A trestle burned down on the International Railroad. The south-
bound from San Antonio was cut off for the next forty-eight hours.
On that train was Tonia Weaver's Easter hat.
Espirition, the Mexican, who had been sent forty miles in a
buckboard from the Espinosa Ranch to fetch it, returned with a
shrugging shoulder and hands empty except for a cigarette. At
the small station, Nopal, he had learned of the delayed train and,
having no commands to wait, turned his ponies toward the ranch
Now, if one supposes that Easter, the Goddess of Spring, cares any
more for the after-church parade on Fifth Avenue than she does for
her loyal outfit of subjects that assemble at the meeting-house at
Cactus, Tex., a mistake has been made. The wives and daughters of
the ranchmen of the Frio country put forth Easter blossoms of new
hats and gowns as faithfully as is done anywhere, and the Southwest
is, for one day, a mingling of prickly pear, Paris, and paradise.
And now it was Good Friday, and Tonia Weaver's Easter hat blushed
unseen in the desert air of an impotent express car, beyond the
burned trestle. On Saturday noon the Rogers girls, from the
Shoestring Ranch, and Ella Reeves, from the Anchor-O, and Mrs.
Bennet and Ida, from Green Valley, would convene at the Espinosa
and pick up Tonia. With their Easter hats and frocks carefully
wrapped and bundled against the dust, the fair aggregation would
then merrily jog the ten miles to Cactus, where on the morrow they
would array themselves, subjugate man, do homage to Easter, and
cause jealous agitation among the lilies of the field.
Tonia sat on the steps of the Espinosa ranch house flicking gloomily
with a quirt at a tuft of curly mesquite. She displayed a frown
and a contumelious lip, and endeavored to radiate an aura of
disagreeableness and tragedy.
"I hate railroads," she announced positively. "And men. Men pretend
to run them. Can you give any excuse why a trestle should burn? Ida
Bennet's hat is to be trimmed with violets. I shall not go one step
toward Cactus without a new hat. If I were a man I would get one."
Two men listened uneasily to this disparagement of their kind. One
was Wells Pearson, foreman of the Mucho Calor cattle ranch. The
other was Thompson Burrows, the prosperous sheepman from the Quintana
Valley. Both thought Tonia Weaver adorable, especially when she
railed at railroads and menaced men. Either would have given up his
epidermis to make for her an Easter hat more cheerfully than the
ostrich gives up his tip or the aigrette lays down its life. Neither
possessed the ingenuity to conceive a means of supplying the sad
deficiency against the coming Sabbath. Pearson's deep brown face and
sunburned light hair gave him the appearance of a schoolboy seized by
one of youth's profound and insolvable melancholies. Tonia's plight
grieved him through and through. Thompson Burrows was the more
skilled and pliable. He hailed from somewhere in the East originally;
and he wore neckties and shoes, and was made dumb by woman's presence.
"The big water-hole on Sandy Creek," said Pearson, scarcely hoping to
make a hit, "was filled up by that last rain."
"Oh! Was it?" said Tonia sharply. "Thank you for the information.
I suppose a new hat is nothing to you, Mr. Pearson. I suppose you
think a woman ought to wear an old Stetson five years without a
change, as you do. If your old water-hole could have put out the
fire on that trestle you might have some reason to talk about it."
"I am deeply sorry," said Burrows, warned by Pearson's fate, "that
you failed to receive your hat, Miss Weaver--deeply sorry, indeed.
If there was anything I could do--"
"Don't bother," interrupted Tonia, with sweet sarcasm. "If there was
anything you could do, you'd be doing it, of course. There isn't."
Tonia paused. A sudden sparkle of hope had come into her eye. Her
frown smoothed away. She had an inspiration.
"There's a store over at Lone Elm Crossing on the Nueces," she said,
"that keeps hats. Eva Rogers got hers there. She said it was the
latest style. It might have some left. But it's twenty-eight miles
to Lone Elm."
The spurs of two men who hastily arose jingled; and Tonia almost
smiled. The Knights, then, were not all turned to dust; nor were
their rowels rust.
"Of course," said Tonia, looking thoughtfully at a white gulf cloud
sailing across the cerulean dome, "nobody could ride to Lone Elm and
back by the time the girls call by for me to-morrow. So, I reckon
I'll have to stay at home this Easter Sunday."
