THE RAMBLIN' KID
BY EARL WAYLAND BOWMAN
FRONTISPIECE BY W.H.D. KOERNER
I A NIGHT LETTER
II A BLUFF CALLED
III WHICH ONE'S WHICH
IV THE UNUSED PLATE
V A DUEL OF ENDURANCE
VI YOU'RE A BRUTE
VII THE GREEDY SANDS
VIII QUICK WITH A VENGEANCE
IX OLD HECK'S STRATEGY
X FIXING FIXERS
XI A DANCE AND A RIDE
XII YOU'LL GET YOUR WISH
XIII THE ELITE AMUSEMENT PARLOR
XIV THE GRAND PARADE
XV MOCHA AND JAVA
XVI THE SWEEPSTAKES
XVII OLD HECK GOES TO TOWN
XVIII A SHAME TO WASTE IT
XIX THE GREEK GETS HIS
XX MOSTLY SKINNY
XXI A GIRL LIKE YOU
THE RAMBLIN' KID
A NIGHT LETTER
Sand and gravel slithered and slid under the heels of Old Pie Face as
Skinny Rawlins whirled the broncho into the open space in front of the
low-built, sprawling, adobe ranch house of the Quarter Circle KT and
reined the pinto to a sudden stop. Skinny had been to Eagle Butte and
with other things brought back the mail. It was hot, late June, the time
between cutting the first crop of alfalfa and gathering, from the open
range, the beef steers ready for the summer market. Regardless of the
heat Skinny had ridden hard and his horse was a lather of sweat. A
number of cowboys lounged, indolently, in the shade of the bunk-house,
smoking cigarettes and contentedly enjoying the hour of rest after the
noon-day dinner. Another, lean-built, slender, boyish in appearance and
with strangely black, inscrutable eyes, stepped from around the corner
of the house as Skinny jerked Old Pie Face to a standstill.
"Where's Old Heck?" Skinny asked excitedly. "I brought the mail—here,
take it to him!"
The other, known on the Kiowa and the range of western Texas and Mexico
only as "the Ramblin' Kid," strolled leisurely out through the sagging,
weight-swung gate and up to the panting horse from which Skinny had not
"Asleep, I reckon," he replied in a voice peculiarly low and deliberate,
"—what's your spontaneousness about? You act like a special d'livery or
"Old Heck's got a letter," Skinny said, jerkily; "maybe's it's bad news
an' he ought to have it quick," as the Ramblin' Kid reached for a yellow
envelope held in the outstretched hand.
At that instant Old Heck, owner and boss of the Quarter Circle KT cow
outfit, stepped from the shadow of the open ranch-house door. He was
short and stocky, red-faced, somewhere near the fifties, and a
yellowish-gray mustache hung over tobacco blackened lips. Overalls, a
checked blue and white shirt, open at the throat, boots into which the
trousers legs were loosely jammed comprised his attire. He was
bareheaded and the sun glistened on a wrinkly forehead, topped by a thin
sprinkling of hair.
"What's the matter?" he asked drowsily, his small, gray-blue eyes
blinking in the yellow sun-glare and still sluggish from the nap
disturbed by the noise of Skinny's arrival.
"Nothin'. Skinny's just got a letter an' is excited about it," the
Ramblin' Kid said, handing the envelope to him. "It's for you."
"My Gawd!" Old Heck exclaimed, "it's a telegram!"
The cowboys resting in the shade of the bunk-house rose to their feet,
sauntered over and surrounded Old Heck and the Ramblin' Kid, commenting
meanwhile, frankly and caustically, on the fagged condition of the
broncho Skinny was on:
"Must 'a' been scared, the way you run that horse," Parker, range
foreman of the Quarter Circle KT, a heavy-built, sandy-complexioned man
in the forties, remarked witheringly to Skinny as the cow-puncher
climbed from the saddle and slid to the ground.
"He's mine, I reckon," Skinny retorted, "an' I figure it's nobody's
darn' business how I ride him—anyhow I brought Old Heck a telegram!" he
"Blamed if he didn't!" Charley Saunders, with a trifle of awe, pretended
or real, in his tone, said. "It sure is!"
"My Gawd!" Old Heck repeated, slowly turning the envelope over in his
hand, "it's a telegram! Wonder what it's about?"
"Why don't you open it and see?" Parker suggested.
"Yes, open th' blamed thing and find out," Skinny encouraged.
"I—I've a notion to," Old Heck whispered.
"Go on and do it, it won't take but a minute," Charley Saunders
"Maybe he's one of these mind-readers and can read it through the
envelope," Bert Lilly volunteered.
"Aw, shut up and give him a chance!"
Trembling, Old Heck tore open the envelope and silently read the
"My Gawd!" he groaned again. "The worst has come to the worst!"
"That ought to make it middlin' bad," Charley remarked soberly.
"Ought to," Bert added sententiously.
Parker crowded forward on sympathy bent.
"Tell us what's in it," he said; "if it's sorrowful we'll be plumb glad
"It's worse than sorrowful—"
"Melancholical?" Skinny inquired.
"My Gawd!" Old Heck said again, his weatherworn features working
convulsively, "it's more than a mortal man can endure and stand!"
"Bet somebody's dead!" Bert whispered to the Ramblin' Kid.
"Probably. Most everybody gets to be sooner or later," was the answer
Sing Pete, Chinese cook for the outfit, dish-rag over his shoulder,
edged out of the kitchen door and shuffled around to the group.
Glimpsing the yellow slip of paper held in the shaking hand of Old Heck
and the awed interest of the cowboys gathered about the boss, he
"Teleglam? Maybe alle samee somebody sickee?" he continued, cheerfully
confident that questions enough would ultimately bring a reply. He was
"What do you know about 'teleglams'? You slant-eyed burner of
"Who's it from?" Charley asked. "Anybody we know—"
"My Gawd," Old Heck mourned once more, "she's comin'!"
"Who's she?" Parker coaxed.
"A female," Old Heck replied, "she's a female!"
"The darned old cuss has had a wife sometime and run off from her and
deserted her and she's pursuing him and trailing him down to earth!"
Chuck Slithers, doubting Thomas of the outfit and student of Sherlock
Holmes, cunningly suggested. "I always imagined he was a varmint with a
past—a' ex-heart breaker of innocent women or a train-robber or—"
"Aw, hell," the Ramblin' Kid rebuked, "him have a wife? Don't insult th'
"Carramba!" exclaimed Pedro Valencia, Mexican line-rider for the
Quarter Circle KT, "perhaps she will stick him with the dagger, or shoot
him with the gun when she arrive! The ladies with love kill quick when
the love is—what you call him?—the jilt?"
"And I'd almost forgot I ever had one!" Old Heck continued talking as if
"What'd I tell you?" Chuck exulted.
"Shut up! He's confessin'—let him alone an' he'll get it out of his
conscience sooner or later!"
"Had a what?" Parker urged sympathetically. "Maybe you didn't have
one—maybe you only imagined you did!"
"Had a brother—anyhow a half a one—our mothers was the same but
different fathers on account of mine dyin' when I was little and his
marrying our mother again; we was playmates together in our innocent
childhood and infancy until I run away and went to sea and finally
anchored on the Kiowa and got to raisin' cattle—"
"Where does he come in at?" Parker questioned.
"He said it was a female, to start with," Skinny added.
"—and his name is Simeon Dixon on account of his father's being the
same thing, and he went in the street railroad business in a place named
Hartville in Connecticut, and he got married and had a wife—she was
Zithia Forbes, and she's dead, and I knowed that, and he's rich I reckon
"An' Amrak begat Meshak an' Meshak begat Zimri an' Zimri was th' founder
of th' House of Old Heck," the Ramblin' Kid chanted. "What in thunder
does details amount to, anyhow?"
"But you was mournin' about a she!" Parker insisted.
"Well, I reckon it ain't a wife—at least not the one I was thinking
about," Chuck murmured disappointedly, "but I bet he's had one somewhere
in his vari'gated career and is hiding out from her in fear an'
"And there will not be the grand, the beautiful murder?" Pedro sighed,
"Wait a minute," Skinny pleaded, "—give him air!"
"—and he's got a female daughter—and I didn't know that—and he's—oh,
Gawd!—he's sending her out to the Quarter Circle KT!"
"How big is she?" Parker whispered.
"Inches around or what?" Charley gasped.
"—and Ophelia is coming with her—Ophelia Cobb—C-o-double-b it is—is
coming with her for a chaperon—"
"Great guns!" Skinny breathed,"—two females!"
"Hold still and I'll read it—no, you do it, Parker—I'm too full of
emotion—my voice'd quiver—"
"Josiah Heck, Eagle Butte, Texas:
"Am sending my daughter, Carolyn June, out to your ranch
for a while. She needs a change. She has broke all the
he-human hearts in Hartville—that is all of them old
enough or young enough to be broke—and is what's called
a love-stimulator and won't settle. She is twenty-two
and it's time she was calmed. Hoping six months on the
Kiowa range will gentle her quite a lot, I am
sympathetically your 1/2 brother, Simeon.
"P.S.—Mrs. Ophelia Cobb, a lady widow, is coming with
her for a chaperon. Beware of both of them. They will
arrive at Eagle Butte the 21st.—S."
"Gee, it's a long one!" Chuck said admiringly.
"It's one of these 'Night Letters,'" Parker explained.
"I knowed it was bad news," Skinny exclaimed, "—poor old Heck!"
"Better say, 'Poor we all!'" Bert declared. "Farewell peace and joy on
the Quarter Circle KT!"
"The Lord have mercy on Old Heck!" Charley cried with dramatic fervor.
"Holy smoke," Parker murmured desperately, "two of them on the
twenty-first—and that's to-morrow!"
A BLUFF CALLED
The Quarter Circle KT was a womanless ranch. Came now, like a bolt from
the clear sky or the sudden clang of a fire-alarm bell, the threat of
violation of this Eveless Eden by the intrusion of a pair of strange and
unknown females. The arrival of the telegram telling of the coming of
Carolyn June Dixon, Old Heck's niece, and Ophelia Cobb, her chaperon,
filled with varying emotions the hearts of Old Heck, Parker and the
To Old Heck their presence meant nothing less than calamity. Long years
of he-man association had made him dread the petty restraints he
imagined would be imposed by intimate contact with womankind. Good lord,
a man wouldn't be able even to cuss freely, and without embarrassment,
with a couple of women in the house and prowling around the ranch!
Skinny, Bert, Chuck, Pedro, Charley, the Ramblin' Kid, even the Chink
cook and Parker, quivered with excitement and curiosity behind thinly
veiled pretense of fear and horror. Secretly they rejoiced. It was
marvelous news borne by the telegram Skinny brought. Here would be
diversion ample, unusual, wholly worth while and filled with
possibilities of romance as luring as the first glimpse of a strange new
land shadowed with mystery and promise of thrilling adventure.
Sing Pete paddled back to the unfinished business of the kitchen,
chattering excitedly. The cowboys stood mutely and stared at Old Heck
and the fatal slip of yellow paper.
"What'll I do?" Old Heck asked the group despairingly. "They'll ruin
"Can't you head 'em off, somehow?" Parker suggested.
"Can't be done. They're already on their way and probably somewhere this
side of Kansas City by now."
"Find out which train they're on and let the Ramblin' Kid and me cut
across to the Purgatory River bridge and wreck it," Skinny Rawlins,
always tragic, darkly advised.
"I ain't particular about killin' females," the Ramblin' Kid objected,
"besides, we ain't got no dynamite."
"Send them a telegram and say Old Heck's dead and not to come," Bert
"Aw, you blamed idiot, they'd come anyhow then, just to attend the
"I got an idea," Chuck Slithers exclaimed; it's a telegram too. Send
them one C.O.D. in care of the train that will get to Eagle Butte the
twenty-first and tell them we've all got the smallpox and we're sorry
but everybody's dangerously sick and to please answer!"
"That might work," Parker said; "they'd be mighty near sure not to want
to catch it."
"We'll try it," Old Heck agreed. "Chuck wants to ride over to Eagle
Butte anyway and he can have the depot agent send it and wait for a
"Go get your horse ready, Chuck," Parker said, "we'll write it while
you're saddlin' up!"
Chuck hurried to the corral while Old Heck went into the house for
pencil and writing-paper. Parker and the cowboys moved in a group to the
shade of the porch in front of the house.
"What'll we tell them?" Old Heck asked, reappearing with writing
materials. "Here, Parker, you write it."
"Dear niece Carolyn June Dixon and Chaperon: Sorry, but there's an
epidemic of smallpox at the Quarter Circle KT and you can't come. Chuck
is dying with it. Old Heck's plumb prostrated, Bert is already broke
out, Pedro is starting to and Skinny Rawlins and the Ramblin' Kid are
just barely able to be up. I love you too much to want you to catch it.
Please go back to Hartville and give my regards to your pa and don't
expose yourself. Answer by return telegram so I'll know your intentions.
Affectionately and absolutely your Uncle Josiah Heck," Parker read after
writing a few moments. "How's that?"
"Sounds all right."
"Got it ready?" Chuck called from the fence, while Silver Tip, the
trim-built half-blood Hambletonian colt he was riding, reared and
pranced, eager for the road and a run.
"For lord's sake hurry up, Chuck," Old Heck yelled as the Ramblin' Kid
handed the paper to Chuck and the cowboy whirled his horse into a gallop
toward Eagle Butte. "Have the agent send it in care of whatever train
they might be on and get an answer, then come back as quick as possible
—waiting is agony!"
It was a long afternoon for Old Heck and the cowboys of the Quarter
Circle KT. A band of colts were in the circular corral to be gentled to
rope, saddle and hackamore. Old Heck sat on the top pole of the corral
and moodily watched the struggle of the men and horses in the dry, dusty
enclosure as one by one each young broncho was roped, saddled and
ridden. Frequently he turned longing eyes toward Eagle Butte, anxious
for sight of the cloud of dust from which Chuck would emerge bringing,
he hoped, word that Carolyn June and Ophelia Cobb had heeded the
The sun crept across the western sky and dropped lower and lower until
it hung at last, a blazing disk of fire, close above the highest peaks
of the Costejo mountain range. The poplars in front of the house flung
slim black shadows across the low adobe buildings and splashed the tip
of their shade in the dust-cloud that filled with haze the corral a
hundred yards away. Sing Pete stepped from the door and beat a tattoo on
the iron triangle suspended by a piece of wire from the lowest branch of
a mesquit tree at the corner of the house, announcing by the metallic
clamor that the work of the day was finished and supper was ready and
waiting. Parker swung back the heavy gate at the corral entrance and the
dozen colts, sweat streaks on heads and backs and bellies where
hackamore, saddle and cinches told of the lessons of the afternoon,
pushing and jamming and with a clatter of hoofs, whirled out to freedom,
around the stable and down a lane into an open meadow.
Kicking off their chaps the cowboys tossed them on the riding gear,
piled already against the fence of the corral, and straggled stiffly
toward the house. On the wire enclosing the back yard Sing Pete had hung
a couple of heavy towels, coarse and long. Some basins and several
chunks of yellow laundry soap were on a bench beside an irrigation ditch
that ran along the fence just inside the gate. Old Heck, Parker and the
cowboys stopped at the ditch, pitched their hats on the grass and
dipping water from the ditch scoured the dust and sweat from their faces
All were silent as if each was troubled with thoughts too solemn to be
At last, Skinny, handing a towel to Bert after drying his own
sun-tanned face and hands, remarked inanely:
"Chuck ain't come, has he?"
"Slupper!" Sing Pete called.
They filed into the kitchen and each took his regular place at the long,
oilcloth covered table. The food, wholesome, plain and abundant, was
Silently each heaped his plate with the viands before him while Sing
Pete circled the table pouring coffee into the white porcelain cups. The
Quarter Circle KT was famous for the excellence of its grub and the
Chink was an expert cook.
"Lordy, oh, lordy," Old Heck groaned, "it don't seem possible them women
"Maybe they won't," Parker sympathized. "When they get that telegram
they ought to turn around and go back—"
"Chuck's coming!" Bert Lilly exclaimed at that moment and the sound of a
horse stopping suddenly at the front of the house reached the ears of
the group at the table.
"Go ask him if he got an answer, somebody, quick!" Old Heck cried.
As Charley Saunders sprang to his feet Chuck yelled, "They got it and
sent an answer! I got one—" and rushed excitedly through the house and
into the kitchen waving an envelope, twin to the one Skinny had brought
earlier in the day. "They're on Train Number Seventeen, the agent
"My Gawd!" Old Heck gasped, "what does it say? Give it here!" reaching
for the message the cowboy held in his hand.
"Good lord, it didn't work!" he groaned as he read the telegram and
handed it across the table to Parker.
"Read it out loud," several spoke at once.
"'We've both had it,'" Parker read, "'and are not afraid. Anyhow we
think you are a darned old lovable liar. Will arrive according to
schedule. If you are not a liar we'll nurse you back to health and
happiness. If you are, watch out! Your affectionate but suspicious
little niece Carolyn June Dixon. Postscript: Are there any nice wild,
untamed, young cowboys out there?—Carolyn J.'"
"Hell-fire!" Skinny said, "what'll we do?"
No answer. Chuck went moodily out to attend to his horse, and the meal
was finished in silence. Even Sing Pete seemed deeply depressed. After
supper Old Heck straightened up and in a do-or-die tone said:
"We'll all go out where it's cool and hold a caucus and figure what
ought to be done."
"There ain't nothing we can do but surrender, as far as I can see,"
Parker observed gloomily as they gathered on the porch in front of the
house. "They seem plumb determined to arrive—"
"I've already give up hope," Old Heck answered, "but what will we do
with them when they get here? We can't just brand 'em and turn them
loose on the range."
"I make a motion we elect Skinny to ride herd on 'em!" Bert Lilly
"Damned if I do!" Skinny exclaimed uneasily.
"It's a good idea," Parker said. "From all accounts the young one
expects to be made love to and if she ain't she'll probably be weeping
around all the time—"
"Well, I can't stand sobbin'!" Old Heck declared. "Any female is hard
enough to endure and one that gets to mourning is plumb distasteful!
"That's probably the best thing to do," he continued, "just appoint
Skinny to be official love-maker to Carolyn June while she's at the
Quarter Circle KT. It will probably save confusion—"
"I brought the telegram telling about them coming and I've done my
share," Skinny protested; "somebody else can be delegated to do the
"That's just the reason it ought to be your job," Old Heck argued; "you
went and got the telegram in the first place and are sort of responsible
for them being here."
"Aw, let th' Ramblin' Kid do it," Skinny pleaded, "he's an easy talker
The Ramblin' Kid straightened up and started for the gate.
"Where you going?"
"To catch Capt'n Jack," he drawled; "after that for a little ride down
to th' Pecos or over in Chihuahua somewhere a couple hundred miles. I
decline with enthusiasm to fall in love on th' spur of th' moment for
any damned outfit!"
"You come on back," Parker called, "Skinny'll have to do it. He can have
all his time for it and just pretend he's in love and sort of entertain
her. He don't need to go and do it in earnest. Come on back, you darned
chump, I need you on the beef hunt!"
"What'll I have to do?" Skinny asked cautiously.
"Just set on the front porch with her at night and make your eyes roll
up like a calf's that's being branded and kind of sigh heart-broken once
in a while," Bert volunteered. "It'll be easy when you get used to it—"
"If you know so much about it why don't you enlist yourself?" Skinny
asked irritably. "Some of you fellows go on and volunteer," he pleaded
"I would in a minute," Chuck chipped in, "if I was good-looking like
Skinny and had a white shirt—"
"What's a white shirt got to do with it?"
"Listen to the innocent child," Chuck laughed, "as if any darned fool
didn't know that the first thing a professional love-maker has to have
is a white shirt!"
"That settles it," Skinny declared with emphasis, "I won't wear a white
shirt to make love to no blamed woman—"
"Chuck's locoed," the Ramblin' Kid interposed; "you don't need to have
no white shirt—of course it would be better but it ain't downright
necessary—women don't fall in love with shirts, it's what's inside of
"Where did you find out so much about women?" Bert queried.
"I didn't find out—I'm just guessin'—"
"There ain't no use arguing," Old Heck broke in. "Skinny will have to be
expert love-maker for that Carolyn June niece of mine—I'll allow him
ten dollars a month more wages while he's doing it. I ain't going to
have her writing letters to her pa and telling him she didn't have no
conveniences or nothing. Anyhow, she's young and I reckon it's sort of
"What about th' other one—Ophelia Cobb or whoever she is?" Bert Lilly
"She's past the age for it, probably," Parker said uneasily.
"They don't pass it," the Ramblin' Kid interrupted laconically; "when
females get too old to want to be made love to they die—"
"I'd like to know where in hell a juvenile like you got your education
about women!" Bert insisted to the Ramblin' Kid.
"I ain't got none—I'm just guessing I told you," the other replied,
"but it's the truth, anyhow."
"Well, if I've got to make love to the young one Old Heck or Parker or
somebody's got to do it for the other one," Skinny declared positively.
"Ophelia don't need it," Old Heck said hastily, "she's a widow and has
"Widows are th' worst," the Ramblin' Kid drawled; "they've had
experience an' don't like to give it up."
"Th' Ramblin' Kid's right," Chuck broke in. "I read a book once that
said that's the way they are. It's up to Old Heck or Parker to represent
Cupid to the widow—"
"Who the hell's Cupid?" Skinny asked curiously.
"He's a dangerous little outlaw that ain't got no reg'lar range," the
Ramblin' Kid answered for Chuck.
"I'll not do it—" Old Heck and Parker spoke at once.
"Then I won't either," Skinny declared flatly, "I'll quit the dog-goned
Quarter Circle KT first!"
"Let Sing Pete make love to the widow," Bert suggested.
"No, no! Me busy cookee," Sing Pete, who had been listening from the
open doorway, jabbered and darted, frightened, back into the house.
"Anyhow I'd kill him if he did," the Ramblin' Kid said softly; "no
darned Chink can make love to a white woman, old, young or indifferent,
in my presence an' live!"
"Well, Old Heck'll have to do it, then," Skinny said; "hanged if I'm
going to be the only he-love-maker on this ranch!"
"Let Parker and Old Heck divide up on Ophelia," Chuck advised, "one of
them can love her one day and the other the next—"
"That's reasonable," Bert declared, "she'd probably enjoy a change
"I tell you I ain't got time," Parker protested.
"Neither have I," Old Heck added.
"All right then, I ain't either!" Skinny declared. "If you two ain't
willing to take turn about with the widow and love her off and on
between you I'll be everlastingly hell-tooted if I'm going to stand for
a whole one by myself all of the time! I'll go on strike first and start
"We'll stay with you, Skinny," the Ramblin' Kid exclaimed with a laugh,
"th' whole bunch will quit till Parker an' Old Heck grants our demands."
"We'll all quit!" the cowboys chorused.
"Oh, well, Parker," Old Heck grumbled, "I reckon we'll have to do it!"
"It won't be hard work," the Ramblin' Kid said consolingly, "all you got
to do is set still an' leave it to Ophelia. Widows are expert
love-makers themselves an' know how to keep things goin'!"
It was settled. Skinny Rawlins, at an increase of ten dollars a month on
his wage, protestingly, was elected official love-maker to Carolyn June
Dixon, Old Heck's niece, speeding unsuspectingly toward the Quarter
Circle KT, and Old Heck and Parker between them were to divide the
affections of Ophelia Cobb, widow and chaperon.
In the mind of every cowboy on the ranch there was one thought
unexpressed but very insistent that night, "Wonder what She looks like?"
thinking, of course, of Carolyn June.
Old Heck and Parker also were disturbed by a common worry. As each sank
into fitful sleep, thinking of Ophelia Cobb, the widow, and his own
predestinated affinity he murmured:
"What if she insists on getting married?"
WHICH ONE'S WHICH
Eagle Butte sprawled hot and thirsty under the melting sunshine of
mid-forenoon. It was not a prepossessing town. All told, no more than
two hundred buildings were within its corporate limits. A giant mound,
capped by a crown of crumbling, weather-tinted rock, rose abruptly at
the northern edge of the village and gave the place its name. Cimarron
River, sluggish and yellow, bounded the town on the south. The dominant
note of Eagle Butte was a pathetic mixture of regret for glories of
other days and clumsy ambition to assume the ways of a city. Striving
hard to be modern it succeeded only in being grotesque.
The western plains are sprinkled with towns like that. Towns that once,
in the time of the long-horn steer and the forty-four and the nerve to
handle both, were frankly unconventional. Touched later by the black
magic of development, bringing brick buildings, prohibition, picture
shows, real-estate boosters, speculation and attendant evils or benefits
as one chooses to classify them, they became neither elemental nor
ethical—mere gawky mimics of both.
When western Texas was cow-country and nothing else Eagle Butte at
least was picturesque. Flickering lights, gay laughter—sometimes curses
and the sounds of revolver shots, of battles fought close and quick and
to a finish—wheezy music, click of ivory chips, the clink of glasses,
from old Bonanza's and similar rendezvous of hilarity lured to the
dance, faro, roulette, the poker table or the hardwood polished bar.
The Mecca it was in those days for cowboys weary with months on the
To-day Eagle Butte is modest, mild and super-subdued.
A garage, cement built, squatty and low and painfully new, its
wide-mouthed entrance guarded by a gasoline pump freshly painted and
exceedingly red, stands at the eastern end of the single, broad,
un-paved business street. All of the stores face one way—north—and
look sleepily across at the railroad track, the low-eaved, yellow, Santa
Fe station and the sunburnt sides of the butte beyond. Opposite the
station the old Occidental Hotel with its high porch, wide steps, narrow
windows, dingy weather-board sides and blackened roof, still stands to
remind old-timers of the days of long ago.
A city marshal, Tom Poole, a long, slim, Sandy-mustached Missourian,
completes the picture of Eagle Butte. Regularly he meets the arriving
trains and by the glistening three-inch nickel star pinned to his left
suspender announces to the traveling world that here, on the one time
woolly Kiowa, law and order at last prevail. Odd times the marshal farms
a ten-acre truck patch close to the river at the southern edge of the
town. Pending the arrival of trains he divides his time between the
front steps of the old hotel and the Elite Amusement Parlor, Eagle
Butte's single den of iniquity where pocket pool, billiards,
solo—devilish dissipations these!—along with root beer, ginger ale,
nut sundaes, soda-pop, milk shakes and similar enticements are served to
those, of reckless and untamed temperaments.
From the open door of the pool hall the marshal saw a thin, black streak
of smoke curling far out on the horizon—a dozen miles—northeast of
"Seventeen's comin'," he remarked to the trio of idlers leaning against
the side of the building; "guess I'd better go over an' see who's on
her," moving as he spoke out into the sizzling glare of the almost
deserted street. Glancing toward the east his eyes fastened on a cloud
of dust whirling rapidly along the road that came from the direction of
the lower Cimarron.
"Gosh, lookey yonder," he muttered, "that must be Old Heck drivin' his
new automobile—th' darn fool is goin' to bust something some day,
runnin' that car the way he does!"
Walking quickly, to escape the heat, he crossed the street to the
Two minutes later the cloud of dust trailed a rakish, trim-lined,
high-powered, purring Clagstone "Six" to a stop in front of the
Occidental Hotel and Old Heck and Skinny Rawlins climbed glumly and
stiffly from the front seat, after the thirty-minute, twenty-mile run
from the Quarter Circle KT.
Old Heck had his peculiarities. One of them was insistence for the
best—absolutely or nothing. The first pure-bred, hot-blood stallions
turned on the Kiowa range carried the Quarter Circle KT brand on their
left shoulders. He wanted quality in his stock and spent thousands of
dollars importing bulls and stallions to get it. When the automobile
came it was the same. No jit for the erratic owner of the last big
genuine cow-ranch on the Cimarron. Consequently the beautiful car—a car
fit for Fifth Avenue—standing now in front of the old hotel in Eagle
The smoke on the northeastern sky-line was yet some miles away.
The lanky marshal had reached the station.
"It's a good thing there's prohibition in this town," Skinny muttered as
he stepped from the car and started brushing the dust from his coat;
"'Cause I'd go get drunk if there wasn't—. Wonder if a feller could get
any boot-leg liquor?"
"Better leave it alone," Old Heck warned, "that kind's worse than none.
It don't make you drunk—just gives you the hysterical hydrophobia!'
"Well, I'd drink anything in an emergency like this if I had it,"
Skinny declared doggedly.
"Train's comin'," Old Heck said shortly; "reckon we'd better go over to
"Let's wait here till they get off first," Skinny said. "We can see them
from where we are and kind of size 'em up and it won't be so sudden."
"Maybe that would be better," Old Heck answered.
A moment later Number Seventeen, west-bound Santa Fe passenger train,
stopped at the yellow station. The rear cars were obscured from the view
of Skinny and Old Heck by freight sheds along the track. With the
exception of the engine, baggage, mail and express cars, which were
hidden by the depot, the rest of the train was in plain sight.
A couple of men got off the day coach. These were followed by a gawky,
weirdly dressed girl of uncertain age carrying an old-fashioned
telescope traveling bag. At sight of the girl Skinny caught his breath
with a gasp. Immediately following her was the tallest, homeliest woman
he had ever seen. Thin to the point of emaciation, a wide striped,
ill-fitting dress of some cheap material accentuated the angular lines
of her body. A tiny narrow-brimmed hat, bright green, with a white
feather, dingy and soiled, sticking straight up at the back made her
more than ever a caricature. The woman also carried a bag. The two
stepped up to the marshal, standing at the cornet: of the station,
apparently asking him a question. He answered, pointing as he did to
Old Heck and Skinny leaning silently against the side of their car. The
woman and girl started toward them.
Fascinated, the cow-men watched them approach.
"My Gawd!" Old Heck hoarsely whispered, "that's them!"
"Let's go!" Skinny exclaimed, sweat starting in unheeded beads on his
forehead. "Good lord, let's get in the car and go while we got a
Old Heck made a move as if to comply, then stopped. "Can't now," he said
gloomily, "it's too late!"
As Old Heck turned the woman shrieked in a rasping voice:
"Hey—hey you! Wait a minute!"
The cow-men looked around and stared dumbly, dazedly, at her.
"Can I get you to take me an' my daughter out to that construction camp
where they're buildin' a ditch or something?" she asked; "that policeman
said maybe we could get you to—" she continued. "I got a job cookin'
out there an' Lize here is goin' to wait on table."
Old Heck, still looking up in her eyes, with horror written on every
line of his face, his lips twitching till he could scarcely speak,
finally managed to say:
"Ain't—ain't you Ophelia?"
"Ophelia? Ophelia who?" she asked, then before he could speak she
answered his question: "Ophelia—huh! No, I ain't Ophelia! I'm Missus
Jasamine Swope an' a married woman an' you'd better not try to get fresh
Simultaneous with Old Heck's question, Skinny, his eyes riveted on the
dowdy girl, asked in a voice barely audible:
"Are you—are you Carolyn June?"
"No, I ain't Carolyn June," she snorted. "Come on, ma; let's go! Them
two's crazy or white slavers or somethin'!"
Expressing their scorn and disdain by the angry flirt of their skirts,
the woman and girl whirled and walked briskly away toward the garage at
the end of the street.
"Praise th' heavens," Old Heck breathed fervently as he gazed
spell-bound after the retreating pair, "it wasn't them!"
"Carolyn June and the widow probably went back after all," Skinny said
without, looking around and with the barest trace of disappointment, now
that the danger seemed past, in his voice. "Maybe they got to thinking
about that telegram and decided not to come at last."
"More than likely that was it," Old Heck answered.
Steps sounded behind them. Skinny and Old Heck turned and again they
almost fainted at what they saw. The marshal, a leather traveling bag
in each hand, accompanied by two smartly dressed women, approached.
"These ladies are huntin' for you," he said to Old Heck, dropping the
bags and mopping his face with the sleeve of his shirt. "Guess they're
some kind of kin folks," he added.
Concealed by the freight sheds Carolyn June Dixon and Ophelia Cobb had
stepped from the Pullman at the rear of the train, unseen by Old Heck
and Skinny. Nor had either noticed, being engrossed with the couple that
had left than a moment before, the trio coming across from the station.
As the cook and her daughter by their very homeliness had appalled and
overwhelmed them, these two, Ophelia and Carolyn June, by their exactly
opposite appearance stunned Old Heck and Skinny and rendered them
speechless with embarrassment. Both were silently thankful they had
shaved that morning and Skinny wondered if his face, like Old Heck's,
was streaked with sweat and dust.
For a moment the group studied one another.
Carolyn June held the eyes of Skinny in mute and helpless admiration.
Despite the heat of the blazing sun she looked fresh and dean and
pleasant—wholly unsoiled by the marks of travel. A snow-white Panama
hat, the brim sensibly wide, drooped over cheeks that were touched with
a splash of tan that suggested much time in the open. An abundance of
hair, wonderfully soft and brown, showing the slightest glint of coppery
red running it in vagrant strands, fluffed from under the hat. The
skirt of her traveling suit, some light substantial material, reached
the span of a hand above the ankle. White shoes, silk stockings that
matched and through which glowed the faint pink of firm, healthy, young
flesh, lent charm to the costume she wore. Her lips were red and moist
and parted over teeth that were strong and white. A saucy upward tilt to
the nose, hinting that Carolyn June was a flirt; brown eyes that were
level almost with Skinny's and that held in them a laugh and yet deep
below the mirth something thoughtful, honest and unafraid, finished the
wreck of the cowboy's susceptible heart. Trim and smooth was Carolyn
June, suggesting to Skinny Rawlins a clean-bred filly of saddle strain
that has developed true to form.
Old Heck gazed in equal awe at the more mature Ophelia.
Somewhere near forty she may have been, cozily plump and solid. She had
gray-blue eyes that were steady and frank yet clearly accustomed to
being obeyed. Her hair was a trifle darker in shade than the silky brown
on the head of Carolyn June. She was dressed with immaculate neatness
and taste and carried that well-preserved assurance no woman in the
world save the American of mature development acquires.
There was energy in every line of her body and Ophelia gave Old Heck,
the embarrassed owner of the Quarter Circle KT, more thrills in that one
moment of silent scrutiny than he ever before had felt in the presence
of any woman.
As they looked, Skinny and Old Heck instinctively, a bit awkwardly
perhaps, removed the Stetsons they wore on their heads.
"Howdy-do!" Old Heck finally managed to say.
Skinny gulped like an echo, another "Howdy-do!" in the direction of
"I reckon you are Carolyn June and Missus Ophelia Cobb," Old Heck
stammered "Which one of you is which?" unconsciously paying tribute to
the well preserved youthfulness of the widow.
"Oh, Ophelia, beware!" Carolyn June laughed, not in the least offended;
"the gay old rascal is at it already!"
"He didn't mean nothing" Skinny interposed, sensing that Old Heck some
way had made a blunder. "I guess you must be Carolyn June?" looking
questioningly at the girl.
"Excuse me," Old Heck said, "I'm your uncle, I suppose, and this is
"Howdy-do; I'm glad to meet you," Skinny muttered, reaching for the hand
Carolyn June frankly extended.
"I'm glad, too," she replied candidly; "and this is Mrs. Ophelia
Cobb—just Ophelia—Uncle Josiah," Carolyn added, turning to Old Heck
who clumsily shook hands with the widow while his weather-tanned face
flushed a burning, uncomfortably red.
"We was expecting you," he said, retaining life hold on her hand.
"That was very kind," Ophelia murmured. "I am sure we are delighted to
"Now I guess we are all acquainted," Carolyn June said with a little
laugh. "It's easy for folks to get acquainted, isn't it?" turning
suddenly to Skinny.
"Seems like it after they once get started," Skinny answered.
"We'd better be heading for home I reckon," Old Heck said, releasing at
last the widow's hand and lifting the bags in the car. "Sing Pete will
have dinner ready by the time we get there."
"We have some trunks," Carolyn June said, "can we take them with us?"
"Yes," Old Heck replied, "get in, and we'll drive over to the depot and
With Carolyn June and Ophelia in the rear seat and Skinny and himself in
the front Old Heck drove the car across to the station and the trunks
were fastened with ropes on the hood of the engine and running-boards of
As they started away Carolyn June asked:
"Which way now, Uncle Josiah?"
"Out to the ranch."
"Hadn't we better stop at the drug store," she asked soberly, "and get
"Medicine? Who for?" Old Heck inquired innocently.
"Why, the patients, of course," Carolyn June answered with a
"Out at the Quarter Circle KT where that epidemic of smallpox is
raging!" she answered sweetly.
"That's all a mistake," Old Heck said hastily; "we thought is was
smallpox but it wasn't—"
"No, everybody's got over it," Skinny added nervously; "they're all
"Yes, they was just broke out with the heat and didn't have the smallpox
at all—" Old Heck explained.
"Liars, both of them," Carolyn June said laughingly to Ophelia; "they
just didn't want us to come!"
"Very likely," Ophelia answered.
"No, honest, we thought we had it," Old Heck stammered.
"We were plumb uneasy for fear you wouldn't arrive," Skinny declared.
"After we found out it wasn't smallpox we were going to send a special
delivery message and tell you it was all a misunderstanding and to come
"Shall we forgive them?" Carolyn June asked the widow.
"Perhaps, this time—their first offense!"
"I'll tell you," Carolyn June said, "well suspend sentence pending good
Skinny leaned close to Old Heck.
"Stop a minute at the Golden Rule," he whispered; "I want to do some
"If it ain't important," Old Heck answered, "we oughtn't to take the
time. What do you want to buy?"
"I want to get me a white shirt—"
"Gosh," Old Heck exclaimed, "that bad already! What'll he be in week?"
"Did you speak, Uncle Josiah?" Carolyn asked.
"Huh—no, I—Skinny just thought I was going to hit a rock!" he
answered, and giving the engine more gas, he headed the car, at a
thirty-mile clip, toward the east and the Quarter Circle KT.
The party rode in silence. The speed of the car and the fan of the warm
wind against their faces made conversation difficult. A mile from Eagle
Butte they crossed the long, low, iron-railed bridge over the Cimarron
River and climbed out on to the bench away from the bottom lands. From
that point on to the Quarter Circle KT the road followed the brow of the
bench on the south side of the river. It was smooth and good.
Carolyn June thrilled at the bigness of it all as they swept quickly
past the irrigated district close to the town and sped out on the open
unfenced range. For miles the country was level with here and there
arroyos cross-sectioning into the river valley. Long stretches with the
barest undulations made driving a joy and the winding road was a natural
speedway. Scattered over the plain were dusters of mesquit and in the
low sags where moisture was near the surface patches of thorns. Carolyn
June loved the width and breadth of the great range, strange and new to
her. Here was freedom sweeping as the winds of heaven. Dimly, on the
southern horizon she could see the blue outline of Sentinel Mountain
standing alone out on the plain. To the left green pasture-lands lay
along the river. A narrow strip of cottonwood trees marked the curving
path of the Cimarron. Beds of white quicksand, treacherous and fatal and
dreaded by every rider of the open country could be seen, occasionally,
through openings in the trees showing the bed of the river itself. In
the distance behind them was Eagle Butte, towering above the town they
had left a few brief moments before, and beyond that the Costejo
Mountains, rugged and massive and covered in part on their lower slopes
with blue-green thickets of pine. Across the river was a choppy sea of
sand-dunes stretching away to the north as far as sight could reach.
Here and there a high-flung mound, smooth and oval or capped with ledges
of black, glistening rode broke the monotony of the view.
Engrossed in the study of the almost primitive picture Carolyn June
forgot the flight of time and the speed at which they were traveling.
"Yonder's the ranch!" Skinny announced suddenly, turning half around in
his seat and pointing ahead and to the left toward the river.
The valley widened till it was a mile or more across. The Cimarron swung
sharply to the north and hugged the foot of the bench as if unwilling
to spoil the meadowlands past which it flowed. In a great
half-crescent—"Quarter Circle," Old Heck called it—the green
basin-like area lay spread out before them. It was a half dozen miles in
length, reaching from the canyon gate at the upper end of the valley
where the river turned abruptly northward, to the narrow gorge at the
south through which it disappeared.
A blue crane lazily flapped across the valley.
"Seven thousand acres in the bottoms," Skinny volunteered.
"Beautiful!" Carolyn breathed.
"Splendid!" Ophelia exclaimed.
Half-way down the valley, a quarter of a mile from the bench, the
buildings of the Quarter Circle KT clustered together in a group—the
low adobe house, bunk shack, stables, graineries. Out in the fields were
hay yards with half-built stacks of alfalfa—over the tops of the stacks
white tarpaulins. In a pasture beyond the house were horses and cattle,
perhaps a hundred head in all. Climbing the hills north of the river
were a number of moving figures, dimly seen through the haze.
"Are those cattle," Carolyn June asked, "those things across the river?"
"Where?" Skinny inquired.
"Over there, on the hills," pointing toward the objects.
Old Heck glancing in the direction she indicated answered for Skinny:
"That's Parker and the boys, going over to the North Springs—they're
checking up on some yearlings we just turned across from this side of
the range." Then, speaking to Skinny: "They've already had their dinner
and won't be in till supper-time—"
"Are they cowboys?" Carolyn June asked.
"I reckon," Old Heck responded.
"Is Skinny one?" she inquired naively.
"Sort of, I suppose," Old Heck chuckled while Skinny felt his face
coloring up with embarrassment, "but not a wild one."
"Oh, who is that?" Carolyn June cried suddenly as a lone rider whirled
out of the corral, around the stables, and his horse sprang into a
gallop straight down the valley toward the harrows at its lower end.
"That," Skinny said after a quick glance, "oh, that's th' Ramblin'
Kid—Where in thunder do you reckon the darned fool's going now?" he
added to Old Heck.
"Can't tell nothing about where he's going," Old Heck said. "He's liable
to be heading for anywhere. What's he riding?" he asked without looking
"Captain Jack," Skinny replied. "Wonder if he ain't going over to Battle
Ridge to find out if it's so about them sheep coming in over there?"
"Maybe," Old Heck grunted, "either that or else he's took a notion to
hunt that Gold Dust maverick again"—referring to a strange, wonderfully
beautiful, outlaw filly that had appeared on the Kiowa range a year
before and tormented the riders by her almost fiendish cunning in
dodging corral or rope—"if he's riding Captain Jack that's probably
what he's after."
"Who is he, what's his real name?" Carolyn June asked with interest.
"Just th' Ramblin' Kid, as far as I know," Old Heck answered.
"Does he live at the Quarter Circle KT?" Carolyn June continued
curiously as she studied the slender form rising and falling with the
graceful rhythm of his horse's motion—as if man and animal were a
single living, pulsing creature.
"Off and on," Old Heck replied, "when he wants to he does and when he
don't he don't. He's a witch with horses and knows he's always got a job
if he wants it, and I reckon that makes him kind of undependable about
staying in any one place long at a time. That's why they call him th'
Ramblin' Kid—he's liable to ramble any minute."
The car curled down the narrow dugway off of the bench and a moment
later stopped at the gate in front of the ranch house of the Quarter
"We're here," Skinny said, as Sing Pete, the Chinese cook, appeared at
the open door.
"They've come, Sing Pete," Old Heck called, climbing out of the car;
"this is them! Is dinner ready?"
"All leady—waitee!" the Oriental answered, shuffling out to the car to
help with the luggage and twisting and squirming as he kept bowing in
"This is great!" Carolyn June said, as she stepped on the long cool
porch in front of the house and paused a moment before entering the open
door, "—it's cool and pleasant, I'm going to like it," she added, as
she went into the big low-ceilinged room.
The floor was bare of carpet but spotlessly clean; shades, but no
curtains, were over the windows; in the center stood a large flat-topped
reading table; at one end of the table was a Morris chair upholstered in
brown Spanish leather; a wolf-skin rug was thrown on the floor before an
old-fashioned Mexican fire-place built into one corner of the room; in
another corner was a smaller table on which was a graphophone; a rocker
and several chairs were set about the room and against the north wall;
between two doors, evidently opening into twin bedrooms, was an upright
"Oh, a piano!" Carolyn June exclaimed delightedly noticing the
instrument. "Who plays?"
"Nobody," Old Heck answered foolishly, "I—I—well, what's the use of
lying?—I bought it one day, before prohibition come, when I was drunk
and just had it brought out because I didn't know what else to do with
"You funny old uncle!" Carolyn June laughed, "I love you
already.—Ophelia plays," she added.
"Not so well or so much as Carolyn June," Ophelia said.
"Maybe we'll have some music then some day; that ain't canned," Skinny
"You women can use them rooms," Old Heck said, referring to the doors on
each side of the piano. "Parker and me did have them but we've arranged
to sleep in the bunk-house while you are here."
"Carolyn June and I need but one," Ophelia said, "it isn't fair to run
"You ain't running us," Old Heck answered, "we've talked it over and
After dinner Ophelia and Carolyn June spent their time in settling
themselves in their rooms. A small bath closet connected the two—crude
a bit and somewhat unfinished; but a hot tub, the water supplied from a
tank at the kitchen range, was enjoyed by both.
Old Heck and Skinny helped with the trunks and then withdrew to the
Old Heck shaved and Skinny put on a clean shirt.
Skinny was not sure but this official love-making job was going to be
interesting work and Old Heck himself was uncertain whether to cuss or
rejoice—sometimes he was almost sorry to-morrow would be Parker's day
to love and entertain Ophelia.
THE UNUSED PLATE
At sundown, when Parker and the cowboys rode in from the northern hills,
the Quarter Circle KT lay under a mantle of sullen, torturing heat. Not
a breath of air fanned the poplars, straight and motionless, in front of
the house. The sun buried itself in a solid wall of black that rose
above the Costejo peaks, hidden now in the shadow of the coming storm.
