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The Border Legion
by Zane Grey
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Suddenly Kells stepped to her from behind and put his arms around her. Joan grew stiff. She had been taken off her guard. She was in his arms and could not face him.

"Joan, kiss me," he whispered, with a softness, a richer, deeper note in his voice.

"No!" cried Joan, violently.

There was a moment of silence in which she felt his grasp slowly tighten—the heave of his breast.

"Then I'll make you," he said. So different was the voice now that another man might have spoken. Then he bent her backward, and, freeing one hand, brought it under her chin and tried to lift her face.

But Joan broke into fierce, violent resistance. She believed she was doomed, but that only made her the fiercer, the stronger. And with her head down, her arms straining, her body hard and rigidly unyielding she fought him all over the room, knocking over the table and seats, wrestling from wall to wall, till at last they fell across the bed and she broke his hold. Then she sprang up, panting, disheveled, and backed away from him. It had been a sharp, desperate struggle on her part and she was stronger than he. He was not a well man. He raised himself and put one hand to his breast. His face was haggard, wet, working with passion, gray with pain. In the struggle she had hurt him, perhaps reopened his wound.

"Did you—knife me—that it hurts so?" he panted, raising a hand that shook.

"I had—nothing.... I just—fought," cried Joan, breathlessly.

"You hurt me—again—damn you! I'm never free—from pain. But this's worse.... And I'm a coward.... And I'm a dog, too! Not half a man!—You slip of a girl—and I couldn't—hold you!"

His pain and shame were dreadful for Joan to see, because she felt sorry for him, and divined that behind them would rise the darker, grimmer force of the man. And she was right, for suddenly he changed. That which had seemed almost to make him abject gave way to a pale and bitter dignity. He took up Dandy Dale's belt, which Joan had left on the bed, and, drawing the gun from its sheath, he opened the cylinder to see if it was loaded, and then threw the gun at Joan's feet.

"There! Take it—and make a better job this time," he said.

The power in his voice seemed to force Joan to pick up the gun.

"What do—you mean?" she queried, haltingly.

"Shoot me again! Put me out of my pain—my misery.... I'm sick of it all. I'd be glad to have you kill me!"

"Kells!" exclaimed Joan, weakly.

"Take your chance—now—when I've no strength—to force you.... Throw the gun on me.... Kill me!"

He spoke with a terrible impelling earnestness, and the strength of his will almost hypnotized Joan into execution of his demand.

"You are mad," she said. "I don't want to kill you. I couldn't.... I just want you to—to be—decent to me."

"I have been—for me. I was only in fun this time—when I grabbed you. But the FEEL of you!... I can't be decent any more. I see things clear now.... Joan Randle, it's my life or your soul!"

He rose now, dark, shaken, stripped of all save the truth.

Joan dropped the gun from nerveless grasp.

"Is that your choice?" he asked hoarsely.

"I can't murder you!"

"Are you afraid of the other men—of Gulden? Is that why you can't kill me? You're afraid to be left—to try to get away?"

"I never thought of them."

"Then—my life or your soul!"

He stalked toward her, loomed over her, so that she put out trembling hands. After the struggle a reaction was coming to her. She was weakening. She had forgotten her plan.

"If you're merciless—then it must be—my soul," she whispered. "For I CAN'T murder you.... Could you take that gun now—and press it here—and murder ME?"

"No. For I love you."

"You don't love me. It's a blacker crime to murder the soul than the body."

Something in his strange eyes inspired Joan with a flashing, reviving divination. Back upon her flooded all that tide of woman's subtle incalculable power to allure, to charge, to hold. Swiftly she went close to Kells. She stretched out her hands. One was bleeding from rough contract with the log wall during the struggle. Her wrists were red, swollen, bruised from his fierce grasp.

"Look! See what you've done. You were a beast. You made me fight like a beast. My hands were claws—my whole body one hard knot of muscle. You couldn't hold me—you couldn't kiss me.... Suppose you ARE able to hold me—later. I'll only be the husk of a woman. I'll just be a cold shell, doubled-up, unrelaxed, a callous thing never to yield.... All that's ME, the girl, the woman you say you love—will be inside, shrinking, loathing, hating, sickened to death. You will only kiss—embrace—a thing you've degraded. The warmth, the sweetness, the quiver, the thrill, the response, the life—all that is the soul of a woman and makes her lovable will be murdered."

Then she drew still closer to Kells, and with all the wondrous subtlety of a woman in a supreme moment where a life and a soul hang in the balance, she made of herself an absolute contrast to the fierce, wild, unyielding creature who had fought him off.

"Let me show—you the difference," she whispered, leaning to him, glowing, soft, eager, terrible, with her woman's charm. "Something tells me—gives me strength.... What MIGHT be!... Only barely possible—if in my awful plight—you turned out to be a man, good instead of bad!... And—if it were possible—see the differences—in the woman.... I show you—to save my soul!"

She gave the fascinated Kells her hands, slipped into his arms, to press against his breast, and leaned against him an instant, all one quivering, surrendered body; and then lifting a white face, true in its radiance to her honest and supreme purpose to give him one fleeting glimpse of the beauty and tenderness and soul of love, she put warm and tremulous lips to his.

Then she fell away from him, shrinking and terrified. But he stood there as if something beyond belief had happened to him, and the evil of his face, the hard lines, the brute softened and vanished in a light of transformation.

"My God!" he breathed softly. Then he awakened as if from a trance, and, leaping down the steps, he violently swept aside the curtain and disappeared.

Joan threw herself upon the bed and spent the last of her strength in the relief of blinding tears. She had won. She believed she need never fear Kells again. In that one moment of abandon she had exalted him. But at what cost!



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.

She walked up and down for a while, absorbed with this new idea. Then an unusual commotion among the loungers drew her attention to a group of men on foot surrounding and evidently escorting several horsemen. Joan recognized Red Pearce and Frenchy, and then, with a start, Jim Cleve. They were riding up the trail. Joan's heart began to pound. She could not meet Jim; she dared not trust this disguise; all her plans were as if they had never been. She forgot Kells. She even forgot her fear of what Cleve might do. The meeting—the inevitable recognition—the pain Jim Cleve must suffer when the fact and apparent significance of her presence there burst upon him, these drove all else from Joan's mind. Mask or no mask, she could not face his piercing eyes, and like a little coward she turned to enter the cabin.

Before she got in, however, it was forced upon her that something unusual had roused the loungers. They had arisen and were interested in the approaching group. Loud talk dinned in Joan's ears. Then she went in the door as Kells stalked by, eyes agleam, without even noticing her. Once inside her cabin, with the curtain drawn, Joan's fear gave place to anxiety and curiosity.

There was no one in the large cabin. Through the outer door she caught sight of a part of the crowd, close together, heads up, all noisy. Then she heard Kells's authoritative voice, but she could understand nothing. The babel of hoarse voices grew louder. Kells appeared, entering the door with Pearce. Jim Cleve came next, and, once the three were inside, the crowd spilled itself after them like angry bees. Kells was talking, Pearce was talking, but their voices were lost. Suddenly Kells vented his temper.

"Shut up—the lot of you!" he yelled, and his power and position might have been measured by the menace he showed.

The gang became suddenly quiet.

"Now—what's up?" demanded Kells.

"Keep your shirt on, boss," replied Pearce, with good humor. "There ain't much wrong.... Cleve, here, throwed a gun on Gulden, that's all."

Kells gave a slight start, barely perceptible, but the intensity of it, and a fleeting tigerish gleam across his face, impressed Joan with the idea that he felt a fiendish joy. Her own heart clamped in a cold amaze.

"Gulden!" Kells's exclamation was likewise a passionate query.

"No, he ain't cashed," replied Pearce. "You can't kill that bull so easy. But he's shot up some. He's layin' over at Beard's. Reckon you'd better go over an' dress them shots."

"He can rot before I doctor him," replied Kells. "Where's Bate Wood?... Bate, you can take my kit and go fix Gulden up. And now, Red, what was all the roar about?"

"Reckon that was Gulden's particular pards tryin' to mix it with Cleve an' Cleve tryin' to mix it with them—an' ME in between!... I'm here to say, boss, that I had a time stavin' off a scrap."

During this rapid exchange between Kells and his lieutenant, Jim Cleve sat on the edge of the table, one dusty boot swinging so that his spur jangled, a wisp of a cigarette in his lips. His face was white except where there seemed to be bruises under his eyes. Joan had never seen him look like this. She guessed that he had been drunk—perhaps was still drunk. That utterly abandoned face Joan was so keen to read made her bite her tongue to keep from crying out. Yes, Jim was lost.

"What'd they fight about?" queried Kells.

"Ask Cleve," replied Pearce. "Reckon I'd just as lief not talk any more about him."

Then Kells turned to Cleve and stepped before him. Somehow these two men face to face thrilled Joan to her depths. They presented such contrasts. Kells was keen, imperious, vital, strong, and complex, with an unmistakable friendly regard for this young outcast. Cleve seemed aloof, detached, indifferent to everything, with a white, weary, reckless scorn. Both men were far above the gaping ruffians around them.

"Cleve, why'd you draw on Gulden?" asked Kells, sharply.

"That's my business," replied Cleve, slowly, and with his piercing eyes on Kells he blew a long, thin, blue stream of smoke upward.

"Sure.... But I remember what you asked me the other day—about Gulden. Was that why?"

"Nope," replied Cleve. "This was my affair."

"All right. But I'd like to know. Pearce says you're in bad with Gulden's friends. If I can't make peace between you I'll have to take sides."

"Kells, I don't need any one on my side," said Cleve, and he flung the cigarette away.

"Yes, you do," replied Kells, persuasively. "Every man on this border needs that. And he's lucky when he gets it."

"Well, I don't ask for it; I don't want it."

