After our return to the Frio, my first duty was writing, relative to the proposed match, an unfavorable reply to Don Alejandro Travino.
On resuming work, we spent six weeks baling hides, thus occupying our time until the beginning of the branding season. A general round-up of the Nueces valley, commencing on the coast at Corpus Christi Bay, had been agreed upon among the cowmen of the country. In pursuance of the plan four well-mounted men were sent from our ranch with Wilson's wagon to the coast, our segundo following a week later with the wagon, remuda and twelve men, to meet the rodeo at San Patricio as they worked up the river. Our cattle had drifted in every direction during the drouth and though many of them had returned since the range had again become good, they were still widely scattered. So Uncle Lance took the rest of us and started for the Frio, working down that river and along the Nueces, until we met the round-up coming up from below. During this cow hunt, I carried my fiddle with me in the wagon, and at nearly every ranch we passed we stopped and had a dance. Not over once a week did we send in cattle to the ranch to brand, and on meeting the rodeo from below, Deweese had over three thousand of our cattle. After taking these in and branding the calves, we worked over our home range until near the holidays.
On our return to the ranch, we learned that young Blas Travino from the Mission had passed Las Palomas some days before. He had stopped in passing; but, finding the ranchero absent, plead a matter of business at Santa Maria, promising to call on his return. He was then at the ranch on the Tarancalous, and hourly expecting his reappearance, the women of the household were in an agitated state of mind. Since the formal answer had been sent, no word had come from Don Blas and a rival had meanwhile sprung up in the person of Fidel Trujillo. Within a month after his employment I noticed the new vaquero casting shy glances at Juana, but until the cow hunt on the Frio I did not recognize the fine handwriting of the old matchmaker. Though my services were never called for as interpreter between Uncle Lance and the new man, any one could see there was an understanding between them. That the old ranchero was pushing Fidel forward was evident during the fall cow hunting by his sending that Mexican into Las Palomas with every bunch of cattle gathered.
That evening Don Blas rode into the ranch, accompanied by Father Norquin. The priest belonged at the Mission, and their meeting at Santa Maria might, of course, have been accidental. None of the padre's parishioners at headquarters were expecting him, however, for several months, and padres are able padrinos,--sometimes, among their own faith, even despotic. Taking account, as it appeared, of the ulterior motive, Uncle Lance welcomed the arrivals with a hearty hospitality, which to a stranger seemed so genuine as to dispel any suspicion. Not in many a day had a visitor at Las Palomas received more courteous consideration than did Father Norquin. The choicest mint which grew in the inclosures about the wells was none too good for the juleps which were concocted by Miss Jean. Had the master and mistress of the ranch been communicants of his church, the rosy-cheeked padre could have received no more marked attention.
The conversation touched lightly on various topics, until Santa Maria ranch was mentioned, when Uncle Lance asked the padre if Don Mateo had yet built him a chapel. The priest shrugged his shoulders deprecatingly and answered the question with another,--when Las Palomas proposed building a place of worship.
"Well, Father, I'm glad you've brought the matter up again," replied the host. "That I should have lived here over forty years and never done anything for your church or my people who belong to your faith, is certainly saying little in my behalf. I never had the matter brought home to me so clearly as during last summer's drouth. Do you remember that old maxim regarding when the devil was sick? Well, I was good and sick. If you had happened in then and had asked for a chapel,--not that I have any confidence in your teaching,--you could have got a church with a steeple on it. I was in such sore straits that the women were kept busy making candles, and we burnt them in every jacal until the hour of deliverance."
Helping himself from the proffered snuffbox of the padre, the host turned to his guest, and in all sincerity continued: "Yes, Father, I ought to build you a nice place of worship. We could quarry the rock during idle time, and burn our own lime right here on the ranch. While you are here, give me some plans, and we'll show you that the white element of Las Palomas are not such hopeless heretics as you suppose. Now, if we build the chapel, I'm just going to ask one favor in return: I expect to die and be buried on this ranch. You're a younger man by twenty years and will outlive me, and on the day of my burial I want you to lay aside your creed and preach my funeral in this little chapel which you and I are going to build. I have been a witness to the self-sacrifice of you and other priests ever since I lived here. Father, I like an honest man, and the earnestness of your cloth for the betterment of my people no one can question. And my covenant is, that you are to preach a simple sermon, merely commemorating the fact that here lived a man named Lovelace, who died and would be seen among his fellow men no more. These being facts, you can mention them; but beyond that, for fear our faiths might differ, the less said the better. Won't you have another mint julep before supper? No? You will, won't you, Don Blas?"