The horses were dripping with sweat—their coats as glossy and wet as if
they had swum the river. At the corral the animals wearily tossed their
heads, low hung with exhaustion, seeking to shift the sticky clutch of
head-stall or hackamore, while their riders dismounted and quickly
removed saddle and riding gear. Freed from their burdens the bronchos
dragged tired heels through the dust as they whirled and trotted
unsteadily away to the pasture, eager to roll and relax their aching
"Holy cats, but it's hot!" Bert Lilly exclaimed as he slipped off his
chaps and started toward the house, leaving saddle and outfit lying
beside the gate of the corral.
"Better put them things in the shed," Parker advised, "looks like a
whale of a storm is coming."
"Reckon that's right," Bert answered, turning back and carrying his
riding gear into the shelter where the other cowboys already had taken
"Wonder if them women come?" Chuck Slithers queried as they moved toward
"More than likely—Bet Skinny and Old Heck have had a hell of a time
making love to 'em," Charley Saunders remarked.
"You want to be careful about cussin'," Parker warned. "It ain't polite
when women are around!"
"Listen at him!" Bert said with a laugh, "practising already—Parker is
getting polite—to-morrow is his day to be affectionate to the widow,
"Which is she, Parker," Charley asked soberly, "a grass or natural?"
"Shut up, you blamed fools, they're liable to hear you," Parker growled
angrily. "Anyhow, it ain't my fault they come!"
"Parker oughtn't to kick," Chuck chimed in, "look at poor old
Skinny—he's got a steady job lovin' the other one!"
"Darned if I wouldn't rather love both of them at once," Charley
observed, "than to take another ride like that was to-day. I'm kind of
anxious to see what they look like," he continued.
"Well, don't go and get excited at the supper table and eat your pie
with a spoon!" Chuck laughed.
"Aw, hell," Charley retorted, "I guess I know how to act—"
"Old Heck's going to buy some finger-bowls for you to wash your hands
in," Bert said scornfully, "him and Parker—"
"Shut up, I told you, you darned idiots," Parker snapped. "They're out
on the front porch and can hear you!"
"Be careful about your cussin'—" Bert mimicked with a snicker.
Notwithstanding their raillery every man in the group, including Pedro,
gave unusual care to scrubbing his face and smoothing his hair
preparatory to entering the kitchen for supper and where they would
meet, for the first time, Ophelia and Carolyn June.
Sing Pete glided out of the kitchen door and hammered the triangle
announcing the evening meal.
At the instant Parker and the cowboys filed into the kitchen from the
rear, Ophelia and Carolyn June, followed by Old Heck and Skinny Rawlins,
both looking sheepish and somewhat ashamed, stepped into the room from
All stood waiting and Old Heck, ill at ease and in a voice that
trembled, gave the party formal introduction:
"Missus Ophelia Cobb and Miss Carolyn June Dixon," motioning first at
the widow and then the girl, "Mister Parker, Mister Bert Lilly, Mister
Charley Saunders, Mister Chuck Slithers, Mister Pedro Valencia—"
indicating each in turn with his hand as he called the names, "—I
reckon you're already acquainted with Skinny!"
The cowboys mumbled greetings which Carolyn June and Ophelia graciously
Sing Pete had laid two extra covers.
"You boys can take your regular places—all except you, Parker," Old
Heck said, "—you set at that side on this end," pointing to the seat at
the left next to the head of the table. "Carolyn June, you can set at
that end and Ophelia at this end—I'll set here," taking the seat at the
widow's right and directly across from Parker.
This placed Old Heck, Bert Lilly, Pedro and Skinny Rawlins on the right
of the table in the order named, Skinny sitting at the end on Carolyn's
left. On the opposite side sat Parker, Chuck Slithers and Charley. Next
to Charley, at the right of Carolyn June, and opposite Skinny, was a
"Who is this for?" Carolyn June inquired, indicating the unoccupied
"That's th' Ramblin' Kid's place," Old Heck replied; "he may come in and
again he mayn't—"
"It was him you saw to-day," Skinny added, "riding down toward the
Narrows when we was coming from Eagle Butte."
"Do you know; where he went, Parker?" Old Heck asked.
"No. When we started over to the Springs he was here. Said he reckoned
we could get along without him and he wouldn't go—"
"He's just got one of them lonesome spells," Bert said, "and wanted to
get off by himself somewhere."
"He knowed we was going to have company, too," Chuck observed.
"More than likely that's why he went," Skinny suggested.
"Is he afraid of women?" Carolyn June laughed.
"Not particularly," Skinny replied; "he don't bother with them, that's
"I think he went after that Gold Dust maverick," Charley said. "He'll
probably come in when he sees how it's going to storm—"
"He don't give a darn for storms," Bert declared. "—Pass them frijoles,
Pedro.—Remember that time it blowed the hay derrick down and he
wouldn't come to the house, just stayed out and watched the wind and
"He is funny that way," Charley admitted.
"Well, he'll never catch that mare," Parker said, "she's too—"
"Oh, I don't know," Chuck interrupted, "look how he has tamed Captain
Jack," referring to the Ramblin' Kid's own horse, one time a famous
"How was that?" Carolyn June inquired carelessly.
"Captain Jack was an outlaw, too," Bert explained. "He run over on the
East Mesa on the Una de Gata. Charley and me and th' Ramblin' Kid got
him to going one day when there was some ranch mares in his bunch. One
of them was a hand-raised filly, was a pet and she was—well, pretty
hot! We worked them over the rim of the Mesa and into the canyon, it
was a box-gorge from where they hit it to its head, and at the upper end
there was a wing corral. The mare swung up the canyon towards the ranch
and—Jack wouldn't quit her! We was pounding right on their heels and
before he knowed it we had them penned—"
"That shows what happens when a he-thing goes locoed over a female
critter," Chuck whispered to Parker; "you and Old Heck want to watch
"Be careful, you danged fool!" Parker hissed as he kicked at Chuck's
shins under the table. Excited, he made a mistake in the foot he should
have used and viciously slammed his left toe against Ophelia's dainty
The widow looked startled and suddenly sat up very straight in her
Parker realized his error, turned red, choked, leaned close to Chuck and
breathed hoarsely, "I'll kill you some day for that!"
"He sure went crazy when he found he was corraled," Charley said, "and
forgot all about the mare."
"He sure did," Bert continued, while Carolyn June listened intently,
"and was plumb wild to bu'st down the pen and be free again. Charley nor
me didn't want him and so th' Ramblin' Kid said he'd take him. Just then
Tony Malush—we was punchin' for him—come riding up and was going to
shoot Captain Jack on account of wanting to clean the range of the
outlaw stallions. He yanked out his gun and started to pull a drop on
old Jack's head. Th' Ramblin' Kid jerked his own forty-four and told
Tony he'd kill him if he shot the renegade broncho. Tony backed up, but
it made him sore and he fired th' Ramblin' Kid. The darned little cuss
set there a minute thinking, then slid off his horse, stripped him of
riding gear, flung saddle, blanket and bridle over the bars into the
corral. Before we knowed what he was aiming to do he climbed up and
dropped down inside, on foot, with just his rope, and faced that outlaw
battin' around trying to get outside—"
Carolyn June leaned forward on the table listening with breathless
interest. The others stopped eating and gave all their attention to the
story Bert was telling.
"Captain Jack saw him, stopped for just a second, sort of surprised,
then went right at th' Ramblin' Kid—head down, eyes blazin' like coals,
mouth wide open, ears laid back and strikin' with both front feet—"
"He was some wicked!" Charley ejaculated.
"He sure was," Bert went on. "Tony and Charley and me just set on our
horses stunned—thinkin' th' Kid had gone clean loco and was flirtin'
with certain and pronto death. As Captain Jack rushed him th' Ramblin'
Kid give a jump sideways, his rope went true, a quick run to the
snubbin' post and he throwed him dead! The broncho hit his feet, give a
squeal and come straight back! Th' Ramblin' Kid run once more, yankin'
like blazes to get the slack! That time when he went down—well, before
we realized it, th' Ramblin' Kid had him bridled and saddled and was
safe on deck—"
"I'm tellin' you too, Captain Jack went higher than a kite when he felt
the rowels in his flanks!" Charley interrupted.
"Th' Ramblin' Kid yelled for us to let him out," Bert continued.
"Charley and me flung down the bars to the corral and Captain Jack come
out sun-fishin' and hittin' the breeze like a streak of twisted
lightning! That was just before dinner in the forenoon. That afternoon
and night th' Ramblin' Kid rode the outlaw to the Hundred and
One—ninety miles away! We didn't see either of them any more for a
month and when they hit the Kiowa again Captain Jack was a regular baby
after th' Ramblin' Kid and would follow him around like a dog—"
"That's the way he's been ever since," Charley said, "them two are just
"Nobody else ever rides him—" Bert added.
"They can't," Chuck said. "He's a one-man horse and th' Ramblin' Kid is
the man. Captain Jack would die for th' Ramblin' Kid!"
"Yes, and kill any one else if he could!" Parker exclaimed.
"Has no one but—but the Ramblin' Kid"—Carolyn June hesitated queerly
over the name—"ever ridden him?"
"Never that we know of," Bert said; "several have tried it—the last
one was a fellow from down on the Chickasaw. Guess he was trying to
steal him. Anyway, we was all up at Eagle Butte and had left our horses
out in front of the Occidental Hotel while we was in the dining-room
eating our dinners. We got outside just in time to see the stranger hit
the ground and Captain Jack jump on him with all four feet doubled up in
a bunch—he's buried in that little graveyard you might have noticed on
the hill this side of the river bridge."
"Killed him?" Carolyn June gasped.
"Seemed like it." Bert answered, with a grin; "anyway, we buried him."
"What did the—the Ramblin' Kid do?" she asked.
"He just laughed kind of soft and scornful," Skinny said, "and got on
Captain Jack and rode away while we was picking the fellow up!"
During the rest of the meal Carolyn June's eyes looked frequently and
curiously at the unused plate at her right. She felt, some way, that an
affront had been shown her by the absence of the one for whom it was
laid. The other cowboys, it was quite evident to her intuitive woman's
mind, had looked forward with considerable eagerness to the arrival of
herself and Ophelia. The Ramblin' Kid, at the very moment almost of
their reaching the Quarter Circle KT, had deliberately mounted Captain
Jack and ridden away. It seemed like little less than an intentional
snub! In addition to the half-resentment she felt, there remained in
her mind an insistent and tormenting picture of the slender, subtle,
young rider swaying easily to the swing of Captain Jack as he galloped
down the valley earlier in the day.
Bert, Charley, Chuck, before the meal was finished cast frankly admiring
glances at Carolyn June and Skinny plainly was gaining confidence at a
rapid rate, while Pedro, silent throughout it all, kept, almost
constantly, his half-closed eyes fixed in a sidelong look at the girl at
the end of the table.
Attention and admiration, Carolyn June expected from men. They had
always been hers. She was beautiful and was conscious of it. Had the
cowboys of the Quarter Circle KT not registered appreciation of her
charms by their looks Carolyn June would have believed something was
wrong with her dress or the arrangement of her hair. Her eyes—she was
sure of them—without effort lured men to her feet.
"It's hotter than blue blazes in here," Old Heck said when all had
finished; "we'd better go out into the big room. Maybe Carolyn June will
play some on the piano."
"The boys and me will go on out on the porch," Parker said as they
reached the front room, speaking significantly to Old Heck, but in a
tone both Ophelia and Carolyn June heard. "We'll leave you and Skinny
with the ladies and not intrude—"
"You won't be intruding if you remain," Ophelia said brightly. "Carolyn
June and I are not partial at all and want you to feel that we enjoy
meeting you all."
"Yes, stay," Carolyn June added, somewhat reluctant that of the entire
group only one should be left to the wiles of her unconsciously
intentional coquetry; "there is plenty of room in here and it's cool—"
"We're much obliged," Bert said, "but we'd better do the way Parker
mentioned. Anyhow that was the agreement."
"Agreement?" Ophelia spoke with a questioning lift of her brows.
"Yes," Chuck said, evidently trying to relieve the embarrassment of Old
Heck, Parker and Skinny who looked daggers at Bert when he spoke of an
agreement, "Parker and Old Heck was to take turn about—"
"Bert meant," Parker interrupted hastily, "—he meant they—they had to
agree not to loaf in this room before Old Heck would give them jobs on
the Quarter Circle KT!"
"Yes," Old Heck added quickly, "that was the bargain on account
of—of—getting it mussed up and everything and making too much work for
Sing Pete to clean it up!"
Ophelia and Carolyn June looked curiously at each other as if they
suspected some secret that had to do with their presence at the Quarter
Outside, the cowboys lounged on the porch or lay spread full length on
the grass smoking their cigarettes, and silent. Each was busy with
thoughts of his own. Carolyn June had been very impartial during the
evening meal, distributing her smiles and little attentions freely among
them all. Now she was sitting at the piano playing snatches of random
melodies as they came to her mind, while Skinny sat stiffly on a
high-backed chair at the corner of the instrument.
A drone of voices reached the ears of Parker and the cowboys as Old
Heck, skilfully led on by Ophelia, told about the ranch, the Kiowa range
and the traditions of western Texas.
"Can you play La Paloma?" Skinny asked as Carolyn June paused after
running over a dainty and vivacious one-step, memories of which made her
think of Hartville and the fashionable ballrooms where she had reigned
as princess at least if not as queen, and which seemed now very far
"I'm afraid not—unless I have the music, but I'll try," she answered,
and her fingers again sought the keys.
The dreamy Mexican air drifted seductively out on the sultry motionless
Bert looked through the window and saw Skinny lean back in his chair,
his eyes closed and an expression of supreme content stealing over his
"Skinny's gone—he's surrendered," he said to Chuck, lying full length
on the porch at his side; "look at the poor cuss with his eyes shut and
grinning as if he was seeing visions of Paradise!"
"That combination would capture most anybody," Chuck answered. "I'm
starting to feel affectionate myself."
Bert didn't reply, Chuck having expressed too nearly his own swelling
"Uncle Josiah!" Carolyn June called, suddenly whirling around on the
piano stool as she finished the last bars of La Paloma, "may I have a
Old Heck, grown silent under the spell of the music, and, like Skinny,
sitting dreaming dreams that almost frightened him, started quickly.
"A—a what?" he asked.
"A horse—" she answered, "a broncho to ride!"
"Oh, uh—sure! Skinny, go get her one!" he replied confusedly.
"Not now," Carolyn June laughed, "to-morrow—any time, whenever I want
to use it!"
"Can you ride?" Skinny asked eagerly.
"Ever since I can remember," Carolyn June said, "daddy has kept
horses—I love 'em! Ophelia rides, too," she added.
"In automobiles—" Ophelia corrected.
"That's a good arrangement," Skinny said; "it will make everything work
out all right."
"I don't understand," Carolyn June said; "what arrangement?"
"We'd better be going to bed, Skinny," Old Heck interposed anxiously,
"it's getting late!"
"Guess we had," Skinny said reluctantly. "Gosh, it's warm to-night!"
"You can leave the door and windows open," Old Heck said to Ophelia and
Carolyn June as he and Skinny moved toward the door; "we don't have
burglars out here."
Parker and the cowboys straightened up when they heard Skinny and Old
Heck preparing to leave and went around the corner of the building
toward the bunk-house.
Ophelia and Carolyn June stepped out on the porch with Old Heck and
The air was oppressively still and hot. The black cloud bank that had
hung over the Costejo Mountains earlier in the evening now covered the
whole western half of the sky. Night sounds seemed almost stifled by the
suffocating heat. From the pasture below the stables the faint call of a
kill-deer suddenly shrilled out, followed by intense silence. No
lightning flash filled the wall-like blackness slowly creeping over the
earth from the west. A pale glow on the rim of the rolling hills across
the valley, herald of the moon not yet above the horizon, intensified
the pall beneath the approaching cloud. A sullen roar, throbbing
angrily, rising and falling in volume, could be heard coming out of the
depths of the storm.
"Acts like it's going to be a bad one," Old Heck observed, studying the
cloud they all were watching.
"Wicked," Skinny said, "one of them mutterin' kind until it breaks and
then all hell tears loose."
"If th' Ramblin' Kid is out in the sand-hills to-night he'll—"
A withering stream of fire poured from the cloud almost over their
heads; it was accompanied by a crashing peal of thunder that rocked the
earth under their feet and stopped the words on Old Heck's lips. The
flame lighted the whole valley. They had an instant's glimpse of a
writhing, overhanging curtain of dust and rain sweeping toward them. In
the glare they saw a giant cottonwood that stood alone in the meadow
west of the house reel and sway like a drunken thing and pitch to the
"It's here! It struck that tree!" Old Heck yelled. "Run for the
bunk-house, Skinny, maybe we can make it! You women go inside and shut
Carolyn June and Ophelia sprang—were blown almost—inside the house and
slammed the door as another bolt fell, flooding the room with a blaze
that made the light from the lamp on the reading table seem faint and
dim. Old Heck and Skinny darted around the corner as the tempest pulled
and tugged at the buildings of the Quarter Circle KT.
For an hour Ophelia and Carolyn June sat and listened to the storm and
while it still raged went to bed.
Carolyn June fell asleep watching the incessant glare of the lightning
as flash after flash filled the room with light and illumined the world
outside, while the rain and wind lashed the trees in the garden near
her window. Above the tumult the words of Old Heck: "If the Ramblin' Kid
is out in the sand-hills to-night"—kept repeating themselves over and
over in her mind. Try as she would, she could not shut out the picture
of a slender young rider, alone, far out on the range in the storm-mad
night, unsheltered from the fury and wrath of the elements.
A DUEL OF ENDURANCE
When the storm broke over the Quarter Circle KT the Ramblin' Kid was
twenty miles away following the Gold Dust maverick. Old Heck's surmise
that he had gone in search of the outlaw filly was but half correct. It
was not with the definite purpose of trying for the renegade mare that
he had mounted Captain Jack and headed him toward the Narrows at the
moment Carolyn June Dixon and Ophelia Cobb arrived at the ranch. Nor was
it to escape meeting the women. Their coming meant nothing to the
He simply wanted to be alone.
The ride with Parker and the boys to the North Springs meant talk. The
Ramblin' Kid did not want to talk. He wanted to be with his thoughts,
his horse and silence.
Should he happen on to the maverick he might give her a run. Since her
first appearance on the Kiowa, the Ramblin' Kid had seen her many times.
More than once, from a distance, he had watched the mare, getting a line
on her habits. Sooner or later he expected to test Captain Jack's
endurance and skill against the filly's speed and cunning. Without
success other riders of the Kiowa had tried to corral the outlaw or get
within roping throw of her shapely head. So far she had proved herself
faster and more clever than any horse ridden against her. The Ramblin'
Kid believed Captain Jack was master of the beautiful mare, that in a
battle of nerve and muscle and wind the roan stallion could run her
down. Some day he would prove it.
At the Narrows the trail forked. One branch turned sharply to the right
and followed a coulée out on to the divide between the Cimarron and the
lower Una de Gata; the other swung toward the river, slipped into it,
crossed the stream, and was lost in the sand-hills beyond.
The broncho, of his own will, at the prongs of the road wheeled up the
coulée and climbed out on the level bench south of the Cimarron. A
half-dozen miles away Sentinel Mountain rose abruptly out of the plain.
Toward the lone butte Captain Jack turned. He knew the place. On the
north slope there was a tiny spring, fenced with wire to keep the stock
from trampling it into a bog; near by was a duster of piñon trees; below
the seep in the narrow gorge was a thin strip of willows. It was a
favorite rendezvous sought by the Ramblin' Kid when in moods such as now
possessed him. Silently he rode to the group of piñons and dismounted.
The Ramblin' Kid stretched himself under the trees while Captain Jack
drank at the little water course. Then, with his bridle off, the
broncho fed contentedly on the bunch grass along the hillside. After a
time Captain Jack quit feeding and came into the shade of the piñons.
The Ramblin' Kid, flat on his back, stared through the scant foliage of
the trees into the sky—overcast now with a dim haze, forerunner of the
storm gathering above the Costejo peaks. Thousands of feet in the air a
buzzard, merely a black speck, without motion of wings, wheeled in
great, lazy, ever-widening circles.
As the sun dropped into the cloud bank in the west a band of mares and
colts came from that direction and rounded a spur of Sentinel Mountain.
At their heads was the most beautiful horse ever seen on the Kiowa
In color a coppery, almost golden, chestnut sorrel; flaxen mane and
tail, verging on creamy white; short-coupled in the back and with
withers that marked the runner; belly smooth and round; legs trim and
neat as an antelope's and muscled like a panther's; head small, carried
proudly erect and eyes full and wonderfully clear and brown.
"Th' filly!" the Ramblin' Kid breathed, "with a bunch of Tony Malush's
Anchor Bar mares and colts!"
Captain Jack saw the range horses and lifted his head.
"Psst!" the Ramblin' Kid hissed and the neigh was stopped.
The rangers moved toward the east and over the crest of a ridge a
quarter of a mile away. On the flat beyond the rise they stopped, the
colts immediately teasing the mares to suck. The filly withdrew a short
distance from the herd and stood alert and watchful.
For half an hour the Ramblin' Kid studied the Gold Dust maverick.
He looked at the clouds climbing higher and higher in the west, then
long and thoughtfully at Captain Jack.
"Let's get her, Boy!" he murmured; "let's go an' get her!"
His mind made up, the Ramblin' Kid slipped the bridle again on Captain
Jack, removed the saddle and with the blanket wiped the sweat from the
broncho's back, smoothed the blanket, reset the saddle, carefully
tightened front and rear cinches and mounting the little stallion guided
him slowly down the ravine in the direction of the horses on the flat. A
hundred yards away the mares and colts, alarmed by the sudden
half-whinny, half-snort, from the filly, discovered the approaching
horse and rider.
Instantly the wild horses crowded closely together and galloped toward
the Una de Gata. Captain Jack leaped into a run, rushing them. The
maverick wheeled quickly and dashed away to the south alone.
"Her pet trick!" the Ramblin' Kid muttered as he headed Captain Jack
after the nimble creature. "She absodamnedlutely will not bunch—seems
to know a crowd means a corral, a rope and at last a rider on her
For two miles it was a race. The Ramblin' Kid held Captain Jack to a
steady run a couple of hundred yards in the rear of the speeding mare.
At last he pulled the stallion down to a trot. The Gold Dust maverick
answered by running another fifty yards and then herself settling into
the slower stride. "Like I thought," the Ramblin' Kid said to himself,
"it's a case of wear her out—a case of seasoned old muscle against
speedy young heels!"
It became a duel of endurance between Captain Jack, wiry, toughened and
fully matured, with heavier muscles, and the nimble, lighter-footed Gold
At dark they were on the edge of the Arroyo Grande and Captain Jack had
closed the distance between them until less than a hundred yards was
between the heels of the filly and the head of the stallion behind her.
She turned east along the arroyo, followed it a mile, seeking a
crossing, then doubled straight north toward the Cimarron. Captain Jack
hung to her trail like a hound. In the blackness that preceded the storm
she could not lose him. With almost uncanny sureness he picked her
out—following, following, never giving the maverick a moment's rest.
Yet it seemed that the distance she kept ahead was measured, so alert
and watchful was she always. Both were dripping with sweat. Try as he
would, it seemed impossible for Captain Jack to win those few yards
that would put the filly in reach of the rope the Ramblin' Kid held
ready to cast until the inky darkness made it impossible to risk a
The mare splashed into the Cimarron.
A dazzling zigzag flash of lightning, the first of the storm, and the
Ramblin' Kid saw the filly struggling in the yellow wind-whipped
current. A moment later and Captain Jack was swimming close behind her.
On the north side of the river the mare yielded to the drive of the
tempest and turned east down the stream. A rocky gorge running at right
angles toward the north offered shelter from the lashing wind and rain.
Up the ravine the maverick headed. A rush of muddy water down the canyon
sent pursued and pursuer slipping and sliding and climbing for safety
high up on the brush-covered, torrent-swept hillside. The constant blaze
and tremble of lightning illumined the whole range. A wolf, terrified by
the storm, seeking cover, crouched in the shelter of a black rock-cliff.
The Ramblin' Kid saw the creature. His hand instinctively slipped under
his slicker and gripped the gun at his hip.
"Hell! what's th' use of killin' just to kill?" he murmured. His hold on
the gun relaxed. A bolt of lightning slivered the rock above the wolf;
there was an acrid odor of burning hair. The next flash showed the wolf
stretched dead twenty feet below the cliff. "Well, I'll be damned!" the
Ramblin' Kid whispered as he bowed his head before the gale, "that was
funny! Guess God himself figured it was time for that poor cuss to die!"
In the last quarter of the night, at the North Springs, when the storm
had spent itself and the white moon looked down on a drenched and
flood-washed earth, the 'Ramblin' Kid dropped his rope over the head of
the Gold Dust maverick—barely twenty feet ahead of the horse he
rode—conquered by the superior nerve, muscle and endurance of Captain
Jack, still the greatest outlaw the Kiowa range had ever known!
The touch of the rope fired the filly to a supreme effort; she lunged
forward; Captain Jack set himself for the shock—he threw her cold, full
length, in the soft mud; instantly the little stallion sprang forward to
give the mare slack, she came to her feet, squealing piteously, and
plunged desperately ahead—again Captain Jack braced himself for the jar
and put her down, "It's hell, Little Girl," the Ramblin' Kid said with a
catch in his throat; "but you've got to learn!" The third time the
maverick tested the rope and the third time Captain Jack threw her in a
helpless heap. That time when she got to her feet she stood trembling in
every muscle until Captain Jack came up to her side and the Ramblin' Kid
reached out and laid his hand on the beautiful mane. She had learned.
Never again would the wonderful creature tighten a rope on her neck.
Trailing the filly, the Ramblin' Kid forced her back toward the
Cimarron, into its raging flood, multiplied a hundredfold by the
torrential rain of the night; side by side she and Captain Jack swam the
stream, and in the gray dawn, while the Quarter Circle KT still slept,
he turned the mare and Captain Jack into the circular corral. He removed
the saddle from Captain Jack, took the rope from the filly's neck, threw
the horses some hay and on the dry ground under the shed by the corral,
lay down and went to sleep.
For fourteen hours, without rest, the Ramblin' Kid had ridden.
The sun was up when Sing Pete electrified the Quarter Circle KT into
life and action by the jangle of the iron triangle sending out the
Old Heck stepped to the door of the bunk-house and looked out across the
valley. The Cimarron roared sullenly beyond the meadow. The lower field
was a lake of muddy water, backed up from the gorge below. He glanced
toward the circular corral.
"What th'—Who left horses up last night?" he asked of the cowboys
dressing sleepily inside the bunk-house.
"Nobody," Parker answered for the group.
Skinny Rawlins came to the door. "It's Captain Jack," he said, "and—and
darned if th' Ramblin' Kid ain't got the filly!"
"Aw, he couldn't have caught her last night," Bert Lilly said.
"Well, she's there," Skinny retorted, "somebody's corraled her—that's
Hurriedly dressing, the cowboys crowded out of the bunk-house and down
to the circular corral. The Gold Dust maverick leaped to the center of
the enclosure as the group drew near and stood with head up, eyes
flashing and nostrils quivering, a perfect picture of defiance and fear.
The swim across the river had washed the mud from her mane and sides and
she was as clean as if she had been brushed.
"Lord, she's a beauty!" Chuck Slithers exclaimed.
"Sure is—be hell to ride, though!" Bert commented. "Wonder where the
Ramblin' Kid is—"
"S-h-hh! Yonder he is," Charley Saunders said, observing the figure
under the shed, "—asleep. Come on away and let him rest!"
"Breakfast's ready anyhow," Old Heck added.
"And Skinny ain't shaved or powdered his face yet—" Chuck laughed;
"these lovers ought to fix themselves up better!"
"Shut up, you blamed idiot, ain't you got no respect?" Parker said as
they turned toward the house.
"Listen at Parker, he's one of them, too," Chuck continued; "this is his
day to be a sweetheart to the widow!"
"I'd rather have Skinny's job," Bert said with a snicker, "I'd be afraid
"She acts too gentle to start with"—"
"Give her time," Charley suggested, "she'll bu'st loose when she gets
"Her and Old Heck got pretty well introduced last night, holding hands
the way they did, and—"
"Dry up," Old Heck interposed with a foolish grin, "and come on to
Carolyn June and Ophelia were charmingly fresh and interesting in dainty
blue and lavender morning gowns. A bowl of roses, plucked by Ophelia
from the crimson rambler by the south window, rested in the center of
the table. The cowboys saw the flowers and exchanged glances. Old Heck
and Skinny blushed.
Carolyn June noticed the vacant place at her right.
"Th' Ramblin' Kid ain't up yet," Skinny volunteered.
"Then the storm did drive him to shelter, after all?" Carolyn June asked
with the barest trace of contempt in her voice.
"I wouldn't hardly say that," Bert Lilly remarked, holding his cup for
Sing Pete to fill with coffee; "—he brought in the Gold Dust maverick."
"Yes," Chuck said with mock gravity, "it was quite an undertaking—he
sprinkled salt on her tail—"
"How clever!" Ophelia exclaimed, looking interested, "and is that the
way they catch—mavericks?" stumbling over the unusual word.
"Chuck's joking," Parker said; "he always was foolish—"
"Uncle Josiah," Carolyn June asked suddenly, "can you take Ophelia to
Eagle Butte to-day?"
"I—Parker can," Old Heck answered, "if he can drive the car. Still
there are probably some pretty bad washouts—"
Ophelia looked quickly at Old Heck, interested by the note she detected
in his voice.
"I—I—got some work to do," he continued, "if you could wait till
to-morrow"—addressing the widow—"I could more than likely go myself—"
"I guess I can handle the car all right," Parker said, looking
significantly at Old Heck; "the roads will be dried up in a little
"It's Parker's day anyhow and he don't want to miss—" Chuck started to
"After breakfast," Old Heck interrupted, scowling at the cowboy, "Chuck
and Pedro had better both ride-line on the upper pasture. The cattle
probably went against the fence in the storm last night and knocked off
a lot of wire. Of course, Skinny will have to stay here," he added, "and
the rest of us, except Parker, ought to look after the fences in the
east bottoms—from the looks of the river this morning a lot of posts
and wire must be washed out."
"Whoever gets up the saddle horses had better catch them in the pasture
corral," Parker declared, "it won't do to turn them in with that wild
filly and Captain Jack."
"I think I shall go see that wonderful filly," Carolyn June said as
they left the table, "she may be the particular broncho I will want to
"Not much," Old Heck objected, "these outlaws ain't exactly the kind of
horses for women to fool with. You can use Old Blue. He's gentle."
"Did I tell you I wanted a 'gentle horse'?" Carolyn June asked with a
bit of impatience.
"No, but I figured that was the kind you'd need on account of being
raised back east—"
"Well, I am going to see the Gold Dust maverick," Carolyn June said with
emphasis, "and if she suits me I'll—I'll ride her!"
"I'll go with you," Skinny offered as Carolyn June stepped from the
kitchen door and started toward the circular corral.
"Never mind!" she spoke shortly, "—you can go catch 'Old Blue'
and"—with scorn in her voice—"if he's able to walk, maybe it will be
safe for me to ride him to the end of the lane and back—Ugh! 'Old
Blue!' The very name sounds as if he was dead!"
"Old Blue's a good horse," Skinny protested, "—we work him on the hay
But Carolyn June was gone, walking rapidly across the open ground in the
direction of the corral in which the Ramblin' Kid had turned Captain
Jack and the Gold Dust filly.
"Jumpin' eats!" Bert exclaimed as the cowboys started toward the stable,
"didn't the young one show her teeth sudden?"
"Skinny's going to have his hands full if he don't look out," Charley
Saunders remarked sagely. "Still that kind ain't as dangerous as the
ones that act plumb gentle like the widow has acted so far."
"Any female is treacherous," Chuck observed grimly. "They're just like
cinch-binders—you can't tell when they're going to rare up and fall
"I'll bet Ophelia turns out to be a W.C.T.U. or something," Bert
"If she does it's all off with the Quarter Circle KT, because Parker and
Old Heck are both in love already," Charley said as they rounded the
corner of the barn.
Carolyn June gave a gasp of admiration as she stepped up to the circular
corral and saw the Gold Dust maverick closely.
"Oh, you beauty! You adorable beauty!" she breathed.
Captain Jack and the filly were near the fence next to the shed. Carolyn
June passed in between the low building and the corral to be closer to
the horses. The sky was cloudless and a wonderful liquid blue; the sun
glistened on the rich, golden, brown sides of the mare and made her coat
shine like delicate satin. When Captain Jack and the filly saw Carolyn
June they stood for a moment as rigid as though cast in bronze, heads
held high, eyes fixed curiously yet without fear on the slender girlish
Captain Jack took a step forward in a half-challenging way. The
maverick stood perfectly still.
"You beauty," the girl repeated, "you wonderful golden beauty! You are
going to be my horse—I'm going to ride you—just you—"
"You'll get you're neck broke if you do!" a voice, deliberate and of
peculiar softness, said behind her.
Carolyn June turned, startled, toward the shed from where the voice had
come. She knew, even before she looked, that the speaker was the
Ramblin' Kid. Evidently he had just awakened. He had not risen and still
lay stretched on the ground, his head resting on the saddle he had used
for a pillow. Carolyn June could not help wondering how long he had been
lying there studying her back. The thought confused her. In spite of her
efforts at self-control a slow flush crept over her cheeks. The Ramblin'
Kid saw it and the faintest hint of a smile showed on his lips—or was
the suggestion of amusement in the twinkling glance of his eyes? Carolyn
June could not tell. The subtlety and queerly humble impudence of it
filled her with anger.
While she looked into his eyes Carolyn June appraised the physical
appearance of the Ramblin' Kid. Certainly he was not handsome, sprawling
there in his rough clothing. She knew his age was somewhere near her
own, perhaps he was a year, surely no more than that, older than
herself. Yet there was an expression about the face that suggested much
experience, a sort of settled maturity and seriousness. His mouth,
Carolyn June thought, showed a trace of cruelty—or was it only
firmness? The teeth were good. If he stood up her own eyes would have to
angle upward a trifle to look into his and if hers were brown the
Ramblin' Kid's were positively black—yes, she would say, a brutal,
unfathomable black, penetrating and hard. His cheeks were smooth and
almost sallow they were so dark, and she could tell there was not an
ounce of flesh save tough sinewy muscle on his body. He was fully
dressed except for the white weather-beaten Stetson lying beside the
saddle and the chaps and spurs kicked off and tossed with the bridle and
rope near by on the ground. A dark woolen shirt open at the throat, blue
overalls faded and somewhat dingy, black calfskin boots on a pair of
feet that could not have been larger than sixes, comprised his attire.
So this was the Ramblin' Kid, Carolyn June thought. Someway she had
pictured him a blue-eyed, yellow-haired sort of composite Skinny
Rawlins, Chuck, Bert Lilly, Charley Saunders all in one and with the
face of a boy in the teens!
He was different. She wondered, and almost laughed at the absurd
thought, if he was bow-legged. A glance at the straight limbs stretched
in repose on the ground dispelled the doubt.
The suddenness with which the Ramblin' Kid had spoken and the tone he
used, Carolyn June thought, was utterly unfair. She felt as if she had
been ambushed. How could she know he was sleeping under the shed? Why
wasn't he in the bunk-house where he belonged? Her own embarrassment
made her cross. She wanted to say "damn!" and stamp her foot or throw
something at him, lying there so completely self-possessed! Instead, she
looked steadily into the eyes of the Ramblin' Kid. Someway as she looked
they seemed not so unkind, more sorrowful they were, on closer scrutiny,
than cruel. She started to speak, her cheeks began to burn—
Without a word she turned and walked rapidly toward the house.
As she moved away Carolyn June felt something snap at her knee. She did
not stop. Reaching down she gathered the soft folds of the loose gown
about her and hurried away from the corral.
"God!" the Ramblin' Kid whispered as he straightened up, "she's built
like th' Gold Dust maverick—an' just as game! They was made for each
He went to the corral and leaned against the fence, studying the filly
thoughtfully, while Captain Jack with a friendly whinny came and nosed
at the fingers thrust through the bars. After a time the mare cautiously
moved up beside the roan stallion and stretched her own velvety muzzle
toward the hand the Ramblin' Kid held out.
"You want to be loved, too, you little devil!" the Ramblin' Kid laughed
gently, "—you thought I was mean last night, didn't you?"
For a while he fooled with the horses, then started toward the kitchen.
A few steps from where Carolyn June had been standing he glanced down at
a broad pink satin elastic band lying on the ground. It had been
fastened with a silver butterfly clasp. The clasp was broken. The
Ramblin' Kid stooped and picked it up.
"I'll be—!" he chuckled as he fingered, almost reverently, the dainty
thing, "it's a—a—darned pretty little jigger!"
Smiling whimsically the Ramblin' Kid slipped his find in his pocket and
sought Sing Pete to tease him for a bite of breakfast.
YOU'RE A BRUTE
Carolyn June went directly to her room when she reached the house. She
wished to investigate the feeling of looseness at her knee. The satin
band that belonged there was gone. She felt her cheeks grow hot.
Doubtless she had lost it at the corral—the Ramblin' Kid would pick it
up! The thought tormented her. Once more she wanted to swear vigorously
and with extreme earnestness. Instead she—laughed! It was all so
absurd. The strange interest this rough cowboy inspired in her; the
confusion she felt when he had spoken to her—no man among all the
clever, carefully groomed, ultra-sophisticated suitors she had left in
Hartville ever stirred her emotions as had the Ramblin' Kid with a few
drawling words and one long look from his black, inscrutable eyes. That
look! She had the feeling, someway, that her whole soul was naked before
it. She was almost afraid of him. It was silly! She detested
him—or—anyway, he needed punishment! No, he wasn't worth it! He was
only an ignorant rider of the range—why trouble at all about him?
Quickly changing her dress for a riding suit of khaki—the skirt
sensibly divided—and the morning slippers for stout, tan, laced boots,
she stepped into the front room. Ophelia was in her own room dressing to
go to town. Carolyn June heard voices in the kitchen. Sing Pete's shrill
chatter mingled with an occasional slow word from the Ramblin' Kid.
Thought of the garter she had lost flashed into her mind. Perhaps the
cowboy had not found it. She would run out to the corral and see.
Passing quickly out the front way Carolyn June hastened again toward the
circular corral. Old Heck and Parker were at the garage getting the car
ready for the drive to Eagle Butte; Pedro and Chuck were riding across
the valley toward the upper pasture. The other cowboys saddled their
horses near the barn.
As she walked, Carolyn June scanned the ground. At the corral she looked
carefully where she had been standing. Her search was fruitless. She
smiled queerly. Again she glanced at the Gold Dust maverick.
"You darling," she whispered, "I am going to have you—I am—I
Turning, her eyes rested on the saddle, chaps and riding gear lying in
the shed where the Ramblin' Kid had slept. Carolyn June stepped close to
"I have a notion to—to spit on you!" she said vehemently, "or kick—"
but she didn't finish the sentence. One tan shoe had been drawn back as
if to be swung viciously at the inoffensive pile of riding gear; it
paused, suspended, then gently, almost caressingly, pushed the leather
chaps which suddenly seemed to Carolyn June to look limp and worn and
As Carolyn June returned to the house Parker drove the car around to the
front; Old Heck joined the cowboys, already mounting their bronchos, and
with them rode down the lane in the direction of the lower field. Skinny
came out of the barn, leading Pie Face and Old Blue. He left the horses
standing and at the back-yard gate overtook Carolyn June. As they
stepped inside the yard the Ramblin' Kid appeared at the kitchen door.
"There's the Ramblin' Kid now," Skinny said as they approached. "Hello,
Kid," he continued, "I see you got the filly—Excuse me, I guess you
folks ain't acquainted."
Haltingly he introduced them.
Without the flicker of an eyelid the Ramblin' Kid looked into the eyes
of Carolyn June. He had seen her coming from the corral and guessed
correctly the reason for her second visit to the enclosure. Indeed at
that moment his hand was in his pocket toying with the delicate souvenir
for which she had gone to search. Yet his face was utterly without
emotion as he lifted his hat and stood aside, acknowledging with formal
words the introduction. "It's sure a surprisin' day an' pleasant—" he
finished, emphasizing "surprisin'" and "pleasant" till Carolyn June
could have sworn there was a veiled taunt in the words he spoke.
She was equally calm. Smiling sweetly and with not a hint of a previous
meeting she said: "I think I have heard of the Ramblin' Kid." Pausing a
moment: "It's always peaceful after a storm!" she added enigmatically.
And the Ramblin' Kid, as Skinny and the girl passed around to the front
of the house, knew that Carolyn June had hurled a lance!
"A natural born heart-breaker," he said to himself as he went toward the
bunk-house, "a genuine, full-grown vampire, part intentional an' part
because it's in her—but she's a pure-bred—" He grew pensive and
silent, a look of gentleness came to his face, followed quickly by an
expression of extreme humility. "Oh, hell," he exclaimed aloud, "what's
th' use!" Entering the building the Ramblin' Kid seated himself at the
table at the end of the room. He pulled the pink satin elastic from his
pocket and gazed at it, rubbing the soft fabric tenderly with the end of
his thumb. His eyes lighted suddenly with anger and contempt. He threw
the band violently across the room into a corner. "I wasn't raised to
associate with luxuries like that!" he exclaimed with mingled bitterness
and scorn, "—a damned ign'rant cow-puncher dreamin' dreams about an
angel!" he finished with a harsh laugh. For a while he sat silent,
gazing down at the table. Then he got up, went over and lifted the
garter from where it had fallen and replaced it in his pocket. "Oh,
well," he chuckled less bitterly and whimsically added, "—any idiot can
smile at th' mornin' star even if th' darned thing is beyond his reach!
Besides, she don't need to ever know—" Leaving the bunk-house he went
toward the circular corral.
Parker climbed from the car and entered the house, asking if Ophelia was
"In just a moment!" the widow called from her room.
"What are you and me going to do?" Skinny asked Carolyn June as they
stepped on to the porch, "take a ride?"
"On 'Old Blue'?" Carolyn June questioned scornfully, then, with
resignation, as they went inside the house: "Oh, well—I suppose, after
a while. I have some letters to write now," and she entered her room
leaving Skinny standing perplexed by her varying moods. He looked
foolishly at Parker a moment. Going to the graphophone he put on a
"I'm forever blowing bubbles, pretty bubbles in the air!"
wailed disconsolately through the house.
"Good heavens," Carolyn June called, "do you blow bubbles this early in
"Don't you like it?" Skinny asked soberly. "I thought that was a pretty
"I'm crazy about it!" Carolyn June answered sarcastically. "There and
then, but not here and now—"
"Where and when?" Skinny queried innocently.
"In the valley of the moon at the end of a perfect day!" she laughed
back. "—Forgive me, I couldn't help it!"
"What does she mean?" Skinny asked Parker in a whisper. "Is she making
fun of me?"
"No, you blamed fool," Parker replied, "she feels good and is just
Skinny brightened up immediately.
"That's a good one," he called to Carolyn June with a snicker; "I never
thought of it before!"
A ripple of laughter came from Carolyn June's room.
"Really, I don't mind," she said; "play Bubbles as much as you like—I
think it's rather soothing, but truly I must write my letters now so
Ophelia can take them to town."
Half an hour later Ophelia appeared dressed for the drive to Eagle
Butte. Carolyn June and Skinny went out on the front porch and watched
the widow and Parker climb into the Clagstone "Six." As Parker started
the engine Skinny suddenly called to him. Parker sat with his foot on
the clutch while Skinny hurried out to the car.
"What do you want?" he asked impatiently, "We've got to be going!"
"Lean over here," Skinny said, his face flushing scarlet, "I want to
tell you something."
"Stop at the Golden Rule and get me a white shirt size number fifteen
and—a purple necktie if they've got any!" Skinny whispered.
Ophelia heard and choked back a laugh.
"Thunderation, he's plumb locoed!" Parker exclaimed, as he jammed the
clutch into gear and the car sprang forward.
"Don't forget it, Parker," Skinny called earnestly, "I actually need
Carolyn June and Skinny stood on the porch and watched the car climb the
grade and out on to the bench. The storm of the night before had washed
the earth clean and cooled the air. A faint after-breeze fanned the
tree-tops. The Costejo peaks stood out, with stereoscopical clearness,
against a cloudless sky. The day was a challenge to one who loved the
"You may saddle 'Old Blue,'" Carolyn June said to Skinny. "—I'll see if
I can 'stick on him' long enough to ride as far as the river!"
"He's already saddled," Skinny replied, "him and Old Pie Face both."
"Man, dear," she cried in mock misunderstanding, "you surely are not
expecting me to ride the two of them at once!"
"No," he answered meekly, "Old Pie Face is my horse, I'm going to ride
him and go with you."
"Indeed!" she exclaimed, then laughing mischievously. "Oh,
certainly—that's a good one—I hadn't thought of it before!"
"Don't you want me to go?" Skinny asked doubtfully.
"Surely. I should be utterly unhappy if you didn't—I'll get my hat."
"Blamed if I can figure her out," Skinny said to himself as Carolyn June
ran lightly into the house. "She keeps a feller freezing to death and
burning up all at once—sort of in heaven and hell both mixed together."
A white, medium-brimmed felt hat was set jauntily on the fluffy brown
hair when she reappeared. Skinny's heart leaped hungrily. Carolyn June
was a picture of perfect physical fitness. The cowboy silently wondered
how long he could keep from making "a complete, triple-expansion, darned
fool of himself!"
"I'm glad you want me to go," he said, renewing the conversation as they
started around the house, "because I wanted to and, well, anyhow it's my
"What do you mean 'your job'?" Carblyn June asked quickly.
