six of them, and you may be sure that they would
not spare me."
"Then let us both get on to my horse and try to
escape; she is very fast."
"We should be overtaken before we had gone half a
mile, even if we had a fair start. She is a pretty thing,
but light, and would soon tire under the double weight.
Let me think for a minute;" he closed his eyes and stood
Already the pungent odour of the smoke filled the
room, and there was a cracking noise, increasing in
volume every moment, that told the faggots had caught
fire. Suddenly he looked up.
"I have it, seņora, if you will not mind doing it."
"I will do anything you tell me to do," she said
"The horse is getting restive; I will hold him as you
go to the other end of the room and take off your dress,
and wrap in it the pillow and blankets as quickly as you
can. As soon as you have done so, I will mount your
horse, open the door, and ride out with the dummy in
front of me. Seeing your dress, they will naturally suppose
that it is you, and will all dash off in pursuit of me.
I shall make for the cave I spoke of. They are principally
below us, and would cut me off from making either for the
hacienda or the camp. The moment they are fairly after
me, do you make your way off on foot. If you can catch
my horse, you might get me help from the camp."
"You will be throwing away your life, seņor."
"Not at all. I am a heavy weight for your mare, but
I think she will carry me as far as the cave, and they will
not like to fire lest they might, as they would suppose,
hurt you. At any rate it is a chance for us both, and
I see no other. Pray do not lose a moment."
"I will do it," she said.
The hut was full of blinding smoke, the dog barked
and howled, and the mare struggled so violently that he
had the greatest difficulty in pacifying her. When at last
he did so, she was trembling from head to foot. It was
not two minutes before Isabella stood beside him and
thrust the bundle into his arms.
"I have pulled the blankets up above the dress," she
said, "and pinned my riding-hat on the top. Quick, it is
stifling here." Then she passionately threw her arms
around his neck. "The Holy Virgin shield you!" she exclaimed.
"I love you, Harry, I love you. I have brought
this upon you, and if you die I will remain a widow all
my life for your sake."
"God bless you, Isabella," he said hoarsely.
Isabella took down the bar and unlocked the door.
The mare for a moment refused to move. He leaned
forward on her neck and struck the spurs into her, and
she flew like an arrow through the door, at which the
dog had already rushed out with a joyous bark. Harry
Denham had slung his double-barrelled gun across his
shoulder. In one hand he held his revolver, which he
had recharged after using it; in the other the reins, and
pressed the dummy figure against him. A loud shout
burst from the bushes as he issued out.
"Don't fire, on your lives, don't fire," a man shouted;
"you might hit the lady."
A dozen horsemen sprung out, but most of them were
just below the hut, being sure that when the defenders
sallied out they would make that way. There were but
three that barred the way up the valley. Harry rode right
at them. One made a grasp at his rein, but the revolver
cracked out and he pitched head foremost out of the
saddle. When he was past them, turning round he fired
again, and one dropped the reins with an oath as the ball
struck him in the shoulder. The other reined in his horse
until joined by his comrades from below.
"Steady, steady, keep together," their leader shouted.
"We must have them; the mare will soon tire."
To their surprise, although they were riding their
hardest, the mare for three miles maintained the lead of
some seventy yards that she had gained.
"Caramba!" the leader of the pursuers muttered, "she
must be the devil; no horse her size could carry double
weight so far without failing." But although far less heavily
loaded than her pursuers imagined, Harry's weight was
telling, and he could feel that the mare was beginning to
flag. He cheered her on with hand and voice, abstaining
from using the spur, for the gallant little horse was doing
her best. He would not look round, for that would have
encouraged his pursuers, and they might press their horses
to make a rush; but listening intently, he was sure that
they were gaining somewhat upon him, and he was confirmed
in his belief by a shout of triumph behind. The
cave, however, was now but a short distance away. The
valley had narrowed to a ravine, occupied in the rainy
season by a torrent. The pursuers, confident that the
end was not far off, and that the mare would ere long
founder, had not pressed their horses, and as they could
no longer ride more than two abreast, they had fallen
somewhat farther back.
