Knights of the Range - Zane Grey - ebook

Knights of the Range ebook

Zane Grey



A true legend, Zane Grey has thrilled a generation of readers with his great stories of the American West. Holly Ripple, a young, headstrong woman, brought up in the upscale boarding schools of the east, has inherited her family’s cattle ranch in 1870s New Mexico, after the sudden death of her father. With the help of the ranch foreman and Renn Frayne, a newly hired hand; a outlaw seeking redemption, they organize a assorted group of cowboys to protect the herd, and the safety of their ranch, from rustlers, competing cattle barons, and other assorted villains. In the spirit and glory of a classic Western, and published exactly as the author originally intended, „Knights of the Range”, is one of Zane Grey’s swiftest and most exciting novels.

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COLONEL Lee Ripple sat on the porch of his ranch-house in eastern New Mexico, facing that famous fan-shaped scene that lay between the great timbered escarpments stretching down over the green and gray terraces to the vast rolling plain below, through which the Old Trail followed the shining way of the Cimarron into the purple distance.

It was the grandest scene in all New Mexico, and the sad blue eyes of the cattle baron lingered long there before shifting round to the west, where a splendour of range empire unfolded to his gaze. A million acres swept and waved on all sides to the silver slopes, and these in turn sheered up to the black-belted mountains with their snowy peaks.

“Wal, Kurnel, I heahed you, shore, but I’d like to get oot of takin’ you serious,” said Britt, the rancher’s foreman, who sat on the porch steps.

“Cap, you must take me seriously,” replied Ripple, in slow grave speech. “Another spell with my heart like this last one will kill me.”

“Aw, I cain’t believe it,” rejoined Britt, stubbornly, despite the something convincing in his employer’s tone and look.

“I know, Cap. I thought this second attack would do for me. My heart has acted queer for a long time. But that spell in San Antonio was the first bad one. I consulted a doctor. He told me to make my will and get ready. But scared as I was, I didn’t obey. I went on to New Orleans after Holly, and fetched her home without tellin’ her aboot it. I just couldn’t tell her.”

“No wonder, boss. Thet would have been plumb hard on the lass,” replied Britt, wagging his lean, hawk-like head. “You sent her to thet school when she was eight years old. An’ you went to see her half a dozen times in these nine years she’s been gone. An’ when you was fetchin’ her heah to Don Carlos’ Rancho, the only home she ever had–to tell her you was aboot to die–Aw! thet would have been cruel!”

“You’re right,” agreed the Colonel, bitterly, as he spread his hands with a hopeless gesture. “That mawnin’ when I met her and told her I had come to take her home she was so happy, so radiant. I couldn’t kill her joy…. But now, Britt, she must be told at once.”

“Why, boss? You know how onsartin life is. Quien sabe? You might live long yet.”

“Yes. It’s possible. But not probable. And I want her to make her choice while I am living.”

“Choice of what, Kurnel, if I may make bold to ask?”

“Whether or not she will live heah or go to her Mother’s people in Santone.”

“Holly will never leave Don Carlos’ Rancho,” said Britt, quickly.

“Did she say so?” asked Ripple, eagerly, his gray eyes full of soft warm light.

“No. But I’d gamble on it. These few days Holly has been here she’s been plumb loco aboot the ranch. Why, she has been wild with joy. Boss, she’s like a freed bird. An’ she loves it all, particular the hawses. She’s crazy aboot hawses. An’ she’s never been in a saddle yet. Think of thet, Lee Ripple. Heah’s a girl of sixteen, granddaughter of old Don Carlos, the greatest of all the old hawse-breedin’ dons–an’ she’s never straddled a hawse.”

“I know–I know, Cap. Don’t rub it in. I always meant Holly to have all the West could offer. But first I wanted her to get an education. The years have slipped by…. So my lass loves horses!–What did she say?”

“Wal, the lass has yore blood in her, same as thet of the Valverde. She asked me how many hawses we had. An’ when I told her aboot four hundred thet we knowed of she squealed with joy. Swore she’d ride every one of them…. Lord, I see my troubles. But I’ll teach Holly to ride. I shore won’t leave thet to these saddle rowdies.”

“Britt, you make me hope,” returned the Colonel, feelingly, as he lay back in the great rocker. “I always wanted a son. But I never loved Holly the less for that…. If she lived on heah, and learned to run this ranch under your wise eye, and some day married one of these saddle rowdies–I could die happy.”

