The noise of the filly bucking inside the corral reached the ears of the dancers in the big room at the house.
“What in thunderation’s that commotion?” Old Heck exclaimed, starting up—he and Ophelia had just finished a two-step and Skinny was winding the graphophone to play his favorite, the alluring La Paloma.
There was an instant’s pause, then a rush for the door.
Carolyn June reached the porch just in time to see the Gold Dust maverick “hitting the breeze”—careering madly, wildly pitching as she ran past the opening in front of the house and up the road out on the bench. It was almost as though a phantom horse and rider had passed before her sight.
“Lord! Look at them go!” Charley cried admiringly.
At first the girl had not recognized the outlaw mare or her rider.
“Who—what—is it?” she asked Chuck, who was standing beside her.
Bert answered for Chuck. “It’s that darn-fool Ramblin’ Kid—he’s riding the Gold Dust maverick!” he said. “Ain’t that just like the blamed idiot—to go and ride that filly to-night?”
“Aw, he’s liable to do anything,” Charley commented, “he’s—”
Before the sentence was finished the beautiful mare and her apparently careless rider, with Captain Jack a hundred yards behind, disappeared over the brink of the bench and in the silence that followed the group on the porch heard only the distant thudding of hoofs beating an ever fainter tattoo through the calm, moonlit night.
Carolyn June went back into the house with conflicting emotions surging through her heart. She believed she knew why the Ramblin’ Kid had elected to ride the outlaw filly to-night. But her thoughts she kept to herself.
For an hour longer the dance continued. But not with the spirit of earlier in the evening. The interruption took something of the eagerness to punish Old Heck, Parker and the cowboys, out of the heart of Carolyn June. A bit of doubt that the role she and Ophelia were playing was worthy of true womanhood crept into her mind.
When the widow and Carolyn June were alone Ophelia laughed.
“Whew!” she exclaimed, “that was a strenuous party! I’ve danced till my feet ache! Do you think our little ‘counterplot’ was a success?”
“Entirely!” Carolyn June replied with an uncertain chuckle. “Uncle Josiah, Parker and Charley will dream dreams about you and fight duels in their sleep to-night!”
“I think the others—” the widow started to say, then pausing, finished: “Wasn’t it queer the Ramblin’ Kid decided to ride that outlaw horse to-night instead of coming to the house to dance?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Carolyn June answered indifferently.
“I guess it’s as Charley says,” Ophelia remarked: “’You can’t tell what th’ Ramblin’ Kid’s liable to do’—”
“I suppose not,” Carolyn June replied wearily as she went into her room. “Good night!”