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Title: The Branding Iron
Author: Burt, Katharine Newlin, 1882-1977
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Branding Iron" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



THE BRANDING IRON

----------------------------------------------------------------------

THE BRANDING IRON

BY
KATHARINE NEWLIN BURT

GROSSET & DUNLAP
PUBLISHERS NEW YORK

BY ARRANGEMENT WITH HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY

----------------------------------------------------------------------

COPYRIGHT, 1919, BY THE RIDGWAY COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1919, BY KATHARINE N. BURT
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

CL
PRINTED IN THE U. S. A.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

CONTENTS

Book One
THE TWO-BAR BRAND

   I.  Joan Reads by Firelight                        3
  II.  Pierre Lays his Hand on a Heart               12
 III.  Two Pictures in the Fire                      21
  IV.  The Sin-Buster                                25
   V.  Pierre Becomes Alarmed about his Property     32
  VI.  Pierre Takes Steps to Preserve his Property   42
 VII.  The Judgment of God                           51
VIII.  Delirium                                      56
  IX.  Dried Rose-Leaves                             61
   X.  Prosper Comes to a Decision                   72
  XI.  The Whole Duty of Woman                       80
 XII.  A Matter of Taste                             91
XIII.  The Training of a Leopardess                 100
 XIV.  Joan Runs Away                               105
  XV.  Nerves and Intuition                         116
 XVI.  The Tall Child                               124
XVII.  Concerning Marriage                          133

Book Two
THE ESTRAY

   I.  A Wild Cat                                   151
  II.  Morena's Wife                                161
 III.  Jane                                         170
  IV.  Flight                                       182
   V.  Luck's Play                                  191
  VI.  Joan and Prosper                             205
 VII.  Aftermath                                    215
VIII.  Against the Bars                             227
  IX.  Gray Envelopes                               236
   X.  The Spider                                   255
  XI.  The Clean Wild Thing                         266
 XII.  The Leopardess                               284
XIII.  The End of the Trail                         300

----------------------------------------------------------------------

THE BRANDING IRON

Book One
THE TWO-BAR BRAND

----------------------------------------------------------------------



CHAPTER I

JOAN READS BY FIRELIGHT


There is no silence so fearful, so breathless, so searching as the
night silence of a wild country buried five feet deep in snow. For
thirty miles or so, north, south, east, and west of the small,
half-smothered speck of gold in Pierre Landis's cabin window, there
lay, on a certain December night, this silence, bathed in moonlight.
The cold was intense: below the bench where Pierre's homestead lay,
there rose from the twisted, rapid river, a cloud of steam, above
which the hoar-frosted tops of cottonwood trees were perfectly
distinct, trunk, branch, and twig, against a sky the color of iris
petals. The stars flared brilliantly, hardly dimmed by the full moon,
and over the vast surface of the snow minute crystals kept up a steady
shining of their own. The range of sharp, wind-scraped mountains,
uplifted fourteen thousand feet, rode across the country, northeast,
southwest, dazzling in white armor, spears up to the sky, a sight,
seen suddenly, to take the breath, like the crashing march of
archangels militant.

In the center of this ring of silent crystal, Pierre Landis's logs
shut in a little square of warm and ruddy human darkness. Joan, his
wife, made the heart of this defiant space--Joan, the one mind living
in this ghostly area of night. She had put out the lamp, for Pierre,
starting townward two days before, had warned her with a certain
threatening sharpness not to waste oil, and she lay on the hearth, her
rough head almost in the ashes, reading a book by the unsteady light
of the flames. She followed the printed lines with a strong, dark
forefinger and her lips framed the words with slow, whispering
motions. It was a long, strong woman's body stretched there across the
floor, heavily if not sluggishly built, dressed rudely in warm stuffs
and clumsy boots, and it was a heavy face, too, unlit from within, but
built on lines of perfect animal beauty. The head and throat had the
massive look of a marble fragment stained to one even tone and dug up
from Attic earth. And she was reading thus heavily and slowly, by
firelight in the midst of this tremendous Northern night, Keats's
version of Boccaccio's "Tale of Isabella and the Pot of Basil."

The story for some reason interested her. She felt that she could
understand the love of young Lorenzo and of Isabella, the hatred of
those two brothers and Isabella's horrible tenderness for that young
murdered head. There were even things in her own life that she
compared with these; in fact, at every phrase, she stopped, and,
staring ahead, crudely and ignorantly visualized, after her own
experience, what she had just read; and, in doing so, she pictured her
own life.

Her love and Pierre's--her life before Pierre came--to put herself in
Isabella's place, she felt back to the days before her love, when she
had lived in a desolation of bleak poverty, up and away along Lone
River in her father's shack. This log house of Pierre's was a castle
by contrast. John Carver and his daughter had shared one room between
them; Joan's bed curtained off with gunny-sacking in a corner. She
slept on hides and rolled herself up in old dingy patchwork quilts and
worn blankets. On winter mornings she would wake covered with the snow
that had sifted in between the ill-matched logs. There had been a
stove, one leg gone and substituted for by a huge cobblestone; there
had been two chairs, a long box, a table, shelves--all rudely made by
John; there had been guns and traps and snowshoes, hides, skins, the
wings of birds, a couple of fishing-rods--John made his living by
legal and illegal trapping and killing. He had looked like a trapped
or hunted creature himself, small, furtive, very dark, with long
fingers always working over his mouth, a great crooked nose--a hideous
man, surely a hideous father. He hardly ever spoke, but sometimes,
coming home from the town which he visited several times a year, but
to which he had never taken Joan, he would sit down over the stove and
go over heavily, for Joan's benefit, the story of his crime and his
escape.

Joan always told herself that she would not listen, whatever he said
she would stop her ears, but always the story fascinated her, held
her, eyes widened on the figure by the stove. He had sat huddled in
his chair, gnomelike, his face contorting with the emotions of the
story, his own brilliant eyes fixed on the round, red mouth of the
stove. The reflection of this scarlet circle was hideously noticeable
in his pupils.

