“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 damned cat!”
Carolyn June knew she had hurt with her unintentionally cruel words. For an instant there was a humane impulse to temper their severity.