Read CHAPTER XI - A DANCE AND A RIDE of The Ramblin's Kid, free online book, by Earl Wayland Bowman, on ReadCentral.com.

Old Heck and Parker returned from Eagle Butte before noon. Parker climbed silently from the Clagstone “Six” and lifting out a new saddle went toward the stable. Old Heck carried another a beautiful thing, artistically scrolled, the horn and stirrups silver trimmed and laid it on the front porch as Carolyn June, Ophelia and Skinny stepped out of the big room.

“It’s yours,” he said to Carolyn June.

“Oh, you darling old uncle!” she exclaimed, throwing her arms around his neck and giving a tight squeeze while she kissed him full on the mouth.

He reddened. “I ain’t so darned old!” he laughed as he withdrew from her embrace and, glancing up, caught sight of Skinny in the immaculate shirt. “My Gawd!” he whispered under his breath.

Parker immediately saddled a horse and rode away to join the cowboys at their work. Lunches for the party had been taken with them when they left the ranch in the morning. During the trip to Eagle Butte Old Heck and his foreman had talked but little. There was a feeling of restraint between Parker and him that made each hesitate to start a conversation that would be almost certain to work around to a discussion of Ophelia a subject uppermost in the minds of both.

At noon the Ramblin’ Kid came to the house for dinner.

He and Skinny occupied their usual places. He looked once at Skinny’s shirt, murmured softly and in a tone of infinite disgust and pity, “Hell!” then ate his food in silence. During the meal Carolyn June ignored him, but smiled tenderly and often at Skinny. Old Heck and the widow, at the far end of the table, carried on a low-voiced dialogue.

During the afternoon the Ramblin’ Kid remained away from the house. A couple of times, glancing out of the window, Carolyn June saw him at the circular corral petting and caressing Captain Jack or the Gold Dust maverick.

When Sing Pete hammered the iron triangle announcing supper Parker and the cowboys had returned, the hides from the dead steers had been unloaded and the men were ready for the meal.

As Carolyn June and Ophelia went into the kitchen they exchanged a look of understanding. Skinny lagged behind Old Heck. He dreaded the shock of the white shirt on the other cowboys. When he stepped into the room his face flamed scarlet and beads of sweat stood out on his forehead. He expected merciless, sarcastic chiding thinly veiled but cruel. He was disappointed. The cowboys looked at him for a moment, exchanged winks, then sat silently and solemnly down to the table. The presence of the women had saved, for the time being, the suffering Skinny.

Carolyn June distributed tender words and velvety looks impartially among the younger cowboys, while Ophelia alternated sweet nothings between Parker and Old Heck, with an occasional sidelong glance at Charley that brought a heightened color to his sun-browned cheeks.

Chuck sighed dolefully.

“Why so sad?” Carolyn June asked gently, looking with melting sympathy at the pensive cowboy.

“I I was just thinking of a a funeral I saw once!” he answered, gazing steadily and with pretended awe at Skinny’s white shirt. “Some colors always remind me of funerals or or weddings!” he explained.

A suppressed snicker circled the table.

“Don’t be down-hearted,” Carolyn June laughed, “it may not go that far.

“Uncle Josiah,” she added suddenly, “Ophelia and I have a wonderful surprise for you and the boys.”

Old Heck looked at her without replying while he awaited an explanation.

“We are going to give a dance!” Carolyn June went on.

“A dance?” he repeated incredulously, “when

“To-night in the front room,” she hastened to explain, “not a big dance just a little one for you and the boys. The graphophone will furnish music, there are some good one-step and waltz records Skinny and I were playing them this afternoon and every blessed cowboy on the Quarter Circle kt must be there!”

A short silence followed her words, then a chorus of “We’ll be there!” greeted her.

“In an hour,” Carolyn June said, smiling sweetly at the cowboys, as they left the kitchen, “everybody be back at the house. We’ll fix the room and have it ready don’t any one bother to ‘dress up,’” she added as an afterthought.

“Old Heck’s niece acts kind of stampedish, don’t she?” Bert remarked as Parker and the cowboys filed out of the back-yard gate toward the bunk-house.

“Yes,” Charley answered. “I’m going to shave.”

“So am I,” said Chuck, as they hurried in the direction of their sleeping quarters.

“Me, too,” laughed Bert. “Gee, didn’t Skinny shine in that shirt?” as they disappeared inside the building and there was a rush to hunt out razors, brushes and other toilet necessities or clean handkerchiefs and ties.

The Ramblin’ Kid alone seemed uninterested. He dropped down on his bed and idly watched the others prepare for the evening’s diversion.