"That's your own business, too. I'm not insisting or advising."

Kells's force and ability to control men manifested itself in his speech and attitude. Nothing could have been easier than to rouse the antagonism of Jim Cleve, abnormally responding as he was to the wild conditions of this border environment.

"Then you're not calling my hand?" queried Cleve, with his dark, piercing glance on Kells.

"I pass, Jim," replied the bandit, easily.

Cleve began to roll another cigarette. Joan saw his strong, brown hands tremble, and she realized that this came from his nervous condition, not from agitation. Her heart ached for him. What a white, somber face, so terribly expressive of the overthrow of his soul! He had fled to the border in reckless fury at her—at himself. There in its wildness he had, perhaps, lost thought of himself and memory of her. He had plunged into the unrestrained border life. Its changing, raw, and fateful excitement might have made him forget, but behind all was the terrible seeking to destroy and be destroyed. Joan shuddered when she remembered how she had mocked this boy's wounded vanity—how scathingly she had said he did not possess manhood and nerve enough even to be bad.

"See here, Red," said Kells to Pearce, "tell me what happened—what you saw. Jim can't object to that."

"Sure," replied Pearce, thus admonished. "We was all over at Beard's an' several games was on. Gulden rode into camp last night. He's always sore, but last night it seemed more'n usual. But he didn't say much an' nothin' happened. We all reckoned his trip fell through. Today he was restless. He walked an' walked just like a cougar in a pen. You know how Gulden has to be on the move. Well, we let him alone, you can bet. But suddenlike he comes up to our table—me an' Cleve an' Beard an' Texas was playin' cards—an' he nearly kicks the table over. I grabbed the gold an' Cleve he saved the whisky. We'd been drinkin' an' Cleve most of all. Beard was white at the gills with rage an' Texas was soffocatin'. But we all was afraid of Gulden, except Cleve, as it turned out. But he didn't move or look mean. An' Gulden pounded on the table an' addressed himself to Cleve.

"'I've a job you'll like. Come on.'

"'Job? Say, man, you couldn't have a job I'd like,' replied Cleve, slow an' cool.

"You know how Gulden gets when them spells come over him. It's just plain cussedness. I've seen gunfighters lookin' for trouble—for someone to kill. But Gulden was worse than that. You all take my hunch—he's got a screw loose in his nut.

"'Cleve,' he said, 'I located the Brander gold-diggin's—an' the girl was there.'

"Some kind of a white flash went over Cleve. An' we all, rememberin' Luce, began to bend low, ready to duck. Gulden didn't look no different from usual. You can't see any change in him. But I for one felt all hell burnin' in him.

"'Oho! You have,' said Cleve, quick, like he was pleased. 'An' did you get her?'

"'Not yet. Just looked over the ground. I'm pickin' you to go with me. We'll split on the gold, an' I'll take the girl.'

"Cleve swung the whisky-bottle an' it smashed on Gulden's mug, knockin' him flat. Cleve was up, like a cat, gun burnin' red. The other fellers were dodgin' low. An' as I ducked I seen Gulden, flat on his back, draggin' at his gun. He stopped short an' his hand flopped. The side of his face went all bloody. I made sure he'd cashed, so I leaped up an' grabbed Cleve.

"It'd been all right if Gulden had only cashed. But he hadn't. He came to an' bellered fer his gun an' fer his pards. Why, you could have heard him for a mile.... Then, as I told you, I had trouble in holdin' back a general mix-up. An' while he was hollerin' about it I led them all over to you. Gulden is layin' back there with his ear shot off. An' that's all."

Kells, with thoughtful mien, turned from Pearce to the group of dark-faced men. "This fight settles one thing," he said to them. "We've got to have organization. If you're not all a lot of fools you'll see that. You need a head. Most of you swear by me, but some of you are for Gulden. Just because he's a bloody devil. These times are the wildest the West ever knew, and they're growing wilder. Gulden is a great machine for execution. He has no sense of fear. He's a giant. He loves to fight—to kill. But Gulden's all but crazy. This last deal proves that. I leave it to your common sense. He rides around hunting for some lone camp to rob. Or some girl to make off with. He does not plan with me or the men whose judgment I have confidence in. He's always without gold. And so are most of his followers. I don't know who they are. And I don't care. But here we split—unless they and Gulden take advice and orders from me. I'm not so much siding with Cleve. Any of you ought to admit that Gulden's kind of work will disorganize a gang. He's been with us for long. And he approaches Cleve with a job. Cleve is a stranger. He may belong here, but he's not yet one of us. Gulden oughtn't have approached him. It was no straight deal. We can't figure what Gulden meant exactly, but it isn't likely he wanted Cleve to go. It was a bluff. He got called.... You men think this over—whether you'll stick to Gulden or to me. Clear out now."

His strong, direct talk evidently impressed them, and in silence they crowded out of the cabin, leaving Pearce and Cleve behind.

"Jim, are you just hell-bent on fighting or do you mean to make yourself the champion of every poor girl in these wilds?"

Cleve puffed a cloud of smoke that enveloped his head "I don't pick quarrels," he replied.

"Then you get red-headed at the very mention of a girl."

A savage gesture of Cleve's suggested that Kells was right.

"Here, don't get red-headed at me," called Kells, with piercing sharpness. "I'll be your friend if you let me.... But declare yourself like a man—if you want me for a friend!"

"Kells, I'm much obliged," replied Cleve, with a semblance of earnestness. "I'm no good or I wouldn't be out here... But I can't stand for these—these deals with girls."

"You'll change," rejoined Kells, bitterly. "Wait till you live a few lonely years out here! You don't understand the border. You're young. I've seen the gold-fields of California and Nevada. Men go crazy with the gold fever. It's gold that makes men wild. If you don't get killed you'll change. If you live you'll see life on this border. War debases the moral force of a man, but nothing like what you'll experience here the next few years. Men with their wives and daughters are pouring into this range. They're all over. They're finding gold. They've tasted blood. Wait till the great gold strike comes! Then you'll see men and women go back ten thousand years... And then what'll one girl more or less matter?"

"Well, you see, Kells, I was loved so devotedly by one and made such a hero of—that I just can't bear to see any girl mistreated."

He almost drawled the words, and he was suave and cool, and his face was inscrutable, but a bitterness in his tone gave the lie to all he said and looked.

Pearce caught the broader inference and laughed as if at a great joke. Kells shook his head doubtfully, as if Cleve's transparent speech only added to the complexity. And Cleve turned away, as if in an instant he had forgotten his comrades.

Afterward, in the silence and darkness of night, Joan Randle lay upon her bed sleepless, haunted by Jim's white face, amazed at the magnificent madness of him, thrilled to her soul by the meaning of his attack on Gulden, and tortured by a love that had grown immeasurably full of the strength of these hours of suspense and the passion of this wild border.

Even in her dreams Joan seemed to be bending all her will toward that inevitable and fateful moment when she must stand before Jim Cleve. It had to be. Therefore she would absolutely compel herself to meet it, regardless of the tumult that must rise within her. When all had been said, her experience so far among the bandits, in spite of the shocks and suspense that had made her a different girl, had been infinitely more fortunate than might have been expected. She prayed for this luck to continue and forced herself into a belief that it would.

That night she had slept in Dandy Dale's clothes, except for the boots; and sometimes while turning in restless slumber she had been awakened by rolling on the heavy gun, which she had not removed from the belt. And at such moments, she had to ponder in the darkness, to realize that she, Joan Randle, lay a captive in a bandit's camp, dressed in a dead bandit's garb, and packing his gun—even while she slept. It was such an improbable, impossible thing. Yet the cold feel of the polished gun sent a thrill of certainty through her.

In the morning she at least did not have to suffer the shame of getting into Dandy Dale's clothes, for she was already in them. She found a grain of comfort even in that. When she had put on the mask and sombrero she studied the effect in her little mirror. And she again decided that no one, not even Jim Cleve, could recognize her in that disguise. Likewise she gathered courage from the fact that even her best girl friend would have found her figure unfamiliar and striking where once it had been merely tall and slender and strong, ordinarily dressed. Then how would Jim Cleve ever recognize her? She remembered her voice that had been called a contralto, low and deep; and how she used to sing the simple songs she knew. She could not disguise that voice. But she need not let Jim hear it. Then there was a return of the idea that he would instinctively recognize her—that no disguise could be proof to a lover who had ruined himself for her. Suddenly she realized how futile all her worry and shame. Sooner or later she must reveal her identity to Jim Cleve. Out of all this complexity of emotion Joan divined that what she yearned most for was to spare Cleve the shame consequent upon recognition of her and then the agony he must suffer at a false conception of her presence there. It was a weakness in her. When death menaced her lover and the most inconceivably horrible situation yawned for her, still she could only think of her passionate yearning to have him know, all in a flash, that she loved him, that she had followed him in remorse, that she was true to him and would die before being anything else.

And when she left her cabin she was in a mood to force an issue.

Kells was sitting at the table and being served by Bate Wood.

"Hello, Dandy!" he greeted her, in surprise and pleasure. "This's early for you."

Joan returned his greeting and said that she could not sleep all the time.

"You're coming round. I'll bet you hold up a stage before a month is out."

"Hold up a stage?" echoed Joan.

"Sure. It'll be great fun," replied Kells, with a laugh. "Here—sit down and eat with me.... Bate, come along lively with breakfast.... It's fine to see you there. That mask changes you, though. No one can see how pretty you are.... Joan, your admirer, Gulden, has been incapacitated for the present."

Then in evident satisfaction Kells repeated the story that Joan had heard Red Pearce tell the night before; and in the telling Kells enlarged somewhat upon Jim Cleve.

