The Border Legion (Chapter 10, page 1 of 12)


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Chapter 10

Next day, when Kells called Joan out into the other cabin, she
verified her hope and belief, not so much in the almost indefinable
aging and sadness of the man, as in the strong intuitive sense that
her attraction had magnified for him and had uplifted him.

"You mustn't stay shut up in there any longer," he said. "You've
lost weight and you're pale. Go out in the air and sun. You might as
well get used to the gang. Bate Wood came to me this morning and
said he thought you were the ghost of Dandy Dale. That name will
stick to you. I don't care how you treat my men. But if you're
friendly you'll fare better. Don't go far from the cabin. And if any
man says or does a thing you don't like--flash your gun. Don't yell
for me. You can bluff this gang to a standstill."

That was a trial for Joan, when she walked out into the light in
Dandy Dale's clothes. She did not step very straight, and she could
feel the cold prick of her face under the mask. It was not shame,
but fear that gripped her. She would rather die than have Jim Cleve
recognize her in that bold disguise. A line of dusty saddled horses
stood heads and bridles down before the cabin, and a number of
lounging men ceased talking when she appeared. It was a crowd that
smelled of dust and horses and leather and whisky and tobacco. Joan
did not recognize any one there, which fact aided her in a quick
recovery of her composure. Then she found amusement in the absolute
sensation she made upon these loungers. They stared, open-mouthed
and motionless. One old fellow dropped his pipe from bearded lips
and did not seem to note the loss. A dark young man, dissipated and
wild-looking, with years of lawlessness stamped upon his face, was
the first to move; and he, with awkward gallantry, but with amiable
disposition. Joan wanted to run, yet she forced herself to stand
there, apparently unconcerned before this battery of bold and
curious eyes. That, once done, made the rest easier. She was
grateful for the mask. And with her first low, almost incoherent,
words in reply Joan entered upon the second phase of her experience
with these bandits. Naturalness did not come soon, but it did come,
and with it her wit and courage.

Used as she had become to the villainous countenances of the border
ruffians, she yet upon closer study discovered wilder and more
abandoned ones. Yet despite that, and a brazen, unconcealed
admiration, there was not lacking kindliness and sympathy and good
nature. Presently Joan sauntered away, and she went among the tired,
shaggy horses and made friends with them. An occasional rider swung
up the trail to dismount before Kells's cabin, and once two riders
rode in, both staring--all eyes--at her. The meaning of her intent
alertness dawned upon her then. Always, whatever she was doing or
thinking or saying, behind it all hid the driving watchfulness for
Jim Cleve. And the consciousness of this fixed her mind upon him.
Where was he? What was he doing? Was he drunk or gambling or
fighting or sleeping? Was he still honest? When she did meet him
what would happen? How could she make herself and circumstances
known to him before he killed somebody? A new fear had birth and
grew--Cleve would recognize her in that disguise, mask and all.

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