"A man's a right to kill his woman if she ain't honest with him," so
the story began; "if he finds out she's ben trickin' of him, playin'
him off fer another man. That was yer mother, gel; she was a bad
woman." There followed a coarse and vivid description of her badness
and the manner of it. "That kinder thing no man can let pass by in his
wife. I found her"--again the rude details of his discovery--"an' I
found him, an' I let him go fer the white-livered coward he was, but
her I killed. I shot her dead after she'd said her prayers an' asked
God's mercy on her soul. Then I walked off, but they kotched me an' I
was tried. They didn't swing me. Out in them parts they knowed I was
in my rights; so the boys held, but 'twas a life sentence. They tuk me
by rail down to Dawson an' I give 'em the slip, handcuffs an' all.
Perhaps 'twas only a half-hearted chase they made fer me. Some of them
fellers mebbe had wives of their own." He always stopped to laugh at
this point. "An' I cut off up country till I come to a smithy at the
edge of a town. I hung round fer a spell till the smith hed gone off
an' I got into his place an' rid me of the handcuffs. 'Twas a job, but
I wasn't kotched at it an' I made myself free." Followed the story of
his wanderings and his hardships and his coming to Lone River and
setting out his traps. "In them days there weren't no law ag'in'
trappin' beaver. A man could make a honest livin'. Now they've tuk an'
made laws ag'in' a man's bread an' butter. I ask ye, if 't ain't wrong
on a Tuesday to trap yer beaver, why, 't ain't wrong the follerin'
Tuesday. I don't see it, jes becos some fellers back there has made a
law ag'in' it to suit theirselves. Anyway, the market fer beaver hides
is still prime. Mebbe I'll leave you a fortin, gel. I've saved you
from badness, anyhow. I risked a lot to go back an' git you, but I
done it. You was playin' out in front of yer aunt's house an' I come
fer you. You was a three-year-old an' a big youngster. Says I, 'What's
yer name?' Says you, 'Joan Carver'; an' I knowed you by yer likeness
to _her_. By God! I swore I'd save ye. I tuk you off with me, though
you put up a fight an' I hed to use you rough to silence you. 'There
ain't a-goin' to be no man in yer life, Joan Carver,' says I; 'you an'
yer big eyes is a-goin' to be fer me, to do my work an' to look after
my comforts. No pretty boys fer you an' no husbands either to go
a-shootin' of you down fer yer sins.'" He shivered and shook his head.
"No, here you stays with yer father an' grows up a good gel. There
ain't a-goin' to be no man in _yer_ life, Joan."

But youth was stronger than the man's half-crazy will, and when she
was seventeen, Joan ran away.

She found her way easily enough to the town, for she was wise in the
tracks of a wild country, and John's trail townwards, though so rarely
used, was to her eyes plain enough; and very coolly she walked into
the hotel, past the group of loungers around the stove, and asked at
the desk, where Mrs. Upper sat, if she could get a job. Mrs. Upper and
the loungers stared, for there were few women in this frontier country
and those few were well known. This great, strong girl, heavily
graceful in her heavily awkward clothes, bareheaded, shod like a man,
her face and throat purely classic, her eyes gray and wide and as
secret in expression as an untamed beast's--no one had ever seen the
like of her before.

"What's yer name?" asked Mrs. Upper suspiciously. It was Mormon Day in
the town; there were celebrations and her house was full; she needed
extra hands, but where this wild creature was concerned she was
doubtful.

"Joan. I'm John Carver's daughter," answered the girl.

At once comprehension dawned; heads were nodded, then craned for a
better look. Yes, the town, the whole country even, had heard of John
Carver's imprisoned daughter. Sober and drunk, he had boasted of her
and of how there was to be "no man" in her life. It was like dangling
ripe fruit above the mouths of hungry boys to make such a boast in such
a land. But they were lazy. It was a country of lazy, slow-thinking,
slow-moving, and slow-talking adventurers--you will notice this
ponderous, inevitable quality of rolling stones--and though men talked
with humor not too fine of "travelin' up Lone River for John's gel,"
not a man had got there. Perhaps the men knew John Carver for a coward,
that most dangerous animal to meet in his own lair.

Now here stood the "gel," the mysterious secret goal of desire, a
splendid creature, virginal, savage, as certainly designed for man as
Eve. The men's eyes fastened upon her, moved and dropped.

"Your father sent you down here fer a job?" asked Mrs. Upper
incredulously.

"No. I come." Joan's grave gaze was unchanging. "I'm tired of it up
there. I ain't a-goin' back. I'm most eighteen now an' I kinder want a
change."

She had not meant to be funny, but a gust of laughter rattled the
room. She shrank back. It was more terrifying to her than any cruelty
she had fancied meeting her in the town. These were the men her father
had forbidden, these loud-laughing, crinkled faces. She had turned to
brave them, a great surge of color in her brows.

"Don't mind the boys, dear," spoke Mrs. Upper. "They will laff, joke
or none. We ain't none of us blamin' you. It's a wonder you ain't run
off long afore now. I can give you a job an' welcome, but you'll be
green an' unhandy. Well, sir, we kin learn ye. You kin turn yer hand
to chamber-work an' mebbe help at the table. Maud will show you. But,
Joan, what will dad do to you? He'll be takin' after you hot-foot, I
reckon, an' be fer gettin' you back home as soon as he can."

Joan did not change her look.

"I'll not be goin' back with him," she said.

Her slow, deep voice, chest notes of a musical vibration, stirred the
room. The men were hers and gruffly said so. A sudden warmth enveloped
her from heart to foot. She followed Mrs. Upper to the initiation in
her service, clothed for the first time in human sympathies.



CHAPTER II

PIERRE LAYS HIS HAND ON A HEART


Maud Upper was the first girl of her own age that Joan had ever seen.
Joan went in terror of her and Maud knew this and enjoyed her
ascendancy over an untamed creature twice her size. There was the
crack of a lion-tamer's whip in the tone of her instructions. That was
after a day or two. At first Maud had been horribly afraid of Joan. "A
wild thing like her, livin' off there in the hills with that man, why,
ma, there's no tellin' what she might be doin' to me."

