Light of the Western Stars

Contents:
Author: Zane Grey

VII Her Majesty’s Rancho

FIVE months brought all that Stillwell had dreamed of, and so many more changes and improvements and innovations that it was as if a magic touch had transformed the old ranch. Madeline and Alfred and Florence had talked over a fitting name, and had decided on one chosen by Madeline. But this instance was the only one in the course of developments in which Madeline’s wishes were not compiled with. The cowboys named the new ranch "Her Majesty’s Rancho." Stillwell said the names cowboys bestowed were felicitous, and as unchangeable as the everlasting hills; Florence went over to the enemy; and Alfred, laughing at Madeline’s protest, declared the cowboys had elected her queen of the ranges, and that there was no help for it. So the name stood "Her Majesty’s Rancho."

The April sun shone down upon a slow-rising green knoll that nestled in the lee of the foothills, and seemed to center bright rays upon the long ranch-house, which gleamed snow-white from the level summit. The grounds around the house bore no semblance to Eastern lawns or parks; there had been no landscape-gardening; Stillwell had just brought water and grass and flowers and plants to the knoll-top, and there had left them, as it were, to follow nature. His idea may have been crude, but the result was beautiful. Under that hot sun and balmy air, with cool water daily soaking into the rich soil, a green covering sprang into life, and everywhere upon it, as if by magic, many colored flowers rose in the sweet air. Pale wild flowers, lavender daisies, fragile bluebells, white four-petaled lilies like Eastern mayflowers, and golden poppies, deep sunset gold, color of the West, bloomed in happy confusion. California roses, crimson as blood, nodded heavy heads and trembled with the weight of bees. Low down in bare places, isolated, open to the full power of the sun, blazed the vermilion and magenta blossoms of cactus plants.

Green slopes led all the way down to where new adobe barns and sheds had been erected, and wide corrals stretched high-barred fences down to the great squares of alfalfa gently inclining to the gray of the valley. The bottom of a dammed-up hollow shone brightly with its slowly increasing acreage of water, upon which thousands of migratory wildfowl whirred and splashed and squawked, as if reluctant to leave this cool, wet surprise so new in the long desert journey to the northland. Quarters for the cowboys—comfortable, roomy adobe houses that not even the lamest cowboy dared describe as crampy bunks—stood in a row upon a long bench of ground above the lake. And down to the edge of the valley the cluster of Mexican habitations and the little church showed the touch of the same renewing hand.

All that had been left of the old Spanish house which had been Stillwell’s home for so long was the bare, massive structure, and some of this had been cut away for new doors and windows. Every modern convenience, even to hot and cold running water and acetylene light, had been installed; and the whole interior painted and carpentered and furrished. The ideal sought had not been luxury, but comfort. Every door into the patio looked out upon dark, rich grass and sweet-faced flowers, and every window looked down the green slopes.

Madeline’s rooms occupied the west end of the building and comprised four in number, all opening out upon the long porch. There was a small room for her maid, another which she used as an office, then her sleeping-apartment; and, lastly, the great light chamber which she had liked so well upon first sight, and which now, simply yet beautifully furnished and containing her favorite books and pictures, she had come to love as she had never loved any room at home. In the morning the fragrant, balmy air blew the white curtains of the open windows; at noon the drowsy, sultry quiet seemed to creep in for the siesta that was characteristic of the country; in the afternoon the westering sun peeped under the porch roof and painted the walls with gold bars that slowly changed to red.

Madeline Hammond cherished a fancy that the transformation she had wrought in the old Spanish house and in the people with whom she had surrounded herself, great as that transformation had been, was as nothing compared to the one wrought in herself. She had found an object in life. She was busy, she worked with her hands as well as mind, yet she seemed to have more time to read and think and study and idle and dream than ever before. She had seen her brother through his difficulties, on the road to all the success and prosperity that he cared for. Madeline had been a conscientious student of ranching and an apt pupil of Stillwell. The old cattleman, in his simplicity, gave her the place in his heart that was meant for the daughter he had never had. His pride in her, Madeline thought, was beyond reason or belief or words to tell. Under his guidance, sometimes accompanied by Alfred and Florence, Madeline had ridden the ranges and had studied the life and work of the cowboys. She had camped on the open range, slept under the blinking stars, ridden forty miles a day in the face of dust and wind. She had taken two wonderful trips down into the desert—one trip to Chiricahua, and from there across the waste of sand and rock and alkali and cactus to the Mexican borderline; and the other through the Aravaipa Valley, with its deep, red-walled canons and wild fastnesses.

