Read CHAPTER V - A DUEL OF ENDURANCE of The Ramblin's Kid, free online book, by Earl Wayland Bowman, on ReadCentral.com.

When the storm broke over the Quarter Circle kt the Ramblin’ Kid was twenty miles away following the Gold Dust maverick. Old Heck’s surmise that he had gone in search of the outlaw filly was but half correct. It was not with the definite purpose of trying for the renegade mare that he had mounted Captain Jack and headed him toward the Narrows at the moment Carolyn June Dixon and Ophelia Cobb arrived at the ranch. Nor was it to escape meeting the women. Their coming meant nothing to the Ramblin’ Kid.

He simply wanted to be alone.

The ride with Parker and the boys to the North Springs meant talk. The Ramblin’ Kid did not want to talk. He wanted to be with his thoughts, his horse and silence.

Should he happen on to the maverick he might give her a run. Since her first appearance on the Kiowa, the Ramblin’ Kid had seen her many times. More than once, from a distance, he had watched the mare, getting a line on her habits. Sooner or later he expected to test Captain Jack’s endurance and skill against the filly’s speed and cunning. Without success other riders of the Kiowa had tried to corral the outlaw or get within roping throw of her shapely head. So far she had proved herself faster and more clever than any horse ridden against her. The Ramblin’ Kid believed Captain Jack was master of the beautiful mare, that in a battle of nerve and muscle and wind the roan stallion could run her down. Some day he would prove it.

At the Narrows the trail forked. One branch turned sharply to the right and followed a coulee out on to the divide between the Cimarron and the lower Una de Gata; the other swung toward the river, slipped into it, crossed the stream, and was lost in the sand-hills beyond.

The broncho, of his own will, at the prongs of the road wheeled up the coulee and climbed out on the level bench south of the Cimarron. A half-dozen miles away Sentinel Mountain rose abruptly out of the plain. Toward the lone butte Captain Jack turned. He knew the place. On the north slope there was a tiny spring, fenced with wire to keep the stock from trampling it into a bog; near by was a duster of piñón trees; below the seep in the narrow gorge was a thin strip of willows. It was a favorite rendezvous sought by the Ramblin’ Kid when in moods such as now possessed him. Silently he rode to the group of piñóns and dismounted.

The Ramblin’ Kid stretched himself under the trees while Captain Jack drank at the little water course. Then, with his bridle off, the broncho fed contentedly on the bunch grass along the hillside. After a time Captain Jack quit feeding and came into the shade of the piñóns. The Ramblin’ Kid, flat on his back, stared through the scant foliage of the trees into the sky overcast now with a dim haze, forerunner of the storm gathering above the Costejo peaks. Thousands of feet in the air a buzzard, merely a black speck, without motion of wings, wheeled in great, lazy, ever-widening circles.

As the sun dropped into the cloud bank in the west a band of mares and colts came from that direction and rounded a spur of Sentinel Mountain. At their heads was the most beautiful horse ever seen on the Kiowa range.

In color a coppery, almost golden, chestnut sorrel; flaxen mane and tail, verging on creamy white; short-coupled in the back and with withers that marked the runner; belly smooth and round; legs trim and neat as an antelope’s and muscled like a panther’s; head small, carried proudly erect and eyes full and wonderfully clear and brown.

“Th’ filly!” the Ramblin’ Kid breathed, “with a bunch of Tony Malush’s Anchor Bar mares and colts!”

Captain Jack saw the range horses and lifted his head.

“Psst!” the Ramblin’ Kid hissed and the neigh was stopped.

The rangers moved toward the east and over the crest of a ridge a quarter of a mile away. On the flat beyond the rise they stopped, the colts immediately teasing the mares to suck. The filly withdrew a short distance from the herd and stood alert and watchful.

For half an hour the Ramblin’ Kid studied the Gold Dust maverick.

He looked at the clouds climbing higher and higher in the west, then long and thoughtfully at Captain Jack.

“Let’s get her, Boy!” he murmured; “let’s go an’ get her!”