Skinny was stricken silent. He realized he was on dangerous ground. He
wasn't sure it would be wise to tell her what he meant. Someway he felt
Carolyn June would resent it if she knew he was drawing wages for
acting the lover to her. It seemed wholly impossible for him, just at
that moment, to explain that, although Old Heck was paying him ten
dollars a month extra salary to court, temporarily, his attractive
niece, he, Skinny Rawlins, would personally be overjoyed to reverse the
order and give his entire income, adding a bonus as well, for the
privilege of continuing indefinitely and of his own choice the more than
pleasant employment. Yet this was the literal truth, so quickly had his
susceptible heart yielded to the charms of the girl. But he dared not
try to tell her. He knew the words would not come and if they did he
would probably choke on them and she, not believing the truth, would
detest him. Skinny had heard of men who courted girls of wealth to win
their money and with sincere contempt he despised these degenerates of
his sex. Now, suddenly, he felt that he himself was in their class. The
thought made him sick, actually caused his stomach to quiver with a sort
"Skinny Rawlins," Carolyn June said sternly, stopping and looking
straight at the confused and mentally tortured cowboy, "tell me—and
don't lie—what you meant when you said to go with me was 'your job!'"
Skinny raised his eyes; in them was piteous appeal.
"I meant—I—" he hesitated.
"Tell me the truth," she ordered relentlessly, "or I'll—I'll—do
"I meant it was my job—" suddenly inspired, he blurted out, "to ride
Old Pie Face. He's—he's dangerous and has to be rode every so often to
keep him from getting worse and to-day's the day to ride him!"
"Skinny," Carolyn June spoke gently, "I feel sorry for you. I want to
like you and I'm disappointed. It breaks my heart to say it but you are
a liar—you're just a common double dashed liar—like Uncle Josiah was
when he sent that telegram saying there was smallpox at the Quarter
"Am I?" Skinny asked humbly.
"You are," she retorted impatiently, "and you know it—"
"Do I?" as if dazed.
"You do, and did all the time—"
"Did I?" he felt like a parrot.
"You did!" Carolyn June snapped. "Good heavens," she continued, "why do
men think they have to lie to women? Common sense and experience ought
to teach them they can never fool them long—I hoped out here in the big
West I would find one man who wouldn't lie—"
"Th' Ramblin' Kid won't," Skinny said as if suddenly struck by a bright
thought, "—he wouldn't lie to you!"
Carolyn June laughed scornfully.
"Oh, yes he would," she declared, "all of them do—every last one of
the poor frail"—contemptuously—"turtles!"
"But th' Ramblin' Kid wouldn't," Skinny persisted; "he won't lie to
"Not even to a woman?" she questioned incredulously.
"No," he answered positively, "I'm sure he wouldn't."
"And why wouldn't he?" she asked.
"Well," Skinny replied, "for one thing he don't give a darn. Th'
Ramblin' Kid don't care what anybody, man, woman or anything else thinks
about him or whether they like what he says or not so there ain't any
use of him lying. Maybe he wouldn't tell what was in his mind unless you
asked him, but if you did ask him he'd say what it was whether he
thought it satisfied you or not. He's funny that way. He just naturally
don't seem to be built for telling lies and he wouldn't do it—"
"Oh, Skinny, poor simple Skinny!" Carolyn June laughed. "You don't know
men—men when they're dealing with women! Through all the unnamed years
of my life I've never found one man who was absolutely truthful when
talking with a 'female.' They think they have to lie to women. They do
it either to keep from hurting them—or else they do it intentionally
for the purpose of hurting them, one or the other! And they are so
stupid! No man can hide anything long from a woman—"
Reaching over she jerked a spray of tiny roses from the rambler at the
window near which they were standing; tapping the blossoms against her
lips, beginning to smile whimsically, she continued: "Why, I can almost
read your own thoughts right now! If I wanted to I could tell you more
about what is in your mind than you yourself could tell—"
"Could you?" Skinny said, a guilty look coming in his eyes.
"For one thing," Carolyn June went on, ignoring the inane question, "you
are in love—"
"I ain't!" the over-hasty denial slipped from his lips unintentionally.
"Lie!" she laughed, "you can't help telling 'em, can you? And you are
thinking—" She paused while her eyes rested demurely on the roses in
"What am I thinking?" Skinny asked breathlessly.
Before she could reply an agonized spitting, yowling and hissing,
accompanied by the rattle of tin, came from behind the kitchen. "What's
that?" Carolyn June cried half frightened at the instant a yellow house
cat, his head fastened in an old tomato can, came bouncing backward,
clawing and scratching, from around the corner.
"Gee whiz!" Skinny exclaimed, "it's that darned cat again—Sing Pete
goes and dabs butter in the bottoms of the cans and the fool cat sticks
his head in trying to lick it out and gets fastened. It looks like the
blamed idiot would learn sometime. It's what I call a rotten joke
Sing Pete appeared at the kitchen door cackling with fiendish joy at the
success of his ruse.
Carolyn June stared, apparently stricken dumb by the antics of the
"Sun-fish! Go to it—you poor deluded son-of-sorrow!" The Ramblin' Kid,
who, unnoticed by Carolyn June and Skinny, at that moment had come from
the corral and stood leaning against the fence, chuckled half pityingly,
yet making no move toward the creature.
"Catch him and take it off," Carolyn June cried, "it's hurting him!"
Skinny started toward the rapidly gyrating jumble of claws, can and cat.
"I will if the darn' thing'll hold still a minute!" he said.
Carolyn June looked at the Ramblin' Kid, still leaning against the fence
watching the cat's contortions.
"Why don't you help him?" she asked impatiently. "Skinny can't do it
alone—can't you see it's choking?"
"No, he's not choking," the Ramblin' Kid replied without moving from
where he stood, "—he's sufferin' some, but he ain't chokin'. He's got
quite a lot of wind yet an' is gettin' some valuable experience. That
cat's what I call a genuine acrobat!" he mused as the terrified
creature leaped frantically in the air and somersaulted backward,
striking and clawing desperately to free itself of the can tightly
wedged on its head.
Carolyn June was accustomed to obedience from men creatures. The
Ramblin' Kid's indifference to her request, together with his apparent
cruelty in refusing to aid in relieving the cat from its torturing
dilemma, angered and piqued the girl.
"Help Skinny take it off, I tell you!" she repeated, "haven't you a
spark of sympathy—"
The Ramblin' Kid resented her tone and detected as well the note of
wounded pride. Instinctively he felt that at that instant the cat, with
Carolyn June, had become a secondary consideration.
"Well, some, I reckon," he answered, speaking deliberately, "generally a
little, but right now darned little for that old yaller cat. I figure
he's a plumb free moral agent," he continued as if speaking to himself;
"he got his head in that can on his own hook an' it's up to him to get
it out or let it stay in this time, just as he pleases—"
"But Sing Pete put butter in the can!" Carolyn June said, arguing.
"He's done it before," the Ramblin' Kid answered with a glance at the
Chinese cook still gleefully enjoying the results of his cruel joke. "He
won't no more. But that don't make no difference," he laughed, "th'
darn' cat hadn't ought to have yielded to temptation!"
"You're a brute!" she exclaimed passionately, "—an ignorant, savage,
stupid brute—" The harsh words sprang from the lips of Carolyn June
before she thought. The Ramblin' Kid flinched involuntarily as if he had
been struck full in the face. A look came in his eyes that almost made
her regret what she had said.
"I reckon I am," he replied, gazing steadily at her without feeling or
resentment and speaking slowly, "yes, I'm an 'ign'rant, savage, stupid
brute,'" deliberately accenting each word as he repeated the stinging
phrase, "—but—what's the use?" he finished with a mirthless laugh.
"Anyhow," he added, glancing again at the cat and Skinny's futile
efforts to catch it, "I ain't interferin' this time, at least, with that
Carolyn June knew she had hurt with her unintentionally cruel words. For
an instant there was a humane impulse to temper their severity.
"I—I—didn't—" she started to say, but the Ramblin' Kid had turned
and, ignoring the cat, Skinny and herself, was leaning on the fence with
his back to her, looking off across the valley, apparently lost in
thought. She did not finish the sentence.
The cat bucked its way to the fence. As it went under the wire the can
caught on a barb of the lower strand. Jerking furiously, the animal
freed itself from the can, leaving splotches of hair and hide on the
ragged edges of tin. Still spitting and clawing, with its tail standing
out like an enormous yellow plume, it dashed toward the barn, eager to
put distance between itself and the thing that had been torturing it.
"Gosh a'mighty," Skinny said, sweating with the exertion and the
excitement of trying to catch the cat, "it'll be noon before we get
started for that ride!"
"We'll go now," Carolyn June answered, "—before some other horrible
"We're going over to the river and maybe out on the sand-hills a ways,"
Skinny casually remarked to the Ramblin' Kid as Carolyn June and he
passed through the gate. "Oh, yes," he added, "Chuck said tell you he
took your rope—there was a weak spot in his and he didn't get it fixed
The Ramblin' Kid did not answer.
Skinny had been wrong about the Ramblin' Kid not caring what any one
thought of him. He was supersensitive of his roughness, his lack of
education and conscious crudeness, and the words of Carolyn June were
still in his mind. When Skinny and the girl were going toward their
horses the Ramblin' Kid turned and entered the gate. Sing Pete was still
at the kitchen door.
The Ramblin' Kid stepped up to him.
"You damned yellow heathen," he said in a level voice, "if you ever play
that trick on that cat again th' Quarter Circle KT will be shy a cook
an' your ghost'll be headin' pronto for China!"
Without waiting for a reply he went back to the gate and watched Skinny
and Carolyn June ride down the lane. The deftness and skill with which
the girl handled the horse she rode forced a smile of admiration to the
lips of the Ramblin' Kid. She sat close in the saddle and a glance
showed she was a born master of horses. "She's a wonder," he said to
himself, "a teetotal wonder—" A shade of melancholy passed over his
face. "An ign'rant, savage, stupid brute!" he murmured bitterly, "well,
I reckon she was right—Hell!" he exclaimed aloud, "I wonder if
Skinny'll remember about that upper crossin' bein' dang'rous with
quicksand after the rain—Guess he did," he finished as the two riders
turned to the right toward the lower and more distant river ford and
disappeared among the willows and cottonwood trees that fringed the
THE GREEDY SANDS
When the Ramblin' Kid, working the rope-conquered and leg-weary Gold
Dust maverick from the North Springs back to the Quarter Circle KT,
crossed the Cimarron at dawn Captain Jack and the filly swam a raging,
drift-burdened river. Less than twelve hours later Carolyn June and
Skinny, at the lower ford, rode into a stream that again was normal. Old
Blue and Pie Face splashed through water barely reaching the stirrup
leathers. Only the fresh rubbish flung out on the meadows by the flood's
quick anger or lodged in the willows, still bent by the pressure of the
torrent that had rushed over them and slimy with yellow sediment left on
their branches and leaves, told the story of the swift rise and fall of
the Cimarron the night before.
On the bluff north of the river Carolyn June and Skinny checked their
horses while the girl gazed down on the panorama of green fields, narrow
lanes, corrals and low buildings of the Quarter Circle KT. The sight
thrilled her. On all the Kiowa range there was no more entrancing view.
"It's kind of pretty, ain't it?" Skinny ventured.
"Beautiful!" she breathed.
"I'd—I'd like to stand here and look at it always—if you—if you'd
enjoy it!" he said and was instantly appalled by his own audacity.
Carolyn June flashed a quick look at him.
"We had better go on," she said, then added lightly: "Does it always
affect you so when you get this view of the valley?"
"No. But, well, somehow it's different this morning—maybe it's because
you are here!" he blurted out hurriedly.
"Please," she said, starting Old Blue toward the west along the crest of
the ridge, "don't be sentimental. I'm afraid—" she added, intending to
say it would spoil their ride.
"You needn't be, with me along!" Skinny interrupted hastily,
misinterpreting her meaning.
She laughed and without explaining urged her horse forward.
Skinny followed pensively on Old Pie Face.
The Ramblin' Kid, while going from barn to corral, glanced across the
valley and saw Carolyn June and Skinny as they rode along the ridge. It
was two miles from the ranch to the bluff on which they were riding, but
so clear was the rain-washed air that the horses and riders were easily
recognized. He watched them until they reached the corner of the upland
pasture. There the roads from the lower and upper fords came together.
The couple turned north along the fence and disappeared beyond the
For a mile Carolyn June and Skinny rode without speaking. He felt
already a reaction from his over-boldness of a while ago and silently
swore at himself for his rashness. She was not eager to resume a
conversation that had threatened a painfully emotional turn. She was
quite content to enjoy the fresh air of the morning, the changing scenes
through which they passed and the easy motion of the horse on which she
The bronchos pricked forward their ears at the sound of galloping hoofs.
"Somebody's coming," Skinny spoke as Pedro, riding rapidly toward them,
rounded the point of a low hill a little distance ahead.
"What's wrong?" Skinny questioned, when the three met and stopped their
"The pasture fence is bu'sted," Pedro answered; "at the northeast corner
it is broke. The cattle are out. Ten—fifteen maybe—are dead—the
lightning strike them perhaps. The others all of them are gone. They go
pronto, stampede I think, toward the Purgatory. Chuck and me can not get
them alone—I go to tell Old Heck so the boys will come and help!"
It was plain to Skinny what had occurred. The cattle had drifted before
the storm until stopped by the wire. While crowded against it a bolt of
lightning had struck the fence, followed the metal strands, and killed
the animals touching or nearest to it. In the fright the others plunged
madly forward and had broken their way to freedom. Five hundred Diamond
Bar steers, recently bought by Old Heck and brought from the Purgatory
forty-five miles north of the Quarter Circle KT were out and rushing
back to their former range.
"You go help Chuck," Skinny said to Pedro. "Carolyn June and me will
turn around and take the news to Old Heck and send some of the boys to
help you. If them cattle ain't bunched before they hit the Purgatory and
get scattered over their old range it will take a month to gather them
and get them back again!"
"Why don't you yourself go with Pedro and Chuck?" Carolyn June asked
Skinny. "I can ride to the ranch alone and tell the others about it."
"I'm supposed to stay with—" he begun.
"With me, I presume," she interrupted. "Well, this is one time you
don't. Go on with the boys. You are needed after those steers a lot more
than you are to 'herd' me back to the ranch!"
Without waiting to argue she wheeled Old Blue toward the Quarter Circle
KT. Skinny watched her a moment, then started with Pedro in the other
direction. Suddenly checking his horse he swung around in the saddle.
"Go back the way we came!" he called after the girl. "Don't try the
Carolyn June looked around and threw up her hand, motioning toward the
north. Thinking that she understood, Skinny touched Old Pie Face with
the spurs and soon overtook the Mexican.
He was mistaken. Carolyn June had not understood the warning. The
distance was too great for his words to reach her distinctly. She
thought he was merely protesting against her going alone. At the fork of
the road she saw that the trail that led to the upper ford was much the
nearer way to the ranch. Reining Old Blue into it she rode swiftly along
the ridge and down the slope toward the dangerous crossing.
* * * * *
The Ramblin' Kid spent the morning at the circular corral. He was
studying the moods and working to win the confidence of the Gold Dust
maverick. He was watching her and thinking always a little ahead of the
thought that was in the mind of the mare. His love for a horse and
understanding of the wonderfully intelligent animals was as natural as
were the brown eyes, the soft low voice, the gentle but strong touch, by
which it was expressed. He wooed the outlaw filly thoughtfully,
carefully, as a lover courts a sweetheart. The beautiful creature
reminded him of Carolyn June. "They was made for each other!" he
repeated softly as he worked with the mare. From the corral he could see
the road across the river where Skinny and the girl had gone. Often he
turned his eyes in that direction.
He was fingering the garter in his pocket and looking toward the river
when Carolyn June appeared on the ridge as she returned alone to the
ranch. He stood and watched her. The ugly words she had spoken at the
gate came into his mind and a bitter smile curled his lips. Still he
watched the girl, expecting Skinny would ride into view. She turned down
the ridge toward the upper ford.
"That's funny," he thought, "wonder where Skinny's at?" Then it flashed
through his mind that something must be wrong for the girl was riding
alone. "Hell!" he exclaimed aloud, "she's by herself an' headin'
straight for th' upper ford!" Only an instant he paused. "Jack!" he
cried sharply, running to the corral gate and swinging it partly open.
The roan stallion started at a trot toward the gate, then, trained to
obey instantly the word of the master he loved better than life, leaped
nimbly through the opening. Slamming and fastening the gate the Ramblin'
Kid ran to the shed, the broncho at his side. He threw the blanket and
saddle on the little roan, cinched quickly but carefully the double
gear, slipped the bit into the waiting mouth of the horse and without
stopping to put on his chaps sprang on Captain Jack's back and whirled
him in a dead run around the corner of the shed and down the lane toward
the north. At the pasture corral below the barn he guided the broncho
close to the fence and scarcely checking him leaned over and lifted a
rope, coiled and hung on a post near the gate, from its place—the one
Chuck that morning had left because of the flaw.
"God!" he groaned, "—an' a bad rope!"
He glanced toward the ridge across the river. Carolyn June had
disappeared down the trail that led to the upper ford.
"Go, Little Man, go—for th' love of God, go!" the Ramblin' Kid
whispered as he leaned forward over the neck of the horse. Captain Jack
answered the agonized appeal as he would never have responded to the
cruel cut of spurs and leaped ahead in a desperate race to beat Old Blue
and his precious burden to the greedy sands of the Cimarron.
As he rode, the Ramblin' Kid slipped his hand around the coils of the
rope till his fingers found the broken strands that told of the weakness
that caused Chuck to leave it behind that morning. Bending over it,
while his horse ran, he worked frantically to weave a rawhide saddle
string into the fiber and so strengthen the dangerous spot.
* * * * *
Thinking only to reach the ranch as quickly as possible Carolyn June
guided Old Blue down the trail and through the thin patches of willows
and cottonwood trees that grew along the river. The stream looked
innocent enough and the crossing perfectly safe. Swift but apparently
shallow water flowed close to the northern bank. Beyond that was a
clean, pebble strewn bar and then a smaller, narrower prong of the
river. On the south side stretched a white, unbroken expanse of sand a
hundred feet or more wide and ending against the low slope of the meadow
At the brink of the stream Old Blue stopped short and refused to go on.
"What's the matter," Carolyn June laughed lightly, "—afraid of getting
your 'little tootsies' wet?"
The horse reared backward when she tried to urge him ahead and wheeled
half around in an effort to get away from the water.
"Look here, Old Fellow," she spoke sharply, tightening the reins as she
touched his flank with her spur, "we haven't time for foolishness!
Generally, in fact always," accenting the last word, "horses—and
men—go in the direction I want them to go! Why, you're as
stubborn—as—as the Ramblin' Kid!" she finished with another laugh as
Old Blue, with a snort of fear, yet not daring to resist further the
firm hand and firmer will of his rider, stepped into the water.
"Gee, when you do start you go in a hurry, don't you?" Carolyn June said
as the broncho went rapidly forward as if eager to negotiate the
crossing, seeming to know that safety lay in the quickness and lightness
of his tread. As he lunged ahead the girl had the sensation that the
saddle was sinking from under her. Reaching the firmer footing of the
gravel bar in the center of the stream Old Blue tried again to turn
"Go on!" Carolyn June cried impatiently yet with a feeling somehow of
impending danger she could not wholly define, "—you've got to do it, so
you had as well quit your nonsense and go ahead!" at the same time
raking the horse's sides sharply again with the spurs.
Crossing the shallow branch of the river the broncho reached the smooth,
firm appearing beach of sand.
With his head down, his muzzle almost touching the ground, as if
scenting, feeling, his way, he went forward stepping rapidly, easily, as
possible. At each step his foot slipped lower into the yielding,
quivering mass. Carolyn June felt him tremble and the sensation that the
horse was being pulled from under her grew more and more pronounced. She
noticed how he sank into the sand and observed also the sweat beginning
to darken the hair on the neck of her mount.
"Pretty soft, isn't it?" she said, speaking to the broncho kindly as
though to encourage him and perhaps at the same time to allay a bit the
queer sense of uneasiness she felt, for even yet she did not realize the
danger into which she had unknowingly ridden.
Half-way to the firm black soil of the southern bank of the stream Old
Blue's front feet seemed suddenly to give way beneath him. He began to
plunge desperately. Then it was the truth came to Carolyn June. Her
cheeks grew white.
"The quicksand!" she exclaimed aloud, at the same time trying to help
the horse with a lift of the reins. It was too late to turn back. Her
only salvation lay in reaching the solid ground such a few yards
ahead—and yet so fearfully far away. Old Blue struggled madly to go
forward, gaining a little but at each effort sinking deeper into the
sand. Carolyn June tried to encourage him with words:
"Come on, come on! Good Little Horse—you can make it! Keep
trying—that's it—now!—you're doing it! Brave Old Blue—don't give
up—don't give up, Boy!" she pleaded, pity for the horse causing her
almost to forget her own terrible peril.
It was useless.
Twenty-five feet from safety Old Blue's front quarters went down until
his breast was against the sand. The hind legs were buried to the
stifles. He wallowed and floundered helplessly. His hoofs touched
nothing solid on which to stand. He stretched his head forward,
straining-to lift himself away from that horrible, clinging suction. His
efforts only forced him down—down—always down!
Carolyn June's own feet were in the sand. She threw herself from the
saddle—as far to one side and ahead of the horse as she could. With her
weight removed perhaps Old Blue could get out. Anyway it was death to
stay on the horse. Perhaps alone she could escape—she was lighter—the
sand might hold her up—by moving rapidly surely she could go that short
twenty-five feet to the firm ground ahead of her. At the first step she
sank half-way to her thigh. She fell forward thinking to crawl on her
hands and knees. Her arms went into the mass to the shoulder.
Silently—without a word—but with horrible fear gripping her heart she
fought the sand. She sank deeper—slowly—steadily—surely. The hellish
stuff closed about her body to the waist. If she only had
something—anything—solid to hold to! She took off her hat, grasped the
edges of the brim, reached her arms out and tried to use the frail disk
of felt for a buoy. It held a moment then gradually settled below the
surface of the shifting, elusive substance. Again and again she lifted
the hat free from the sand and sought to place it so it would bear a
part at least of her weight. Her efforts were vain. The insidious mass
crept higher and higher on her body. She remembered reading that one
caught in the quicksand by his struggles only hastened his own
destruction. She tried to be perfectly still. In spite of all she was
sinking—sinking—the sand was engulfing her.
During all her struggles Carolyn June remained silent. She had not
thought to cry out. Somehow she could not realize that she was to die.
The sun was bright, the sky cloudless, the trees along the river-bank
barely swayed in a little breeze! How beautiful the world! How queer
that such a little distance away was the green grass of the meadow and
the firm black earth in which it was rooted and she—she was held fast
and helpless in the embrace of the deadly sand! Strange thoughts rushed
through her mind. She wondered what they would think at the ranch when
night came and she did not return. Would they know? Would they guess the
thing that had happened? Would the sand draw her down—down—until it
covered her so none would ever know where or how she died? She looked at
Old Blue. "Poor old fellow!" she whispered, "I am sorry—I didn't
know—it looked so white and firm and safe!" The sand was half-way up
the sides of the horse and he swayed his body in pathetic, futile
efforts to free himself.
A strange calm came over Carolyn June. So this was the end? She was to
die alone, horribly, in the treacherous sands of the Cimarron? Surely it
could not be—God would not let her die! She was so young! She had just
begun to live—She thought of Hartville, her father, the old friends.
How far away they seemed! How queer it was—she could not image in her
mind any of the familiar scenes, the face of her father or any of the
friends she had known so well! She tried to think of her Uncle Josiah,
Ophelia, Skinny Rawlins—poor fellow, how susceptible was his big,
innocent, boyish heart! She called each one up in a mental effort to
remember how they had looked, the sound of their voices—they were only
names—dim shadowy names! There was nothing in the whole world but Old
Blue—herself—and the sand—the sand—an eternity of sand pulling,
dragging, sucking her down! She closed her eyes tightly, thinking to
shut out the impression of utter loneliness. The face of the Ramblin'
Kid flashed into her mind! She could see him! She saw him lying under
the shed, as he had looked that morning, his head resting on the saddle,
his eyes gazing steadily into her own; she saw him again as he had
looked when she stung him with her harsh words at the gate. She seemed
to see the agonized humility in his expression and hear the low
tenseness of his voice as he repeated aloud the words she had used—"An
ign'rant, savage, stupid brute!" She laughed almost hysterically. "Why
can I see him—just him—and not the others? Has he come to—to—haunt
me?" she finished with a gasp.
The sand had reached her breast. How long before it clutched at her
throat? Her mouth? Her eyes? Ah, would she hold up her arm as she went
down—down—and reach out her hand as if to wave the world a last, long
farewell? "I will—I will!" she cried, the pressure around her body
almost stopping her breath, "I—I—will—and—wiggle my fingers to the
end!" she added with a choking half-hysterical laugh, so tightly did she
cling to life. Her mood changed. "I—guess—I ought to pray!" she said,
"but—I—God—God knows anyhow!" her voice trailing away to a whisper as
if she had grown suddenly, utterly, tired. She stretched out her hands
once more with the hat, trying to use it to buoy her up. Under the
weight of her arms it sank in the sand. She tossed it to one side. "It
will—stay—on top by itself," she choked. "I—I—will leave it—maybe
they will find it—and know—" She felt her senses were leaving her.
Even yet she had not called for help. It had not occurred to her that
rescue was possible. As if it were an echo to her thoughts there came
the throbbing tattoo of hoofs pounding the earth. She listened intently.
Some one was riding down the lane toward the river from the ranch! The
horse was evidently running—running madly, desperately. Would he cross
at the upper or lower ford? Her heart pulsed with heavy dull throbs. The
sand was crushing her chest. A wave of weakness swept over her. She
almost fainted. At that instant Captain Jack, carrying the Ramblin' Kid,
leaped through an opening in the willows and stopped—his front feet
plowing the firm ground at the edge of the quivering beach of sand.
"Pure luck!" the Ramblin' Kid breathed fervently, his eye quickly
measuring the distance to the nearly exhausted girl; "she's close enough
I can reach her with th' rope! God, if it'll only hold!" Already the
coils were in his hand. With a single backward fling of the noose and
forward toss he dropped the loop over the head of Carolyn June.
"Pull it up—close—under your arms!" he commanded shortly, "an' hang on
with your hands to take th' strain off your body!"
The girt obeyed without a word.
He double half-hitched the rope to the horn of the saddle, swung
Captain Jack around. "Look out!" he called to the girl as he started
away from the brink of the sand. "Steady, Boy, be careful—" to the
broncho. The slack gradually tightened. The strain drew on Carolyn
June's arms till it seemed they would be pulled from the sockets. The
rope cut cruelly into her body under her shoulders. She wanted to
cry—to scream—to laugh. She did neither. She threw back her head and
clung with all her strength to the rough lariat, stretched taut as a
cable of steel.
The Ramblin' Kid leaned forward in the saddle, his body half turned,
eyes looking back along the straight line of the severely tested rope.
He swore softly, steadily, under his breath. "God—if it will only
hold—if it only don't break!"
Slowly, surely, the little stallion leaned his weight against the
tensely drawn riata and Carolyn June felt herself lifted, inch by inch,
out of the sand that engulfed her. At last she fell forward—her body
free. Without stopping the horse the Ramblin' Kid continued away from
the river-bank and dragged the girl across the yielding surface to the
solid earth and safety. The instant she was where he could reach her he
whirled Captain Jack and rode quickly back. Carolyn June was trying to
get to her feet when he sprang from the broncho and helped her to the
firm ground on which he stood. She was panting and exhausted.
"Get—get—Old Blue out!" she gasped and dropped limply down on the
grass, fingering at the rope to remove it from around her body.
"Danged if she ain't got more heart than I thought she had!" the
Ramblin' Kid said to himself as he lifted the loop from over her head.
"I'm goin' to," he said aloud, "if I can—but—I'm afraid he's gone.
I'll try anyhow—you lay there an' rest—" at the same time remounting
The sand covered the rump of Old Blue. The saddle, Parker's it was, was
nearly submerged, only the horn and cantle showing above the slimy mass.
His head, neck and the top of his withers were yet exposed. He still
struggled, wallowing feebly, vainly resisting the downward pull of the
sand. Crouching, as if fascinated by the terrible scene, Carolyn June
watched as the Ramblin' Kid, waiting his opportunity, at the instant the
horse in the sand lifted his head deftly flung the rope over his neck.
With a short jerk of the wrist he tightened the noose till it closed
snugly about the throat of the broncho. Again turning Captain Jack away
from the bank he urged him slowly forward. The rope stiffened. The
little stallion bunched himself and desperately strained against the
dead weight of Old Blue, multiplied many times by the suction of the
sand. The Ramblin' Kid leaned far over the neck of Captain Jack to give
the horse the advantage of his own weight and looked back, watching the
supreme efforts of the mired broncho as he fought to climb out of the
sand. A moment it looked as if the little roan would drag him out.
Slowly he seemed to be raising and moving forward. There was a sharp
snap. Half-way down its length the lariat parted. At the weak spot the
strain was too great. Captain Jack plunged forward to his knees, his
nose rooting the earth, and the Ramblin' Kid barely saved himself from
pitching over the horse's head.
"That's what I was dreadin'—" he said as he turned and rode back to the
edge of the sand.
Carolyn June gazed, wide-eyed, speechless with horror, at the horse in
the sand. When the rope broke, Old Blue, with a groan almost human, sank
back and quickly settled down until only his head and part of his neck
were exposed to view. The Ramblin' Kid looked at the broken rope—the
end fastened around the throat of Old Blue had whipped back and was
lying far beyond the cowboy's reach. The piece half-hitched to the
saddle horn was too short for another throw. Old Blue was doomed.
Carolyn June saw him sinking gradually, surely, into the sand. It seemed
ages. His eyes appealed with dumb pathos to the group on the bank. They
could hear his breath coming in harsh, terrible gasps. The sand seemed
to be deliberately torturing him as though it were some hellish thing,
alive and of fiendish cunning, that grasped its victim and then paused
in his destruction to gloat over his hopeless agony.
The Ramblin' Kid sat Captain Jack and watched.
"Why did God ever want to make that stuff anyhow!" sprang hoarsely from
his lips. He was torn between blind unreasoning anger at the quicksand
and pity for the struggling horse. Suddenly he jerked the forty-four,
always on his saddle, from its holster. As the gun swung back and then
forward there was a crashing report and Old Blue's head dropped, with a
convulsive shudder, limp on the sand.
Carolyn June screamed and buried her face in her hands.
At the sound of the shot Captain Jack stiffened and stood rigid. The
Ramblin' Kid, his face white and drawn, sat and looked dry-eyed at the
red stream oozing from the round hole just below the brow-band of the
bridle on the head of the horse he had killed.
"I—I—would have wanted somebody to do it to me!" he said softly and
rode to the side of the girl huddled on the ground. He dismounted and
stood, without speaking, looking down at her shaking form. After a time
she looked up, through eyes drenched with tears, into his face. Then as
if drawn by an irresistible impulse—one she could not deny—she turned
her head and looked at the spot where Old Blue had fought his last
battle with the quicksands of the Cimarron. A crimson stain, already
darkening, on the white surface; a few square feet of disturbed and
broken sand, even now settling into the smooth, innocent-looking
tranquillity that hid the death lurking in its depths; a short length
of rope, one end drawn beneath the sand, the other lying in a sprawling
coil; her hat resting a little distance to one side, were all that
remained to tell the story of the grim tragedy of the morning. She
shuddered and looked once more into the pain-filled eyes of the Ramblin'
"We'd better be goin'," he said quietly, "you're wet an' them clothes
must be uncomfortable. You can ride Captain Jack!"
She stood up weak and trembling.
"I—I—thought Captain Jack was an outlaw," she said with a faint
smile. "He won't let me ride him, will he?"
"He'll let you," the Ramblin' Kid answered dully, "no woman ever has
rode him—or any other man only me—but he'll let you!"
As she approached the stallion he raised his head and looked at her with
a queer mixture of curiosity and antagonism, curving his neck in a
"Jack!" the Ramblin' Kid spoke sharply but kindly to the horse, "be
careful! It's all right, Boy—you're goin' to carry double this one
The broncho stood passive while the Ramblin' Kid helped Carolyn June to
"You set behind," he said, "it'll be easier to hold on an' I can handle
th' horse better!"
She slipped back of the saddle and he swung up on to the little roan.
With one hand Carolyn June grasped the cantle of the saddle, the other
she reached up and laid on the arm of the Ramblin' Kid—the touch sent a
thrill through her body and the cowboy felt a response that made his
heart quiver as they turned and rode toward the Quarter Circle KT.
For a mile neither spoke.
"I—I—am sorry for what—I said this morning," Carolyn June whispered
at last haltingly, feeling intuitively that the cruel words—"an
ignorant, savage, stupid brute"—were repeating themselves in her
"It's all right," he answered without looking around and in a voice
without emotion, "it was th' truth—" with a hopeless laugh. "I'm a
damn' fool besides!"
QUICK WITH A VENGEANCE
Old Heck rode in advance of Charley and Bert as the trio returned from
repairing the fences wrecked by the flood that had swept over the east
bottom-lands of the Quarter Circle KT. All morning he had been silent
and morose. Only when necessary had he spoken while he directed the
cowboys at their labor, helped them reset posts, or untangle twisted
wires and build up again that which the rush of water had torn down. The
damage had not been great and by noon the fence was as good as new. As
soon as the breaks were mended the moody owner of the Quarter Circle KT
mounted his horse and started for the house.
"Them women coming or something has got Old Heck's goat," Bert remarked
to Charley as they climbed on their horses and followed a moment later.
"Something's got it," Charley answered, "he ain't acted natural all
day—do you reckon he's sore because Parker took the widow to town?"
"Darned if I know," Bert said doubtfully, "that might be it."
"Well, he's feverish and disagreeable for some reason or other and
that's the way people generally get when they're jealous," Charley
"He hadn't ought to be," Bert argued, "it's Parker's day to keep company
with Ophelia, and Old Heck and him agreed to split."
"If he's in love he won't split," Charley retorted with conviction, "I
never saw two men take turn about loving the same woman yet. It can't be
"The woman wouldn't object, would she?" Bert queried.
"Probably not," Charley replied, "at least not as long as double doses
of affection was coming her way. From what I've heard most of 'em sort
of enjoy having as many men make love to 'em as possible, but—" he
"They kick if a man loves several women at once!" was the sophisticated
reply. "But as far as that's concerned," he continued, speaking as a man
wise in the ways of the world, "men and women ain't much different in
that respect. When it comes to loving, both sides are plumb willing to
divide up 'a-going' but want it to be clean exclusive when it comes to
"It's funny, ain't it?" Bert commented.
"No, it ain't funny," Charley declared. "It's just natural—"
"Maybe Parker and Old Heck will have a fight about Ophelia," Bert
suggested hopefully. "Which do you suppose would lick?"
"It's hard telling," Charley said thoughtfully. "Old Heck's the
heaviest, but Parker's pretty active."
"Well, it sure does seem like wherever women are trouble is, don't it?"
Bert observed meditatively.
"Blamed if it don't," Charley agreed; "there's something about them
that's plum agitating!"
Old Heck, riding a short distance ahead of the cowboys, was troubled
with similar thoughts. He was trying to analyze his own feelings. Years
without association with womankind had made him come to regard them with
a measure of indifference and suspicion. He had developed the idea that
women existed chiefly for the purpose of disorganizing the morale of the
masculine members of the race. He was very sincere in this belief. Yet
he was forced, now, to confess that he found something interesting in
having a couple of attractive females at the Quarter Circle KT. The
situation was not so disagreeable as he had expected. Already he was
proud of his kinship to Carolyn June. She was a niece worth while.
Ophelia also had proved herself a pleasant surprise. He had pictured her
as a strong-minded, assertive, modernized creature who would probably
discourse continuously and raspingly about the evils of smoking,
profanity, poker, drinking and other natural masculine impulses.
Instead, she had proved herself, so far, a perfect lady. Without doubt
she was the most sensible widow he had ever met. The thought of Parker's
long, intimate ride with her to Eagle Butte made him uncomfortable. It
was a darned fool arrangement—that agreement that he and his foreman
were to divide time in the entertainment of Ophelia. He could have done
it alone just as well as not. Anyway the dual plan was liable to cause
confusion. Oh, well, Parker would be out on the beef hunt next week. By
rights it ought not start for ten days yet, but—well, it wouldn't hurt
to move it up a little. He would do that. Then he remembered the frank
admiration the cowboys had shown toward Carolyn June. This suggested
complications in that direction.
"Thunderation!" he said aloud, "it's a good thing we fixed it up for
just Skinny to make love to her—if we hadn't there'd have been a
regular epidemic of bu'sted hearts on this blamed ranch! There wouldn't
have been a buckaroo on the place that could have kept from mooning
around sentimental—unless it was th' Ramblin' Kid," he added; "that
blamed cuss is too independent and indifferent to fall in love with any
At the barn Charley and Bert overtook Old Heck. The three unsaddled and
fed their horses and started toward the house for dinner. Sing Pete had
seen them coming and immediately pounded the triangle.
"Th' Ramblin' Kid's gone somewhere again," Bert observed as he noticed
the Gold Dust maverick alone in the circular corral. "Captain Jack's not
with the filly—"
"Yonder th' Ramblin' Kid comes now," Charley said, looking toward the
north; "he's been over to the river—what the devil kind of a
combination is that?" he exclaimed as he got a better view of the horse
coming up the lane. "Him and that girl both are riding Captain Jack."
"Blamed if they ain't," Bert said curiously; "it's a wonder Captain
Jack'll let them. But how does that come, anyhow? Where's Skinny? I
thought it was his job to ride herd on Carolyn June—"
"It is his job," Old Heck interrupted, "I don't understand—something
must have gone wrong," he added excitedly as the stallion with his
double burden drew near. "Carolyn June's all wet and she's lost her
Turning his horse toward the house, when he reached the end of the lane
and with but a glance at the trio standing at the barn, the Ramblin' Kid
rode straight to the back-yard gate. Old Heck and the cowboys hurried
across the open space and reached the gate just as Carolyn June rather
stiffly dismounted from the little roan. Her hair was disarranged, her
riding suit soiled and wet from the sand and water, but her eyes were
bright, cheeks flushed, and she showed only a trace of nervousness.
"What's the matter?" Old Heck asked uneasily, "what's happened? Where's
In a few words, while the Ramblin' Kid sat silently on the back of
Captain Jack, Carolyn June told of the ride across the river; the
meeting with Pedro and the message he brought that the cattle were out
and some had been killed by lightning; of sending Skinny with the
Mexican to help with the steers; of her return alone toward the ranch,
the struggle in the quicksand and the death of the horse she had been
"Poor Old Blue—poor old fellow!" she finished with a little catch in
Old Heck's cheeks whitened as he listened.
"Good lord," he half-groaned, "you had a close call! It's lucky th'
Ramblin' Kid saw you coming toward the upper ford—if he hadn't—you'd
never got out! But go on into the house and get some dry clothes on.
Boys, we'll have to hurry up and eat dinner and then go help get them
steers back. I wish Parker was here—we'll need all the help we can get.
You'd better catch up another horse," he continued, speaking to the
Ramblin' Kid, "Captain Jack is probably worn out from chasing that Gold
Dust maverick last night, and if you ain't too tired yourself, go with
"I ain't too tired," the Ramblin' Kid replied quietly, "I'll go—an'
ride Captain Jack—he ain't done up." He took the broncho to the corral,
removed the saddle and turned him in with the outlaw mare. After giving
the horses fresh hay—there was water in the corral, supplied by a small
ditch that was fed from the larger irrigation canal and which ran under
one side of the fence—he joined the others at dinner.
An hour later Old Heck, Bert, Charley and the Ramblin' Kid rode away
from the ranch to help Chuck, Skinny and Pedro round up and return to
the big pasture the cattle that had broken out and were rushing toward
their old range on the Purgatory.
Carolyn June was left alone with Sing Pete, the Chinese cook at the
Quarter Circle KT. She still felt somewhat shaken from her experience of
the morning, although a bath, clean dry clothing and the meal had
refreshed her considerably. She carried a chair to the front porch,
thinking to spend the afternoon resting. The events of the day raced in
review through her mind. It did not seem possible so much could have
happened in so short a time. Only yesterday had Ophelia and she arrived
at the ranch. Already she had the feeling that they both were fixtures,
and had been indefinitely, at the Quarter Circle KT. The elemental
atmosphere of the range country had completely enveloped her, seemed to
have absorbed her, and made her a part of it. Some way she rather
delighted in this sensation of permanency. Her rescue by the Ramblin'
Kid and the close view she had been able to get of his impulses made her
thrill with a queer mixture of admiration and pity for him even while
his brutal answer when she had apologized for her harsh words still
echoed in her mind.
"Gracious," she thought with a whimsical smile, "things move fast in
this western country!"
She had seen, already, that both her Uncle Josiah and Parker were
yielding to the charms of Ophelia. The fancy made her chuckle. She
remembered Skinny's too rapidly developing tenderness toward herself.
"Poor fellow," she murmured, slowly shaking her head, "I wish he
wouldn't! But I suppose he can't help it—I wonder why men are always
falling in love with me, anyhow? I'm sure I don't try to make them! I
never saw one yet I really wanted to care—" she stopped suddenly while
a warm flush spread over her body as the Ramblin' Kid was imaged rather
vividly in her mind. "Nonsense!" she said aloud with a soft, throaty
laugh. "Carolyn June, you are getting silly!"
She sprang up and went into the house.
"Sing Pete," she said, stepping into the kitchen, "may I have some
sugar—I'd like the lumpy kind if you have it?"
"Sure! You have him sugal—how muchee you want?" as he held out to her a
tin containing squares of the desired article.
"Oh, enough to win a heart!" Carolyn June answered laughing, at the same
time taking a handful from the can.
"You eat him?" Sing Pete asked with a grin.
"No," she replied, "I feed it to broncho—to Gold Dust maverick. Some
folks sprinkle salt on bird's tail to catch him—I put sugar on horse's
tongue to make him love me—"
"Lamblin' Kid, he do that. Allee time him gettee sugal for Clap'n Jack!"
"Feeds 'Clap'n Jack' sugar, does he?" Carolyn June said pensively.
"Captain Jack's a nice little broncho," she added, "he deserves sugar."
She paused a moment. "'Lamblin' Kid's' a funny fellow, don't you think
so, Sing Pete?" she finished idly.
"Not funny—him dangelous!" the Chinaman replied earnestly. "He gettee
velly mad 'cause I puttee butter in can so cat catchee his head in an'
go lound an' lound—buckee like a bloncho—havee lots a good time! He
not talkee much, Lamblin' Kid don't—just dangelous—that's all!"
Carolyn June felt sudden interest.
"When did he get mad about the cat?" she asked quietly.
"Allee same to-day—when you an' Skinny go 'way. Lamblin' Kid cussee me
lot—tellee me not do him any more. Him dangelous! I not do him next
time!" Sing Pete explained seriously.
"You are wise, Sing Pete," Carolyn June laughed as she left the kitchen
by the back door and started toward the corral where the Gold Dust
maverick was restlessly pacing about. "Don't do it any more! 'Lamblin'
Kid' is 'dangelous'—dangerous in ways that you don't understand!" she
finished softly, her eyes lit with a strange light and her heart elated
and beating quickly because of what the Chinese cook had told her.
The outlaw filly leaped to the far side of the corral and stood
trembling, her head up and breath coming in whistling snorts of
defiance and fear, as Carolyn June opened the gate and stepped boldly
inside. Apparently paying no attention to the frightened horse, the girl
walked to the center of the corral and facing the mare leaned her back
against the snubbing post. Both stood perfectly still while the eyes of
each appraised the other.
After a time the filly seemed to relax and she slowly lowered her head,
yet watching, alertly, the motionless figure of Carolyn June. The girl
talked to the horse, her words gentle, her voice soothing and low. The
Gold Dust maverick became quieter still. Presently she circled the
corral, trotting swiftly and crowding closely against the fence. Carolyn
June turned, keeping her eyes always on the broncho, and continued the
quiet pleading of her voice. It was an hour before the filly shyly and
cautiously came up to the girl—before curiosity mastered her fear.
Carolyn June held out her hand and the outlaw nosed it timidly, ready
instantly to spring away. A lump of sugar was pressed into the Gold Dust
maverick's mouth—she drew back, working the morsel about with her
tongue and lips and finally spitting it out. Several times this was
repeated. At last the beautiful creature tasted the sugar and greedily
ate the lumps, permitting Carolyn June gently to stroke the velvety
muzzle. Then the girl's hand crept higher and higher on the horse's neck
and after a little an arm was slipped over the filly's neck.
"You darling!" Carolyn June breathed softly, "I love you! I wonder what
the Ramblin' Kid would say if he knew I was stealing your heart?" she
added demurely as she laid her face against the silky mane of the mare.
She remained at the corral until the afternoon was nearly gone. The
poplars along the front-yard fence were beginning to throw their shadows
across the corral. When at last Carolyn June started to return to the
house the filly followed her to the gate of the corral and whinnied a
little protest against her going.
"I don't believe you are a bit mean," the girl said as she looked back
affectionately at the nervous, high-strung animal; "you are just lonely
and want to be loved—and understood—that is all, and I doubt if you'd
buck a single buck if I rode you right this minute!"
As she reached the gate the Clagstone "Six" glided quietly down the
grade from the bench and a moment later Ophelia and Parker joined
Carolyn June on the porch. The widow's cheeks were glowing and Parker
looked embarrassed and rather upset. His arms were full of bundles.
"Have a good time?" Carolyn June greeted them.
