“What’s the matter?” Chuck said, still holding the bundle in his hand, “—ain’t it too early for lovers to bu’st up for the night? Or did the widow and Carolyn June blow out the lights on you—”
“Forget it, you danged fool!” Skinny said crossly. “Can’t you ever get over your dog-goned craziness? They was just tired and went to bed. Give me that package, it’s mine and private!” reaching for the bundle.
Chuck, with a laugh, threw it at him. It landed on the Ramblin’ Kid’s bunk where the latter was lying, his clothing still on, his eyes staring straight up while he smoked a cigarette.
“When are you going to ride the Gold Dust maverick?” Skinny asked as he picked up the package.
For a moment the Ramblin’ Kid did not answer. Then, without changing his position, replied:
“I don’t know as I’ll ever ride her. Maybe I’ll turn her loose again on th’ range.”
“What did you catch her for?” Bert queried. “Don’t you want her?”
“I caught her, ‘cause I wanted to,” the Ramblin’ Kid answered, “but that ain’t no sign I intend to keep her. Hell, what’s the use?” he finished indifferently.
“If you want to sell her,” Old Heck said, “I’ll buy her.”
“She ain’t for sale,” the Ramblin’ Kid answered shortly, “not to anybody.”
“She would be a thunderin’ sight better off if she was used.”
“Would she?” the Ramblin’ Kid questioned dully. “I ain’t so sure about that.”
“Of course she would,” Old Heck insisted, “she’d be fed regular and—”
“An’ be mauled around by some darned human!” the Ramblin’ Kid interrupted with sudden vehemence. “If I was a horse,” he continued, speaking passionately while his black eyes burned with the spirit of rebellion, “I’d rather be a short-grass cay-use nippin’ th’ scatterin’ feed on th’ north hills an’ be free to snort an’ raise hell when I blamed please than have my belly stuffed with alfalfa hay three times a day an’ have to gnaw th’ iron of some damned man’s bit in my mouth or carry his saddle on my back!”
Silence followed the outburst.
Old Heck and the cowboys knew the Ramblin’ Kid was in one of his “moods,” and experience had taught them that at such times argument was neither discreet nor safe. The thing they did not know was that his heart was torn by memory of the agony of Old Blue in the quicksand and his mind tortured by the picture of dumb suffering a bullet from his own gun had, that morning, mercifully ended.
After a time he spoke again, more quietly and with a note of weariness in his voice:
“Oh, well, I reckon I’ll keep th’ filly. In a day of two, when she gets rested up a little, I’ll ride her,”
“You ought to break her for Carolyn June,” Skinny suggested.
“Had I?” the Ramblin’ Kid said with a queer laugh—it was just the thought that was in his mind and against which he was struggling. “That’s a bright idea! Maybe I’ll study about it an’ take a notion to do it. If I do she can ride th’ maverick When you an’ her go on your honeymoon—”