“My Gawd, boss!” expostulated Britt, heatedly. “Why’d you ever send Holly away to make a fine lady oot of her if you wanted her to marry one of these firebrands?”

“Cap, could Holly do better? I mean if this lucky cowboy is one of the breed we know so well. Not a Texan! Holly is half Spanish and you know Texans will be long forgettin’ the Alamo…. He must be of good family and have some little schoolin’. For the rest, I don’t care so much. Holly could make most any cowboy take his place in the makin’ of the West…. They are the salt of the earth, these wild range riders. Without them there would never have been this cattle business growin’ by leaps and bounds, destined to tame the frontier. You know, Britt, even better than I do. For five years you’ve handled these hard-ridin’, hard-drinkin’, hard-shootin’ devils of mine. And you have loved them.”

“Wal, mebbe I haven’t loved them like I ought to have,” rejoined Britt, regretfully, surprised into feeling. “But, Kurnel, it just makes my blood run cold, to think of Holly alone on this big ranch.”

“Cold!–Your blood should run swift and warm at the very thought. It will be wonderful. Holly looks Spanish, but she is American. She has her mother’s beauty. But my brains. I have no fear for her, Britt…. If she only chooses to stay! … With you to train Holly, teach her to run the ranch, watch over her–she would not be alone. I’m not afraid to risk it.”

“But I am, boss,” declared Britt, tragically. “I almost wish you hadn’t fetched her home.”

“Nonsense, old timer. My girl has loved you all her life. It was you who nick-named her Holly. You danced her on your knee and helped teach her to walk. You can’t go back on her now. You must take my place as her Dad.”

“Kurnel, I’ll do my damndest…. But lookin’ ahaid, in the light of this lovely lass growin’ up heah into a woman, I don’t like the times.”

Colonel Ripple made a slight, violent gesture, as if a motive prompted by passion had been quenched by will.

“Nor do I. That is somethin’ I have put off, and like this other must now be talked over. Yet the reason is simple…. Look there to the south, old timer. That is the grandest outlook in the West, if not in the whole world. Kit Carson sat right there and said so. Lucien Maxwell did the same, and you know his pride in his old Spanish grant and the beauty of his sixty square miles of ranch. St. Vrain tried to buy this ranch from Don Carlos. Chisum, Murphy, the Exersall Company, and that English outfit who bought the Three X’s–not one of these cattle kings has the West under his eyes as I have. Not one of them has the protected grazing-lands…. Look down over the Old Trail and the Cimarron. Peaceful, lonely, eh? The Kiowas and Comanches are my friends. Look at the buffalo. All those black patches down there are buffalo…. And now look around to the west, Britt. No range like that in all this broad New Mexico. Look at the cattle. Do you remember when we drove in heah first? It seems long. But it’s only seven years. Seven years! They were heaven compared to the years of the war, and long before…. You know my story, Britt. How I came through heah in 1855 with a caravan on the way to Santa Fe. How I won Carlotta Valverde and took her back to Texas with me. How old Don Carlos cast her off and did not forgive her for many years…. Look at my herds of cattle dottin’ the range. Like the buffalo. Fifty thousand head, so you say, and half a thousand horses. I could sell ten thousand head–twenty thousand head and be rich…. What is wrong with the times, Britt?”

“Wal, you ain’t told it all yet. Go on.”

“Oh, I know what you’re drivin’ at…. But listen, Cap. The war is long past. Texas has come through, and her cattle have built this empire. Just as the trappers did, the gold-seekers had their day, so had the freighters. The caravans are slowin’ up, Britt, and those that roll by down there on the Old Trail are loaded up with pioneers. A new day is dawnin’–the day of the settled West.”

“Shore. But a hell of a lot can happen in a day, Kurnel. Yore hope is father to yore belief…. This heah year of our Lawd, seems fine an’ fair to you, Kurnel, ’cause white men an’ red men alike, ootlaws an’ robbers, all the good an’ the bad of the plains air yore friends. As the house of Don Carlos was open to all, so has yore house been…. But I say, fer you if you live, an’ fer all of us who live heah, the hardest an’ bloodiest, the wust times air yet to come.”

“Kit Carson said that years ago. But I never believed it. And his prophecy has not been verified.”

