“And it is?”
“You and I have been ‘framed!’” was the answer spoken solemnly yet scarcely louder than a whisper, while the brown eyes of Carolyn June sparkled with a mixture of suppressed anger, merriment and indignation.
“Framed?” the widow repeated inquiringly, “just what does ‘framed’ mean, my dear?”
“Framed means,” Carolyn June replied wisely, “‘tricked,’ ‘jobbed,’ ‘jinxed,’ ‘fixed,’ or whatever it is people do to people when they scheme to do something to them without the ones to whom they are doing it knowing how it is done!”
“Exceedingly lucid, my love,” the widow laughed, “but you are so agonizingly fond of suspense—”
“Come inside,” Carolyn June said as she led the way into the house, “and in a dark corner—no, that would be too near to the walls and their proverbial ‘ears,’ in the center of the room is better—I will expose the whole diabolical plot!”
At the end of the reading table they stopped and faced each other.
“And now?” Ophelia said, expectantly.
“And now,” Carolyn June repeated, her voice low and carefully guarded. “Listen: Before Ophelia Cobb and Carolyn June Dixon ever arrived at this Quarter Circle KT their ‘lovers’ were already picked out for them—officially chosen, delegated, appointed, foreordained and everything! The ‘arrangements’ had all been made—”
“I don’t understand,” the widow said, bewildered by the rapid flow of legal-sounding words.
“Nor did I at first,” Carolyn June went on, “but I have figured it all out! I have ‘discovered’ what all this mysterious hinting about ‘arrangements,’ ‘the agreement,’ ‘Old Heck’s day,’ ‘Parker’s time,’ ‘Skinny’s job,’ and so forth means! I have studied it out. Why is Skinny Rawlins thrown into my lap as my ‘regular’ lover? It’s his ’job’—that is why! And why the day-and-day-about courting of yourself by Uncle Josiah and Parker? It is the ’agreement’—the one is to have you one day and the other the next! Before we came some such arrangement was fixed up. I am sure of it—”
“Impossible,” Ophelia protested, “preposterous!”
“Outrageous!” Carolyn June added vehemently, “but truth just the same! To start with they didn’t want us to come. That telegram lying about them all having the smallpox proved as much. We were, for some reason or other, considered ‘afflictions,’ Why, I don’t know. I guess they thought we were a pair of female vampires or something and had to be disposed of in advance to prevent our stirring things up and causing a lot of murders or suicides or duels on the Quarter Circle KT!”
“I can’t believe it,” Ophelia muttered as if stunned. “Why, that would be ‘dealing’ with us just as though we were cattle!”
“That’s it!” Carolyn June exclaimed vindictively, her auger for the moment getting the better of her sense of the ridiculous, “they ‘dealt’ in us! More than likely they played poker to decide how to divide us up—to see who should love you and which should love me! As if the heart of a woman can be made to run in a groove cut to order by the hand of any masculine—insect!” she finished, thoughtless of the incongruous metaphor.