The Border Legion (Chapter 7, page 1 of 9)


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Chapter 7

After dark Kells had his men build a fire before the open side of
the cabin. He lay propped up on blankets and his saddle, while the
others lounged or sat in a half-circle in the light, facing him.

Joan drew her blankets into a corner where the shadows were thick
and she could see without being seen. She wondered how she would
ever sleep near all these wild men--if she could ever sleep again.
Yet she seemed more curious and wakeful than frightened. She had no
way to explain it, but she felt the fact that her presence in the
camp had a subtle influence, at once restraining and exciting. So
she looked out upon the scene with wide-open eyes.

And she received more strongly than ever an impression of wildness.
Even the camp-fire seemed to burn wildly; it did not glow and
sputter and pale and brighten and sing like an honest camp-fire. It
blazed in red, fierce, hurried flames, wild to consume the logs. It
cast a baleful and sinister color upon the hard faces there. Then
the blackness of the enveloping night was pitchy, without any bold
outline of canon wall or companionship of stars. The coyotes were
out in force and from all around came their wild sharp barks. The
wind rose and mourned weirdly through the balsams.

But it was in the men that Joan felt mostly that element of
wildness. Kells lay with his ghastly face clear in the play of the
moving flare of light. It was an intelligent, keen, strong face, but
evil. Evil power stood out in the lines, in the strange eyes,
stranger then ever, now in shadow; and it seemed once more the face
of an alert, listening, implacable man, with wild projects in mind,
driving him to the doom he meant for others. Pearce's red face shone
redder in that ruddy light. It was hard, lean, almost fleshless, a
red mask stretched over a grinning skull. The one they called
Frenchy was little, dark, small-featured, with piercing gimlet-like
eyes, and a mouth ready to gush forth hate and violence. The next
two were not particularly individualized by any striking aspect,
merely looking border ruffians after the type of Bill and Halloway.
But Gulden, who sat at the end of the half-circle, was an object
that Joan could scarcely bring her gaze to study. Somehow her first
glance at him put into her mind a strange idea--that she was a woman
and therefore of all creatures or things in the world the farthest
removed from him. She looked away, and found her gaze returning,
fascinated, as if she were a bird and he a snake. The man was of
huge frame, a giant whose every move suggested the acme of physical
power. He was an animal--a gorilla with a shock of light instead of
black hair, of pale instead of black skin. His features might have
been hewn and hammered out with coarse, dull, broken chisels. And
upon his face, in the lines and cords, in the huge caverns where his
eyes hid, and in the huge gash that held strong, white fangs, had
been stamped by nature and by life a terrible ferocity. Here was a
man or a monster in whose presence Joan felt that she would rather
be dead. He did not smoke; he did not indulge in the coarse, good-
natured raillery, he sat there like a huge engine of destruction
that needed no rest, but was forced to rest because of weaker
attachments. On the other hand, he was not sullen or brooding. It
was that he did not seem to think.

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