"I've taken a liking to Cleve," said Kells. "He's a strange youngster. But he's more man than boy. I think he's broken-hearted over some rotten girl who's been faithless or something. Most women are no good, Joan. A while ago I'd have said ALL women were that, but since I've known you I think—I know different. Still, one girl out of a million doesn't change a world."

"What will this J—jim C—cleve do—when he sees—me?" asked Joan, and she choked over the name.

"Don't eat so fast, girl," said Kells. "You're only seventeen years old and you've plenty of time.... Well, I've thought some about Cleve. He's not crazy like Gulden, but he's just as dangerous. He's dangerous because he doesn't know what he's doing—has absolutely no fear of death—and then he's swift with a gun. That's a bad combination. Cleve will kill a man presently. He's shot three already, and in Gulden's case he meant to kill. If once he kills a man—that'll make him a gun-fighter. I've worried a little about his seeing you. But I can manage him, I guess. He can't be scared or driven. But he may be led. I've had Red Pearce tell him you are my wife. I hope he believes it, for none of the other fellows believe it. Anyway, you'll meet this Cleve soon, maybe to-day, and I want you to be friendly. If I can steady him—stop his drinking—he'll be the best man for me on this border."

"I'm to help persuade him to join your band?" asked Joan, and she could not yet control her voice.

"Is that so black a thing?" queried Kells, evidently nettled, and he glared at her.

"I—I don't know," faltered Joan. "Is this—this boy a criminal yet?"

"No. He's only a fine, decent young chap gone wild—gone bad for some girl. I told you that. You don't seem to grasp the point. If I can control him he'll be of value to me—he'll be a bold and clever and dangerous man—he'll last out here. If I can't win him, why, he won't last a week longer. He'll be shot or knifed in a brawl. Without my control Cleve'll go straight to the hell he's headed for."

Joan pushed back her plate and, looking up, steadily eyed the bandit.

"Kells, I'd rather he ended his—his career quick—and went to—to—than live to be a bandit and murderer at your command."

Kells laughed mockingly, yet the savage action with which he threw his cup against the wall attested to the fact that Joan had strange power to hurt him.

"That's your sympathy, because I told you some girl drove him out here," said the bandit. "He's done for. You'll know that the moment you see him. I really think he or any man out here would be the better for my interest. Now, I want to know if you'll stand by me—put in a word to help influence this wild boy."

"I'll—I'll have to see him first," replied Joan.

"Well, you take it sort of hard," growled Kells. Then presently he brightened. "I seem always to forget that you're only a kid. Listen! Now you do as you like. But I want to warn you that you've got to get back the same kind of nerve"—here he lowered his voice and glanced at Bate Wood—"that you showed when you shot me. You're going to see some sights.... A great gold strike! Men grown gold-mad! Woman of no more account than a puff of cottonseed!... Hunger, toil, pain, disease, starvation, robbery, blood, murder, hanging, death—all nothing, nothing! There will be only gold. Sleepless nights—days of hell—rush and rush—all strangers with greedy eyes! The things that made life will be forgotten and life itself will be cheap. There will be only that yellow stuff—gold—over which men go mad and women sell their souls!"

After breakfast Kells had Joan's horse brought out of the corral and saddled.

"You must ride some every day. You must keep in condition," he said. "Pretty soon we may have a chase, and I don't want it to tear you to pieces."

"Where shall I ride?" asked Joan.

"Anywhere you like up and down the gulch."

"Are you going to have me watched?"

"Not if you say you won't run off."

"You trust me?"

"Yes."

"All right. I promise. And if I change my mind I'll tell you."

"Lord! don't do it, Joan. I—I—Well, you've come to mean a good deal to me. I don't know what I'd do if I lost you." As she mounted the horse Kells added, "Don't stand any raw talk from any of the gang."

Joan rode away, pondering in mind the strange fact that though she hated this bandit, yet she had softened toward him. His eyes lit when he saw her; his voice mellowed; his manner changed. He had meant to tell her again that he loved her, yet he controlled it. Was he ashamed? Had he seen into the depths of himself and despised what he had imagined love? There were antagonistic forces at war within him.

It was early morning and a rosy light tinged the fresh green. She let the eager horse break into a canter and then a gallop; and she rode up the gulch till the trail started into rough ground. Then turning, she went back, down under the pines and by the cabins, to where the gulch narrowed its outlet into the wide valley. Here she met several dusty horsemen driving a pack-train. One, a jovial ruffian, threw up his hands in mock surrender.

"Hands up, pards!" he exclaimed. "Reckon we've run agin' Dandy Dale come to life."

His companions made haste to comply and then the three regarded her with bold and roguish eyes. Joan had run square into them round a corner of slope and, as there was no room to pass, she had halted.

"Shore it's the Dandy Dale we heerd of," vouchsafed another.

"Thet's Dandy's outfit with a girl inside," added the third.

Joan wheeled her horse and rode back up the trail. The glances of these ruffians seemed to scorch her with the reality of her appearance. She wore a disguise, but her womanhood was more manifest in it than in her feminine garb. It attracted the bold glances of these men. If there were any possible decency among them, this outrageous bandit costume rendered it null. How could she ever continue to wear it? Would not something good and sacred within her be sullied by a constant exposure to the effect she had upon these vile border men? She did not think it could while she loved Jim Cleve; and with thought of him came a mighty throb of her heart to assure her that nothing mattered if only she could save him.

Upon the return trip up the gulch Joan found men in sight leading horses, chopping wood, stretching arms in cabin doors. Joan avoided riding near them, yet even at a distance she was aware of their gaze. One rowdy, half hidden by a window, curved hands round his mouth and called, softly, "Hullo, sweetheart!"

Joan was ashamed that she could feel insulted. She was amazed at the temper which seemed roused in her. This border had caused her feelings she had never dreamed possible to her. Avoiding the trail, she headed for the other side of the gulch. There were clumps of willows along the brook through which she threaded a way, looking for a good place to cross. The horse snorted for water. Apparently she was not going to find any better crossing, so she turned the horse into a narrow lane through the willows and, dismounting on a mossy bank, she slipped the bridle so the horse could drink.

Suddenly she became aware that she was not alone. But she saw no one in front of her or on the other side of her horse. Then she turned. Jim Cleve was in the act of rising from his knees. He had a towel in his hand. His face was wet. He stood no more than ten steps from her.

Joan could not have repressed a little cry to save her life. The surprise was tremendous. She could not move a finger. She expected to hear him call her name.

Cleve stared at her. His face, in the morning light, was as drawn and white as that of a corpse. Only his eyes seemed alive and they were flames. A lightning flash of scorn leaped to them. He only recognized in her a woman, and his scorn was for the creature that bandit garb proclaimed her to be. A sad and bitter smile crossed his face; and then it was followed by an expression that was a lash upon Joan's bleeding spirit. He looked at her shapely person with something of the brazen and evil glance that had been so revolting to her in the eyes of those ruffians. That was the unexpected—the impossible—in connection with Jim Cleve. How could she stand there under it—and live?

She jerked at the bridle, and, wading blindly across the brook, she mounted somehow, and rode with blurred sight back to the cabin. Kells appeared busy with men outside and did not accost her. She fled to her cabin and barricaded the door.

Then she hid her face on her bed, covered herself to shut out the light, and lay there, broken-hearted. What had been that other thing she had imagined was shame—that shrinking and burning she had suffered through Kells and his men? What was that compared to this awful thing? A brand of red-hot pitch, blacker and bitterer than death, had been struck brutally across her soul. By the man she loved—whom she would have died to save! Jim Cleve had seen in her only an abandoned creature of the camps. His sad and bitter smile had been for the thought that he could have loved anything of her sex. His scorn had been for the betrayed youth and womanhood suggested by her appearance. And then the thing that struck into Joan's heart was the fact that her grace and charm of person, revealed by this costume forced upon her, had aroused Jim Cleve's first response to the evil surrounding him, the first call to that baseness he must be assimilating from these border ruffians. That he could look at her so! The girl he had loved! Joan's agony lay not in the circumstance of his being as mistaken in her character as he had been in her identity, but that she, of all women, had to be the one who made him answer, like Kells and Gulden and all those ruffians, to the instincts of a beast.

"Oh, he'd been drunk—he was drunk!" whispered Joan. "He isn't to be blamed. He's not my old Jim. He's suffering—he's changed—he doesn't care. What could I expect—standing there like a hussy before him—in this—this indecent rig?... I must see him. I must tell him. If he recognized me now—and I had no chance to tell him why I'm here—why I look like this—that I love him—am still good—and true to him—if I couldn't tell him I'd—I'd shoot myself!"

Joan sobbed out the final words and then broke down. And when the spell had exercised its sway, leaving her limp and shaken and weak, she was the better for it. Slowly calmness returned so that she could look at her wild and furious rush from the spot where she had faced Jim Cleve, at the storm of shame ending in her collapse. She realized that if she had met Jim Cleve here in the dress in which she had left home there would have been the same shock of surprise and fear and love. She owed part of that breakdown to the suspense she had been under and then the suddenness of the meeting. Looking back at her agitation, she felt that it had been natural—that if she could only tell the truth to Jim Cleve the situation was not impossible. But the meeting, and all following it, bore tremendous revelation of how through all this wild experience she had learned to love Jim Cleve. But for his reckless flight and her blind pursuit, and then the anxiety, fear, pain, toil, and despair, she would never have known her woman's heart and its capacity for love.



11

Following that meeting, with all its power to change and strengthen Joan, there were uneventful days in which she rode the gulch trails and grew able to stand the jests and glances of the bandit's gang. She thought she saw and heard everything, yet insulated her true self in a callous and unreceptive aloofness from all that affronted her.

