The Man of the Desert (Chapter 6, page 3 of 7)

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Chapter 6

"I'm quite able to go on a little further," she said, sitting up with an effort, "if you think we should go further to-night. I really don't feel bad at all any more."

He smiled with relief.

"I'm so glad," he said; "I was afraid I had made you travel too far. No, we'll not go further till daylight, I think. This is as good a place to camp as any, and water not far away. You will find your boudoir just inside that group of trees, and in half an hour or so the canvas will be quite dry for your bed. I've got it spread out, you see, close to the fire on the other side there. And it wasn't wet through. The blanket was sheltered. It will be warm and dry. I think we can make you comfortable. Have you ever slept out under the stars before--that is, of course, with the exception of last night? I don't suppose you really enjoyed that experience."

Hazel shuddered at the thought.

"I don't remember much, only awful darkness and howling. Will those creatures come this way, do you think? I feel as if I should die with fright if I have to hear them again."

"You may hear them in the distance, but not nearby," he answered reassuringly; "they do not like the fire. They will not come near nor disturb you. Besides, I shall be close at hand all night. I am used to listening and waking in the night. I shall keep a bright fire blazing."

"But you--you--what will you do? You are planning to give me the canvas and the blanket, and stay awake yourself keeping watch. You have walked all day while I have ridden, and you have been nurse and cook as well, while I have been good for nothing. And now you want me to rest comfortably all night while you sit up."

There was a ring in the young man's voice as he answered her that thrilled her to the heart.

"I shall be all right," he said, and his voice was positively joyous, "and I shall have the greatest night of my life taking care of you. I count it a privilege. Many a night have I slept alone under the stars with no one to guard, and felt the loneliness. Now I shall always have this to remember. Besides, I shall not sit up. I am used to throwing myself down anywhere. My clothing is warm, and my saddle is used to acting as a pillow. I shall sleep and rest, and yet be always on the alert to keep up the fire and hear any sound that comes near." He talked as though he were recounting the plan of some delightful recreation, and the girl lay and watched his handsome face in the play of the firelight and rejoiced in it. Somehow there was something very sweet in companionship alone in the vast silence with this stranger friend. She found herself glad of the wideness of the desert and the stillness of the night that shut out the world and made their most unusual relationship possible for a little while. A great longing possessed her to know more and understand better the fine personality of this man who was a man among men, she was convinced.

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