Read CHAPTER XX - MOSTLY SKINNY of The Ramblin's Kid, free online book, by Earl Wayland Bowman, on ReadCentral.com.

It is a week to the day since the fight in the Elite Amusement Parlor in Eagle Butte. Since the Ramblin’ Kid, followed by the wicked sing of the bullets from the marshal’s gun, disappeared in the darkness no word has come from the fugitive cowboy, who beat to a pulp the burly Greek.

The Gold Dust maverick paces uneasily about in the circular corral and the Quarter Circle KT has settled into the hum-drum routine of ranch life.

Parker, Charley, Chuck and Bert are gone to Chicago with the train-load of beef cattle. Skinny bosses a gang of “picked-up” hay hands Old Heck brought out from Eagle Butte to harvest the second cutting of alfalfa. Pedro rides line daily on the upland pasture and Sing Pete hammers the iron triangle morning, noon and night, announcing the regular arrival of meal-time. The Chinaman is careful when he throws out empty tomato-cans turning back the tin to make it impossible for the yellow cat again to fasten his head in one of the inviting traps, and the cook would imperil the hope of the return of his soul to the flowery Orient before he would put butter in the bottom of a can to entice the animal into trouble.

Old Heck and Ophelia are like a pair of nesting doves and there is a new vigor to the step of the owner of the Quarter Circle KT, a revived interest in affairs generally; years seem to have fallen from his shoulders.

Carolyn June smiles sweetly as ever at Skinny, spends much time riding alone over the valley and hills; in her eyes there has come a more thoughtful often a wistful expression.

Sabota did not die.

After the escape of the Ramblin’ Kid the marshal reentered the pool-room and had the big Greek removed to the hotel. A doctor was called and set as well as possible the broken jaws, the crushed nose, picked out the fragments of bone and the loosened teeth, sewed up the terrible gashes on Sabota’s face and left the bully groaning and profaning in half-conscious agony.

The night of the fight Skinny took Old Pie Face back to the barn.

The cowboy’s heart was heavy with remorse. He blamed himself for all the trouble. Had he not wanted to make a fool of himself and get drunk the Ramblin’ Kid would not have come to Eagle Butte, the fight would not have occurred, the friend he had ridden with through storm and sunshine whom he had stood “night guard” and fought mad stampedes into “the mill” would not now be an outcast sought by the hand of the law.

News of the beating the Ramblin’ Kid gave Sabota traveled fast.

It was flashed over Eagle Butte that the Greek was dead.

“So th’ Ramblin’ Kid killed old Sabota, did he?” the hostler at the livery barn asked Skinny as he stepped out to care for the cowboy’s horse. “What was it over? Sabota having th’ Ramblin’ Kid ‘doped’ the day of the sweepstakes?”

Skinny looked keenly, searchingly, at the stableman.

“What do you mean ’Sabota having th’ Ramblin’ Kid doped?’” he asked sharply.

“Why, didn’t you know?” the hostler replied. “I thought everybody knowed. Gyp Streetor told me about it the day of the race I used to know Gyp when he was a kid back east. I saw him as he was beating it to get out of town. He borrowed five dollars from me. Said Sabota hired him to put ‘knock-out’ in some coffee for th’ Ramblin’ Kid and he reckoned the dose wasn’t big enough or something. Anyhow, it didn’t hold him under long as they thought it would and when he saw the Gold Dust maverick show up on the track he got scared was afraid it would leak out or th’ Ramblin’ Kid would suspect him and try to ‘get’ him after the race, so he ducked out of town

“You ain’t lying about that?” Skinny asked.

“What would I want to lie about it for?” the other replied. “Wasn’t that what made th’ Ramblin’ Kid kill the Greek?”

“No, it was something else,” Skinny answered; “but Sabota ain’t dead. He’s just crunched up pretty bad th’ Ramblin’ Kid jumped on him, like Captain Jack did on that feller from the Chickasaw that tried to steal him!”

Skinny’s mind was in a whirl.

So the Ramblin’ Kid was not drunk the day of the race! He was drugged sick yet, in spite of everything, rode the Gold Dust maverick and beat the black wonder-horse from the Vermejo! Lord! and they had all thought he was on a tear!

The bottle of whisky was still in the bosom of Skinny’s shirt.

He had not touched it. He felt a sudden revulsion for the vile stuff.