"She won't hurt ye," laughed Mrs. Upper, who had lived in the wilds
herself, having been a frontierman's wife before the days even of this
frontier town and having married the hotel-keeper as a second venture.
She knew that civilization--this rude place being civilization to
Joan--would cow the girl and she knew that Maud's self-assertive
buoyancy would frighten the soul of her. Maud was large-hipped,
high-bosomed, with a small, round waist much compressed. She carried
her head, with its waved brown hair, very high, and shot blue glances
down along a short, broad nose. Her mouth was thin and determined, her
color high. She had a curiously shallow, weak voice that sounded
breathless. She taught Joan impatiently and laughed loudly but not
unkindly at her ways.

"Gee, she's awkward, ain't she?" she would say to the men; "trail like
a bull moose!"

The men grinned, but their eyes followed Joan's movements. As a matter
of fact, she was not awkward. Through her clumsy clothes, the
heaviness of her early youth, in spite of all the fetters of her
ignorance, her wonderful long bones and her wonderful strength
asserted themselves. And she never hurried. At first this apparent
sluggishness infuriated Maud. "Get a gait on ye, Joan Carver!" she
would scream above the din of the rough meals, but soon she found that
Joan's slow movements accomplished a tremendous amount of work in an
amazingly short time. There was no pause in the girl's activity. She
poured out her strength as a python pours his, noiselessly, evenly,
steadily, no haste, no waste. And the men's eyes brooded upon her.

If Joan had stayed long at Mrs. Upper's, she would have begun
inevitably to model herself on Maud, who was, in her eyes, a marvelous
thing of beauty. But, just a week after her arrival, there came to the
inn Pierre Landis and for Joan began the strange and terrible history
of love.

In the lives of most women, of the vast majority, the clatter and
clash of housewifery prelude and postlude the spring song of their
years. And the rattle of dishes, of busy knives and forks, the quick
tapping of Maud's attendant feet, the sound of young and ravenous jaws
at work: these sounds were in Joan's bewildered ears, and the sights
which they accompanied in her bewildered eyes, just before she heard
Pierre's voice, just before she saw his face.

It was dinner hour at the hotel, an hour most dreadful to Joan because
of the hurry, the strangeness, and the crowd, because of the
responsibility of her work, but chiefly because at that hour she
expected the appearance of her father. Her eyes were often on the
door. It opened to admit the young men, the riders and ranchers who
hung up their hats, swaggered with a little jingle of spurs to their
chairs; clean-faced, clean-handed, wet-haired, murmuring low-voiced
courtesies,--"Pass me the gravy, please," "I wouldn't be carin' fer
any, thank you,"--and lifting to the faces of waiting girls now and
again their strange, young, brooding eyes, bold, laughing, and afraid,
hungry, pathetic, arrogant, as the eyes of young men are, tameless and
untamable, but full of the pathos of the untamed. Joan's heart shook a
little under their looks, but when Pierre lifted his eyes to her, her
heart stood still. She had not seen them following her progress around
the room. He had come in late, and finding no place at the long,
central table sat apart at a smaller one under a high, uncurtained
window. By the time she met his eyes they were charged with light;
smoky-blue eyes they were, the iris heavily ringed with black, the
pupils dilated a little. For the first time it occurred to Joan,
looking down with a still heart into his eyes, that a man might be
beautiful. The blood came up from her heart to her face. Her eyes
struggled away from his.

"What's yer name, gel?" murmured Pierre.

"Joan Carver."

"You run away from home?" He too had heard of her.

"Yes."

"Will your father be takin' you back?"

"I won't be goin' with him."

She was about to pass on. Pierre cast a swift look about the
table--bent heads and busy hands, eyes cast down, ears, he knew,
alert. It was a land of few women and of many men. He must leave in
the morning early and for months he would not be back. He put out a
long, hard hand, caught Joan's wrist and gave it a queer, urgent
shake, the gesture of an impatient and beseeching child.

"Will you be comin' home with me, gel?" asked Pierre hurriedly.

She looked at him, her lips apart, and she shook her head.

Maud's voice screamed at her from the kitchen door. Pierre let her go.
She went on, very white.

She did not sleep at all that night. Her father's face, Pierre's face,
looked at her. In the morning Pierre would be gone. She had heard Maud
say that the "queer Landis feller would be makin' tracks back to that
ranch of his acrost the river." Yes, he would be gone. She might have
been going with him. She felt the urgent pressure of his hand on her
arm, in her heart. It shook her with such a longing for love, for all
the unknown largesse of love, that she cried. The next morning, pale,
she came down and went about her work. Pierre was not at breakfast,
and she felt a sinking of heart, though she had not known that she had
built upon seeing him again. Then, as she stepped out at the back to
empty a bucket, there he was!

Not even the beauty of dawn could lend mystery to the hideous,
littered yard, untidy as the yards of frontier towns invariably are,
to the board fence, to the trampled half-acre of dirt, known as "The
Square," and to the ugly frame buildings straggled about it; but it
could and did give an unearthly look of blessedness to the bare,
gray-brown buttes that ringed the town and a glory to the sky, while
upon Pierre, waiting at his pony's head, it shed a magical and tender
light. He was dressed in his cowboy's best, a white silk handkerchief
knotted under his chin, leather "chaps," bright spurs, a sombrero on
his head. His face was grave, excited, wistful. At sight of Joan, he
moved forward, the pony trailing after him at the full length of its
reins; and, stopping before her, Pierre took off the sombrero, slowly
stripped the gauntlet from his right hand, and, pressing both hat and
glove against his hip with the left hand, held out the free, clean
palm to Joan.

"Good-bye," said he, "unless--you'll be comin' with me after all?"

