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A Texas Matchmaker

XIII. Hide Hunting
During the month of June only two showers fell, which revived the grass but
added not a drop of water to our tank supply or to the river. When the coast
winds which followed set in, all hope for rain passed for another year. During the
residence of the old ranchero at Las Palomas, the Nueces valley had suffered
several severe drouths as disastrous in their effects as a pestilence. There were
places in its miles of meanderings across our range where the river was paved
with the bones of cattle which had perished with thirst. Realizing that such
disasters repeat themselves, the ranch was set in order. That fall we branded the
calf crop with unusual care. In every possible quarter, we prepared for the worst.
A dozen wells were sunk over the tract and equipped with windmills. There was
sufficient water in the river and tanks during the summer and fall, but by
Christmas the range was eaten off until the cattle, ranging far, came in only every
other day to slake their thirst.
The social gayeties of the countryside received a check from the threatened
drouth. At Las Palomas we observed only the usual Christmas festivities. Miss
Jean always made it a point to have something extra for the holiday season, not
only in her own household, but also among the Mexican families at headquarters
and the outlying ranchites. Among a number of delicacies brought up this time
from Shepherd's was a box of Florida oranges, and in assisting Miss Jean to fill
the baskets for each _jacal_, Aaron Scales opened this box of oranges and
found a letter, evidently placed there by some mischievous girl in the packery
from which the oranges were shipped. There was not only a letter but a visiting
card and a small photograph of the writer. This could only be accepted by the
discoverer as a challenge, for the sender surely knew this particular box was
intended for shipment to Texas, and banteringly invited the recipient to reply. The
missive certainly fell upon fertile soil, and Scales, by right of discovery, delegated
to himself the pleasure of answering.
Scales was the black sheep of Las Palomas. Born of a rich, aristocratic family in
Maryland, he had early developed into a good-natured but reckless spendthrift,
and his disreputable associates had contributed no small part in forcing him to
the refuge of a cattle ranch. He had been offered every opportunity to secure a
good education, but during his last year in college had been expelled, and rather
than face parental reproach had taken passage in a coast schooner for
Galveston, Texas. Then by easy stages he drifted westward, and at last, to his
liking, found a home at Las Palomas. He made himself a useful man on the
ranch, but, not having been bred to the occupation and with a tendency to
waywardness, gave a rather free rein to the vagabond spirit which possessed
him. He was a good rider, even for a country where every one was a born
horseman, but the use of the rope was an art he never attempted to master.