“Oh, Queen of th’ Range!” he said with a low laugh, unconsciously using the poetical phrase, as he gave the warm cheek of the filly a tender parting pinch before turning away to go to the bunk-house, “we’ll whip that devil-horse of th’ Vermejo—we’ll show that Thunderbolt runner what hearts that ain’t afraid an’ nimble hoofs can do!”
THE ELITE AMUSEMENT PARLOR
An hour after breakfast, on Monday morning, Old Heck, Ophelia, Skinny and Carolyn June Were alone at the Quarter Circle KT. Parker and the cowboys were climbing out on the sand-hills north of the Cimarron, traveling in the direction of Battle Ridge, where the beef hunt was to begin.
The circular corral was empty.
The Ramblin’ Kid was riding the Gold Dust maverick. Captain Jack was with the saddle horses which Pedro, the Mexican, had wrangled on ahead of the other riders an hour before.
The filly made no effort to throw the Ramblin’ Kid on this her second riding. She seemed perfectly willing to carry the burden on her back. Carolyn June watched the beautiful mare as she stepped lightly and daintily along beside the other horses, and when the group disappeared among the rolling ridges across the river the ranch someway seemed deserted and she felt strangely alone, although Ophelia, Old Heck and Skinny were standing at her side.
Sing Pete followed the riders, jolting along in the grub-wagon, awkwardly driving, with much clucking and pidgin-English, Old Tom and Baldy hitched to the heavy, canvas-covered vehicle with its “box-kitchen” and mess-board protruding gawkily out from the rear.
Old Heck heaved a sigh of relief. There was a feeling of serene peace in his heart, now that Parker and the cowboys were safely away on the round-up. In Skinny’s heart the feeling was echoed.
For a week or more they would be able to love Ophelia and Carolyn June without the constant fear of interruption.
Only one thing troubled Old Heck. The widow had not yet exposed her hand in that suffragette movement or whatever it was. He dreaded the form in which it might, sooner or later, break out. But at that he would be glad to have it over. At present he felt as though he were sitting on the edge of a volcano, or above an unexplored blast of dynamite at the bottom of a well. Meanwhile he would have to wait and watch—and hope for the best.
The week that followed was heaven and hell, mixed together, for Old Heck and Skinny.
The women were lovely and lovable to the last degree, but cautious and tormentingly self-restrained when it came to loving. At the first intimation of dangerous sentimentality on the part of Old Heck the widow would suddenly and without an instant’s warning change the subject. When Skinny had been pensive and silent for half an hour or so and would then start, in a halting and quivering voice, to say something, Carolyn June invariably interrupted with a remark about the weather, the Gold Dust maverick, the Ramblin’ Kid, Old Heck, Sing Pete, the yellow cat, the coming Rodeo, Ophelia or something else.