His mind made up, the Ramblin’ Kid slipped the bridle again on Captain Jack, removed the saddle and with the blanket wiped the sweat from the broncho’s back, smoothed the blanket, reset the saddle, carefully tightened front and rear cinches and mounting the little stallion guided him slowly down the ravine in the direction of the horses on the flat. A hundred yards away the mares and colts, alarmed by the sudden half-whinny, half-snort, from the filly, discovered the approaching horse and rider.

Instantly the wild horses crowded closely together and galloped toward the Una de Gata. Captain Jack leaped into a run, rushing them. The maverick wheeled quickly and dashed away to the south alone.

“Her pet trick!” the Ramblin’ Kid muttered as he headed Captain Jack after the nimble creature. “She absodamnedlutely will not bunch seems to know a crowd means a corral, a rope and at last a rider on her shapely back!”

For two miles it was a race. The Ramblin’ Kid held Captain Jack to a steady run a couple of hundred yards in the rear of the speeding mare. At last he pulled the stallion down to a trot. The Gold Dust maverick answered by running another fifty yards and then herself settling into the slower stride. “Like I thought,” the Ramblin’ Kid said to himself, “it’s a case of wear her out a case of seasoned old muscle against speedy young heels!”

It became a duel of endurance between Captain Jack, wiry, toughened and fully matured, with heavier muscles, and the nimble, lighter-footed Gold Dust mare.

At dark they were on the edge of the Arroyo Grande and Captain Jack had closed the distance between them until less than a hundred yards was between the heels of the filly and the head of the stallion behind her. She turned east along the arroyo, followed it a mile, seeking a crossing, then doubled straight north toward the Cimarron. Captain Jack hung to her trail like a hound. In the blackness that preceded the storm she could not lose him. With almost uncanny sureness he picked her out following, following, never giving the maverick a moment’s rest. Yet it seemed that the distance she kept ahead was measured, so alert and watchful was she always. Both were dripping with sweat. Try as he would, it seemed impossible for Captain Jack to win those few yards that would put the filly in reach of the rope the Ramblin’ Kid held ready to cast until the inky darkness made it impossible to risk a throw.

The mare splashed into the Cimarron.

A dazzling zigzag flash of lightning, the first of the storm, and the Ramblin’ Kid saw the filly struggling in the yellow wind-whipped current. A moment later and Captain Jack was swimming close behind her. On the north side of the river the mare yielded to the drive of the tempest and turned east down the stream. A rocky gorge running at right angles toward the north offered shelter from the lashing wind and rain. Up the ravine the maverick headed. A rush of muddy water down the canyon sent pursued and pursuer slipping and sliding and climbing for safety high up on the brush-covered, torrent-swept hillside. The constant blaze and tremble of lightning illumined the whole range. A wolf, terrified by the storm, seeking cover, crouched in the shelter of a black rock-cliff. The Ramblin’ Kid saw the creature. His hand instinctively slipped under his slicker and gripped the gun at his hip.

“Hell! what’s th’ use of killin’ just to kill?” he murmured. His hold on the gun relaxed. A bolt of lightning slivered the rock above the wolf; there was an acrid odor of burning hair. The next flash showed the wolf stretched dead twenty feet below the cliff. “Well, I’ll be damned!” the Ramblin’ Kid whispered as he bowed his head before the gale, “that was funny! Guess God himself figured it was time for that poor cuss to die!”

In the last quarter of the night, at the North Springs, when the storm had spent itself and the white moon looked down on a drenched and flood-washed earth, the ‘Ramblin’ Kid dropped his rope over the head of the Gold Dust maverick barely twenty feet ahead of the horse he rode conquered by the superior nerve, muscle and endurance of Captain Jack, still the greatest outlaw the Kiowa range had ever known!