"Fine," Ophelia replied, "spent oodles of money shopping, saw the
minister's wife, talked with the editor of the paper and we are going to
organize a Chapter—I think we shall call it 'The Amazons of Eagle
"Great," Carolyn June laughed, "you are a hustler, Ophelia! Uncle
Josiah will have a fit. Does Parker know?"
"Yes," the widow answered, her eyes twinkling, as she looked at the
sweating foreman of the Quarter Circle KT. "I told him all about it and
he is going to give us his moral support."
"Where is Skinny?" Parker interrupted hastily, looking more uneasy and
foolish than ever; "why ain't he here?"
Carolyn June told of the happenings of the morning.
"My dear, my dear!" Ophelia cried, shuddering when she heard of Carolyn
June's narrow escape from the quicksand. "You must never cross that
terrible river again! It's too horrible to think about!"
"It was just 'experience,'" Carolyn June said lightly. "I don't mind it
a bit now that it is over. Of course," she added seriously, "I feel
badly about Old Blue—and losing Parker's saddle."
"Don't worry about the saddle, I can get new riding gear lots easier
than Old Heck could have got another niece!"
"Carolyn June needs a saddle of her own," Ophelia suggested.
"I am going to get one; and then I'll ride the Gold Dust maverick!"
"I doubt if th' Ramblin' Kid will let you ride the filly," Parker said,
"he's funny that way—"
"I think he will," Carolyn June interposed. "I'll steal her if no other
"Maybe he will, but it's doubtful," Parker continued, "but Old Heck is
aiming to get you a saddle. He spoke about it this morning when we were
getting the car out to go to town—"
"Dear old uncle," Carolyn June said warmly, "I love him already—don't
Parker colored and looked quickly, with a worried expression on his
face, at the widow. She flushed also.
"That's personal, my dear," she answered, "and rather abrupt!"
Parker went out to put the Clagstone "Six" in the garage.
"Carolyn June," Ophelia said when they were alone, "I have made a
"It is?" questioningly.
"That western Texas is the 'quickest' country in the world!" the widow
"Please explain," Carolyn June said, "although," demurely, with certain
memories fresh in her mind, "I fancy I can almost guess—"
"Yesterday," Ophelia continued rather breathlessly, "we arrived at the
Quarter Circle KT; last night at the supper table I met Mr. Parker for
the first time; ten minutes later he kicked me—accidentally, I
think—on the shins; I saw him again at breakfast this morning; to-day
we drove to Eagle Butte and this afternoon"—she paused and then with a
quick, nervous laugh finished—"he asked me to marry him!"
"Good lord," Carolyn June gasped, "that is—'pronto'—as these cowboys
say! 'Quick' with a vengeance! There must be something in this western
air that makes them do it!"
"It was all I could do this morning to keep Skinny from—" she started
to say, then shifted again to the subject of Parker. "Did he know that
"National Organizer for the 'Movement,'" Ophelia filled in. "Yes, I had
already confessed. I told him as we were driving to town—and the
other—the shock—came just after we crossed the bridge when we were
"He is a bold, dangerous man!" Carolyn June exclaimed, in mock
seriousness, "trying to get ahead of Uncle Josiah!"
"I inferred as much," the widow explained; "he told me that to-morrow
would be your uncle's 'day'—whatever he meant by that; the next he, Mr.
Parker himself, would be 'around' again. 'Unless Old Heck took some fool
notion or other;' before long he would be away on the beef hunt and one
can never tell what might happen while one is gone and, well, that's the
way he felt about it, so he just said it—"
"Naturally was completely surprised, entirely non-committal, and made no
definite agreement!" Ophelia laughed softly.
OLD HECK'S STRATEGY
It was late when Old Heck and the cowboys returned to the ranch. The
runaway cattle had been overtaken on the sand-hills beyond the North
Springs and it took the entire afternoon to bunch them and work the
restless animals back to the Quarter Circle KT, into the big pasture,
and repair the fence so it was safe to leave them for the night.
Ophelia, Carolyn June and Parker were in the front room when Old Heck
and the hungry cowboys clattered, long after dark, into the kitchen for
the supper Sing Pete had kept warm for them.
After the meal Skinny went into the room where Parker and the women
were. Old Heck followed and talked for a few moments with Parker about
the affairs of the ranch, then joined the cowboys at the bunk-house
where they had gone directly after leaving the table. On Skinny's bed
Parker had tossed a bundle.
"What in thunder do you reckon Skinny's been buying, now?" Chuck
questioned as he picked up the package and examined it curiously.
"Blamed if it don't feel like a shirt."
"I'll bet that's what it is," Bert said with a laugh as Old Heck
stepped inside the door, "the darn fool has gone and got him a white
"Who has?" Old Heck asked, hearing only the latter part of Bert's
"Skinny," Charley answered for Bert, "he's fixing up to make love in
"Aw, the blamed idiot," Old Heck grunted, then glancing over toward
Parker's bed: "—Did you notice whether Parker got him one, too, or
Before the question was answered Parker and Skinny appeared at the
"What's the matter?" Chuck said, still holding the bundle in his hand,
"—ain't it too early for lovers to bu'st up for the night? Or did the
widow and Carolyn June blow out the lights on you—"
"Forget it, you danged fool!" Skinny said crossly. "Can't you ever get
over your dog-goned craziness? They was just tired and went to bed. Give
me that package, it's mine and private!" reaching for the bundle.
Chuck, with a laugh, threw it at him. It landed on the Ramblin' Kid's
bunk where the latter was lying, his clothing still on, his eyes staring
straight up while he smoked a cigarette.
"When are you going to ride the Gold Dust maverick?" Skinny asked as he
picked up the package.
For a moment the Ramblin' Kid did not answer. Then, without changing his
"I don't know as I'll ever ride her. Maybe I'll turn her loose again on
"What did you catch her for?" Bert queried. "Don't you want her?"
"I caught her, 'cause I wanted to," the Ramblin' Kid answered, "but that
ain't no sign I intend to keep her. Hell, what's the use?" he finished
"If you want to sell her," Old Heck said, "I'll buy her."
"She ain't for sale," the Ramblin' Kid answered shortly, "not to
"She would be a thunderin' sight better off if she was used."
"Would she?" the Ramblin' Kid questioned dully. "I ain't so sure about
"Of course she would," Old Heck insisted, "she'd be fed regular and—"
"An' be mauled around by some darned human!" the Ramblin' Kid
interrupted with sudden vehemence. "If I was a horse," he continued,
speaking passionately while his black eyes burned with the spirit of
rebellion, "I'd rather be a short-grass cay-use nippin' th' scatterin'
feed on th' north hills an' be free to snort an' raise hell when I
blamed please than have my belly stuffed with alfalfa hay three times a
day an' have to gnaw th' iron of some damned man's bit in my mouth or
carry his saddle on my back!"
Silence followed the outburst.
Old Heck and the cowboys knew the Ramblin' Kid was in one of his
"moods," and experience had taught them that at such times argument was
neither discreet nor safe. The thing they did not know was that his
heart was torn by memory of the agony of Old Blue in the quicksand and
his mind tortured by the picture of dumb suffering a bullet from his own
gun had, that morning, mercifully ended.
After a time he spoke again, more quietly and with a note of weariness
in his voice:
"Oh, well, I reckon I'll keep th' filly. In a day of two, when she gets
rested up a little, I'll ride her,"
"You ought to break her for Carolyn June," Skinny suggested.
"Had I?" the Ramblin' Kid said with a queer laugh—it was just the
thought that was in his mind and against which he was struggling.
"That's a bright idea! Maybe I'll study about it an' take a notion to do
it. If I do she can ride th' maverick When you an' her go on your
"What's a honeymoon?" Skinny queried innocently.
"It's what two people take when they first get married; go off somewhere
by themselves—like they was locoed—to find out how bad they got
stung!" the Ramblin' Kid laughingly answered.
"We'd better all go to bed," Old Heck said; "it's late and we have to
get up early in the morning. Parker, you and some of the boys will have
to go skin them dead steers—we've got to save the hides at least."
"Old Heck wants to go to sleep so he can dream about the widow," Chuck
snickered, "it's his turn again to-morrow to love her—"
"How did she act to-day, Parker?" Bert broke in; "was she pretty
"Aw, shut up! Ain't you got any respect for anything—"
"I'll bet he proposed to her and she throwed him down," Chuck hazarded,
not realizing how nearly he had come to guessing the truth.
Parker looked angrily at Chuck, then his cheeks grew red, he bent over
and began tugging at his boots in an effort to hide the tell-tale
confusion in his eyes.
Old Heck furtively studied the face of his foreman.
"Or else she confessed to being a Bolshevik or local-optionist or
something and the news broke his heart," Charley volunteered, joining in
the baiting of the range-boss.
"She didn't neither confess," Parker denied hastily, aggravated into a
reply, "she ain't either one of them! She's an 'Organizer—'"
Dead silence greeted this sudden announcement. Every eye was turned in
astonishment on Parker while Old Heck and the boys awaited further
explanation. Parker offered no additional information.
"She's a what?" Old Heck finally managed to whisper, leaning toward
Parker, while a look of fear and incredulity spread over his face.
Parker noticed the anguish in Old Heck's eyes and a sudden new look of
cunning came into his own.
"An 'Organizer' I said," he repeated impressively, "she's an 'Organizer'
for some kind of 'Movement' or other—"
"A dis-organizer, you'd better say!" Chuck laughed uncertainly, "judging
from the way she's got you and Old Heck stampeding already!"
"Great guns!" Old Heck half groaned, "what—what sort of
a—a—'Movement' did she say it was, anyhow?"
"Swiss, probably!" came in a chuckling undertone from the direction of
the Ramblin' Kid's bed. "Hell, what's the difference?"
"She said it was connected someway with 'feminine obligations and
woman's opportunity,'" Parker answered, ignoring the frivolous
"I know what she is!" Charley exclaimed, "—it's just what I expected!
She's one of these self-starting female suffragettes! That's what she
is. I knowed she was too gentle acting to be harmless!"
"She just had to break loose sooner or later," Bert said in an awed
"My Gawd!" Old Heck murmured hopelessly. "Holy gosh a'mighty!"
The owner of the Quarter Circle KT was really shocked and worried. He
had surrendered quickly to his first impression concerning the widow.
The original meeting at Eagle Butte, when she and Carolyn June appeared
as visions of feminine loveliness, as contrasted with the homely cook
and her daughter whom he and Skinny had mistaken for, and feared were,
the Quarter Circle KT's prospective guests, had caused a psychic effect
on his feelings toward Ophelia. The sense of relief that came when he
found that the cook was not Ophelia, together with the widow's
unexpected graciousness, had instantly disarmed his suspicions and,
metaphorically speaking, hurled his heart into her lap. He had found the
widow charming, interesting, very feminine, and already dreams had
shaped themselves in his mind. The sudden revelation that Parker had
made brought tremendous disappointment. Ophelia had not shown the least
indication of obnoxious strong-mindedness or that disagreeable
intellectuality which Old Heck firmly believed was a necessary attribute
of all women who participated in politics or "movements."
Ophelia was an "Organizer"! It was unbelievable! The thought gave him a
sickening feeling at the pit of his stomach and actually made his head
Old Heck's first impulse, when Parker made the startling announcement,
was to assert his authority as boss of the outfit and annul the
every-other-day arrangement whereby he and his foreman were to share and
share alike in the widow's society. He would let Parker do it all—have
her all of the time! He wouldn't take any chances! On second thought he
decided to wait at least another day. Besides, it was against his
principles, contrary to the ethics of the range, to back up on a bargain
and he never asked an employee to do a thing he hadn't the courage to do
himself. He would stick it out, come what may, and see the thing through
to a finish. However, there was still a means of escape. If Ophelia
developed any really serious suffragette tendencies during the next day
or two he would go on the beef hunt himself and let Parker remain at the
When finally he went to sleep Ophelia was still on his mind. The first
thought that came to him when he awakened the next morning was the
sickening news Parker had brought.
Old Heck and the cowboys were silent and had about them an air of
depression when they filed into the kitchen for breakfast.
Each cast furtive, curious glances at Ophelia. The information that she
was an "Organizer"—presumably for a "Movement" involving woman's
political rights—caused them to view her with a kind of reverential awe
and fear. The widow and Carolyn June, apparently, were wholly
unconscious of the thoughts in the minds of the men. Both women were as
innocent-looking and attractive as ever—matching with their early
morning freshness the bowl of roses Carolyn June, before the call to
breakfast, had gathered and placed on the table.
The Ramblin' Kid sat at the right of Carolyn June. It was the first
time they had met at the table. He said nothing and seemingly was lost
in thought. When they had entered the kitchen Carolyn June and he had
spoken and for a moment he looked into her eyes with an expression that
caused her own to drop and the warm blood to rush over her throat and
face. She had felt that same sensation of "soul-nakedness" she
experienced when she looked into his eyes that first time when she was
at the circular corral and he was lying under the shed. Neither spoke of
the incidents of the previous day.
The other cowboys and Old Heck studied Ophelia with a sort of
fascination, casting shy upward glances at her from over their plates.
Parker and the Ramblin' Kid only, were at ease and undisturbed.
"You wouldn't think she was one by looking at her, would you?" Chuck
said in an undertone to Charley.
"Some of them's so blamed slick they can't hide it."
"I reckon that's right," Chuck whispered back, "it's an awful jolt to
Old Heck, ain't it?"
"Yes, he's taking it pretty hard," Charley mumbled.
"Her forehead does bulge out a good deal in front, when you come to look
at it, don't it?" Chuck observed under his breath.
"Quite a lot," Charley answered in the same tone; "that's one
Parker gazed at the widow with an expression undeniably adoring. Old
Heck saw it and straightened up with a look of sudden resolution on his
face. If Parker wasn't afraid of Ophelia, by golly, he wouldn't be! The
widow had returned the foreman's look with understanding, while more
than a trace of tenderness and sympathy was registered in her eyes.
"To-morrow is Sunday," Old Heck announced suddenly with startling
distinctness, "and we'll get things in shape to begin the beef round-up
There was immediate interest.
"I'll be darned," the Ramblin' Kid murmured half audibly, "Old Heck is
goin' to 'Uriah' Parker!"
"Huh?" Skinny queried across the table.
"Nothin'," the Ramblin' Kid answered with a laugh, "I was just reminded
of somethin' I read in a book one time—"
Carolyn June caught the subtle reference to the Bible story of King
David's unfortunate romance with another man's "woman" and chuckled.
"Ain't you starting the beef hunt too early?" Charley asked.
"I don't know as I am," Old Heck answered doggedly.
"Aw, that'll put us right in the middle of it on the Fourth of July when
the Rodeo is going on in Eagle Butte—" Bert began.
"And I ain't going to miss that, either," Chuck interrupted, "that
Y-Bar outfit over on the Vermejo took everything in the two-mile
sweepstakes last year and they've been bragging about it ever since.
They think that Thunderbolt horse of theirs can't be beat. I was going
to put Silver Tip in this year. He can put that black in second place—"
"No, he can't," the Ramblin' Kid remarked quietly, "—you'd lose your
money. There's only one animal on th' Kiowa range that can outrun that
"What animal is that?" Charley asked.
"She's in th' circular corral," the Ramblin' Kid answered laconically.
"The Gold Dust maverick?" Bert questioned.
"That's the one I mean," the Ramblin' Kid replied in a low voice, "for
two miles—or five—there ain't nothin' in western Texas, or Mexico
either, that can catch her."
"Why don't you take her in when the Rodeo is on and run her in the
sweepstakes then?" Chuck asked eagerly. "I ain't caring what Kiowa horse
gets the money just so that Y-Bar outfit is taken down a notch or two.
Ever since they got that Thunderbolt horse and beat Old Heck's
Quicksilver with him they've been crowing over the Quarter Circle KT and
I'm getting plumb sick of it—"
"Old Heck lost three thousand dollars on that race!" Bert interrupted
"I didn't neither," Old Heck corrected sullenly, "it was only
"Well, that Vermejo crowd has got a hundred of mine," Chuck said
vindictively, "but I don't give a darn for that—I'd be willing to lose
twice that much again just to set that Thunderbolt horse of theirs back
in second place!"
"Why don't you run the outlaw filly?" Charley asked coaxingly of the
"Yes, go on and put her in," Skinny urged, "—you ought to!"
The Ramblin' Kid remained silent, seemingly indifferent to the teasing
of the others.
Carolyn June leaned over and said, in a voice audible only to him, while
her eyes grew mellow with a look that tested his composure to the
uttermost but which wrung no sign from him:
"Please, race the maverick—I—want you to—Ramblin' Kid!"
It was the first time she had used his name in speaking directly to him
and the tone in which it was spoken made him tremble in spite of
himself. For a moment he returned her gaze. Her words and manner were so
different that by their very difference they reminded him of what she
had called him yesterday—"an ignorant, savage, stupid brute"—when he
had refused to interfere with the cat when its head was caught in the
can. He started to make a cynical reply. Then he remembered her sympathy
for Old Blue, her apology later for the harsh words—anyhow he knew or
felt in his heart they were true—and suddenly he seemed to see the
pink satin garter he still carried in his pocket. The look that came
into his eyes made Carolyn June lower her own. He smiled a whimsical but
hopeless smile, as, replying apparently to the pleading of Charley and
Skinny, he said, softly, the single word:
Old Heck had forgotten the annual Rodeo held in Eagle Butte, for some
days each summer, around the Fourth of July. His sudden determination
and eagerness to have the beef round-up begin earlier than usual in
order to get Parker away from the widow had driven all else but that one
idea from his mind. The protests reminded him of his oversight. He had
not intended to deprive the cowboys of the opportunity to enjoy the one
big event happening yearly in the Kiowa country and which temporarily
turned Eagle Butte, for a few days each summer, into a seething
metropolis of care-free humanity.
"I think it's a darned shame to spring the beef hunt so it will
interfere with the Rodeo," Bert grumbled, "—and us have to be out on
the hills wrangling steers while the celebration is going on!"
"I'm not-goin! to be out on th' hills then," the Ramblin' Kid said
quietly but with unchangeable finality.
"You can all go to the Rodeo," Old Heck interposed, not feeling just
right in his conscience about sending Parker away in advance of the time
expected, and wishing to make amends,"—Parker and all of you. You can
'break' the round-up for a few days during the Rodeo and what cattle
you've got gathered by then can be turned into the big pasture and held
there till it's over. That'll let you all get into Eagle Butte for the
Fourth—I'd like to see that blamed Thunderbolt horse beat myself! But
we'll start the beef hunt Monday the way I said in the first place—"
"Who's going to cook, this year, on the round-up?" Charley queried. "You
can't take the Chink from here this time, can you?"
"I reckon Sing Pete'll have to go along as usual," Old Heck answered;
"it'll make it a little unhandy at the ranch, but—"
"Ophelia and I can 'batch' while you are gone," Carolyn June suggested.
"We won't mind being alone and it will be fun to cook our own meals."
"We will enjoy it," Ophelia added agreeably.
"You ain't going to be alone," Old Heck said; "Skinny and me will be
here. When it comes to the cooking maybe between the four of us we can
get along some way!"
"Well, if the round-up's got to start Monday," Parker declared sullenly
as they left the table, "I'll have to go down to town again to-day and
get me a new saddle. Mine was on Old Blue."
"I'll go with you," Old Heck said in a conciliatory way. "Charley and
the other boys can be working on them dead steers till we get back.
We'll go in the car and ought to make the round-trip by noon."
The widow and Carolyn June were alone at the house. Old Heck and Parker
went immediately from the breakfast table to the garage to get the car
out to go to Eagle Butte. The cowboys were at the barn preparing to
begin the day's work. Skinny had excused himself, ostensibly to attend
to some ranch chores, but in reality to get away to the bunk-house and
"fix up" for the day's courtship of Carolyn June. He planned, when the
cowboys were gone, to put on the white shirt Parker brought, yesterday,
from Eagle Butte.
"Ophelia," Carolyn June said mysteriously as they stepped out on the
front porch and filled their lungs with the clean air of the morning,
"you made a 'discovery' yesterday, I believe?" pausing questioningly.
"Yes," the widow smiled, recalling their conversation relative to
Parker's abrupt proposal of marriage.
"To-day," Carolyn June continued impressively, "it is my turn—I have
"And it is?"
"You and I have been 'framed!'" was the answer spoken solemnly yet
scarcely louder than a whisper, while the brown eyes of Carolyn June
sparkled with a mixture of suppressed anger, merriment and indignation.
"Framed?" the widow repeated inquiringly, "just what does 'framed' mean,
"Framed means," Carolyn June replied wisely, "'tricked,' 'jobbed,'
'jinxed,' 'fixed,' or whatever it is people do to people when they
scheme to do something to them without the ones to whom they are doing
it knowing how it is done!"
"Exceedingly lucid, my love," the widow laughed, "but you are so
agonizingly fond of suspense—"
"Come inside," Carolyn June said as she led the way into the house, "and
in a dark corner—no, that would be too near to the walls and their
proverbial 'ears,' in the center of the room is better—I will expose
the whole diabolical plot!"
At the end of the reading table they stopped and faced each other.
"And now?" Ophelia said, expectantly.
"And now," Carolyn June repeated, her voice low and carefully guarded.
"Listen: Before Ophelia Cobb and Carolyn June Dixon ever arrived at this
Quarter Circle KT their 'lovers' were already picked out for
them—officially chosen, delegated, appointed, foreordained and
everything! The 'arrangements' had all been made—"
"I don't understand," the widow said, bewildered by the rapid flow of
"Nor did I at first," Carolyn June went on, "but I have figured it all
out! I have 'discovered' what all this mysterious hinting about
'arrangements,' 'the agreement,' 'Old Heck's day,' 'Parker's time,'
'Skinny's job,' and so forth means! I have studied it out. Why is Skinny
Rawlins thrown into my lap as my 'regular' lover? It's his 'job'—that
is why! And why the day-and-day-about courting of yourself by Uncle
Josiah and Parker? It is the 'agreement'—the one is to have you one day
and the other the next! Before we came some such arrangement was fixed
up. I am sure of it—"
"Impossible," Ophelia protested, "preposterous!"
"Outrageous!" Carolyn June added vehemently, "but truth just the same!
To start with they didn't want us to come. That telegram lying about
them all having the smallpox proved as much. We were, for some reason or
other, considered 'afflictions,' Why, I don't know. I guess they thought
we were a pair of female vampires or something and had to be disposed of
in advance to prevent our stirring things up and causing a lot of
murders or suicides or duels on the Quarter Circle KT!"
"I can't believe it," Ophelia muttered as if stunned. "Why, that would
be 'dealing' with us just as though we were cattle!"
"That's it!" Carolyn June exclaimed vindictively, her anger for the
moment getting the better of her sense of the ridiculous, "they 'dealt'
in us! More than likely they played poker to decide how to divide us
up—to see who should love you and which should love me! As if the heart
of a woman can be made to run in a groove cut to order by the hand of
any masculine—insect!" she finished, thoughtless of the incongruous
"Then Skinny and your Uncle Josiah," the widow murmured, "and
"No," Carolyn June answered, "they started out 'pretending,' but they've
stepped into their own trap! They are painfully serious now—they are
"What shall we do about it?" Ophelia asked helplessly.
"We ought to assassinate them!" Carolyn June snapped, then laughed as
the absurdity of the situation dawned upon her and her sense of humor
overcame the moment of anger and indignation. "I have it—I've got it!
We will Vamp' them in dead earnest! We'll fix the 'fixers,' we'll frame
"But how?" doubtfully.
"From now on," Carolyn June replied decisively, "I am going to flirt,
individually and collectively—desperately and wickedly—with the whole
male population of this ranch! We'll show them what premeditated
love-making really is! When it comes to Uncle Josiah and, well, possibly
Parker, you will have to take care of that giddy pair yourself and,
incidentally, you might work some on Charley Saunders," mentioning the
oldest of the cowboys. "I'll just flicker an eyelid occasionally at
Parker, unless you object?"
"Not in the least," Ophelia answered, blushing a trifle.
"Well, then, we will make it a free-for-all," Carolyn June said, "and—"
"How about the Ramblin' Kid?" the widow interrupted, "do you think he is
one of the conspirators—is in on the—the—'frame-up?' Is he also to be
Carolyn June colored the least bit, paused a moment before she replied,
then said rather stiffly:
"He—yes, he is probably having more fun watching us being 'officially'
made love to than any other one of the entire bunch. The Ramblin' Kid
will have to take his medicine along with the rest! Every man-thing on
the Quarter Circle KT—eliminating Sing Pete from that classification
—is my meat!"
"When does the slaughter begin?" Ophelia laughed.
"Right now!" Carolyn June answered. "War is declared—"
She stopped suddenly as a step sounded on the porch and a moment later
Skinny entered the room. He was painfully "dressed up." The instant Old
Heck and Parker, in the Clagstone "Six," started for Eagle Butte and the
cowboys disappeared down the lane in the direction of the big pasture,
Skinny struggled into the white shirt. He planned to try its effect on
Carolyn June while the others were away. If it did not produce results
he would slip back to the bunk-house before they returned and change
again to his normal dress.
When Skinny stepped into the room he was fully conscious of his unusual
appearance. The morning was warm and he had not put on a coat. The shirt
billowed over his shoulders, arms and chest in a snowy cloud. It seemed
impossible to Skinny that anything in all the world could be so vividly,
persistently white as the cloth that literally enveloped the upper half
of his body. It actually gleamed. The sleeves of the shirt were too
long. A pair of sky-blue, rosette-fastened, satin ribbon sleeve-holders
above his elbows kept the cuffs from slipping over his hands. Parker had
been unable to get the purple necktie and had brought, instead, one that
was a solid Shamrock green. Skinny swore when he saw the tie, but
decided to wear it anyhow. Parker had explained by saying he had
forgotten the errand until he was starting from town and then stepped
into Old Leon's—a cheap general store in Eagle Butte—and purchased the
outfit from the Jew. That accounted also for the surplus length of
sleeve—the shirt was a size and a half larger than Skinny had ordered
and for which Parker declared positively he had asked. Eternal hatred
for all Hebrews was born in Skinny's heart the moment he saw the layout.
But, well, it was there; he was anxious to see if a white shirt would
have any effect, and he would wear it anyway.
Skinny knew instantly that he made an impression on Carolyn June.
She looked at him once and was speechless!
"By gosh," he said to himself, "Chuck was right! It sure does beat hell
how clothes affect a woman!"
Carolyn June, unquestionably, was overcome. The surprise had been too
much for her. He had knocked her cold! The shirt had done the work! She
bit nervously at the nail of her thumb, pressed desperately against her
teeth. Her whole body trembled. Her face flamed scarlet. Skinny saw her
agitation and resolved at that moment that he would never again be
without a white shirt!
Ophelia also was visibly affected. The widow gave one look at Skinny,
glanced quickly at Carolyn June, then, with her hands clasped tightly
against her breast, she leaned weakly against the table and chewed at
her underlip. She started to speak and stopped.
"Well, I—I—got back!" Skinny said, breaking the spell while he grinned
somewhat sheepishly and yet with an air of complete satisfaction.
"I—I—see you—did!" Carolyn June choked hysterically.
"I was gone longer than I aimed to be," Skinny continued, rapidly
gaining confidence as he saw the confusion of the women; "after I got
the chores done I concluded to fix up a little. This is the first time I
ever wore this shirt," he went on, feeling that a bit of explanation was
entirely proper and would probably help in restoring the composure of
Carolyn June and the widow. "Parker just brought it out yesterday and it
was a good deal of trouble to make the collar work right. It seemed like
it was pretty stiff or something. Generally speaking the whole outfit's
bigger than it really ought to be, but maybe it'll shrink up some when
it's washed," he finished in a casual matter-of-fact way.
"It—it—is wonderful!" Carolyn June stammered, "it is—I don't think I
ever saw one that was—was—whiter—"
"It looked that way to me," Skinny interrupted as if glad some one else
had noticed a peculiarity of the garment that already had troubled him
somewhat, "I thought it was uncommonly white!"
"Perhaps it just seems that way because we are not used to it," Ophelia
"That's it!" Carolyn June exclaimed feverishly, "it is because we are
not used to it—it will be perfectly all right when we have looked at it
a little more!"
Skinny decided he would risk the gauntlet of comment from Parker, Old
Heck and the cowboys and wear the shirt the rest of the day.
Carolyn June was really sorry for Skinny, but—she needed air—she felt
she must have it.
"Please," she cried suddenly and with, an effort, "excuse me! I—I—have
something I wish to do! You," speaking to Skinny, "and Ophelia stay here
and visit each other a while!"
Without waiting for an answer she stepped quickly into the kitchen,
asked Sing Pete for a handful of sugar and hurried out to the circular
"Oh, Skinny, Skinny, you are so funny," she laughed aloud as she went
through the back-yard gate. "It breaks my heart to break your heart—but
you are one of the 'fixers' and you've got to be 'fixed.'"
The Gold Dust maverick at first was shy when Carolyn June opened the
gate and entered the corral. After a few moments she recognized the girl
and was soon eating the sugar from the hand of Carolyn June. Before the
supply was exhausted the friendship and confidence of the two, begun
yesterday, was firmly reestablished. The maverick allowed Carolyn June
to swing her weight from the glossy withers, to clasp her arms tightly
about the trim, clean-built neck, and when, after an hour, the girl
started toward the house, the outlaw mare protested so eagerly against
being left alone that she turned back to the corral and leaning against
the fence stroked the soft muzzle thrust between the bars.
Carolyn June was cooing endearing terms to the filly and playing with
the quivering underlip when she heard a horse galloping swiftly up the
lane and past the barn. Instinctively she stepped back and turned just
as the Ramblin' Kid, riding Captain Jack, wheeled around the end of the
shed near the corral.
His sudden appearance surprised her. She had thought he was with the
cowboys over at the upland pasture helping skin the steers killed by the
When they left the ranch the Ramblin' Kid had ridden away with Charley
and the others, but not with any intention of going to the big pasture.
Where the road turned toward the lower ford he held Captain Jack to the
"Ain't you going with us," Charley Saunders asked, "and help skin them
"No," the Ramblin' Kid replied quietly. "I ain't. I've got something
else to do. Anyhow, I ain't a butcher—I work with live cattle, not dead
ones!" he concluded as Captain Jack continued in the direction of the
"He's the independentest darn' cuss I ever saw!" Charley remarked to his
companions as the Ramblin' Kid disappeared. "It's a wonder Old Heck
don't fire him."
"He can't," Bert laughed. "Th' Ramblin' Kid don't stay at the Quarter
Circle KT by the grace of Old Heck, but by the choice of th' Ramblin'
Kid! Anyhow, he's too good with horses—" His voice trailed away to a
low mutter as they turned in among the willows and cottonwood trees
along the bank of the Cimarron.
At the upper crossing on almost the same spot where he had lifted
Carolyn June from the quicksand to the solid ground of the meadow land,
the Ramblin' Kid stopped Captain Jack. He looked out over the placid,
unbroken surface of the sand-bar and saw the end of the broken rope
coiled loosely where Old Blue had been drawn under. A few yards away the
white felt hat Carolyn June had tossed to one side, to be a mute and
pathetic messenger of her fate, when she thought death was certain,
still rested on the smooth surface of the sand. It was to get the hat
the Ramblin' Kid had come again to the scene of yesterday's tragedy. He
had seen it lying there when Carolyn June and he rode away on Captain
Jack and thought then of trying to get it, but the part of the broken
rope attached to his saddle was too short to reach it and it was
impossible to secure it in any other way. Chuck had returned the
Ramblin' Kid's rope to him yesterday when they were after the runaway
steers and it was now on his saddle. He lightly tossed the noose so that
it fell circling the object he sought. Gently flicking the rope toward
him he tightened the loop about the crown of the hat and drew it to the
edge of the quicksand. He picked up the hat, looked curiously at it,
remounted Captain Jack, paused a moment and gazed at the treacherous
surface beneath which the body of Old Blue was hidden and with a
savagely muttered something about "th' damned stuff!" whirled the little
stallion and rode rapidly in the direction from which he came.
As Captain Jack galloped along the lane the Ramblin' Kid looked at the
hat curiously, turning it first one way and then the other. With a
laugh he reached into his pocket and drew out the pink satin garter. An
expression of tenderness, followed by a look of deep humility that
quickly changed into savage anger, came into his eyes as he looked first
at the hat, soiled and dirty, and then at the dainty bit of elastic he
held in his hand.
"A swell pair of souvenirs," he said bitterly, "for an 'ign'rant,
savage, stupid brute' of a cow-puncher to be packin' around!"
Before reaching the barn the Ramblin' Kid dropped the garter again into
his pocket. Rounding the end of the shed he rode Captain Jack directly
up to Carolyn June. Dismounting, he left the little roan standing, not
troubling to drop the reins over the broncho's head, stepped toward the
girl and extended the hat, saying simply and without emotion.
"Here's your hat!"
There was no embarrassment now or humility in his eyes as he looked
steadily at Carolyn June. His expression was as cold as if the one to
whom he spoke was an utter stranger.
"I—" Carolyn June hesitated, "oh, I thank you! It was kind of you to
think about it and ride back—back—there," she involuntarily
shuddered when she thought of the upper crossing, "and get it!"
The simple, unexpected thoughtfulness of the deed touched her. It was
the natural, instinctive act of a gentleman. She had forgotten the hat.
He had not. As she looked at him she felt that, someway, she might have
known such a thing was exactly what he would do.
"You're welcome," he said quietly, starting to turn away.
A spirit of mischief suddenly flared up in her heart. She thought of the
pink elastic she had lost and which she believed he was carrying now in
"Is the hat all—didn't you—" she intended to say "find something
else?" but quickly stopped. The Ramblin' Kid paused and turned again
toward Carolyn June. She hesitated in confusion. It had flashed to her
mind that if he had the garter he would not lie about it. He would say
as much and offer to return it to her. Someway, she did not wish
that—she wanted him to keep it, but she did not want him to know that
she wanted her garter to be carried by him!
His black eyes looked keenly at her, as if they would force from her
lips the thing she evidently dared not say.
"I—I was just getting acquainted with the Gold Dust maverick!" Carolyn
June finished lamely with a nervous laugh.
"You want to be careful," the Ramblin' Kid said with the slightest curl
of his lips at her obvious shifting of meanings, "she ain't exactly a
'lady's animal' yet. She'll fight. Skinny started to go in th' corral
this morning an' had to back up. Th' maverick went at him to kill.
She's goin' to be a 'one-man' horse th' same as Captain Jack."
"Perhaps it was because she was afraid of him," Carolyn June suggested.
"Maybe it was because Skinny was afraid of her," the Ramblin' Kid
"Aren't you going to ride the filly in that race at Eagle Butte?" she
asked suddenly with a hint of coquetry in her eyes and voice.
"Why?" he shot back at her, observing the changed inflection and look.
"I—I—would like you to," Carolyn June murmured demurely as she
followed up the feminine method of mastering a man, "it would be fun to
see her run!"
"Is that all?" the Ramblin' Kid asked gently and with a peculiar
"Isn't that enough?" the girl countered in a tone bordering close to the
The answer was slow in coming.
"Th' Gold Dust maverick will be in th' sweepstakes," the Ramblin' Kid
finally said, a note of contempt in his voice. "I'll ride her"—as he
jerked the saddle from Captain Jack, turned the stallion into the
corral, then started toward the bunk-house, while Carolyn June moved
away in the direction of the back-yard gate—"I'll ride her," he
repeated, emphasizing strongly the last ten words, "to beat that
Thunderbolt horse from over on th' Vermejo".
A DANCE AND A RIDE
Old Heck and Parker returned from Eagle Butte before noon. Parker
climbed silently from the Clagstone "Six" and lifting out a new saddle
went toward the stable. Old Heck carried another—a beautiful thing,
artistically scrolled, the horn and stirrups silver trimmed—and laid it
on the front porch as Carolyn June, Ophelia and Skinny stepped out of
the big room.
"It's yours," he said to Carolyn June.
"Oh, you darling old uncle!" she exclaimed, throwing her arms around his
neck and giving a tight squeeze while she kissed him full on the mouth.
He reddened. "I ain't so darned old!" he laughed as he withdrew from her
embrace and, glancing up, caught sight of Skinny in the immaculate
shirt. "My Gawd!" he whispered under his breath.
Parker immediately saddled a horse and rode away to join the cowboys at
their work. Lunches for the party had been taken with them when they
left the ranch in the morning. During the trip to Eagle Butte Old Heck
and his foreman had talked but little. There was a feeling of restraint
between Parker and him that made each hesitate to start a conversation
that would be almost certain to work around to a discussion of
Ophelia—a subject uppermost in the minds of both.
At noon the Ramblin' Kid came to the house for dinner.
He and Skinny occupied their usual places. He looked once at Skinny's
shirt, murmured softly and in a tone of infinite disgust and pity,
"Hell!" then ate his food in silence. During the meal Carolyn June
ignored him, but smiled tenderly and often at Skinny. Old Heck and the
widow, at the far end of the table, carried on a low-voiced dialogue.
During the afternoon the Ramblin' Kid remained away from the house. A
couple of times, glancing out of the window, Carolyn June saw him at the
circular corral petting and caressing Captain Jack or the Gold Dust
When Sing Pete hammered the iron triangle announcing supper Parker and
the cowboys had returned, the hides from the dead steers had been
unloaded and the men were ready for the meal.
As Carolyn June and Ophelia went into the kitchen they exchanged a look
of understanding. Skinny lagged behind Old Heck. He dreaded the shock of
the white shirt on the other cowboys. When he stepped into the room his
face flamed scarlet and beads of sweat stood out on his forehead. He
expected merciless, sarcastic chiding—thinly veiled but cruel. He was
disappointed. The cowboys looked at him for a moment, exchanged winks,
then sat silently and solemnly down to the table. The presence of the
women had saved, for the time being, the suffering Skinny.
Carolyn June distributed tender words and velvety looks impartially
among the younger cowboys, while Ophelia alternated sweet nothings
between Parker and Old Heck, with an occasional sidelong glance at
Charley that brought a heightened color to his sun-browned cheeks.
Chuck sighed dolefully.
"Why so sad?" Carolyn June asked gently, looking with melting sympathy
at the pensive cowboy.
"I—I—was just thinking of a—a—funeral I saw once!" he answered,
gazing steadily and with pretended awe at Skinny's white shirt. "Some
colors always remind me of funerals or—or—weddings!" he explained.
A suppressed snicker circled the table.
"Don't be down-hearted," Carolyn June laughed, "it may not go that far.
"Uncle Josiah," she added suddenly, "Ophelia and I have a wonderful
surprise for you and the boys."
Old Heck looked at her without replying while he awaited an explanation.
"We are going to give a dance!" Carolyn June went on.
"A dance?" he repeated incredulously, "when—"
"To-night—in the front room," she hastened to explain, "not a big
dance—just a little one for you and the boys. The graphophone will
furnish music, there are some good one-step and waltz records—Skinny
and I were playing them this afternoon—and every blessed cowboy on the
Quarter Circle KT must be there!"
A short silence followed her words, then a chorus of "We'll be there!"
"In an hour," Carolyn June said, smiling sweetly at the cowboys, as they
left the kitchen, "everybody be back at the house. We'll fix the room
and have it ready—don't any one bother to 'dress up,'" she added as an
"Old Heck's niece acts kind of stampedish, don't she?" Bert remarked as
Parker and the cowboys filed out of the back-yard gate toward the
"Yes," Charley answered. "I'm going to shave."
"So am I," said Chuck, as they hurried in the direction of their
"Me, too," laughed Bert. "Gee, didn't Skinny shine in that shirt?" as
they disappeared inside the building and there was a rush to hunt out
razors, brushes and other toilet necessities or clean handkerchiefs and
The Ramblin' Kid alone seemed uninterested. He dropped down on his bed
and idly watched the others prepare for the evening's diversion.
"Ain't you going?" Chuck asked him, noticing his indifference.
A short, half-cynical laugh with "Oh, maybe I'll go set on the porch
an' listen to th' music!" was the answer.
When Parker and the cowboys reappeared at the house it was plain that
all had disobeyed Carolyn June's injunction not to "dress up." Each had
paid tribute in some way, by a smooth-scraped face, a dean shirt, a tie
or something, to the vanity of his own heart and the desire for the good
opinion of either Carolyn June or the widow.
Both women noticed it. They exchanged glances while Carolyn June softly
whispered to Ophelia: "Stir them up—it's coming to them!"
The widow smiled understandingly.
Old Heck fidgeted uncomfortably. The situation was entirely beyond his
control. By right he and Ophelia ought to be sitting there quietly
making love, while Skinny and Carolyn June, in another corner of the
room or out on the porch, were doing the same thing. He would just have
to await developments.
Parker was elated. Carolyn June's proposal had broken up Old Heck's
evening alone with the widow. Perhaps—the thought thrilled the foreman
—Ophelia herself had planned it!
"Skinny can keep the graphophone working," Carolyn June laughed. "Put on
a one-step first," she said as he rather grudgingly went to the corner
and started the music. "Come on, Bert, we'll dance this one," she cried
merrily, as she stepped up to the blushing cowboy and put her hand, with
a tender little pressure, on his arm. "It's 'ladies' night,' you
know—Ophelia, pick your pardner!"
"Aw—don't you reckon you ought to choose one of the others first?"
Bert, considerably embarrassed by the sudden attention, mumbled as he
moved with pretended reluctance but secret eagerness out on to the
"I know who I want to dance with!" Carolyn June whispered significantly
with another squeeze of his arm while her warm breath fanned his cheek.
For a moment Ophelia stood as if undecided while Old Heck and Parker
each tried by their looks to register unconcern, their hearts meanwhile
leaping with uncertain expectancy and hope. Suddenly turning from both
and going up to Charley, she said softly and with well-feigned shyness:
"I—I—please, won't you dance this one with me?"
"With the most exceeding pleasure!" Charley replied gallantly, arising
and reaching out his hands.
Parker and Old Heck gulped their astonishment and disappointment—each
swallowing as if he had something in his throat that would not go
down—and glared savagely at each other.
Skinny next put on a waltz record. Carolyn June and Chuck swung through
its dreamy rhythm while her hair brushed the cowboy's neck and her eyes,
half closed, looked alluringly into his. "I—I—could do this
forever—with you!" she breathed, accenting the last word and making
Chuck want to yell for joy.
At the beginning of the waltz Ophelia paused a moment before Old Heck,
glanced demurely at Parker, took a step toward the latter, turned
quickly to the first and flooding him with a look of tenderness held out
her hands while she spoke the simple entreaty:
Old Heck leaped to his feet, hitched nervously at the belt of his
trousers, ran his fingers around the inside of his collar, and, with a
look of triumph at Parker, led the widow through the dance. She
permitted her body to relax and lean against her partner, dancing with
an abandon that not only fired the emotions of Old Heck to fever heat,
but was as well like dippers of oil on the flame of the foreman's
Parker gritted his teeth and followed Old Heck with a look that meant
nothing less than the desire to kill!
As Ophelia and Old Heck, and Carolyn June with Chuck circled the room
Skinny leaned weakly against the graphophone. He was tortured
agonizingly by the strange action of Carolyn June. He was her lover, her
official, absolute lover! Why did she want to go and get things all
mixed up like this? It wasn't fair. The other boys were not supposed to
make love to her! They had elected him to do it and he was getting
along all right till she thought of having this blamed fool dance. He
began to doubt the efficacy of the white shirt and frequently drew one
of the loose, baggy sleeves—rapidly losing their snowy
spotlessness—across his face to rid himself of beads of perspiration.
The waltz was followed by another one-step and Ophelia granted this
favor to Parker while Old Heck sat and swore steadily under his
breath—regretful that he had not sent the foreman and the cowboys out
on the beef hunt a week ago!
Outside, the Ramblin' Kid half-reclined on the edge of the porch. With a
cigarette between his teeth, a sneering smile on his lips, he watched,
through the open door, the group within. He was convinced now that
Carolyn June was utterly frivolous. She danced and flirted with Bert,
Chuck, Charley—and even Pedro—one after the other and occasionally
Parker. Poor Skinny alone was neglected. She seemed to have forgotten
that he existed save when, from time to time, she suggested that he put
this or that record on the graphophone. To each of the cowboys she
whispered tender little sentiments, gave soulful looks and insinuating
smiles—all but caressed them openly. Ophelia did like things to Old
Heck, Parker and Charley.
In very truth it was a "slaughter."
It was hot. After an hour Carolyn June stepped out on the porch for a
breath of air while Skinny sought in the cabinet for a record she had
asked him to play. The Ramblin' Kid straightened up as she came out of
the door. He was disgusted, angry, heart-sickened. He had seen enough
and was starting to leave.
Carolyn June had noticed the absence of the Ramblin' Kid. She had
believed, all evening, he was on the porch and that was the real reason
she had come outside. She saw him. "Oh, is—is—that you, Ramblin'
Kid?" she exclaimed as if surprised, and went quickly to where, at the
sound of her voice, he had paused.
He did not answer. The light shone full on his face and he knew that she
knew—and had known before she spoke—that he was there. His eyes were
filled with a look queerly blending scorn, loathing, pity and pain.
"Why—why—don't you come in and dance?" she asked lightly, not certain
of his mood.
"I don't want to," he replied coldly: "anyhow—" he added with a sneer
and a brutal laugh as he slowly moved away in the darkness, "when I
decide to hug I'll hug in private!"
Carolyn June started almost as though he had struck her. The taunt was
an insult! A flood of anger swept over her. "The brute!" she whispered
passionately and with utter contempt in her voice. She stood a moment.
Suddenly she remembered the reckless abandon with which she had been
dancing and flirting with the cowboys inside the house. Her face flamed
scarlet. She looked out into the blackness toward the circular corral.
