The Border Legion (Chapter 5, page 2 of 4)


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Chapter 5

After that for Joan time might have consisted of moments or hours,
each of which was marked by Kells looming over her. He appeared to
approach her from all sides; he round her wide-eyed, sleepless; his
shadowy glance gloated over her lithe, slender shape; and then he
strode away into the gloom. Sometimes she could no longer hear his
steps and then she was quiveringly alert, listening, fearful that he
might creep upon her like a panther. At times he kept the camp-fire
blazing brightly; at others he let it die down. And these dark
intervals were frightful for her. The night seemed treacherous, in
league with her foe. It was endless. She prayed for dawn--yet with a
blank hopelessness for what the day might bring. Could she hold out
through more interminable hours? Would she not break from sheer
strain? There were moments when she wavered and shook like a leaf in
the wind, when the beating of her heart was audible, when a child
could have seen her distress. There were other moments when all was
ugly, unreal, impossible like things in a nightmare. But when Kells
was near or approached to look at her, like a cat returned to watch
a captive mouse, she was again strong, waiting, with ever a strange
and cold sense of the nearness of that swinging gun. Late in the
night she missed him, for how long she had no idea. She had less
trust in his absence than his presence. The nearer he came to her
the stronger she grew and the clearer of purpose. At last the black
void of canon lost its blackness and turned to gray. Dawn was at
hand. The horrible endless night, in which she had aged from girl to
woman, had passed. Joan had never closed her eyes a single instant.

When day broke she got up. The long hours in which she had rested
motionlessly had left her muscles cramped and dead. She began to
walk off the feeling. Kells had just stirred from his blanket under
the balsam-tree. His face was dark, haggard, lined. She saw him go
down to the brook and plunge his hands into the water and bathe his
face with a kind of fury. Then he went up to the smoldering fire.
There was a gloom, a somberness, a hardness about him that had not
been noticeable the day before.

Joan found the water cold as ice, soothing to the burn beneath her
skin. She walked away then, aware that Kells did not appear to care,
and went up to where the brook brawled from under the cliff. This
was a hundred paces from camp, though in plain sight. Joan looked
round for her horse, but he was not to be seen. She decided to slip
away the first opportunity that offered, and on foot or horseback,
any way, to get out of Kells's clutches if she had to wander, lost
in the mountains, till she starved. Possibly the day might be
endurable, but another night would drive her crazy. She sat on a
ledge, planning and brooding, till she was startled by a call from
Kells. Then slowly she retraced her steps.

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