Last week, we presented Elenore Meherin’s account of the budding romance between William Richardson’s daughter Mariana and “the handsomest and bravest of all California’s dashing young Caballeros” Ramon de Haro. The couple, along with Mariana’s brother Steve and Ramon’s brother Francisco, set out to capture some gallant wild horses. This week that story continues:
Ramon reached out and plucked the rose from her hair. “For luck!” he said, sticking the flower in his vest. “It’s going to be a fight; the horse may well prove better than the man.” Mariana laughed. This was sport of a thrilling order. The boys had seen the magnificent stallion with a herd of mares. They were wild horses. Today they would lasso the best of these and bring them back to the Saucelito Rancho. Ramon touched her elbow, pointed to a little mountain meadow. “Look—there he is!”
She saw a flash of white, the great stallion with 10 or 12 black mares and three pintos. They were standing perfectly quiet, perfectly unaware. Ramon slid from his mount, quickly removed the saddle. They rode bareback with only a reata strapped about the horse’s body, when they went after the wild herd. Now Steve and Francisco galloped up. Without a word, they also removed their saddles. “I will get a pinto—the tall one,” said Steve. Francisco answered, “It’s the shiny black one nearest to the tree for me!” They all rode on in swift, stealthy quiet.
Suddenly Ramon stooped low, giving his horse the rein. A moment later the wild mares and the white stallion were plunging onward in great alarm, the three horsemen and the girl galloping mile after mile in headlong pursuit. They were catching up on the herd, the stallion not 50 yards in the lead. A lasso went out. A moment of breathless suspense, then with unerring precision the noose tightened on the great white stallion’s neck. Instantly Ramon’s horse halted. Rider and mount might have turned to stone so motionless they stood while the magnificent snow-white beast plunged and reared and neighed screamingly with rage. Mariana stood at a little distance, tensed and prayerful, watching the breathless struggle. If Ramon’s nerve for one moment faltered he would be dragged to the ground and trampled to death. The stallion went racing madly, seeming bent on crashing rider and horse against a tree.
Ramon let him run, holding his own horse firm, but playing out the rope and flashing with excitement. Inches from the redwood tree, the rope pulled taut, the raging animal halted. She saw Ramon smile, saw his hand whipping up the loops, graceful, poised, inconsequent as though it were a ballet. Then the wild horse turned and charged. The girl closed her eyes. When she opened them, the white stallion, choked and exhausted, lay on the ground and Ramon waved in triumph. Only then, Mariana noted her brother with the pinto in leash and Francisco with the sleek black mare.
They rode gaily, like conquering heroes, back through the hills. The three wild horses were still rearing, untamed but forced to follow. Suddenly the stallion stopped short. He lowered his head and neighed loudly. He waited and neighed again—a long imperious summons, then a series of short, nervous, half – frantic cries.
Ramon said softly, “He is calling to the mares.”
On a ridge, running parallel to the one they traveled, the calico mares and two others appeared. They were running swiftly, determinedly, miles distant, but headed westward. The stallion sensed their presence for he lifted his head and snorted proudly.
“A lovely thing said Ramon, “they’re needing each other and knowing it and clinging together. I like a loyalty like that. Tomorrow I will bring in the mare.”
She looked up and found his eyes seeking hers and full of a shining sweetness. She said admiringly, “He is a noble beast, Ramon.” He laughed and dashing past her, answered, “Not too noble for you, Chiquita mia!”
She mocked. “You would give your right hand up before you’d yield this princely steed.” He shouted back so that the whole valley rang with his joy, “The hand, too, Chiquita, as you well know, is yours!” She had guessed the stallion would be hers but she was glad to hear him say it in this gallant way. As they came into the Saucelito Rancho, the American battleship “Portsmouth” was at anchor. Nearby was the Russian warship “Moscow.” These did not interest Mariana Richardson. Far out on the bay she saw her father’s launch sailing under a stiff breeze homeward. It would be crowded with guests. There would be a baile [dance] and great feasting. She felt happier than in all her life.
(Continued Next Week)