Her expression changed and a pitying smile crossed her lips: "Poor
Ramblin' Kid—he just—does not understand!" she murmured and stepped
back into the house.
As the Ramblin' Kid passed through the back-yard gate he muttered
savagely under his breath: "Playin' with their hearts like marbles—th'
damned fools!" He paused a moment and added, as though tired, "Oh, well,
I reckon she thinks she has to do it—it's her breed—she was raised
that way I guess!"
The snuffling sound of a horse blowing hay-powder or other dust from its
nostrils came from the direction of the circular corral. The Ramblin'
Kid stopped in his walk and turning went thoughtfully through the
darkness toward where Captain Jack and the Gold Dust maverick were
quietly feeding. He leaned against the bars of the corral and looked at
the shadowy forms of the two horses standing a little distance away.
Captain Jack quit eating and came to the fence.
"God! Little Horse"—the Ramblin' Kid spoke tensely and without
repression—"why can't humans be as decent an' honest as you?"
The black dome of night was studded with innumerable stars that gleamed
like points of silver sprinkled over a canopy of somber velvet some
infinite hand had flung, in a great arch, from rim to rim of a sleeping
world. The call of a night bird shrilled softly from the cottonwood
trees along the Cimarron. A hint of a breeze swung idly from the west
and rustled the leaves in the tops of the poplars in front of the house.
Faintly as a distant echo came the wailing strains of a waltz, drifting
out from the lighted windows and the open door of the room where Carolyn
June and Ophelia, in a spirit of sport and for revenge, juggled the
hearts of men afraid of nothing in all the world but the look in a
The music tortured the soul of the Ramblin' Kid. It breathed the
unfathomable strife of life—of love, longing, hope, despair—almost,
yet subtly, elusively, would not tell the eternal "Why?" of all things.
Not heeding time, he stood and listened. The crunching sound made by the
Gold Dust maverick, munching at the pile of hay on the ground in the
corral, blended with and seemed a queer accompaniment to the melody that
came from the scene of revelry up at the house.
The orange disk of a late-rising moon showed above the rim of the
sand-hills at the lower end of the valley. The Ramblin' Kid watched
it—until it grew into a rounded plate of burnished, glistening silver.
The Gold Dust maverick was suddenly flooded with a glare of light as the
moonbeams poured over the top of the shed and streamed through the bars
of the circular corral. The filly lifted her head.
An impulse to ride—ride—ride, to get away from it all—far out on the
wide unpeopled plains where there was nothing above but God, and the
unmeasured depths of His heavens, and nothing beneath but the earth and
the rhythmic beat of his horse's feet, came over the Ramblin' Kid. Men,
and the works of men—their passions, their strifes, their
foolishness—and women—women who played with love—he wanted to forget,
to leave miles and miles behind.
He started to open the gate, thinking to saddle Captain Jack and obey
the impulse of the moment. Carolyn June's words, spoken of the Gold Dust
maverick: "It would be fun to see her run!" and uttered lightly and in a
spirit of coquetry that morning when she teased him to enter the outlaw
filly in the race against the Thunderbolt horse from the Vermejo, came
to his mind. The selfishness of the plea maddened him. She cared nothing
for the price in effort—the straining muscles, the panting breath—the
agony the beautiful mare must pay to defeat the black wonder from the
other part of the range. She wanted only to see the maverick run—to
coax him to yield and run the filly merely to please the cheap vanity of
her sex! No doubt also she counted on entertainment when, to-morrow, he
would ride the outlaw for the first time. It would be a kind of
show—the battle for mastery between himself and the high-bred untamed
mare. The whole bunch—Old Heck, Parker, Ophelia, Carolyn June, the
cowboys—yes, even that damned Chink—unquestionably would be crowded
about the corral to watch the fear and pain of the maverick as she
learned her first hard lesson of servitude to man! They would laugh at
her frenzied efforts to throw him.
He would fool them. He would ride the filly to-night!
He went to the shed, slipped his legs into the worn leather chaps, took
saddle, bridle, blanket and rope and returned to the corral.
Stepping inside he closed the gate behind him.
Captain Jack came to him and nosed at his shoulder.
"No, Little Man," the Ramblin' Kid said gently, "this ain't your turn.
You can go with us though, if you want to!" he laughed.
The Gold Dust maverick stood, half-afraid, at the other side of the
corral. She had not yet wholly conquered her dread of him. She did not,
however, offer to fight as she had done that morning when Skinny entered
The Ramblin' Kid spoke to the filly and, as she began to move shyly
away, with one toss threw the loop over her head. The instant the mare
felt the rope she stopped and stood trembling a moment, then came
straight up to him. She was "rope-wise." The experience at the North
Springs the night he caught her, and when she had, three separate times,
been cruelly thrown by this same rope; had taught the Gold Dust maverick
the power that lay in those pliant strands.
She flinched from the touch of the blanket. The Ramblin' Kid worked
easily, carefully, but in absolute confidence, with her. As he
cautiously saddled the mare he talked in a low, drawling monotone,
uttering endearing phrases and occasionally slipping a lump of sugar—a
supply of which he had got that night from the kitchen—into her mouth.
She ate it ravenously.
"Darn, Little One," he laughed, "you sure have got a sweet tooth—you
gobble that sugar like an Indian squaw eatin' choc'late candy!"
At last the mare was saddled. Still holding to the rope, the Ramblin'
Kid, without trying to get the filly to follow, moved over and opened
the gate, giving it a push and swinging it wide. During the performance
the Gold Dust maverick stood perfectly still, save for a constant
chewing at the iron bit between her teeth.
The Ramblin' Kid went quietly up to her, coiling the slack of the rope
as he advanced. Without bothering to tighten the reins, but watching
closely the look in the maverick's big brown eyes and the nervous
twitching of her ears, he laid one hand on the withers of the outlaw,
with the other he grasped the horn of the saddle and slipping his foot
in the stirrup swung quickly and lightly on to her back.
For the space of a deep breath the maverick crouched, grew tense in
every muscle, slowly arched her back, gathered herself together for a
A quiet smile curled the lips of the Ramblin' Kid as he looked down on
the curving neck of the beautiful creature.
With a tremendous leap the Gold Dust maverick sprang high into the air,
lunging forward while all her hoofs were off the ground. Her forefeet
came down across the back of Captain Jack—she had all but cleared the
little roan. The shock almost threw the stallion to the ground. As he
surged from under her the filly slid and sprawled on her shoulder and
side. Instantly she was on her feet, the Ramblin' Kid still in the
saddle. His spurs had not touched the mare—instead he had been careful
not to let their steel points so much as ruffle the golden-chestnut hair
of her belly or flank. Only when the outlaw fell had he thrown forward
his right leg and hooked the sharp rowels into the strong fiber of the
forward cinch. With the left hand he loosely held the reins, giving the
maverick her head—the other hand he brushed with a caressing upward
movement along her glossy neck.
Twice the Gold Dust maverick circled the corral, plunging, bucking
"side-winding," desperately—her nose between her knees, squealing
pitifully—as she tried vainly to rid herself of the weight of the
"Go to it, Baby Girl, go to it!" he chuckled; "you've got to learn!
Sooner or later you'll find out it can't be done!" He rode limply,
loosely, low in the saddle, and while he made no effort to urge the
filly into greater frenzy he did not try in any way to prevent her
bucking her hardest in, the futile attempts to hurl him off her back.
The second time the outlaw mare came to the gate she whirled and dashed
through the opening, out of the corral, across the open space, past the
corner of the front-yard fence and along the road that led up to the
bench and toward Eagle Butte. Captain Jack trotted around the corral
once, then followed at a long, swinging gallop.
The noise of the filly bucking inside the corral reached the ears of the
dancers in the big room at the house.
"What in thunderation's that commotion?" Old Heck exclaimed, starting
up—he and Ophelia had just finished a two-step and Skinny was winding
the graphophone to play his favorite, the alluring La Paloma.
There was an instant's pause, then a rush for the door.
Carolyn June reached the porch just in time to see the Gold Dust
maverick "hitting the breeze"—careering madly, wildly pitching as she
ran past the opening in front of the house and up the road out on the
bench. It was almost as though a phantom horse and rider had passed
before her sight.
"Lord! Look at them go!" Charley cried admiringly.
At first the girl had not recognized the outlaw mare or her rider.
"Who—what—is it?" she asked Chuck, who was standing beside her.
Bert answered for Chuck. "It's that darn-fool Ramblin' Kid—he's riding
the Gold Dust maverick!" he said. "Ain't that just like the blamed
idiot—to go and ride that filly to-night?"
"Aw, he's liable to do anything," Charley commented, "he's—"
Before the sentence was finished the beautiful mare and her apparently
careless rider, with Captain Jack a hundred yards behind, disappeared
over the brink of the bench and in the silence that followed the group
on the porch heard only the distant thudding of hoofs beating an ever
fainter tattoo through the calm, moonlit night.
Carolyn June went back into the house with conflicting emotions surging
through her heart. She believed she knew why the Ramblin' Kid had
elected to ride the outlaw filly to-night. But her thoughts she kept to
For an hour longer the dance continued. But not with the spirit of
earlier in the evening. The interruption took something of the eagerness
to punish Old Heck, Parker and the cowboys, out of the heart of Carolyn
June. A bit of doubt that the role she and Ophelia were playing was
worthy of true womanhood crept into her mind.
When the widow and Carolyn June were alone Ophelia laughed.
"Whew!" she exclaimed, "that was a strenuous party! I've danced till my
feet ache! Do you think our little 'counterplot' was a success?"
"Entirely!" Carolyn June replied with an uncertain chuckle. "Uncle
Josiah, Parker and Charley will dream dreams about you and fight duels
in their sleep to-night!"
"I think the others—" the widow started to say, then pausing, finished:
"Wasn't it queer the Ramblin' Kid decided to ride that outlaw horse
to-night instead of coming to the house to dance?"
"Oh, I don't know," Carolyn June answered indifferently.
"I guess it's as Charley says," Ophelia remarked: "'You can't tell what
th' Ramblin' Kid's liable to do'—"
"I suppose not," Carolyn June replied wearily as she went into her room.
"Good night!" Ophelia echoed.
YOU'LL GET YOUR WISH
It was a silent group that gathered in the bunk-house after the dance.
Old Heck, Parker, Charley and the other cowboys had been unduly
stimulated by the music, the laughter and the bright smiles of Carolyn
June and Ophelia. When they stepped out of the house into the cool night
these all were left behind. The cow-men quickly sobered down and by the
time they reached their sleeping quarters on the faces of all were
half-ashamed looks as if they had been playing at a game not quite
dignified enough or proper for men of maturity and seriousness.
All were thoughtful and none seemed eager to start conversation.
Skinny was dejected and utterly miserable.
He felt that he had been cruelty treated. Carolyn June had acted all
evening as though his only object in living was to stand in the corner
and wind up that blamed graphophone, while she openly flirted with the
other cowboys. Skinny was grateful to the Ramblin' Kid who, alone of all
the cow-punchers, had decency enough to stay away and not interfere with
the original agreement. The Ramblin' Kid had some sense and was square.
He had realized that any fellow officially elected to make
love—especially when he didn't want to do it in the first place—ought
to be allowed to go ahead and make it without having a lot of darned
buckaroos butting in on the job.
The way the others had acted was a regular disgrace!
Chuck, Bert, Charley and Pedro were nervously happy. In the heart of
each was a thrill, caused by the memory of some secret—or what he
thought was a secret—manifestation of Carolyn June's interest. Perhaps
it was no more than the brushing of a stray whiff of odorous brown hair
against a weather-tanned cheek, the pulsing of a warm breath on the side
of a muscular neck, a melting look from a pair of luminous eyes, some
low-spoken word or the pressure of a hand, but whatever it was, each of
the cowboys was reasonably certain he had been singled out for special
favors. Charley was doubly blessed. In addition to Carolyn June's
seductive advances he had the memory, also, of Ophelia's attentions. His
mind was awhirl with the effort to figure out which one, by rights, he
ought to consider as a permanent possibility.
Old Heck and Parker were in a quandary.
Neither was sure of his standing with Ophelia although each had reason
to believe that he was her favorite. Her interest in Charley added an
unexpected and perplexing equation to their problem.
"Gosh," Chuck finally exclaimed, "that dance sure was some blow out!"
"I should say it was!" Bert agreed emphatically and with a satisfied
grin. "But didn't that widow act funny for an 'anti-he' suffragette?"
Old Heck looked up, startled, as if he had been reminded of a
disagreeable subject and one he wished to forget.
"Are you plumb positive that she is one, Parker?" Chuck asked.
"I told you what she was," Parker growled, "she's an 'Organizer' for
some sort of 'Movement' or other."
"Well, I'll be blamed if her 'movements' to-night showed any 'anti-he'
inclinations," Charley interrupted. "She carried on more like a female
vampire than one of these advocaters of woman's rights!"
"Aw, shut up and go to bed," Old Heck grunted. "It's too late to start
The moon crept across the heavens and was hanging above the shadowy
peaks of the Costejo Mountains when the Ramblin' Kid returned to the
sleeping Quarter Circle KT, slipped the saddle from the back of the Gold
Dust maverick and turned the filly and Captain Jack into the circular
He had ridden the outlaw mare almost to Eagle Butte.
She had learned her lesson. She knew, when he caressed her muzzle and
pressed the last lump of sugar into her mouth, before he turned away to
the bunk-house, that the Ramblin' Kid was not only her master but her
friend as well—understanding and sympathetic. Never again would she
doubt his will or resist the gentle yet firm strength of his hand. From
that moment the Gold Dust maverick, like Captain Jack, was a one-man
horse, ready to serve, to trust and obey only the Ramblin' Kid.
"You little beauty," he laughed tenderly as he playfully shook the
underlip of the filly and started toward the gate, "—you're a
runner—gee!—but you're a runner!"
The others were fast asleep when the Ramblin' Kid noiselessly opened the
door of the bunk-house, went in, and without undressing, stretched
himself on his bed.
Old Heck awakened the cowboys as the sun poured its first slanting rays
through the open un-draped window.
The stir aroused the Ramblin' Kid.
He made no move to arise.
"Ain't you going to get up?" Old Heck said garrulously.
"When I damn please!" was the independent reply. "Skinny, tell th' Chink
to keep me a cup of hot coffee!"
Old Heck snorted but said no more.
Parker and the cowboys dressed silently, half-moodily. They hardly knew
yet how they felt after the excitement of the night before. Skinny
started to put on the white shirt, looked at it contemptuously a
moment, and with a muttered oath threw it viciously on the bed.
In a few moments the Ramblin' Kid was left alone in the bunk-house. He
lay, hands clasped at the back of his head, studying. His eyes were
closed, but he was not asleep. Presently he smiled and opened his eyes.
He drew the pink satin elastic from his pocket and looked at it. "That's
a hell of a thing to be packin'—wonder why I keep it?" he muttered. It
suddenly occurred to him that if he was not at breakfast Carolyn June
would think he was afraid or ashamed to meet her. He got up,
straightened his disarranged clothes, went to the house and after
stopping at the ditch by the fence and washing his face, walked
indifferently into the kitchen and sat down at his regular place. The
others already were eating. Carolyn June glanced at him with a
meaningless smile and acknowledged, without feeling, his quiet "Good
The cowboys were nervous. Memory of last night was fresh in their minds.
It made them cautious in their talk.
Ophelia and Carolyn June, also, were a bit restrained.
They were not sure but they had started more than it would be easy to
stop. The expressions in the eyes of the cowboys paid tribute to the
success of the two women's efforts at wholesale heart-wrecking. The
child-like acceptance of a simple flirtation as the real thing, by
these husky riders of the range, was little less than appalling.
It all but frightened Carolyn June and the widow.
Old Heck saw the worship in the eyes of the cowboys.
"Things sure are in a devil of a mix-up!" he growled to himself.
Skinny was so dejected Carolyn June felt half-guilty and tried to cheer
him up. She began talking, in a low voice, directly to the
"To-day—or some time—when the others are away," she said caressingly,
"you and I will dance all the dances by ourselves!"
His heart leaped joyously. He was sorry, now, that he had not put on the
white shirt. He resolved, after a while, to sneak out to the bunk-house
The confidential talk between Carolyn June and Skinny galled Chuck. He
decided to break it up.
"What was your idea in riding the Gold Dust maverick last night?" he
said abruptly to the Ramblin' Kid.
There was a general pause for the answer. Carolyn June stopped in the
middle of a sentence and looked curiously at the Ramblin' Kid. He took
his time to reply.
"Because I wanted to!" was the slow unsatisfactory retort.
"Why didn't you wait till to-day, so the rest of us could see how she
acted?" Charley asked.
"What do you think you are"—he started to say—"a bunch of lawyers
cross-examinin' a witness?" thought better of it and with a careless
laugh answered: "If you're huntin' entertainment, why don't you go up to
Eagle Butte to th' picture show? Th' maverick an' me ain't no
"Did she buck?" Charley continued, ignoring the sarcastic remark.
"Some," the Ramblin' Kid drawled.
"What you going to do with the filly while we're out on the beef hunt?"
Chuck queried, wishing to keep the conversation general.
"Ride her!" was the laconic reply.
"Ain't you afraid she'll break away from the caballero and you'll lose
her again?" Charley asked.
"When I ain't usin' her I'll 'neck' her to Captain Jack," the Ramblin'
Kid answered patiently, referring to the method of fastening a wild
horse to one that is gentle and prevent its running away, by attaching a
short length of rope to the neck of each. "I don't believe she'd leave
th' stallion anyhow!"
"By golly," Chuck said earnestly and half-pleadingly, "I wish you'd put
her against that Y-Bar outfit's Thunderbolt horse in the two-mile
sweepstakes this year! It would be—"
"Fun to see her run!" the Ramblin' Kid interrupted, looking up quickly
and straight into the eyes of Carolyn June as he finished the
contemptuous quotation of her words, spoken the day before at the
corral. She flushed, but gazed back at him without flinching. "Well," he
continued, "I reckon you'll get your wish—th' maverick is goin' to run
against th' Vermejo horse!"
"The Fourth of July is a week from next Wednesday," Charley said
calculatingly. "The Rodeo starts on Tuesday, the roping and bucking
finals come on Thursday. That makes the big race come Friday—a week
from next Friday, ain't it?"
"That's right," Bert concurred. "Th' Ramblin' Kid's got nearly two weeks
to get the maverick in shape."
"Nothing will be in shape for anything," Old Heck broke in, getting up
from the table, "unless we move around and get things ready to begin the
beef round-up to-morrow morning. Some of you boys will have to bring in
those saddle horses from across the river. Each one of you can ride your
regular 'string' this year"—alluding to the term used to designate the
group of several horses used exclusively by each individual rider
working on a round-up. "Skinny won't be with you, but you'd better take
his horses along for extras. Parker can be getting the grub-wagon in
shape—I reckon you'll have to work Old Tom and Baldy on it. Sing Pete
ought to be able to handle them."
"Where do we start in?" Charley asked as they went toward the barn.
"Over in the Battle Ridge country," Old Heck answered, "and work
everything east of the big pasture first. It'll take just about a week
to clean up that side—it's pretty rough riding over there. Then you can
finish the west end after the Rodeo is over."
"What all you aiming to gather?" Bert queried.
"Everything above a three-year-old," Old Heck replied in a businesslike
way; "pick up the dry cows, too, if they're fat enough. Prices are
better than usual and I want to sell pretty close on account of that
storm knocking the hay the way it did the other night. There'll be three
hundred and fifty or four hundred good beef critters on the east range.
You ought to have them bunched and in the big pasture by Saturday night.
Then, until the Rodeo is over you can all do what you darn' please—"
"I know what I'm going to do," Chuck laughed.
"What?" Bert asked.
"Draw all my wages, borrow all I can, and make a clean-up on that Y-Bar
outfit on the race between the Gold Dust maverick and Thunderbolt!" he
"Probably there will be some of the rest of us have a little Quarter
Circle KT money up on that race, too," Charley insinuated.
"I know blamed well there will be!" Old Heck added earnestly as they
scattered to go about their respective employments.
It was a busy Sunday at the Quarter Circle KT. Chuck, Charley and Pedro
spent the morning and most of the afternoon getting the saddle horses
from across the river. Bert helped Parker and Old Heck about the ranch.
Sing Pete baked a supply of light-bread and stocked the grub-wagon with
provisions. The Ramblin' Kid volunteered to "ride-line" on the big
pasture and see that the Diamond Bar steers had not broken out again. He
rode a sorrel colt—one that had had its "first-riding" in the circular
corral the day before Carolyn June and Ophelia arrived at the Quarter
Circle KT. When he came to the corner of the pasture where the bodies of
the cattle, killed by lightning, lay, a flock of buzzards were tearing
at the carcasses. As the gorged creatures flapped heavily into the air
the young broncho wheeled, and bucking frantically, jolted away from the
gruesome scene. The Ramblin' Kid forced the animal to turn about and
made him pass, rearing and plunging, among the skinless and already
decaying forms. Before sundown the Ramblin' Kid was back at the ranch.
In the afternoon Skinny and Carolyn June went for a ride down the
valley. It was her first opportunity to try the new saddle. Skinny was
mounted on Old Pie Face and Carolyn June rode Browny, a dependable old
"Gee," Carolyn June remarked as they passed the circular corral. "I'd
like to ride the Gold Dust maverick with this outfit!"
"It would be a dandy combination," Skinny said admiringly, "but I doubt
if anybody but th' Ramblin' Kid will ever be able to ride the filly. So
far, she acts like she's going to be a worse one-man horse than Captain
Jack is. She tried to kill me yesterday when I went into the corral!"
"What makes her that way?" Carolyn June asked.
"Blamed if I know," Skinny replied, "some horses are naturally like
that. Th' Ramblin' Kid says it ain't in the horse—it's in the human. If
the human don't understand the horse the horse won't trust the human and
where there ain't trust there's fear and where there's fear there's
hate. He's got some funny ideas!"
"Sounds sort of sensible, though, doesn't it?" Carolyn June said
"Maybe it does," Skinny retorted, "but he goes a little too far with his
fool notions sometimes, it seems to me."
"How is that?" Carolyn June questioned.
"Well, for one thing," Skinny replied, "he says any man or woman a horse
don't trust ain't a good man or woman for a human to depend on—says
they ain't right inside! It looks to me like that's a pretty hard slam
on people just because some darned idiot of a broncho won't make up with
Carolyn June leaned back in the saddle and laughed.
"Some 'range philosopher'—this Ramblin' Kid person!" she exclaimed
lightly. "Where did he come from and who is he, anyway?"
"Nobody knows," Skinny answered; "he just kind of growed up, here in
the Southwest. I've heard that his mother died when he was born and his
father was a preacher or something doing missionary work—I reckon
that's what you'd call it—among the Mexicans and Indians and got the
smallpox while he was nursing them through an epidemic and it killed
him, which left th' Ramblin' Kid an orphan when he wasn't much more than
a baby. The Mexicans or Indians took care of him till he was old enough
to ride and then he began to ramble around and has always kept it up
just as if he was hunting for something—"
"How interesting!" Carolyn June exclaimed, "almost like a story!"
"It is kind of unusual," Skinny continued, "of course it may not all be
true, but one thing is sure—th' Ramblin' Kid seems to have some sort of
fascination for the Greasers and the Indians; they all worship him, and
he's a witch when it comes to handling horses!"
"He seems to be," Carolyn June commented thoughtfully.
"Yes," Skinny answered, "look how that Gold Dust maverick has made right
up with him—I don't believe she ever will have anything to do with
Carolyn June laughed softly to herself. She did not tell Skinny of her
visits to the circular corral and that the outlaw mare already had
accepted her as a good friend.
She and Skinny loafed idly as far down the valley as the Narrows, and
when Sing Pete sounded the supper gong they were again back at the
After the evening meal the cowboys hung around the house for a while
until a suggestive look from Old Heck caused them reluctantly to follow
him to the bunk-house, leaving Parker and Skinny with Ophelia and
It was the foreman's last evening with the widow before the beef
round-up. She was rather diffident and held him in safe channels of
conversation. Skinny and Carolyn June sat on the porch until it was
quite dark, then went into the house. She drummed carelessly and lightly
on the keys of the piano—her thoughts evidently far away. Parker and
Skinny left the house early. At the door the foreman whispered to the
"Don't forget what I spoke about coming out from town!"
Ophelia flushed and murmured, "No, indeed, but—" she did not finish the
sentence. She was about to say, "don't build false hopes!"
When Parker and Skinny entered the bunk-house Old Heck and all the
cowboys except the Ramblin' Kid were asleep. He was half-reclining on
his bed, smoking. At the entrance of Skinny and Parker be got up and
without speaking strolled outside and through the darkness toward the
circular corral. The night was warm and the stuffy air of the
bunk-house, together with the noisy snoring of Old Heck, made him
restless. He stood a few moments looking at Captain Jack and the Gold
Dust maverick. Then, moving back into the shed, dropped down and laid
with his shoulders and head on his saddle, which was thrown on the
ground under the shelter. The side of the building, next to the corral,
was open and the Ramblin' Kid could see, from where he was lying, the
dark bulks of the two horses at the farther side of the corral.
Ophelia went directly to bed after Skinny and Parker left.
Carolyn June sat for a while in the Morris chair in the large room. She
seemed abstracted and in a mood for meditation. The vague history Skinny
had given her of the life of the Ramblin' Kid interested her. She
thought it explained a good many of his elemental impulses and
idiosyncrasies. He was a creature of the plains. In his life among the
Indians and Mexicans he had absorbed their stoical ways and almost
brutal directness, yet, sometimes he showed a sensitiveness that was
utterly impossible for Carolyn June to understand. Her thoughts turned
to the Gold Dust maverick. To-morrow Ramblin' Kid would take the filly
away for the round-up. She truly loved the beautiful mare. She would
slip out, while the others slept, and have one more visit with the
splendid creature. Rising, Carolyn June passed out through the kitchen,
stopped for a handful of sugar—she had learned where Sing Pete kept the
can—and bareheaded and without a wrap walked swiftly out to the
The Ramblin' Kid heard Carolyn June step up to the gate of the corral
and from the heavy shadow in which he lay saw the light dress and
instinctively recognized this late visitor to Captain Jack and the Gold
Dust maverick His first impulse was to call out and warn her to keep
away from the horses—that both were dangerous for men to fool with,
much less was it safe for a woman to undertake familiarities with them.
His next thought was that his sudden appearance would only startle the
girl and—well, cause a lot of useless talk. He remained quiet.
A low trill came from the throat of Carolyn June. The two horses stopped
feeding and looked around toward the gate. The bird-like call was
repeated. The Ramblin' Kid was astonished to see Captain Jack and the
outlaw mare move eagerly in the direction from whence the sound had
come. He heard Carolyn June talking to the bronchos in soft endearing
tones. After a moment she opened the gate and stepped inside the corral.
"Well, I'll be—!" he breathed inaudibly.
For half an hour Carolyn June petted the little stallion and the Gold
Dust maverick. Both animals seemed hungry for her caresses.
"Oh, you darling—you wonder!" the Ramblin' Kid Heard Carolyn June
say, as she gave the maverick's head a tight squeeze just before running
lightly back to the house. "I hope you beat that old Y-Bar horse so bad
he'll never want to run again! Even if that Ramblin' Kid lover of
yours," she added softly, "does think I'm nothing but a silly
woman-thing and hates me with all his queer, lonesome heart!"
"Well, I'll be damned!" the Ramblin' Kid exclaimed when she was gone.
He raised himself on one elbow and lay thus for a long time silently
At last he got up, went to the corral gate, and he himself stepped
inside with the horses. He gave Captain Jack's ear a loving twitch, then
turned to the Gold Dust maverick. She permitted him, without protest, to
fondle her head and neck. His hand lingered long on the silky mane in
which, a little while before, Carolyn June had twined her fingers.
"Oh, Queen of th' Range!" he said with a low laugh, unconsciously using
the poetical phrase, as he gave the warm cheek of the filly a tender
parting pinch before turning away to go to the bunk-house, "we'll whip
that devil-horse of th' Vermejo—we'll show that Thunderbolt runner what
hearts that ain't afraid an' nimble hoofs can do!"
THE ELITE AMUSEMENT PARLOR
An hour after breakfast, on Monday morning, Old Heck, Ophelia, Skinny
and Carolyn June Were alone at the Quarter Circle KT. Parker and the
cowboys were climbing out on the sand-hills north of the Cimarron,
traveling in the direction of Battle Ridge, where the beef hunt was to
The circular corral was empty.
The Ramblin' Kid was riding the Gold Dust maverick. Captain Jack was
with the saddle horses which Pedro, the Mexican, had wrangled on ahead
of the other riders an hour before.
The filly made no effort to throw the Ramblin' Kid on this her second
riding. She seemed perfectly willing to carry the burden on her back.
Carolyn June watched the beautiful mare as she stepped lightly and
daintily along beside the other horses, and when the group disappeared
among the rolling ridges across the river the ranch someway seemed
deserted and she felt strangely alone, although Ophelia, Old Heck and
Skinny were standing at her side.
Sing Pete followed the riders, jolting along in the grub-wagon,
awkwardly driving, with much clucking and pidgin-English, Old Tom and
Baldy hitched to the heavy, canvas-covered vehicle with its
"box-kitchen" and mess-board protruding gawkily out from the rear.
Old Heck heaved a sigh of relief. There was a feeling of serene peace in
his heart, now that Parker and the cowboys were safely away on the
round-up. In Skinny's heart the feeling was echoed.
For a week or more they would be able to love Ophelia and Carolyn June
without the constant fear of interruption.
Only one thing troubled Old Heck. The widow had not yet exposed her hand
in that suffragette movement or whatever it was. He dreaded the form in
which it might, sooner or later, break out. But at that he would be glad
to have it over. At present he felt as though he were sitting on the
edge of a volcano, or above an unexplored blast of dynamite at the
bottom of a well. Meanwhile he would have to wait and watch—and hope
for the best.
The week that followed was heaven and hell, mixed together, for Old Heck
The women were lovely and lovable to the last degree, but cautious and
tormentingly self-restrained when it came to loving. At the first
intimation of dangerous sentimentality on the part of Old Heck the widow
would suddenly and without an instant's warning change the subject. When
Skinny had been pensive and silent for half an hour or so and would then
start, in a halting and quivering voice, to say something, Carolyn June
invariably interrupted with a remark about the weather, the Gold Dust
maverick, the Ramblin' Kid, Old Heck, Sing Pete, the yellow cat, the
coming Rodeo, Ophelia or something else.
They paired on the work of preparing the meals, Carolyn June and Skinny
and Ophelia and Old Heck taking shift and shift about in the kitchen. In
this way the work was made a joke, with friendly rivalry between the
couples in the preparation of tasty dishes.
Old Heck and Skinny surprised the women with their knowledge of cooking.
Nor was there the least embarrassment on the part of either when, with
one of Sing Pete's aprons tied about his waist, he worked at the range
or kitchen table. As a matter of course every cow-man must know
something of how to cook a meal and, also, naturally and as a matter of
course, Old Heck and Skinny, without the slightest thought that it was
"womanish" or beneath the "dignity" of men, peeled potatoes, fried meat,
washed dishes or did whatever there was to do.
Indeed each was proud of his skill.
Ophelia herself was clever, particularly at making biscuits and dainty
Carolyn June's sole accomplishment in the art of preparing food was the
making of coffee-jelly. This she had learned at college—taught,
perhaps, by the other girls during stolen midnight frolics. Probably
this, also, was the reason she usually made it the last thing at night
before Skinny and Old Heck left to go to the bunk-house. Coffee-jelly
was the regular, inevitable, evening meal dessert for the entire week.
"It ain't so very filling," Skinny remarked the first time he tasted the
delicate dish, "but it's tender and has a dandy flavor!"
Carolyn June blushed at the compliment.
"It is pretty good," Old Heck agreed, "but these biscuits Ophelia made
are just what was needed to set it off!"
The widow smilingly showed her pleasure.
Twice during the week Skinny rode "line" on the big pasture to look
after the Diamond Bar steers. Carolyn June accompanied him. Each time
she rode Browny, the old cow-horse. On these days Old Heck and Ophelia,
in the Clagstone "Six," drove to Eagle Butte. The second trip to town
Ophelia asked to be left at the minister's house. Old Heck was to call
in an hour and get her. During the hour he slipped into the dentist's
and had his teeth cleaned. When the tobacco-blackened tartar was scraped
away they were surprisingly white and even. He stopped at the drug store
and bought a tooth-brush and a tube of paste.
Ophelia noticed the wonderful improvement in his appearance, guessed the
reason, and the thought sent a warm thrill through her body.
"Like a big boy," she laughed to herself, "when he begins to wash his
neck and ears!"
"It ain't healthy to have your teeth so dirty," Old Heck explained,
coloring and in an apologizing manner, when Skinny discovered him, after
supper that evening, carefully scrubbing his molars.
Skinny watched the performance, saw the result, and murmured:
"Guess I'll get me one of them layouts!"
On Friday the quartette went to Eagle Butte, Old Heck driving, with
Ophelia beside him, and Carolyn June and Skinny in the rear seat of the
It was on this trip, while Ophelia and Carolyn June were in the Golden
Rule doing some shopping, that Old Heck and Skinny strolled into the
Elite Amusement Parlor. Lafe Dorsey, owner of the Y-Bar outfit and to
whom belonged the black Thunderbolt horse; Newt Johnson, Dave Stover and
"Flip" Williams—the latter three cowboys on the big Vermejo ranch—were
playing a four-handed game of billiards at one of the tables near the
front of the place.
Dorsey noticed the entrance of the pair from the Quarter Circle KT. All
were range men and were well known to one another. The Y-Bar owner had
been drinking. Boot-leg liquor was obtainable, if one knew how and
where, in Eagle Butte.
"Hello, there, Old Heck!" Dorsey greeted them hilariously and with a
half-leer. "Howdy, Skinny! How's the Cimarron? Don't reckon you've
taught Old Quicksilver to run yet, have you?" with a boisterous laugh
as he referred to the race in which Thunderbolt had defeated Old Heck's
The taunt stung Old Heck while it called out a suppressed snicker from
the cowboys who were with Dorsey and the loafers in the pool-room. The
bull-like guffaw of Mike Sabota, the gorilla-built, half-Greek
proprietor of the Amusement Parlor roared out above the ripple of
laughter from the others. The racing feud between the Y-Bar and the
Quarter Circle KT was well known to all and Sabota himself had cleaned
up a neat sum when the black horse from the Vermejo had outstepped the
runner from the Quarter Circle KT.
Old Heck reddened at Dorsey's words but replied quietly:
"The Cimarron is middling—just middlin'. No, we ain't been paying much
attention to teaching horses how to run lately. Old Quicksilver's pretty
fair. Of course he ain't the best horse in the world but he'll do for
cows and general knocking around. Horses are a good deal like men, you
know, Dorsey—there's always one that's a little bit better!"
The Vermejo cow-man colored at the thrust.
"Any of you Quarter Circle KT fellers going in on anything at the Rodeo,
this year?" one of the Y-Bar riders asked Skinny before Dorsey could
"Charley said he might go in on the 'bull-dogging' and Bert is figuring
some on the bucking events—but I don't reckon they'll either one
enter," Skinny carelessly; "both of them got first money in them
entries last year and they ain't caring much. The Mexican," referring to
Pedro, "will probably do some roping—"
"What about you and the Ramblin' Kid?" Flip Williams interrupted, "ain't
neither of you going to take part?"
"Probably not," Skinny drawled. "I ain't aiming to, and I don't know
what th' Ramblin? Kid is figuring on. He ain't much for showing off. He
only rode in the bucking contest last year because after that Cyclone
horse killed Dick Stanley everybody said there wasn't any one that could
ride him and the blamed little fool just wanted to demonstrate that
there was. You never can tell what he'll do, though. He may be intending
to go in on something or other."
"Guess you people ain't got anything out there for the two-mile
sweepstakes this year, have you?" Dorsey broke in with a sneer. "Old
Thunderbolt's too much for them sand-hill jumpers from the Cimarron."
"Oh, I don't know as he is," Old Heck said in a voice emotionless as an
Indian's. "The Quarter Circle KT will probably be represented in the big
event. It seems to me I heard Chuck mention entering that Silver Tip
colt of his and, let's see, I believe th' Ramblin' Kid said something
about running a new filly he's been riding some, didn't he, Skinny?"
"Since I come to think of it I believe he did," Skinny answered as if
it were a matter without especial interest; "if I remember right he did
speak something of it a day or two ago."
"Well, bring 'em on!" Dorsey exclaimed boastfully, "the Y-Bar will take
all the money you Kiowa fellers feel like contributing! Old
Thunderbolt's as fit as a new rawhide rope and is just aching to rake in
another three or four thousand of Quarter Circle KT dinero if you
people have got the nerve to back your judgment!"
There was a dead hush as the crowd in the pool-room waited for Old
Heck's reply to Dorsey's drunken challenge.
"We'll kind of remember that invitation, Dorsey," Old Heck said in tones
as hard and smooth and cold as ice, while his gray eyes narrowed and
bored the boastful cow-man like points of steel, "we'll sort of bear in
mind that suggestion of yours. The Quarter Circle KT will send a horse
into the big race that will beat that Thunderbolt critter of yours just
three times as bad as he set old Quicksilver back—and we'll give you
action on any amount of money, cattle or anything else you want to name!
You can put your friends here in on it too, if you want to—" with a
scornful glance around the pool-room at the loafers in the place. "Come
on, Skinny," he added as he started toward the door, "more than likely
Ophelia and Carolyn June are through with their trading and ready to go
All stood silent until Skinny and Old Heck stepped out of the door,
then Mike Sabota broke into a coarse, taunting laugh. As they turned up
the street Old Heck and Skinny heard Dorsey and the crowd inside join in
"Damn that fool, Dorsey!" Old Heck exclaimed viciously, as he heard the
shouts of derisive laughter. "I'm going to wipe him out on that race—if
he's got the guts to come across and back up that Thunderbolt horse as
hard as he blows about him!"
"I think I'll hook Sabota for a few hundred on the sweepstakes, myself,"
Skinny replied with a good deal of feeling, "I don't like the way that
dirty cuss acts any better than I like Dorsey's bragging!"
Carolyn June and Ophelia were waiting when Old Heck and Skinny arrived
at the Golden Rule.
When the Clagstone "Six" whirled past the Amusement Parlor a few moments
later Dorsey and Sabota were standing in the door.
Carolyn June glanced at them.
"Heavens," she said as her eyes rested an instant on the burly,
low-browed, Greek proprietor of the place, "what a big brute of a
looking fellow that is!"
The two men stared insolently at the occupants of the car and as it
passed Sabota made some remark, evidently vulgar, that caused Dorsey to
burst into another round of coarse laughter.
Old Heck was moody during the drive home.
For nearly two years Dorsey had been crowing because of the defeat of
Quicksilver by the black racer from the Vermejo. It was becoming more
than idle jesting. It looked as if, for some reason, he was trying to
torment Old Heck until something serious was started. Old Heck was a
good loser but he was growing tired of the persistent nagging. He had
not whimpered at the loss of the twenty-five hundred dollars Dorsey won
from him on the race. Even the humiliation of seeing his best horse put
in second place by the Y-Bar animal had been endured philosophically and
without malice because he believed the thing had been run square and the
faster horse had won. But Dorsey on every occasion since had, drunk or
sober, boasted of Thunderbolt's victory and taken a devilish delight in
rubbing it in on the owner of the Quarter Circle KT.
To-day the Vermejo cattleman had been worse than usual, due, no doubt,
to the rotten boot-leg whisky the brute-like proprietor of Eagle Butte's
rather disreputable Amusement Parlor was supposed secretly to dispense
to those who had the price and the "honor" to keep sacred the source of
Old Heck was sore and he was ready to go the limit in backing the Gold
Dust maverick. Both he and Skinny had purposely refrained from
mentioning the horse the Ramblin' Kid would enter. The fame of the
outlaw filly extended throughout all of southwestern Texas and if the
Vermejo crowd had learned that the Ramblin' Kid had finally caught her
and was intending to put her against Thunderbolt it was doubtful if the
black horse would be entered at all in the sweepstakes. Even if he was,
Dorsey and his crowd would be shy of the betting.
This was one reason Old Heck had so played the conversation that Dorsey
definitely threw down the challenge and which was so coldly accepted.
The Vermejo cow-man would have to come in heavy on the betting or be
placed in the role of a bluffer.
By the time they reached the ranch Old Heck's good humor was restored.
He thoroughly enjoyed the supper Skinny and Carolyn June prepared and
joked the girl about her coffee-jelly.
"She's learning how to make French toast, now," Skinny said proudly; "it
won't be long till she's a darned good cook!"
"Why not?" Carolyn June laughed. "See who I have to teach me!" and
Skinny flushed while his heart hammered joyously.
"Well, I reckon anybody could live on fried bread and coffee-jelly in a
pinch," Old Heck joked back, "but for my part I'd be a good deal happier
to mix a biscuit or two like Ophelia makes once in a while in with
it"—giving the widow a worshipful look.
It was Ophelia's turn to register pleasurable confusion.
After supper Old Heck and the widow washed the dishes. When they were
finished Ophelia went into the front room. Old Heck took a glass of
water, stepped out of the kitchen door, and diligently scrubbed his
teeth. While he was still at it Skinny came out with a dipper in his
hand and sheepishly drawing a tooth-brush from his hip pocket faithfully
imitated the actions of the other.
"I figure a man's taking a lot of chances if he don't keep his teeth
clean and everything," Skinny spluttered as the water splashed down his
"Yes, that's right," Old Heck agreed, "there's germs and so on in them!"
as he flipped the water from his own brush, dried his lips on his
shirtsleeve and turned back into the kitchen.
The next morning, Saturday, Old Heck came to the breakfast table again
in a pensive mood.
"I was thinking about that man Dorsey," Skinny remarked, observing Old
Heck's mental depression and attributing it to the meeting the day
before in the pool-room at Eagle Butte. "Do you reckon the filly can
really beat that Thunderbolt horse?"
"Of course she can," Old Heck answered. "Th' Ramblin' Kid knows. All I'm
afraid is that when Dorsey finds out it's the Gold Dust maverick
Thunderbolt has got to go up against he won't bet much on it."
"The boys ought to be in to-day," Skinny said, abruptly switching the
subject; "they figured on getting the Battle Ridge cattle gathered and
in the big pasture by to-night, didn't they?"
"Yes," Old Heck replied, "that was what was in my mind. Parker will
be—" he stopped suddenly, "butting in again" he had started to say but
caught himself and finished lamely, "—probably pretty anxious to hurry
through as soon as possible and get the beef animals in the upland
"How are you going to work things when he gets back?" Skinny asked with,
a significant look at Old Heck.
"Blamed if I know—" Old Heck said uncertainly, stopping before he
finished the sentence. He understood what Skinny meant and just that had
been worrying him. He had reached the point where he could not endure
the thought of going back to the old arrangement of day and day about
with Parker in the enjoyment of the widow's society. Yet if Parker, on
his return, insisted on dividing Ophelia's time with him in conformity
with their original agreement, Old Heck knew he would have to yield. He
thought for a moment he would get the widow away from Skinny and Carolyn
June after breakfast and make a full confession of the whole thing, ask
her to marry him, and have it done with. But he had not yet been able to
get at the bottom of Ophelia's suffragette activities. What if she
married him and then suddenly broke loose as a speech-maker or something
for woman's rights? It wouldn't pay to take the risk. "It sure does keep
a man guessing!" he murmured under his breath, the sweat starting to
bead his forehead from the mental effort to solve the problem before
Carolyn June and Ophelia exchanged sly winks as they guessed the thing
that was in Old Heck's mind.
Skinny, himself, was a bit worried as the time drew near for the return
of the cowboys. He hoped Carolyn June wouldn't spring another dance or
similar opportunity for indiscriminate love-making.
Nor had Carolyn June forgotten that to-day was Saturday and Parker and
the cowboys were expected back from the first half of the beef round-up.
The week had been pleasant enough but she had missed the Ramblin' Kid
and the Gold Dust maverick more than she cared to confess. She wondered
if the outlaw filly would remember her.
Saturday was a day of considerable tension for all at the Quarter Circle
KT. Night came and Parker and the cowboys had not returned. Nor did they
come on Sunday. Evidently the beef round-up had gone more slowly than
It was late Monday afternoon when the grub-wagon grumbled and creaked
its way up the lane and stopped near the back-yard gate. Sing Pete
climbed clumsily down from the high seat. Old Heck and Skinny unhitched
Old Tom and Baldy while the Chinese cook chattered information about
Parker, the cowboys and the round-up. He had left the North Springs
early that morning. Two nights before the herd had run—it was a
stampede—some sheep had been where the cattle were bedded. Maybe that
was it. Chuck and Bert were on night guard and could not hold them. The
steers mixed badly with the rangers. Nearly two days it took to gather
them again. That was why they were late. Now everything was all right
The cattle were being driven to the big pasture. Pedro would be along
soon with the saddle cavallard. By dark maybe the others would be at the
It was midnight before Parker and the cowboys came in.
When Carolyn June stepped out on the porch Tuesday morning she glanced
toward the circular corral, which for more than a week had been empty.
Her heart gave a leap of delight.
Captain Jack was standing at the bars of the corral and behind him the
early sunlight glinted on the chestnut sides of the Gold Dust maverick.
THE GRAND PARADE
Eagle Butte was a jam of humanity. It was Tuesday noon. At one o'clock
the Grand Parade would circle the mile track at the "Grounds"—a hundred
level acres enclosed by a high board fence lying at the west edge of
Eagle Butte, between the Cimarron River and the road that led out to the
Vermejo—swing down the main street of the town, return again to the
enclosed area, flow once more past the grandstand, salute the judges of
the coming events, and the Fifth Annual Independence Rodeo of Eagle
Butte would be officially opened.
