There had to be a king and queen, of course. The king was a terrible
old man who wore six-shooters and spurs, and shouted in such a
tremendous voice that the rattlers on the prairie would run into their
holes under the prickly pear. Before there was a royal family they
called the man "Whispering Ben." When he came to own 50,000 acres of
land and more cattle than he could count, they called him O'Donnell
"the Cattle King."
The queen had been a Mexican girl from Laredo. She made a good, mild,
Colorado-claro wife, and even succeeded in teaching Ben to modify his
voice sufficiently while in the house to keep the dishes from being
broken. When Ben got to be king she would sit on the gallery of
Espinosa Ranch and weave rush mats. When wealth became so irresistible
and oppressive that upholstered chairs and a centre table were brought
down from San Antone in the wagons, she bowed her smooth, dark head,
and shared the fate of the Danae.
To avoid /lese-majeste/ you have been presented first to the king and
queen. They do not enter the story, which might be called "The
Chronicle of the Princess, the Happy Thought, and the Lion that
Bungled his Job."
Josefa O'Donnell was the surviving daughter, the princess. From her
mother she inherited warmth of nature and a dusky, semi-tropic beauty.
From Ben O'Donnell the royal she acquired a store of intrepidity,
common sense, and the faculty of ruling. The combination was one worth
going miles to see. Josefa while riding her pony at a gallop could put
five out of six bullets through a tomato-can swinging at the end of a
string. She could play for hours with a white kitten she owned,
dressing it in all manner of absurd clothes. Scorning a pencil, she
could tell you out of her head what 1545 two-year-olds would bring on
the hoof, at $8.50 per head. Roughly speaking, the Espinosa Ranch is
forty miles long and thirty broad--but mostly leased land. Josefa, on
her pony, had prospected over every mile of it. Every cow-puncher on
the range knew her by sight and was a loyal vassal. Ripley Givens,
foreman of one of the Espinosa outfits, saw her one day, and made up
his mind to form a royal matrimonial alliance. Presumptuous? No. In
those days in the Nueces country a man was a man. And, after all, the
title of cattle king does not presuppose blood royalty. Often it only
signifies that its owner wears the crown in token of his magnificent
qualities in the art of cattle stealing.
One day Ripley Givens rode over to the Double Elm Ranch to inquire
about a bunch of strayed yearlings. He was late in setting out on his
return trip, and it was sundown when he struck the White Horse
Crossing of the Nueces. From there to his own camp it was sixteen
miles. To the Espinosa ranch it was twelve. Givens was tired. He
decided to pass the night at the Crossing.
There was a fine water hole in the river-bed. The banks were thickly
covered with great trees, undergrown with brush. Back from the water
hole fifty yards was a stretch of curly mesquite grass--supper for his
horse and bed for himself. Givens staked his horse, and spread out his
saddle blankets to dry. He sat down with his back against a tree and
rolled a cigarette. From somewhere in the dense timber along the river
came a sudden, rageful, shivering wail. The pony danced at the end of
his rope and blew a whistling snort of comprehending fear. Givens
puffed at his cigarette, but he reached leisurely for his pistol-belt,
which lay on the grass, and twirled the cylinder of his weapon
tentatively. A great gar plunged with a loud splash into the water
hole. A little brown rabbit skipped around a bunch of catclaw and sat
twitching his whiskers and looking humorously at Givens. The pony went
on eating grass.
It is well to be reasonably watchful when a Mexican lion sings soprano
along the arroyos at sundown. The burden of his song may be that young
calves and fat lambs are scarce, and that he has a carnivorous desire
for your acquaintance.
In the grass lay an empty fruit can, cast there by some former
sojourner. Givens caught sight of it with a grunt of satisfaction. In
his coat pocket tied behind his saddle was a handful or two of ground
coffee. Black coffee and cigarettes! What ranchero could desire more?
