The Border Legion (Chapter 2, page 1 of 7)


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Chapter 2

"It ain't you--KELLS?"

Roberts's query was a confirmation of his own recognition. And the
other's laugh was an answer, if one were needed.

The three horsemen crossed the wash and again halted, leisurely, as
if time was no object. They were all young, under thirty. The two
who had not spoken were rough-garbed, coarse-featured, and resembled
in general a dozen men Joan saw every day. Kells was of a different
stamp. Until he looked at her he reminded her of someone she had
known back in Missouri; after he looked at her she was aware, in a
curious, sickening way, that no such person as he had ever before
seen her. He was pale, gray-eyed, intelligent, amiable. He appeared
to be a man who had been a gentleman. But there was something
strange, intangible, immense about him. Was that the effect of his
presence or of his name? Kells! It was only a word to Joan. But it
carried a nameless and terrible suggestion. During the last year
many dark tales had gone from camp to camp in Idaho--some too
strange, too horrible for credence--and with every rumor the fame of
Kells had grown, and also a fearful certainty of the rapid growth of
a legion of evil men out on the border. But no one in the village or
from any of the camps ever admitted having seen this Kells. Had fear
kept them silent? Joan was amazed that Roberts evidently knew this
man.

Kells dismounted and offered his hand. Roberts took it and shook it
constrainedly.

"Where did we meet last?" asked Kells.

"Reckon it was out of Fresno," replied Roberts, and it was evident
that he tried to hide the effect of a memory.

Then Kells touched his hat to Joan, giving her the fleetest kind of
a glance. "Rather off the track aren't you?" he asked Roberts.

"Reckon we are," replied Roberts, and he began to lose some of his
restraint. His voice sounded clearer and did not halt. "Been
trailin' Miss Randle's favorite hoss. He's lost. An' we got farther
'n we had any idee. Then my hoss went lame. 'Fraid we can't start
home to-night."

"Where are you from?"

"Hoadley. Bill Hoadley's town, back thirty miles or so."

"Well, Roberts, if you've no objection we'll camp here with you,"
continued Kells. "We've got some fresh meat."

With that he addressed a word to his comrades, and they repaired to
a cedar-tree near-by, where they began to unsaddle and unpack.

Then Roberts, bending nearer Joan, as if intent on his own pack,
began to whisper, hoarsely: "That's Jack Kells, the California road-
agent. He's a gun fighter--a hell-bent rattlesnake. When I saw him
last he had a rope round his neck an' was bein' led away to be
hanged. I heerd afterward he was rescued by pals. Joan, if the idee
comes into his head he'll kill me. I don't know what to do. For
God's sake think of somethin'! ... Use your woman's wits! ... We
couldn't be in a wuss fix!"

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