That the old ranchero was in earnest about building a chapel on Las Palomas there was no doubt. In fact, the credit should be given to Miss Jean, for she had been urging the matter ever since my coming to the ranch. At headquarters and outlying ranchitas on the land, there were nearly twenty families, or over a hundred persons of all ages. But that the old matchmaker was going to make the most out of his opportunity by erecting the building at an opportune time, there was not the shadow of a question.
The evening passed without mention of the real errand of our guests. The conversation was allowed to wander at will, during which several times it drifted into gentle repartee between host and padre, both artfully avoiding the rock of matchmaking. But the next morning, as if anxious to begin the day's work early, Father Norquin, on arising, inquired for his host, strutted out to the corrals, and, on meeting him, promptly inquired why, during the previous summer, Don Alejandro Travino's mission to obtain the hand of Juana Leal had failed.
"That's so," assented Uncle Lance, very affably, "Don Alejandro was here as godfather to his nephew. And this young man with you is Don Blas, the bear? Well, why did we waste so much time last night talking about chapels and death when we might have made a match in less time? You priests have everything in your favor as padrinos, but you are so slow that a rival might appear and win the girl while you were drumming up your courage. I don't write Spanish myself, but I have boys here on the ranch who do. One of them, if I remember rightly, wrote the answer at the request of Juana's mother. If my memory hasn't failed me entirely, the parents objected to being separated from their only daughter. You know how that is among your people; and I never like to interfere in family matters. But from what I hear Don Blas has a rival now. Yes; young Travino failed to press his suit, and a girl will stand for nearly anything but neglect. But that's one thing they won't stand for, not when there's a handsome fellow at hand to play the bear. Then the old lover is easily forgotten for the new. Eh, Father?"
"Ah, Don Lance, I know your reputation as a matchmaker," replied Father Norquin, in a rich French accent. "Report says had you not had a hand in it the match would have been successful. The supposition is that it only lacked your approval. The daughter of a vaquero refusing a Travino? Tut, tut, man!"
A hearty guffaw greeted these aspersions. "And so you've heard I was a matchmaker, have you? Of course, you believed it just like any other old granny. Now, of course, when I'm asked by any of my people to act as padrino, I never refuse any more than you do. I've made many a match and hope to be spared to make several more. But come; they're calling us to breakfast, and after that we'll take a walk over to the ranch burying ground. It's less than a half mile--in that point of encinal yonder. I want to show you what I think would be a nice spot for our chapel."
The conversation during breakfast was artfully directed by the host to avoid the dangerous shoals, though the padre constantly kept an eye on Juana as she passed back and forth. As we arose from the table and were passing to the gallery, Uncle Lance nudged the priest, and, poking Don Blas in the ribs, said: "Isn't Juana a stunning fine cook? Got up that breakfast herself. There isn't an eighteen-year-old girl in Texas who can make as fine biscuits as she does. But Las Palomas raises just as fine girls as she does horses and cattle. The rascal who gets her for a wife can thank his lucky stars. Don Blas, you ought to have me for padrino. Your uncle and the padre here are too poky. Why, if I was making a match for as fine a girl as Juana is, I'd set the river afire before I'd let an unfavorable answer discourage me. Now, the padre and I are going for a short walk, and we'll leave you here at the house to work out your own salvation. Don't pay any attention to the mistress, and I want to tell you right now, if you expect to win Juana, never depend on old fogy padrinos like your uncle and Father Norquin. Do a little hustling for yourself."
The old ranchero and the priest were gone nearly an hour, and on their return looked at another site in the rear of the Mexican quarters. It was a pretty knoll, and as the two joined us where we were repairing a windmill at the corrals, Father Norquin, in an ecstasy of delight, said: "Well, my children, the chapel is assured at Las Palomas. Don Lance wanted to build it over in the encinal, with twice as nice a site right here in the rancho. We may need the building for a school some day, and if we should, we don't want it a mile away. The very idea! And the master tells me that a chapel has been the wish of his sister for years. Poor woman--to have such a brother. I must hasten to the house and thank her."
No sooner had the padre started than I was called aside by my employer. "Tom," said he, "you slip around to Tia Inez's jacal and tell her that I'm going to send Father Norquin over to see her. Tell her to stand firm on not letting Juana leave the ranch for the Mission. Tell her that I've promised the padre a chapel for Las Palomas, and rather than miss it, the priest would consign the whole Travino family to endless perdition. Tell her to laugh at his scoldings and inform him that Juana can get a husband without going so far. And that you heard me say that I was going to give Fidel, the day he married her daughter, the same number of heifers that all her brothers got. Impress it on Tia Inez's mind that it means something to be born to Las Palomas."