In two minutes he had a little fire going clearly. He started, with
his can, for the water hole. When within fifteen yards of its edge he
saw, between the bushes, a side-saddled pony with down-dropped reins
cropping grass a little distance to his left. Just rising from her
hands and knees on the brink of the water hole was Josefa O'Donnell.
She had been drinking water, and she brushed the sand from the palms
of her hands. Ten yards away, to her right, half concealed by a clump
of sacuista, Givens saw the crouching form of the Mexican lion. His
amber eyeballs glared hungrily; six feet from them was the tip of the
tail stretched straight, like a pointer's. His hind-quarters rocked
with the motion of the cat tribe preliminary to leaping.
Givens did what he could. His six-shooter was thirty-five yards away
lying on the grass. He gave a loud yell, and dashed between the lion
and the princess.
The "rucus," as Givens called it afterward, was brief and somewhat
confused. When he arrived on the line of attack he saw a dim streak in
the air, and heard a couple of faint cracks. Then a hundred pounds of
Mexican lion plumped down upon his head and flattened him, with a
heavy jar, to the ground. He remembered calling out: "Let up, now--no
fair gouging!" and then he crawled from under the lion like a worm,
with his mouth full of grass and dirt, and a big lump on the back of
his head where it had struck the root of a water-elm. The lion lay
motionless. Givens, feeling aggrieved, and suspicious of fouls, shook
his fist at the lion, and shouted: "I'll rastle you again for
twenty--" and then he got back to himself.
Josefa was standing in her tracks, quietly reloading her silver-
mounted .38. It had not been a difficult shot. The lion's head made an
easier mark than a tomato-can swinging at the end of a string. There
was a provoking, teasing, maddening smile upon her mouth and in her
dark eyes. The would-be-rescuing knight felt the fire of his fiasco
burn down to his soul. Here had been his chance, the chance that he
had dreamed of; and Momus, and not Cupid, had presided over it. The
satyrs in the wood were, no doubt, holding their sides in hilarious,
silent laughter. There had been something like vaudeville--say Signor
Givens and his funny knockabout act with the stuffed lion.
"Is that you, Mr. Givens?" said Josefa, in her deliberate, saccharine
contralto. "You nearly spoilt my shot when you yelled. Did you hurt
your head when you fell?"
"Oh, no," said Givens, quietly; "that didn't hurt." He stooped
ignominiously and dragged his best Stetson hat from under the beast.
It was crushed and wrinkled to a fine comedy effect. Then he knelt
down and softly stroked the fierce, open-jawed head of the dead lion.
"Poor old Bill!" he exclaimed mournfully.
"What's that?" asked Josefa, sharply.
"Of course you didn't know, Miss Josefa," said Givens, with an air of
one allowing magnanimity to triumph over grief. "Nobody can blame you.
I tried to save him, but I couldn't let you know in time."
"Why, Bill. I've been looking for him all day. You see, he's been our
camp pet for two years. Poor old fellow, he wouldn't have hurt a
cottontail rabbit. It'll break the boys all up when they hear about
it. But you couldn't tell, of course, that Bill was just trying to
play with you."
Josefa's black eyes burned steadily upon him. Ripley Givens met the
test successfully. He stood rumpling the yellow-brown curls on his
head pensively. In his eye was regret, not unmingled with a gentle
reproach. His smooth features were set to a pattern of indisputable
sorrow. Josefa wavered.
"What was your pet doing here?" she asked, making a last stand.
"There's no camp near the White Horse Crossing."
"The old rascal ran away from camp yesterday," answered Givens
readily. "It's a wonder the coyotes didn't scare him to death. You
see, Jim Webster, our horse wrangler, brought a little terrier pup
into camp last week. The pup made life miserable for Bill--he used to
chase him around and chew his hind legs for hours at a time. Every
night when bedtime came Bill would sneak under one of the boy's
blankets and sleep to keep the pup from finding him. I reckon he must
have been worried pretty desperate or he wouldn't have run away. He
was always afraid to get out of sight of camp."