“Yes, Kit swore thet, settin’ right heah where I set now… . Kurnel, I reckon men like you an’ Maxwell an’ Chisum know more aboot cows than anythin’ else. It’s men like me an’ Carson who have vision. We never was blinded by great possessions.”

“Britt, I bow to that vision,” replied Ripple, solemnly. “I always feared, but I drove fear from my mind. Let us grant, then, that the worst times of the frontier are to come. Tell me what they are and how they will work.”

“Wal, it’s as simple as when Carson seen through it. But only been long in comin’…. Fust, take the buffalo. The huntin’ of buffalo fer their hides has begun. We old Texans always feared this. It means such war with the Indians as has never been seen on this frontier. Yore friends the Utes, the Kiowas, the Comanches, the Cheyennes, the Arapahoes, the Pawnees, all the tribes will go on the war-path. Thet means turrible bloody times, fer the settlers have come pourin’ oot West thick. Texas will see the wust of thet, because the buffalo on their rangin’ from south to north an’ back again air most on the Texas plains. The hide hunters will concentrate in the Pan Handle, or under the Llano Estacado or between the Brazos an’ the Rio Grande. An’ the plains Indians will fight to the death fer their meat. They live on buffalo. It will be a fight to the finish between the buffalo hunters an’ the Indian tribes. The Yankee army could not lick the red men. Not in a million years! Look at the Custer campaigns. I heahed thet Carson, an’ Buff Belmet, an’ other scouts have advised these army men to lay off the Indians. But they will blunder right on to be massacred…. The pioneers you talk aboot cain’t lick the Indians. An’ if the buffalo hunters don’t lick them this West will shore become unhealthy damn pronto.”

“I gather that, Britt. All the same I’d say the hide-hunters will break the power of the allied tribes and drive them off the plains.”

“My guess, too. When this hide-huntin’ movement gets goin’ strong there’ll be many thousands of hunters. An’ all keen, hard-fightin’ men, armed with heavy rifles an’ with wagon-loads of ammunition. They’ll do fer the Indians, I reckon. But it will be a hell of a fight with the chances not all agin the Indians.”

“Agreed. We’ll pass, however, on to that future period when the red men’s power will be gone. What is the next catastrophe you predict?”

“Wal, no less than the hey-day of the rustlers.”

“Cattle thieves!” exclaimed the Colonel, contemptuously. “We’ve always had them, Britt. Texas before the Civil War had her cattle raids. Mexicans, Indians ran off cattle. And the white raider developed. You had him when you were trail drivin’ the herds up to Dodge an’ Abilene. But what did that ever amount to? Hardly any more than the beef every cattle outfit appropriates wherever it happens to camp. We lose some cattle heah, so the boys say, but not a tenth–not a hundredth of the yearly increase.”

“Right, Kurnel, so far as you go,” drawled the foreman. “Listen, boss, an’ I’ll tell you how I figger. Durin’ the last year a lot of tight-lipped, cold-eyed strangers have rode into New Mexico. Mebbe you haven’t seen this much. But I have talked with men who have seen it an’ who didn’t like it. Jesse Chisum is one. Thet old Texan with his Jingle-bob brand has a far eye fer everythin’ aboot cattle. If you rode to San Marcos or Fort Union or Sumner, or over Pecos way to Roswell an’ Lincoln, you’d shore get a hunch. Wyomin’, Nebraska, West Kansas, East Colorado, an’ of course Texas, air sendin’ a good many riders oot our way. Riders thet don’t give names an’ don’t ask questions an’ don’t take kind to curious Westerners! Some of these may be what you called the cowboys–salt of the earth–but the most of them air bad. Thet is to say hawse-thieves, rustlers, bandits, desperadoes, the genuine bad men an’ genuine four-flushers, ootlaws, all of them, an’ thet ain’t countin’ the riff-raff from the East an’ the ruined rebels from the South.”

“Britt, I’m not so blind as you think,” protested Colonel Ripple. “I’ve noticed somethin’ of what you say. However only what might be expected with this westward movement.”

