Whispering Smith (Chapter 3, page 1 of 8)


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Chapter 3

The wreckers, drifting in the blaze of the sun across the broad alkali valley, saw the smoke of the wreck-fire behind them. No breath of wind stirred it. With the stillness of a signal column it rose, thin and black, and high in the air spread motionless, like a huge umbrella, above Smoky Creek. Reed Young had gone with an engine to wire re├źnforcements, and McCloud, active among the trackmen until the conflagration spent itself, had retired to the shade of the hill.

Reclining against a rock with his legs crossed, he had clasped his hands behind his head and sat looking at the iron writhing in the dying heat of the fire. The sound of hoofs aroused him, and looking below he saw a horsewoman reining up near his men at the wreck. She rode an American horse, thin and rangy, and the experienced way in which she checked him drew him back almost to his haunches. But McCloud's eyes were fixed on the slender figure of the rider. He was wholly at a loss to account, at such a time and in such a place, for a visitor in gauntleted gloves and a banded Panama hat. He studied her with growing amazement. Her hair coiled low on her neck supported the very free roll of the hat-brim. Her black riding-skirt clung to her waist to form its own girdle, and her white stock, rolled high on her neck, rose above a heavy shirtwaist of white linen, and gave her an air of confident erectness. The trackmen stopped work to look, but her attitude in their gaze was one of impatience rather than of embarrassment. Her boot flashed in the stirrup while she spoke to the nearest man, and her horse stretched his neck and nosed the brown alkali-grass that spread thinly along the road.

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