The border legion, p.1
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THE BORDER LEGION
By Zane Grey
Joan Randle reined in her horse on the crest of the cedar ridge, andwith remorse and dread beginning to knock at her heart she gazed beforeher at the wild and looming mountain range.
"Jim wasn't fooling me," she said. "He meant it. He's going straight forthe border... Oh, why did I taunt him!"
It was indeed a wild place, that southern border of Idaho, and that yearwas to see the ushering in of the wildest time probably ever knownin the West. The rush for gold had peopled California with a horde oflawless men of every kind and class. And the vigilantes and then therich strikes in Idaho had caused a reflux of that dark tide of humanity.Strange tales of blood and gold drifted into the camps, and prospectorsand hunters met with many unknown men.
Joan had quarreled with Jim Cleve, and she was bitterly regretting it.Joan was twenty years old, tall, strong, dark. She had been born inMissouri, where her father had been well-to-do and prominent, until,like many another man of his day, he had impeded the passage of abullet. Then Joan had become the protegee of an uncle who had respondedto the call of gold; and the latter part of her life had been spent inthe wilds.
She had followed Jim's trail for miles out toward the range. And now shedismounted to see if his tracks were as fresh as she had believed. Hehad left the little village camp about sunrise. Someone had seen himriding away and had told Joan. Then he had tarried on the way, for itwas now midday. Joan pondered. She had become used to his idle threatsand disgusted with his vacillations. That had been the trouble--Jimwas amiable, lovable, but since meeting Joan he had not exhibited anystrength of character. Joan stood beside her horse and looked awaytoward the dark mountains. She was daring, resourceful, used to horsesand trails and taking care of herself; and she did not need anyone totell her that she had gone far enough. It had been her hope to come upwith Jim. Always he had been repentant. But this time was different. Sherecalled his lean, pale face--so pale that freckles she did not know hehad showed through--and his eyes, usually so soft and mild, had glintedlike steel. Yes, it had been a bitter, reckless face. What had she saidto him? She tried to recall it.
The night before at twilight Joan had waited for him. She had givenhim precedence over the few other young men of the village, a fact sheresentfully believed he did not appreciate. Jim was unsatisfactory inevery way except in the way he cared for her. And that also--for hecared too much.
When Joan thought how Jim loved her, all the details of that nightbecame vivid. She sat alone under the spruce-trees near the cabin. Theshadows thickened, and then lightened under a rising moon. She heard thelow hum of insects, a distant laugh of some woman of the village, andthe murmur of the brook. Jim was later than usual. Very likely, asher uncle had hinted, Jim had tarried at the saloon that had latelydisrupted the peace of the village. The village was growing, andJoan did not like the change. There were too many strangers, rough,loud-voiced, drinking men. Once it had been a pleasure to go to thevillage store; now it was an ordeal. Somehow Jim had seemed to beunfavorably influenced by these new conditions. Still, he had neveramounted to much. Her resentment, or some feeling she had, was reachinga climax. She got up from her seat. She would not wait any longer forhim, and when she did see him it would be to tell him a few blunt facts.
Just then there was a slight rustle behind her. Before she could turnsomeone seized her in powerful arms. She was bent backward in a bearishembrace, so that she could neither struggle nor cry out. A dark faceloomed over hers--came closer. Swift kisses closed her eyes, burned hercheeks, and ended passionately on her lips. They had some strange powerover her. Then she was released.
Joan staggered back, frightened, outraged. She was so dazed she did notrecognize the man, if indeed she knew him. But a laugh betrayed him. Itwas Jim.
"You thought I had no nerve," he said. "What do you think of that?"
Suddenly Joan was blindly furious. She could have killed him. She hadnever given him any right, never made him any promise, never let himbelieve she cared. And he had dared--! The hot blood boiled in hercheeks. She was furious with him, but intolerably so with herself,because somehow those kisses she had resented gave her unknown painand shame. They had sent a shock through all her being. She thought shehated him.
"You--you--" she broke out. "Jim Cleve, that ends you with me!"
"Reckon I never had a beginning with you," he replied, bitterly. "It wasworth a good deal... I'm not sorry... By Heaven--I've--kissed you!"
He breathed heavily. She could see how pale he had grown in the shadowymoonlight. She sensed a difference in him--a cool, reckless defiance.
"You'll be sorry," she said. "I'll have nothing to do with you anymore."
"All right. But I'm not, and I won't be sorry."