“It’s more than might be expected. New Mexico is as wild as Texas west of the Pecos. There is no law, except the law of the six-shooter. It has a bad reputation. Please observe, Kurnel, thet most of these pioneers keep right on travellin’. New Mexico will be the last of the states frontin’ on the Great Plains thet will be settled. This in spite of the finest grazin’ lands in the West…. Wal, heah is what’s goin’ to happen. Cattlemen like you an’ Chisum, followin’ in the footsteps of Maxwell an’ St. Vrain, air goin’ to grow powerful rich in cattle. In three years the Ripple brand will show on the sides of eighty thousand haid of cows. Think of thet! An’ thet ain’t countin’ what you sell. Wal, this will give rise to such rustlin’ of cattle as was never dreamed of before on the ranges. It is inevitable. It will last ten years or more. You see this government buyin’ of beef fer Indians on the reservations, an’ thousands more thet must be counted in as time goes on, will furnish a market thet rustlers cain’t resist an’ cattlemen cain’t stop fer a long time. Then there’s the railroads. It ain’t no hell of a drive to Dodge from heah or Las Animas either. The longer the drive the shorer the market…. An’ there it is, Ripple, all in a nutshell.”

“So help me heaven, you are right!” ejaculated the rancher, in concern. “Hey-day of the rustler! … Britt, with your usual perspicuity you have seen ahead to an unprecedented and dubious future for the cattleman who operates on a large scale…. All right, suh! If you see that clearly you will be equal to meetin’ such a situation when it comes. I’ll never see it, worse luck. But Holly will be in the thick of it–perhaps unmarried. That freezes me inside…. Britt, you’ve been Texas Ranger and Trail Driver, both of which callings, peculiar to the great Lone Star State, should fit you to deal with bad men at a bad time. You have always been a genius handlin’ cowboys…. How do you aim to meet this situation?”

“Wal, I’ll admit thet’s been a stumper,” replied Britt, with a dry laugh.

It was something he had pondered over during many a lonely ride on the range and many an hour in the darkness of the bunk-house while the wind moaned in the cedar trees outside.

Britt gazed thoughtfully down over the green-gray terraces to the far ribbon of silver meandering across the plains to blue obscurity, and he knew that that scene was good, always soothing and strengthening to the lover of the open. He always looked to this southward scene when the one to the westward had given rise, as now, to a troubled mind. He loved the spur of cedared ground from which this unparalleled view lay open, and likewise he loved the gray escarpment walls as they widened and heightened toward the plain below, and the aloof mesas and the sandy arroyos and the dark canyons, and all that wild and rugged beauty which at length softened into the vast blue prairie. But even if this eastern steppe of New Mexico had not been inspiring and all-satisfying, Britt would have loved it for Holly Ripple’s sake.

When he looked back at the cattle empire, however, he was actuated by mingled feelings of pride, of achievement, of dismay, and over all a sense of fatality in the sublime reach and sweep of the range. The insulating mountains might temper the winter winds and send down never-failing streams upon the grazing lands, and protect the rich bunch-grass and gramina-grass which were so fattening for the herds, but no rock walls could ever keep out the parasites of the rangeland. For a cattleman that scene had a pastoral and intimate beauty wholly dissociated from the wilder one to the south. A hundred thousand cattle dotted the endless pastures. A winding yellow road led down to San Marcos, a green circle of foliage from which the white and gray houses of the town gleamed in the spring sunlight. Far across and leagues away showed the dark patch that was Fort Union. Lincoln was a tiny speck in the distance. But northward the red spot which marked Santa Fe shone plainly over a hundred miles away. With its color and legend of three centuries of occupancy by the dons and padres it had power to cover this broad land with the drowsy languorous atmosphere of the Spaniards.

But all that had only a momentary charm for Britt. With his hawk-eyes he was seeing the deeds of the day at hand. San Marcos would lose the sleepy tenor of its way. The saloon, the dance-hall, the gambling den would soon ring with the revelry attendant upon the pay-day of the cow-hand. Half-nude girls with pretty faces and shadowy eyes and hollow laughs would waylay the range-rider upon his infrequent visit to town. Pale-visaged and thin-lipped gamblers, with their broadcloth frock-coats and wide-brimmed, flat-crowned hats, would shuffle their cards with marvelous dexterity of long, slim, white hands. And groups of dark-garbed, dark-horsed riders, proceeding in close formation, with something inimical about them, would pass up the wide street. The bark of six-shooters would become too common to attract interest, except when the town flocked out to see some gunman forced to draw upon a drunken, notoriety-seeking cowboy, or when the flint and steel of real killers struck sparks face to face.

