The Border Legion (Chapter 6, page 1 of 10)

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Chapter 6

When Joan returned to consciousness she was lying half outside the
opening of the cabin and above her was a drift of blue gun-smoke,
slowly floating upward. Almost as swiftly as perception of that
smoke came a shuddering memory. She lay still, listening. She did
not hear a sound except the tinkle and babble and gentle rush of the
brook. Kells was dead, then. And overmastering the horror of her act
was a relief, a freedom, a lifting of her soul out of the dark
dread, a something that whispered justification of the fatal deed.

She got up and, avoiding to look within the cabin, walked away. The
sun was almost at the zenith. Where had the morning hours gone?

"I must get away," she said, suddenly. The thought quickened her.
Down the canon the horses were grazing. She hurried along the trail,
trying to decide whether to follow this dim old trail or endeavor to
get out the way she had been brought in. She decided upon the
latter. If she traveled slowly, and watched for familiar landmarks,
things she had seen once, and hunted carefully for the tracks, she
believed she might be successful. She had the courage to try. Then
she caught her pony and led him back to camp.

"What shall I take?" she pondered. She decided upon very little--a
blanket, a sack of bread and meat, and a canteen of water. She might
need a weapon, also. There was only one, the gun with which she had
killed Kells. It seemed utterly impossible to touch that hateful
thing. But now that she had liberated herself, and at such cost, she
must not yield to sentiment. Resolutely she started for the cabin,
but when she reached it her steps were dragging. The long, dull-blue
gun lay where she had dropped it. And out of the tail of averted
eyes she saw a huddled shape along the wall. It was a sickening
moment when she reached a shaking hand for the gun. And at that
instant a low moan transfixed her.

She seemed frozen rigid. Was the place already haunted? Her heart
swelled in her throat and a dimness came before her eyes. But
another moan brought a swift realization--Kells was alive. And the
cold, clamping sickness, the strangle in her throat, all the
feelings of terror, changed and were lost in a flood of instinctive
joy. He was not dead. She had not killed him. She did not have blood
on her hands. She was not a murderer.

She whirled to look at him. There he lay, ghastly as a corpse. And
all her woman's gladness fled. But there was compassion left to her,
and, forgetting all else, she knelt beside him. He was as cold as
stone. She felt no stir, no beat of pulse in temple or wrist. Then
she placed her ear against his breast. His heart beat weakly.

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