When the Ramblin’ Kid, working the rope-conquered and leg-weary Gold Dust maverick from the North Springs back to the Quarter Circle KT, crossed the Cimarron at dawn Captain Jack and the filly swam a raging, drift-burdened river. Less than twelve hours later Carolyn June and Skinny, at the lower ford, rode into a stream that again was normal. Old Blue and Pie Face splashed through water barely reaching the stirrup leathers. Only the fresh rubbish flung out on the meadows by the flood’s quick anger or lodged in the willows, still bent by the pressure of the torrent that had rushed over them and slimy with yellow sediment left on their branches and leaves, told the story of the swift rise and fall of the Cimarron the night before.
On the bluff north of the river Carolyn June and Skinny checked their horses while the girl gazed down on the panorama of green fields, narrow lanes, corrals and low buildings of the Quarter Circle KT. The sight thrilled her. On all the Kiowa range there was no more entrancing view.
“It’s kind of pretty, ain’t it?” Skinny ventured.
“Beautiful!” she breathed.
“I’d—I’d like to stand here and look at it always—if you—if you’d enjoy it!” he said and was instantly appalled by his own audacity.
Carolyn June flashed a quick look at him.
“We had better go on,” she said, then added lightly: “Does it always affect you so when you get this view of the valley?”
“No. But, well, somehow it’s different this morning—maybe it’s because you are here!” he blurted out hurriedly.
“Please,” she said, starting Old Blue toward the west along the crest of the ridge, “don’t be sentimental. I’m afraid—” she added, intending to say it would spoil their ride.
“You needn’t be, with me along!” Skinny interrupted hastily, misinterpreting her meaning.
She laughed and without explaining urged her horse forward.
Skinny followed pensively on Old Pie Face.
The Ramblin’ Kid, while going from barn to corral, glanced across the valley and saw Carolyn June and Skinny as they rode along the ridge. It was two miles from the ranch to the bluff on which they were riding, but so clear was the rain-washed air that the horses and riders were easily recognized. He watched them until they reached the corner of the upland pasture. There the roads from the lower and upper fords came together. The couple turned north along the fence and disappeared beyond the ridge.
For a mile Carolyn June and Skinny rode without speaking. He felt already a reaction from his over-boldness of a while ago and silently swore at himself for his rashness. She was not eager to resume a conversation that had threatened a painfully emotional turn. She was quite content to enjoy the fresh air of the morning, the changing scenes through which they passed and the easy motion of the horse on which she was mounted.
The bronchos pricked forward their ears at the sound of galloping hoofs.