This breaking-in, this training into Western ways, though she had been a so-called outdoor girl, had required great effort and severe pain; but the education, now past its grades, had become a labor of love. She had perfect health, abounding spirits. She was so active hat she had to train herself into taking the midday siesta, a custom of the country and imperative during the hot summer months. Sometimes she looked in her mirror and laughed with sheer joy at sight of the lithe, audacious, brown-faced, flashing-eyed creature reflected there. It was not so much joy in her beauty as sheer joy of life. Eastern critics had been wont to call her beautiful in those days when she had been pale and slender and proud and cold. She laughed. If they could only see her now! From the tip of her golden head to her feet he was alive, pulsating, on fire.

Sometimes she thought of her parents, sister, friends, of how they had persistently refused to believe she could or would stay in the West. They were always asking her to come home. And when she wrote, which was dutifully often, the last thing under the sun that she was likely to mention was the change in her. She wrote that she would return to her old home some time, of course, for a visit; and letters such as this brought returns that amused Madeline, sometimes saddened her. She meant to go back East for a while, and after that once or twice every year. But the initiative was a difficult step from which she shrank. Once home, she would have to make explanations, and these would not be understood. Her father’s business had been such that he could not leave it for the time required for a Western trip, or else, according to his letter, he would have come for her. Mrs. Hammond could not have been driven to cross the Hudson River; her un-American idea of the wilderness westward was that Indians still chased buffalo on the outskirts of Chicago. Madeline’s sister Helen had long been eager to come, as much from curiosity, Madeline thought, as from sisterly regard. And at length Madeline concluded that the proof of her breaking permanent ties might better be seen by visiting relatives and friends before she went back East. With that in mind she invited Helen to visit her during the summer, and bring as many friends as she liked.

No slight task indeed was it to oversee the many business details of Her Majesty’s Rancho and to keep a record of them. Madeline found the course of business training upon which her father had insisted to be invaluable to her now. It helped her to assimilate and arrange the practical details of cattle-raising as put forth by the blunt Stillwell. She split up the great stock of cattle into different herds, and when any of these were out running upon the open range she had them closely watched. Part of the time each herd was kept in an inclosed range, fed and watered, and carefully handled by a big force of cowboys. She employed three cowboy scouts whose sole duty was to ride the ranges searching for stray, sick, or crippled cattle or motherless calves, and to bring these in to be treated and nursed. There were two cowboys whose business was to master a pack of Russian stag-hounds and to hunt down the coyotes, wolves, and lions that preyed upon the herds. The better and tamer milch cows were separated from the ranging herds and kept in a pasture adjoining the dairy. All branding was done in corrals, and calves were weaned from mother-cows at the proper time to benefit both. The old method of branding and classing, that had so shocked Madeline, had been abandoned, and one had been inaugurated whereby cattle and cowboys and horses were spared brutality and injury.

Madeline established an extensive vegetable farm, and she planted orchards. The climate was superior to that of California, and, with abundant water, trees and plants and gardens flourished and bloomed in a way wonderful to behold. It was with ever-increasing pleasure that Madeline walked through acres of ground once bare, now green and bright and fragrant. There were poultry-yards and pig-pens and marshy quarters for ducks and geese. Here in the farming section of the ranch Madeline found employment for the little colony of Mexicans. Their lives had been as hard and barren as the dry valley where they had lived. But as the valley had been transformed by the soft, rich touch of water, so their lives had been transformed by help and sympathy and work. The children were wretched no more, and many that had been blind could now see, and Madeline had become to them a new and blessed virgin.

