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 like—!”
“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 sweepstakes to-day!”
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 grandstand.
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.