“Ain’t you going?” Chuck asked him, noticing his indifference.

A short, half-cynical laugh with “Oh, maybe I’ll go set on the porch an’ listen to th’ music!” was the answer.

When Parker and the cowboys reappeared at the house it was plain that all had disobeyed Carolyn June’s injunction not to “dress up.” Each had paid tribute in some way, by a smooth-scraped face, a dean shirt, a tie or something, to the vanity of his own heart and the desire for the good opinion of either Carolyn June or the widow.

Both women noticed it. They exchanged glances while Carolyn June softly whispered to Ophelia: “Stir them up it’s coming to them!”

The widow smiled understandingly.

Old Heck fidgeted uncomfortably. The situation was entirely beyond his control. By right he and Ophelia ought to be sitting there quietly making love, while Skinny and Carolyn June, in another corner of the room or out on the porch, were doing the same thing. He would just have to await developments.

Parker was elated. Carolyn June’s proposal had broken up Old Heck’s evening alone with the widow. Perhaps the thought thrilled the foreman Ophelia herself had planned it!

“Skinny can keep the graphophone working,” Carolyn June laughed. “Put on a one-step first,” she said as he rather grudgingly went to the corner and started the music. “Come on, Bert, we’ll dance this one,” she cried merrily, as she stepped up to the blushing cowboy and put her hand, with a tender little pressure, on his arm. “It’s ‘ladies’ night,’ you know Ophelia, pick your pardner!”

“Aw don’t you reckon you ought to choose one of the others first?” Bert, considerably embarrassed by the sudden attention, mumbled as he moved with pretended reluctance but secret eagerness out on to the floor.

“I know who I want to dance with!” Carolyn June whispered significantly with another squeeze of his arm while her warm breath fanned his cheek.

For a moment Ophelia stood as if undecided while Old Heck and Parker each tried by their looks to register unconcern, their hearts meanwhile leaping with uncertain expectancy and hope. Suddenly turning from both and going up to Charley, she said softly and with well-feigned shyness:

“I I please, won’t you dance this one with me?”

“With the most exceeding pleasure!” Charley replied gallantly, arising and reaching out his hands.

Parker and Old Heck gulped their astonishment and disappointment each swallowing as if he had something in his throat that would not go down and glared savagely at each other.

Skinny next put on a waltz record. Carolyn June and Chuck swung through its dreamy rhythm while her hair brushed the cowboy’s neck and her eyes, half closed, looked alluringly into his. “I I could do this forever with you!” she breathed, accenting the last word and making Chuck want to yell for joy.

At the beginning of the waltz Ophelia paused a moment before Old Heck, glanced demurely at Parker, took a step toward the latter, turned quickly to the first and flooding him with a look of tenderness held out her hands while she spoke the simple entreaty:

“Please!”

Old Heck leaped to his feet, hitched nervously at the belt of his trousers, ran his fingers around the inside of his collar, and, with a look of triumph at Parker, led the widow through the dance. She permitted her body to relax and lean against her partner, dancing with an abandon that not only fired the emotions of Old Heck to fever heat, but was as well like dippers of oil on the flame of the foreman’s jealousy.

Parker gritted his teeth and followed Old Heck with a look that meant nothing less than the desire to kill!

As Ophelia and Old Heck, and Carolyn June with Chuck circled the room Skinny leaned weakly against the graphophone. He was tortured agonizingly by the strange action of Carolyn June. He was her lover, her official, absolute lover! Why did she want to go and get things all mixed up like this? It wasn’t fair. The other boys were not supposed to make love to her! They had elected him to do it and he was getting along all right till she thought of having this blamed fool dance. He began to doubt the efficacy of the white shirt and frequently drew one of the loose, baggy sleeves rapidly losing their snowy spotlessness across his face to rid himself of beads of perspiration.

The waltz was followed by another one-step and Ophelia granted this favor to Parker while Old Heck sat and swore steadily under his breath regretful that he had not sent the foreman and the cowboys out on the beef hunt a week ago!

Outside, the Ramblin’ Kid half-reclined on the edge of the porch. With a cigarette between his teeth, a sneering smile on his lips, he watched, through the open door, the group within. He was convinced now that Carolyn June was utterly frivolous. She danced and flirted with Bert, Chuck, Charley and even Pedro one after the other and occasionally Parker. Poor Skinny alone was neglected. She seemed to have forgotten that he existed save when, from time to time, she suggested that he put this or that record on the graphophone. To each of the cowboys she whispered tender little sentiments, gave soulful looks and insinuating smiles all but caressed them openly. Ophelia did like things to Old Heck, Parker and Charley.