I set out on my errand and he hastened away to overtake the padre before the latter reached the house. Tia Inez welcomed me, no doubt anticipating that I was the bearer of some message. When I gave her the message her eyes beamed with gratitude and she devoutly crossed her breast invoking the blessing of the saints upon the master. I added a few words of encouragement of my own--that I understood that when we quarried the rock for the chapel, there was to be enough extra cut to build a stone cottage for Juana and Fidel. This was pure invention on my part, but I felt a very friendly interest in Las Palomas, for I expected to bring my bride to it as soon as possible. Therefore, if I could help the present match forward by the use of a little fiction, why not?
Father Norquin's time was limited at Las Palomas, as he was under appointment to return to Santa Maria that evening. Therefore it became an active morning about the ranch. Long before we had finished the repairs on the windmill, a mozo from the house came out to the corrals to say I was wanted by the master. Returning with the servant, I found Uncle Lance and the mistress of the ranch entertaining their company before a cheerful fire in the sitting-room. On my entrance, my employer said:--
"Tom, I have sent for you because I want you to go over with the padre to the jacal of Juana's parents. Father Norquin here is such an old granny that he believes I interfered, or the reply of last summer would have been favorable. Now, Tom, you're not to open your mouth one way or the other. The padre will state his errand, and the old couple will answer him in your presence. Don Blas will remain here, and whatever the answer is, he and I must abide by it. Really, as I have said, I have no interest in the match, except the welfare of the girl. Go on now, Father, and let's see what you can do as a padrino."
As we arose to go, Miss Jean interposed and suggested that, out of deference to Father Norquin, the old couple be sent for, but her brother objected. He wanted the parents to make their own answer beneath their own roof, unembarrassed by any influence. As we left the room, the old matchmaker accompanied us as far as the gate, where he halted and said to the padre:--
"Father Norquin, in a case like the present, you will not mind my saying that your wish is not absolute, and I am sending a witness with you to see that you issue no peremptory orders on this ranch. And remember, that this old couple have been over thirty years in my employ, and temper your words to them as you would to your own parents, were they living. Juana was born here, which means a great deal, and with the approval of her parents, she'll marry the man of her choice, and no padrino, let him be priest or layman, can crack his whip on the soil of Las Palomas to the contrary. As my guest, you must excuse me for talking so plain, but my people are as dear to me as your church is to you."
As my employer turned and leisurely walked back to the house, Father Norquin stood stock-still. I was slightly embarrassed myself, but it was easily to be seen that the padre's plans had received a severe shock. I made several starts toward the Mexican quarters before the priest shook away his hesitations and joined me. That the old ranchero's words had agitated him was very evident in his voice and manner. Several times he stopped me and demanded explanations, finally raising the question of a rival. I told him all I knew about the matter; that Fidel, a new vaquero on the ranch, had found favor in Juana's eyes, that he was a favorite man with master and mistress, but what view the girl's parents took of the matter I was unable to say. This cleared up the situation wonderfully, and the padre brightened as we neared the jacal.
Tiburcio was absent, and while awaiting his return, the priest became amiable and delivered a number of messages from friends and relatives at the Mission. Tia Inez was somewhat embarrassed at first, but gradually grew composed, and before the return of her husband all three of us were chatting like cronies. On the appearance of Tio Tiburcio, coffee was ordered and the padre told several good stories, over which we all laughed heartily. Cigarettes were next, and in due time Father Norquin very good naturedly inquired why an unfavorable answer, regarding the marriage of their daughter with young Blas Travino, had been returned the previous summer. The old couple looked at each other a moment, when the husband turned in his chair, and with a shrug of his shoulders and a jerk of his head, referred the priest to his wife. Tia Inez met the padre's gaze, and in a clear, concise manner, and in her native tongue, gave her reasons. Father Norquin explained the prominence of the Travino family and their disappointment over the refusal, and asked if the decision was final, to which he received an affirmative reply. Instead of showing any displeasure, he rose to take his departure, turning in the doorway to say to the old couple:--
"My children, peace and happiness in this life is a priceless blessing. I should be untrue to my trust did I counsel a marriage that would give a parent a moment of unhappiness. My blessing upon this house and its dwellers, and upon its sons and daughters as they go forth to homes of their own." While he lifted his hand in benediction, the old couple and myself bowed our heads for a moment, after which the padre and I passed outside.
