It was Ophelia’s turn to register pleasurable confusion.
After supper Old Heck and the widow washed the dishes. When they were finished Ophelia went into the front room. Old Heck took a glass of water, stepped out of the kitchen door, and diligently scrubbed his teeth. While he was still at it Skinny came out with a dipper in his hand and sheepishly drawing a tooth-brush from his hip pocket faithfully imitated the actions of the other.
“I figure a man’s taking a lot of chances if he don’t keep his teeth clean and everything,” Skinny spluttered as the water splashed down his chin.
“Yes, that’s right,” Old Heck agreed, “there’s germs and so on in them!” as he flipped the water from his own brush, dried his lips on his shirtsleeve and turned back into the kitchen.
The next morning, Saturday, Old Heck came to the breakfast table again in a pensive mood.
“I was thinking about that man Dorsey,” Skinny remarked, observing Old Heck’s mental depression and attributing it to the meeting the day before in the pool-room at Eagle Butte. “Do you reckon the filly can really beat that Thunderbolt horse?”
“Of course she can,” Old Heck answered. “Th’ Ramblin’ Kid knows. All I’m afraid is that when Dorsey finds out it’s the Gold Dust maverick Thunderbolt has got to go up against he won’t bet much on it.”
“The boys ought to be in to-day,” Skinny said, abruptly switching the subject; “they figured on getting the Battle Ridge cattle gathered and in the big pasture by to-night, didn’t they?”
“Yes,” Old Heck replied, “that was what was in my mind. Parker will be—” he stopped suddenly, “butting in again” he had started to say but caught himself and finished lamely, “—probably pretty anxious to hurry through as soon as possible and get the beef animals in the upland pasture!”
“How are you going to work things when he gets back?” Skinny asked with, a significant look at Old Heck.
“Blamed if I know—” Old Heck said uncertainly, stopping before he finished the sentence. He understood what Skinny meant and just that had been worrying him. He had reached the point where he could not endure the thought of going back to the old arrangement of day and day about with Parker in the enjoyment of the widow’s society. Yet if Parker, on his return, insisted on dividing Ophelia’s time with him in conformity with their original agreement, Old Heck knew he would have to yield. He thought for a moment he would get the widow away from Skinny and Carolyn June after breakfast and make a full confession of the whole thing, ask her to marry him, and have it done with. But he had not yet been able to get at the bottom of Ophelia’s suffragette activities. What if she married him and then suddenly broke loose as a speech-maker or something for woman’s rights? It wouldn’t pay to take the risk. “It sure does keep a man guessing!” he murmured under his breath, the sweat starting to bead his forehead from the mental effort to solve the problem before him.