Britt saw the raw wildness of Hays City, Dodge and Abilene enacted on a smaller scale, yet with an equal lawlessness. There might not ever be another Wild Bill Hickok, at whose vested star so many desperadoes and outlaws had shot vainly and too late. But there surely would rise to fame emulators of Buck Duane and King Fisher and Wess Hardin and Ben Thompson, those famed and infamous Texas exponents of the draw. And perhaps there might arise one who would dwarf the achievements of any of this quartet. And lastly Britt saw, with something of a grim and sardonic humor, dark slack forms of men, terribly suggestive, swinging from the cottonwoods in the moonlight.

“Wal, Kurnel,” he said, finally, “I reckon there’s only one way to meet what’s comin’. An’ it is to scour the country fer the damndest ootfit of cowboys thet can possibly be found.”

“Britt, the outfit you’re runnin’ now are far from bein’ lambs. I could name half a dozen others that are bad. But not one of them could buck such a rustler gang as you expect to develop heah on this range…. I don’t quite grasp what you mean by damndest.”

“I shore know, boss, an’ the idee grips me. Reckon I’ve pondered over it a good deal. I want riders so hard an’ wild thet they cain’t hold a job fer long. Fact is, Kurnel, I never hired a cowboy thet I couldn’t have kept on, if I’d stood fer his tricks. My idee is to pick my men–I’ve a few in mind now–an’ make this job so attractive thet they’d stick. Shore I’d have to stand fer hell itself. But I could do it.”

“Britt, I agree you can handle cows and men. Your idea is great. There’s only one drawback. My daughter. Think of that young girl, lovely, like an unfoldin’ rose, innocent, full of fire and joy, as mistress of the hardest outfit of cowboys ever thrown together in the West…. My God, Britt–think of it!”

“I been thinkin’. It’d been better fer us, an’ Holly, too, if she hadn’t had them nine years in school. But thet cain’t be helped now. If you are keen to have Holly live her life oot heah, keep up the great house of Ripple, thet’s the way to do it–an’ the only way.”

“Would you risk it, if Holly was your child?” queried the rancher, hoarsely.

“I shore would. Holly is no ordinary girl. She will rise to the occasion…. Run yore herd an’ yore house–wal, by thunder! I’ll bet on her!”

“She shall choose,” shot out Colonel Ripple, strung with emotion. “We will tell her the truth and let her decide. I have been tortured between the devil and the deep sea. I want her to live here. Yet if she prefers San Antonio or New Orleans, I shall not let her see my disappointment.”

“Boss, you’ll shore never be disappointed in Holly. I reckon, seein’ how het up you air, thet we’d better call her oot an’ get it over. But I’d rather face a bunch of ridin’ Comanches.”

“Holly!” called the Colonel, his rich voice ringing.

As there was no answer from the house, Britt arose to go in search of the girl. All the rooms in the front of the wonderful old Spanish mansion opened out on the arched porch. Britt went through the wide hall to the patio, where his spurs clinked musically upon the flagstones. But the girl was not to be found near the sunny fountain, or among the roses, or in the hammock under the dense canopy of vines. Britt went into the living-room, and halted a moment in the shadowed light. Then from the porch came a gay contralto voice. He went out, lagging a little.

Holly stood beside her father’s chair. And Britt had a tingling recurrence of the emotion the girl had roused in him when he saw her first after her arrival from New Orleans: a strange yearning to be young again, to be the very flower of fine, noble manhood, handsome, gifted, rich, worthy.

“Howdy, Holly,” he drawled. “I was oot lookin’ fer you.”

“You old hawk-nosed, hawk-eyed devil! What have you been putting into Dad’s head?”

Britt laughed and found himself forthwith. Holly Ripple had a regal air. She looked her aristocratic Spanish lineage. Her great dark eyes and her exquisitely pale skin came to her from the Castilian Valverdes. But Britt had only to hear her to know that she was American, and Lee Ripple’s daughter, and that she belonged to the West.

“Lass, I reckon it’s been yore Dad puttin’ things into my haid,” replied Britt, and resumed his comfortable seat.

“You both look like owls,” said the girl, and she slid on to the arm of her father’s chair.

“Holly, dear, it’s only fair that you learn at once the serious side of your home-comin’,” replied the Colonel.

“Serious?” she asked, with a puzzled smile.

“Indeed it is. Back me up, Britt.”

“Wal, lass, I reckon it’s nothin’ to make you feel bad,” said Britt, feeling his way and meeting squarely those compelling eyes. “You’re oot West now. You’ve been heah three days. An’ it’s just sense to tell you pronto what we air up against.”

