No woman in New Mexico could ride better than the heiress of the Rio Chama. She could throw a rope as well as some of her vaqueros. At least one bearskin lay on the floor of her study as a witness to her prowess as a Diana. Many a time she had fished the river in waders and brought back with her to the ranch a creel full of trout. Years in the untempered sun and wind of the southwest had given her a sturdiness of body unusual in a girl so slenderly fashioned. The responsibility of large affairs had added to this an independence of judgment that would have annoyed Don Manuel if he had been less in love.
Against the advice of both Pesquiera and her foreman she had about a year before this time largely increased her holdings in cattle, at the same time investing heavily in improved breeding stock. Her justification had been that the cost of beef, based on the law of supply and demand, was bound to continue on the rise.
“But how do you know, Dona?” her perplexed major domo had asked. “Twenty—fifteen years ago everybody had cattle and lost money. Prices are high to-day, but manana——”
“To-morrow they will be higher. It’s just a matter of arithmetic, Fernando. There are seventeen million less cattle in the country than there were eight years ago. The government reports say so. Our population is steadily increasing. The people must eat. Since there are fewer cattle they must pay more for their meat. We shall have meat to sell. Is that not simple?”
“Si, Dona, but——”
“But in the main we have always been sheep-herders, so we ought always to be? We’ll run cattle and sheep, too, Fernando. We’ll make this ranch pay as it never has before.”
“But the feed—the winter feed, Senorita?”
“We’ll have to raise our feed. I’m going to send for engineers and find what it will cost to impound, water in the cordilleras and run ditches into the valley. We ought to be watering thousands of acres for alfalfa and grain that now are dry.”
“It never has been done—not in the time of Don Alvaro or even in that of Don Bartolome.”
“And so you think it never can?” she asked, with a smile.
“The Rio Chama Valley is grazing land. It is not for agriculture. Everybody knows that,” he insisted doggedly.
“Everybody knows we were given two legs with which to walk, but it is an economy to ride. So we use horses.”
Fernando shrugged his shoulders. Of what use to argue with the dona when her teeth were set? She was a Valdes, and so would have her way.
That had been a year ago. Now the ditches were built. Fields had been planted to alfalfa and grain. Soon the water would be running through the laterals to irrigate the growing crops. Quietly the young woman at the head of things was revolutionizing the life of the valley by transforming it from a pastoral to a farming community.