“Here,” he said, jerking the flask from its hiding-place and handing it to the hostler, “maybe you’d like that bottle of ’rot-gut’ I’ve swore off!”

“I ain’t,” the stableman laughed and took it eagerly.

Skinny remained in town that night and the next day, waiting for Parker and the Quarter Circle KT cowboys to come in with the beef cattle. They arrived about noon. Old Heck drove in with the Clagstone “Six.” Ophelia and Carolyn June came with him. Skinny met them when Old Heck stopped the in front of the Occidental Hotel. He told them, while they still sat in the automobile, of the fight and the escape of the Ramblin’ Kid.

“A drunken brawl!” Carolyn June thought, a wave of disgust sweeping over her.

“Th’ Ramblin’ Kid hadn’t touched a drop,” Skinny said, explaining the fight and almost as if he were answering her unspoken thought. “If he’d been drinking, I reckon Sabota would have killed him instead of his beating the Greek blamed near to death. I know now what he used to mean when he’d say, ‘A man’s a fool to put whisky in him when he’s facin’ a tight squeeze!’ The little devil sure needed everything he had nerve and head and muscle and all for the job he tackled last night!”

Skinny didn’t tell them that his hand had rested on the handle of his own gun determined that he, himself, would kill Sabota if the brute succeeded in choking the Ramblin’ Kid to death.

“What was the fight about?” Old Heck asked.

“A pink ribbon or something with a little silver do-funny on it it looked like a sleeve-holder or a garter dropped out of th’ Ramblin’ Kid’s pocket and Sabota made a nasty remark about it,” Skinny said.

Carolyn June caught her breath and her face flushed.

“The Greek said something about Carolyn June, I didn’t just hear what,” Skinny continued, “and then he smashed the ribbon under his foot. The next instant th’ Ramblin’ Kid was trying to kill him!

“It’s a pity he didn’t succeed!” Old Heck exclaimed. “The damned filthy whelp excuse me, Ophelia, for cussing, but I just had to say It!”

“It’s all right,” was the laughing rejoinder, “I I wanted to say it myself!”

Carolyn June’s eyes glowed. Her heart felt as if a weight had been lifted from it So, the Ramblin’ Kid had kept the odd souvenir, and he cared he cared!

“Go ahead,” she whispered to Skinny; “what then?”

“I reckon that’s about all,” Skinny answered. “Th’ Ramblin’ Kid smashed Sabota and as he staggered back, picked up the ribbon then he didn’t quit till he thought the Greek was dead. Tom Poole arrested him, but th’ Ramblin’ Kid got the drop on him and got away. He was justified in beating Sabota up anyhow,” he added, “on account of the dirty cuss hiring a feller to ‘dope’ him so he couldn’t ride the maverick the day of the big race

“‘Dope’ him?” Old Heck interrupted, puzzled.

“Yes,” Skinny explained, “the Greek had a feller named Gyp Streetor put some stuff in th’ Ramblin? Kid’s coffee. He wasn’t drunk at all he was just poisoned with ‘knock-out!’”

“Good lord!” Old Heck exclaimed. “And he rode that race when he was drugged! While we all thought he’d gone to pieces and was drunk!”

Carolyn June’s cheeks suddenly turned pale. He cared, but he was gone! Perhaps never to come back! It seemed as if an iron hand was clutching at her throat!

She and Ophelia went into the hotel and Old Heck and Skinny drove the car over to the stock-yards where the cattle were being loaded.

After Parker and the cowboys were on their way east with the steers and before he returned to the ranch Old Heck went into the room in which Sabota lay. The Greek’s head was a mass of white bandages. His eyes battered and swollen shut, he could not see the face of his visitor.

For a moment Old Heck looked at him, his lips parted in a smile of contempt lightened with satisfaction.

“Well, Sabota,” he said at last, “th’ Ramblin’ Kid didn’t quite do his duty, did he? If he had gone as far as he ought to you wouldn’t be laying there they’d just about now be hiding your dirty carcass under six feet of ‘dobe!’”

Sabota mumbled some guttural, unintelligible reply.

“Listen, you infernal skunk,” Old Heck went on coldly, “as quick as you’re able to travel you’ll find Eagle Butte’s a right good place to get away from! You understand what I mean. If I catch you around, well, I won’t use no fists!” And without waiting for an answer he turned and left the room.