“Ah, I see,” Holly rejoined, soberly. “Very well. Tell me. I left Don Carlos’ Rancho a child and I have come back a woman.”

“Holly, look down there,” spoke up her father, pointing to the grazing lands below. “All those black dots are cattle. Thousands of cattle. They are mine. And all I have to hold them is a wavy brand from shoulder to flank. A ripple! … Times are changin’. We expect the wildest years this section of the West has ever known. When we came back from Santone by stage, you saw Indians, soldiers, cowboys, pioneers, rough men galore. You saw buffalo by the million, and cattle and horses almost as many. In short, you rode across Texas and you saw wild life…. But nothin’, my daughter, compared to what you will see heah in New Mexico the next decade–if you stay.”

“If I stay?” she echoed, with a curious intentness.

“Yes. Because I meant it to be a matter of your own choice,” he went on, swiftly. “Rustlers–that is the western name for cattle-thieves–and a horde of hardened men of differin’ types will ride into New Mexico. There will be fightin’, Holly…. Now, for instance, suppose I happened to be shot. What––”

“Oh, Dad!” she cried, poignantly.

“Holly, the chance is remote, but it might happen. Suppose I were shot by rustlers. What would you do?”

“Do!–I’d hang every rustler in this country,” exclaimed the girl hotly.

Britt met the piercing eyes of the rancher. Holly Ripple had answered to the subtle call of the Texan.

“All right,” went on Ripple, a little huskily. “Now, say for example that I–I didn’t get shot, but just passed–on, you know…. Died…. Holly, listen. That, too, might happen. It’s natural. I’m gettin’ on in years and I’ve led a strenuous life…. Well, suppose that happened…. Would you want to stay on heah at Don Carlos’ Rancho?”

“Yes, Dad,” she answered quietly.

“But, listen, child. You will have wealth. You–you could go to your mother’s people. I have no near relatives, but those I have would welcome my daughter…. Holly, the time has come to make your choice.”

“It was made–long ago. I hate cities. I don’t care for crowds–or relatives, either. I was cooped up in school. I am free now–free! … I was unhappy there–I love it here…. Dad, I will never, never leave.”

Britt saw the long, dusky lashes close over tear-filled eyes. Ripple bent over to kiss the lustrous dark hair. Under his tan a pallor showed and his jaw quivered. Britt turned away to gaze down the valley. Holly had seen through her father’s attempt to disguise the truth.

“Then–that is your choice–Holly?” the rancher resumed, presently.

“Dad, there never was any choice. There was only–home. My West! I have never forgotten a single thing.”

“My beloved–I am ashamed,” returned the Colonel, with agitation. “I should have known you would be like Carlotta. I imagined you might…. Well, never mind what, since it can never be…. Holly, in the days to come you will learn how I run my ranch–how I keep open house for all. Never have I turned away anyone from Don Carlos’ Rancho. Indians, outlaws, wanderers, travellers, all have been welcome heah. That is why no white or red hand has ever been against me yet…. When the time comes, Holly, will you preserve my open hand to all?”

“I will, Dad.”

Ripple clasped her in a close embrace, then turned a working visage and beaming eye upon his foreman.

“Britt, you old rebel, you know my child. And I’m thankin’ God that when I have to go you will look after her…. There, Holly. Our serious talk is over.”

“Not yet, Dad,” she murmured. “I have my turn. There are some questions I want to ask you.”

“Ah!–Fire away, daughter,” he replied, gayly, but it was easy for Britt to see his perturbation.

“Dad, I know hardly a word of Spanish,” said Holly, softly, with her eyes downcast. “It was forbidden me at school. I did not realize until I got home. Your Mexicans speak Spanish to me. The living-room I remembered so well has all been done over, refurnished. The beautiful rooms you have given me–the same. Everything new, beautiful, costly. But not a trace of Spanish color or design.”

“Holly, that is easy to explain,” returned her father, frankly. “I wanted you to be American. That is why I kept you away at school so many years. If I had brought you up heah, in the Spanish environment which pertained until recently, you would have been all Valverde. I had the greatest respect for your mother. You know that. But I wanted you to grow up as a true American in education, speech and spirit.”

“Dad, was that any reflection upon Don Carlos Valverde?” queried Holly, with proud, dark eyes upon him. There was something passionate and alien in her that could never be wholly eradicated. And Britt, who loved her as his own, felt glad this was so.

