“Blamed if he’ll stand a bit of joshing on that subject!” Bert muttered, his own face flushing front the look the Ramblin’ Kid had given him.
“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 dreaded suffragette.
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.