Joan felt again that rush of fire to her brows. She took his hand and
her fingers closed around it like the frightened, lonely fingers of a
little girl. She came near to him and looked up.

"I'll be comin' with you, Pierre," she said, just above her breath.

He shot up a full inch, stiffened, searched her with smouldering eyes,
then held her hard against him. "You'll not be sorry, Joan Carver,"
said he gently and put her away from him. Then, unsmiling, he bade her
go in and get her belongings while he got her a horse and told his
news to Mrs. Upper.

That ride was dreamlike to Joan. Pierre put her in her saddle and she
rode after him across the Square and along a road flanked by the ugly
houses of the town.

"Where are we a-goin'?" she asked him timidly.

He stopped at that, turned, and, resting his hand on the cantle of his
saddle, smiled at her for the first time.

"Don't you savvy the answer to that question, Joan?"

She shook her head.

The smile faded. "We're goin' to be married," said he sternly, and
they rode on.

They were married by the justice, a pleasant, silent fellow, who with
Western courtesy, asked no more questions than were absolutely
needful, and in fifteen minutes Joan mounted her horse again, a ring
on the third finger of her left hand.

"Now," said Pierre, standing at her stirrup, his shining, smoke-blue
eyes lifted to her, his hand on her boot, "you'll be wantin' some
things--some clothes?"

"No," said Joan. "Maud went with me an' helped me buy things with my
pay just yesterday. I won't be needin' anything."

"All right," said he. "We're off, then!" And he flung himself with a
sudden wild, boyish "Whoopee!" on his pony, gave a clip to Joan's
horse and his own, and away they galloped, a pair of young, wild
things, out from the town through a straggling street to where the
road boldly stretched itself toward a great land of sagebrush, of
buttes humping their backs against the brilliant sky. Down the valley
they rode, trotting, walking, galloping, till, turning westward, they
mounted a sharp slope and came up above the plain. Below, in the heart
of the long, narrow valley, the river coiled and wandered, divided and
came together again into a swift stream, amongst aspen islands and
willow swamps. Beyond this strange, lonely river-bed, the cottonwoods
began, and, above them, the pine forests massed themselves and strode
up the foothills of the gigantic range, that range of iron rocks,
sharp, thin, and brittle where they scraped the sky.

At the top of the hill, Pierre put out his hand and pulled Joan's
rein, drawing her to a stop beside him.

"Over yonder's my ranch," said he.

Joan looked. There was not a sign of house or clearing, but she
followed his gesture and nodded.

"Under the mountains?" she said.

"At the foot of Thunder Cañon. You can see a gap in the pines.
There's a waterfall just above--that white streak. Now you've got it.
Where you come from 's to the south, away yonder."

Joan would not turn her head. "Yes," said she, "I know."

Suddenly tears rushed to her eyes. She had a moment of unbearable
longing and regret. Pierre said nothing; he was not watching her.

"Come on," said he, "or your father will be takin' after us."

They rode at a gallop down the hill.



CHAPTER III

TWO PICTURES IN THE FIRE


The period which followed had a quality of breathless, almost
unearthly happiness. They were young, savage, simple, and their love,
unanalyzed, was as joyous as the loves of animals: joyous with that
clear gravity characteristic of the boy and girl. Pierre had been
terribly alone before Joan came, and the building-up of his ranch had
occupied his mind day and night except, now and again, for dreams. Yet
he was of a passionate nature. Joan felt in him sometimes a savage
possibility of violence. Two incidents of this time blazed themselves
especially on her memory: the one, her father's visit, the other, an
irrelevant enough picture until after events threw back a glare upon
it.

They had been at Pierre's ranch for a fortnight before John Carver
found them. Then, one morning, as Pierre opened the door to go out to
work, Joan saw a thin, red pony tied to the fence and a small figure
walking toward the cabin.

"Pierre, it's Father!" she said. And Pierre stopped in his tracks,
drew himself up and waited, hands on his cartridge belt.

How mean and old and furtive her father looked in contrast to this
beautiful young husband! Joan was entirely unafraid. She leaned
against the side of the door and watched, as silent and unconsulted as
any squaw, while the two men settled their property rights in her.

"So you've took my gel," said John Carver, stopping a foot or two in
front of Pierre, his eyes shifting up and down, one long hand
fingering his lips.

Pierre answered courteously. "Some man was bound to hev her, Mr.
Carver, soon or late. You can't set your face ag'in' the laws of
natur'. Will you be steppin' in? Joan will give you some breakfast."

Carver paid no heed to the invitation. "Hev you married her?" said he.

The blood rose to Pierre's brown face. "Sure I hev."

"Well, sir, you hev married the darter of a ----" Carver used a
brutal word. "Look out fer her. If you see her eyes lookin' an'
lookin' at another man, you kin know what's to come." Pierre was
white. "I've done with her. She kin never come to me fer bite or bed.
Shoot her if you hev to, Pierre Landis, but when she's kotched at her
mother's game, don't send her back to me. That's all I come to say."

He turned with limber agility and went back to his horse. He was on it
and off, galloping madly across the sagebrush flat. Pierre turned and
walked into the house past Joan without a word.

She still leaned against the door, but her head was bent.

Presently she went about her housework. Every now and then she shot a
wistful look at Pierre. All morning long, he sat there, his hands
hanging between his knees, his eyes full of a brooding trouble. At
noon he shook his head, got up, and, still without word or caress, he
strode out and did not come back till dark. Joan suffered heartache
and terror. When he came, she ran into his arms. He kissed her, seemed
quite himself again, and the strange interview was never mentioned by
either of them. They were silent people, given to feelings and to
action rather than to thoughts and words.

The other memory was of a certain sunset hour when she came at
Pierre's call out to the shed he had built at one side of their cabin.
Its open side faced the west, and, as Joan came, her shadow went
before her and fell across Pierre at work. The flame of the west gave
a weird pallor to the flames over which he bent. He was whistling, and
hammering at a long piece of iron. Joan came and stood beside him.

