Earl Wayland Bowman.

The Ramblin' Kid online

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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
any argument!"

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
corral.

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
morning!"

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
melancholy-looking cowboy.

"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
and change.

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
exhibition!"

"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
exclaimed vindictively.

"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
cow-horse.

"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
musingly.

"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
them!"

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
anybody else!"

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
house.

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
Carolyn June.

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
widow:

"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
circular corral.

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, your 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
thinking.

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!"


CHAPTER XIII


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
begin.

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
and Skinny.

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
salads.

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
Clagstone "Six."

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


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