Carolyn June screamed and buried her face in her hands.
At the sound of the shot Captain Jack stiffened and stood rigid. The Ramblin’ Kid, his face white and drawn, sat and looked dry-eyed at the red stream oozing from the round hole just below the brow-band of the bridle on the head of the horse he had killed.
“I—I—would have wanted somebody to do it to me!” he said softly and rode to the side of the girl huddled on the ground. He dismounted and stood, without speaking, looking down at her shaking form. After a time she looked up, through eyes drenched with tears, into his face. Then as if drawn by an irresistible impulse—one she could not deny—she turned her head and looked at the spot where Old Blue had fought his last battle with the quicksands of the Cimarron. A crimson stain, already darkening, on the white surface; a few square feet of disturbed and broken sand, even now settling into the smooth, innocent-looking tranquillity that hid the death lurking in its depths; a short length of rope, one end drawn beneath the sand, the other lying in a sprawling coil; her hat resting a little distance to one side, were all that remained to tell the story of the grim tragedy of the morning. She shuddered and looked once more into the pain-filled eyes of the Ramblin’ Kid.
“We’d better be goin’,” he said quietly, “you’re wet an’ them clothes must be uncomfortable. You can ride Captain Jack!”
She stood up weak and trembling.
“I—I—thought Captain Jack was an outlaw,” she said with a faint smile. “He won’t let me ride him, will he?”
“He’ll let you,” the Ramblin’ Kid answered dully, “no woman ever has rode him—or any other man only me—but he’ll let you!”
As she approached the stallion he raised his head and looked at her with a queer mixture of curiosity and antagonism, curving his neck in a challenging way.
“Jack!” the Ramblin’ Kid spoke sharply but kindly to the horse, “be careful! It’s all right, Boy—you’re goin’ to carry double this one time!”
The broncho stood passive while the Ramblin’ Kid helped Carolyn June to his back.
“You set behind,” he said, “it’ll be easier to hold on an’ I can handle th’ horse better!”
She slipped back of the saddle and he swung up on to the little roan. With one hand Carolyn June grasped the cantle of the saddle, the other she reached up and laid on the arm of the Ramblin’ Kid—the touch sent a thrill through her body and the cowboy felt a response that made his heart quiver as they turned and rode toward the Quarter Circle KT.
For a mile neither spoke.
“I—I—am sorry for what—I said this morning,” Carolyn June whispered at last haltingly, feeling intuitively that the cruel words—“an ignorant, savage, stupid brute”—were repeating themselves in her companion’s mind.
“It’s all right,” he answered without looking around and in a voice without emotion, “it was th’ truth—” with a hopeless laugh. “I’m a damn’ fool besides!”