The days were uneventful because, while always looking for Jim Cleve, she never once saw him. Several times she heard his name mentioned. He was here and there—at Beard's off in the mountains. But he did not come to Kells's cabin, which fact, Joan gathered, had made Kells anxious. He did not want to lose Cleve. Joan peered from her covert in the evenings, and watched for Jim, and grew weary of the loud talk and laughter, the gambling and smoking and drinking. When there seemed no more chance of Cleve's coming, then Joan went to bed.

On these occasions Joan learned that Kells was passionately keen to gamble, that he was a weak hand at cards, an honest gambler, and, strangely enough, a poor loser. Moreover, when he lost he drank heavily, and under the influence of drink he was dangerous. There were quarrels when curses rang throughout the cabin, when guns were drawn, but whatever Kells's weaknesses might be, he was strong and implacable in the governing of these men.

That night when Gulden strode into the cabin was certainly not uneventful for Joan. Sight of him sent a chill to her marrow while a strange thrill of fire inflamed her. Was that great hulk of a gorilla prowling about to meet Jim Cleve? Joan thought that it might be the worse for him if he were. Then she shuddered a little to think that she had already been influenced by the wildness around her.

Gulden appeared well and strong, and but for the bandage on his head would have been as she remembered him. He manifested interest in the gambling of the players by surly grunts. Presently he said something to Kells.

"What?" queried the bandit, sharply, wheeling, the better to see Gulden.

The noise subsided. One gamester laughed knowingly.

"Lend me a sack of dust?" asked Gulden.

Kells's face showed amaze and then a sudden brightness.

"What! You want gold from me?"

"Yes. I'll pay it back."

"Gulden, I wasn't doubting that. But does your asking mean you've taken kindly to my proposition?"

"You can take it that way," growled Gulden. "I want gold." "I'm mighty glad, Gulden," replied Kells, and he looked as if he meant it. "I need you. We ought to get along.... Here."

He handed a small buckskin sack to Gulden. Someone made room for him on the other side of the table, and the game was resumed. It was interesting to watch them gamble. Red Pearce had a scale at his end of the table, and he was always measuring and weighing out gold-dust. The value of the gold appeared to be fifteen dollars to the ounce, but the real value of money did not actuate the gamblers. They spilled the dust on the table and ground as if it were as common as sand. Still there did not seem to be any great quantity of gold in sight. Evidently these were not profitable times for the bandits. More than once Joan heard them speak of a gold strike as honest people spoke of good fortune. And these robbers could only have meant that in case of a rich strike there would be gold to steal. Gulden gambled as he did everything else. At first he won and then he lost, and then he borrowed more from Kells, to win again. He paid back as he had borrowed and lost and won—without feeling. He had no excitement. Joan's intuition convinced her that if Gulden had any motive at all in gambling it was only an antagonism to men of his breed. Gambling was a contest, a kind of fight.

Most of the men except Gulden drank heavily that night. There had been fresh liquor come with the last pack-train. Many of them were drunk when the game broke up. Red Pearce and Wood remained behind with Kells after the others had gone, and Pearce was clever enough to cheat Kells before he left.

"Boss—thet there Red double—crossed you," said Bate Wood.

Kells had lost heavily, and he was under the influence of drink. He drove Wood out of the cabin, cursing him sullenly. Then he put in place the several bars that served as a door of his cabin. After that he walked unsteadily around, and all about his action and manner that was not aimless seemed to be dark and intermittent staring toward Joan's cabin. She felt sickened again with this new aspect of her situation, but she was not in the least afraid of Kells. She watched him till he approached her door and then she drew back a little. He paused before the blanket as if he had been impelled to halt from fear. He seemed to be groping in thought. Then he cautiously and gradually, by degrees, drew aside the blanket. He could not see Joan in the darkness, but she saw him plainly. He fumbled at the poles, and, finding that he could not budge them, he ceased trying. There was nothing forceful or strong about him, such as was manifest when he was sober. He stood there a moment, breathing heavily, in a kind of forlorn, undecided way, and then he turned back. Joan heard him snap the lanterns. The lights went out and all grew dark and silent.

Next morning at breakfast he was himself again, and if he had any knowledge whatever of his actions while he was drunk, he effectually concealed it from Joan.

Later, when Joan went outside to take her usual morning exercise, she was interested to see a rider tearing up the slope on a foam-flecked horse. Men shouted at him from the cabins and then followed without hats or coats. Bate Wood dropped Joan's saddle and called to Kells. The bandit came hurriedly out.

"Blicky!" he exclaimed, and then he swore under his breath in elation.

"Shore is Blicky!" said Wood, and his unusually mild eyes snapped with a glint unpleasant for Joan to see.

The arrival of this Blicky appeared to be occasion for excitement and Joan recalled the name as belonging to one of Kells's trusted men. He swung his leg and leaped from his saddle as the horse plunged to a halt. Blicky was a lean, bronzed young man, scarcely out of his teens, but there were years of hard life in his face. He slapped the dust in little puffs from his gloves. At sight of Kells he threw the gloves aloft and took no note of them when they fell. "STRIKE!" he called, piercingly.

"No!" ejaculated Kells, intensely.

Bate Wood let out a whoop which was answered by the men hurrying up the slope.

"Been on—for weeks!" panted Blicky. "It's big. Can't tell how big. Me an' Jesse Smith an' Handy Oliver hit a new road—over here fifty miles as a crow flies—a hundred by trail. We was plumb surprised. An' when we met pack-trains an' riders an' prairie-schooners an' a stage-coach we knew there was doin's over in the Bear Mountain range. When we came to the edge of the diggin's an' seen a whalin' big camp—like a beehive—Jesse an' Handy went on to get the lay of the land an' I hit the trail back to you. I've been a-comin' on an' off since before sundown yesterday.... Jesse gave one look an' then hollered. He said, 'Tell Jack it's big an' he wants to plan big. We'll be back there in a day or so with all details.'"

Joan watched Kells intently while he listened to this breathless narrative of a gold strike, and she was repelled by the singular flash of brightness—a radiance—that seemed to be in his eyes and on his face. He did not say a word, but his men shouted hoarsely around Blicky. He walked a few paces to and fro with hands strongly clenched, his lips slightly parted, showing teeth close-shut like those of a mastiff. He looked eager, passionate, cunning, hard as steel, and that strange brightness of elation slowly shaded to a dark, brooding menace. Suddenly he wheeled to silence the noisy men.

"Where're Pearce and Gulden? Do they know?" he demanded.

"Reckon no one knows but who's right here," replied Blicky.

"Red an' Gul are sleepin' off last night's luck," said Bate Wood.

"Have any of you seen young Cleve?" Kells went on. His voice rang quick and sharp.

No one spoke, and presently Kells cracked his fist into his open hand.

"Come on. Get the gang together at Beard's.... Boys, the time we've been gambling on has come. Jesse Smith saw '49 and '51. He wouldn't send me word like this—unless there was hell to pay.... Come on!"

He strode off down the slope with the men close around him, and they met other men on the way, all of whom crowded into the group, jostling, eager, gesticulating.

Joan was left alone. She felt considerably perturbed, especially at Kells's sharp inquiry for Jim Cleve. Kells might persuade him to join that bandit legion. These men made Joan think of wolves, with Kells the keen and savage leader. No one had given a thought to Blicky's horse and that neglect in border men was a sign of unusual preoccupation. The horse was in bad shape. Joan took off his saddle and bridle, and rubbed the dust-caked lather from his flanks, and led him into the corral. Then she fetched a bucket of water and let him drink sparingly, a little at a time.

Joan did not take her ride that morning. Anxious and curious, she waited for the return of Kells. But he did not come. All afternoon Joan waited and watched, and saw no sign of him or any of the other men. She knew Kells was forging with red-hot iron and blood that organization which she undesignedly had given a name—the Border Legion. It would be a terrible legion, of that she was assured. Kells was the evil genius to create an unparalleled scheme of crime; this wild and remote border, with its inaccessible fastness for hiding-places, was the place; all that was wanting was the time, which evidently had arrived. She remembered how her uncle had always claimed that the Bear Mountain range would see a gold strike which would disrupt the whole West and amaze the world. And Blicky had said a big strike had been on for weeks. Kells's prophecy of the wild life Joan would see had not been without warrant. She had already seen enough to whiten her hair, she thought, yet she divined her experience would shrink in comparison with what was to come. Always she lived in the future. She spent sleeping and waking hours in dreams, thoughts, actions, broodings, over all of which hung an ever-present shadow of suspense. When would she meet Jim Cleve again? When would he recognize her? What would he do? What could she do? Would Kells be a devil or a man at the end? Was there any justification of her haunting fear of Gulden—of her suspicion that she alone was the cause of his attitude toward Kells—of her horror at the unshakable presentiment and fancy that he was a gorilla and meant to make off with her? These, and a thousand other fears, some groundless, but many real and present, besieged Joan and left her little peace. What would happen next?

Toward sunset she grew tired of waiting, and hungry, besides, so she went into the cabin and prepared her own meal. About dark Kells strode in, and it took but a glance for Joan to see that matters had not gone to his liking. The man seemed to be burning inwardly. Sight of Joan absolutely surprised him. Evidently in the fever of this momentous hour he had forgotten his prisoner. Then, whatever his obsession, he looked like a man whose eyes were gladdened at sight of her and who was sorry to behold her there. He apologized that her supper had not been provided for her and explained that he had forgotten. The men had been crazy—hard to manage—the issue was not yet settled. He spoke gently. Suddenly he had that thoughtful mien which Joan had become used to associating with weakness in him.

"I wish I hadn't dragged you here," he said, taking her hands. "It's too late. I CAN'T lose you.... But the—OTHER WAY—isn't too late!"

"What way? What do you mean?" asked Joan.

"Girl, will you ride off with me to-night?" he whispered, hoarsely. "I swear I'll marry you—and become an honest man. To-morrow will be too late!... Will you?"

