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|A Waif of the Plains||Bret Harte|
|Page 3 of 4||
The train was nearly abreast of him now. He ran out of the tall grass, waving his straw hat above his head in the faint hope of attracting attention. But he did not go far, for he found to his alarm that when he turned back again the clump of mesquite was scarcely distinguishable from the rest of the plain. This settled all question of his going. Even if he reached the train and returned with some one, how would he ever find her again in this desolate expanse?
He watched the train slowly pass--still mechanically, almost hopelessly, waving his hat as he ran up and down before the mesquite, as if he were waving a last farewell to his departing hope. Suddenly it appeared to him that three of the outriders who were preceding the first wagon had changed their shape. They were no longer sharp, oblong, black blocks against the horizon but had become at first blurred and indistinct, then taller and narrower, until at last they stood out like exclamation points against the sky. He continued to wave his hat, they continued to grow taller and narrower. He understood it now--the three transformed blocks were the outriders coming towards him.
This is what he had seen--
[Drawing of three black blocks]
This is what he saw now--
! ! !
He ran back to Susy to see if she still slept, for his foolish desire to have her saved unconsciously was stronger than ever now that safety seemed so near. She was still sleeping, although she had moved slightly. He ran to the front again.
The outriders had apparently halted. What were they doing? Why wouldn't they come on?
Suddenly a blinding flash of light seemed to burst from one of them. Away over his head something whistled like a rushing bird, and sped off invisible. They had fired a gun; they were signaling to him--Clarence--like a grown-up man. He would have given his life at that moment to have had a gun. But he could only wave his hat frantically.
One of the figures here bore away and impetuously darted forward again. He was coming nearer, powerful, gigantic, formidable, as he loomed through the darkness. All at once he threw up his arm with a wild gesture to the others; and his voice, manly, frank, and assuring, came ringing before him.
"Hold up! Good God! It's no Injun--it's a child!"
In another moment he had reined up beside Clarence and leaned over him, bearded, handsome, powerful and protecting.
"Hallo! What's all this? What are you doing here?"
"Lost from Mr. Silsbee's train," said Clarence, pointing to the darkened west.
"About three hours. I thought they'd come back for us," said Clarence apologetically to this big, kindly man.
"And you kalkilated to wait here for 'em?"
"Yes, yes--I did--till I saw you."
"Then why in thunder didn't you light out straight for us, instead of hanging round here and drawing us out?"
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