And then she smiled.
"Well, Miss Tonia," said Pearson, reaching for his hat, as guileful
as a sleeping babe. "I reckon I'll be trotting along back to Mucho
Calor. There's some cutting out to be done on Dry Branch first thing
in the morning; and me and Road Runner has got to be on hand. It's
too bad your hat got sidetracked. Maybe they'll get that trestle
mended yet in time for Easter."
"I must be riding, too, Miss Tonia," announced Burrows, looking at
his watch. "I declare, it's nearly five o'clock! I must be out at
my lambing camp in time to help pen those crazy ewes."
Tonia's suitors seemed to have been smitten with a need for haste.
They bade her a ceremonious farewell, and then shook each other's
hands with the elaborate and solemn courtesy of the Southwesterner.
"Hope I'll see you again soon, Mr. Pearson," said Burrows.
"Same here," said the cowman, with the serious face of one whose
friend goes upon a whaling voyage. "Be gratified to see you ride
over to Mucho Calor any time you strike that section of the range."
Pearson mounted Road Runner, the soundest cow-pony on the Frio, and
let him pitch for a minute, as he always did on being mounted, even
at the end of a day's travel.
"What kind of a hat was that, Miss Tonia," he called, "that you
ordered from San Antone? I can't help but be sorry about that hat."
"A straw," said Tonia; "the latest shape, of course; trimmed with red
roses. That's what I like--red roses."
"There's no color more becoming to your complexion and hair," said
"It's what I like," said Tonia. "And of all the flowers, give me red
roses. Keep all the pinks and blues for yourself. But what's the
use, when trestles burn and leave you without anything? It'll be a
dry old Easter for me!"
Pearson took off his hat and drove Road Bunner at a gallop into the
chaparral east of the Espinosa ranch house.
As his stirrups rattled against the brush Burrows's long-legged
sorrel struck out down the narrow stretch of open prairie to the
Tonia hung up her quirt and went into the sitting-room.
"I'm mighty sorry, daughter, that you didn't get your hat," said her
"Oh, don't worry, mother," said Tonia, coolly. "I'll have a new hat,
all right, in time to-morrow."
When Burrows reached the end of the strip of prairie he pulled his
sorrel to the right and let him pick his way daintily across a
sacuista flat through which ran the ragged, dry bed of an arroyo.
Then up a gravelly hill, matted with bush, the hoarse scrambled, and
at length emerged, with a snort of satisfaction into a stretch of
high, level prairie, grassy and dotted with the lighter green of
mesquites in their fresh spring foliage. Always to the right Burrows
bore, until in a little while he struck the old Indian trail that
followed the Nueces southward, and that passed, twenty-eight miles
to the southeast, through Lone Elm.
Here Burrows urged the sorrel into a steady lope. As he settled
himself in the saddle for a long ride he heard the drumming of hoofs,
the hollow "thwack" of chaparral against wooden stirrups, the whoop
of a Comanche; and Wells Pearson burst out of the brush at the right
of the trail like a precocious yellow chick from a dark green Easter
Except in the presence of awing femininity melancholy found no place
in Pearson's bosom. In Tonia's presence his voice was as soft as a
summer bullfrog's in his reedy nest. Now, at his gleesome yawp,
rabbits, a mile away, ducked their ears, and sensitive plants closed
their fearful fronds.
"Moved your lambing camp pretty far from the ranch, haven't you,
neighbor?" asked Pearson, as Road Runner fell in at the sorrel's
"Twenty-eight miles," said Burrows, looking a little grim. Pearson's
laugh woke an owl one hour too early in his water-elm on the river
bank, half a mile away.
"All right for you, sheepman. I like an open game, myself. We're
two locoed he-milliners hat-hunting in the wilderness. I notify you.
Burr, to mind your corrals. We've got an even start, and the one
that gets the headgear will stand some higher at the Espinosa."
"You've got a good pony," said Burrows, eyeing Road Runner's barrel-
like body and tapering legs that moved as regularly as the pistonrod
of an engine. "It's a race, of course; but you're too much of a
horseman to whoop it up this soon. Say we travel together till we
get to the home stretch."
