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Lanty Foster’s Mistake
by [?]

“Pretty time to be fetchin’ in the wash,” said Mrs. Foster querulously. “But what can you expect when folks stand gossipin’ and philanderin’ on the ridge instead o’ tendin’ to their work?”

Now Lanty knew that she had NOT been “gossipin'” nor “philanderin’,” yet as the parting salute might have been open to that imputation, and as she surmised that her mother might have overheard their voices, she briefly said, to prevent further questioning, that she had shown a stranger the road. But for her mother’s unjust accusation she would have been more communicative. As Mrs. Foster went back grumblingly into the sitting-room Lanty resolved to keep the knife at present a secret from her mother, and to that purpose removed it from the basket. But in the light of the candle she saw it for the first time plainly–and started.

For it was really a dagger! jeweled-handled and richly wrought– such as Lanty had never looked upon before. The hilt was studded with gems, and the blade, which had a cutting edge, was damascened in blue and gold. Her soft eyes reflected the brilliant setting, her lips parted breathlessly; then, as her mother’s voice arose in the other room, she thrust it back into its velvet sheath and clapped it into her pocket. Its rare beauty had confirmed her resolution of absolute secrecy. To have shown it now would have made “no end of talk.” And she was not sure but that her parents would have demanded its custody! And it was given to HER by HIM to keep. This settled the question of moral ethics. She took the first opportunity to run up to her bedroom and hide it under the mattress.

Yet the thought of it filled the rest of her evening. When her household duties were done she took up her novel again, partly from force of habit and partly as an attitude in which she could think of IT undisturbed. For what was fiction to her now? True, it possessed a certain reminiscent value. A “dagger” had appeared in several romances she had devoured, but she never had a clear idea of one before. “The Count sprang back, and, drawing from his belt a richly jeweled dagger, hissed between his teeth,” or, more to the purpose: “‘Take this,’ said Orlando, handing her the ruby-hilted poignard which had gleamed upon his thigh, ‘and should the caitiff attempt thy unguarded innocence–‘”

“Did ye hear what your father was sayin’?” Lanty started. It was her mother’s voice in the doorway, and she had been vaguely conscious of another voice pitched in the same querulous key, which, indeed, was the dominant expression of the small ranchers of that fertile neighborhood. Possibly a too complaisant and unaggressive Nature had spoiled them.

“Yes!–no!” said Lanty abstractedly, “what did he say?”

“If you wasn’t taken up with that fool book,” said Mrs. Foster, glancing at her daughter’s slightly conscious color, “ye’d know! He allowed ye’d better not leave yer filly in the far pasture nights. That gang o’ Mexican horse-thieves is out again, and raided McKinnon’s stock last night.”

This touched Lanty closely. The filly was her own property, and she was breaking it for her own riding. But her distrust of her parents’ interference was greater than any fear of horse-stealers. “She’s mighty uneasy in the barn; and,” she added, with a proud consciousness of that beautiful yet carnal weapon upstairs, “I reckon I ken protect her and myself agin any Mexican horse- thieves.”

“My! but we’re gettin’ high and mighty,” responded Mrs. Foster, with deep irony. “Did you git all that outer your fool book?”

“Mebbe,” said Lanty curtly.

Nevertheless, her thoughts that night were not entirely based on written romance. She wondered if the stranger knew that she had really tried to box his ears in the darkness, also if he had been able to see her face. HIS she remembered, at least the flash of his white teeth against his dark face and darker mustache, which was quite as soft as her own hair. But if he thought “for a minnit” that she was “goin’ to allow an entire stranger to kiss her–he was mighty mistaken.” She should let him know it “pretty quick”! She should hand him back the dagger “quite careless like,” and never let on that she’d thought anything of it. Perhaps that was the reason why, before she went to bed, she took a good look at it, and after taking off her straight, beltless, calico gown she even tried the effect of it, thrust in the stiff waistband of her petticoat, with the jeweled hilt displayed, and thought it looked charming–as indeed it did. And then, having said her prayers like a good girl, and supplicated that she should be less “tetchy” with her parents, she went to sleep and dreamed that she had gone out to take in the wash again, but that the clothes had all changed to the queerest lot of folks, who were all fighting and struggling with each other until she, Lanty, drawing her dagger, rushed up single- handed among them, crying, “Disperse, ye craven curs,–disperse, I say.” And they dispersed.