“No. I had a high regard for Don Carlos, and these early Spanish families. Both Kit Carson and Lucien Maxwell married into them.”

“Were you ashamed of my–mother?”

“Absolutely no, my child. I was proud of her beauty and quality.”

“Did you love her?”

“Holly, I think I may say yes with an honest heart. But, dear, when I met Carlotta I was a wild young Texan, a gay blade in love with every pretty face I saw. It is hard to confess to you that when I became infatuated with your mother, I did not go to Don Carlos honorably and ask for her hand. I knew only too well that he would have raged and thrown me out. Carlotta was hardly more than fifteen…. I–I ran off with her. But I married her in San Antonio. As I grew to love her more I regretted havin’ been the cause of estrangement between Carlotta and Don Carlos. She was an only child. In time he forgave her. You were born soon after that. Then followed the happiest years of our lives. Don Carlos left Carlotta this ranch. After the war I drove a cattle herd up from Texas, and have prospered ever since.”

Britt liked that frank confession of the Colonel’s, and when he saw Holly’s reaction he thought it was well. If there had ever been any brooding doubts in the girl’s mind, they were dispelled then and forever. She embraced her father.

“Thank you, Dad,” she whispered. “It’s all right now–except you mustn’t frighten me again.”

The moment seemed sweet and far-reaching for Britt. All was well that ended well. This home-coming of Holly Ripple had been fraught with dismay as well as dread. She had been an unknown factor. But now the old ranger revelled in the faith he had doggedly held in the girl he himself had named.

“Lass, I never told you how I come to call you Holly,” he said, as the girl sat up again, to smile with wet eyes. “I had a sweetheart once an’ thet was her name.”

“Sweetheart?–Cappy, you used to call me that when I was little. I’m horribly jealous. What was she like? Did you–run off with her as Dad did with my mother? Please tell me.”

“Some day,” replied Britt, rising, and he patted the glossy head. “Kurnel, I’ve seen a few happier days than this, far away an’ long ago. But not many. Shore you will be long heah with us. What fun you’ll have teachin’ this big-eyed lass to handle hawses, to shoot an’ rope, to run the cowboy ootfits ragged, to be mistress of this great house an’ do honor to yore name! An’ I–wal, I’ll go ahaid with my plans.”

“Plans! What plans, Cappy?” queried the girl. “You began that speech sadly. You grew really eloquent. Then you end with that hawk-eye glinting and with news of plans. If I am to become mistress of Don Carlos’ Rancho, I shall be your boss. Oh, what a dance I’ll lead you! … But come, tell me. Do your plans include a party to celebrate my return?”

“Holly, that shall be my job,” interrupted her father. “I will give such a party as was never seen heah in New Mexico. And every year thereafter, on the anniversary of that date, you must repeat it.”

“Oh, glorious!” she cried, rapturously. “My first party.”

“Britt, bring on your wild outfits!” sang the Colonel, keen and glad-eyed. “Bring on your riders, rangers, cowboys, outlaws, desperadoes, gunmen, and killers! Don Carlos’ Rancho shall flourish many a year!”

“Wild outfits!–Cowboys–desperadoes–killers?” echoed Holly, mystified, her great eyes like dark, glowing stars.

“Holly, it is Britt’s plan to surround you with the wildest and most dangerous outfit of men ever gathered on a western ranch,” announced the Colonel.

“Oh-h!–But why?”

“Wal, lass, the idee is to save you an’ yore cattle when the times grow bad,” interposed Britt.

“How perfectly wonderful! … Don Carlos’ Rancho! Holly Ripple’s outfit! … Dad, I shall fall in love with every single one of them. That is the penalty you must suffer for penning me up with books. Nine long years! And I was born on the range! … Cappy Britt, henceforth Old Hawk-eye, you will need your keen sight. Bring on your wild cowboys!”

*     *


Britt paced his slow, clinking way down the flowered path toward the bunk-house. Hard upon his excitation followed a pensive sadness. Only he realized what lay in store for Holly Ripple. Let her enjoy the girlish freedom she had been denied. Let her ride and laugh while her father was with her and the days burned with all the glamour of a New Mexican summer. For the shadow on the horizon would soon loom into dark groups of horsemen, strange, silent, formidable; and the languorous serenity of Don Carlos’ Rancho would be gone.

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