Madeline looked abroad over these lands and likened the change in them and those who lived by them to the change in her heart. It may have been fancy, but the sun seemed to be brighter, the sky bluer, the wind sweeter. Certain it was that the deep green of grass and garden was not fancy, nor the white and pink of blossom, nor the blaze and perfume of flower, nor the sheen of lake and the fluttering of new-born leaves. Where there had been monotonous gray there was now vivid and changing color. Formerly there had been silence both day and night; now during the sunny hours there was music. The whistle of prancing stallions pealed in from the grassy ridges. Innumerable birds had come and, like the northward-journeying ducks, they had tarried to stay. The song of meadow-lark and blackbird and robin, familiar to Madeline from childhood, mingled with the new and strange heart-throbbing song of mocking-bird and the piercing blast of the desert eagle and the melancholy moan of turtle-dove.

One April morning Madeline sat in her office wrestling with a problem. She had problems to solve every day. The majority of these were concerned with the management of twenty-seven incomprehensible cowboys. This particular problem involved Ambrose Mills, who had eloped with her French maid, Christine.

Stillwell faced Madeline with a smile almost as huge as his bulk.

"Wal, Miss Majesty, we ketched them; but not before Padre Marcos had married them. All thet speedin’ in the autoomoobile was jest a-scarin’ of me to death fer nothin’. I tell you Link Stevens is crazy about runnin’ thet car. Link never hed no sense even with a hoss. He ain’t afraid of the devil hisself. If my hair hedn’t been white it ’d be white now. No more rides in thet thing fer me! Wal, we ketched Ambrose an’ the girl too late. But we fetched them back, an’ they’re out there now, spoonin’, sure oblivious to their shameless conduct."

"Stillwell, what shall I say to Ambrose? How shall I punish him? He has done wrong to deceive me. I never was so surprised in my life. Christine did not seem to care any more for Ambrose than for any of the other cowboys. What does my authority amount to? I must do something. Stillwell, you must help me."

Whenever Madeline fell into a quandary she had to call upon the old cattleman. No man ever held a position with greater pride than Stillwell, but he had been put to tests that steeped him in humility. Here he scratched his head in great perplexity.

"Dog-gone the luck! What’s this elopin’ bizness to do with cattle-raisin’? I don’t know nothin’ but cattle. Miss Majesty, it’s amazin’ strange what these cowboys hev come to. I never seen no cowboys like these we’ve got hyar now. I don’t know them any more. They dress swell an’ read books, an’ some of them hev actooly stopped cussin’ an’ drinkin’. I ain’t sayin’ all this is against them. Why, now, they’re jest the finest bunch of cow-punchers I ever seen or dreamed of. But managin’ them now is beyond me. When cowboys begin to play thet game gol-lof an’ run off with French maids I reckon Bill Stillwell has got to resign."

"Stillwell! Oh, you will not leave me? What in the world would I do?" exclaimed Madeline, in great anxiety.

"Wal, I sure won’t leave you, Miss Majesty. No, I never’ll do thet. I’ll run the cattle bizness fer you an’ see after the hosses an’ other stock. But I’ve got to hev a foreman who can handle this amazin’ strange bunch of cowboys."

"You’ve tried half a dozen foremen. Try more until you find the man who meets your requirements," said Madeline. "Never mind that now. Tell me how to impress Ambrose—to make him an example, so to speak. I must have another maid. And I do not want a new one carried off in this summary manner."

"Wal, if you fetch pretty maids out hyar you can’t expect nothin’ else. Why, thet black-eyed little French girl, with her white skin an’ pretty airs an’ smiles an’ shrugs, she had the cowboys crazy. It’ll be wuss with the next one."

"Oh dear!" sighed Madeline.

"An’ as fer impressin’ Ambrose, I reckon I can tell you how to do thet. Jest give it to him good an’ say you’re goin’ to fire him. That’ll fix Ambrose, an’ mebbe scare the other boys fer a spell."

"Very well, Stillwell, bring Ambrose in to see me, and tell Christine to wait in my room."

