“I ain’t particular about killin’ females,” the Ramblin’ Kid objected, “besides, we ain’t got no dynamite.”
“Send them a telegram and say Old Heck’s dead and not to come,” Bert Lilly volunteered.
“Aw, you blamed idiot, they’d come anyhow then, just to attend the funeral—”
“I got an idea,” Chuck Slithers exclaimed; it’s a telegram too. Send them one C.O.D. in care of the train that will get to Eagle Butte the twenty-first and tell them we’ve all got the smallpox and we’re sorry but everybody’s dangerously sick and to please answer!”
“That might work,” Parker said; “they’d be mighty near sure not to want to catch it.”
“We’ll try it,” Old Heck agreed. “Chuck wants to ride over to Eagle Butte anyway and he can have the depot agent send it and wait for a reply.”
“Go get your horse ready, Chuck,” Parker said, “we’ll write it while you’re saddlin’ up!”
Chuck hurried to the corral while Old Heck went into the house for pencil and writing-paper. Parker and the cowboys moved in a group to the shade of the porch in front of the house.
“What’ll we tell them?” Old Heck asked, reappearing with writing materials. “Here, Parker, you write it.”
“Dear niece Carolyn June Dixon and Chaperon: Sorry, but there’s an epidemic of smallpox at the Quarter Circle KT and you can’t come. Chuck is dying with it. Old Heck’s plumb prostrated, Bert is already broke out, Pedro is starting to and Skinny Rawlins and the Ramblin’ Kid are just barely able to be up. I love you too much to want you to catch it. Please go back to Hartville and give my regards to your pa and don’t expose yourself. Answer by return telegram so I’ll know your intentions. Affectionately and absolutely your Uncle Josiah Heck,” Parker read after writing a few moments. “How’s that?”
“Sounds all right.”
“Got it ready?” Chuck called from the fence, while Silver Tip, the trim-built half-blood Hambletonian colt he was riding, reared and pranced, eager for the road and a run.
“For lord’s sake hurry up, Chuck,” Old Heck yelled as the Ramblin’ Kid handed the paper to Chuck and the cowboy whirled his horse into a gallop toward Eagle Butte. “Have the agent send it in care of whatever train they might be on and get an answer, then come back as quick as possible —waiting is agony!”
It was a long afternoon for Old Heck and the cowboys of the Quarter Circle KT. A band of colts were in the circular corral to be gentled to rope, saddle and hackamore. Old Heck sat on the top pole of the corral and moodily watched the struggle of the men and horses in the dry, dusty enclosure as one by one each young broncho was roped, saddled and ridden. Frequently he turned longing eyes toward Eagle Butte, anxious for sight of the cloud of dust from which Chuck would emerge bringing, he hoped, word that Carolyn June and Ophelia Cobb had heeded the misleading message.