Joan shook her head. She was sorry for him. When he talked like this he was not Kells, the bandit. She could not resist a strange agitation at the intensity of his emotion. One moment he had entered—a bandit leader, planning blood, murder; the next, as his gaze found her, he seemed weakened, broken in the shaking grip of a hopeless love for her.

"Speak, Joan!" he said, with his hands tightening and his brow clouding.

"No, Kells," she replied.

"Why? Because I'm a red-handed bandit?"

"No. Because I—I don't love you."

"But wouldn't you rather be my wife—and have me honest—than become a slave here, eventually abandoned to—to Gulden and his cave and his rope?" Kells's voice rose as that other side of him gained dominance.

"Yes, I would.... But I KNOW you'll never harm me—or abandon me to—to that Gulden."

"HOW do you know?" he cried, with the blood thick at his temples.

"Because you're no beast any more.... And you—you do love me."

Kells thrust her from him so fiercely that she nearly fell.

"I'll get over it.... Then—look out!" he said, with dark bitterness.

With that he waved her back, apparently ordering her to her cabin, and turned to the door, through which the deep voices of men sounded nearer and nearer.

Joan stumbled in the darkness up the rude steps to her room, and, softly placing the poles in readiness to close her door, she composed herself to watch and wait. The keen edge of her nerves, almost amounting to pain, told her that this night of such moment for Kells would be one of singular strain and significance for her. But why she could not fathom. She felt herself caught by the changing tide of events—a tide that must sweep her on to flood. Kells had gone outside. The strong, deep voices' grew less distinct. Evidently the men were walking away. In her suspense Joan was disappointed. Presently, however, they returned; they had been walking to and fro. After a few moments Kells entered alone. The cabin was now so dark that Joan could barely distinguish the bandit. Then he lighted the lanterns. He hung up several on the wall and placed two upon the table. From somewhere among his effects he produced a small book and a pencil; these, with a heavy, gold-mounted gun, he laid on the table before the seat he manifestly meant to occupy. That done, he began a slow pacing up and down the room, his hands behind his back, his head bent in deep and absorbing thought. What a dark, sinister, plotting figure! Joan had seen many men in different attitudes of thought, but here was a man whose mind seemed to give forth intangible yet terrible manifestations of evil. The inside of that gloomy cabin took on another aspect; there was a meaning in the saddles and bridles and weapons on the wall; that book and pencil and gun seemed to contain the dark deeds of wild men; and all about the bandit hovered a power sinister in its menace to the unknown and distant toilers for gold.

Kells lifted his head, as if listening, and then the whole manner of the man changed. The burden that weighed upon him was thrown aside. Like a general about to inspect a line of soldiers Kells faced the door, keen, stern, commanding. The heavy tread of booted men, the clink of spurs, the low, muffled sound of voices, warned Joan that the gang had arrived. Would Jim Cleve be among them?

Joan wanted a better position in which to watch and listen. She thought a moment, and then carefully felt her way around to the other side of the steps, and here, sitting down with her feet hanging over the drop, she leaned against the wall and through a chink between the logs had a perfect view of the large cabin. The men were filing in silent and intense. Joan counted twenty-seven in all. They appeared to fall into two groups, and it was significant that the larger group lined up on the side nearest Kells, and the smaller back of Gulden. He had removed the bandage, and with a raw, red blotch where his right ear had been shot away, he was hideous. There was some kind of power emanating from him, but it was not that which, was so keenly vital and impelling in Kells. It was brute ferocity, dominating by sheer physical force. In any but muscular clash between Kells and Gulden the latter must lose. The men back of Gulden were a bearded, check-shirted, heavily armed group, the worst of that bad lot. All the younger, cleaner-cut men like Red Pearce and Frenchy and Beady Jones and Williams and the scout Blicky, were on the other side. There were two factions here, yet scarcely an antagonism, except possibly in the case of Kells. Joan felt that the atmosphere was supercharged with suspense and fatality and possibility—and anything might happen. To her great joy, Jim Cleve was not present.

"Where're Beard and Wood?" queried Kells.

"Workin' over Beard's sick hoss," replied Pearce. "They'll show up by an' by. Anythin' you say goes with them, you know."

"Did you find young Cleve?"

"No. He camps up in the timber somewheres. Reckon he'll be along, too."

Kells sat down at the head of the table, and, taking up the little book, he began to finger it while his pale eyes studied the men before him.

"We shuffled the deck pretty well over at Beard's," he said. "Now for the deal.... Who wants cards?... I've organized my Border Legion. I'll have absolute control, whether there're ten men or a hundred. Now, whose names go down in my book?"

Red Pearce stepped up and labored over the writing of his name. Blicky, Jones, Williams, and others followed suit. They did not speak, but each shook hands with the leader. Evidently Kells exacted no oath, but accepted each man's free action and his word of honor. There was that about the bandit which made such action as binding as ties of blood. He did not want men in his Legion who had not loyalty to him. He seemed the kind of leader to whom men would be true.

"Kells, say them conditions over again," requested one of the men, less eager to hurry with the matter.

At this juncture Joan was at once thrilled and frightened to see Jim Cleve enter the cabin. He appeared whiter of face, almost ghastly, and his piercing eyes swept the room, from Kells to Gulden, from men to men. Then he leaned against the wall, indistinct in the shadow. Kells gave no sign that he had noted the advent of Cleve.

"I'm the leader," replied Kells, deliberately. "I'll make the plans. I'll issue orders. No jobs without my knowledge. Equal shares in gold—man to man.... Your word to stand by me!"

A muttering of approval ran through the listening group.

"Reckon I'll join," said the man who had wished the conditions repeated. With that he advanced to the table and, apparently not being able to write, he made his mark in the book. Kells wrote the name below. The other men of this contingent one by one complied with Kells's requirements. This action left Gulden and his group to be dealt with.

"Gulden, are you still on the fence?" demanded Kells, coolly.

The giant strode stolidly forward to the table. As always before to Joan, he seemed to be a ponderous hulk, slow, heavy, plodding, with a mind to match.

"Kells, if we can agree I'll join," he said in his sonorous voice.

"You can bet you won't join unless we do agree," snapped Kells. "But—see here, Gulden. Let's be friendly. The border is big enough for both of us. I want you. I need you. Still, if we can't agree, let's not split and be enemies. How about it?"

Another muttering among the men attested to the good sense and good will of Kells's suggestion.

"Tell me what you're going to do—how you'll operate," replied Gulden.

Keils had difficulty in restraining his impatience and annoyance.

"What's that to you or any of you?" he queried. "You all know I'm the man to think of things. That's been proved. First it takes brains. I'll furnish them. Then it takes execution. You and Pearce and the gang will furnish that. What more do you need to know?"

"How're you going to operate?" persisted Gulden.

Kells threw up both hands as if it was useless to argue or reason with this desperado.

"All right, I'll tell you," he replied. "Listen.... I can't say what definite plans I'll make till Jesse Smith reports, and then when I get on the diggings. But here's a working basis. Now don't miss a word of this, Gulden—nor any of you men. We'll pack our outfits down to this gold strike. We'll build cabins on the outskirts of the town, and we won't hang together. The gang will be spread out. Most of you must make a bluff at digging gold. Be like other miners. Get in with cliques and clans. Dig, drink, gamble like the rest of them. Beard will start a gambling-place. Red Pearce will find some other kind of work. I'll buy up claims—employ miners to work them. I'll disguise myself and get in with the influential men and have a voice in matters. You'll all be scouts. You'll come to my cabin at night to report. We'll not tackle any little jobs. Miners going out with fifty or a hundred pounds of gold—the wagons—the stage-coach—these we'll have timed to rights, and whoever I detail on the job will hold them up. You must all keep sober, if that's possible. You must all absolutely trust to my judgment. You must all go masked while on a job. You must never speak a word that might direct suspicion to you. In this way we may work all summer without detection. The Border Legion will become mysterious and famous. It will appear to be a large number of men, operating all over. The more secretive we are the more powerful the effect on the diggings. In gold-camps, when there's a strike, all men are mad. They suspect each other. They can't organize. We shall have them helpless.... And in short, if it's as rich a strike as looks due here in these hills, before winter we can pack out all the gold our horses can carry."

Kells had begun under restraint, but the sound of his voice, the liberation of his great idea, roused him to a passion. The man radiated with passion. This, then, was his dream—the empire he aspired to.

He had a powerful effect upon his listeners, except Gulden; and it was evident to Joan that the keen bandit was conscious of his influence. Gulden, however, showed nothing that he had not already showed. He was always a strange, dominating figure. He contested the relations of things. Kells watched him—the men watched him—and Jim Cleve's piercing eyes glittered in the shadow, fixed upon that massive face. Manifestly Gulden meant to speak, but in his slowness there was no laboring, no pause from emotion. He had an idea and it moved like he moved.

"DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES!" The words boomed deep from his cavernous chest, a mutter that was a rumble, with something almost solemn in its note and certainly menacing, breathing murder. As Kells had propounded his ideas, revealing his power to devise a remarkable scheme and his passion for gold, so Gulden struck out with the driving inhuman blood-lust that must have been the twist, the knot, the clot in his brain. Kells craved notoriety and gold; Gulden craved to kill. In the silence that followed his speech these wild border ruffians judged him, measured him, understood him, and though some of them grew farther aloof from him, more of them sensed the safety that hid in his terrible implication.

But Kells rose against him.

"Gulden, you mean when we steal gold—to leave only dead men behind?" he queried, with a hiss in his voice.

The giant nodded grimly.

"But only fools kill—unless in self-defense," declared Kells, passionately.

"We'd last longer," replied Gulden, imperturbably.

