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Lanty Foster’s Mistake
by [?]

“What a place to hang clothes,” he said curiously.

“Mighty dryin’, tho’,” returned Lanty laconically.

“And your house? Is it near by?” he continued.

“Just down the ridge–ye kin see from the edge. Got a knife?” She had untied the knot.

“No–yes–wait.” He had hesitated a moment and then produced something from his breast pocket, which he however kept in his hand. As he did not offer it to her she simply held out a section of the rope between her hands, which he divided with a single cut. She saw only that the instrument was long and keen. Then she lifted the flap of the saddle for him as he attempted to fasten the loose ring with the rope, but the darkness made it impossible. With an ejaculation, he fumbled in his pockets. “My last match!” he said, striking it, as he crouched over it to protect it from the wind. Lanty leaned over also, with her apron raised between it and the blast. The flame for an instant lit up the ring, the man’s dark face, mustache, and white teeth set together as he tugged at the girth, and Lanty’s brown, velvet eyes and soft, round cheek framed in the basket. Then it went out, but the ring was secured.

“Thank you,” said the man, with a short laugh, “but I thought you were a humpbacked witch in the dark there.”

“And I couldn’t make out whether you was a cow or a b’ar,” returned the young girl simply.

Here, however, he quickly mounted his horse, but in the action something slipped from his clothes, struck a stone, and bounded away into the darkness.

“My knife,” he said hurriedly. “Please hand it to me.” But although the girl dropped on her knees and searched the ground diligently, it could not be found. The man with a restrained ejaculation again dismounted, and joined in the search.

“Haven’t you got another match?” suggested Lanty.

“No–it was my last!” he said impatiently.

“Just you hol’ on here,” she said suddenly, “and I’ll run down to the kitchen and fetch you a light. I won’t be long.”

“No! no!” said the man quickly; “don’t! I couldn’t wait. I’ve been here too long now. Look here. You come in daylight and find it, and–just keep it for me, will you?” He laughed. “I’ll come for it. And now, if you’ll only help to set me on that road again, for it’s so infernal black I can’t see the mare’s ears ahead of me, I won’t bother you any more. Thank you.”

Lanty had quietly moved to his horse’s head and taken the bridle in her hand, and at once seemed to be lost in the gloom. But in a few moments he felt the muffled thud of his horse’s hoof on the thick dust of the highway, and its still hot, impalpable powder rising to his nostrils.

“Thank you,” he said again, “I’m all right now,” and in the pause that followed it seemed to Lanty that he had extended a parting hand to her in the darkness. She put up her own to meet it, but missed his, which had blundered onto her shoulder. Before she could grasp it, she felt him stooping over her, the light brush of his soft mustache on her cheek, and then the starting forward of his horse. But the retaliating box on the ear she had promptly aimed at him spent itself in the black space which seemed suddenly to have swallowed up the man, and even his light laugh.

For an instant she stood still, and then, swinging the basket indignantly from her shoulder, took up her suspended task. It was no light one in the increasing wind, and the unfastened clothes- line had precipitated a part of its burden to the ground through the loosening of the rope. But on picking up the trailing garments her hand struck an unfamiliar object. The stranger’s lost knife! She thrust it hastily into the bottom of the basket and completed her work. As she began to descend with her burden she saw that the light of the kitchen fire, seen through the windows, was augmented by a candle. Her mother was evidently awaiting her.