The Border Legion (Chapter 4, page 2 of 7)


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Chapter 4

"You're worth a hundred thousand in gold right now ... Maybe later I
might let you go for less."

Joan's keen-wrought perception registered his covert, scarcely
veiled implication. He was studying her.

"Oh, poor uncle. He'll never, never get so much."

"Sure he will," replied Kells, bluntly.

Then he helped her out of the saddle. She was stiff and awkward, and
she let herself slide. Kells handled her gently and like a
gentleman, and for Joan the first agonizing moment of her ordeal was
past. Her intuition had guided her correctly. Kells might have been
and probably was the most depraved of outcast men; but the presence
of a girl like her, however it affected him, must also have brought
up associations of a time when by family and breeding and habit he
had been infinitely different. His action here, just like the
ruffian Bill's, was instinctive, beyond his control. Just this
slight thing, this frail link that joined Kells to his past and
better life, immeasurably inspirited Joan and outlined the difficult
game she had to play.

"You're a very gallant robber," she said.

He appeared not to hear that or to note it; he was eying her up and
down; and he moved closer, perhaps to estimate her height compared
to his own.

"I didn't know you were so tall. You're above my shoulder."

"Yes, I'm very lanky."

"Lanky! Why you're not that. You've a splendid figure--tall, supple,
strong; you're like a Nez Perce girl I knew once. ... You're a
beautiful thing. Didn't you know that?"

"Not particularly. My friends don't dare flatter me. I suppose I'll
have to stand it from you. But I didn't expect compliments from Jack
Kells of the Border Legion."

"Border Legion? Where'd you hear that name?"

"I didn't hear it. I made it up--thought of it myself."

"Well, you've invented something I'll use. ... And what's your
name--your first name? I heard Roberts use it."

Joan felt a cold contraction of all her internal being, but
outwardly she never so much as nicked an eyelash. "My name's Joan."

"Joan!" He placed heavy, compelling hands on her shoulders and
turned her squarely toward him.

Again she felt his gaze, strangely, like the reflection of sunlight
from ice. She had to look at him. This was her supreme test. For
hours she had prepared for it, steeled herself, wrought upon all
that was sensitive in her; and now she prayed, and swiftly looked up
into his eyes. They were windows of a gray hell. And she gazed into
that naked abyss, at that dark, uncovered soul, with only the timid
anxiety and fear and the unconsciousness of an innocent, ignorant
girl.

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