"No—no. We'd never last so long. Killings rouse a mining-camp after a while—gold fever or no. That means a vigilante band."

"We can belong to the vigilantes, just as well as to your Legion," said Gulden.

The effect of this was to make Gulden appear less of a fool than Kells supposed him. The ruffians nodded to one another. They stirred restlessly. They were animated by a strange and provocative influence. Even Red Pearce and the others caught its subtlety. It was evil predominating in evil hearts. Blood and death loomed like a shadow here. The keen Kells saw the change working toward a transformation and he seemed craftily fighting something within him that opposed this cold ruthlessness of his men.

"Gulden, suppose I don't see it your way?" he asked.

"Then I won't join your Legion."

"What WILL you do?"

"I'll take the men who stand by me and go clean up that gold-camp."

From the fleeting expression on Kells's face Joan read that he knew Gulden's project would defeat his own and render both enterprises fatal.

"Gulden, I don't want to lose you," he said.

"You won't lose me if you see this thing right," replied Gulden. "You've got the brains to direct us. But, Kells, you're losing your nerve.... It's this girl you've got here!"

Gulden spoke without rancor or fear or feeling of any kind. He merely spoke the truth. And it shook Kells with an almost ungovernable fury.

Joan saw the green glare of his eyes—his gray working face—the flutter of his hand. She had an almost superhuman insight into the workings of his mind. She knew that then—he was fighting whether or not to kill Gulden on the spot. And she recognized that this was the time when Kells must kill Gulden or from that moment see a gradual diminishing of his power on the border. But Kells did not recognize that crucial height of his career. His struggle with his fury and hate showed that the thing uppermost in his mind was the need of conciliating Gulden and thus regaining a hold over the men.

"Gulden, suppose we waive the question till we're on the grounds?" he suggested.

"Waive nothing. It's one or the other with me," declared Gulden.

"Do you want to be leader of this Border Legion?" went on Kells, deliberately.

"No."

"Then what do you want?"

Gulden appeared at a loss for an instant reply. "I want plenty to do," he replied, presently. "I want to be in on everything. I want to be free to kill a man when I like."

"When you like!" retorted Kells, and added a curse. Then as if by magic his dark face cleared and there was infinite depth and craftiness in him. His opposition, and that hint of hate and loathing which detached him from Gulden, faded from his bearing. "Gulden, I'll split the difference between us. I'll leave you free to do as you like. But all the others—every man—must take orders from me."

Gulden reached out a huge hand. His instant acceptance evidently amazed Kells and the others.

"LET HER RIP!" Gulden exclaimed. He shook Kells's hand and then laboriously wrote his name in the little book.

In that moment Gulden stood out alone in the midst of wild abandoned men. What were Kells and this Legion to him? What was the stealing of more or less gold?

"Free to do as you like except fight my men," said Kells. "That's understood."

"If they don't pick a fight with me," added the giant, and he grinned.

One by one his followers went through with the simple observances that Kells's personality made a serious and binding compact.

"Anybody else?" called Kells, glancing round. The somberness was leaving his face.

"Here's Jim Cleve," said Pearce, pointing toward the wall.

"Hello, youngster! Come here. I'm wanting you bad," said Kells.

Cleve sauntered out of the shadow, and his glittering eyes were fixed on Gulden. There was an instant of waiting. Gulden looked at Cleve. Then Kells quickly strode between them.

"Say, I forgot you fellows had trouble," he said. He attended solely to Gulden. "You can't renew your quarrel now. Gulden, we've all fought together more or less, and then been good friends. I want Cleve to join us, but not against your ill will. How about it?"

"I've no ill will," replied the giant, and the strangeness of his remark lay in its evident truth. "But I won't stand to lose my other ear!"

Then the ruffians guffawed in hoarse mirth. Gulden, however, did not seem to see any humor in his remark. Kells laughed with the rest. Even Cleve's white face relaxed into a semblance of a smile.

"That's good. We're getting together," declared Kells. Then he faced Cleve, all about him expressive of elation, of assurance, of power. "Jim, will you draw cards in this deal?"

"What's the deal?" asked Cleve.

Then in swift, eloquent speech Kells launched the idea of his Border Legion, its advantages to any loose-footed, young outcast, and he ended his brief talk with much the same argument he had given Joan. Back there in her covert Joan listened and watched, mindful of the great need of controlling her emotions. The instant Jim Cleve had stalked into the light she had been seized by a spasm of trembling.

"Kells, I don't care two straws one way or another," replied Cleve.

The bandit appeared nonplussed. "You don't care whether you join my Legion or whether you don't?"

"Not a damn," was the indifferent answer.

"Then do me a favor," went on Kells. "Join to please me. We'll be good friends. You're in bad out here on the border. You might as well fall in with us."

"I'd rather go alone."

"But you won't last."

"It's a lot I care."

The bandit studied the reckless, white face. "See here, Cleve—haven't you got the nerve to be bad—thoroughly bad?"

Cleve gave a start as if he had been stung. Joan shut her eyes to blot out what she saw in his face. Kells had used part of the very speech with which she had driven Jim Cleve to his ruin. And those words galvanized him. The fatality of all this! Joan hated herself. Those very words of hers would drive this maddened and heartbroken boy to join Kells's band. She knew what to expect from Jim even before she opened her eyes; yet when she did open them it was to see him transformed and blazing.

Then Kells either gave way to leaping passion or simulated it in the interest of his cunning.

"Cleve, you're going down for a woman?" he queried, with that sharp, mocking ring in his voice.

"If you don't shut up you'll get there first," replied Cleve, menacingly.

"Bah!... Why do you want to throw a gun on me? I'm your friend: You're sick. You're like a poisoned pup. I say if you've got nerve you won't quit. You'll take a run for your money. You'll see life. You'll fight. You'll win some gold. There are other women. Once I thought I would quit for a woman. But I didn't. I never found the right one till I had gone to hell—out here on this border.... If you've got nerve, show me. Be a man instead of a crazy youngster. Spit out the poison.... Tell it before us all!... Some girl drove you to us?"

"Yes—a girl!" replied Cleve, hoarsely, as if goaded.

"It's too late to go back?"

"Too late!"

"There's nothing left but wild life that makes you forget?"

"Nothing.... Only I—can't forget!" he panted.

Cleve was in a torture of memory, of despair, of weakness. Joan saw how Kells worked upon Jim's feelings. He was only a hopeless, passionate boy in the hands of a strong, implacable man. He would be like wax to a sculptor's touch. Jim would bend to this bandit's will, and through his very tenacity of love and memory be driven farther on the road to drink, to gaming, and to crime.

Joan got to her feet, and with all her woman's soul uplifting and inflaming her she stood ready to meet the moment that portended.

Kells made a gesture of savage violence. "Show your nerve!... Join with me!... You'll make a name on this border that the West will never forget!"

That last hint of desperate fame was the crafty bandit's best trump. And it won. Cleve swept up a weak and nervous hand to brush the hair from his damp brow. The keenness, the fire, the aloofness had departed from him. He looked shaken as if by something that had been pointed out as his own cowardice.

"Sure, Kells," he said, recklessly. "Let me in the game.... And—by God—I'll play—the hand out!" He reached for the pencil and bent over the book.

"Wait!... Oh, WAIT!" cried Joan. The passion of that moment, the consciousness of its fateful portent and her situation, as desperate as Cleve's, gave her voice a singularly high and piercingly sweet intensity. She glided from behind the blanket—out of the shadow—into the glare of the lanterns—to face Kells and Cleve.

Kells gave one astounded glance at her, and then, divining her purpose, he laughed thrillingly and mockingly, as if the sight of her was a spur, as if her courage was a thing to admire, to permit, and to regret.

"Cleve, my wife, Dandy Dale," he said, suave and cool. "Let her persuade you—one way or another!"

The presence of a woman, however disguised, following her singular appeal, transformed Cleve. He stiffened erect and the flush died out of his face, leaving it whiter than ever, and the eyes that had grown dull quickened and began to burn. Joan felt her cheeks blanch. She all but fainted under that gaze. But he did not recognize her, though he was strangely affected.

"Wait!" she cried again, and she held to that high voice, so different from her natural tone. "I've been listening. I've heard all that's been said. Don't join this Border Legion.... You're young—and still, honest. For God's sake—don't go the way of these men! Kells will make you a bandit.... Go home—boy—go home!"

"Who are you—to speak to me of honesty—of home?" Cleve demanded.

"I'm only a—a woman.... But I can feel how wrong you are.... Go back to that girl—who—who drove you to the border.... She must repent. In a day you'll be too late.... Oh, boy, go home! Girls never know their minds—their hearts. Maybe your girl—loved you!... Oh, maybe her heart is breaking now!"

A strong, muscular ripple went over Cleve, ending in a gesture of fierce protest. Was it pain her words caused, or disgust that such as she dared mention the girl he had loved? Joan could not tell. She only knew that Cleve was drawn by her presence, fascinated and repelled, subtly responding to the spirit of her, doubting what he heard and believing with his eyes.

"You beg me not to become a bandit?" he asked, slowly, as if revolving a strange idea.

"Oh, I implore you!"

"Why?"

"I told you. Because you're still good at heart. You've only been wild.... Because—"

"Are you the wife of Kells?" he flashed at her.

A reply seemed slowly wrenched from Joan's reluctant lips. "No!"

The denial left a silence behind it. The truth that all knew when spoken by her was a kind of shock. The ruffians gaped in breathless attention. Kells looked on with a sardonic grin, but he had grown pale. And upon the face of Cleve shone an immeasurable scorn.

"Not his wife!" exclaimed Cleve, softly.

His tone was unendurable to Joan. She began to shrink. A flame curled within her. How he must hate any creature of her sex!

