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The Runaway Comes Home

From: The Range Boss

Masten's note to Ruth contained merely the information that he was going
to Lazette, and that possibly he might not return for two weeks. He
hinted that he would probably be called upon to go to Santa Fe on
business, but if so he would apprise her of that by messenger. He gave no
reason for his sudden leave-taking, or no explanation of his breach of
courtesy in not waiting to see her personally. The tone of the note did
not please Ruth. It had evidently been written hurriedly, on a sheet of
paper torn from a pocket notebook. That night she studied it long, by the
light from the kerosene lamp in her room, and finally crumpled it up and
threw it from her. Then she sat for another long interval, her elbows on
the top of the little stand that she used as a dressing table, her chin
in her hands, staring with unseeing eyes into a mirror in front of
her--or rather, at two faces that seemed to be reflected in the glass:
Masten's and Randerson's.

Next morning she got downstairs late, to find breakfast over and
Randerson gone. Later in the morning she saw Uncle Jepson waving a hand
to her from the corral, and she ran down there, to find her pony standing
outside the fence, meek and docile. The bridle rein, knotted and broken,
dangled in the dust at his head.

She took up the end with the knot in it.

"He's been tied!" she exclaimed. She showed Uncle Jepson the slip knot.
And then she became aware of Aunt Martha standing beside her, and she
showed it to her also. And then she saw a soiled blue neckerchief twisted
and curled in the knot, and she examined it with wide eyes.

"Why, it's Randerson's!" she declared, in astonishment. "How on earth did
it get here?"

And now her face crimsoned, for illumination had come to her. She placed
the neckerchief behind her, with a quick hope that her relatives had not
seen it, nor had paid any attention to her exclamation. But she saw Uncle
Jepson grin broadly, and her face grew redder with his words:

"I cal'late the man who lost that blue bandanna wasn't a tol'able piece
away when that knot was tied."

"Jep Coakley, you mind your own business!" rebuked Aunt Martha sharply,
looking severely at Uncle Jepson over the rims of her spectacles.

"Don't you mind him, honey," she consoled, putting an arm around the girl
as Uncle Jepson went away, chuckling. "Why, girl," she went on, smiling
at Ruth's crimson face, "you don't blame him, do you? If you don't know
he likes you, you've been blind to what I've been seeing for many days.
Never mention to him that you know he tied the pony, dear. For he's a
gentleman, in spite of that."

And obediently, though with cheeks that reddened many times during the
process, and laughter that rippled through her lips occasionally, Ruth
washed the neckerchief, folded it, to make creases like those which would
have been in it had its owner been wearing it, then crumpled it, and
stole to Randerson's room when she was sure that he was not there, and
placed the neckerchief where its owner would be sure to find it.

She was filled with a delightful dread against the day when he would
discover it, for she felt that he might remember where he had lost it,
and thus become convinced that she knew of his duplicity. But many days
passed and he did not come in. She did not know that on his way out to
join the outfit the next morning he had noticed that he had lost the
neckerchief, and that he remembered it flapping loose around his neck
when he had gone toward the timber edge for her pony. He had searched
long for it, without success, of course, and had finally ridden away,
shaking his head, deeply puzzled over its disappearance.

Nor did Ruth know that on the day she had discovered the neckerchief
dangling from the knot, Aunt Martha had spoken again to Uncle Jep
concerning it.

"Jep Coakley," she said earnestly; "you like your joke, as well as any
man. But if I ever hear of you mentioning anything to Randerson about
that bandanna, I'll tweak your nose as sure as you're alive!"

Next: Two Are Taught Lessons

Previous: The Rock And The Moonlight

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