A DANCE AND A RIDE
Old Heck and Parker returned from Eagle Butte before noon. Parker climbed silently from the Clagstone “Six” and lifting out a new saddle went toward the stable. Old Heck carried another—a beautiful thing, artistically scrolled, the horn and stirrups silver trimmed—and laid it on the front porch as Carolyn June, Ophelia and Skinny stepped out of the big room.
“It’s yours,” he said to Carolyn June.
“Oh, you darling old uncle!” she exclaimed, throwing her arms around his neck and giving a tight squeeze while she kissed him full on the mouth.
He reddened. “I ain’t so darned old!” he laughed as he withdrew from her embrace and, glancing up, caught sight of Skinny in the immaculate shirt. “My Gawd!” he whispered under his breath.
Parker immediately saddled a horse and rode away to join the cowboys at their work. Lunches for the party had been taken with them when they left the ranch in the morning. During the trip to Eagle Butte Old Heck and his foreman had talked but little. There was a feeling of restraint between Parker and him that made each hesitate to start a conversation that would be almost certain to work around to a discussion of Ophelia—a subject uppermost in the minds of both.
At noon the Ramblin’ Kid came to the house for dinner.
He and Skinny occupied their usual places. He looked once at Skinny’s shirt, murmured softly and in a tone of infinite disgust and pity, “Hell!” then ate his food in silence. During the meal Carolyn June ignored him, but smiled tenderly and often at Skinny. Old Heck and the widow, at the far end of the table, carried on a low-voiced dialogue.
During the afternoon the Ramblin’ Kid remained away from the house. A couple of times, glancing out of the window, Carolyn June saw him at the circular corral petting and caressing Captain Jack or the Gold Dust maverick.
When Sing Pete hammered the iron triangle announcing supper Parker and the cowboys had returned, the hides from the dead steers had been unloaded and the men were ready for the meal.
As Carolyn June and Ophelia went into the kitchen they exchanged a look of understanding. Skinny lagged behind Old Heck. He dreaded the shock of the white shirt on the other cowboys. When he stepped into the room his face flamed scarlet and beads of sweat stood out on his forehead. He expected merciless, sarcastic chiding—thinly veiled but cruel. He was disappointed. The cowboys looked at him for a moment, exchanged winks, then sat silently and solemnly down to the table. The presence of the women had saved, for the time being, the suffering Skinny.
Carolyn June distributed tender words and velvety looks impartially among the younger cowboys, while Ophelia alternated sweet nothings between Parker and Old Heck, with an occasional sidelong glance at Charley that brought a heightened color to his sun-browned cheeks.