The Border Legion (Chapter 4, page 3 of 7)

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Chapter 4

"Joan! You know why I brought you here?"

"Yes, of course; you told me," she replied, steadily. "You want to
ransom me for gold. ... And I'm afraid you'll have to take me home
without getting any."

"You know what I mean to do to you," he went on, thickly.

"Do to me?" she echoed, and she never quivered a muscle. "You--you
didn't say. ... I haven't thought. ... But you won't hurt me, will
you? It's not my fault if there's no gold to ransom me."

He shook her. His face changed, grew darker. "You KNOW what I mean."

"I don't." With some show of spirit she essayed to slip out of his
grasp. He held her the tighter.

"How old are you?"

It was only in her height and development that Joan looked anywhere
near her age. Often she had been taken for a very young girl.

"I'm seventeen," she replied. This was not the truth. It was a lie
that did not falter on lips which had scorned falsehood.

"Seventeen!" he ejaculated in amaze. "Honestly, now?"

She lifted her chin scornfully and remained silent.

"Well, I thought you were a woman. I took you to be twenty-five--at
least twenty-two. Seventeen, with that shape! You're only a girl--a
kid. You don't know anything."

Then he released her, almost with violence, as if angered at her or
himself, and he turned away to the horses. Joan walked toward the
little cabin. The strain of that encounter left her weak, but once
from under his eyes, certain that she had carried her point, she
quickly regained her poise. There might be, probably would be,
infinitely more trying ordeals for her to meet than this one had
been; she realized, however, that never again would she be so near
betrayal of terror and knowledge and self.

The scene of her isolation had a curious fascination for her.
Something--and she shuddered--was to happen to her here in this
lonely, silent gorge. There were some flat stones made into a rude
seat under the balsam-tree, and a swift, yard-wide stream of clear
water ran by. Observing something white against the tree, Joan went
closer. A card, the ace of hearts, had been pinned to the bark by a
small cluster of bullet-holes, every one of which touched the red
heart, and one of them had obliterated it. Below the circle of
bulletholes, scrawled in rude letters with a lead-pencil, was the
name "Gulden." How little, a few nights back, when Jim Cleve had
menaced Joan with the names of Kells and Gulden, had she imagined
they were actual men she was to meet and fear! And here she was the
prisoner of one of them. She would ask Kells who and what this
Gulden was. The log cabin was merely a shed, without fireplace or
window, and the floor was a covering of balsam boughs, long dried
out and withered. A dim trail led away from it down the canon. If
Joan was any judge of trails, this one had not seen the imprint of a
horse track for many months. Kells had indeed brought her to a
hiding place, one of those, perhaps, that camp gossip said was
inaccessible to any save a border hawk. Joan knew that only an
Indian could follow the tortuous and rocky trail by which Kells had
brought her in. She would never be tracked there by her own people.

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