Special excursion rates had brought thousands from all parts of western
Texas, New Mexico and Colorado. Hundreds of tourists, sight-seeing the
West, had so arranged their itineraries that they might be present at
the big exhibition of riding, roping, racing, bull-dogging and other
cow-country arts,—arts rapidly becoming mere memories of a day too
Moving-picture machine operators were seeking advantageous locations for
their outfits; pedestrians dodged, indiscriminately, high-powered
automobiles and plunging bronchos; the old and the new were slapped
together in an incongruous jumble in the streets of Eagle Butte.
The best range men and women of the West were gathered in the western
New Mexico, Arizona, Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Oregon, Texas
herself, were represented by their most famous riders, ropers,
bull-doggers, cow-experts, and noted outlaw horses.
There were many masqueraders.
Imitation cow-people, they were, made up in fancy wild-west costumes,
long-haired chaps, mammoth black sombreros, gaudy neck-cloths,
silver-spangled saddles, spurs and bridles—typical moving-picture
cowboys, cowgirls and rough riders. But there were, as well, hundreds of
real range people. People whose business it is to work every day at the
"stunts" they were, for the next five days, to play at for the pleasure
of proving their skill and winning the applause of the multitude of
spectators packed each day in the grandstand behind the judges' box at
the Eagle Butte Rodeo.
Every outfit in western Texas sent its most clever riders.
Indians and Mexicans, in picturesque attire, sprinkled the milling mass
of humanity with a dash of rainbow color.
Dance-halls were running, fare layouts were operating, roulette wheels
were spinning. For the time, with the consent of the sheriff and other
reformed authorities, Eagle Butte tried hard to be as Eagle Butte was
The entire Quarter Circle KT crowd left the ranch early Tuesday
morning'. Parker had surprised Old Heck, and filled his mind with
misgivings, by calling him to one side after breakfast and stammering:
"I—I—reckon you'd just as well go ahead the rest of this week
and—and—look after the widow by yourself—"
"What's the matter?" Old Heck asked suspiciously; "have you found out
anything dangerous about that 'Movement' or whatever it is Ophelia's
mixed up in?"
"No, it ain't that," Parker assured him, "I just thought I'd kind
of—well, like to be free, to knock around at the Rodeo without being
bothered with a woman or anything."
The truth was Parker was trying to hedge. When he had got away on the
beef hunt and began to figure things out he had come to doubt the wisdom
of his sudden infatuation for the widow. Thinking it over, out on the
open range, he was appalled by his rash, headlong falling in love. He
had never married, nor had he, until Ophelia came, been even near it.
Someway, the moment Carolyn June and the widow arrived at the Quarter
Circle KT some sort of devil seemed to possess him. He couldn't explain
it. Maybe it had been just an impulse to get ahead of Old Heck. Whatever
it was, Parker was worried. What would he do with a wife if he had one?
All he wanted now was to let the thing blow over. Perhaps the widow
would forget his impetuous proposal or fall in love with Old Heck.
Old Heck, his heart filled with a queer mixture of elation and
uncertainty—with a sort of joy and sinking sensation all at
once—agreed to Parker's suggestion.
Parker rode into Eagle Butte with the cowboys. Old Heck, Ophelia, Skinny
and Carolyn June went in the Clagstone "Six." Chuck led Old Pie Face for
Skinny to ride in the parade and Bert took Red John, Old Heck's most
showy saddle horse—a long-legged, high-stepping, proud-headed, bay
gelding—for Carolyn June to use, for she, too, had declared her
intention of joining in the grand promenade with which the Rodeo would
The Ramblin' Kid left the Gold Dust maverick in the circular corral and
rode Captain Jack to Eagle Butte. It would be necessary for him to
register the filly, with the entry judges, on the first day of the Rodeo
if she was to run in the two-mile sweepstakes.
The rules of the Rodeo required, also, that all who expected to
participate in any of the events of the coming week must "show" in the
grand march or parade. The animals that were to be used might also be
paraded, but this was not compulsory.
Accompanied by Chuck, the Ramblin' Kid went directly to the entry
offices of the Rodeo, which were roughly boxed-up compartments under
the rear of the grandstand.
A group of "hot-dog" vendors and "concession spielers" looked curiously
at the two as they left Captain Jack and Silver Tip, with bridle reins
dropped over their heads, standing in front of the office and stepped
Lafe Dorsey and Flip Williams were at the clerk's desk.
The Vermejo cattleman had just registered Thunderbolt, with Flip as
rider, for the big race.
They looked around as the Ramblin' Kid and Chuck came in.
"Well, is the Quarter Circle KT getting up sand enough to go against old
Thunderbolt again?" Dorsey asked with a curl of his lip and an ugly
"Oh, I reckon we've got a little nerve left," Chuck answered with mock
humility, "not much, but a little, maybe. I was going to put Silver Tip
in the sweepstakes," he went on, "but I guess I won't. Th' Ramblin'
Kid's got an entry and it looks like a darned shame for one outfit to
want to hog it all and grab first and second money both, so I'll stay
out this time."
"You talk pretty loud," Dorsey snarled, catching instantly, as Chuck
intended he should, the covert slur at the black Y-Bar stallion. "Maybe
your money won't make so damned much noise!"
"Here's a couple hundred," Chuck said, pulling a roll of bills from his
shirt pocket. "I'll invest that much on my judgment that Thunderbolt
ain't as good as you think he is."
"I'll take it!" Dorsey snapped, jerking a wad of money from his own
pocket and counting out the amount which he handed to the clerk as
stake-holder. "And here's another hundred—or a thousand if you want
"That two hundred is about all I can handle this morning," Chuck
laughed. "But I understand Old Heck's aiming to bet a little," he
drawled suggestively; "probably you'd like to see him?"
"I'll see him—and raise him till he squeals!" Dorsey sneered.
The Ramblin' Kid ignored the tilt between Dorsey and Chuck and leaned
indifferently against the counter waiting for the clerk to fill out the
"Event?" the clerk questioned.
"Two-mile run," was the quiet answer.
"Rider—and horse?" glancing up.
Dorsey and Flip paused and turned their heads to catch the names the
Ramblin' Kid gave.
"I'm the rider, I reckon," the Ramblin' Kid replied, "I guess you know
who I am. Th' name of th' horse? Well, now ain't that funny?" he said
with a little laugh, "I never have bothered to name that critter yet!
But—oh, hell, what's the difference? We'll just call her 'Ophelia' for
th' time bein'—in honor of a lady-widow that's visitin' out at th'
"The Quarter Circle KT's getting to be quite a female institution,
ain't it?" Dorsey said contemptuously. "I suppose this wonder horse of
yours is one of the ranch fillies and regular lightning!"
For a second the Ramblin' Kid's eyes narrowed, then he replied coldly to
the last half of Dorsey's sentence:
"Well, th' filly's been runnin' in that neighborhood an'"—with a laugh
that had in it just the hint of a sneer—"she's pretty fair—good
enough, I figure, to beat hell out of old Thunderbolt!"
"Are you backing that with money?" Dorsey and Flip spoke together.
"No," the Ramblin' Kid answered slowly, "money ain't no object with me
in a horse-race. I don't run 'em for that purpose. Anyhow, poker is my
favorite method of gamblin'!"
Dorsey and Flip whirled angrily out of the office and walked rapidly
toward the stables where they had left their horses.
After reserving a box stall, which was to be occupied by Captain Jack
and the Gold Dust maverick, the Ramblin' Kid and Chuck left the entry
office and mounting their bronchos rode toward the section of the
grounds, over by the stables, where the parade was already forming.
As they passed through the entrance to the track and the inside field
which lay beyond Chuck and the Ramblin' Kid rode within a few feet of
the Clagstone "Six," which was parked near the east end of the
grandstand. Old Heck and Ophelia were in the front seat of the car
watching the riders assemble for the parade. Carolyn June was standing
on the running-board waiting for Skinny to come with Old Pie Face and
Red John, the boys having left the horses at the stables.
Carolyn June looked up with a bright smile at Chuck. As her eyes met the
Ramblin' Kid's there was a question in them. She was not sure yet that
she had forgiven him for the brutal rebuff the night of the dance. If
there was any feeling in his heart, either of resentment or otherwise,
toward the girl the Ramblin' Kid hid it. The look he gave her was one of
unfathomable humility and indifference.
Chuck wheeled Silver Tip to the side of the car and stopped. His eyes
were filled with frank admiration as he gazed at the girl. Her cheeks
were flushed with excitement, her white felt hat sat jauntily on the
crown of brown hair, her eyes were sparkling and in the close-fitting
riding suit she was the picture of youthful charm and grace. The
Ramblin' Kid nodded to Old Heck, glanced at Ophelia with a smile, looked
steadily an instant at Carolyn June and raising his hat to the two women
passed on with the remark: "I reckon I'll go on over an' see what
"Has he entered the outlaw filly for the sweepstakes, yet?" Old Heck
asked Chuck as the Ramblin' Kid reined Captain Jack down the race track.
"Yes," Chuck answered, "he signed her up."
"Did he name her as the Gold Dust maverick?" Old Heck inquired
"No," Chuck grinned, "he called her 'Ophelia!'"
Old Heck leaned back in the seat and roared with laughter in which
Carolyn June and the widow joined.
"Dorsey was there," Chuck said with another grin, "he'd just finished
entering Thunderbolt for the big race when th' Ramblin' Kid and me got
to the registering office. I bet him two hundred dollars. He was
bragging a good deal—"
Old Heck's eyes flashed and the mirth left them.
"He was blowing, was he?" he said with a hard laugh, "the damn—darned
fool!" he corrected, remembering Ophelia at his side. "Well, 'egg' him
on—the higher he flies the worse he'll flop when he bu'sts a wing!"
In the parade Skinny rode with Carolyn June. Parker and the Quarter
Circle KT cowboys were in a group directly behind them. The Vermejo
crowd, with Dorsey himself mounted on Thunderbolt, had a place just
ahead of Skinny and Carolyn June. The beautiful black Y-Bar stallion was
really a wonderful horse. Speed, strength and endurance radiated with
every movement of the glossy, subtle body. Without doubt he was the most
handsome animal on the grounds. Dorsey was a splendid rider and a
man—he was in the early forties—of striking appearance. He was fully
conscious of the magnificent showing he made on Thunderbolt. The racer
danced proudly, prancing forward in short, graceful leaps as the column
swept past the grandstand and the consolidated Eagle Butte and Vegas
bands crashed out the strains of a stirring march. A ripple of applause
ran over the crowd in the grandstand as Dorsey, at the head of the
Vermejo cowboys, rode by the judges' box. He lifted his sombrero and
waved it in pleased acknowledgment.
The Ramblin' Kid was in line a little distance behind Carolyn June,
Skinny and the Quarter Circle KT cowboys. He rode alone just back of a
quartette of Indians from down on the Chickasaw.
His plain rigging, the slick, smoothly worn, leather chaps, the
undecorated saddle, bridle and spurs, his entire work-a-day outfit
contrasted vividly with the gaudy get-up of most of the other riders.
Captain Jack moved along easily and freely, but quietly, and with an air
of utter boredom with all the show and confusion about him. The Ramblin'
Kid's attitude, whole appearance, matched perfectly the mood of his
horse. He sat loosely in the saddle and carelessly smoked a cigarette.
The truth was his mind was far from the pageant of which he and the
little stallion were a part. He scarcely heard the music nor did he seem
to see the thousands of human beings, packed tier above tier, under the
mammoth roof of the grandstand. His thoughts were at the upper crossing
of the treacherous Cimarron, out at the Quarter Circle KT; he was seeing
again, Carolyn June, as she looked up into his eyes when he dragged her
out of the quicksand—he was hearing, once more, her cry of agony as the
bullet from his gun buried itself in the brain of Old Blue.
Louder hand-clapping, stamping of feet, and calling voices, than any
that had sounded before, rolled out from the grandstand as the lone
rider, on the quiet, unexcited little roan, came down the stretch in
front of the great crowd.
Carolyn June looked back, saw the waving hats and handkerchiefs, heard
hundreds of voices shouting:
"Th' Ramblin' Kid! Th' good old Ramblin' Kid!"
The crowd had recognized him as the slender rider who, a year ago, after
the untamable Cyclone horse had killed Dick Stanley before their eyes
and in front of where they sat, had ridden, straight-up and scotching
him at every jump, that vicious, murderous-hearted outlaw.
Carolyn June's eyes moistened and she felt a thrill of pride.
The Ramblin' Kid barely glanced at the sea of faces, a faint smile hung
for an instant on his lips, as he jerked his hand, the one in which he
held the cigarette, to the brim of his hat when he came opposite the
When the parade swung down the wide, one-sided, main street of Eagle
Butte, Mike Sabota, from the door of the Elite Amusement Parlor,
watched it pass. He was standing there, by the side of the lanky
marshal and surrounded by a group of pool-room loafers and "carnival
sharks" when Carolyn June and Skinny came by. She looked around in time
to see him staring, with a vulgar leer, straight into her eyes.
"There is that big, dirty, animal-looking fellow we saw the other day!"
she said, with a frown of disgust, to Skinny. "He's horrible—"
Skinny glanced at Sabota.
"Yes, he is ornery," he said. "He runs that joint and boot-legs on the
side. He's got a reputation as a slugger and keeps the crowd around him
buffaloed. They say he killed a feller—beat him to death—in a fight
over at Sapulpa before he came to Eagle Butte. I don't like the filthy
cuss. He's mean!"
"He looks it!" Carolyn June exclaimed, with the uncomfortable feeling
that the big Greek's look had touched her with something vile and
After the parade disbanded Carolyn June and Skinny rode back to the car
where Old Heck and Ophelia had remained.
"You made a darned good-looking cowgirl!" Old Heck said proudly to her
as she stopped Red John by the side of the Clagstone "Six."
"She and Skinny both presented a very fine appearance!" the widow added,
while Carolyn June playfully blew a kiss at each in acknowledgment of
the compliment. Skinny sat on Old Pie Face and felt a warm glow of
satisfaction at the words of Old Heck and Ophelia. He had known all the
time that Carolyn June and he had shown up well, but he was glad to find
that others besides himself had noticed it.
Dorsey, on a black stallion, cantered past.
A moment later the Ramblin' Kid came jogging off the race course on
Captain Jack. He threw up his hand in greeting and passed on out of the
Parked next to the Clagstone "Six" was a handsome touring car, occupied
by a party consisting of a girl about Carolyn June's own age, a woman a
few years older and a couple of immaculately dressed young men who wore
flaring brimmed black felt hats that contrasted absurdly with their
expensively tailored suits. Evidently all were "big town" people from a
distance—very "superior" and patronizing in their attitude toward the
"natives." They had been free and voluble in their comments on the
various riders. Dorsey, on the magnificent Thunderbolt, drew a murmur of
admiration from the lips of the girl. As the Ramblin' Kid, the next
moment, rode by on Captain Jack one of the young fellows said loudly and
with a laugh of ridicule:
"Look at that one, Bess," addressing the girl; "there's the 'wild and
woolly' West for you! I'll bet if that horse sneezed he'd fall down and
the lonesome-looking little runt that's riding him would tumble off and
root his nose in the dust!"
A cackle of derisive laughter greeted the cheap witticism.
Before any of the others could speak Carolyn June's eyes blazed with
sudden wrath. She turned her body in the saddle and faced the speaker,
her hands tightly clenched, her cheeks white with passion and her lip
"Which shows," she said slowly, every word stinging like the bite of a
whip-lash, "that you are running, true to form and there is one fool, at
least, still unslaughtered! That"—she continued with a proud toss of
her head—"'lonesome-looking little runt' is the Ramblin' Kid! Not
another man in Texas can ride the horse he is on—and there is not a
horse in Texas that he can't ride!"
She turned again toward the Quarter Circle KT group and a shamed silence
settled over the swell "out-of-town" car.
Old Heck chuckled with delight at Carolyn June's show of temper.
A whirlwind program of racing, roping, bull-dogging—this event is that
in which a rider springs from a running horse, grasps by the horns a
wild steer running at his side, twists the animal's head up and backward
and so throws it down and then holds the creature on the
ground—rough-riding and other Rodeo sports followed immediately after
Pedro and Charley Saunders were the only Quarter Circle KT cowboys
participating in the events of the first day of the Rodeo. The Mexican
did a fancy roping stunt in front of the grandstand and finished his
exhibition directly before the Clagstone "Six" in which Carolyn June,
Ophelia, Old Heck and Skinny were sitting. At the conclusion of his
performance Pedro bowed to the little audience in the car and swept his
sombrero before him with all the courtly grace of a great matador.
Carolyn June generously applauded the dark-skinned rider from the
Cimarron and waved a daintily gloved hand in acknowledgment of his skill
with the rope. Skinny gritted his teeth while a pang of jealousy shot
through his heart.
Charley took part in the bull-dogging event. He drew a black steer,
rangey built, heavy and wicked. When he lunged from his horse on to the
horns of the brute it dragged him for a hundred feet before he could
check its mad flight. At last he slowly forced its nose in the air and
with a quick wrench of the head to one side threw its feet from under
it. Man and beast went down in a heap—the neck of the steer across the
cowboy's body. A groan went up from the crowd in the grandstand and
Carolyn June's cheeks paled with horror—it looked as if one horn of the
creature had pierced Charley's breast. But it had missed by the fraction
of an inch. Straightening himself up to a sitting posture the cowboy
bent forward and sunk his teeth in the upper lip of the prostrate animal
and threw up both hands as a signal to the judges that the brute was
"bulldogged." But the fight had been too hard for him to win first
place. Buck Wade, a lanky cow-puncher from Montana, in three seconds
less time, had thrown a brindle Anchor-O steer and taken first money.
* * * * *
Before the sun dipped into the Costejo peaks the Ramblin' Kid left the
Rodeo and returned alone to the Quarter Circle KT. He told Parker and
the cowboys, all of whom intended to remain in Eagle Butte every night
during the Rodeo, that he would be back in town the next afternoon and
bring with him the Gold Dust maverick. Word had been passed among the
Quarter Circle KT crowd to keep Dorsey and his bunch in the dark as long
as possible regarding the fact that the filly, Ophelia, was the famous
outlaw mare of the lower Cimarron.
After supper Parker, Chuck, Bert and Charley drifted into the Elite
Amusement Parlor. The place was crowded. Mike Sabota immediately singled
out the Quarter Circle KT group and began jollying them about the coming
two-mile sweepstakes. Dorsey and Flip Williams had been in the pool-room
earlier in the evening and told him of the Ramblin' Kid's entry of the
filly against the Thunderbolt horse.
Within ten minutes Bert and Charley had placed two hundred and fifty
dollars each against five hundred of Sabota's money that the Vermejo
stallion would not finish in first place in the big race.
Old Judge Ivory, who happened to be present, was agreed upon as
"That Thunderbolt horse, he is the devil," Sabota laughed evilly as the
money was handed over to the gray-haired judge. "And Satan, he takes
care of his own!"
"Well!" Parker drawled, "if you feel inclined to send any more money to
hell I might help you—" pulling a wad of bills from his pocket and
throwing the certificates on the soft-drink bar at which they were
Sabota's eyes gleamed greedily.
"I think there's two thousand in this roll," Parker continued, "and I'm
willing to bet it all that the Ramblin' Kid's filly not only goes under
the wire first in the two-mile run, but that she'll be kicking dirt in
old Thunderbolt's face—if he ain't too damned far behind—when she does
The Greek covered the wager eagerly.
As Judge Ivory pocketed the money Dorsey and Flip Williams stepped into
the pool-room. Sabota glanced up.
"These Quarter Circle KT hombres are getting bad," he laughed
sneeringly to Dorsey; "they think th' Ramblin' Kid's got a colt that can
"The Ramblin' Kid must have a hell of a fast horse!" Dorsey snarled
contemptuously, "a hell of a fast horse!" he repeated, "when the Ramblin'
Kid himself declines to risk a dollar of his own money on the running
qualities of the critter!" referring to the conversation a few hours
before in the entry judges' office.
As he finished speaking he turned and looked squarely into the cold gray
eyes of Old Heck who, with Skinny, had entered the Amusement Parlor
while Dorsey was talking and heard the Vermejo cattleman's sneering
MOCHA AND JAVA
Old Heck and Skinny had left Ophelia and Carolyn June at the Occidental
Hotel, where a room was reserved by Old Heck for the use of the two
women during the Rodeo. They had then gone direct to Mike Sabota's place
for the express purpose of running into Dorsey and his crowd. Old Heck
knew that if any large bets were to be laid on the two-mile sweepstakes
the only chance would be to place them before the Ramblin' Kid brought
the Gold Dust maverick to Eagle Butte and the Vermejo bunch discovered
the identity of the horse Thunderbolt was up against.
The Quarter Circle KT cow-men stepped into the pool-room at exactly the
instant most favorable for their purpose.
Dorsey had made his boast in the presence of a crowd.
He would hardly dare back up without covering, at least to some
worth-while extent, his words with his money.
For a full minute Old Heck drilled Dorsey with a look such, as a hound
dog might have in his eyes after he has cornered a coyote and pauses
before he springs.
Instinctively the crowd stepped back from the two cattlemen while a
death-like hush fell over the place.
"Th' Ramblin' Kid don't need to back the filly with his money, Dorsey,"
Old Heck said slowly and in a voice audible in every part of the room;
"I'm here to back her with mine! You've done a lot of talking—now,
damn you, cover your chatter with coin or shut up!" the end of the
sentence coming like the crack of a whip.
With a nervous laugh the Vermejo cattleman jerked a wallet from his
"Here's a thousand that says Thunderbolt does the same thing to the
Ramblin' Kid's filly that he done to Quicksilver!" Dorsey snapped.
Old Heck threw back his head and laughed scornfully.
"A thousand? I thought you were a sport, Dorsey!" he sneered. "Match
this," he continued, reaching for his check-book and fountain pen and
quickly filling out a check payable to "Cash" for ten thousand dollars,
which he laid on the hardwood bar. "Match that, or admit you're a cheap,
Dorsey paused just an instant as he noted the amount of the check.
"I'll match it!" he exclaimed, flushing angrily, drawing his own
check-book from his pocket, and then, carried away by his passion
added, throwing down the bars completely as Old Heck had hoped he would,
"and go with you to the end of the trail!"
"Good!" Old Heck laughed, "now you are talking like a sport! Let's see,"
he added calculatingly, "how many Y-Bar cattle do you figure you've got
running on the Vermejo range—five thousand?"
"There's that many," Dorsey started to say.
"Call it fifty-five hundred!" Old Heck flung at him. "Steer for steer,
cow for cow, hoof for hoof—I'll put Quarter Circle KT critters against
every brute you own that th' Ramblin' Kid lands his horse tinder the
wire ahead of Thunderbolt!"
Dorsey paled, then a purple-red of fury spread over his neck and face,
and with an oath he cried:
"I'll call you!"
Bills of sale were drawn and turned over to Judge Ivory, to be
delivered, after the race, to the winner.
"Now," Old Heck said with a hard laugh, "maybe you'd like to own the
Quarter Circle KT ranch, Dorsey? It's worth twice as much as your
Vermejo holdings but I'll just give you that percentage of odds and call
it an even bet that your black stallion don't outrun the little animal
th' Ramblin' Kid has entered in the sweepstakes!"
But Dorsey did not answer except with a muttered: "Hell, a man's crazy
that—" He had gone his limit. He had suddenly come to his senses and
Before Skinny and Old Heck left the pool-room the former managed to get
a bet of five hundred dollars with Sabota.
The next afternoon the Ramblin' Kid rode into Eagle Butte on Captain
Jack. By his side he led the Gold Dust maverick. The noise and confusion
in the streets filled the mare with nervousness and she crowded closely
against the little roan stallion. Before he got the outlaw filly to the
stables a half dozen cowboys had recognized the Cimarron maverick.
Within an hour Dorsey and Sabota knew the identity of the Ramblin' Kid's
entry in the big race that was to be run Friday afternoon and which was
the big and closing event of the Rodeo.
The Greek was furious.
Wednesday night he called "Gyp" Streetor, a carnival tout, who had one
time been a jockey but was ruled off the track for crooked work and was
now picking up "easies" at the Eagle Butte Rodeo, into a side room of
the Amusement Parlor.
For half an hour the two talked earnestly and furtively.
"Nothin' doin'—absolutely nothin'!" the tout finally said in reply to
some suggestion of Sabota's. "That Captain Jack horse would murder any
man but th' Ramblin' Kid that tried to get in the stall—"
"Well, by hell!" the Greek exclaimed, clenching his hairy fists, while
his mouth twitched with passion, "that filly's got to be kept out of the
sweepstakes someway or other—"
"You can't get to her, I tell you," Gyp said sullenly, then with a look
of cunning suddenly coming into his eyes: "They say she's a one-man
brute like the stallion—nobody can ride her but th' Ramblin' Kid,"
significantly looking at Sabota. "If you could—but he don't drink!"
The Greek laughed.
"There are other ways!" he said. "He eats, don't he? Listen: To-morrow
and Friday you take that 'sandwich and coffee' run at the stables—"
referring to the concession to peddle lunch stuff among the horsemen who
seldom left their charges, a concession which Sabota, with other
privileges, had purchased the right to operate. "Th' Ramblin' Kid eats
off the trays—it will be your business to see that he ain't feeling
well when the sweepstakes is called! I'll get the 'pills' for you
"No killin', Sabota!" Gyp warned.
"Just enough to put him out for an hour or two!" the Greek answered.
Wednesday night the Ramblin' Kid slept in the stall with the Gold Dust
maverick and Captain Jack. Thursday he remained close to the horses.
Thursday night he again slept on a pile of hay in one corner of the
box-compartment. Under no circumstances would he leave the animals.
Occasionally Parker or some of the Quarter Circle KT cowboys came down
to the stables.
Each night Old Heck and Skinny, with Carolyn June and Ophelia, after the
evening program was concluded, drove out to the ranch in the Clagstone
"Six," returning early the following day.
Friday forenoon Old Heck drove the car down to the stall in which
Captain Jack and the Gold Dust maverick were confined. The two horses
were standing, side by side, with their heads out of the door, the upper
half of which was swung back. The Ramblin' Kid leaned against the door
at the side of the horses.
To Carolyn June he looked tired and worn.
"How's the filly?" Old Heck asked, as the outlaw mare sprang back away
from the door when the car stopped.
"She's all right."
"Hadn't you ought to exercise her?" Skinny asked.
"She don't need it," the Ramblin' Kid replied with a note of weariness
in his voice. "She'll get enough exercise this afternoon!"
"You're all right, yourself, are you?" Old Heck asked a bit anxiously.
"Of course I'm all right," was the rather impatient reply. "Don't be
uneasy," he added with a laugh; "—th' filly'll be in th' race an' beat
"Good luck!" Carolyn June cried, as Old Heck turned the car about and
started back toward the grandstand.
"Good luck!" the Ramblin' Kid muttered to himself, watching the car as
it whirled away. "Ign'rant, savage, stupid brute!" he repeated bitterly,
then with a queer smile in which was a world of tenderness he pulled the
pink satin elastic garter he had picked up at the circular corral, from
his pocket and looked at it long and wistfully. "Good luck?" he
exclaimed again questioningly. "Well, maybe that little jigger'll bring
it!" and he slipped the band back in his pocket.
"Th' Ramblin' Kid acts like he's got the blues this morning," Skinny
said as the Clagstone "Six" rolled away from the stables. "He looks to
me like a feller that's in just the right humor to get on a whale of a
"That's one thing about him you can depend on," Old Heck broke in, "—he
never poisons himself with liquor. That's why when he says he'll do
anything you can bet all you've got he'll do it!"
"Well, if he ever does break loose," Skinny retorted, "it'll be sudden
"Probably," Old Heck replied as though there wasn't the slightest danger
of such an eventuality.
That morning Gyp purposely avoided going as far, with his stock of
provisions, as the stall in which were Captain Jack and the Gold Dust
maverick. Nor did he come with his lunch tray and tin pot of coffee
until nearly one o'clock.
The Ramblin' Kid had no breakfast. To secure it he would have been
required to leave the horses. That he would not do. Of course he might
have told Old Heck or Skinny to bring or send him something, but he did
not feel inclined to mention, in the presence of Carolyn June and
Ophelia, that he was hungry. Anyhow, well, they were having a good time
and what was the use of bothering them?
When Gyp finally came with the lunch the Ramblin' Kid was outside the
stall and had walked a little way up the stable street. Captain Jack and
the filly were in a compartment at the end of the string of stalls. The
one next to it, back toward the grandstand, was unoccupied, and
adjoining that was a hay room. Gyp stopped opposite the open door of the
compartment in which the bales of hay and straw were piled. He paused a
moment and turned as if to go back.
"Hold on there!" the Ramblin' Kid called to him. "What you tryin' to do?
Starve me to death?"
"D' last thing I'd want to do, Bo!" Gyp laughed good-naturedly. "Did I
miss you this mornin'? Here, come inside where I can set this bloomin'
junk down on a bale of hay for a minute an' I'll fix you up!"
The Ramblin' Kid followed Gyp into the stall.
The tout stooped over, with his back to the other, and slipped a capsule
containing a white powder into a coffee cup which he filled quickly with
the black liquid from the tin pot he carried. He handed the cup to the
Ramblin' Kid. The latter took it and sat down on a bale of hay lying
opposite. The coffee was just hot enough to melt, instantly, the capsule
and not too warm to drink at once. The Ramblin' Kid was thirsty as well
as hungry. Lifting the cup to his lips, while Gyp, fumbling for a
sandwich, watched him furtively, he drained it without stopping.
"That's—what was in that?'" he asked, eying the tout keenly. "It tastes
"Just good old Mocha an' Java!" Gyp interrupted lightly. "Maybe it's a
little strong. Here, take another one!" reaching for the cup.
The Ramblin' Kid started to hand the cup to Gyp to be refilled—a queer
numbness swept over him—the cup fell from his hand—he swayed—tensed
his body in an effort to get up—mumbled thickly:
"What th'—what th'—?"
The tout backed away toward the door, crouching like a cat ready to
spring, his beady eyes half-frightened, watching the poison deaden the
faculties of the other. He leaped through the door, glanced up and down
the stable street—deserted at that hour except for a few drowsy
attendants lounging in front of their stalls—jerked the door shut,
hooked the open padlock through the iron fastenings, snapped its jaws
together and muttered, as he hurried away:
"I guess that guy won't ride the Gold Dust maverick in any two-mile
As the door slammed shut the Ramblin' Kid pitched forward, unconscious,
on the bale of hay.
The Clagstone "Six" was parked, Friday afternoon, in its usual place
near the east end of the grandstand and close to the entrance to the
track. Old Heck and Ophelia were alone in the car. Carolyn June and
Skinny, on Pie Face and Red John, watched the afternoon program from the
"inside field" across the race track. Parker and the Quarter Circle KT
cowboys were also mounted on their horses and in the field opposite the
Never had there been such a jam at a Rodeo held in Eagle Butte.
The two-mile sweepstakes, itself the "cow-man's classic" and the great
derby event of western Texas, always drew record crowds the day on which
it was run.
This Friday the grandstand creaked under its load of humanity.
The racing feud between the Quarter Circle KT and the Y-Bar and the
thousands of dollars Old Heck and Dorsey were known to have bet on their
respective favorites acted as tinder on the flame of public interest in
the big event.
Thunderbolt had a great reputation. Last year, and the year before, he
had mastered the field of runners put against him.
The Gold Dust maverick—named in the race "Ophelia"—was a wonder horse
in the minds of the people of western Texas who had heard of the
beautiful, almost super-creature, that had tormented, with her speed and
endurance, the riders of the Cimarron and now at last was caught, and to
be ridden in the sweepstakes, by the Ramblin' Kid.
At two-forty a special exhibition of "Cossack Riding"—participated in
by Lute Larsen, of Idaho; Jack Haines, from Texas, and Curly Piper, a
Colorado cowboy, finished in front of the grandstand.
The announcer trained his megaphone on the vast crowd:
"The next event," he bellowed, "two-mile sweepstakes! Purse one thousand
dollars! Five entries! Naming them in their order from the pole:
Thunderbolt, black Y-Bar stallion, Flip Williams, rider; Say-So, roan
gelding, from the Pecos River, Box-V outfit, Jess Curtis, rider;
Ophelia, Gold Dust filly, the Cimarron outlaw from the Quarter Circle
KT, th' Ramblin' Kid, rider; Prince John, sorrel gelding, from Dallas,
Texas, 'Snow' Johnson, rider; Dash-Away, bay mare, from Jackson Hole,
Wyoming, Slim Tucker, rider. Race called at three o'clock sharp! Horse
failing to score on the dot will be ruled out! Range saddles to be used.
Entries for the two-mile sweepstakes will show at once on the track!"
Dead silence ensued during the announcer's drawling oration.
It was followed by the hum of five thousand voices as they chattered in
The band crashed out Dixie and a medley of southern melodies.
Chuck and Bert reined their bronchos up to Parker.
"We're going over and see how th' Ramblin' Kid is making it," Chuck
said. "He might need that filly herded a little to get her through this
jam." And they galloped their horses across the track toward the
Carolyn June and Skinny decided to watch the sweepstakes from the car,
with Old Heck and Ophelia. They rode Pie Face and Red John over to the
Clagstone "Six." Carolyn June dismounted and stepped up on the
running-board of the car, holding Red John loosely by the bridle rein.
"Gee," she laughed, "but I'm nervous!"
Old Heck reached over and patted her hand.
"Wait till they start to run before you get hysterical," he chuckled.
"There'll be time enough then for excitement!" One could never have
told, by his actions, that within the next few moments he would lose or
win fifty thousand dollars.
Chuck pulled Silver Tip to a stop in front of the stall where Captain
Jack and the Gold Dust maverick were standing.
"They're getting ready for the sweepstakes!" he called, thinking the
Ramblin' Kid was in the compartment with the horses. "You'd better be
putting your rigging on the filly," as he slid from his broncho and
stepped to the door of the stall.
There was no answer. He peered into the half-gloom of the place.
It was empty save for the two horses.
"That's funny as thunder," he said, puzzled, to Bert. "Where'd you
reckon th' Ramblin' Kid is?"
"Darned if I know—ain't he there?" Bert answered, riding up so he could
look into the door.
"Look around a little," Chuck said anxiously. "Maybe he's just stepped
away for a minute—Hey!" he called to an attendant of a stall a short
distance down the stable street, "have you seen anything of th' Ramblin'
Kid—the feller that has these horses?"
"Naw," was the careless answer, "I ain't seen him for two hours."
"Something must be wrong!" Chuck exclaimed. "You stay here and watch!
I'll go see Old Heck—maybe he knows where he is."
"Hell, yes!" Bert said as the other started Silver Tip in a run toward
where the Clagstone "Six" was parked. "He's got to be found! Nobody else
but him can ride the maverick!"
At the car, before his horse was fairly stopped, Chuck leaned over and
"Have any of you people seen th' Ramblin' Kid?"
Old Heck straightened up.
"Ain't he at the stables?" he inquired uneasily. "He was there this
"No," Chuck replied hurriedly, "he's been gone two hours!"
"Good lord," Old Heck exclaimed, "he's got to be found! The race starts
in ten minutes."
"And nobody but him can ride the filly!" Skinny interrupted. "I wonder
if he's—" he started to say "drunk," but stopped as Carolyn June looked
quickly at him. The word was in both their minds.
"It ain't natural!" Old Heck cried; "there must be something dirty! You
boys go look for him; I'll, keep my eyes open here!"
As Old Heck said "dirty" the picture of Mike Sabota flashed into Carolyn
June's mind. Some intuition seemed to couple, in her inner
consciousness, the big Greek with the Ramblin' Kid's disappearance.
The horses for the two-mile sweepstakes were already beginning to come
on to the track. Flip Williams was walking Thunderbolt up and down in
front of the grandstand, trying to keep the high-spirited stallion quiet
until time came to mount; the rider of Say-So was doing the same thing
with his entry; Slim Tucker was already sitting on Dash-Away, the trim
Wyoming mare standing unruffled near the starting line, while Snow
Johnson, like Tucker, already on his mount, was circling Prince John in
wide loops behind the others.
Carolyn June was stunned for a moment by the thought that had come into
her mind when the picture of the burly Greek flashed before her. She
clenched her hands and her cheeks whitened.
"Come on, Skinny!" she said suddenly, stepping off the running-board of
the car and swinging on to Red John, "we'll go help look for the
She whirled the big bay around the end of the grandstand and rode in a
fast gallop straight for the box stall, Skinny and Chuck following close
behind her. A quick resolution formed in her mind: "Nobody but the
Ramblin' Kid could ride the filly?"
She could ride the mare!
Even if the Ramblin' Kid was not found Sabota and his crowd should not
be allowed to win by dirty work—if dirty work had been done!
At the stall Carolyn June sprang from Red John.
Bert was nervously walking about, calling occasionally the name of the
missing Quarter Circle KT cowboy.
"Have you found him?" Carolyn June asked as Skinny and Chuck came up
"No," Bert answered glumly, "he ain't showed up yet! There ain't no
signs of him around here."
"What'll we do?" Skinny asked excitedly. "The race is almost ready to
start and—do you reckon you could ride the filly, Bert?" he finished
with a gleam of hope.
"I doubt it, but, well, I'll try her—if Captain Jack'll let me get her
"You boys keep back!" Carolyn June interrupted, stepping to the door of
the stall and opening it, "Captain Jack knows me and—I—I—think the
filly does, too—I can handle her—" as she stepped boldly inside the
compartment with the horses.
"Don't go in there!" Skinny cried, "Car—Carolyn June, they'll kill
"You boys keep away!" she laughed. "And don't get the horses nervous!
They won't hurt me!" she answered, going ahead toward the animals.
Captain Jack looked at her suspiciously an instant
"Jack-Boy—Jack-Boy!" she called with a caress in her voice. "Careful!
We're friends!" The attitude of the stallion changed instantly and the
menace was gone from his eyes.
The Gold Dust maverick heard the voice and with a friendly little nicker
rubbed her head against the outstretched hand.
In a corner was the Ramblin' Kid's saddle, bridle, blanket and worn
With a light pat of the outlaw filly's cheek Carolyn June turned and
began quickly and deftly putting the riding gear on the beautiful mare.
* * * * *
For an hour and a half the Ramblin' Kid lay as he had fallen when he
started to hand the coffee cup back to Gyp. Breathing heavily, his face
flushed, he was as one in the deep stupor of complete intoxication. At
last he stirred uneasily. An unconscious groan came from his lips. His
eyes opened. In them was a dazed, puzzled look. Where was he? He tried
vainly to remember—the clean life, the iron constitution and
youth—aided perhaps by an indomitable subconscious will protesting
against this something that had happened to him—were throwing off the
effects of the drug hours before an ordinary man would have regained
even a hint of sensibility.
He stood up—reeling unsteadily. He was deathly sick. Lightning flashes
of pain throbbed through his head. Waves of blackness rolled before his
eyes. Surges of numbness swept over his legs and arms. He tried hard to
remember. There was something—what was it? Th'—th'—what th'
hell?—th' race! That was it—th'—th'—th' sweepstakes! In an instant
the thought was gone. It kept beating back: Th' sweepstakes—th'
race—What time was it? Had it been run? He staggered to the door. It
was locked! His head was bursting. If he could only get over the nausea.
He felt his knees start to give way. No! No! My God, he wouldn't give
up! He—oh, yes. Th' race! Captain Jack—no—th'—th'—maverick—he had
to ride—He must get out! There was a—a—window—sometimes they had
them—in the back of the stalls. Maybe the hay was over it. He climbed
on the bales. Behind them he could see the opening. God, he was weak!
With the sweat of terrible nausea bursting from every pore of his body
he pulled the bales back. He fell over the bale on which he had been
lying. One hand brushed his hat which had fallen from his head.
Mechanically, with stiff fingers, he picked it up and jammed it on
again. Then he climbed—crawled—over the hay and pitched forward
through the opening, in a limp heap, on the ground outside.
For a moment he lost consciousness completely again: Th'—th' race—th'
maverick! he mustn't forget—
He fought his way to his feet and groped along back of the building—the
stall—which way was it? Down there? No—the other way—
As Carolyn June tightened the rear cinch on the Gold Dust maverick and
turned toward the door of the stall with: "Look out, boys—I'm coming
out!" the Ramblin' Kid, clutching at the side of the building, reeled
around the corner of the stall. The cowboys saw him. He himself saw only
black shapes where their horses were.
"Good God!" Skinny cried, "he's drunk!"
Carolyn June heard Skinny's exclamation at the instant the Ramblin' Kid,
catching at the half-open door, almost fell into the stall. His eyes
stared with a dull, puzzled, unrecognizing vacancy first at Carolyn June
and then the Gold Dust maverick. "Who th' hell—" he mumbled stiffly.
"What—th'—oh, yes—there's th' filly—th'—th'—race. It
must—be—time. Th' mare's saddled! That's—that's—funny! I can't
remember. Th' race—th' sweepstakes—that's it—"
Reaching over he jerked the reins from the hand of Carolyn June.
"Who—who—get the—" came like the thick growl of a beast from his
throat. "You—you—can't ride—she'll—she'll—kill—"
Carolyn June shrank back as if she had been struck. She pressed her
hands against her cheeks and stepped away with a look of horror and
disgust as the Ramblin' Kid backed out of the stall with the Gold Dust
maverick. Outside he fumbled grotesquely at the silky mane and climbed
weakly into the saddle.
Chuck and Bert started toward him.
"Get—the—hell—" he snarled as he saw their horses—mere shadow shapes
they were to him—approach.
"Let him alone!" Skinny said. "He's drunk! You'll just scare the filly
and make her hurt him!"
The boys let him go.
With blanched cheeks Carolyn June mounted Red John and with Skinny, Bert
and Chuck, rode back to the Clagstone "Six." Her heart was utterly sick.
So this was it? It had come out—the brute—the beast that was in him!
They reached the car as the Ramblin' Kid, at the horse entrance, at the
other end of the grandstand, came on the track with the Gold Dust
Old Heck looked up when the group approached. He saw the agony in
Carolyn June's eyes and started to speak.
"Th' Ramblin' Kid's drunk," Skinny said dully. "He showed up—yonder he
is—" as the beautiful copper-tinted, chestnut filly appeared behind the
other horses entered for the two-mile sweepstakes.
"Drunk?" Old Heck cried incredulously. "Are you sure?"
"Watch him!" Chuck said miserably.
The starter was standing with arm outstretched and flag ready to fall.
The filly came down the track jumping nervously from side to side in
short springing leaps. The starter paused, watch in hand. A shout of
admiration and wonder went up from the crowd as the splendid creature
dancing down the track was recognized. The next instant it was succeeded
by a cry of horror that rolled in a great wave from a thousand throats.
"Th' Ramblin' Kid is drunk! He's drunk—the mare will kill him!" as they
saw the slim rider weaving limply in the saddle, his head dropped
forward as if he were utterly helpless.
"Rule that horse off the track!" Dorsey, who was standing with Mike
Sabota, in a box-seat just below the judges' stand, shouted as he saw
the Ramblin' Kid, even in his half-conscious condition, reining the Gold
Dust maverick with consummate skill into position, "her rider's drunk!"
The Ramblin' Kid heard the voice and—by some miracle of the
mind—recognized it, although his eyes, set and glassy, could not see
He turned his head in the direction from which the cry came and
answered, slowly measuring each word:
The next instant the starter dropped the flag. As it went down the filly
crouched and reared straight into the air.
That one second gave the other horses the start.
Then the outlaw mare leaped forward directly behind Thunderbolt, running
against the inside rail. Say-So, the Pecos horse, jammed close to the
side of the black stallion; Snow Johnson, rider of Prince John, pushed
the big sorrel ahead with his nose at the roan's tail; Dash-Away hugged
against the heels of Prince John. The Gold Dust maverick was "pocketed!"
A breathless hush fell over the crowd in the grandstand after the first
Black devils of torture clutched the throat, the mind, the body of the
Ramblin' Kid. Streams of fire seemed to be flowing through his veins. He
couldn't see—he was blind. "What th'—what th'—hell!" he muttered over
and over. He was vaguely conscious of the thunder of hoofs around
him—under him. Dimly, black shadows were rushing along at his side. He
fought with all his will to master his faculties. Where was he? What was
it? Was it a—a—stampede? What? Oh, yes, th' race—th'—th'—
sweepstakes—that—that was it—Over and over the fleeting flashes of
consciousness kept throwing this one supreme idea on the mirror of his
Not a word was spoken by any of the party at the Clagstone "Six" as the
five fastest horses ever on the Eagle Butte track swept past the car
toward the first quarter-turn of the course.
Carolyn June's face was as white as marble. Her breast heaved and fell
as if it would burst. Dry-eyed, every nerve tense, she stared at the
straining racers. Unconsciously she gripped into hard knots of flesh and
bone, both hands, while she bit at her underlip until a red drop of
blood started from the gash made in the tender skin by her teeth.
"Drunk!" she thought, "drunk! Beastly drunk—and throwing away the
greatest race ever run on a Texas track!"
Old Heck sat impassive as though carved from stone and said nothing.
Ophelia nervously chewed at the finger of her glove while her eyes
moistened with sympathy and pity.
Skinny, Chuck and Bert sat gloomily, moodily, on their bronchos and
watched Thunderbolt lead the quintette of running horses.
For the life of him Skinny could not keep from thinking of the five
hundred dollars he had bet with Sabota, on the race, and the number of
white shirts and purple ties he might have bought with the money!
Over in the track-field Parker, Charley and Pedro saw the start of the
race and each swore softly and silently to himself.
