The Man of the Desert (Chapter 1, page 3 of 7)

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Chapter 1

She was garbed in a dark green riding habit, the same that she wore when she rode attended by her groom in Central Park. It made a sensation among the onlookers, as did the little riding cap of dark green velvet and the pretty riding gloves. She sat her pony well, daintily, as though she had alighted briefly, but to their eyes strangely, and not as the women out there rode. On the whole the station saw little else but the girl; all the others were mere accessories to the picture.

They noticed indeed that the young man, whose close cropped golden curls, and dark lashed blue eyes were so like the girl's that he could be none other than her brother, rode beside the older man who was presumably the father; and that the dark, handsome stranger rode away beside the girl. Not a man of them but resented it. Not a woman of them but regretted it.

Then Shag Bunce, with a parting word to his small but complete outfit that rode behind, put spurs to his horse, lifted his sombrero in homage to the lady, and shot to the front of the line, his shaggy mane by which came his name floating over his shoulders. Out into the sunshine of a perfect day the riders went, and the group around the platform stood silently and watched until they were a speck in the distance blurring with the sunny plain and occasional ash and cottonwood trees.

"I seen the missionary go by early this mornin'," speculated the station agent meditatively, deliberately, as though he only had a right to break the silence. "I wonder whar he could 'a' bin goin'. He passed on t'other side the track er I'd 'a' ast 'im. He 'peared in a turrible hurry. Anybody sick over towards the canyon way?"

"Buck's papoose heap sick!" muttered an immobile Indian, and shuffled off the platform with a stolid face. The women heaved a sigh of disappointment and turned to go. The show was out and they must return to the monotony of their lives. They wondered what it would be like to ride off like that into the sunshine with cheeks like roses and eyes that saw nothing but pleasure ahead. What would a life like that be? Awed, speculative, they went back to their sturdy children and their ill-kempt houses, to sit in the sun on the door-steps and muse a while.

Into the sunshine rode Hazel Radcliffe well content with the world, herself, and her escort.

Milton Hamar was good company. He was keen of wit and a past-master in the delicate art of flattery. That he was fabulously wealthy and popular in New York society; that he was her father's friend both socially and financially, and had been much of late in their home on account of some vast mining enterprise in which both were interested; and that his wife was said to be uncongenial and always interested in other men rather than her husband, were all facts that combined to give Hazel a pleasant, half-romantic interest in the man by her side. She had been conscious of a sense of satisfaction and pleasant anticipation when her father told her that he was to be of their party. His wit and gallantry would make up for the necessity of having her Aunt Maria along. Aunt Maria was always a damper to anything she came near. She was the personification of propriety. She had tried to make Hazel think she must remain in the car and rest that day instead of going off on a wild goose chase after a mine. No lady did such things, she told her niece.

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