The touch of the rope fired the filly to a supreme effort; she lunged forward; Captain Jack set himself for the shock he threw her cold, full length, in the soft mud; instantly the little stallion sprang forward to give the mare slack, she came to her feet, squealing piteously, and plunged desperately ahead again Captain Jack braced himself for the jar and put her down, “It’s hell, Little Girl,” the Ramblin’ Kid said with a catch in his throat; “but you’ve got to learn!” The third time the maverick tested the rope and the third time Captain Jack threw her in a helpless heap. That time when she got to her feet she stood trembling in every muscle until Captain Jack came up to her side and the Ramblin’ Kid reached out and laid his hand on the beautiful mane. She had learned. Never again would the wonderful creature tighten a rope on her neck.

Trailing the filly, the Ramblin’ Kid forced her back toward the Cimarron, into its raging flood, multiplied a hundredfold by the torrential rain of the night; side by side she and Captain Jack swam the stream, and in the gray dawn, while the Quarter Circle kt still slept, he turned the mare and Captain Jack into the circular corral. He removed the saddle from Captain Jack, took the rope from the filly’s neck, threw the horses some hay and on the dry ground under the shed by the corral, lay down and went to sleep.

For fourteen hours, without rest, the Ramblin’ Kid had ridden.

The sun was up when Sing Pete electrified the Quarter Circle kt into life and action by the jangle of the iron triangle sending out the breakfast call.

Old Heck stepped to the door of the bunk-house and looked out across the valley. The Cimarron roared sullenly beyond the meadow. The lower field was a lake of muddy water, backed up from the gorge below. He glanced toward the circular corral.

“What th’ Who left horses up last night?” he asked of the cowboys dressing sleepily inside the bunk-house.

“Nobody,” Parker answered for the group.

Skinny Rawlins came to the door. “It’s Captain Jack,” he said, “and and darned if th’ Ramblin’ Kid ain’t got the filly!”

“Aw, he couldn’t have caught her last night,” Bert Lilly said.

“Well, she’s there,” Skinny retorted, “somebody’s corraled her that’s certain!”

Hurriedly dressing, the cowboys crowded out of the bunk-house and down to the circular corral. The Gold Dust maverick leaped to the center of the enclosure as the group drew near and stood with head up, eyes flashing and nostrils quivering, a perfect picture of defiance and fear. The swim across the river had washed the mud from her mane and sides and she was as clean as if she had been brushed.

“Lord, she’s a beauty!” Chuck Slithers exclaimed.

“Sure is be hell to ride, though!” Bert commented. “Wonder where the Ramblin’ Kid is

“S-h-hh! Yonder he is,” Charley Saunders said, observing the figure under the shed, “ asleep. Come on away and let him rest!”

“Breakfast’s ready anyhow,” Old Heck added.

“And Skinny ain’t shaved or powdered his face yet ” Chuck laughed; “these lovers ought to fix themselves up better!”

“Shut up, you blamed idiot, ain’t you got no respect?” Parker said as they turned toward the house.

“Listen at Parker, he’s one of them, too,” Chuck continued; “this is his day to be a sweetheart to the widow!”

“I’d rather have Skinny’s job,” Bert said with a snicker, “I’d be afraid of Ophelia

“Why?”

“She acts too gentle to start with”

“Give her time,” Charley suggested, “she’ll bu’st loose when she gets better acquainted!”

“Her and Old Heck got pretty well introduced last night, holding hands the way they did, and

“Dry up,” Old Heck interposed with a foolish grin, “and come on to breakfast!”

Carolyn June and Ophelia were charmingly fresh and interesting in dainty blue and lavender morning gowns. A bowl of roses, plucked by Ophelia from the crimson rambler by the south window, rested in the center of the table. The cowboys saw the flowers and exchanged glances. Old Heck and Skinny blushed.

Carolyn June noticed the vacant place at her right.

“Th’ Ramblin’ Kid ain’t up yet,” Skinny volunteered.

“Then the storm did drive him to shelter, after all?” Carolyn June asked with the barest trace of contempt in her voice.

“I wouldn’t hardly say that,” Bert Lilly remarked, holding his cup for Sing Pete to fill with coffee; “ he brought in the Gold Dust maverick.”

“Yes,” Chuck said with mock gravity, “it was quite an undertaking he sprinkled salt on her tail

“How clever!” Ophelia exclaimed, looking interested, “and is that the way they catch mavericks?” stumbling over the unusual word.

