Moving-picture machine operators were seeking advantageous locations for their outfits; pedestrians dodged, indiscriminately, high-powered automobiles and plunging bronchos; the old and the new were slapped together in an incongruous jumble in the streets of Eagle Butte.
The best range men and women of the West were gathered in the western Texas town.
New Mexico, Arizona, Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Oregon, Texas herself, were represented by their most famous riders, ropers, bull-doggers, cow-experts, and noted outlaw horses.
There were many masqueraders.
Imitation cow-people, they were, made up in fancy wild-west costumes, long-haired chaps, mammoth black sombreros, gaudy neck-cloths, silver-spangled saddles, spurs and bridles—typical moving-picture cowboys, cowgirls and rough riders. But there were, as well, hundreds of real range people. People whose business it is to work every day at the “stunts” they were, for the next five days, to play at for the pleasure of proving their skill and winning the applause of the multitude of spectators packed each day in the grandstand behind the judges’ box at the Eagle Butte Rodeo.
Every outfit in western Texas sent its most clever riders.
Indians and Mexicans, in picturesque attire, sprinkled the milling mass of humanity with a dash of rainbow color.
Dance-halls were running, fare layouts were operating, roulette wheels were spinning. For the time, with the consent of the sheriff and other reformed authorities, Eagle Butte tried hard to be as Eagle Butte was twenty—thirty—years ago.
The entire Quarter Circle KT crowd left the ranch early Tuesday morning’. Parker had surprised Old Heck, and filled his mind with misgivings, by calling him to one side after breakfast and stammering:
“I—I—reckon you’d just as well go ahead the rest of this week and—and—look after the widow by yourself—”
“What’s the matter?” Old Heck asked suspiciously; “have you found out anything dangerous about that ‘Movement’ or whatever it is Ophelia’s mixed up in?”
“No, it ain’t that,” Parker assured him, “I just thought I’d kind of—well, like to be free, to knock around at the Rodeo without being bothered with a woman or anything.”
The truth was Parker was trying to hedge. When he had got away on the beef hunt and began to figure things out he had come to doubt the wisdom of his sudden infatuation for the widow. Thinking it over, out on the open range, he was appalled by his rash, headlong falling in love. He had never married, nor had he, until Ophelia came, been even near it. Someway, the moment Carolyn June and the widow arrived at the Quarter Circle KT some sort of devil seemed to possess him. He couldn’t explain it. Maybe it had been just an impulse to get ahead of Old Heck. Whatever it was, Parker was worried. What would he do with a wife if he had one? All he wanted now was to let the thing blow over. Perhaps the widow would forget his impetuous proposal or fall in love with Old Heck.