The Man of the Desert (Chapter 1, page 2 of 7)

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Chapter 1

"Sure! They come from the East last night. Limited dropped 'em! Going down to prospect some mine, I reckon. They ordered horses an' a outfit, and Shag Bunce is goin' with 'em. He got a letter 'bout a week ago tellin' what they wanted of him. Yes, I knowed all about it. He brung the letter to me to cipher out fer him. You know Shag ain't no great at readin' ef he is the best judge of a mine anywheres about."

Thus the station agent explained in low thrilling tones; and even the Indians watched and grunted their interest.

At eleven o'clock the horses arrived, four besides Shag's, and the rest of the outfit. The onlookers regarded Shag with the mournful interest due to the undertaker at a funeral. Shag felt it and acted accordingly. He gave short, gruff orders to his men; called attention to straps and buckles that every one knew were in as perfect order as they could be; criticized the horses and his men; and every one, even the horses, bore it with perfect composure. They were all showing off and felt the importance of the moment.

Presently the car door opened and Mr. Radcliffe came out on the platform accompanied by his son--a handsome reckless looking fellow--his daughter Hazel, and Mr. Hamar, a thick-set, heavy-featured man with dark hair, jaunty black moustache and handsome black eyes. In the background stood an erect elderly woman in tailor-made attire and with a severe expression, Mr. Radcliffe's elder sister who was taking the trip with them expecting to remain in California with her son; and behind her hovered Hazel's maid. These two were not to be of the riding party, it appeared.

There was a pleasant stir while the horses were brought forward and the riders were mounting. The spectators remained breathlessly unconscious of anything save the scene being enacted before them. Their eyes lingered with special interest on the girl of the party.

Miss Radcliffe was small and graceful, with a head set on her pretty shoulders like a flower on its stem. Moreover she was fair, so fair that she almost dazzled the eyes of the men and women accustomed to brown cheeks kissed by the sun and wind of the plain. There was a wild-rose pink in her cheeks to enhance the whiteness, which made it but the more dazzling. She had masses of golden hair wreathed round her dainty head in a bewilderment of waves and braids. She had great dark eyes of blue set off by long curling lashes, and delicately pencilled dark brows which gave the eyes a pansy softness and made you feel when she looked at you that she meant a great deal more by the look than you had at first suspected. They were wonderful, beautiful eyes, and the little company of idlers at the station were promptly bewitched by them. Moreover there was a fantastic little dimple in her right cheek that flashed into view at the same time with the gleam of pearly teeth when she smiled. She certainly was a picture. The station looked its fill and rejoiced in her young beauty.

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