“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 Skinny.
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 earth.
“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 the door!”
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.