"And you appeal to me!" he went on. Suddenly a weariness came over him. The complexity of women was beyond him. Almost he turned his back upon her. "I reckon such as you can't keep me from Kells—or blood—or hell!"

"Then you're a narrow-souled weakling—born to crime!" she burst out in magnificent wrath. "For however appearances are against me—I am a good woman!"

That stunned him, just as it drew Kells upright, white and watchful. Cleve seemed long in grasping its significance. His face was half averted. Then he turned slowly, all strung, and his hands clutched quiveringly at the air. No man of coolness and judgment would have addressed him or moved a step in that strained moment. All expected some such action as had marked his encounter with Luce and Gulden.

Then Cleve's gaze in unmistakable meaning swept over Joan's person. How could her appearance and her appeal be reconciled? One was a lie! And his burning eyes robbed Joan of spirit.

"He forced me to—to wear these," she faltered. "I'm his prisoner. I'm helpless."

With catlike agility Cleve leaped backward, so that he faced all the men, and when his hands swept to a level they held gleaming guns. His utter abandon of daring transfixed these bandits in surprise as much as fear. Kells appeared to take most to himself the menace.

"I CRAWL!" he said, huskily. "She speaks the God's truth.... But you can't help matters by killing me. Maybe she'd be worse off!"

He expected this wild boy to break loose, yet his wit directed him to speak the one thing calculated to check Cleve.

"Oh, don't shoot!" moaned Joan.

"You go outside," ordered Cleve. "Get on a horse and lead another near the door.... Go! I'll take you away from this."

Both temptation and terror assailed Joan. Surely that venture would mean only death to Jim and worse for her. She thrilled at the thought—at the possibility of escape—at the strange front of this erstwhile nerveless boy. But she had not the courage for what seemed only desperate folly.

"I'll stay," she whispered. "You go!"

"Hurry, woman!"

"No! No!"

"Do you want to stay with this bandit?"

"Oh, I must!"

"Then you love him?"

All the fire of Joan's heart flared up to deny the insult and all her woman's cunning fought to keep back words that inevitably must lead to revelation. She drooped, unable to hold up under her shame, yet strong to let him think vilely of her, for his sake. That way she had a barest chance.

"Get out of my sight!" he ejaculated, thickly. "I'd have fought for you."

Again that white, weary scorn radiated from him. Joan bit her tongue to keep from screaming. How could she live under this torment? It was she, Joan Randle, that had earned that scorn, whether he knew her or not. She shrank back, step by step, almost dazed, sick with a terrible inward, coldness, blinded by scalding tears. She found her door and stumbled in.

"Kells, I'm what you called me." She heard Cleve's voice, strangely far off. "There's no excuse... unless I'm not just right in my head about women.... Overlook my break or don't—as you like. But if you want me I'm ready for your Border Legion!"



12

Those bitter words of Cleve's, as if he mocked himself, were the last Joan heard, and they rang in her ears and seemed to reverberate through her dazed mind like a knell of doom. She lay there, all blackness about her, weighed upon by an insupportable burden; and she prayed that day might never dawn for her; a nightmare of oblivion ended at last with her eyes opening to the morning light.

She was cold and stiff. She had lain uncovered all the long hours of night. She had not moved a finger since she had fallen upon the bed, crushed by those bitter words with which Cleve had consented to join Kells's Legion. Since then Joan felt that she had lived years. She could not remember a single thought she might have had during those black hours; nevertheless, a decision had been formed in her mind, and it was that to-day she would reveal herself to Jim Cleve if it cost both their lives. Death was infinitely better than the suspense and fear and agony she had endured; and as for Jim, it would at least save him from crime.

Joan got up, a little dizzy and unsteady upon her feet. Her hands appeared clumsy and shaky. All the blood in her seemed to surge from heart to brain and it hurt her to breathe. Removing her mask, she bathed her face and combed her hair. At first she conceived an idea to go out without her face covered, but she thought better of it. Cleve's reckless defiance had communicated itself to her. She could not now be stopped.

Kells was gay and excited that morning. He paid her compliments. He said they would soon be out of this lonely gulch and she would see the sight of her life—a gold strike. She would see men wager a fortune on the turn of a card, lose, laugh, and go back to the digging. He said he would take her to Sacramento and 'Frisco and buy her everything any girl could desire. He was wild, voluble, unreasoning—obsessed by the anticipated fulfilment of his dream.

It was rather late in the morning and there were a dozen or more men in and around the cabin, all as excited as Kells. Preparations were already under way for the expected journey to the gold-field. Packs were being laid out, overhauled, and repacked; saddles and bridles and weapons were being worked over; clothes were being awkwardly mended. Horses were being shod, and the job was as hard and disagreeable for men as for horses. Whenever a rider swung up the slope, and one came every now and then, all the robbers would leave off their tasks and start eagerly for the newcomer. The name Jesse Smith was on everybody's lips. Any hour he might be expected to arrive and corroborate Blicky's alluring tale.

Joan saw or imagined she saw that the glances in the eyes of these men were yellow, like gold fire. She had seen miners and prospectors whose eyes shone with a strange glory of light that gold inspired, but never as those of Kells's bandit Legion. Presently Joan discovered that, despite the excitement, her effect upon them was more marked then ever, and by a difference that she was quick to feel. But she could not tell what this difference was—how their attitude had changed. Then she set herself the task of being useful. First she helped Bate Wood. He was roughly kind. She had not realized that there was sadness about her until he whispered: "Don't be downcast, miss. Mebbe it'll come out right yet!" That amazed Joan. Then his mysterious winks and glances, the sympathy she felt in him, all attested to some kind of a change. She grew keen to learn, but she did not know how. She felt the change in all the men. Then she went to Pearce and with all a woman's craft she exaggerated the silent sadness that had brought quick response from Wood. Red Pearce was even quicker. He did not seem to regard her proximity as that of a feminine thing which roused the devil in him. Pearce could not be other than coarse and vulgar, but there was pity in him. Joan sensed pity and some other quality still beyond her. This lieutenant of the bandit Kells was just as mysterious as Wood. Joan mended a great jagged rent in his buckskin shirt. Pearce appeared proud of her work; he tried to joke; he said amiable things. Then as she finished he glanced furtively round; he pressed her hand: "I had a sister once!" he whispered. And then with a dark and baleful hate: "Kells!—he'll get his over in the gold-camp!"

Joan turned away from Pearce still more amazed. Some strange, deep undercurrent was working here. There had been unmistakable hate for Kells in his dark look and a fierce implication in his portent of fatality. What had caused this sudden impersonal interest in her situation? What was the meaning of the subtle animosity toward the bandit leader? Was there no honor among evil men banded together for evil deeds? Were jealousy, ferocity, hate and faithlessness fostered by this wild and evil border life, ready at an instant's notice to break out? Joan divined the vain and futile and tragical nature of Kell's great enterprise. It could not succeed. It might bring a few days or weeks of fame, of blood-stained gold, of riotous gambling, but by its very nature it was doomed. It embraced failure and death.

Joan went from man to man, keener now on the track of this inexplicable change, sweetly and sadly friendly to each; and it was not till she encountered the little Frenchman that the secret was revealed. Frenchy was of a different race. Deep in the fiber of his being inculcated a sentiment, a feeling, long submerged in the darkness of a wicked life, and now that something came fleeting out of the depths—and it was respect for a woman. To Joan it was a flash of light. Yesterday these ruffians despised her; to-day they respected her. So they had believed what she had so desperately flung at Jim Cleve. They believed her good, they pitied her, they respected her, they responded to her effort to turn a boy back from a bad career. They were bandits, desperados, murderers, lost, but each remembered in her a mother or a sister. What each might have felt or done had he possessed her, as Kells possessed her, did not alter the case as it stood. A strange inconsistency of character made them hate Kells for what they might not have hated in themselves. Her appeal to Cleve, her outburst of truth, her youth and misfortune, had discovered to each a human quality. As in Kells something of nobility still lingered, a ghost among his ruined ideals, so in the others some goodness remained. Joan sustained an uplifting divination—no man was utterly bad. Then came the hideous image of the giant Gulden, the utter absence of soul in him, and she shuddered. Then came the thought of Jim Cleve, who had not believed her, who had bitterly made the fatal step, who might in the strange reversion of his character be beyond influence.

And it was at the precise moment when this thought rose to counteract the hope revived by the changed attitude of the men that Joan looked out to see Jim Cleve sauntering up, careless, untidy, a cigarette between his lips, blue blotches on his white face, upon him the stamp of abandonment. Joan suffered a contraction of heart that benumbed her breast. She stood a moment battling with herself. She was brave enough, desperate enough, to walk straight up to Cleve, remove her mask and say, "I am Joan!" But that must be a last resource. She had no plan, yet she might force an opportunity to see Cleve alone.

A shout rose above the hubbub of voices. A tall man was pointing across the gulch where dust-clouds showed above the willows. Men crowded round him, all gazing in the direction of his hand, all talking at once.

"Jesse Smith's hoss, I swear!" shouted the tall man. "Kells, come out here!"

Kells appeared, dark and eager, at the door, and nimbly he leaped to the excited group. Pearce and Wood and others followed.

"What's up?" called the bandit. "Hello! Who's that riding bareback?"

"He's shore cuttin' the wind," said Wood.

"Blicky!" exclaimed the tall man. "Kells, there's news. I seen Jesse's hoss."

Kells let out a strange, exultant cry. The excited talk among the men gave place, to a subdued murmur, then subsided. Blicky was running a horse up the road, hanging low over him, like an Indian. He clattered to the bench, scattered the men in all directions. The fiery horse plunged and pounded. Blicky was gray of face and wild of aspect.

"Jesse's come!" he yelled, hoarsely, at Kells. "He jest fell off his hoss—all in! He wants you—an' all the gang! He's seen a million dollars in gold-dust!"