Suddenly he straightened up and held in the air a bar of metal, the
shaped end white hot. Joan blinked.

"That's our brand, gel," said Pierre. "Don't you fergit it. When I've
made my fortune there'll be stock all over the country marked with
them two bars. That'll be famous--the Two-Bar Brand. Don't you fergit
it, Joan."

And he brought the white iron close so that she felt its heat on her
face and drew back, flinching. He laughed, let it fall, and kissed
her. Joan was very glad and proud.



CHAPTER IV

THE SIN-BUSTER


In the fall, when the whole country had turned to a great cup of gold,
purple-rimmed under the sky, Pierre went out into the hills after his
winter meat. Joan was left alone. She spent her time cleaning and
arranging the two-room cabin, and tidying up outdoors, and in
"grubbing sagebrush," a gigantic task, for the one hundred and fifty
acres of Pierre's homestead were covered for the most part by the
sturdy, spicy growth, and every bush had to be dug out and burnt to
clear the way for ploughing and planting. Joan worked with the
deliberateness and intentness of a man. She enjoyed the wholesome
drudgery. She was proud every sundown of the little clearing she had
made, and stood, tired and content, to watch the piled brush burn,
sending up aromatic smoke and curious, dull flames very high into the
still air.

She was so standing, hands folded on her rake, when, on the other side
of her conflagration, she perceived a man. He was steadily regarding
her, and when her eyes fell upon him, he smiled and stepped forward--a
tall, broad, very fair young man in a shooting coat, khaki
riding-breeches, and puttees. He had a wide brow, clear, blue eyes and
an eager, sensitive, clean-shaven mouth and chin. He held out a big
white hand.

"Mrs. Landis," he said, in a crisp voice of an accent and finish
strange to the girl "I wonder if you and your husband can put me up
for the night. I'm Frank Holliwell. I'm on a round of parish visits,
and, as my parish is about sixty miles square, my poor old pony has
gone lame. I know you are not my parishioners, though, no doubt, you
should be, but I'm going to lay claim to your hospitality, for all
that, if I may?"

Joan had moved her rake into the grasp of her left hand and had taken
the proffered palm into her other, all warm and fragrantly stained.

"You're the new sin-buster, ain't you?" she asked gravely.

The young man opened his blue and friendly eyes.

"Oh, that's what I am, eh? That's a new one to me. Yes. I suppose I
am. It's rather a fine name to go by--sin-buster," and he laughed very
low and very amusedly.

Joan looked him over and slowly smiled. "You look like you could bust
anything you'd a mind to," she said, and led the way toward the house,
her rake across her shoulder.

"Pierre," she told him when they were in the shining, clean log house,
"is off in the hills after his elk, but I can make you up a bed in the
settin'-room an' serve you a supper an' welcome."

"Oh, thanks," he rather doubtfully accepted.

Evidently he did not know the ways and proprieties of this new
"parish" of his. But Joan seemed to take the situation with an
enormous calm impersonality. He modeled his manner upon hers. They sat
at the table together, Joan silent, save when he forced her to speak,
and entirely untroubled by her silence, Frank Holliwell eating
heartily, helping her serve, and talking a great deal. He asked her a
great many questions, which she answered with direct simplicity. By
the end of dish-washing, he had her history and more of her opinions,
probably, than any other creature she had met.

"What do you do when Landis is away?"

She told him.

"But, in the evenings, I mean, after work. Have you books?"

"No," said Joan; "it's right hard labor, readin'. Pa learned me my
letters an' I can spell out bits from papers an' advertisements an'
what not, but I ain't never read a book straight out. I dunno," she
added presently, "but as I'd like to. Pierre can read," she told him
proudly.

"I'm sure you'd like to." He considered her through the smoke of his
pipe. He was sitting by the hearth now, and she, just through with
clearing up, stood by the corner of the mantel shelf, arranging the
logs. The firelight danced over her face, so beautiful, so unlighted
from within.

"How old are you, Joan Landis?" he asked suddenly, using her name
without title for the first time.

"Eighteen."

"Is that all? You must read books, you know. There's so much empty
space there back of your brows."

She looked up smiling a little, her wide gray eyes puzzled.

"Yes, Joan. You must read. Will you--if I lend you some books?"

She considered. "Yes," she said. "I'd read them if you'd be lendin' me
some. In the evenings when Pierre's away, I'm right lonesome. I never
was lonesome before, not to know it. It'll take me a long time to read
one book, though," she added with an engaging mournfulness.

"What do you like--stories, poetry, magazines?"

"I'd like real books in stiff covers," said Joan, "an' I don't like
pictures."

This surprised the clergyman. "Why not?" said he.

"I like to notion how the folks look myself. I like pictures of real
places, that has got to be like they are"--Joan was talking a great
deal and having trouble with her few simple words--"but I like folks
in stories to look like I want 'em to look."

"Not the way the writer describes them?"

"Yes, sir. But you can make up a whole lot on what the writer
describes. If he says 'her eyes is blue'; you can see 'em dark blue or
light blue or jest blue. An' you can see 'em shaped round or what not,
the way you think about folks that you've heard of an' have never
met."

It was extraordinary how this effort at self-expression excited Joan.
She was rarely self-conscious, but she was usually passive or stolid;
now there was a brilliant flush in her face and her large eyes
deepened and glowed. "I heerd tell of you, Mr. Holliwell. Fellers come
up here to see Pierre once in a while an' one or two of 'em spoke your
name. An' I kinder figured out you was a weedy feller, awful
solemn-like, an' of course you ain't, but it's real hard for me to
notion that there ain't two Mr. Holliwells, you an' the weedy
sin-buster I've ben picturin'. Like as not I'll get to thinkin' of you
like two fellers." Joan sighed. "Seems like when I onct get a notion
in my head it jest sticks there some way."

"Then the more wise notions you get the better. I'll ride up here in a
couple of weeks' time with some books. You may keep them as long as
you will. All winter, if you like. When I can get up here, we can talk
them over, you and Landis and I. I'll try to choose some without
pictures. There will be stories and some poetry, too."

