Old Heck, riding a short distance ahead of the cowboys, was troubled with similar thoughts. He was trying to analyze his own feelings. Years without association with womankind had made him come to regard them with a measure of indifference and suspicion. He had developed the idea that women existed chiefly for the purpose of disorganizing the morale of the masculine members of the race. He was very sincere in this belief. Yet he was forced, now, to confess that he found something interesting in having a couple of attractive females at the Quarter Circle KT. The situation was not so disagreeable as he had expected. Already he was proud of his kinship to Carolyn June. She was a niece worth while. Ophelia also had proved herself a pleasant surprise. He had pictured her as a strong-minded, assertive, modernized creature who would probably discourse continuously and raspingly about the evils of smoking, profanity, poker, drinking and other natural masculine impulses. Instead, she had proved herself, so far, a perfect lady. Without doubt she was the most sensible widow he had ever met. The thought of Parker’s long, intimate ride with her to Eagle Butte made him uncomfortable. It was a darned fool arrangement—that agreement that he and his foreman were to divide time in the entertainment of Ophelia. He could have done it alone just as well as not. Anyway the dual plan was liable to cause confusion. Oh, well, Parker would be out on the beef hunt next week. By rights it ought not start for ten days yet, but—well, it wouldn’t hurt to move it up a little. He would do that. Then he remembered the frank admiration the cowboys had shown toward Carolyn June. This suggested complications in that direction.
“Thunderation!” he said aloud, “it’s a good thing we fixed it up for just Skinny to make love to her—if we hadn’t there’d have been a regular epidemic of bu’sted hearts on this blamed ranch! There wouldn’t have been a buckaroo on the place that could have kept from mooning around sentimental—unless it was th’ Ramblin’ Kid,” he added; “that blamed cuss is too independent and indifferent to fall in love with any female!”
At the barn Charley and Bert overtook Old Heck. The three unsaddled and fed their horses and started toward the house for dinner. Sing Pete had seen them coming and immediately pounded the triangle.
“Th’ Ramblin’ Kid’s gone somewhere again,” Bert observed as he noticed the Gold Dust maverick alone in the circular corral. “Captain Jack’s not with the filly—”
“Yonder th’ Ramblin’ Kid comes now,” Charley said, looking toward the north; “he’s been over to the river—what the devil kind of a combination is that?” he exclaimed as he got a better view of the horse coming up the lane. “Him and that girl both are riding Captain Jack.”
“Blamed if they ain’t,” Bert said curiously; “it’s a wonder Captain Jack’ll let them. But how does that come, anyhow? Where’s Skinny? I thought it was his job to ride herd on Carolyn June—”