Those in front gave a yell of exultation as they saw
the mare suddenly stop and the rider leap from its back,
but were astonished when they saw him go to the horse's
head and apparently lead it into the solid rock, followed by
the dog, which had kept close to its heels. They rode
cautiously now, not knowing what to expect, and checked
their horses, when they saw an opening no more than a
yard wide in the face of the rock, and realised that the
fugitives had taken refuge within it. Volleys of execrations
poured from the leader of the band. He at once
ordered the men to dismount, which they did willingly
enough, but they refused to attempt to enter the cleft.
"It would be certain death," one of them said; "he
has got a double-barrelled gun and that pistol, and he can
shoot us down the moment we appear before the hole."
The fact was so evident that the leader, although half
mad with passion, saw that it was useless to urge them to
the attack at present.
"Well, we must think of some plan," he said. "There
is no hurry, they cannot escape us; we are in the heart of
the hills, and no one dreams of what has taken place. We
burnt them out of their last place, and if we can find no
other way, we can starve them out of this. They can eat
the horse, but they can't go very long without water. You
may as well get some food out of your sacks and make a
meal while we think the matter over."
The men obeyed sullenly. They had entered on the
affair solely for the money they were to receive for it, and
it had turned out most disastrous: there were twenty of
them to begin with, while there were now but thirteen—six
had been killed and one wounded. They were, however,
somewhat cheered when their leader told them that their
comrades' shares would be divided among them, and that
each would therefore get half as much again as he had
"I will double that," he said, "if you will attack the
But there was no response. Presently one of them
went up to the leader, who was sitting apart.
"Why not try fire again, seņor; we could not burn
them out, but we might smoke them out."
"That is a good idea, Juan. Directly the men have
finished eating, do you go down with four of them and
cut faggots and bring them up; there are plenty of bushes
half a mile lower down. Put plenty of green wood in it;
it is smoke we want and not fire. They will come out
quickly enough as soon as we light them; but if they
don't, we must pull the faggots away and drag her out—she
would be of no use dead."
Five men went off, the others taking their post, pistol
in hand, near the mouth of the cave, should the fugitives
try to escape. The men had taken their horses with
them to bring up the faggots, and half-an-hour later the
sound of horses' hoofs was heard coming fast up the
"They have been wonderfully quick about it," Juan
said to the leader uneasily.
"They have; they may have found bushes enough
on the lower side of the ravine without going right down
to the bottom."
"I did not notice any, seņor—and listen, it seems to
me that noise is more than five horses would make."
"So it is. Stand to your horses, men."
A moment later the head of the party came in sight.
There was a shout in English of "Come along, lads, here
are the skunks." For a moment the men could not believe
their eyes, for by the side of a cowboy rode a
female figure. She was in her white petticoats, and had on
a scarlet shirt, strapped at the waist by a belt; her head
was bare, and though nearly a hundred yards away, Don
Pedro recognised at once Isabella Novales. A terrible
oath broke from his lips.
"Forward, men," he shouted, "ride for your lives;
we have been duped, and the girl has brought these cowboys
At the head of his men Don Pedro dashed up the
ravine, but as he passed the opening to the cave, a flash
of fire spurted out and struck him on the side of the head
with a full charge of heavy shot, and he fell dead from his
horse. The man Juan, who followed him, met with the
same fate; but the others dashed past, and a minute
later eight cowboys galloped in pursuit. Isabella Novales
drew her horse aside to let them pass, and then sprang to
the ground. Her fears of Henry's safety had been allayed.
She learned from one of the five men whom they had
seized just as they began to cut brushwood, that he had
gained the cave, and that, not daring to attack it, his foes
were about to smoke him out. The news had gained
him his life. The cowboys were afraid to fire lest the
sound should reach the ears of the brigands, but they had
without a moment's loss of time strung the other four up
by their lariats to a tree growing close to the spot where
they had been captured.
"Are you safe, my beloved?" she said, as she threw
herself into Harry's arms with the passionate abandon of
"Quite safe," he replied; "you have saved me,
Isabella. I was close to the mouth of the cave and could
hear them talking, and I knew that unless help came in
time it was all over. Your mare carried me splendidly;
but another half-mile and they would have had me. I
and my gun made up nearly twice the weight she is
accustomed to carry. And you, how did you manage? I
see that you went to the camp."