"I ain't never read but one pome," said Joan.

"And that was?"

She had sat down on the floor by the hearth, her head thrown back to
lean against the cobbles of the chimney-piece, her knees locked in her
hands. That magnificent long throat of hers ran up to the black coils
of hair which had slipped heavily down over her ears. The light edged
her round chin and her strongly modeled, regular features; the full,
firm mouth so savagely pure and sensuous and self-contained. The eyes
were mysterious under their thick lashes and dark, long brows. This
throat and face and these strong hands were picked out in their full
value of line and texture from the dark cotton dress she was wearing.

"It's a pome on a card what father had, stuck ag'in' the wall." She
began to recite, her eyes fixed upon him with childlike gravity. "'He
maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the
still waters.... Yea, though I walk through the valley of shadows,
thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.'"

Holliwell had taken the pipe from between his teeth, had straightened
up. Her deep voice, the slight swinging of her body to the rhythm she
had unconsciously given to her lines, the strange glow in her eyes ...
Holliwell wondered why these things, this brief, sing-song recitation,
had given a light thrill to the surface of his skin, had sent a
tingling to his fingertips. He was the first person to wonder at that
effect of Joan's cadenced music. "The valley of the shadow--" she had
missed a familiar phrase and added value to a too often repeated line.

"Joan! Joan!" said the "sin-buster," an exclamation drawn from him on
a deep breath, "what an extraordinary girl you are! What a marvelous
woman you are going to be!"

Joan looked at him in a silence of pure astonishment and that was the
end of their real talk.



CHAPTER V

PIERRE BECOMES ALARMED ABOUT HIS PROPERTY


The next time Holliwell came, he brought the books, and, finding
Pierre at home, he sat with his host after supper and talked men's
talk of the country; of game, of ranching, a little gossip, stories of
travel, humorous experiences, and Joan sat in her place, the books in
her lap, looking and listening.

John Carver had used a phrase, "When you see her eyes lookin' and
lookin' at another man--" and this phrase had stuck in Pierre's
sensitive and jealous memory. What Joan felt for Holliwell was a sort
of ignorant and respectful tenderness, the excitement of an intelligent
child first moved to a knowledge of its own intelligence; the gratitude
of savage loneliness toward the beautiful feet of exploration. A
consciousness of her clean mind, a consciousness of her young, untamed
spirit, had come slowly to life in her since her talk with Holliwell.
Joan was peculiarly a woman--that is, the passive and receptive being.
Pierre had laid his hand on her heart and she had followed him; now
this young parson had put a curious finger on her brain, it followed
him. Her husband saw the admiration, the gratitude, the tender
excitement in her frank eyes, and the poison seed sown by John Carver's
hand shot out roots and tiny, deadly branches.

But Joan and Holliwell were unaware. Pierre smoked rapidly, rolling
cigarette after cigarette; he listened with a courteous air, he told
stories in his soft, slow voice; once he went out to bring in a fresh
log and, coming back on noiseless feet, saw Joan and her instructor
bent over one of the books and Joan's face was almost that of a
stranger, so eager, so flushed, with sparkles in the usually still,
gray eyes.

It was not till a week or two after this second visit from the clergyman
that Pierre's smouldering jealousy broke into flame. After clearing away
the supper things with an absent air of eager expectation, Joan would
dry her hands on her apron, and, taking down one of her books from their
place in a shelf corner, she would draw her chair close to the lamp and
begin to read, forgetful of Pierre. These had been the happiest hours
for him; he would tell Joan about his day's work, about his plans, about
his past life; wonderful it was to him, after his loneliness, that she
should be sitting there drinking in every word and loving him with her
dumb, wild eyes. Now, there was no talk and no listening. Joan's
absorbed face was turned from him and bent over her book, her lips
moved, she would stop and stare before her. After a long while, he would
get up and go to bed, but she would stay with her books till a restless
movement from him would make her aware of the lamplight shining
wakefulness upon him through the chinks in the partition wall. Then she
would get up reluctantly, sighing, and come to bed.

For ten evenings this went on, Pierre's heart slowly heating itself,
until, all at once, the flame leaped.

Joan had untied her apron and reached up for her book. Pierre had been
waiting, hoping that of her free will she might prefer his company to
the "parson feller's"--for in his ignorance those books were jealously
personified--but, without a glance in his direction, she had turned as
usual to the shelf.

"You goin' to read?" asked Pierre hoarsely. It was a painful effort to
speak.

She turned with a childish look of astonishment. "Yes, Pierre."

He stood up with one of his lithe, swift movements, all in one
rippling piece. "By God, you're not, though!" said he, strode over to
her, snatched the volume from her, threw it back into its place, and
pointed her to her chair.

"You set down an' give heed to me fer a change, Joan Carver," he said,
his smoke-colored eyes smouldering. "I didn't fetch you up here to
read parsons' books an' waste oil. I fetched you up here--to--" He
stopped, choked with a sudden, enormous hurt tenderness and sat down
and fell to smoking and staring, hot-eyed, into the fire.

And Joan sat silent in her place, puzzled, wistful, wounded, her idle
hands folded, looking at him for a while, then absently before her,
and he knew that her mind was busy again with the preacher feller's
books. If he had known better how to explain his heart, if she had
known how to show him the impersonal eagerness of her awakening
mind--! But, savage and silent, they sat there, loving each other,
hurt, but locked each into his own impenetrable life.

After that, Joan changed the hours of her study and neglected
housework and sagebrush-grubbing, but, nonetheless, were Pierre's
evenings spoiled. Perfection of intercourse is the most perishable of
all life's commodities. Now, when he talked, he could not escape the
consciousness of having constrained his audience; she could not escape
her knowledge of his jealousy, the remembrance of his mysterious
outbreak, the irrepressible tug of the story she was reading. So it
went on till snow came and they were shut in, man and wife, with only
each other to watch, a tremendous test of good-fellowship. This
searching intimacy came at a bad time, just after Holliwell's third
visit when he had brought a fresh supply of books.