“Chuck’s joking,” Parker said; “he always was foolish

“Uncle Josiah,” Carolyn June asked suddenly, “can you take Ophelia to Eagle Butte to-day?”

“I Parker can,” Old Heck answered, “if he can drive the car. Still there are probably some pretty bad washouts

Ophelia looked quickly at Old Heck, interested by the note she detected in his voice.

“I I got some work to do,” he continued, “if you could wait till to-morrow” addressing the widow “I could more than likely go myself

“I guess I can handle the car all right,” Parker said, looking significantly at Old Heck; “the roads will be dried up in a little while.”

“It’s Parker’s day anyhow and he don’t want to miss ” Chuck started to say.

“After breakfast,” Old Heck interrupted, scowling at the cowboy, “Chuck and Pedro had better both ride-line on the upper pasture. The cattle probably went against the fence in the storm last night and knocked off a lot of wire. Of course, Skinny will have to stay here,” he added, “and the rest of us, except Parker, ought to look after the fences in the east bottoms from the looks of the river this morning a lot of posts and wire must be washed out.”

“Whoever gets up the saddle horses had better catch them in the pasture corral,” Parker declared, “it won’t do to turn them in with that wild filly and Captain Jack.”

“I think I shall go see that wonderful filly,” Carolyn June said as they left the table, “she may be the particular broncho I will want to ride

“Not much,” Old Heck objected, “these outlaws ain’t exactly the kind of horses for women to fool with. You can use Old Blue. He’s gentle.”

“Did I tell you I wanted a ’gentle horse’?” Carolyn June asked with a bit of impatience.

“No, but I figured that was the kind you’d need on account of being raised back east

“Well, I am going to see the Gold Dust maverick,” Carolyn June said with emphasis, “and if she suits me I’ll I’ll ride her!”

“I’ll go with you,” Skinny offered as Carolyn June stepped from the kitchen door and started toward the circular corral.

“Never mind!” she spoke shortly, “ you can go catch ‘Old Blue’ and” with scorn in her voice “if he’s able to walk, maybe it will be safe for me to ride him to the end of the lane and back Ugh! ’Old Blue!’ The very name sounds as if he was dead!”

“Old Blue’s a good horse,” Skinny protested, “ we work him on the hay derrick

But Carolyn June was gone, walking rapidly across the open ground in the direction of the corral in which the Ramblin’ Kid had turned Captain Jack and the Gold Dust filly.

“Jumpin’ eats!” Bert exclaimed as the cowboys started toward the stable, “didn’t the young one show her teeth sudden?”

“Skinny’s going to have his hands full if he don’t look out,” Charley Saunders remarked sagely. “Still that kind ain’t as dangerous as the ones that act plumb gentle like the widow has acted so far.”

“Any female is treacherous,” Chuck observed grimly. “They’re just like cinch-binders you can’t tell when they’re going to rare up and fall over backwards!”

“I’ll bet Ophelia turns out to be a W.C.T.U. or something,” Bert predicted solemnly.

“If she does it’s all off with the Quarter Circle kt, because Parker and Old Heck are both in love already,” Charley said as they rounded the corner of the barn.

Carolyn June gave a gasp of admiration as she stepped up to the circular corral and saw the Gold Dust maverick closely.

“Oh, you beauty! You adorable beauty!” she breathed.

Captain Jack and the filly were near the fence next to the shed. Carolyn June passed in between the low building and the corral to be closer to the horses. The sky was cloudless and a wonderful liquid blue; the sun glistened on the rich, golden, brown sides of the mare and made her coat shine like delicate satin. When Captain Jack and the filly saw Carolyn June they stood for a moment as rigid as though cast in bronze, heads held high, eyes fixed curiously yet without fear on the slender girlish figure.

Captain Jack took a step forward in a half-challenging way. The maverick stood perfectly still.

“You beauty,” the girl repeated, “you wonderful golden beauty! You are going to be my horse Im going to ride you just you

“You’ll get you’re neck broke if you do!” a voice, deliberate and of peculiar softness, said behind her.