In very truth it was a “slaughter.”

It was hot. After an hour Carolyn June stepped out on the porch for a breath of air while Skinny sought in the cabinet for a record she had asked him to play. The Ramblin’ Kid straightened up as she came out of the door. He was disgusted, angry, heart-sickened. He had seen enough and was starting to leave.

Carolyn June had noticed the absence of the Ramblin’ Kid. She had believed, all evening, he was on the porch and that was the real reason she had come outside. She saw him. “Oh, is is that you, Ramblin’ Kid?” she exclaimed as if surprised, and went quickly to where, at the sound of her voice, he had paused.

He did not answer. The light shone full on his face and he knew that she knew and had known before she spoke that he was there. His eyes were filled with a look queerly blending scorn, loathing, pity and pain.

“Why why don’t you come in and dance?” she asked lightly, not certain of his mood.

“I don’t want to,” he replied coldly: “anyhow ” he added with a sneer and a brutal laugh as he slowly moved away in the darkness, “when I decide to hug I’ll hug in private!”

Carolyn June started almost as though he had struck her. The taunt was an insult! A flood of anger swept over her. “The brute!” she whispered passionately and with utter contempt in her voice. She stood a moment. Suddenly she remembered the reckless abandon with which she had been dancing and flirting with the cowboys inside the house. Her face flamed scarlet. She looked out into the blackness toward the circular corral. Her expression changed and a pitying smile crossed her lips: “Poor Ramblin’ Kid he just does not understand!” she murmured and stepped back into the house.

As the Ramblin’ Kid passed through the back-yard gate he muttered savagely under his breath: “Playin’ with their hearts like marbles th’ damned fools!” He paused a moment and added, as though tired, “Oh, well, I reckon she thinks she has to do it it’s her breed she was raised that way I guess!”

The snuffling sound of a horse blowing hay-powder or other dust from its nostrils came from the direction of the circular corral. The Ramblin’ Kid stopped in his walk and turning went thoughtfully through the darkness toward where Captain Jack and the Gold Dust maverick were quietly feeding. He leaned against the bars of the corral and looked at the shadowy forms of the two horses standing a little distance away. Captain Jack quit eating and came to the fence.

“God! Little Horse” the Ramblin’ Kid spoke tensely and without repression “why can’t humans be as decent an’ honest as you?”

The black dome of night was studded with innumerable stars that gleamed like points of silver sprinkled over a canopy of somber velvet some infinite hand had flung, in a great arch, from rim to rim of a sleeping world. The call of a night bird shrilled softly from the cottonwood trees along the Cimarron. A hint of a breeze swung idly from the west and rustled the leaves in the tops of the poplars in front of the house. Faintly as a distant echo came the wailing strains of a waltz, drifting out from the lighted windows and the open door of the room where Carolyn June and Ophelia, in a spirit of sport and for revenge, juggled the hearts of men afraid of nothing in all the world but the look in a Woman’s eyes.

The music tortured the soul of the Ramblin’ Kid. It breathed the unfathomable strife of life of love, longing, hope, despair almost, yet subtly, elusively, would not tell the eternal “Why?” of all things.

Not heeding time, he stood and listened. The crunching sound made by the Gold Dust maverick, munching at the pile of hay on the ground in the corral, blended with and seemed a queer accompaniment to the melody that came from the scene of revelry up at the house.

The orange disk of a late-rising moon showed above the rim of the sand-hills at the lower end of the valley. The Ramblin’ Kid watched it until it grew into a rounded plate of burnished, glistening silver. The Gold Dust maverick was suddenly flooded with a glare of light as the moonbeams poured over the top of the shed and streamed through the bars of the circular corral. The filly lifted her head.

An impulse to ride ride ride, to get away from it all far out on the wide unpeopled plains where there was nothing above but God, and the unmeasured depths of His heavens, and nothing beneath but the earth and the rhythmic beat of his horse’s feet, came over the Ramblin’ Kid. Men, and the works of men their passions, their strifes, their foolishness and women women who played with love he wanted to forget, to leave miles and miles behind.