She wondered whether he had fallen under the influence of drink. Jimhad never cared for liquor, which virtue was about the only one hepossessed. Remembering his kisses, she knew he had not been drinking.There was a strangeness about him, though, that she could not fathom.Had he guessed his kisses would have that power? If he dared again--!She trembled, and it was not only rage. But she would teach him alesson.
"Joan, I kissed you because I can't be a hangdog any longer," he said."I love you and I'm no good without you. You must care a little for me.Let's marry... I'll--"
"Never!" she replied, like flint. "You're no good at all."
"But I am," he protested, with passion. "I used to do things. Butsince--since I've met you I've lost my nerve. I'm crazy for you. Youlet the other men run after you. Some of them aren't fit to--to--Oh, I'msick all the time! Now it's longing and then it's jealousy. Give me achance, Joan."
"Why?" she queried, coldly. "Why should I? You're shiftless. You won'twork. When you do find a little gold you squander it. You have nothingbut a gun. You can't do anything but shoot."
"Maybe that'll come in handy," he said, lightly.
"Jim Cleve, you haven't it in you even to be BAD," she went on,stingingly.
At that he made a violent gesture. Then he loomed over her. "JoanHandle, do you mean that?" he asked.
"I surely do," she responded. At last she had struck fire from him. Thefact was interesting. It lessened her anger.
"Then I'm so low, so worthless, so spineless that I can't even be bad?"
"Yes, you are."
"That's what you think of me--after I've ruined myself for love of you?"
She laughed tauntingly. How strange and hot a glee she felt in hurtinghim!
"By God, I'll show you!" he cried, hoarsely.
"What will you do, Jim?" she asked, mockingly.
"I'll shake this camp. I'll rustle for the border. I'll get in withKells and Gulden... You'll hear of me, Joan Randle!"
These were names of strange, unknown, and wild men of a growing andterrible legion on the border. Out there, somewhere, lived desperados,robbers, road-agents, murderers. More and more rumor had brought tidingsof them into the once quiet village. Joan felt a slight cold sinkingsensation at her heart. But this was only a magnificent threat of Jim's.He could not do such a thing. She would never let him, even if he could.But after the incomprehensible manner of woman, she did not tell himthat.
"Bah! You haven't the nerve!" she retorted, with another mocking laugh.
Haggard and fierce, he glared down at her a moment, and then withoutanother word he strode away. Joan was amazed, and a little sick, alittle uncertain: still she did not call him back.
And now at noon of the next day she had tracked him miles toward themountains. It was a broad trail he had taken, one used by prospectorsand hunters. There was no danger of her getting lost. What risk sheran was of meeting some of these
Behind every rock and cedar she expected to find Jim. Surely he had onlythreatened her. But she had taunted him in a way no man could stand, andif there were any strength of character in him he would show it now. Herremorse and dread increased. After all, he was only a boy--only a coupleof years older than she was. Under stress of feeling he might go to anyextreme. Had she misjudged him? If she had not, she had at least beenbrutal. But he had dared to kiss her! Every time she thought of thata tingling, a confusion, a hot shame went over her. And at length Joanmarveled to find that out of the affront to her pride, and the quarrel,and the fact of his going and of her following, and especially out ofthis increasing remorseful dread, there had flourished up a strange andreluctant respect for Jim Cleve.
She climbed another ridge and halted again. This time she saw a horseand rider down in the green. Her heart leaped. It must be Jim returning.After all, then, he had only threatened. She felt relieved and glad, yetvaguely sorry. She had been right in her conviction.
She had not watched long, however, before she saw that this was not thehorse Jim usually rode. She took the precaution then to hide behind somebushes, and watched from there. When the horseman approached closershe discerned that instead of Jim it was Harvey Roberts, a man of thevillage and a good friend of her uncle's. Therefore she rode out of hercovert and hailed him. It was a significant thing that at the soundof her voice Roberts started suddenly and reached for his gun. Then herecognized her.
"Hello, Joan!" he exclaimed, turning her way. "Reckon you give me ascare. You ain't alone way out here?"
"Yes. I was trailing Jim when I saw you," she replied. "Thought you wereJim."
"Trailin' Jim! What's up?"
"We quarreled. He swore he was going to the devil. Over on the border!I was mad and told him to go.... But I'm sorry now--and have been tryingto catch up with him."
"Ahuh!... So that's Jim's trail. I sure was wonderin'. Joan, it turnsoff a few miles back an' takes the trail for the border. I know. I'vebeen in there."
Joan glanced up sharply at Roberts. His scarred and grizzled face seemedgrave and he avoided her gaze.
"You don't believe--Jim'll really go?" she asked, hurriedly.