"I'm your company," agreed Pearson, "and I admire your sense. If
there's hats at Lone Elm, one of 'em shall set on Miss Tonia's brow
to-morrow, and you won't be at the crowning. I ain't bragging, Burr,
but that sorrel of yours is weak in the fore-legs."
"My horse against yours," offered Burrows, "that Miss Tonia wears
the hat I take her to Cactus to-morrow."
"I'll take you up," shouted Pearson. "But oh, it's just like horse-
stealing for me! I can use that sorrel for a lady's animal when--
when somebody comes over to Mucho Calor, and--"
Burrows' dark face glowered so suddenly that the cowman broke off his
sentence. But Pearson could never feel any pressure for long.
"What's all this Easter business about, Burr?" he asked, cheerfully.
"Why do the women folks have to have new hats by the almanac or bust
all cinches trying to get 'em?"
"It's a seasonable statute out of the testaments," explained Burrows.
"It's ordered by the Pope or somebody. And it has something to do
with the Zodiac I don't know exactly, but I think it was invented by
"It's an all-right jubilee if the heathens did put their brand on
it," said Pearson; "or else Tonia wouldn't have anything to do with
it. And they pull it off at church, too. Suppose there ain't but
one hat in the Lone Elm store, Burr!"
"Then," said Burrows, darkly, "the best man of us'll take it back to
"Oh, man!" cried Pearson, throwing his hat high and catching it
again, "there's nothing like you come off the sheep ranges before.
You talk good and collateral to the occasion. And if there's more
"Then," said Burrows, "we'll pick our choice and one of us'll get
back first with his and the other won't."
"There never was two souls," proclaimed Pearson to the stars, "that
beat more like one heart than yourn and mine. Me and you might be
riding on a unicorn and thinking out of the same piece of mind."
At a little past midnight the riders loped into Lone Elm. The half a
hundred houses of the big village were dark. On its only street the
big wooden store stood barred and shuttered.
In a few moments the horses were fastened and Pearson was pounding
cheerfully on the door of old Sutton, the storekeeper.
The barrel of a Winchester came through a cranny of a solid window
shutter followed by a short inquiry.
"Wells Pearson, of the Mucho Calor, and Burrows, of Green Valley,"
was the response. "We want to buy some goods in the store. Sorry
to wake you up but we must have 'em. Come on out, Vncle Tommy, and
get a move on you."
Uncle Tommy was slow, but at length they got him behind his counter
with a kerosene lamp lit, and told him of their dire need.
"Easter hats?" said Uncle Tommy, sleepily. "Why, yes, I believe I
have got just a couple left. I only ordered a dozen this spring.
I'll show 'em to you."
Now, Uncle Tommy Sutton was a merchant, half asleep or awake. In
dusty pasteboard boxes under the counter he had two left-over spring
hats. But, alas! for his commercial probity on that early Saturday
morn--they were hats of two springs ago, and a woman's eye would
have detected the fraud at half a glance. But to the unintelligent
gaze of the cowpuncher and the sheepman they seemed fresh from the
mint of contemporaneous April.
The hats were of a variety once known as "cart-wheels." They were
of stiff straw, colored red, and flat brimmed. Both were exactly
alike, and trimmed lavishly around their crowns with full blown,
immaculate, artificial white roses.
"That all you got, Uncle Tommy?" said Pearson. "All right. Not much
choice here, Burr. Take your pick."
"They're the latest styles" lied Uncle Tommy. "You'd see 'em on
Fifth Avenue, if you was in New York."
Uncle Tommy wrapped and tied each hat in two yards of dark calico for
a protection. One Pearson tied carefully to his calfskin saddle-
thongs; and the other became part of Road Runner's burden. They
shouted thanks and farewells to Uncle Tommy, and cantered back into
the night on the home stretch.
The horsemen jockeyed with all their skill. They rode more slowly
on their way back. The few words they spoke were not unfriendly.
Burrows had a Winchester under his left leg slung over his saddle
horn. Pearson had a six shooter belted around him. Thus men rode
in the Frio country.
At half-past seven in the morning they rode to the top of a hill and
saw the Espinosa Ranch, a white spot under a dark patch of live-oaks,
five miles away.
The sight roused Pearson from his drooping pose in the saddle.