"There's poetry this time," he said. "Get Pierre to read it aloud to
you."

The suggestion was met by a rude laugh from Pierre.

"I wouldn't be wastin' my time," he jeered.

It was the first rift in his courtesy. Holliwell looked up in sharp
surprise. He saw a flash of the truth, a little wriggle of the green
serpent in Pierre's eyes before they fell. He flushed and glanced at
Joan. She stood by the table in the circle of lamplight, looking over
the new books, but in her eagerness there was less simplicity. She
wore an almost timorous air, accepted his remarks in silence, shot
doubtful looks at Pierre before she answered questions, was an
entirely different Joan. Now Holliwell was angry and he stiffened
toward his host and hostess, dropped all his talk about the books and
smoked haughtily. He was young and over-sensitive, no more master of
himself in this instance than Pierre and Joan. But before he left
after supper, refusing a bed, though Pierre conquered his dislike
sufficiently to urge it, Holliwell had a moment with Joan. It was very
touching. He would tell about it afterwards, but, for a long time, he
could not bear to remember it.

She tried to return his books, coming with her arms full of them and
lifting up eyes that were almost tragic with renunciation.

"I can't be takin' the time to read them, Mr. Holliwell," she said,
that extraordinary, over-expressive voice of hers running an octave of
regret; "an' someway Pierre don't like that I should spend my evenin's
on them. Seems like he thinks I was settin' myself up to be knowin'
more than him." She laughed ruefully. "Me--knowin' more'n Pierre! It's
laughable. But anyways I don't want him to be thinkin' that. So take
the books, please. I like them." She paused. "I love them," she said
hungrily and, blinking, thrust them into his hands.

He put them down on the table. "You're wrong, Joan," he said quickly.
"You mustn't give in to such a foolish idea. You have rights of your
own, a life of your own. Pierre mustn't stand in the way of your
learning. You mustn't let him. I'll speak to him."

"Oh, no!" Some intuition warned her of the danger in his doing this.

"Well, then, keep your books and talk to Pierre about them. Try to
persuade him to read aloud to you. I shan't be back now till spring,
but I want you to read this winter, read all the stuff that's there.
Come, Joan, to please me," and he smiled coaxingly.

"I ain't afeared of Pierre," said Joan slowly. Her pride was stung by
the suggestion. "I'll keep the books." She sighed. "Good-bye. When I
see you in the spring, I'll be a right learned school-marm."

She held out her hand and he took and held it, pressing it in his own.
He felt troubled about her, unwilling to leave her in the snowbound
wilderness with that young savage of the smouldering eyes.

"Good-bye," said Pierre behind him. His soft voice had a click.

Holliwell turned to him. "Good-bye, Landis. I shan't see either of you
till the spring. I wish you a good winter and I hope--" He broke off
and held out his hand. "Well," said he, "you're pretty far out of
every one's way here. Be good to each other."

"Damn your interference!" said Pierre's eyes, but he took the hand and
even escorted Holliwell to his horse.

Snow came early and deep that winter. It fell for long, gray days and
nights, and then it came in hurricanes of drift, wrapping the cabin in
swirling white till only one window peered out and one gabled corner
cocked itself above the crust. Pierre had cut and stacked his winter
wood; he had sent his cows to a richer man's ranch for winter feeding.
There was very little for him to do. After he had brought in two
buckets of water from the well and had cut, for the day's consumption,
a piece of meat from his elk hanging outside against the wall, he had
only to sit and smoke, to read old magazines and papers, and to watch
Joan. Then the poisonous roots of his jealousy struck deep. Always his
brain, unaccustomed to physical idleness, was at work, falsely
interpreting her wistful silence--she was thinking of the parson,
hungry to read his books, longing for the open season and his coming
again to the ranch.

In December a man came in on snowshoes bringing "the mail"--one letter
for Pierre, a communication which brought heat to his face. The Forest
Service threatened him with a loss of land; it pointed to some flaw in
his title; part of his property, the most valuable part, had not yet
been surveyed.... Pierre looked up with set jaws, every fighting
instinct sharpened to hold what was his own.

"I hev put in two years' hard work on them acres," he told his
visitor, "an' I'm not plannin' to give them over to the first fool
favored by the Service. My title is as clean as my hand. It'll take
more'n thievery an' more'n spite to take it away from me."

"You better go to Robinson," advised the bearer of the letter; "can't
get after them fellers too soon. It's a country where you can easy
come by what you want, but where it ain't so easy to hold on to it. If
it ain't yer land, it's yer hosses; if it ain't yer hosses, it's yer
wife." He looked at Joan and laughed.

Pierre went white and dumb; the chance shot had inflamed his wound.

He strapped on his snowshoes and bade a grim good-bye to Joan, after
the man had left. "Don't you be wastin' oil while I'm away," he told
her sharply, standing in the doorway, his head level with the steep
wall of snow behind him, and he gave her a threatening look so that
the tenderness in her heart was frozen.

After he had gone, "Pierre, say a real good-bye, say good-bye," she
whispered. Her face cramped and tears came.

She heard his steps lightly crunching across the hard, bright surface
of the snow, they entered into the terrible frozen silence. Then she
turned from the door, dried her eyes with her sleeve like a little
village girl, and ran across the room to a certain shelf. Pierre would
be gone a week. She would not waste oil, but she would read. It was
with the appetite of a starved creature that she fell upon her books.



CHAPTER VI

PIERRE TAKES STEPS TO PRESERVE HIS PROPERTY


A log fell forward and Joan lifted her head. She had not come to an
end of Isabella's tragedy nor of her own memories, but something other
than the falling log had startled her; a light, crunching step upon
the snow.