He started to open the gate, thinking to saddle Captain Jack and obey the impulse of the moment. Carolyn June’s words, spoken of the Gold Dust maverick: “It would be fun to see her run!” and uttered lightly and in a spirit of coquetry that morning when she teased him to enter the outlaw filly in the race against the Thunderbolt horse from the Vermejo, came to his mind. The selfishness of the plea maddened him. She cared nothing for the price in effort the straining muscles, the panting breath the agony the beautiful mare must pay to defeat the black wonder from the other part of the range. She wanted only to see the maverick run to coax him to yield and run the filly merely to please the cheap vanity of her sex! No doubt also she counted on entertainment when, to-morrow, he would ride the outlaw for the first time. It would be a kind of show the battle for mastery between himself and the high-bred untamed mare. The whole bunch Old Heck, Parker, Ophelia, Carolyn June, the cowboys yes, even that damned Chink unquestionably would be crowded about the corral to watch the fear and pain of the maverick as she learned her first hard lesson of servitude to man! They would laugh at her frenzied efforts to throw him.

He would fool them. He would ride the filly to-night!

He went to the shed, slipped his legs into the worn leather chaps, took saddle, bridle, blanket and rope and returned to the corral.

Stepping inside he closed the gate behind him.

Captain Jack came to him and nosed at his shoulder.

“No, Little Man,” the Ramblin’ Kid said gently, “this ain’t your turn. You can go with us though, if you want to!” he laughed.

The Gold Dust maverick stood, half-afraid, at the other side of the corral. She had not yet wholly conquered her dread of him. She did not, however, offer to fight as she had done that morning when Skinny entered the enclosure.

The Ramblin’ Kid spoke to the filly and, as she began to move shyly away, with one toss threw the loop over her head. The instant the mare felt the rope she stopped and stood trembling a moment, then came straight up to him. She was “rope-wise.” The experience at the North Springs the night he caught her, and when she had, three separate times, been cruelly thrown by this same rope; had taught the Gold Dust maverick the power that lay in those pliant strands.

She flinched from the touch of the blanket. The Ramblin’ Kid worked easily, carefully, but in absolute confidence, with her. As he cautiously saddled the mare he talked in a low, drawling monotone, uttering endearing phrases and occasionally slipping a lump of sugar a supply of which he had got that night from the kitchen into her mouth. She ate it ravenously.

“Darn, Little One,” he laughed, “you sure have got a sweet tooth you gobble that sugar like an Indian squaw eatin’ choc’late candy!”

At last the mare was saddled. Still holding to the rope, the Ramblin’ Kid, without trying to get the filly to follow, moved over and opened the gate, giving it a push and swinging it wide. During the performance the Gold Dust maverick stood perfectly still, save for a constant chewing at the iron bit between her teeth.

The Ramblin’ Kid went quietly up to her, coiling the slack of the rope as he advanced. Without bothering to tighten the reins, but watching closely the look in the maverick’s big brown eyes and the nervous twitching of her ears, he laid one hand on the withers of the outlaw, with the other he grasped the horn of the saddle and slipping his foot in the stirrup swung quickly and lightly on to her back.

For the space of a deep breath the maverick crouched, grew tense in every muscle, slowly arched her back, gathered herself together for a great effort.

A quiet smile curled the lips of the Ramblin’ Kid as he looked down on the curving neck of the beautiful creature.

With a tremendous leap the Gold Dust maverick sprang high into the air, lunging forward while all her hoofs were off the ground. Her forefeet came down across the back of Captain Jack she had all but cleared the little roan. The shock almost threw the stallion to the ground. As he surged from under her the filly slid and sprawled on her shoulder and side. Instantly she was on her feet, the Ramblin’ Kid still in the saddle. His spurs had not touched the mare instead he had been careful not to let their steel points so much as ruffle the golden-chestnut hair of her belly or flank. Only when the outlaw fell had he thrown forward his right leg and hooked the sharp rowels into the strong fiber of the forward cinch. With the left hand he loosely held the reins, giving the maverick her head the other hand he brushed with a caressing upward movement along her glossy neck.

Twice the Gold Dust maverick circled the corral, plunging, bucking “side-winding,” desperately her nose between her knees, squealing pitifully as she tried vainly to rid herself of the weight of the Ramblin’ Kid.

“Go to it, Baby Girl, go to it!” he chuckled; “you’ve got to learn! Sooner or later you’ll find out it can’t be done!” He rode limply, loosely, low in the saddle, and while he made no effort to urge the filly into greater frenzy he did not try in any way to prevent her bucking her hardest in, the futile attempts to hurl him off her back.

The second time the outlaw mare came to the gate she whirled and dashed through the opening, out of the corral, across the open space, past the corner of the front-yard fence and along the road that led up to the bench and toward Eagle Butte. Captain Jack trotted around the corral once, then followed at a long, swinging gallop.

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 rôle 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!”

“Good night!” Ophelia echoed.