"Reckon I do, Joan," he replied, after a pause. "Jim is just foolenough. He had been gettrn' recklessler lately. An', Joan, the timesain't provocatin' a young feller to be good. Jim had a bad fight theother night. He about half killed young Bradley. But I reckon you know."
"I've heard nothing," she replied. "Tell me. Why did they fight?"
"Report was that Bradley talked oncomplementary about you."
Joan experienced a sweet, warm rush of blood--another new and strangeemotion. She did not like Bradley. He had been persistent and offensive.
"Why didn't Jim tell me?" she queried, half to herself.
"Reckon he wasn't proud of the shape he left Bradley in," repliedRoberts, with a laugh. "Come on, Joan, an' make back tracks for home."
Joan was silent a moment while she looked over the undulating greenridges toward the great gray and black walls. Something stirred deepwithin her. Her father in his youth had been an adventurer. She felt thethrill and the call of her blood. And she had been unjust to a man wholoved her.
"I'm going after him," she said.
Roberts did not show any surprise. He looked at the position of the sun."Reckon we might overtake him an' get home before sundown," he said,laconically, as he turned his horse. "We'll make a short cut across herea few miles, an' strike his trail. Can't miss it."
Then he set off at a brisk trot and Joan fell in behind. She had a busymind, and it was a sign of her preoccupation that she forgot to thankRoberts. Presently they struck into a valley, a narrow depressionbetween the foothills and the ridges, and here they made faster time.The valley appeared miles long. Toward the middle of it Roberts calledout to Joan, and, looking down, she saw they had come up with Jim'strail. Here Roberts put his mount to a canter, and at that gait theytrailed Jim out of the valley and up a slope which appeared to be apass into the mountains. Time flew by for Joan, because she was alwayspeering ahead in the hope and expectation of seeing Jim off in thedistance. But she had no glimpse of him. Now and then Roberts wouldglance around at the westering sun. The afternoon had far advanced. Joanbegan to worry about home. She had been so sure of coming up with Jimand returning early in the day that she had left no word as to herintentions. Probably by this time somebody was out looking for her.
The country grew rougher, rock-strewn, covered with cedars and patchesof pine. Deer crashed out of the thickets and grouse whirred up fromunder the horses. The warmth of the summer afternoon chilled.
"Reckon we'd better give it up," called Roberts back to her.
"No--no. Go on," replied Joan.
And they urged their horses faster. Finally they reached the summit ofthe slope. From that height they saw down into a round, shallow valley,which led on, like all the deceptive reaches, to the ranges. There waswater down there. It glinted like red ribbon in the sunlight. Not aliving thing was in sight. Joan grew more discouraged. It seemed therewas scarcely any hope of overtaking Jim that day. His trail led offround to the left and grew difficult to follow. Finally, to make mattersworse, Roberts's horse slipped in a rocky wash and lamed himself. He didnot want to go on, and, when urged, could hardly walk.
Roberts got off to examine the injury. "Wal, he didn't break his leg,"he said, which was his manner of telling how bad the injury was. "Joan,I reckon there'll be some worryin' back home tonight. For your horsecan't carry double an' I can't walk."
Joan dismounted. There was water in the wash, and she helped Robertsbathe the sprained and swelling joint. In the interest and sympathy ofthe moment she forgot her own trouble.
"Reckon we'll have to make camp right here," said Roberts, lookingaround. "Lucky I've a pack on that saddle. I can make you comfortable.But we'd better be careful about a fire an' not have one after dark."
"There's no help for it," replied Joan. "Tomorrow we'll go on afterJim. He can't be far ahead now." She was glad that it was impossible toreturn home until the next day.
Roberts took the pack off his horse, and then the saddle. And he wasbending over in the act of loosening the cinches of Joan's saddle whensuddenly he straightened up with a jerk.
Joan heard soft, dull thumps on the turf and then the sharp crack of anunshod hoof upon stone. Wheeling, she saw three horsemen. They werejust across the wash and coming toward her. One rider pointed in herdirection. Silhouetted against the red of the sunset they made dark andsinister figures. Joan glanced apprehensively at Roberts. He was staringwith a look of recognition in his eyes. Under his breath he muttered acurse. And although Joan was not certain, she believed that his face hadshaded gray.
The three horsemen halted on the rim of the wash. One of them wasleading a mule that carried a pack and a deer carcass. Joan had seenmany riders apparently just like these, but none had ever so subtly andpowerfully affected her.
"Howdy," greeted one of the men.
And then Joan was positive that the face of Roberts had turned ashengray.
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