Josefa looked at the body of the fierce animal. Givens gently patted
one of the formidable paws that could have killed a yearling calf with
one blow. Slowly a red flush widened upon the dark olive face of the
girl. Was it the signal of shame of the true sportsman who has brought
down ignoble quarry? Her eyes grew softer, and the lowered lids drove
away all their bright mockery.
"I'm very sorry," she said humbly; "but he looked so big, and jumped
so high that--"
"Poor old Bill was hungry," interrupted Givens, in quick defence of
the deceased. "We always made him jump for his supper in camp. He
would lie down and roll over for a piece of meat. When he saw you he
thought he was going to get something to eat from you."
Suddenly Josefa's eyes opened wide.
"I might have shot you!" she exclaimed. "You ran right in between. You
risked your life to save your pet! That was fine, Mr. Givens. I like a
man who is kind to animals."
Yes; there was even admiration in her gaze now. After all, there was a
hero rising out of the ruins of the anti-climax. The look on Givens's
face would have secured him a high position in the S.P.C.A.
"I always loved 'em," said he; "horses, dogs, Mexican lions, cows,
"I hate alligators," instantly demurred Josefa; "crawly, muddy
"Did I say alligators?" said Givens. "I meant antelopes, of course."
Josefa's conscience drove her to make further amends. She held out her
hand penitently. There was a bright, unshed drop in each of her eyes.
"Please forgive me, Mr. Givens, won't you? I'm only a girl, you know,
and I was frightened at first. I'm very, very sorry I shot Bill. You
don't know how ashamed I feel. I wouldn't have done it for anything."
Givens took the proffered hand. He held it for a time while he allowed
the generosity of his nature to overcome his grief at the loss of
Bill. At last it was clear that he had forgiven her.
"Please don't speak of it any more, Miss Josefa. 'Twas enough to
frighten any young lady the way Bill looked. I'll explain it all right
to the boys."
"Are you really sure you don't hate me?" Josefa came closer to him
impulsively. Her eyes were sweet--oh, sweet and pleading with gracious
penitence. "I would hate anyone who would kill my kitten. And how
daring and kind of you to risk being shot when you tried to save him!
How very few men would have done that!" Victory wrested from defeat!
Vaudeville turned into drama! Bravo, Ripley Givens!
It was now twilight. Of course Miss Josefa could not be allowed to
ride on to the ranch-house alone. Givens resaddled his pony in spite
of that animal's reproachful glances, and rode with her. Side by side
they galloped across the smooth grass, the princess and the man who
was kind to animals. The prairie odours of fruitful earth and delicate
bloom were thick and sweet around them. Coyotes yelping over there on
the hill! No fear. And yet--
Josefa rode closer. A little hand seemed to grope. Givens found it
with his own. The ponies kept an even gait. The hands lingered
together, and the owner of one explained:
"I never was frightened before, but just think! How terrible it would
be to meet a really wild lion! Poor Bill! I'm so glad you came with
O'Donnell was sitting on the ranch gallery.
"Hello, Rip!" he shouted--"that you?"
"He rode in with me," said Josefa. "I lost my way and was late."
"Much obliged," called the cattle king. "Stop over, Rip, and ride to
camp in the morning."
But Givens would not. He would push on to camp. There was a bunch of
steers to start off on the trail at daybreak. He said good-night, and
An hour later, when the lights were out, Josefa, in her night-robe,
came to her door and called to the king in his own room across the
"Say, pop, you know that old Mexican lion they call the 'Gotch-eared
Devil'--the one that killed Gonzales, Mr. Martin's sheep herder, and
about fifty calves on the Salado range? Well, I settled his hash this
afternoon over at the White Horse Crossing. Put two balls in his head
with my .38 while he was on the jump. I knew him by the slice gone
from his left ear that old Gonzales cut off with his machete. You
couldn't have made a better shot yourself, daddy."
"Bully for you!" thundered Whispering Ben from the darkness of the