The Border Legion (Chapter 8, page 1 of 13)


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Chapter 8

In three days--during which time Joan attended Kells as faithfully
as if she were indeed his wife--he thought that he had gained
sufficiently to undertake the journey to the main camp, Cabin Gulch.
He was eager to get back there and imperious in his overruling of
any opposition. The men could take turns at propping him in a
saddle. So on the morning of the fourth day they packed for the
ride.

During these few days Joan had verified her suspicion that Kells had
two sides to his character; or it seemed, rather, that her presence
developed a latent or a long-dead side. When she was with him,
thereby distracting his attention, he was entirely different from
what he was when his men surrounded him. Apparently he had no
knowledge of this. He showed surprise and gratitude at Joan's
kindness though never pity or compassion for her. That he had become
infatuated with her Joan could no longer doubt. His strange eyes
followed her; there was a dreamy light in them; he was mostly silent
with her.

Before those few days had come to an end he had developed two
things--a reluctance to let Joan leave his sight and an intolerance
of the presence of the other men, particularly Gulden. Always Joan
felt the eyes of these men upon her, mostly in unobtrusive glances,
except Gulden's. The giant studied her with slow, cavernous stare,
without curiosity or speculation or admiration. Evidently a woman
was a new and strange creature to him and he was experiencing
unfamiliar sensations. Whenever Joan accidentally met his gaze--for
she avoided it as much as possible--she shuddered with sick memory
of a story she had heard--how a huge and ferocious gorilla had
stolen into an African village and run off with a white woman. She
could not shake the memory. And it was this that made her kinder to
Kells than otherwise would have been possible.

All Joan's faculties sharpened in this period. She felt her own
development--the beginning of a bitter and hard education--an
instinctive assimilation of all that nature taught its wild people
and creatures, the first thing in elemental life--self-preservation.
Parallel in her heart and mind ran a hopeless despair and a driving,
unquenchable spirit. The former was fear, the latter love. She
believed beyond a doubt that she had doomed herself along with Jim
Cleve; she felt that she had the courage, the power, the love to
save him, if not herself. And the reason that she did not falter and
fail in this terrible situation was because her despair, great as it
was, did not equal her love.

That morning, before being lifted upon his horse, Kells buckled on
his gun-belt. The sheath and full round of shells and the gun made
this belt a burden for a weak man. And so Red Pearce insisted. But
Kells laughed in his face. The men, always excepting Gulden, were
unfailing in kindness and care. Apparently they would have fought
for Kells to the death. They were simple and direct in their rough
feelings. But in Kells, Joan thought, was a character who was a
product of this border wildness, yet one who could stand aloof from
himself and see the possibilities, the unexpected, the meaning of
that life. Kells knew that a man and yet another might show kindness
and faithfulness one moment, but the very next, out of a manhood
retrograded to the savage, out of the circumstance or chance, might
respond to a primitive force far sundered from thought or reason,
and rise to unbridled action. Joan divined that Kells buckled on his
gun to be ready to protect her. But his men never dreamed his
motive. Kells was a strong, bad man set among men like him, yet he
was infinitely different because he had brains.

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