We present Part Two of the short story "Hearts and Crosses," by O. Henry. The story was originally adapted and recorded by the U.S. Department of State.
One day, a man named Bartholomew, not an important man, stopped at the Nopalito ranch house. It was noon and he was hungry. He sat down at the dinner table. While he was eating, he talked.
“Mrs. Yeager,” he said, “I saw a man on the Seco Ranch with your name. Webb Yeager. He was foreman there. He was a tall yellow-haired man. Not a talker. Someone of your family?”
“A husband,” said Santa. “That is fine for the Seco Ranch. Mr. Yeager is the best foreman in the West.”
Everything at the Nopalito Ranch had been going well.
For several years they had been working at the Nopalito with a different kind of cattle. These cattle had been brought from England, and they were better than the usual Texas cattle. They had been successful at the Nopalito Ranch, and men on the other ranches were interested in them.
As a result, one day a cowboy arrived at the Nopalito Ranch and gave the queen this letter:
“Mrs. Yeager — The Nopalito Ranch:
"I have been told by the owners of the Seco Ranch to buy 100 of your English cattle. If you can sell these to the Seco, send them to us in the care of the man who brings this letter. We will then send you the money.
"Webb Yeager, Foreman, Seco Ranch.”
Business is business to a queen as it is to others. That night the 100 cattle were moved near the ranch house, ready for an early start the next morning.
When night came and the house was quiet, did Santa Yeager cry alone? Did she hold that letter near to her heart? Did she speak the name that she had been too proud to speak for many weeks? Or did she place the letter with other business letters, in her office?
Ask if you will, but there is no answer. What a queen does is something we cannot always know. But this you shall be told:
In the middle of the night, Santa went quietly out of the ranch house. She was dressed in something dark. She stopped for a moment under a tree. There was moonlight, and a bird was singing, and there was a smell of flowers. Santa turned her face toward the southeast and threw three kisses in that direction, for there was no one to see her.
Then she hurried quietly to a small building. What she did there, we can only guess. But there was the red light of a fire, and noise as if Cupid might be making his arrows.
Later she came out with some strange iron tool in one hand. In the other hand she carried something that held a small fire. She hurried in the moonlight to the place where the English cattle had been gathered.
Most of the English cattle were a dark red. But among those 100 there was one as white as milk.
And now Santa caught that white animal as cowboys catch cattle. She tried once and failed. Then she tried again, and the animal fell heavily. Santa ran to it, but the animal jumped up.
Again she tried and this time she was successful. The animal fell to earth again. Before it could rise, Santa had tied its feet together.
Then she ran to the fire she had carried here. From it she took that strange iron tool. It was white hot.
There was a loud cry from the animal as the white-hot iron burned its skin. But no one seemed to hear. All the ranch were quiet. And in the deep night quiet, Santa ran back to the ranch house and there fell onto a bed. She let the tears from her eyes, as if queens had hearts like the hearts of ranchmen’s wives; and as if a queen’s husband might become a king, if he would ride back again.
In the morning, the young man who had brought the letter started toward the Seco Ranch. He had cowboys with him to help with the English cattle. It was 90 miles, six days’ journey.
The animals arrived at Seco Ranch one evening as the daylight was ending. They were received and counted by the foreman of the ranch.
The next morning at eight, a horseman came riding to the Nopalito ranch house. He got down painfully from the horse and walked to the house. His horse took a great breath and let his head hang and closed his eyes.
But do not feel sorry for Belshazzar, the horse. Today he lives happily at Nopalito, where he is given the best care and the best food. No other horse there has ever carried a man for such a ride.
The horseman entered the house. Two arms fell around his neck, and someone cried out in the voice of a woman and queen together: “Webb, oh, Webb!”
“I was wrong,” said Webb Yeager. “I was a — ” and he named a small animal with a bad smell, an animal no one likes.
“Quiet,” said Santa. “Did you see it?”
“I saw it,” said Webb.
What were they speaking of? Perhaps you can guess, if you have read the story carefully.
“Be the cattle queen,” said Webb. “Forget what I did, if you can.
"I was as wrong as — ”
“Quiet!” said Santa again, putting her fingers upon his mouth. “There’s no queen here. Do you know who I am? I am Santa Yeager, First Lady of the Bedroom. Come here.”
She led him into a room. There stood a low baby’s bed. And in the bed was a baby, a beautiful, laughing baby, talking in words that no one could understand.
“There is no queen on this ranch,” said Santa again. “Look at the king. He has eyes like yours, Webb. Get down on your knees and look at the king.”
There was a sound of steps outside and Bud Turner was there at the door. He was asking the same question he had asked almost a year ago.
“Good morning. Shall I drive those cattle to Barber’s or — ” He saw Webb and stopped, with his mouth open.
“Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba!” cried the king, waving his arms.
“You hear what he says, Bud,” said Webb Yeager. “We do what the king commands.”
And that is all, except for one thing. When old man Quinn, owner of the Seco Ranch, went to look at his new English cattle, he asked his new foreman, “What is the Nopalito Ranch’s mark?”
“X over Y,” said Wilson.
“I thought so,” said Quinn. “But look at that white animal there. She has another mark — a heart with a cross inside. Whose mark is that?”
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Words in This Story
ranch – n. a large farm especially in the U.S. where animals such as cattle, horses, and sheep are raised
foreman – n. a person who is in charge of a group of workers
cattle – n. cows, bulls, or steers that are kept on a farm or ranch for meat or milk
cowboy – n. a man who rides a horse and whose job is to take care of cows or horses especially in the western U.S.
queen – n. a girl or woman who is highly respected and very successful or popular
proud – n. very happy and pleased because of something you have done, something you own, someone you know or are related to
Cupid – n. the god of attraction, affection and love in ancient Rome
king – n. a boy or man who is highly respected and very successful or popular