"It was a handsome debonair, bright-eyed cowboy that came tramping into Madeline’s presence. His accustomed shyness and awkwardness had disappeared in an excited manner. He was a happy boy. He looked straight into Madeline’s face as if he expected her to wish him joy. And Madeline actually found that expression trembling to her lips. She held it back until she could be severe. But Madeline feared she would fail of much severity. Something warm and sweet, like a fragrance, had entered the room with Ambrose.

"Ambrose, what have you done?" she asked. "Miss Hammond, I’ve been and gone and got married," replied Ambrose, his words tumbling over one another. His eyes snapped, and there was a kind of glow upon his clean-shaven brown cheek. "I’ve stole a march on the other boys. There was Frank Slade pushin’ me close, and I was havin’ some runnin’ to keep Jim Bell back in my dust. Even old man Nels made eyes at Christine! So I wasn’t goin’ to take any chances. I just packed her off to El Cajon and married her."

"Oh, so I heard," said Madeline, slowly, as she watched him. "Ambrose, do you—love her?"

He reddened under her clear gaze, dropped his head, and fumbled with his new sombrero, and there was a catch in his breath. Madeline saw his powerful brown hand tremble. It affected her strangely that this stalwart cowboy, who could rope and throw and tie a wild steer in less than one minute, should tremble at a mere question. Suddenly he raised his head, and at the beautiful blase of his eyes Madeline turned her own away.

"Yes, Miss Hammond, I love her," he said. "I think I love her in the way you’re askin’ about. I know the first time I saw her I thought how wonderful it’d be to have a girl like that for my wife. It’s all been so strange—her comin’ an’ how she made me feel. Sure I never knew many girls, and I haven’t seen any girls at all for years. But when she came! A girl makes a wonderful difference in a man’s feelin’s and thoughts. I guess I never had any before. Leastways, none like I have now. My—it—well, I guess I have a little understandin’ now of Padre Marcos’s blessin’."

"Ambrose, have you nothing to say to me?" asked Madeline.

"I’m sure sorry I didn’t have time to tell you. But I was in some hurry."

"What did you intend to do? Where were you going when Stillwell found you?"

"We’d just been married. I hadn’t thought of anything after that. Suppose I’d have rustled back to my job. I’ll sure have to work now and save my money."

"Oh, well, Ambrose, I am glad you realize your responsibilities. Do you earn enough—is your pay sufficient to keep a wife?"

"Sure it is! Why, Miss Hammond, I never before earned half the salary I’m gettin’ now. It’s some fine to work for you. I’m goin’ to fire the boys out of my bunk-house and fix it up for Christine and me. Say, won’t they be jealous?"

"Ambrose, I—I congratulate you. I wish you joy," said Madeline. "I—I shall make Christine a little wedding-present. I want to talk to her for a few moments. You may go now."

It would have been impossible for Madeline to say one severe word to that happy cowboy. She experienced difficulty in hiding her own happiness at the turn of events. Curiosity and interest mingled with her pleasure when she called to Christine.

"Mrs. Ambrose Mills, please come in."

No sound came from the other room.

"I should like very much to see the bride," went on Madeline.

Still there was no stir or reply

"Christine!" called Madeline.

Then it was as if a little whirlwind of flying feet and entreating hands and beseeching eyes blew in upon Madeline. Christine was small, graceful, plump, with very white skin and very dark hair. She had been Madeline’s favorite maid for years and there was sincere affection between the two. Whatever had been the blissful ignorance of Ambrose, it was manifestly certain that Christine knew how she had transgressed. Her fear and remorse and appeal for forgiveness were poured out in an incoherent storm. Plain it was that the little French maid had been overwhelmed. It was only after Madeline had taken the emotional girl in her arms and had forgiven and soothed her that her part in the elopement became clear. Christine was in a maze. But gradually, as she talked and saw that she was forgiven, calmness came in some degree, and with it a story which amused yet shocked Madeline. The unmistakable, shy, marveling love, scarcely realized by Christine, gave Madeline relief and joy. If Christine loved Ambrose there was no harm done. Watching the girl’s eyes, wonderful with their changes of thought, listening to her attempts to explain what it was evident she did not understand, Madeline gathered that if ever a caveman had taken unto himself a wife, if ever a barbarian had carried off a Sabine woman, then Ambrose Mills had acted with the violence of such ancient forebears. Just how it all happened seemed to be beyond Christine.