Absolute silence ensued after that last swift and startling speech. It broke to a commingling of yells and shouts. Blicky wheeled his horse and Kells started on a run. And there was a stampede and rush after him.

Joan grasped her opportunity. She had seen all this excitement, but she had not lost sight of Cleve. He got up from a log and started after the others. Joan flew to him, grasped him, startled him with the suddenness of her onslaught. But her tongue seemed cloven to the roof of her mouth, her lips weak and mute. Twice she strove to speak.

"Meet me—there!—among the pines—right away!" she whispered, with breathless earnestness. "It's life—or death—for me!"

As she released his arm he snatched at her mask. But she eluded him.

"Who ARE you?" he flashed.

Kells and his men were piling into the willows, leaping the brook, hurrying on. They had no thought but to get to Jesse Smith to hear of the gold strike. That news to them was as finding gold in the earth was to honest miners.

"Come!" cried Joan. She hurried away toward the corner of the cabin, then halted to see if he was following. He was, indeed. She ran round behind the cabin, out on the slope, halting at the first trees. Cleve came striding after her. She ran on, beginning to pant and stumble. The way he strode, the white grimness of him, frightened her. What would he, do? Again she went on, but not running now. There were straggling pines and spruces that soon hid the cabins. Beyond, a few rods, was a dense clump of pines, and she made for that. As she reached it she turned fearfully. Only Cleve was in sight. She uttered a sob of mingled relief, joy, and thankfulness. She and Cleve had not been observed. They would be out of sight in this little pine grove. At last! She could reveal herself, tell him why she was there, that she loved him, that she was as good as ever she had been. Why was she shaking like a leaf in the wind? She saw Cleve through a blur. He was almost running now. Involuntarily she fled into the grove. It was dark and cool; it smelled sweetly of pine; there were narrow aisles and little sunlit glades. She hurried on till a fallen tree blocked her passage. Here she turned—she would wait—the tree was good to lean against. There came Cleve, a dark, stalking shadow. She did not remember him like that. He entered the glade.

"Speak again!" he said, thickly. "Either I'm drunk or crazy!"

But Joan could not speak. She held out hands that shook—swept them to her face—tore at the mask. Then with a gasp she stood revealed.

If she had stabbed him straight through the heart he could not have been more ghastly. Joan saw him, in all the terrible transfiguration that came over him, but she had no conceptions, no thought of what constituted that change. After that check to her mind came a surge of joy.

"Jim!... Jim! It's Joan!" she breathed, with lips almost mute.

"JOAN!" he gasped, and the sound of his voice seemed to be the passing from horrible doubt to certainty.

Like a panther he leaped at her, fastened a powerful hand at the neck of her blouse, jerked her to her knees, and began to drag her. Joan fought his iron grasp. The twisting and tightening of her blouse choked her utterance. He did not look down upon her, but she could see him, the rigidity of his body set in violence, the awful shade upon his face, the upstanding hair on his head. He dragged her as if she had been an empty sack. Like a beast he was seeking a dark place—a hole to hide her. She was strangling; a distorted sight made objects dim; and now she struggled instinctively. Suddenly the clutch at her neck loosened; gaspingly came the intake of air to her lungs; the dark-red veil left her eyes. She was still upon her knees. Cleve stood before her, like a gray-faced demon, holding his gun level, ready to fire.

"Pray for your soul—and mine!"

"Jim! Oh Jim!... Will you kill yourself, too?"

"Yes! But pray, girl—quick!"

"Then I pray to God—not for my soul—but just for one more moment of life... TO TELL YOU, JIM!"

Cleve's face worked and the gun began to waver. Her reply had been a stroke of lightning into the dark abyss of his jealous agony.

Joan saw it, and she raised her quivering face, and she held up her arms to him. "To tell—you—Jim!" she entreated.

"What?" he rasped out.

"That I'm innocent—that I'm as good—a girl—as ever.. ever.... Let me tell you.... Oh, you're mistaken—terribly mistaken."

"Now, I know I'm drunk.... You, Joan Randle! You in that rig! You the companion of Jack Kells! Not even his wife! The jest of these foul-mouthed bandits! And you say you're innocent—good?... When you refused to leave him!"

"I was afraid to go—afraid you'd be killed," she moaned, beating her breast.

It must have seemed madness to him, a monstrous nightmare, a delirium of drink, that Joan Randle was there on her knees in a brazen male attire, lifting her arms to him, beseeching him, not to spare her life, but to believe in her innocence.

Joan burst into swift, broken utterance: "Only listen! I trailed you out—twenty miles from Hoadley. I met Roberts. He came with me. He lamed his horse—we had to camp. Kells rode down on us. He had two men. They camped there. Next morning he—killed Roberts—made off with me.... Then he killed his men—just to have me—alone to himself.... We crossed a range—camped in the canon. There he attacked me—and I—I shot him!... But I couldn't leave him—to die!" Joan hurried on with her narrative, gaining strength and eloquence as she saw the weakening of Cleve. "First he said I was his wife to fool that Gulden—and the others," she went on. "He meant to save me from them. But they guessed or found out.... Kells forced me into these bandit clothes. He's depraved, somehow. And I had to wear something. Kells hasn't harmed me—no one has. I've influence over him. He can't resist it. He's tried to force me to marry him. And he's tried to give up to his evil intentions. But he can't. There's good in him. I can make him feel it.... Oh, he loves me, and I'm not afraid of him any more.... It has been a terrible time for me, Jim, but I'm still—the same girl you knew—you used to—"

Cleve dropped the gun and he waved his hand before his eyes as if to dispel a blindness.

"But why—why?" he asked, incredulously. "Why did you leave Hoadley? That's forbidden. You knew the risk."

Joan gazed steadily up at him, to see the whiteness slowly fade out of his face. She had imagined it would be an overcoming of pride to betray her love, but she had been wrong. The moment was so full, so overpowering, that she seemed dumb. He had ruined himself for her, and out of that ruin had come the glory of her love. Perhaps it was all too late, but at least he would know that for love of him she had in turn sacrificed herself.

"Jim," she whispered, and with the first word of that betrayal a thrill, a tremble, a rush went over her, and all her blood seemed hot at her neck and face, "that night when you kissed me I was furious. But the moment you had gone I repented. I must have—cared for you then, but I didn't know.... Remorse seized me. And I set out on your trail to save you from yourself. And with the pain and fear and terror there was sometimes—the—the sweetness of your kisses. Then I knew I cared.... And with the added days of suspense and agony—all that told me of your throwing your life away—there came love.... Such love as otherwise I'd never have been big enough for! I meant to find you—to save you—to send you home!... I have found you, maybe too late to save your life, but not your soul, thank God!... That's why I've been strong enough to hold back Kells. I love you, Jim!... I love you! I couldn't tell you enough. My heart is bursting.... Say you believe me! Say you know I'm good—true to you—your Joan!... And kiss me—like you did that night when we were such blind fools. A boy and a girl who didn't know—and couldn't tell!—Oh, the sadness of it!.... Kiss me, Jim, before I—drop—at your feet!... If only you—believe—"

Joan was blinded by tears and whispering she knew not what when Cleve broke from his trance and caught her to his breast. She was fainting—hovering at the border of unconsciousness when his violence held her back from oblivion. She seemed wrapped to him and held so tightly there was no breath in her body, no motion, no stir of pulse. That vague, dreamy moment passed. She heard his husky, broken accents—she felt the pound of his heart against her breast. And he began to kiss her as she had begged him to. She quickened to thrilling, revivifying life. And she lifted her face, and clung round his neck, and kissed him, blindly, sweetly, passionately, with all her heart and soul in her lips, wanting only one thing in the world—to give that which she had denied him.

"Joan!... Joan!... Joan!" he murmured when their lips parted. "Am I dreaming—drunk—or crazy?"

"Oh, Jim, I'm real—you have me in your arms," she whispered. "Dear Jim—kiss me again—and say you believe me."

"Believe you?... I'm out of my mind with joy.... You loved me! You followed me!... And—that idea of mine—only an absurd, vile suspicion! I might have known—had I been sane!"

"There.... Oh, Jim!... Enough of madness. We've got to plan. Remember where we are. There's Kells, and this terrible situation to meet!"

He stared at her, slowly realizing, and then it was his turn to shake. "My God! I'd forgotten. I'll HAVE to kill you now!"

A reaction set in. If he had any self-control left he lost it, and like a boy whose fling into manhood had exhausted his courage he sank beside her and buried his face against her. And he cried in a low, tense, heartbroken way. For Joan it was terrible to hear him. She held his hand to her breast and implored him not to weaken now. But he was stricken with remorse—he had run off like a coward, he had brought her to this calamity—and he could not rise under it. Joan realized that he had long labored under stress of morbid emotion. Only a supreme effort could lift him out of it to strong and reasoning equilibrium, and that must come from her.

She pushed him away from her, and held him back where he must see her, and white-hot with passionate purpose, she kissed him. "Jim Cleve, if you've NERVE enough to be BAD you've nerve enough to save the girl who LOVES you—who BELONGS to you!"

He raised his face and it flashed from red to white. He caught the subtlety of her antithesis. With the very two words which had driven him away under the sting of cowardice she uplifted him; and with all that was tender and faithful and passionate in her meaning of surrender she settled at once and forever the doubt of his manhood. He arose trembling in every limb. Like a dog he shook himself. His breast heaved. The shades of scorn and bitterness and abandon might never have haunted his face. In that moment he had passed from the reckless and wild, sick rage of a weakling to the stern, realizing courage of a man. His suffering on this wild border had developed a different fiber of character; and at the great moment, the climax, when his moral force hung balanced between elevation and destruction, the woman had called to him, and her unquenchable spirit passed into him.

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