The Border Legion (Chapter 9, page 1 of 12)


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Chapter 9

Joan turned away from the door in a cold clamp of relief. The shadow
of death hovered over these men. She must fortify herself to live
under that shadow, to be prepared for any sudden violence, to stand
a succession of shocks that inevitably would come. She listened. The
men were talking and laughing now; there came a click of chips, the
spat of a thrown card, the thump of a little sack of gold. Ahead of
her lay the long hours of night in which these men would hold revel.
Only a faint ray of light penetrated her cabin, but it was
sufficient for her to distinguish objects. She set about putting the
poles in place to barricade the opening. When she had finished she
knew she was safe at least from intrusion. Who had constructed that
rude door and for what purpose? Then she yielded to the temptation
to peep once more under the edge of the curtain.

The room was cloudy and blue with smoke. She saw Jim Cleve at a
table gambling with several ruffians. His back was turned, yet Joan
felt the contrast of his attitude toward the game, compared with
that of the others. They were tense, fierce, and intent upon every
throw of a card. Cleve's very poise of head and movement of arm
betrayed his indifference. One of the gamblers howled his disgust,
slammed down his cards, and got up.

"He's cleaned out," said one, in devilish glee.

"Naw, he ain't," voiced another. "He's got two fruit-cans full of
dust. I saw 'em. ... He's just lay down--like a poisoned coyote."

"Shore I'm glad Cleve's got the luck, fer mebbe he'll give my gold
back," spoke up another gamester, with a laugh.

"Wal, he certainlee is the chilvalus card sharp," rejoined the last
player. "Jim, was you allus as lucky in love as in cards?"

"Lucky in love? ... Sure!" answered Jim Cleve, with a mocking,
reckless ring in his voice.

"Funny, ain't thet, boys? Now there's the boss. Kells can sure win
the gurls, but he's a pore gambler." Kells heard this speech, and he
laughed with the others. "Hey, you greaser, you never won any of my
money," he said.

"Come an' set in, boss. Come an' see your gold fade away. You can't
stop this Jim Cleve. Luck--bull luck straddles his neck. He'll win
your gold--your hosses an' saddles an' spurs an' guns--an' your
shirt, if you've nerve enough to bet it."

The speaker slapped his cards upon the table while he gazed at Cleve
in grieved admiration. Kells walked over to the group and he put his
hand on Cleve's shoulder.

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