Sing Pete, alone of the Quarter Circle KT crowd, in the jam of the
grandstand, stretched his neck and followed with inscrutable eyes the
close-bunched racers. The start had puzzled him, yet he murmured
"Maybe all samee Lamblin' Kid he beatee hell out of 'em yet!"
The loyal Chinese cook had wagered the savings of a dozen years on the
speed of the Gold Dust maverick's nimble legs and his faith in the
A blanket might have covered the five horses as they swung around the
The speed-mad animals roared down the homestretch, finishing the first
half of the race in the almost identical position each had taken in the
The Ramblin' Kid rode the mile more as an automaton than as a living,
conscious human being. He had no memory of time, place, events—save for
the instants of rationality he forced his will to bring.
Gradually, though, his mind was clearing.
But which was it—the first half?—the last half? How long had they been
running? How many times had they gone around the track? He could not
Down the straight stretch the racers came in a mighty whirlwind of
"Thunderbolt is taking it!"
"The Y-Bar horse leads!"
"Th' black's got 'em!" roared from the throats of the crowd in the
grandstand and the mass of humanity crushing the railing along the
Dorsey and Sabota leaped to the edge of the box as the horses thundered
past the judges' stand. The voice of the owner of Thunderbolt shrieked
out in a hoarse bellow:
"Hold him to it, Flip! Keep your lead—you've got the filly!"
The Ramblin' Kid heard again—or thought he heard again—the voice of
the Vermejo cattleman. He caught, as an echo, a note of triumph in it.
It was like a tonic to his drug-numbed faculties.
Suddenly he saw clearly. He had just a glimpse of Sabota standing by the
side of Dorsey. He understood. In a flash it all came to him. The first
half of the great sweepstakes race was behind them! Once more they were
to circle the track. The glistening black rump of Thunderbolt rose and
fell just ahead of the Gold Dust maverick's nose—at her side, crowding
her against the rail, was another horse. Which one? It didn't matter!
Back of it was another. He was "pocketed!" Hell, no wonder Thunderbolt
was ahead of the outlaw mare!
Half-way around the quarter-turn he pulled the filly down.
She slackened ever so little. Thunderbolt—the horse at her side—all of
He was behind the bunch—clear of the field!
The crowd saw the filly dart to the right. It looked as though she would
go over the outside rail before the Ramblin' Kid swung her, in a great
arch, to the left clear of, but far behind, the other horses.
He was crazy! The Gold Dust maverick was getting the better of the
Ramblin' Kid. He had lost control of the wonderful mare!
So thought the thousands watching the drama on the track before them.
Away over, next to the outside fence, on the far side of the track, open
now before him for the long outfield stretch, the Rambling Kid
straightened the Gold Dust maverick out. The other racers were still
bunched against the inner rail—lengths ahead of the filly.
Leaning low on the neck of the maverick, the Ramblin' Kid began talking,
for the first time, to the horse he rode.
"Baby—Baby! Girl!" he whispered incoherently almost. "Go—go—damn
'em! 'Ophelia'"—he laughed thickly, reeling in the saddle.
"Hell—_no—'Little—Little—Pink Garter!—that's—that's—what y'
are! Little—Pink—Garter—" he repeated irrationally. "That's
it—show 'em—damn 'em—show 'em what—what runnin'—what real runnin'
is!" fumbling caressingly at the mare's neck with hands numb and stiff
and chuckling pitifully, insanely, while his face was drawn with agony
Then the Gold Dust maverick ran!
Never had ground flowed with such swiftness under the belly of a horse
on a Texas track.
"Good God!" Skinny yelled, "looky yonder! He's passin' them! Th'
Ramblin' Kid is passin' 'em!"
No one answered him.
His voice was drowned in the mighty roar that surged from five thousand
throats and rolled in waves of echoing and re-echoing sound across the
"He's ridin' round 'em!"
"Th' Ramblin' Kid is goin' around them!"
"Great heavens! Look at that horse go!"
"She's a-flyin'! She's a-flyin'!"
The Gold Dust maverick closed the gap—she caught Dash-Away—she
evened up with Prince John—she left the big sorrel behind—she passed
Say-So—nose to nose for a few rods she ran opposite the black
wonder—the Thunderbolt horse from the Vermejo.
Flip Williams, spurs raking the flanks of Dorsey's stallion, looked
The Ramblin' Kid leaned toward him:
"Hell—why—don't you—make that—thing run!" he sneered at the Y-Bar
The next instant the Gold Dust maverick's neck and shoulders showed in
the lead of the Y-Bar stallion.
At the turn for the home stretch the outlaw filly shot ahead of the
wonderful black horse from the Vermejo, swung close to the inside rail,
and like a flash of gold-brown darted down the track toward the wire.
The grandstand was turned into a madhouse of seething humanity. The
immense crowd came to its feet roaring and shrieking with frenzy. Men
smashed their neighbors with clenched fists—not knowing or caring how
hard or whom they struck—or that they themselves were being hit. Women
screamed frantically, hysterically, tears streaming from thousands of
eyes because of sheer joy at the wonderful thing the Gold Dust maverick
was doing. Even the stolid Sing Pete was jumping up and down, shouting:
"Come on—come on—Lamblin' Kid! Beat 'em—beatee hell out of 'em!"
Full three lengths in the lead of the "unbeatable" Thunderbolt the Gold
Dust maverick flashed under the wire in front of the judges!
Dorsey, shaken in every nerve, lips blue as though he were stricken with
a chill, reeled out of the box from which he had watched his whole
fortune swept away by the speed of the Cimarron mare. At his side,
profaning horrible, obscene oaths staggered Mike Sabota.
Old Heck, white-faced, but his lips drawn in a smile of satisfaction,
stood up in the Clagstone "Six" and watched the Ramblin' Kid—his eyes
set and staring, his body twitching convulsively, check the filly, swing
her around, ride back to the judges' stand, weakly fling up a hand in
salute and then, barely able to sit in the saddle, rein the Gold Dust
maverick off the track and ride toward the box stall.
Skinny drew a hand across his eyes and looked at Carolyn June.
Tears were streaming down her cheeks.
OLD HECK GOES TO TOWN
It was Monday morning, clear and cloudless, with a whiff of a breeze
kissing the poplars along the front-yard fence at the Quarter Circle KT.
On the sand-hills north of the Cimarron, Pedro was pushing the saddle
cavallard toward Rock Creek, where the last half of the beef round-up
was to begin. Parker and the cowboys were just splashing their bronchos
into the water at the lower ford. Sing Pete, on the high seat of the
grub-wagon, was once more clucking and cawing at Old Tom and Baldy as
they drew the outfit along the lane and followed the others to the open
Old Heck, Skinny, Ophelia and Carolyn June again were alone at the
Quarter Circle KT.
The Eagle Butte Rodeo had closed, with one last riotous carnival of
wildness at midnight Saturday night.
Once more the straggling town, its pulse gradually beating back to
normal, lay half-asleep at the foot of the sun-baked butte that stood
silent and drowsy beyond the Sante Fe tracks.
Tom Poole, the lank marshal, loafed as usual about the Elite Amusement
Parlor, over which hung a sullen quiet reflecting the morbid emotions of
Mike Sabota, its brutish-built proprietor, resulting from his heavy
losses on Thunderbolt in the two-mile sweepstakes when the Gold Dust
maverick, ridden by the drug-crazed Ramblin' Kid, darted under the wire
lengths ahead of the black Vermejo stallion.
Friday evening Old Heck had met Dorsey in the pool-room.
Judge Ivory handed over to the owner of the Quarter Circle KT the Y-Bar
cattleman's check for ten thousand dollars and the bill of sale he had
recklessly given and which transferred to Old Heck all the cattle the
Vermejo rancher owned.
Dorsey was game.
"You put it on me," he said to Old Heck "but the Ramblin' Kid won square
and I'm not squealing!"
Old Heck turned the check slowly over in his hand and looked at it with
a quizzical frown on his face:
"I reckon this is good?"
"It's my exact balance," Dorsey replied; "I saw to that this morning."
For a long minute Old Heck studied the bill of sale that made him owner
of every cow-brute burnt with the Y-Bar brand.
"My men will gather the cattle within fifteen days," Dorsey said dully,
noting the half-questioning look on Old Heck's face, "or you can send
your own crew, just as you please. I suppose you'll meet me half-way and
receive the stock in Eagle Butte?"
"Can Thunderbolt run?" Old Heck asked irrelevantly.
"Not as fast as that imp of hell of the Ramblin' Kid's!" Dorsey answered
instantly and with a short laugh.
Old Heck chuckled.
"You say you'll turn the Y-Bar cattle over to me within fifteen days?"
he asked again, reverting to a study of the paper he held in his hand.
"Yes," Dorsey replied; "is that satisfactory?"
"You're a pretty good sport, after all, Dorsey," Old Heck said quietly.
"I'll cash this check"—glancing at the yellow slip of paper—"and this
thing, here—we'll just tear it up!" as he reduced the bill of sale to
fragments. "Keep your cattle, Dorsey," he added, "ten thousand dollars
is enough for you to pay for your lesson!"
Dorsey flushed a dull red.
"I ain't asking—"
"I know you're not," Old Heck interrupted, "and that's the reason I tore
up that bill of sale!"
"Old Heck," Dorsey said, his voice trembling, "you're white! I'd like to
The rival cattlemen gripped hands and the racing feud between the
Quarter Circle KT and the Y-Bar was ended.
A week later Dorsey sent Flip Williams to the Quarter Circle KT. The
Vermejo cowboy led the beautiful black stallion that had mastered
Quicksilver and had in turn been whipped by the Gold Dust maverick.
"Dorsey said, Tell Old Heck Thunderbolt's a pretty good saddle horse,'"
Flip explained, "'and he'd do to change off with Quicksilver once in a
while! So he sent him over as a sort of keepsake!'"
The Ramblin' Kid did not return to the Quarter Circle KT until late
Sunday night. After the two-mile sweepstakes he was horribly ill. All
Friday night he laid, in a semi-conscious condition, in the stall with
Captain Jack and the Gold Dust maverick.
Parker and some of the cowboys visited the stall after the race, but
they thought the Ramblin' Kid was drunk and the best thing was to allow
him to sleep it off.
"I can't figure it out," Chuck said as they turned away, "he never did
get drunk before that I knew of—"
"You can't tell what he's liable to do," Charley interrupted, "he sure
took an awful chance getting on a tear at the time he did!"
"Well, he won the race," Parker said admiringly, "drunk or sober, you've
got to give him credit for that!"
Saturday the Ramblin' Kid got Pedro to stay with the horses while he
went over to the Elite Amusement Parlor. He had nothing to say to Sabota
or any of the loafers in the place.
He was looking for Gyp Streetor.
Until Sunday afternoon he searched Eagle Butte, trying to find the tout.
All he wanted was to locate the man who had sold him that cup of
coffee—he could remember drinking the coffee; after that until the
following morning all was hazy.
But Gyp was gone.
When the Gold Dust maverick, with the Ramblin' Kid swaying uncertainly
on her back, had appeared on the track for the two-mile run, the tout,
his eyes like those of a harried rat, sneaked out of the crowd in front
of the book-makers' booths and hurried toward the Santa Fe railroad
yards. An hour later he slipped into an empty freight car—part of a
train headed for the West—and Eagle Butte saw him no more.
It was midnight Sunday when the Ramblin' Kid reached the Quarter Circle
KT, turned Captain Jack and the outlaw filly into the circular corral,
and without disturbing Old Heck, Parker, or the cowboys, already asleep
in the bunk-house, sought his bed.
Monday morning he was at breakfast with the others.
Throughout the meal the Ramblin' Kid was silent. Carolyn June, still
shocked by what she thought was his intoxication the day of the race,
and believing he had remained in Eagle Butte over Saturday night and
Sunday to continue the debauch, ignored him.
None of the others cared to question him and the Ramblin' Kid himself
volunteered no information.
Once only, Old Heck mentioned the race.
"That was a pretty good ride you made in the two-mile event," he said,
addressing the Ramblin' Kid; "it looked at first like the filly—"
"You won your money, didn't you?" the Ramblin' Kid interrupted in a tone
that plainly meant there was nothing further to be said.
That was the only reference to the incidents of Friday afternoon.
After breakfast the Ramblin' Kid saddled the Gold Dust maverick, turned
Captain Jack with the cavallard, and with Parker and the other Quarter
Circle KT cowboys rode away to help gather the beef cattle from the west
half of the Cimarron range.
The week that followed passed quickly.
During the entire period the Kiowa lay under a mantle of sunshine by day
and starlit skies by night.
Carolyn June once more provided the evening dessert of coffee-jelly and
Skinny finished teaching her the art of dipping bread in milk and egg
batter, frying it in hot butter, and calling the result "French toast"
Skinny again put on the white shirt and the shamrock tinted tie. He had
not dared to wear what Chuck called his "love-making rigging" during the
week of the Rodeo. It would have made him entirely too conspicuous among
the hundreds of other cowboys gathered at Eagle Butte for the big
celebration. Situations filled with embarrassment would have been almost
certain to develop.
"It's getting so it needs a washing a little," Skinny remarked to
Carolyn June the first time he reappeared in the once snowy garment.
He was quite right.
Carolyn June herself had noticed that the shirt had lost some of its
"It doesn't look hardly as white as it did at first!"
"No, it don't," Skinny answered seriously. "I guess I'll wash it
to-morrow. I never did wash one but I reckon it ain't so awful hard to
"I'll help you," Carolyn June volunteered. "I've never washed one
either, but it will be fun to learn how!"
The next day they washed the shirt.
The ceremony was performed in the kitchen after they had finished doing
the breakfast dishes. Ophelia, after water for a vase of roses, came
into the room while Skinny was rinsing the shirt in the large tin
The garment was a sickly yellow.
"Darned if I know what's wrong with it," Skinny said, a trifle
discouraged, while Carolyn June, her sleeves rolled above dimpled
elbows, stood by and watched the slushy operation. "Carolyn June and me
both have blamed near rubbed our fingers off trying to get it to look
right again but somehow or other it don't seem to work."
"Did you put bluing in your rinse water?" Ophelia asked with a laugh.
"Bluing?" Carolyn June and Skinny questioned together. "What does that
do to it?"
"Bleaches it—makes it white," the widow replied with another laugh as
she returned to the front room.
"By golly, maybe that's what it needs!" Skinny exclaimed hopefully.
"Of course," Carolyn June cried gaily. "How silly we were not to think
of it! Any one ought to know you put bluing in the water when you wash
things. Wonder if Sing Pete has any around anywhere?"
They searched the kitchen shelves and found a pint bottle, nearly full,
of the liquid indigo compound.
"How much do you suppose we ought to put in?" Carolyn June asked,
pulling the cork from the bottle and holding it poised over the pan of
water in which the shirt, a slimy, dingy mass, floated drunkenly.
"Darned if I know," Skinny said, scratching his head. "She said it would
make it white—I reckon the more you put in the whiter the blamed
thing'll be. Try about half of it at first and see how 'it works!"
"Gee, isn't it pretty?" Carolyn June gurgled as she tipped the bottle
and the waves of indigo spread through the water, covering the shirt
with a deep crystalline blue.
"You bet!" Skinny exclaimed. "That ought to fix it!"
The shirt, when finally dried, was a wonderful thing—done in a sort of
mottled, streaky, marbled sky and cloud effect.
But Skinny wore it, declaring he liked it better—that it more nearly
matched the shamrock tie—than when it was "too darned white and
To Parker and the boys on the beef hunt everything was business.
The days were filled with hard riding as they gathered the cattle,
bunched the fat animals, cut out and turned back those unfit for the
market, stood guard at night over the herd, steadily and rapidly cleaned
the west half of the Kiowa range of the stuff that was ready to sell.
It was supper-time on one of the last days of the round-up.
The outfit was camped at Dry Buck. Bed rolls, wrapped in dingy gray
tarpaulins or black rubber ponchos, were scattered about marking the
places where each cowboy that night would sleep. The herd was bunched a
quarter of a mile away in a little cove backed by the rim of sand-hills.
Captain Jack and Silver Tip, riderless but with their saddles still on,
were nipping the grass near the camp—the Ramblin' Kid and Chuck were to
take the first watch, until midnight, at "guard mount." Parker and the
cowboys were squatted, legs doubled under them, their knees forming a
table on which to hold the white porcelain plate of "mulligan," in a
circle at the back of the grub-wagon. Sing Pete trotted around the group
and poured black, blistering-hot coffee into the unbreakable cups on the
ground at the side of the hungry, dusty riders.
The sun had just dipped into the ragged peaks of the Costejo range and a
reddish-purple crown lay on the crest of Sentinel Mountain forty miles
to the southeast.
"It looks to me like Parker's sort of losing out," Chuck suddenly
remarked, as he wiped his lips on the back of his hand after washing
down a mouthful of the savory stew with gulps of steaming coffee.
"Ophelia stuck closer than thunder to Old Heck all through the Rodeo."
Parker reddened and growled: "Aw, hell—don't start that up again!"
"By criminy, she didn't stick any closer to Old Heck than Skinny stuck
to Carolyn June," Bert complained. "Nobody else had a look-in!"
"Skinny's sure earning his money," Charley muttered half enviously.
"Bet he's got on that white shirt and having a high old time right now!
They're probably in the front room and she's playing La Paloma on the
piano while Old Skinny's setting back rolling his eyes up like a bloated
yearling!" Chuck laughed.
"And Old Heck and Ophelia are out on the porch holding hands and looking
affectionate while the mosquitos are chewing their necks and ankles!"
Bert added with a snicker.
"Her and Old Heck'll probably be married before we get back," Chuck said
solemnly, with a wink at the Ramblin' Kid and a sly glance in the
direction of Parker.
"Do you reckon there's any danger of it?" Parker asked in a voice that
showed anxiety, but not of the sort the cowboys thought.
"They're darned near sure to," Chuck replied seriously, heaving what he
tried to make resemble a sigh of sympathy.
"What makes you think so?" Parker questioned, seeking confirmation from
the lips of other, of a hope that had been rising in his heart since the
first moment he had begun to regret his rash proposal of marriage to the
"Well, for one thing"—Chuck began soberly—"the way they'd look at each
"I saw her squeeze Old Heck's arm once!" Bert interrupted.
"Aw, she's done that lots of times," Chuck said airily; "that ain't
nothing special! But the worst indication was them flowers she wore on
her bosom every day—Old Heck bought 'em!" he finished dramatically,
leaning over and speaking tensely as though it pained him immeasurably
to break the news to Parker while he fixed on Old Heck's rival a look he
imagined was one of supreme pity.
"Yeah, he had them sent up from Las Vegas," Bert added, picking up the
cue and lying glibly. "I saw the express agent deliver a box of them to
him one day. There was four dollars and eighty cents charges on 'em!"
A gleam, which the cowboys misunderstood, came into Parker's eyes.
"Why don't you and Old Heck fight a duel about Ophelia?" Bert suggested
tragically and in a voice that was aimed to convey sympathy to the
Quarter Circle KT foreman. "You could probably kill him!"
"Sure, that's the way they do in books," Chuck urged.
"Yes," the Ramblin' Kid broke in with a slow drawl, "fight one with
sour-dough biscuits at a hundred yards! That'd be sensible—then both of
you'd be genuine heroes!"
"Gosh, th' Ramblin' Kid's awake!" Bert laughed. "How does it happen you
ain't fell in love with Carolyn June?" he asked, turning toward the
slender, dark-eyed, young cowboy. "So far you're the only one that's
escaped. The rest of us are breaking our hearts—"
For an instant the Ramblin' Kid flashed on Bert a look of hot anger
while a dull red glow spread over his sun-tanned cheeks.
"There's enough damned fools loose on th' Kiowa range without me bein'
one, too!" he retorted slowly, getting up and going toward Captain Jack.
"Blamed if he'll stand a bit of joshing on that subject!" Bert
muttered, his own face flushing from the look the Ramblin' Kid had
"Not a darned bit," Chuck added, "but it is funny; the way he shys off
from Carolyn June!"
"Th' Ramblin' Kid ain't interested in women," Charley said, as they
pitched their plates to one side and the meal was finished. "He ain't
the kind that bothers with females!"
When Chuck had idly suggested that Old Heck and Ophelia might be married
before Parker and the Quarter Circle KT cowboys returned to the ranch
from the beef hunt, he did not know it, but the words he spoke in jest
voiced the very thought at the same instant in the mind of Old
Heck—miles away though he was. Perhaps it was mental telepathy, thought
vibration, subconscious soul communication—or a mere coincident, that
caused Chuck, far out on the open range, to speak the thing Old Heck,
sitting at supper with Carolyn June, Ophelia and Skinny, at the Quarter
Circle KT was thinking.
Ever since Parker had voluntarily surrendered during the Rodeo, his
right to alternate, day and day about, with Old Heck in the widow's
society, the owner of the Quarter Circle KT had been watching Ophelia,
covertly and carefully, for any sign of "Movements" or an outbreak as a
While he watched her the widow was becoming more and more a necessity in
the life of Old Heck.
The night of the conversation between Parker and the cowboys, away over
at Rock Creek, Old Heck sat at the supper table in the kitchen at the
ranch and debated in his mind the future relationships of Parker,
Ophelia and himself. In a few days Parker would return. Almost certainly
the foreman would again wish to share, fifty-fifty, in the courtship of
the widow. Old Heck felt that if such were so those odd days, when
Parker was with Ophelia, would be little less than hell. Yet, he dreaded
that suffragette business. If she would only break loose and let him see
how bad she was liable to be he could easily make up his mind. He was
almost ready to take a chance, to ask Ophelia to marry him and settle it
all at once.
Throughout the meal he was moody. After supper he had little to say and
the next few days he brooded constantly over the matter.
Tuesday Parker and the cowboys were expected to return with the beef
cattle. Monday morning, at breakfast, the widow asked Old Heck if he
would take her to Eagle Butte that day.
"I must see the minister's wife," she said, as Old Heck steered the
Clagstone "Six" up the grade that led out to the bench and to Eagle
Butte, "—it is very important"
Old Heck murmured assent and drove silently on. Probably she was going
to start a "Movement" or something to-day! To-morrow, Parker would be
back. It sure did put a man in a dickens of a fix!
Before they reached the long bridge across the Cimarron a mile from
Eagle Butte Old Heck's mind was made up.
"You want to stop at the preacher's house?" he asked.
"If you please," Ophelia replied, "for some little time. There are
things to discuss—"
"Would you mind if I drove around to the court-house first?" Old Heck
"Not at all," she answered sweetly.
A few moments later Old Heck stopped the Clagstone "Six" in front of the
yellow sandstone county building. Leaving Ophelia in the car with the
remark, "I'll be out in a minute!" he went inside and hurried along the
dark corridor that led to the clerk's office.
A SHAME TO WASTE IT
In Old Heck's eyes was a set, determined look when he came out of the
court-house and stepped up to the Clagstone "Six" in which he had left
Ophelia a few moments before. The end of a long yellow envelope
protruded from the side pocket of his coat. His face was flushed and his
hand trembled slightly as he opened the door of the car and climbed into
the front seat beside the widow. He pressed his foot on the "starter,"
threw the clutch into gear and turning the car about drove slowly toward
the home of Reverend Hector R. Patterson, Eagle Butte's only resident
He did not speak until the car stopped at the gate of the little
unpainted parsonage beside the white, weather-boarded church.
"Wait a minute," he said as Ophelia started to get out of the Clagstone
"Six," "maybe I'll go in with you!"
"Splendid," the widow replied, settling again against the cushions. "I'd
be delighted to have you come along and I'm sure Mr. and Mrs. Patterson
would be glad to see you!"
"Well, it—it"—Old Heck stammered, not knowing how to begin what he
wanted to say—"it—it all depends on you! Here"—he said abruptly as a
bright thought came to him—"read that and—and—tell me what you think
about it!" at the same time pulling the yellow envelope from his pocket
and handing it to Ophelia.
With a questioning lift of her eyebrows the widow drew the folded,
official-looking document from the envelope.
"Why, it's a—it's a—" she started to say and stopped confused, her
cheeks blazing crimson.
"It's a marriage license—" Old Heck said, coming to her rescue, "—made
out for you and me. I—I—didn't know what to tell the clerk when he
asked me how old you was—so I just guessed at it!"
The widow looked shyly down at the names written on the document.
The license granted "Ophelia Cobb, age twenty-three, of Hartville,
Connecticut, and Josiah Alonzo Heck, age forty-eight, of Kiowa County,
Texas," the right to marry.
Ophelia's actual years were thirty-nine!
From under drooping lashes she glanced up suspiciously into the earnest
gray eyes beside her. She saw that Old Heck had been sincere in his
"I know it's kind of unexpected," Old Heck interrupted nervously,
"—perhaps I had ought to have said something about it first, but, well,
I figured I'd go on and get the license and show that my intentions was
good and—and—sort of risk the whole thing on one throw! It always
seemed like there was something missing at the Quarter Circle KT," he
went on, his voice grown softer and trembling a bit, "and—and when you
came I—I—found out what it was—"
Ophelia sat silently with downcast eyes, her pulse racing, the license
unfolded on her lap, while she bit uncertainly at the tip of the finger
of her glove.
"I—I—know I ain't very good-looking or—or—anything," Old Heck
continued, "but I thought maybe you—you—liked me a little—enough
anyhow to get married—that is if you—. Oh-h—thunder, Ophelia!" he
exclaimed in despair, feeling that he was hopelessly floundering,
"I—I—love you! Please let's use that license! Let's use it right away
—to-day—and get it over with!" he urged as the widow still hesitated.
"But—I—I'm not suitably dressed—" she stammered.
"I think that dress you've got on is the prettiest goods I ever saw in
my life," he interrupted, looking adoringly at the clinging summer
fabric caressing Ophelia's shapely form, "I always did think it would be
awful appropriate for us to—to—get married in!" he finished
"But—Carolyn June and—and—Parker—" Ophelia murmured.
At the mention of Parker, Old Heck started while a look of anguish came
into his eyes. So she loved Parker! That was why she was so backward, he
thought. Well, the Quarter Circle KT foreman was a little
better-looking, maybe, and some younger! He couldn't blame her.
His head dropped. For a moment Old Heck was silent, a dull, sickening
hurt gripping his heart. A deep sigh escaped from his lips. He reached
over and picked up the license.
"I—I—guess I made a mistake," he said numbly. "We'll just—just—tear
this thing up and forget about it!"
Ophelia looked demurely up at him, her mouth twitching. One small gloved
hand slipped over and rested on the strong brown fingers that held the
license. Roses flamed over the full round throat and spread their blush
to her cheeks. Her eyes were like pools of liquid blue:
"Don't tear it—it—up!" she whispered with a little laugh—a laugh that
sent the blood leaping, like fire, through Old Heck's veins, "it—it
would be a shame to waste it!"
For an instant Old Heck was dazed. He looked at her as if he could not
believe he had heard aright. Suddenly a wave of undiluted happiness
swept over him.
"Ophelia!" he cried huskily. "Oh, Ophelia!" and the minister's three
small sons, pausing in their play in the grassless yard at the side of
the house, while they watched the beautiful car standing in front of
the parsonage gate, saw the owner of the Quarter Circle KT, in broad
daylight, on the principal residence street of Eagle Butte, before the
eyes of the whole world—if the whole world cared to look—throw his
arms around the plump lady sitting beside him and press one long,
rapturous kiss on her moist, unresisting lips!
A moment later Ophelia and Old Heck, both much embarrassed but
tremulously happy, stepped inside the door of the parsonage.
They were driving away from the minister's house—going to the
Occidental Hotel for a little all-by-their-ownselves "wedding
luncheon"—before either thought of the matter concerning which Ophelia
had desired to see the clergyman's wife.
"Gee whiz!" Old Heck exclaimed, "you forgot that consultation or
whatever it was with Mrs. Patterson to start your woman's suffrage
"To start my what?"
"Your 'woman's rights,' 'female voter's organization'—or whatever it
is!" Old Heck explained, a new-born tolerance in his voice. "I didn't
mean to interfere with your political activities—"
Ophelia threw back! her head, while a ripple of laughter trilled out
above the purr of the Clagstone "Six."
"Why, my dear—dear—Old Boy!" she cried, "I am not engaged in
'political activities,' or 'suffragette movements!' Of course," she
continued archly, "I believe women ought to be allowed to vote—if they
haven't intelligence enough for that they haven't brains enough to be
good 'pardners' with their husbands—"
"By gosh, you're right!" Old Heck agreed, "I never thought of it that
"And," she continued, "naturally I shall vote whenever the opportunity
comes, but I'm not an 'Organizer' for anything of that kind. Mrs.
Patterson and I are going to organize the wives, sisters and
sweethearts, in Eagle Butte, into a club for the study of 'Scientific
and Efficient Management of the Home!' We think we should be as
proficient in those arts—and which we believe are peculiarly womanly
functions—as the men are in the direction of the more strenuous
business affairs in which they themselves are engaged."
"So that's what you're an 'Organizer' for?" Old Heck queried while a
radiant contentment spread over his face.
"That is it," Ophelia said simply, adding with a most becoming
heightening of color, "it is so we will be—will be—better wives!"
"My Gawd!" Old Heck breathed fervently. "My Gawd! The Lord has been good
to me to-day!"
While Old Heck and Ophelia were in Eagle Butte getting married, Skinny
and Carolyn June had been riding line on the upland pasture fence. They
had just returned to the Quarter Circle KT, unsaddled their horses,
turned them into the pasture, gone to the house and stopped a moment on
the front porch to watch the glow in the west—the sun was dipping into
a thundercap over the Costejo Mountains—when the Clagstone "Six" rolled
down the grade and up to the string of poplars before the house.
"Gee, we thought you two had eloped!" Carolyn June laughed as the couple
climbed out of the car and came, rather bashfully, in at the gate. Old
Heck and Ophelia looked at each other guiltily.
"We did come darn near it!" Old Heck chuckled, plunging at once into the
task of breaking the news. "We got married—I reckon you'd call that the
next thing to eloping!"
"Got married?" Skinny and Carolyn June cried together.
"Who—who—got married?" Skinny repeated incredulously.
"Ophelia and me," Old Heck answered with a sheepish grin but proudly.
"Who else did you think we meant? We just thought," he continued by way
of explanation, "we'd go ahead and do it kind of private and save a lot
of excitement and everything!"
Carolyn June threw her arms around Ophelia and kissed her.
"Good-by, chaperon," she laughed With a half-sob in her throat,
"h—hello, 'Aunt.'" Then she strangled Old Heck with a hug that made him
"What the devil—are you trying to do—choke me?"
"Well, by thunder, Old Heck!" Skinny finally managed to ejaculate, "it
was the sensiblest thing you ever done! I—I've—been"—with a sidelong
look at Carolyn June—"kind of figuring on doing it myself!"
Carolyn June saw the expression in Skinny's eyes. A pained look came
into her own. She had known, for a long while, that sooner or later
there would have to come an understanding between this big, overgrown,
juvenile-hearted cowboy and herself. She resolved then that it should
come quickly. Further delay would be cruel to him. Besides, she was sick
of flirtations. Her disappointment in the character of the Ramblin' Kid,
her realization of his weakness, when he had gotten, as she believed,
beastly drunk at the moment so much depended on him the day of the
two-mile sweepstakes, had hurt deeply. Somehow, even his magnificent
ride and the fact that, in spite of his condition, he won the race, had
not taken the sting away. She had thought the Ramblin' Kid was
real—rough and crude, perhaps, but all man, rugged-hearted and honest.
Sometimes she wondered if the queer unexplainable antagonism between
herself and the sensitive young cowboy had not, in a measure, been
responsible for his sudden moral breaking down. The thought caused her
to lose some of that frivolity that inspired the dance and the wild
flirtations she carried on that night with all the cowboys of the
Quarter Circle KT. After all, these plain, simple-acting men of the
range were just boys grown big in God's great out-of-doors where things
are taken for what they seem to be. No wonder an artless look from
sophisticated brown eyes swept them off their feet!
She made up her mind to disillusion Skinny at once.
After supper the quartette gathered in the front room.
"Come on, Skinny," Carolyn June said with forced gaiety, "let us take a
walk. That pair of cooing doves"—with a playfully tender glance at
Ophelia and Old Heck—"wish nothing so much as to be permitted to
'goo-goo' at each other all by their little lonelies!"
Bareheaded she and Skinny strolled out the front gate and along the road
that led up to the bench. At the top of the grade they sat down, side by
side, on a large boulder that hung on the brink of the bench. The
Quarter Circle KT lay before them—restful and calm in the shadows of
early evening. The poplars along the front-yard fence stood limp in the
silent air. Across the valley the sand-hills were mellowing with the
coming softness of twilight. Up the river, to the west, beyond Eagle
Butte, a summer thunder-cloud was climbing higher and higher into the
sky. In the direction of Dry Buck, far toward the northwest, a fog of
dust was creeping along the horizon, gradually approaching the upland
pasture. Skinny saw it.
"By golly," he cried, "that's either Parker and the boys coming in with
the cattle—or else it's a band of sheep! It surely can't be
'woollys'—they never get over in there! If it's our outfit, though,
they've got through quicker than they figured!"
A few moments later the dim bulk of the "grub-wagon" appeared, miles
away, slowly crawling toward the Quarter Circle KT.
For a time Skinny and Carolyn June were silent.
Skinny's hand crept slyly across the rock and found the pink fingers of
Carolyn June. She did not draw away.
"Carolyn June," he whispered haltingly, "Carolyn June—I—Old Heck and
Ophelia have got married—let's you and—and—"
"Please, Skinny, don't say it!" she interrupted, her voice trembling.
"I—I know what you mean! It hurts me. Listen, Skinny"—she hurried on,
determined to end it quickly—"maybe you will despise me, but—I like
you, truly I do—but not that way! I don't want to grieve you—I wish
us to be just good friends—that's why I'm telling you! Let's be
friends, Skinny—just friends—we can't be any more than that—"
Skinny understood. A dull, throbbing pain tightened about his throat.
His fingers gripped Carolyn June's hand an instant and then relaxed. The
whole world seemed suddenly blank.
"Can't you—won't you—ever—ca—care?" he asked in a voice filled with
"I do care, boy," she replied softly, "I do care—but not that way! Oh,
Skinny," she exclaimed, wishing to make it as easy as possible for the
sentimental cowboy at her side, "maybe I have done wrong to let you go
ahead, but, well, I found out—I guessed the 'arrangements'—how you had
been chosen to make 'love' to me and how Parker and Uncle Josiah were to
divide Ophelia between them. Perhaps that is why I have flirted so—just
to punish you all! Truly, Skinny, I'm sorry. Please don't hate me
like—like—the Ramblin' Kid does!" she finished with a shaky little
"He—don't hate you," Skinny answered dully, "at least I don't think th'
Ramblin' Kid hates you—or anybody. And you knowed all the time that I
was getting paid to make love to you? Well, I was," he added chokingly,
"but I'd have done it for nothing if I'd had the chance!"
"Yes, Skinny," she replied, "I knew—I know—and I don't blame you!"
"I don't blame you, either," he said humbly, "it was a—a—excuse me,
Carolyn June—a damned mean trick to frame up on you and Ophelia that
way—but we didn't know what to do with you! I reckon," he continued in
the same despairing tone, "I was a blamed fool!"
For a long moment they sat silent.
"Carolyn June," Skinny finally said, a sigh of resignation breaking from
his lips, "I'll be what you said—just a good friend—I always will be
that to you! But before we start in, do you mind if I—if I—go up to
Eagle Butte and get—drunk!"
In spite of herself she laughed. But in it was a tenderness almost
"Poor disappointed, big boy," she answered and her eyes filled, "if it
will make you happy, go ahead and get—get—drunk, 'soused,' all
over—just this once!"
With only a passing pang Carolyn June was willing for Skinny to get
drunk—to do the thing she had been scarcely able to forgive in the
For an instant she wondered why.
A half-hour later Skinny and Carolyn June went silently down the grade
to the ranch house. They had gone up the hill—lovers; they
returned—"good friends"—and such they would always be.
* * * * *
It was nearly ten o'clock when Sing Pete stopped the grub-wagon at the
bunk-house; Pedro wrangled the saddle cavallard into the pasture below
the barn; Parker and the cowboys jogged their bronchos to the stable
door and the Ramblin' Kid, riding the Gold Dust maverick—Captain Jack
at her heels—rode to the circular corral, jerked the saddle from the
filly's back and turned the little roan stallion and the outlaw mare
inside the corral.
Old Heck and Skinny heard the commotion and went out to where Parker and
the cowboys were unsaddling their horses.
"Well, you got through, did you?" Old Hack questioned casually.
"Yes," Parker replied, "we've got the beef critters in I guess—they're
in the upland pasture. There are seven hundred and ninety, I think it
is, that'll do for the market."
"That's pretty good," Old Heck answered with satisfaction. "We'll push
them right on into Eagle Butte to-morrow or next day and ship them. The
cars will be in to-night, the agent said. I'm sending them to Chicago
this time. I'd like to see you, private, a minute, Parker!" he finished
"What do you want?" Parker asked suspiciously, as he followed Old Heck
around the corner of the barn.
"It's about Ophelia—" Old Heck began.
Parker's heart leaped and then dropped with a sickening foreboding of
something disagreeable. The widow, he thought instantly, had told Old
Heck about that darned fool proposal of marriage and was going to insist
on him coming across and making good! There was no way out.
"I—I—reckon I'll have to do it if she's determined," Parker stuttered;
"but—aw, hell—I must have been crazy—"
"Who's determined on what?" Old Heck asked, puzzled by the queer jumble
coming from the lips of the Quarter Circle KT foreman, "and how crazy?"
"Ophelia determined on marrying me!" Parker blurted out.
"Ophelia marry you?" Old Heck exclaimed. "Marry you! She can't! Her
and me have already done it. We got married to-day—that was what I
wanted to tell you!"
Momentarily a pang of regret shot through Parker's heart. It was quickly
followed by a sense of relief.
"You—you—and Ophelia married?" he stammered.
"We sure are," Old Heck answered positively. "We done it to-day!"
Suddenly Parker determined to "cover up."
"My, lord!" he half-groaned, pretending terrible grief, "this is awful!
It—it—come so sudden—but there ain't no hard feelings, Old Heck!
I—I—wish you both joy and happiness!"
"Darned if that ain't white of you, Parker!" Old Heck exclaimed,
immensely relieved. "I won't forget it! When you and the boys take them
steers to Chicago, stay over a week or so and have a good time and count
it in on expenses!"
Parker turned his head and in the darkness winked solemnly at a yellow
star above the peak of Sentinel Mountain.
He and Old Heck started toward the house.
"Hey, you fellows!" Old Heck called, pausing and turning toward the barn
where the cowboys were putting away their saddles, "when you get through
all of you come on up to the house! Ophelia and me's married and the
bride is waiting to be congratulated!"
"Good lord," Charley gasped, "hear that, fellers? Old Heck said him and
the widow's married!"
"Gosh!" Chuck laughed, "it must have been a jolt to Parker! I bet his
heart's plumb bu'sted!"
As soon as their saddles were put away the cowboys hurried toward the
house. They met the Ramblin' Kid, crossing from the circular corral to
"Come on," Bert called to him, "Old Heck and Ophelia's gone and got
married! We're going up to the house to sympathize with the widow!"
"I ain't needed," the Ramblin' Kid answered with a careless laugh. "You
fellers can take my 'love' to th' afflicted couple!"
After the cowboys had gone to the house Skinny went and got Old Pie
Face. Stopping at the stable, he saddled the pinto and strolled over to
the bunk-house. The Ramblin' Kid was lying stretched on his bed. Skinny
rolled the white shirt carefully into a bundle and wrapped a newspaper
"What you goin' to do?" the Ramblin' Kid asked.
"I'm goin' to town!" Skinny answered shortly. "I'm going up to Eagle
Butte and get on a hell of a drunk—if I can get hold of any boot-leg
whisky—Carolyn June and me have bu'sted up on our love-making!"
"Going to get drunk, are you?" the Ramblin' Kid queried with a note of
scorn in his voice, "an' forget your sorrows?"
"Yes," Skinny retorted, "I'm going to get drunk as you was the day of
"Drunk as I was th' day of th' race?" the Ramblin' Kid repeated
quizzically. "Oh, hell, yes—now I understand—" pausing, while a smile
curled his lips.
"Yes," Skinny retorted again. "Where'd you get yours that day?"
"Never mind," was the answer. "I guess I'll go to Eagle Butte with you!
You'll need somebody to ride herd on you while you're snortin' around.
Anyhow, I feel like goin' on a tear myself—not a drunk—a man's a
darned fool that'll let any woman make a whisky barrel out of him! But I
got an itchin' for a little poker game or somethin'. Wait till I get
"Where's Skinny and th' Ramblin' Kid?" Old Heck asked after he and
Parker and the cowboys were at the house and the first flush of
embarrassment had passed.
Carolyn June thought she knew where Skinny was, but did not answer.
"I don't know what's become of Skinny," Parker said. "Th' Ramblin' Kid's
probably out mopin' somewhere. I think he's getting ready to 'ramble'
again—he's been acting plumb despondent ever since the Rodeo in Eagle
Carolyn June stepped to the door. Dimly through the darkness she saw
two riders pass up the grade that led to the bench and turn their horses
to the west, toward Eagle Butte, and ride straight into the outflung
shadow of the thunder-storm—from which now and then leaped jagged
flashes of lightning—and which was rolling from the Costejo Mountains
across the Kiowa range in the direction of the Quarter Circle KT.
Silent and with a heavy heart she turned away from the door.
THE GREEK GETS HIS
It was long after midnight when the Ramblin' Kid and Skinny rode into
Eagle Butte and the heels of Captain Jack and Old Pie Face echoed
noisily on the board floor of the livery stable as the bronchos turned
into the wide, open doorway of the barn. A drowsy voice from the
cubby-hole of an office called:
"In just a minute—I'll be out!"
"Aw, thunder," Skinny answered, "go on back to sleep, we'll find stalls
and put 'em up!"
Captain Jack and Old Pie Face cared for, Skinny and the Ramblin' Kid
stepped out into the deserted street.
Eagle Butte was sleeping.
Here and there a blaze of light from a store window invited belated
passers to covet the bargains offered within; a half-dozen incandescent
bulbs, swung on cross-wires at intervals along the street, glowed feebly
as if weary with the effort to beat back the darkness clutching at the
throat of the town; over the sidewalk in front of the Elite Amusement
Parlor an illuminated red and green sign told that Mike Sabota's place
was still open; across the porch of the Occidental Hotel and spilling
itself on the ground out in the street a stream of light guided weary
travelers to the portals of that ancient, though hospitable,
institution; from the sides of the Butte beyond the railroad tracks a
coyote yelped shrilly a jerky, wailing challenge—a dozen dogs, suddenly
aroused in different parts of the town, answered.
"Pretty dead-lookin'," the Ramblin' Kid remarked. "Let's go down to
"All right," Skinny replied, and they moved down the street.
The pool-room offered nothing of interest. A couple of traveling men,
waiting for the early morning train, were playing a listless game of
billiards at one of the tables; a pair of Jap sugar-beet workers and a
negro section hand sat half-asleep and leaned against the wall; "Red"
Jackson, Sabota's chief lieutenant, with an air of utter boredom,
lounged behind the soft-drink bar. Sabota was not there.
"What's happened to everybody?" Skinny asked; "where's Mike?"
"Everybody's got religion, I guess," Red yawned, "and gone to bed. What
do you want with Sabota?" looking suspiciously at the Ramblin' Kid;
"he's over at Vegas; won't be back till to-morrow—or to-day it is now,
I reckon—evening sometime!"
"Th' Ramblin' Kid and me have been out in the rain," Skinny said
suggestively, "and thought we might take cold—"
"Nothing doing!" Red laughed, "ain't a drop around! When Mike gets back
he'll fix you up, maybe—that's what he's gone after!"
"We'd just as well go to bed!" Skinny grumbled disgustedly to the
"I reckon," was the laconic answer.
They returned to the hotel, roused the clerk from his doze, secured a
room and retired.
It was eight o'clock when they got up.
Both went directly to the livery stable and saw that Captain Jack and
Old Pie Face were properly attended to. While at the barn Skinny took
the bundle he had wrapped in the bunk-house at the ranch from the saddle
where he had tied it.
"What's that?" the Ramblin' Kid queried.
"It's that darned shirt!" Skinny retorted. "I'm going to make Old Leon
eat it—it wasn't the size Parker asked for!"
The Ramblin' Kid laughed, but said nothing.
They returned to the hotel and had breakfast. Manilla Endora waited on
them. Before Carolyn June and Ophelia came to the Quarter Circle KT
Manilla's yellow hair and blue eyes were the flames that fanned the
affections of Skinny. He felt guilty as, sweetly as ever and without a
hint of reproach, Manilla took their orders and served them with their
ham and eggs and coffee.
After breakfast Skinny and the Ramblin' Kid explored the town.
Eagle Butte had come to life. The stores were open. Business was brisk.
The "dray" was delivering the express accumulated the night before at
the depot. Here and there a morning shopper was passing along the
street. At the post-office there was quite a crowd.
Skinny carried the shirt, wrapped in the soggy, rain-soaked newspaper.
As he and the Ramblin' Kid came near the dingy, general merchandise
establishment kept by the squint-eyed Jew from whom Parker had bought
the unfortunate garment a sudden look of cunning gleamed in the eyes of
Skinny. He laughed aloud. A box of eggs, ten or twelve dozen it
contained, was set, with other farm produce, in a display on the
sidewalk at the side of the door of the store.
