The Man of the Desert (Chapter 5, page 2 of 7)

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Chapter 5

She watched him riding away, her fears almost forgotten in her admiration of him, her heart beating strangely with the memory of his smile. The protection of it seemed to linger behind him, and quiet her anxiety.

He rode straight to the east, and then more slowly turned and skirted the horizon, riding north along the edge of the mesa. She saw him shade his eyes with his hand and look away in all directions. At last after a prolonged gaze straight north he wheeled his horse and came quickly back to her.

His face was grave as he dismounted.

"I've sighted him," he said, "but it's no use. He has three or four miles start, and a steep hill climbed. When he reaches the top of the next mesa he has a straight course before him, and probably down-hill after that. It might take me three or four hours to catch him and it's a question if I could do it then. We'll have to dismiss him from our arrangements and get along with Billy. Do you feel equal to riding now? Or ought you to rest again?"

"Oh, I can ride, but--I cannot take your horse. What will you do?"

"I shall do nicely," he answered smiling again; "only our progress will be slower than if we had both horses. What a pity that I had not taken off his saddle! It would have been more comfortable for you than this. But I was searching so anxiously for the rider that I took little heed to the horse except to hastily hobble him. And when I found you you needed all my attention. Now I advise you to lie down and rest until I get packed up. It won't take me long."

She curled down obediently to rest until he was ready to fold up the canvas on which she lay, and watched his easy movements as he put together the few articles of the pack, and arranged the saddle for her comfort. Then he strode over to her.

"With your permission," he said and stooping picked her up lightly in his arms and placed her on the horse.

"I beg your pardon," he said, "but you are not equal to the exertion of mounting in the ordinary way. You will need every bit of strength for the ride. You are weaker than you realize."

Her laugh rippled out faintly.

"You make me feel like an insignificant baby. I didn't know what was happening until you had me here. You must have the strength of a giant. I never felt so little before."

"You are not a heavy burden," he said smiling. "Now are you quite comfortable? If so we'll start."

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