He knew what Road Runner could do. The sorrel was lathered, and
stumbling frequently; Road Runner was pegging away like a donkey
Pearson turned toward the sheepman and laughed. "Good-bye, Burr," he
cried, with a wave of his hand. "It's a race now. We're on the home
He pressed Road Runner with his knees and leaned toward the Espinosa.
Road Runner struck into a gallop, with tossing head and snorting
nostrils, as if he were fresh from a month in pasture.
Pearson rode twenty yards and heard the unmistakable sound of a
Winchester lever throwing a cartridge into the barrel. He dropped
flat along his horse's back before the crack of the rifle reached
It is possible that Burrows intended only to disable the horse--
he was a good enough shot to do that without endangering his rider.
But as Pearson stooped the ball went through his shoulder and then
through Road Runner's neck. The horse fell and the cowman pitched
over his head into the hard road, and neither of them tried to move.
Burrows rode on without stopping.
In two hours Pearson opened his eyes and took inventory. He managed
to get to his feet and staggered back to where Road Runner was
Road Runner was lying there, but he appeared to be comfortable.
Pearson examined him and found that the bullet had "creased" him.
He had been knocked out temporarily, but not seriously hurt. But he
was tired, and he lay there on Miss Tonia's hat and ate leaves from
a mesquite branch that obligingly hung over the road.
Pearson made the horse get up. The Easter hat, loosed from the
saddle-thongs, lay there in its calico wrappings, a shapeless thing
from its sojourn beneath the solid carcass of Road Runner. Then
Pearson fainted and fell head long upon the poor hat again, crumpling
it under his wounded shoulders.
It is hard to kill a cowpuncher. In half an hour he revived--long
enough for a woman to have fainted twice and tried ice-cream for a
restorer. He got up carefully and found Road Runner who was busy
with the near-by grass. He tied the unfortunate hat to the saddle
again, and managed to get himself there, too, after many failures.
At noon a gay and fluttering company waited in front of the Espinosa
Ranch. The Rogers girls were there in their new buckboard, and the
Anchor-O outfit and the Green Valley folks--mostly women. And each
and every one wore her new Easter hat, even upon the lonely prairies,
for they greatly desired to shine forth and do honor to the coming
At the gate stood Tonia. with undisguised tears upon her cheeks.
In her hand she held Burrow's Lone Elm hat, and it was at its white
roses, hated by her, that she wept. For her friends were telling
her, with the ecstatic joy of true friends, that cart-wheels could
not be worn, being three seasons passed into oblivion.
"Put on your old hat and come, Tonia," they urged.
"For Easter Sunday?" she answered. "I'll die first." And wept
The hats of the fortunate ones were curved and twisted into the style
of spring's latest proclamation.
A strange being rode out of the brush among them, and there sat his
horse languidly. He was stained and disfigured with the green of the
grass and the limestone of rocky roads.
"Hallo, Pearson," said Daddy Weaver. "Look like you've been breaking
a mustang. What's that you've got tied to your saddle--a pig in a
"Oh, come on, Tonia, if you're going," said Betty Rogers. "We mustn't
wait any longer. We've saved a seat in the buckboard for you. Never
mind the hat. That lovely muslin you've got on looks sweet enough
with any old hat."
Pearson was slowly untying the queer thing on his saddle. Tonia
looked at him with a sudden hope. Pearson was a man who created
hope. He got the thing loose and handed it to her. Her quick
fingers tore at the strings.
"Best I could do," said Pearson slowly. "What Road Runner and me
done to it will be about all it needs."
"Oh, oh! it's just the right shape," shrieked Tonia. "And red roses!
Wait till I try it on!"
She flew in to the glass, and out again, beaming, radiating,
"Oh, don't red become her?" chanted the girls in recitative. "Hurry
Tonia stopped for a moment by the side of Road Runner.
"Thank you, thank you, Wells," she said, happily. "It's just what
I wanted. Won't you come over to Cactus to-morrow and go to church
"If I can," said Pearson. He was looking curiously at her hat, and
then he grinned weakly.
Tonia flew into the buckboard like a bird. The vehicles sped away
"What have you been doing, Pearson?" asked Daddy Weaver. "You ain't
looking so well as common."
"Me?" said Pearson. "I've been painting flowers. Them roses was
white when I left Lone Elm. Help me down, Daddy Weaver, for I
haven't got any more paint to spare."