The owner of the Quarter Circle KT then hunted lip the marshal of Eagle Butte.

“Tom,” he said, “I reckon you’ll be looking some for th’ Ramblin’ Kid, after what happened last night, won’t you?”

The marshal had heard of Sabota’s effort to have the young cowboy drugged the day of the race and also the immediate cause for the fight.

“Oh, I don’t know as I will,” he said, “unless the Greek makes some charge or other. I don’t imagine he’ll do that”

“I know blamed well he won’t!” Old Heck interrupted. “But how about th’ Ramblin’ Kid putting his gun in your ribs resisting an officer and so on?”

“Putting his gun in my ribs? Resisting an officer?” the lanky Missourian answered with a sly grin; “who said he put a gun on me or resisted an officer or anything? I ain’t heard nothing about it!”

Two days later Sabota, with the help of “Red” Jackson, managed to get to the Santa Fe station. He was able to travel and he did travel. Jackson said he went to the “Border.” Eagle Butte did not know or care the Cimarron town was through with him.

When Old Heck, Carolyn June and Ophelia returned to the Quarter Circle KT the evening of the day following the fight, the Gold Dust maverick whinnied lonesomely from the circular corral as the Clagstone “Six” stopped in front of the house.

“What are we going to do with that filly?” Old Heck asked, looking at the beautiful creature with her head above the bars of the corral gate.

“I am going to ride her!” Carolyn June said softly. “Until the Ramblin’ Kid comes back and claims her she is mine! She loves me and I can handle her!”

“I’m afraid ” Old Heck started to protest.

“You need not be,” Carolyn June interrupted, “the Gold Dust maverick and I know each other she understands me and I understand her she will be perfectly gentle with me!”

The next day Carolyn June rode the wonderful outlaw mare. It was as she said. The filly was perfectly gentle with her. After that, every day, the girl saddled the Gold Dust maverick and, unafraid, took long rides alone.

The night the cattle were shipped Skinny had supper in Eagle Butte. He sat alone at a small table at one side of the dining-room in the Occidental Hotel. The cowboy was the picture of utter misery. Parker, Charley, Chuck, Bert were gone to Chicago with steers; the Ramblin’ Kid was gone nobody knew where; Skinny’s dream about Carolyn June was gone she didn’t love him, she just liked him; even his whisky was gone, he had given it to the hostler at the barn; he didn’t have any friends or anything.

“What’s the matter, Skinny?” Manilla Endora, the yellow-haired waitress, asked softly, as she stepped up to the table and looked down a moment at the dejected cowboy. There was something in her voice that made Skinny pity himself more than ever. It made him want to cry. “What’s wrong?’ Manilla repeated almost tenderly.

“Everything!” Skinny blurted out, dropping his head on his arms. “The whole blamed works is shot to pieces!”

A little smile stole over Manilla’s rosy lips.

“I know what it is,” she said gently, unreproachfully; “it’s that girl, Carolyn June. Yes, it is,” as Skinny started to interrupt. “Oh, I don’t blame you for falling for her!” she went on. “She is nice but, well, Skinny-boy,” her voice was a caress, “Old Heck’s niece is not the sort for you. You and her wouldn’t fit at all the way you wanted and anyhow, there there are others,” coloring warmly.

Skinny looked up into the honest blue eyes.

“You ain’t sore at me or anything are you, Manilla?” he asked.

“Sore?” she answered. “Of course not!”

Hope sprung again into his heart. “I I thought maybe you would be,” he stammered.

“Forget it!” she laughed. “The old world still wobbles!”

“Manilla, you you’re a peach!” he cried.

She chuckled. “Did you hear about that dance next Saturday night after the picture show?” she asked archly.

“No. Is there one?” with new interest in life.

“Yes,” she replied, her lashes drooping demurely; “they say the music is going to be swell.”

“If I come in will you will we go, Manilla?” he asked eagerly.

They would.

“Poor Skinny,” Manilla murmured to herself as she went to the kitchen to get his order, “poor cuss he can’t keep from breaking his heart over every skirt that brushes against him, but” and she laughed softly “darn his ugly picture, I like him anyhow!”

After supper Skinny hurried to the Golden Rule store. It was still open.

“Give me a white shirt number fifteen,” he said to the clerk; “and be blamed sure it’s the right size they ain’t worth a cuss if they’re too big!”