"Hold on a minute," Skinny said to the Ramblin' Kid, stopping in front
of the Jew's place of business, "I got an idea—By golly," he continued
argumentatively and with apparent irrelevancy, in a loud voice, "I tell
you I'm the lightest man on my feet in Texas!" and he winked knowingly
at the Ramblin' Kid. "I can walk on eggs and never bu'st a one! I've
done it and"—as Leon came to the door—"I'll bet four-bits I can jump
in that box of eggs right there and never crack a shell!" The Ramblin'
"Aw, you're crazy," he laughed. "I don't want to win your money!"
"What's the matter?" Leon asked curiously, having heard only part of
"This locoed darn' fool thinks he can walk on them eggs an' not mash
'em!" the Ramblin' Kid laughed again. "He wants to bet me four-bits he
"Walk on them eggs and not preak them?" Leon exclaimed disdainfully.
"You ought to lock him up! He iss crazy!"
"By gosh," Skinny argued, "you don't realize how light-footed I am—I
can jump on them, I tell you, and I got money to back it up!" And he
pulled a half-dollar from his pocket.
"Put away your money, you blamed idiot—" the Ramblin' Kid began.
"I'll bet him four-bits he can't!" Leon cried, jerking a coin from his
Skinny and Leon each handed the Ramblin' Kid fifty cents.
"By thunder, I can," Skinny said, pausing, "that is, I'm willing to bet
my money on it—"
"Vhy don't you go ahead and do it, then?" Leon exclaimed. "Vat you
standing there for? Vhy don't you do it if you're so light on your
"Well, I can!" Skinny argued, still hesitating.
"Den go ahead and chump—chump I told you—into the box!" Leon shouted
Skinny jumped. The eggs crushed under the heels of his riding boots. In
an instant the box was filled with a squashy mass of whites, yolks and
broken shells. Skinny pawed around until there wasn't a whole egg left
in the box.
At the first crunch Leon laughed hilariously.
"I knowed you'd lose!" he cackled. "Giff me the money!"
"You win, Leon!" the Ramblin' Kid laughed, handing over the wager.
"Skinny wasn't as delicate on his feet as he thought he was!"
"Thunderation, that's funny!" Skinny said soberly as he stepped out of
the box; "it wouldn't work that time! Something must have slipped!"
With a grin he calmly unwrapped the one-time white shirt and with it
began to wipe the slimy mess from his boots.
"The next time you won't be so smart!" Leon cried, then paused in
consternation, his eyes riveted on the scrambled mixture in the box.
"But mine eggs!" he exclaimed, suddenly suspicious. "Who pays for the
eggs? There vas twelve dozen—they are worth seventy cents a dozen—that
is more as eight dollars. Pay me for the eggs!"
"Pay, hell!" Skinny said. "I didn't agree to furnish no eggs! You won my
fifty cents and th' Ramblin' Kid gave it to you—"
"That's right, Leon," the Ramblin' Kid chuckled, "you got th'
four-bits—that's all you won!"
"But pay me—" Leon whined.
"I'll pay you, you dirty crook!" Skinny snapped as he slapped the
soppy, egg-splattered shirt in Leon's face. "I'll pay you with that! The
next time," he added as he and the Ramblin' Kid started down the
street—"anybody asks for a size fifteen shirt don't give them a sixteen
and a half!"
The day was spent idling about town waiting for Sabota to return so
Skinny could get some whisky and drown his disappointment in love in
After supper Skinny and the Ramblin' Kid went to the picture
show—Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays were "movie nights" in Eagle
Butte—and saw a thrilling "wild-west" drama in which a band of Holstein
milk cows raced madly through an alfalfa field in a frenzied,
hair-raising stampede! When the show was over the Ramblin' Kid started
toward the livery barn.
"What you going to do?" Skinny queried.
"I was just goin' to get Captain Jack," the Ramblin' Kid replied.
"What for?" Skinny asked as they moved toward the barn. "There ain't no
hurry about getting back to the ranch. We won't be going out till
to-morrow or next day—there ain't no use getting the horses out
"I don't know," the Ramblin' Kid answered, without stopping, "I just got
a hunch to get him in case I need him. Anyhow, it won't hurt him to
stand out a while—they've been eatin' all day."
"Then I'll get Old Pie Face, too," Skinny replied.
They saddled the bronchos and rode out of the barn.
"Where'll we go?" Skinny asked.
"Reckon we'd better go back down to Sabota's," the Ramblin' Kid said as
they turned their horses in the direction of the pool-room, "if you
still insist on makin' a blamed fool of yourself an' gettin' drunk.
Maybe Mike's back by now. Anyhow, there might be a little poker game
goin' on—I saw a couple of the fellers from over on th' Purgatory come
in a while ago!"
They left Captain Jack and Pie Face standing, with bridle reins dropped,
across the street and in the broad shaft of light streaming from the
open door of the pool-room, and went into the resort.
The place was well filled. Sabota had returned, evidently with an ample
supply of the fiery stuff he called "whisky." Like vultures that
unerringly seek and find the spot where a carcass has fallen the thirsty
of Eagle Butte had gathered at the Elite Amusement Parlor.
Inside the door of the pool-room and at the left, as one entered, was a
hardwood bar eighteen or twenty feet long and over which at one time, in
the days before Eagle Butte "reformed," had been dispensed real
"tarantula juice." The back bar, with its big mirrors and other
fixtures, was as it had been when the place was a regular saloon. At the
right of the room, opposite the bar, were several round, green-topped
card tables. In the rear was the billiard and pool equipment, which
entitled the place to the name "pool-room." Just across from the farther
end of the bar and near the last card table a half-dozen hard-looking,
small-town "toughs"—creatures who loafed about Sabota's and aided him,
as occasion required, in his boot-legging operations or other
questionable enterprises—were lounging, some standing, some sitting,
watching a slow poker game going on at the last table. Cards, under the
laws of Texas, are taboo, but for some reason Sabota managed to get by
and games were allowed in his place.
The two cowboys the Ramblin' Kid had mentioned, a rancher from the
irrigated section near Eagle Butte and "Jeff" Henderson, one of Sabota's
henchmen, who was playing for the house, were sitting in at the game.
Half-way down the room at one side against the wall a mechanical player
piano was grinding out garish, hurdy-gurdy music.
"Red" Jackson was dispensing soft drinks from behind the bar.
Sabota himself, with one heel caught on the brass foot-rail, was leaning
indolently but with a lordly air against the front of the polished,
imitation mahogany counter.
He had been drinking and was in his shirt-sleeves.
As Skinny and the Ramblin' Kid stepped into the pool-room Sabota glanced
around. For an instant he eyed the Ramblin' Kid keenly while a nasty
sneer curled his lips. As they approached he turned the grin into a
hypocritical smile of welcome. The Ramblin' Kid barely noticed the Greek
and passed on to where the card game was in progress. Skinny paused and
said something in a low tone to Sabota. The two walked to the rear end
of the bar where the proprietor of the place in turn spoke to Red and
the latter furtively handed a pint bottle to the cowboy and which he
dropped into the bosom of his flannel shirt.
The Ramblin' Kid was recognized by the cowboys from the Purgatory.
"Come on and get into the game!" one of them invited, moving over.
"Yes," Henderson added, hitching his own chair to one side to make room
for another, "the cards are running like"—he paused—"like the Gold
Dust maverick for everybody but the house!" There was a laugh at the
subtle reference to the outlaw filly that had cost Sabota so much in
losses on the sweepstakes at the Rodeo.
The Greek scowled.
"In that case," the Ramblin' Kid drawled, "I reckon I'll ride 'em a few
rounds!" dropping into the chair he had dragged forward and which placed
him with his back toward the bar.
"What they costin' a stack?" he questioned, reaching to the left breast
pocket of his shirt for a roll of bills.
In the same pocket was the pink satin garter Carolyn June had lost the
morning of his first meeting with her at the circular corral.
"Five bones!" Jeff answered languidly.
"Well, give me a couple of piles," the Ramblin' Kid replied, glancing
around at the cowboy sitting at his right, who had invited him into the
game. "How's the Purgatory?"
As the bills came from the Ramblin' Kid's pocket the silver butterfly
clasp of the garter caught in the paper currency and the elastic band
was drawn out and dropped, at the side of his chair, on the floor next
The Greek and Skinny saw, at the same time, the dainty satin ribbon.
Sabota stepped quickly forward and with the toe of his shoe kicked the
garter toward the bar, where all could see it.
"Look what th' Ramblin' Kid's been carrying!" he exclaimed with a coarse
laugh. "Some size garter, that!" And guessing at random that it had
belonged to Carolyn June, he added: "Old Heck's niece must be—damned
convenient and accommodating!"
A laugh started from the lips of the crowd. It was instantly checked and
a dead silence followed as the Ramblin' Kid looked around, saw Sabota
leering down at the trinket and heard his vulgar insinuation. He slowly
pushed his chair back from the table and with eyes half-closed—the lids
tightening until there were but narrow slits through which the black
pupils burned like drops of jet—he began slowly to straighten up. Not a
sound came from his lips save the deep, regular breathing those sitting
near could hear and which was like a bellows fanning embers into a white
heat. His mouth was drawn back in a smile, almost caressing in its
softness, but a thousand times more menacing than the black scowl on the
face of the Greek.
The Ramblin' Kid's gun was at his hip, but he made no move to draw it.
Sabota watched the slender young cowboy. A look of contempt and derision
was in his eyes. The Greek was no taller, but full eighty pounds heavier
than the other. But he forgot that the other's lithe body moving with
the calm, undulating grace of a panther preparing to spring was all
clean youth, muscle and courage, unbroken by any debauchery!
"That's a hell of a thing for a man to pack," the giant bully cried
nastily, "and it's a hell of a lady that gives it to a man to pack!"
With a sneering laugh he raised his foot and brought it down on the
garter, grinding the silver clasp and the satin ribbon under the sole of
"You damned black cur!" The Rambling' Kid spoke scarcely louder than a
whisper, yet his voice echoed throughout the tense silence of the room.
"I'll put my heel in your face for that!"
Sabota threw back his head to laugh.
For a second of time the Ramblin' Kid crouched, then shot through the
air like a wire spring drawn far back and suddenly released, and with
an his hundred and forty pounds of nerve and sinew behind it his right
fist smashed the big Greek squarely on the half-open mouth, splitting
the thick lip wide and causing a red stream to spurt from the gash.
Sabota staggered back and, would have fallen had he not crashed against
the hardwood bar.
As the Greek reeled away from the garter the Ramblin' Kid stooped
quickly forward, picked up the elastic and dropped it again into his
With a roar like a mad bull Sabota rushed his slight antagonist. Lunging
forward, blind with rage, he aimed a murderous blow at the head of the
Ramblin' Kid. The cowboy ducked, but not in time to escape the wide
swing of the massive, hairy fist. The Greek's knuckles raked the side of
the Kid's face and the blood rained down his cheek from a cruel cut
under the eye. The Ramblin' Kid spun around like a top and for the
fraction of a second stood swaying uncertainly.
For a moment they faced each other, crouching, watching for an opening.
Sabota's great hands worked convulsively, eager to grasp and crush his
wiry opponent; the Ramblin' Kid, with lips curled back from white teeth,
like a pure-bred terrier circling a mastiff, bent forward, every muscle
tense as drawn copper, his eyes cold as a rattler's as he searched for a
place to strike!
The crowd in the pool-room instinctively kept far back and gave the
unequal combatants ample room.
From Sabota's lips poured a steady torrent of blasphemy. The Ramblin'
Kid made no sound as, with body swaying slowly from side to side, his
shoulders heaved with the full, heavy breaths that reached to the bottom
of his lungs.
Suddenly, like some wild beast, Sabota sprang forward. The Ramblin' Kid
met him—in mid-air—right and left jolting, almost at the same
instant, into the beefy jaws of the Greek. At the impact a claw-like
hand shot out and the gorilla fingers of the left hand of the brute-man
the Ramblin' Kid fought, closed over the throat of the cowboy. Sabota
threw his right arm around the back of his antagonist, gripping the
shoulder on the far side of his body and drew the slender form toward
him—pinning the Ramblin' Kid's left arm and hand to his side.
Skinny's hand dropped to the butt of his gun and rested there.
The Ramblin' Kid struggled desperately in the strangling grasp of the
crazed Greek. The two reeled back and forth, crashing chairs and tables
to the floor, and lunged against the bar. The Ramblin' Kid's gun fell
from its scabbard at the side of the brass foot-rail. Sabota's eyes
glared down into the face of the man he was choking to death—gleaming
with the ferocity of an animal gone mad—Awhile bloody foam spewed from
his bleeding lips. The cowboy's face was beginning to flush a terrible
purple as the breath was gradually crushed from his body.
As the Greek forced him back, bending him down and over, the Ramblin'
Kid, his eyes burning like fire while a million flashes of light seemed
to stab the darkness before them and needles darted through every fiber
of his flesh, wrenched his right arm free and gripping the back of
Sabota's shirt with his left hand to give purchase to the blow, with all
the strength left in his body, drove the knuckles of his right fist into
the left temple of the Greek.
The blow went home.
A film, like a veil drawn across the fiendish glare in them, spread over
the eyes of Sabota, his grip on the throat of the cowboy relaxed and as
a bull, struck by the hammer of the butcher, he dropped to the floor.
The Ramblin' Kid crouched, panting, over the massive bulk.
Sabota slowly opened his eyes and started to raise his battered head.
With a laugh the cowboy swung terrible right and left blows into the
Greek's face. The head dropped back.
Again the Ramblin' Kid stooped low, waiting for another sign of life
from the prostrate form.
Red Jackson slipped from behind the bar, half bent forward, moved
stealthily up behind the Ramblin' Kid; one hand drawn partly back held,
by the neck, a heavy beer bottle. Skinny saw his intention. Instantly
the Quarter Circle KT cowboy's forty-four was jerked from its holster
and the blue-steel barrel swung against the side of the bartender's
head. He pitched over in a limp heap and the bottle crushed against the
brass foot-rail, breaking into a thousand fragments. A half-dozen of
Sabota's crowd started forward. Skinny's gun whipped around in front of
"Keep back, y' sons-of-hell!" he snarled, "Sabota's gettin' what's
coming to him!"
The Greek's eyes opened. His fingers touched the butt of the Ramblin'
Kid's revolver and began to close slowly over the handle of the weapon.
"Make him quit," one of the pool-room loafers whined; "he's killed him!"
The Ramblin' Kid saw Sabota reach for the gun. He answered the speaker
and the Greek's effort to get the forty-four at the same time:
"Not yet—but now!" he cried with a low laugh and leaped with both
heels squarely on the bloody face of Sabota! There was a horrible
crunching sound as of bones and flesh being ground into pulp. The
fingers about to close on the handle of the revolver grew limp, the
Greek's head, a hideous, scarcely recognizable mass, slumped to one side
and lay perfectly still.
An instant longer the Ramblin' Kid looked at him, then reached over,
picked up his gun and slipped it into the holster at his hip.
As he straightened up, Tom Poole, the marshal, rushed into the
pool-room. He covered the Ramblin' Kid with his revolver and placed him
"You don't need to get excited, Tom!" the Ramblin' Kid laughed. "I
didn't do nothin' but kill that damned black cur layin' there! Come
on—I want to get out in th' air—I never like to stay around where dead
They moved toward the door.
Poole dropped his gun back in its scabbard and walked at the side of the
now apparently peaceful young cowboy.
At the door the marshal looked around:
"Some of you fellers get the doctor or undertaker—whichever he
needs—and take care of Sabota!" he called to the group around the body
of the Greek.
Like a flash the muzzle of the Ramblin' Kid's gun was pressed against
the side of Poole.
"Put 'em up, Tom!" he snapped, "I don't want to kill you, but I will
if I have to—I ain't goin' to rot in no jail just for stampin' a dirty
The marshal's hands shot into the air as if operated by springs.
The Ramblin' Kid, with his left hand, jerked Poole's revolver from its
holster. He backed into the street toward where Captain Jack and Old Pie
Face were standing, still with his own gun covering the officer.
"Jack!" he cried sharply, "meet me!"
The little stallion moved toward him.
With the thumb of the hand in which he held the marshal's gun the
Ramblin' Kid threw open the breech and flipped the shells on the ground.
He tossed the empty forty-four to one side, threw the reins over
Captain Jack's head and the next instant was in the saddle. The broncho
wheeled and was gone, in a dead run, toward the west.
The marshal rushed into the street and picked up his gun, jerked some
cartridges from his belt, slipped them into the cylinder and fired
quickly at the fleeing horse and rider.
The bullets whistled past the ear of the Ramblin' Kid.
He raised his own weapon, half-turned in the saddle, dropped the muzzle
of the gun forward until it pointed at the flashes spitting from the
officer's revolver. His finger started to tighten on the trigger.
"Hell," he muttered, "what's the use? Tom's just doin' what he thinks he
has to do!" and the Ramblin' Kid slipped the gun, unfired, back into its
A moment later Captain Jack whirled to the right across the Santa Fe
tracks and bearing a little to the east, in the direction of Capaline,
the dead volcano that rises out of the lavas northwest of the Quarter
Circle KT, between the Purgatory and the Cimarron, disappeared in the
black starlit night.
It is a week to the day since the fight in the Elite Amusement Parlor in
Eagle Butte. Since the Ramblin' Kid, followed by the wicked sing of the
bullets from the marshal's gun, disappeared in the darkness no word has
come from the fugitive cowboy, who beat to a pulp the burly Greek.
The Gold Dust maverick paces uneasily about in the circular corral and
the Quarter Circle KT has settled into the hum-drum routine of ranch
Parker, Charley, Chuck and Bert are gone to Chicago with the train-load
of beef cattle. Skinny bosses a gang of "picked-up" hay hands Old Heck
brought out from Eagle Butte to harvest the second cutting of alfalfa.
Pedro rides line daily on the upland pasture and Sing Pete hammers the
iron triangle morning, noon and night, announcing the regular arrival of
meal-time. The Chinaman is careful when he throws out empty
tomato-cans—turning back the tin to make it impossible for the yellow
cat again to fasten his head in one of the inviting traps, and the cook
would imperil the hope of the return of his soul to the flowery Orient
before he would put butter in the bottom of a can to entice the animal
Old Heck and Ophelia are like a pair of nesting doves and there is a new
vigor to the step of the owner of the Quarter Circle KT, a revived
interest in affairs generally; years seem to have fallen from his
Carolyn June smiles sweetly as ever at Skinny, spends much time riding
alone over the valley and hills; in her eyes there has come a more
thoughtful—often a wistful—expression.
Sabota did not die.
After the escape of the Ramblin' Kid the marshal reentered the pool-room
and had the big Greek removed to the hotel. A doctor was called and set
as well as possible the broken jaws, the crushed nose, picked out the
fragments of bone and the loosened teeth, sewed up the terrible gashes
on Sabota's face and left the bully groaning and profaning in
The night of the fight Skinny took Old Pie Face back to the barn.
The cowboy's heart was heavy with remorse. He blamed himself for all the
trouble. Had he not wanted to make a fool of himself and get drunk the
Ramblin' Kid would not have come to Eagle Butte, the fight would not
have occurred, the friend he had ridden with through storm and
sunshine—whom he had stood "night guard" and fought mad stampedes into
"the mill"—would not now be an outcast sought by the hand of the law.
News of the beating the Ramblin' Kid gave Sabota traveled fast.
It was flashed over Eagle Butte that the Greek was dead.
"So th' Ramblin' Kid killed old Sabota, did he?" the hostler at the
livery barn asked Skinny as he stepped out to care for the cowboy's
horse. "What was it over? Sabota having th' Ramblin' Kid 'doped' the day
of the sweepstakes?"
Skinny looked keenly, searchingly, at the stableman.
"What do you mean—'Sabota having th' Ramblin' Kid doped?'" he asked
"Why, didn't you know?" the hostler replied. "I thought everybody
knowed. Gyp Streetor told me about it the day of the race—I used to
know Gyp when he was a kid back east. I saw him as he was beating it to
get out of town. He borrowed five dollars from me. Said Sabota hired him
to put 'knock-out' in some coffee for th' Ramblin' Kid and he reckoned
the dose wasn't big enough or something. Anyhow, it didn't hold him
under long as they thought it would and when he saw the Gold Dust
maverick show up on the track he got scared—was afraid it would leak
out or th' Ramblin' Kid would suspect him and try to 'get' him after the
race, so he ducked out of town—"
"You ain't lying about that?" Skinny asked.
"What would I want to lie about it for?" the other replied. "Wasn't
that what made th' Ramblin' Kid kill the Greek?"
"No, it was something else," Skinny answered; "but Sabota ain't dead.
He's just crunched up pretty bad—th' Ramblin' Kid jumped on him, like
Captain Jack did on that feller from the Chickasaw that tried to steal
Skinny's mind was in a whirl.
So the Ramblin' Kid was not drunk the day of the race! He was drugged—
sick—yet, in spite of everything, rode the Gold Dust maverick and beat
the black wonder-horse from the Vermejo! Lord! and they had all thought
he was on a tear!
The bottle of whisky was still in the bosom of Skinny's shirt.
He had not touched it. He felt a sudden revulsion for the vile stuff.
"Here," he said, jerking the flask from its hiding-place and handing it
to the hostler, "maybe you'd like that bottle of 'rot-gut'—I've swore
"I ain't," the stableman laughed and took it eagerly.
Skinny remained in town that night and the next day, waiting for Parker
and the Quarter Circle KT cowboys to come in with the beef cattle. They
arrived about noon. Old Heck drove in with the Clagstone "Six." Ophelia
and Carolyn June came with him. Skinny met them when Old Heck stopped
the in front of the Occidental Hotel. He told them, while they still
sat in the automobile, of the fight and the escape of the Ramblin' Kid.
"A drunken brawl!" Carolyn June thought, a wave of disgust sweeping over
"Th' Ramblin' Kid hadn't touched a drop," Skinny said, explaining the
fight and almost as if he were answering her unspoken thought. "If he'd
been drinking, I reckon Sabota would have killed him instead of his
beating the Greek blamed near to death. I know now what he used to mean
when he'd say, 'A man's a fool to put whisky in him when he's facin' a
tight squeeze!' The little devil sure needed everything he had—nerve
and head and muscle and all—for the job he tackled last night!"
Skinny didn't tell them that his hand had rested on the handle of his
own gun—determined that he, himself, would kill Sabota if the brute
succeeded in choking the Ramblin' Kid to death.
"What was the fight about?" Old Heck asked.
"A pink ribbon or something with a little silver do-funny on it—it
looked like a sleeve-holder or a garter—dropped out of th' Ramblin'
Kid's pocket and Sabota made a nasty remark about it," Skinny said.
Carolyn June caught her breath and her face flushed.
"The Greek said something about Carolyn June, I didn't just hear what,"
Skinny continued, "and then he smashed the ribbon under his foot. The
next instant th' Ramblin' Kid was trying to kill him!
"It's a pity he didn't succeed!" Old Heck exclaimed. "The damned filthy
whelp—excuse me, Ophelia, for cussing, but I just had to say It!"
"It's all right," was the laughing rejoinder, "I—I—wanted to say it
Carolyn June's eyes glowed. Her heart felt as if a weight had been
lifted from it So, the Ramblin' Kid had kept the odd souvenir, and he
"Go ahead," she whispered to Skinny; "what then?"
"I reckon that's about all," Skinny answered. "Th' Ramblin' Kid smashed
Sabota and as he staggered back, picked up the ribbon—then he didn't
quit till he thought the Greek was dead. Tom Poole arrested him, but th'
Ramblin' Kid got the drop on him and got away. He was justified in
beating Sabota up anyhow," he added, "on account of the dirty cuss
hiring a feller to 'dope' him so he couldn't ride the maverick the day
of the big race—"
"'Dope' him?" Old Heck interrupted, puzzled.
"Yes," Skinny explained, "the Greek had a feller named Gyp Streetor put
some stuff in th' Ramblin? Kid's coffee. He wasn't drunk at all—he was
just poisoned with 'knock-out!'"
"Good lord!" Old Heck exclaimed. "And he rode that race when he was
drugged! While we all thought he'd gone to pieces and was drunk!"
Carolyn June's cheeks suddenly turned pale. He cared, but he was gone!
Perhaps never to come back! It seemed as if an iron hand was clutching
at her throat!
She and Ophelia went into the hotel and Old Heck and Skinny drove the
car over to the stock-yards where the cattle were being loaded.
After Parker and the cowboys were on their way east with the steers and
before he returned to the ranch Old Heck went into the room in which
Sabota lay. The Greek's head was a mass of white bandages. His eyes
battered and swollen shut, he could not see the face of his visitor.
For a moment Old Heck looked at him, his lips parted in a smile of
contempt lightened with satisfaction.
"Well, Sabota," he said at last, "th' Ramblin' Kid didn't quite do his
duty, did he? If he had gone as far as he ought to you wouldn't be
laying there—they'd just about now be hiding your dirty carcass under
six feet of 'dobe!'"
Sabota mumbled some guttural, unintelligible reply.
"Listen, you infernal skunk," Old Heck went on coldly, "as quick as
you're able to travel you'll find Eagle Butte's a right good place to
get away from! You understand what I mean. If I catch you around, well,
I won't use no fists!" And without waiting for an answer he turned and
left the room.
The owner of the Quarter Circle KT then hunted lip the marshal of Eagle
"Tom," he said, "I reckon you'll be looking some for th' Ramblin' Kid,
after what happened last night, won't you?"
The marshal had heard of Sabota's effort to have the young cowboy
drugged the day of the race and also the immediate cause for the fight.
"Oh, I don't know as I will," he said, "unless the Greek makes some
charge or other. I don't imagine he'll do that"
"I know blamed well he won't!" Old Heck interrupted. "But how about th'
Ramblin' Kid putting his gun in your ribs—resisting an officer and so
"Putting his gun in my ribs? Resisting an officer?" the lanky Missourian
answered with a sly grin; "who said he put a gun on me—or resisted an
officer or anything? I ain't heard nothing about it!"
Two days later Sabota, with the help of "Red" Jackson, managed to get to
the Santa Fe station. He was able to travel and he did travel. Jackson
said he went to the "Border." Eagle Butte did not know or care—the
Cimarron town was through with him.
When Old Heck, Carolyn June and Ophelia returned to the Quarter Circle
KT the evening of the day following the fight, the Gold Dust maverick
whinnied lonesomely from the circular corral as the Clagstone "Six"
stopped in front of the house.
"What are we going to do with that filly?" Old Heck asked, looking at
the beautiful creature with her head above the bars of the corral gate.
"I am going to ride her!" Carolyn June said softly. "Until the Ramblin'
Kid comes back and claims her she is mine! She loves me and I can handle
"I'm afraid—" Old Heck started to protest.
"You need not be," Carolyn June interrupted, "the Gold Dust maverick and
I know each other—she understands me and I understand her—she will be
perfectly gentle with me!"
The next day Carolyn June rode the wonderful outlaw mare. It was as she
said. The filly was perfectly gentle with her. After that, every day,
the girl saddled the Gold Dust maverick and, unafraid, took long rides
* * * * *
The night the cattle were shipped Skinny had supper in Eagle Butte. He
sat alone at a small table at one side of the dining-room in the
Occidental Hotel. The cowboy was the picture of utter misery. Parker,
Charley, Chuck, Bert were gone to Chicago with steers; the Ramblin' Kid
was gone—nobody knew where; Skinny's dream about Carolyn June was
gone—she didn't love him, she just liked him; even his whisky was gone,
he had given it to the hostler at the barn; he didn't have any friends
"What's the matter, Skinny?" Manilla Endora, the yellow-haired waitress,
asked softly, as she stepped up to the table and looked down a moment at
the dejected cowboy. There was something in her voice that made Skinny
pity himself more than ever. It made him want to cry. "What's wrong?'
Manilla repeated almost tenderly.
"Everything!" Skinny blurted out, dropping his head on his arms. "The
whole blamed works is shot to pieces!"
A little smile stole over Manilla's rosy lips.
"I know what it is," she said gently, unreproachfully; "it's that girl,
Carolyn June. Yes, it is," as Skinny started to interrupt. "Oh, I don't
blame you for falling for her!" she went on. "She is nice—but, well,
Skinny-boy," her voice was a caress, "Old Heck's niece is not the sort
for you. You and her wouldn't fit at all—the way you wanted—and
anyhow, there—there—are others," coloring warmly.
Skinny looked up into the honest blue eyes.
"You ain't sore at me or anything are you, Manilla?" he asked.
"Sore?" she answered. "Of course not!"
Hope sprung again into his heart. "I—I—thought maybe you would be," he
"Forget it!" she laughed. "The old world still wobbles!"
"Manilla, you—you're a peach!" he cried.
She chuckled. "Did you hear about that dance next Saturday night after
the picture show?" she asked archly.
"No. Is there one?" with new interest in life.
"Yes," she replied, her lashes drooping demurely; "they say the music is
going to be swell."
"If I come in will you—will we—go, Manilla?" he asked eagerly.
"Poor Skinny," Manilla murmured to herself as she went to the kitchen to
get his order, "poor cuss—he can't keep from breaking his heart over
every skirt that brushes against him, but"—and she laughed
softly—"darn his ugly picture, I like him anyhow!"
After supper Skinny hurried to the Golden Rule store. It was still open.
"Give me a white shirt—number fifteen," he said to the clerk; "and be
blamed sure it's the right size—they ain't worth a cuss if they're too
A GIRL LIKE YOU
A lone rider guided his horse in the early night, among the black lavas,
on the desolate desert near Capaline, the dead volcano. He rode to the
south, in the direction of the Cimarron. Silently, steadily, like a dark
shadow, the broncho picked his way among the fields of fire-blistered
rock and held his course, unerringly, through the starlit gloom hanging
over the earth before the late moon should flash its silver disk above
the sand-hills miles to the east.
The rider was the Ramblin' Kid; the little horse—Captain Jack.
For a week, following the fight in Eagle Butte, the Ramblin' Kid had
found shelter in the hut of "Indian Jake"—a hermit Navajo who, long
ago, turned his face toward the flood of white civilization rolling over
the last pitiful remnants of his tribe and drifted far toward the land
of the rising sun. Among the scenes of desolation around the grimly cold
volcano, alone, the old Indian made his last stand, and in a rude cabin,
beside a tiny spring that seeped from under the black rock on the
mountain-side, lived in splendid isolation—silent, brooding, desiring
only to be left in peace with his few ponies, his small herd of cattle
and the memories and traditions of his people.
The Ramblin' Kid and the lonely Navajo were friends since the Ramblin'
Kid could remember.
The aged Indian's face was pitted with horrible scars—marks of the same
disease that had cost the wandering cowboy his father and left him,
years ago, an orphan, almost worshiped, because of the sacrifice his
parent had made fighting the epidemic among the tribes of the Southwest.
Often the "Young Whirlwind"—the name by which the Indians knew the
Ramblin' Kid and which old Jake himself always called the cowboy—spent
a night, sometimes days, with his stoical friend among the lavas.
To him the cabin door was always open.
As Captain Jack, followed by the bullets from the marshal's revolver,
dashed madly down the street of Eagle Butte, instinctively the Ramblin'
Kid had turned the stallion toward the hut of the old Navajo.
The fugitive cowboy believed Sabota was dead.
Naturally the law would demand vengeance, even though the brutal Greek
had deserved to die. Posses, undoubtedly, would scour the country,
searching for his slayer. The Quarter Circle KT would be watched.
There was no regret in the heart of the Ramblin' Kid. Instead he felt a
strange elation. With his fists and heels he had beaten the giant Greek
into a lifeless mass!
"'Ign'rant—savage—stupid—brute!" he muttered as Captain Jack sped
from the scene of fight; "I reckon she was pretty near right!"
At gray dawn he swung down from the back of the little stallion at the
door of the Indian's hut.
Old Jake asked no questions.
The Ramblin' Kid himself volunteered:
"Killed a man—Sabota—got to lay low, Jake—some three, four, five
days! Then I go—south—Mexico!"
"The Young Whirlwind had cause?" the Navajo grunted sententiously.
"Sure—plenty!" the Ramblin' Kid laughed, slipping his hand to his
breast pocket and caressing the pink satin garter.
"It is good," the Indian said. "The Navajo will watch!"
For seven days the Ramblin' Kid rested, securely, in the lonely hut
among the lavas and "pot-holes" of the desert. Then he saddled Captain
Jack and when the full shadow of night had settled over the desolation
about him mounted the little broncho and turned him to the south, in the
direction of the Cimarron, toward the Quarter Circle KT, where the Gold
Dust maverick waited, alone, in the corral.
Carolyn June could not sleep. The night was more than half gone and
still she sat on the front porch and watched the gradual spread of a
misty, silvery sheen over the brow of the bench and the distant peaks of
the shadowy Costejo range as the pale moon, in its last half, lifted
itself above the sand-hills at the gap through which the Cimarron
tumbled out of the valley.
Old Heck and Ophelia had retired hours ago.
The Quarter Circle KT was sleeping. From the meadows the heavy odor of
wilted alfalfa hung on the night air as the dew sprinkled the windrows
of new-cut hay.
A strange restlessness filled the heart of the girl.
Something seemed to be holding her in a tense, relentless grip. She had
no desire to seek her room. Indeed, she felt that the air of the house
would stifle her. She arose and strolled idly through the gate, past the
bunk-house where Skinny, Pedro and the hay hands snored peacefully, as
she wandered aimlessly through the slanting moonlight down to the
The Gold Dust maverick seemed to reflect the girl's own uneasy mood.
The filly moved with quick nervous strides about the corral. As Carolyn
June leaned against the bars and stretched out her hand the mare
whinnied softly, tossed her head, nosed an instant the white fingers and
trotted in a circle around the enclosure.
"What's the matter, Heart o' Gold?" Carolyn June laughed
sympathetically, "can't you either?"
In the shed at the side of the corral, on the spot where, that first
morning, the Ramblin' Kid's saddle had rested and the cowboy slept,
Carolyn June's own riding gear was lying. She glanced at the outfit For
a second she fancied she saw again the slender form stretched in the
shadow upon the ground while a pair of black inscrutable eyes looked
with unfathomable melancholy up into her own.
"Seein' things!" she laughed jerkily, with a little catch in her throat.
"I'll ride it off!"
Quickly she stepped over, picked up the saddle, bridle and blanket,
returned to the corral gate, swung it open and entered.
The Gold Dust maverick came to her, as if eager, herself, to get out
into the night.
A moment later Carolyn June was in the saddle and the mare, dancing
lightly, pranced out of the gate. She turned swiftly toward the grade
that led out to the bench and to Eagle Butte. They had almost reached
the foot of the grade, when some impulse caused Carolyn June to whirl
the filly about and gallop back past the barn and down the lane toward
As the feet of the outlaw mare splashed into the water at the lower ford
the Ramblin' Kid rode past the corner of the upland pasture fence and
stopped Captain Jack on the brink of the ridge looking down at the
crossing. Below him the river whirled in dark eddies under the
overhanging curtains of cottonwoods and willows; the Quarter Circle KT
lay in the hollow of the valley, like a faint etching of silent
restfulness; through the tops of the trees a white splash of moonlight
struck on the smooth level surface of the treacherous quicksand bar that
had drawn Old Blue down to an agonizing death and from which, scarcely a
month ago, the Ramblin' Kid had dragged Carolyn June.
This, the Ramblin' Kid believed, was his last long look at the Quarter
He would ride down to the circular corral, turn out the Gold Dust
maverick—give her again to the range and freedom—and while the
unconscious sleepers at the ranch dreamed he would pass on, silently,
toward the south and Mexico should throw about him her black arms of
For a while he sat and gazed down on the shadowy scene while his mind
throbbed with memory of the incidents of the last few weeks. He drew the
pink satin garter from his pocket, looked at it a long moment—suddenly
crushed it tightly in his hand while his eyes closed as if renouncing a
vision that had come before them—then carefully, that the dainty thing
might not be lost, replaced it in the pocket that was over his heart.
At last he swung to the ground and tightened the front cinch of his
As he pulled the leather into place the sound of nervous hoofs kicking
the gravel on the grade that led to the ridge on which he stood
shattered the silence around him. The Ramblin' Kid whirled and faced the
direction in which the approaching horse, would appear. His hand dropped
to his gun and without raising the weapon from his hip he leveled it to
cover the turn in the road a few feet away.
The waxy mane of the outlaw filly rocked into view as she sprang up and
around the turn on to the ridge.
On the maverick's back, bareheaded, her brown hair tumbled about her
neck, was Carolyn June.
Captain Jack pricked forward his ears at the sound of hoofs and as the
beautiful mare leaped around the turn and appeared above the bank of the
grade the little roan squealed a nicker of recognition. The filly sprang
forward, swerved to the side of the stallion, and with an answering
"Oh!" Carolyn June gasped, as the horses met and she saw the Ramblin'
Kid, his gun still in his hand, standing beside Captain Jack.
There was a brief, questioning silence.
"What th' hell!" he breathed.
"What the—'hell—yourself!" she laughed nervously. "Is—this—is this
"What are you doin' here—this time of night—an' on that filly?" he
asked without heeding her question.
"I'm riding that—this—filly!" Carolyn June shot back independently.
"And what are you doing here—at this time of—Oh," she added,
before he could answer, "I—I—believe my saddle's slipping!" and she
swung lightly from the back of the outlaw mare.
"That filly'll kill you," he began.
"She will not!" Carolyn June interrupted with a pout. "I—I—guess
you're not the only one, Mister 'Nighthawk,' that knows the way to the
heart of a horse! If you were just as wise about—" but she stopped, her
blush hidden as she turned her back to the rising moon.
"They was made for each other!" the Ramblin' Kid muttered to himself.
Then he spoke aloud: "I reckon you know," he said slowly, "why I'm
ridin' at night—about me killin' Sabota—I'm leavin'—"
"But Sabota isn't dead," she interrupted again. "You don't need to go
"Sabota ain't dead!" the Ramblin' Kid exclaimed. "Then I'll go back to
Eagle Butte instead of—Mexico!"
"Why?" Carolyn June asked.
"To finish th' job!" and his voice was dangerously soft.
"You can't finish it," she laughed. "He isn't in Eagle Butte! The Greek
has gone away and—well, it—it—was a good 'job'—good enough the way
you did it! I—I—don't want you 'teetotally' to kill him—clear, all
the way dead," she stammered. "The way it is you—you—won't have
"What's th' difference?" he said dully. "It's time I was ramblin'
"Listen, Ramblin' Kid," she broke in, "I—I—know all about
everything—about what started the fight—"
"You do?" looking quickly and keenly at her. "Who told you?"
"Skinny," she answered; "he saw it. Said it was a pale pink ribbon or
something with a little silver 'do-funny' on it!" she finished with a
"I—I—reckon you want it back, then?" the Ramblin' Kid said, reaching
to his left breast. "You wouldn't want—"
"Did I say I wanted it?" Carolyn June questioned naively.
"And I know," she hurried on, "about you being drugged the day of the
race! Why didn't you say you were sick? We—we—thought you were drunk!"
"Nobody asked me," he answered without interest.
"Does everybody have to—to—ask you everything?" she questioned
suggestively. "Don't you ever—ever—'ask' anybody anything yourself?"
"What are you tryin' to do?" he said almost brutally, "play with me like
you played with them other blamed idiots th' night of th' dance?"
"You're mean—" she started to say.
"Am I?" he interrupted, and spoke with sudden intenseness. "Maybe you
think I am. Maybe you think a lot of things. Maybe you think God put
them brown eyes in your face just so you could coax men, with a look out
of them, to love you an' then laugh because th' damned fools do it!"
"You're unfair!" she replied. "I was just paying the boys back the night
of the dance for—for—'framing' up on Ophelia and me the way they did!"
For a moment they looked squarely into each other's eyes. Captain Jack
and the Gold Dust maverick nosed each other over the shoulders of their
"Oh, well, it don't matter," the Ramblin' Kid finally said, wearily; "it
don't matter, you're what you are an' I reckon you can't help it!"
Carolyn June said nothing.
"I—I—was goin' to turn th' filly back to th' range," he continued in
the same emotionless voice, "but—well, you can have her—I'll trade her
to you for—for—th' thing that started th' fight. You can ride th'
maverick till you go back east—"
"I'm not going back east," she said in a hurt tone, "at least not for a
long time. Dad is going to—to—get me a stepmother! He's going to marry
some female person and he doesn't need me so I'm going to live—most of
the time—with Uncle Josiah and Ophelia! Anyhow I—I—like it out
west—or that is—I did like it—"
There was another little period of silence between them.
"Ramblin' Kid," Carolyn June spoke suddenly very softly, "Ramblin'
Kid—why—why do you hate me?"
"Me hate you?" he answered slowly. "I don't hate you—I hate myself!"
"Yourself?" with a questioning lift of her voice.
"Yes, myself!" he replied with a short, bitter laugh. "Why shouldn't
I—bein' an 'ign'rant, savage, stupid brute!'"
Carolyn June flinched as he repeated the cruel words she herself had
spoken, it seemed, now so long ago.
"You are right!" she said, after a pause, while a ripple of quivering,
mischievous laughter leaped from her lips and she laid her hand lightly
on his arm. "Oh, Ramblin' Kid, you are indeed an 'ign'rant, savage,
stupid brute!' You are 'ign'rant,'" she continued while he looked at her
with a puzzled expression in his eyes, "of the ways of a woman's heart;
you are 'savage'—in the defense of a woman's honor; you are
'stupid'—not to see that it is the man a woman wants and not the thin
social veneer; you are a 'brute'—an utter brute, Ramblin' Kid—
to—to—make a girl almost tell you—tell you—that she—she—"
The sentence was not finished.
The Ramblin' Kid caught her by both shoulders. He pushed her back—arm's
length—and held her while the clean moonlight poured down on her
upturned face and his black eyes searched her own as though to read her
An instant she was almost frightened by the agony that was in his face.
Then she opened her mouth and laughed—such a laugh as comes only from
the throat of a woman when love is having its way!
"By God!" he whispered, his voice hoarse with passion, his hot breath
fanning the brown hair on her forehead; "this has gone far enough! I'll
tell you what you want me to say—I'll say it! And it's the truth—I
love you—love you—love you! Yes!" And he shook her toward him. "Do
you hear me? I love you—love you—so much it hurts! Now laugh! Now make
fun of me! I know I'm a fool. I know where I stand! I know I don't
belong in your crowd—I ain't fit to mix with 'em! I ain't been raised
like you was raised. You don't need to tell me that! I know it already!
I know there's somethin' a man has to have besides what he gets on th'
open range among th' cattle—an' th' bronchos—an' th'
rattlesnakes—he's got to be ground in th' mill of schoolin'—of books;
he's got to be hammered into shape under th' heels of 'civilization';
he's got to be trained to jump through and roll over an' know which fork
to eat with before a girl like you—"
His hands relaxed, but before his fingers loosened their grip on her
shoulders Carolyn June's own soft palms reached up and caught the man's
sun-tanned cheeks between them. Her eyes burned back into its own. Once
more the laugh rippled from the full pulsing throat.
"Ramblin' Kid, oh, Ramblin' Kid," she murmured, while the long lashes
lifted over brown pools tenderness, "a man—my man—does not need to be
or to know all of those things, any of those things, before a girl like
He crushed her to him and stopped the words on her lips.
"My God—don't fool me—be sure you know!" he cried, his whole body
quivering with the intensity of his feelings; "don't tell me you love
me—unless you mean it! I can stand to love you—without hope—in
silence—alone! But I can't—an' I swear I wont, be lifted up to Paradise
just to be dropped again into the depths of hell! Don't say you love me
unless you know it is all love! Half love ain't love—it's a lie! An'
love ain't to play with! Don't insult God by makin' a joke of th' thing
He made an' planted in th' hearts of all Creation to hold th' Universe
"Ramblin' Kid," she whispered softly, "God himself is looking down into
He smothered her mouth with his own—they drank each other in, their
souls mingled in a mad-sense-reeling, time-defying pressure of lips!
It was their hour, as was the next and yet the one that followed that.
When the old-rose of dawn melted the gray above the sand-hills behind
them and the white moon was fading in the zenith above the Kiowa; when
the cottonwoods beside the Cimarron began to shake their leaves in the
morning breeze that tripped across the valley; when the low buildings of
the Quarter Circle KT silhouetted against the bench beyond the meadows;
when the smooth surface of the beach of quicksand under which the body
of Old Blue was hidden began to look smoother yet and still more firm,
the Ramblin' Kid and Carolyn June parted.
"I'm goin' away," he said; "I'm goin' away, Carolyn June, but I'm goin'
for another reason now. I'm goin' away an' make myself so you'll never
have a chance to be ashamed of me! I'm goin' away an' learn how to talk
without cussin' 'most every other word—I'm goin' away an' get that
polish I know; women love in men th' same as they love their own shoes
to be shiny an' their own dresses to be soft an' dainty! When I've got
that I'll come back! I ain't goin' to Mexico. I'm going to ride into
that world that you come out of an' when I'm so you'll be proud to walk
in that world with me—when I'm so you won't need to apologize for me in
Hartville or any other place, I'm comin' back an' a preacher can O.K.
th' bargain you an' me have made! Will you keep faith an' be true,
Carolyn June? Will you keep faith an' be true—? Will you be waitin'?"
"I'll be waiting," she whispered, "—and keep faith and be true!"
And he rode away into the face of the red glow rising above the
sand-hills. He rode away—to meet the morning sun—hidden yet behind the
eastern horizon—to conquer himself, to master the ways of men, in the
world that lay beyond!
Carolyn June watched him go.
Then she guided the outlaw filly down the grade, across the Cimarron and
along the lane, in the gently stirring dawn, back to the still sleeping
Quarter Circle KT. In her heart was a song; in her eyes a new light; in
her soul a great peace—on her lips, a smile. She carried in her bosom
their secret—hers and the Ramblin' Kid's—and she knew he would return,
for he would not lie.