"I threw myself down close to the door for a moment
to get fresh air, then I ran out. At first I thought of
making for the hacienda, but it was two miles farther;
they would be too long in getting ready. I luckily came
upon your horse, mounted it, and galloped to your camp.
When I rode in, the men had just finished their breakfast,
and had already mounted; another two minutes and they
would have gone. I told my story. One of them ran
into the tent and brought me a shirt and a belt, which I
was very glad to put on, though till then I had never
thought for a moment about being so undressed before a
number of men. We galloped as if we had been racing.
We passed the hut, or what was the hut, for there was
nothing of it but a smoking beam or two. Just above
that we passed a dead man lying on the ground, and
the cowboy who was riding next to me said, 'Cheer
up, seņora, that is Harry Denham's handiwork; he has
ridden through them here.'
"Is not that," she broke off, as she looked at the two
dead men lying close to her, "Don Pedro? it looks to me
like his figure."
Harry went and turned the bodies over.
"You are right," he said, "it is he; Don Pedro will
never trouble you again. Now let us mount and go
slowly down; the others will overtake us presently. I
doubt whether they will overtake the brigands. They
have ridden nine miles at full speed, and the other horses
have had more than one hour's rest."
They mounted, and rode down the ravine, the dog
trotting behind them.
"I can hardly believe that I have not dreamt what you
said in the hut, dearest."
She coloured brightly.
"You knew it before, and I knew what you thought."
Then she added shyly, "I shall tell my father directly we
"I am afraid that he will never consent," Harry said
"He loves me," she said confidently; "I am his only
child, and he will do as I wish him. You are a gentleman
by birth, Harry—what can he want more? If you were
as rich as I am, what good would it be?"
Harry shook his head.
"That is true enough, Isabella; but fathers do not see
things in that light. However, I will ride with you home,
and leave you to tell your story. If he says no, as I fear
he will, I must leave here; I cannot remain as his overseer
"If you were as faint-hearted in fighting as you are in
love," the girl said with a bright smile, "you would never
have won me. I do believe you would never have spoken
had not I spoken first."
"I am sure I never should," he replied. "I have
known for months that I loved you. It would not have
been right that I, one of your father's overseers, should
ever speak of my love to his daughter."
The cowboys came up presently and crowded round
Harry Denham, shaking hands with him warmly.
"We wiped out five of the skunks," one of them said,
"but the others were too well mounted for us. If we had
had time to choose our horses, not one of them would
have got away."
"It does not matter," Harry said; "the man who was
the author of all this has fallen. The rest were only hired
brigands, and they have paid heavily for it."
"Are you coming to the camp, Harry?"
"Not at present, I must conduct the seņora home;
but I may be out this evening."
The men exchanged a significant glance, and when
the way separated at the charred remains of the hut, one
said, "We shall not see much more of Denham at the
camp. I don't know what the Don will say about it, but
there is no mistake about the seņora. Poor little thing,
how white she was when she rode up! She looks all right
again now, and has got plenty of colour in her cheeks; but
she was as pale as death then. She didn't say much, but
there was no question where her heart was."
When Harry Denham left Isabella, he promised her
that he would return in two hours and wait at the gate
until she came to him. She was there before him, and he
saw at once that she had judged her father better than he
"Come in, Harry," she said, "my father is expecting
Don Garcia came out to meet them as they approached
"Don Harry, you have saved her life, at the risk
of your own, twice," he said, "and you have fairly won
her; I give her to you willingly. It would have been a
blow to my pride, had you not been a man of good family,
but I could not have said no to her even then. As it is,
there is nothing I can wish for better. Money she has no
need for; but she has need of an honest gentleman as her
protector, and such she has found in you."
Three months later they were married. Till Don
Garcia's death ten years later, they lived with him always
at the hacienda. After that Harry Denham took his wife
to Europe for six months, and then returned to Texas, into
which a flood of immigration was pouring. There he still
lives, one of the richest and most popular land-owners in