"He say he love me," repeated the girl, in a kind of rapt awe. "He ask me to marry him—he kees me—he hug me—he lift me on ze horse—he ride with me all night—he marry me."

And she exhibited a ring on the third finger of her left hand. Madeline saw that, whatever had been the state of Christine’s feeling for Ambrose before this marriage, she loved him now. She had been taken forcibly, but she was won.

After Christine had gone, comforted and betraying her shy eagerness to get back to Ambrose, Madeline was haunted by the look in the girl’s eyes, and her words. Assuredly the spell of romance was on this sunny land. For Madeline there was a nameless charm, a nameless thrill combating her sense of the violence and unfitness of Ambrose’s wooing. Something, she knew not what, took arms against her intellectual arraignment of the cowboy’s method of getting himself a wife. He had said straight out that he loved the girl—he had asked her to marry him—he kissed her—he hugged her—he lifted her upon his horse—he rode away with her through the night—and he married her. In whatever light Madeline reviewed this thing she always came back to her first natural impression; it thrilled her, charmed her. It went against all the precepts of her training; nevertheless, it was somehow splendid and beautiful. She imagined it stripped another artificial scale from her over-sophisticated eyes.

Scarcely had she settled again to the task on her desk when Stillwell’s heavy tread across the porch interrupted her. This time when he entered he wore a look that bordered upon the hysterical; it was difficult to tell whether he was trying to suppress grief or glee.

"Miss Majesty, there’s another amazin’ strange thing sprung on me. Hyars Jim Bell come to see you, an’, when I taxed him, sayin’ you was tolerable busy, he up an’ says he was hungry an’ be ain’t a-goin’ to eat any more bread made in a wash-basin! Says he’ll starve first. Says Nels hed the gang over to big bunk an’ feasted them on bread you taught him how to make in some new-fangled bucket-machine with a crank. Jim says thet bread beat any cake he ever eat, an’ he wants you to show him how to make some. Now, Miss Majesty, as superintendent of this ranch I ought to know what’s goin’ on. Mebbe Jim is jest a-joshin’ me. Mebbe he’s gone clean dotty. Mebbe I hev. An’ beggin’ your pardon, I want to know if there’s any truth in what Jim says Nels says."

Whereupon it became necessary for Madeline to stifle her mirth and to inform the sadly perplexed old cattleman that she had received from the East a patent bread-mixer, and in view of the fact that her household women had taken fright at the contrivance, she had essayed to operate it herself. This had turned out to be so simple, so saving of time and energy and flour, so much more cleanly than the old method of mixing dough with the hands, and particularly it had resulted in such good bread, that Madeline had been pleased. Immediately she ordered more of the bread-mixers. One day she had happened upon Nels making biscuit dough in his wash-basin, and she had delicately and considerately introduced to him the idea of her new method. Nels, it appeared, had a great reputation as a bread-maker, and he was proud of it. Moreover, he was skeptical of any clap-trap thing with wheels and cranks. He consented, however, to let her show how the thing worked and to sample some of the bread. To that end she had him come up to the house, where she won him over. Stillwell laughed loud and long.

"Wal, wal, wal!" he exclaimed, at length. "Thet’s fine, an’ it’s powerful funny. Mebbe you don’t see how funny? Wal, Nels has jest been lordin’ it over the boys about how you showed him, an’ now you’ll hev to show every last cowboy on the place the same thing. Cowboys are the jealousest kind of fellers. They’re all crazy about you, anyway. Take Jim out hyar. Why, thet lazy cowpuncher jest never would make bread. He’s notorious fer shirkin’ his share of the grub deal. I’ve knowed Jim to trade off washin’ the pots an’ pans fer a lonely watch on a rainy night. All he wants is to see you show him the same as Nels is crowin’ over. Then he’ll crow over his bunkie, Frank Slade, an’ then Frank’ll get lonely to know all about this wonderful bread-machine. Cowboys are amazin’ strange critters, Miss Majesty. An’ now thet you’ve begun with them this way, you’ll hev to keep it up. I will say I never seen such a bunch to work. You’ve sure put heart in them."