Carolyn June turned, startled, toward the shed from where the voice had come. She knew, even before she looked, that the speaker was the Ramblin’ Kid. Evidently he had just awakened. He had not risen and still lay stretched on the ground, his head resting on the saddle he had used for a pillow. Carolyn June could not help wondering how long he had been lying there studying her back. The thought confused her. In spite of her efforts at self-control a slow flush crept over her cheeks. The Ramblin’ Kid saw it and the faintest hint of a smile showed on his lips or was the suggestion of amusement in the twinkling glance of his eyes? Carolyn June could not tell. The subtlety and queerly humble impudence of it filled her with anger.

While she looked into his eyes Carolyn June appraised the physical appearance of the Ramblin’ Kid. Certainly he was not handsome, sprawling there in his rough clothing. She knew his age was somewhere near her own, perhaps he was a year, surely no more than that, older than herself. Yet there was an expression about the face that suggested much experience, a sort of settled maturity and seriousness. His mouth, Carolyn June thought, showed a trace of cruelty or was it only firmness? The teeth were good. If he stood up her own eyes would have to angle upward a trifle to look into his and if hers were brown the Ramblin’ Kid’s were positively black yes, she would say, a brutal, unfathomable black, penetrating and hard. His cheeks were smooth and almost sallow they were so dark, and she could tell there was not an ounce of flesh save tough sinewy muscle on his body. He was fully dressed except for the white weather-beaten Stetson lying beside the saddle and the chaps and spurs kicked off and tossed with the bridle and rope near by on the ground. A dark woolen shirt open at the throat, blue overalls faded and somewhat dingy, black calfskin boots on a pair of feet that could not have been larger than sixes, comprised his attire.

So this was the Ramblin’ Kid, Carolyn June thought. Someway she had pictured him a blue-eyed, yellow-haired sort of composite Skinny Rawlins, Chuck, Bert Lilly, Charley Saunders all in one and with the face of a boy in the teens!

He was different. She wondered, and almost laughed at the absurd thought, if he was bow-legged. A glance at the straight limbs stretched in repose on the ground dispelled the doubt.

The suddenness with which the Ramblin Kid had spoken and the tone he used, Carolyn June thought, was utterly unfair. She felt as if she had been ambushed. How could she know he was sleeping under the shed? Why wasnt he in the bunk-house where he belonged? Her own embarrassment made her cross. She wanted to say damn! and stamp her foot or throw something at him, lying there so completely self-possessed! Instead, she looked steadily into the eyes of the Ramblin Kid. Someway as she looked they seemed not so unkind, more sorrowful they were, on closer scrutiny, than cruel. She started to speak, her cheeks began to burn

Without a word she turned and walked rapidly toward the house.

As she moved away Carolyn June felt something snap at her knee. She did not stop. Reaching down she gathered the soft folds of the loose gown about her and hurried away from the corral.

“God!” the Ramblin’ Kid whispered as he straightened up, “she’s built like th’ Gold Dust maverick an’ just as game! They was made for each other.”

He went to the corral and leaned against the fence, studying the filly thoughtfully, while Captain Jack with a friendly whinny came and nosed at the fingers thrust through the bars. After a time the mare cautiously moved up beside the roan stallion and stretched her own velvety muzzle toward the hand the Ramblin’ Kid held out.

“You want to be loved, too, you little devil!” the Ramblin’ Kid laughed gently, “ you thought I was mean last night, didn’t you?”

For a while he fooled with the horses, then started toward the kitchen. A few steps from where Carolyn June had been standing he glanced down at a broad pink satin elastic band lying on the ground. It had been fastened with a silver butterfly clasp. The clasp was broken. The Ramblin’ Kid stooped and picked it up.

“I’ll be!” he chuckled as he fingered, almost reverently, the dainty thing, “it’s a a darned pretty little jigger!”

Smiling whimsically the Ramblin’ Kid slipped his find in his pocket and sought Sing Pete to tease him for a bite of breakfast.