The Runaway Comes Home

: 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!"