"Indeed, Stillwell, I am glad to hear that," replied Madeline. "And I shall be pleased to teach them all. But may I not have them all up here at once—at least those off duty?"

"Wal, I reckon you can’t onless you want to hev them scrappin’," rejoined Stillwell, dryly. "What you’ve got on your hands now, Miss Majesty, is to let ’em come one by one, an’ make each cowboy think you’re takin’ more especial pleasure in showin’ him than the feller who came before him. Then mebbe we can go on with cattle-raisin’."

Madeline protested, and Stillwell held inexorably to what he said was wisdom. Several times Madeline had gone against his advice, to her utter discomfiture and rout. She dared not risk it again, and resigned herself grace-fully and with subdued merriment to her task. Jim Bell was ushered into the great, light, spotless kitchen, where presently Madeline appeared to put on an apron and roll up her sleeves. She explained the use of the several pieces of aluminum that made up the bread-mixer and fastened the bucket to the table-shelf. Jim’s life might have depended upon this lesson, judging from his absorbed manner and his desire to have things explained over and over, especially the turning of the crank. When Madeline had to take Jim’s hand three times to show him the simple mechanism and then he did not understand she began to have faint misgivings as to his absolute sincerity. She guessed that as long as she touched Jim’s hand he never would understand. Then as she began to measure out flour and milk and lard and salt and yeast she saw with despair that Jim was not looking at the ingredients, was not paying the slightest attention to them. His eyes were covertly upon her.

"Jim, I am not sure about you," said Madeline, severely. "How can you learn to make bread if you do not watch me mix it?"

"I am a-watchin’ you," replied Jim, innocently.

Finally Madeline sent the cowboy on his way rejoicing with the bread-mixer under his arm. Next morning, true to Stillwell’s prophecy, Frank Slade, Jim’s bunkmate, presented himself cheerfully to Madeline and unbosomed himself of a long-deferred and persistent desire to relieve his overworked comrade of some of the house-keeping in their bunk.

"Miss Hammond," said Frank, "Jim’s orful kind wantin’ to do it all hisself. But he ain’t very bright, an’ I didn’t believe him. You see, I’m from Missouri, an, you’ll have to show me."

For a whole week Madeline held clinics where she expounded the scientific method of modern bread-making. She got a good deal of enjoyment out of her lectures. What boys these great hulking fellows were! She saw through their simple ruses. Some of them were grave as deacons; others wore expressions important enough to have fitted the faces of statesmen signing government treaties. These cowboys were children; they needed to be governed; but in order to govern them they had to be humored. A more light-hearted, fun-loving crowd of boys could not have been found. And they were grown men. Stillwell explained that the exuberance of spirits lay in the difference in their fortunes. Twenty-seven cowboys, in relays of nine, worked eight hours a day. That had never been heard of before in the West. Stillwell declared that cowboys from all points of the compass would head their horses toward Her Majesty’s Rancho.

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Chicago: Zane Grey, "VII Her Majesty’s Rancho," Light of the Western Stars, ed. Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926 in Light of the Western Stars (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1913), Original Sources, accessed October 4, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KQVHLSUKPG1YTSM.

MLA: Grey, Zane. "VII Her Majesty’s Rancho." Light of the Western Stars, edited by Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926, in Light of the Western Stars, Vol. 22, New York, Doubleday, Page & Company, 1913, Original Sources. 4 Oct. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KQVHLSUKPG1YTSM.

Harvard: Grey, Z, 'VII Her Majesty’s Rancho' in Light of the Western Stars, ed. . cited in 1913, Light of the Western Stars, Doubleday, Page & Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 4 October 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KQVHLSUKPG1YTSM.