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Madame Bo-Peep, Of The Ranches
by [?]

Octavia swerved suddenly to her knees, laid her flushed face in her aunt’s lap, and shook with turbulent sobs.

Aunt Ellen bent over her, and smoothed the coppery-brown hair.

“I didn’t know,” she said, gently; “I didn’t know–that. Who was it, dear?”

When Mrs. Octavia Beaupree, nee Van Dresser, stepped from the train at Nopal, her manner lost, for the moment, some of that easy certitude which had always marked her movements. The town was of recent establishment, and seemed to have been hastily constructed of undressed lumber and flapping canvas. The element that had congregated about the station, though not offensively demonstrative, was clearly composed of citizens accustomed to and prepared for rude alarms.

Octavia stood on the platform, against the telegraph office, and attempted to choose by intuition from the swaggering, straggling string, of loungers the manager of the Rancho de las Sombras, who had been instructed by Mr. Bannister to meet her there. That tall, serious, looking, elderly man in the blue flannel shirt and white tie she thought must be he. But, no; he passed by, removing his gaze from the lady as hers rested on him, according to the Southern custom. The manager, she thought, with some impatience at being kept waiting, should have no difficulty in selecting her. Young women wearing the most recent thing in ash-coloured travelling suits were not so plentiful in Nopal!

Thus keeping a speculative watch on all persons of possible managerial aspect, Octavia, with a catching breath and a start of surprise, suddenly became aware of Teddy Westlake hurrying along the platform in the direction of the train–of Teddy Westlake or his sun-browned ghost in cheviot, boots and leather-girdled hat–Theodore Westlake, Jr., amateur polo (almost) champion, all-round butterfly and cumberer of the soil; but a broader, surer, more emphasized and determined Teddy than the one she had known a year ago when last she saw him.

He perceived Octavia at almost the same time, deflected his course, and steered for her in his old, straightforward way. Something like awe came upon her as the strangeness of his metamorphosis was brought into closer range; the rich, red-brown of his complexion brought out so vividly his straw-coloured mustache and steel-gray eyes. He seemed more grown-up, and, somehow, farther away. But, when he spoke, the old, boyish Teddy came back again. They had been friends from childhood.

“Why, ‘Tave!” he exclaimed, unable to reduce his perplexity to coherence. “How–what–when–where?”

“Train,” said Octavia; “necessity; ten minutes ago; home. Your complexion’s gone, Teddy. Now, how–what–when–where?”

“I’m working down here,” said Teddy. He cast side glances about the station as one does who tries to combine politeness with duty.

“You didn’t notice on the train,” he asked, “an old lady with gray curls and a poodle, who occupied two seats with her bundles and quarrelled with the conductor, did you?”

“I think not,” answered Octavia, reflecting. “And you haven’t, by any chance, noticed a big, gray-mustached man in a blue shirt and six-shooters, with little flakes of merino wool sticking in his hair, have you?”

“Lots of ’em,” said Teddy, with symptoms of mental delirium under the strain. Do you happen to know any such individual?”

“No; the description is imaginary. Is your interest in the old lady whom you describe a personal one?”

“Never saw her in my life. She’s painted entirely from fancy. She owns the little piece of property where I earn my bread and butter–the Rancho de las Sombras. I drove up to meet her according to arrangement with her lawyer.”

Octavia leaned against the wall of the telegraph office. Was this possible? And didn’t he know?

“Are you the manager of that ranch?” she asked weakly.

“I am,” said Teddy, with pride.

“I am Mrs. Beaupree,” said Octavia faintly; “but my hair never would curl, and I was polite to the conductor.”

For a moment that strange, grown-up look came back, and removed Teddy miles away from her.

“I hope you’ll excuse me,” he said, rather awkwardly. “You see, I’ve been down here in the chaparral a year. I hadn’t heard. Give me your checks, please, and I’ll have your traps loaded into the wagon. Jose will follow with them. We travel ahead in the buckboard.”