I was as solemn as an owl, yet inwardly delighted at the turn of affairs. But Father Norquin had nothing to conceal, while delight was wreathed all over his rosy countenance. Again and again he stopped me to make inquiries about Fidel, the new vaquero. That lucky rascal was a good-looking native, a much larger youth than the aspiring Don Blas, and I pictured him to the padre as an Adonis. To the question if he was in the ranch at present, fortune favored me, as Fidel and nearly all the regular vaqueros were cutting timbers in the encinal that day with which to build new corrals at one of the outlying tanks. As he would not return before dark, and I knew the padre was due at Santa Maria that evening, my description of him made Don Blas a mere pigmy in comparison. But we finally reached the house, and on our reentering the sitting-room, young Travino very courteously arose and stood until Father Norquin should be seated. But the latter faced his parishioner, saying:--
"You young simpleton, what did you drag me up here for on a fool's errand? I was led to believe that our generous host was the instigator of the unfavorable answer to your uncle's negotiations last summer. Now I have the same answer repeated from the lips of the girl's parents. Consider the predicament in which you have placed a servant of the Church. Every law of hospitality has been outraged through your imbecility. And to complete my humiliation, I have received only kindness on every hand. The chapel which I have desired for years is now a certainty, thanks to the master and mistress of Las Palomas. What apology can I offer for your"--
"Hold on there, Father," interrupted Uncle Lance. "If you owe this ranch any apology, save your breath for a more important occasion. Don Blas is all right; any suitor who would not be jealous over a girl like Juana is not welcome at Las Palomas. Why, when I was his age I was suspicious of my sweetheart's own father, and you should make allowance for this young man's years and impetuosity. Sit down, Father, and let's have a talk about this chapel--that's what interests me most right now. You see, within a few days my boys will have all the palisades cut for the new corrals, and then we can turn our attention to getting out the rock for the chapel. We have a quarry of nice soft stone all opened up, and I'll put a dozen vaqueros to blocking out the rock in a few days. We always have a big stock of zacahuiste grass on hand for thatching jacals, plenty of limestone to burn for the lime, sand in abundance, and all we lack is the masons. You'll have to send them out from the Mission, but I'll pay them. Oh, I reckon the good Lord loves Las Palomas, for you see He's placed everything convenient with which to build the chapel."
Father Norquin could not remain seated, but paced the room enumerating the many little adornments which the mother church would be glad to supply. Enthusiastic as a child over a promised toy, no other thought entered the simple padre's mind, until dinner was announced. And all during the meal, the object of our guest's mission was entirely lost sight of, in contemplation of the coming chapel. The padre seemed as anxious to avoid the subject of matchmaking as his host, while poor Don Blas sat like a willing sacrifice, unable to say a word. I sympathized with him, for I knew what it was to meet disappointment. At the conclusion of the mid-day repast, Father Norquin flew into a great bustle in preparing to start for Santa Maria, and I was dispatched for the horses. Our guests and my employer were waiting at the stile when I led up their mounts, and at final parting the old matchmaker said to the priest:--
"Now, remember, I expect you to have this chapel completed by Easter Sunday, when I want you to come out and spend at least two weeks with us and see that it is finished to suit you, and arrange for the dedication. Las Palomas will build the chapel, but when our work is done yours commences. And I want to tell you right now, there's liable to be several weddings in it before the mortar gets good and dry. I have it on pretty good authority that one of my boys and Pierre Vaux's eldest girl are just about ready to have you pronounce them man and wife. No, he's not of any faith, but she's a good Catholic. Now, look here, Father Norquin, if I have to proselyte you to my way of thinking, it'll never hurt you any. I was never afraid to do what was right, and when at Las Palomas you needn't be afraid either, even if we have to start a new creed. Well, good-by to both of you."
We had a windmill to repair that afternoon, some five miles from the ranch, so that I did not return to the house until evening; but when all gathered around the supper table that night, Uncle Lance was throwing bouquets at himself for the crafty manner in which he had switched the padre from his mission, and yet sent him away delighted. He admitted that he was scared on the appearance of Father Norquin as a padrino, on account of the fact that a priest was usually supreme among his own people. That he had early come to the conclusion if there was to be any coercion used in this case, he was determined to get in his bluff first. But Miss Jean ridiculed the idea that there was any serious danger.
"Goodness me, Lance," said she, "I could have told you there was no cause for alarm. In this case between Fidel and Juana, I've been a very liberal chaperon. Oh, well, now, never mind about the particulars. Once, to try his nerve, I gave him a chance, and I happen to know the rascal kissed her the moment my back was turned. Oh, I think Juana will stay at Las Palomas."