She looked toward the window. For an instant the room was almost dark
and the white night peered in at her, its gigantic snow-peaks pressing
against the long, horizontal window panes, and in that instant she saw
a face. The fire started up again, the white night dropped away, the
face shone close a moment longer, then it too disappeared. Joan came
to her feet with pounding pulses. It had been Pierre's face, but at
the same time, the face of a stranger. He had come back five days too
soon and something terrible had happened. Surely his chancing to see
her with her book would not make him look like that. Besides, she was
not wasting oil. She had stood up, but at first she was incapable of
moving forward. For the first time in her life she knew the paralysis
of unreasoning fear. Then the door opened and Pierre came in out of
the crystal night.

"What brought you back so soon?" asked Joan.

"Too soon fer you, eh?" He strode over to the hearth where she had
lain, took up the book, struck it with his hand as though it had been
a hated face, and flung it into the fire. "I seen you through the
window," he said. "So you been happy readin' while I been away?"

"I'll get you supper. I'll light the lamp," Joan stammered.

Pierre's face was pale, his black hair lay in wet streaks on his
temples. He must have traveled at furious speed through the bitter
cold to be in such a sweat. There was a mysterious, controlled
disorder in his look and there arose from him the odor of strong
drink. But he was steady and sure in all his movements and his eyes
were deadly cool and reasonable--only it was the reasonableness of
insanity, reasonableness based on the wildest premises of unreason.

"I don't want no supper, nor no light," he said. "Firelight's enough
fer you to read parsons' books by, it's enough fer me to do what I
oughter done long afore to-night."

She stood in the middle of the small, log-walled room, arrested in the
act of lighting a match, and stared at him with troubled eyes. She was
no longer afraid. After all, strange as he looked, more strangely as
he talked, he was her Pierre, her man. The confidence of her heart had
not been seriously shaken by his coldness and his moods during this
winter. There had been times of fierce, possessive tenderness. She was
his own woman, his property; at this low counting did she rate
herself. A sane man does no injury to his own possessions. And Pierre,
of course, was sane. He was tired, angry, he had been drinking--her
ignorance, her inexperience led her to put little emphasis on the
effects of the poison sold at the town saloon. When he was warm and
fed and rested, he would be quite himself again. She went about
preparing a meal in spite of his words.

He did not seem to notice this. He had taken his eyes from her at last
and was busy with the fire. She, too, busy and reassured by the
familiar occupation, ceased to watch him. Her pulses were quiet now.
She was even beginning to be glad of his return. Why had she been so
frightened? Of course, after such a terrible journey alone in the
bitter cold, he would look strange. Her father, when he came back
smelling of liquor, had always been more than usually morose and
unlike his every-day self. He would sit over the stove and tell her
the story of his crime. They were horrible home-comings, horrible
evenings, but the next morning they would seem like dreams. To-morrow
this strangeness of Pierre's would be mistlike and unreal.

"I seen your sin-buster in town," said Pierre. He was squatting on his
heels over the fire which he had built up to a great blaze and glow
and he spoke in a queer sing-song tone through his teeth. "He asked
after you real kind. He wanted to know how you was gettin' on with the
edication he's ben handin' out to you. I tell him that you was right
satisfied with me an' my ways an' hed quit his books. I didn't know as
you was hevin' such a good time durin' my absence."

Joan was cruelly hurt. His words seemed to fall heavily upon her
heart. "I wasn't hevin' a good time. I was missin' you, Pierre," said
she in a low tremolo of grieving music. "Them books, they seemed like
they was all the company I hed."

"You looked like you was missin' me," he sneered. "The sin-buster an'
I had words about you, Joan. Yes'm, he give me quite a line of
preachin' about you, Joan, as how you hed oughter develop yer own life
in yer own way--along the lines laid out by him. I told him as how I
knowed best what was right an' fittin' fer my own wife; as how, with a
mother like your'n you needed watchin' more'n learnin'; as how you
belonged to me an' not to him. An', says he, 'She don't belong to any
man, Pierre Landis,' he said, 'neither to you nor to me. She belongs
to her own self.' 'I'll see that she belongs to me,' I said. 'I'll fix
her so she'll know it an' every other feller will.'"

At that he turned from the fire and straightened to his feet.

Joan moved backward slowly to the door. He had made no threatening
sign or movement, but her fear had come overwhelmingly upon her and
every instinct urged her to flight. But before she touched the handle
of the door, he flung himself with deadly, swift force and silence
across the room and took her in his arms. With all her wonderful young
strength, Joan could not break away from him. He dragged her back to
the hearth, tied her elbows behind her with the scarf from his neck,
that very scarf he had worn when the dawn had shed a wistful beauty
upon him, waiting for her on a morning not so very long ago. Joan went
weak.

"Pierre," she cried pitifully, "what are you a-goin' to do to me?"

He roped her to the heavy post of a set of shelves built against the
wall. Then he stood away, breathing fast.

"Now whose gel are you, Joan Carver?" he asked her.

"You know I'm yours, Pierre," she sobbed. "You got no need to tie me
to make me say that."

"I got to tie you to make you do more'n say it. I got to make sure you
are it. Hell-fire won't take the sureness out of me after this."

She turned her head, all that she could turn.

He was bending over the fire, and when he straightened she saw that he
held something in his hand ... a long bar of metal, white at the
shaped end. At once her memory showed her a broad glow of sunset
falling over Pierre at work. "There'll be stock all over the country
marked with them two bars," he had said. "The Two-Bar Brand, don't you
fergit it!" She was not likely to forget it now.

She shut her eyes. He stepped close to her and jerked her blouse down
from her shoulder. She writhed away from him, silent in her rage and
fear and fighting dumbly. She made no appeal. At that moment her heart
was so full of hatred that it was hardened to pride. He lifted his
brand and set it against the bare flesh of her shoulder.

Then terribly she screamed. Again, when he took the metal away, she
screamed. Afterwards there was a dreadful silence.

Joan had not lost consciousness. Her healthy nerves stanchly received
the anguish and the shock, nor did she make any further outcry. She
pressed her forehead against the sharp edge of the shelf, she drove
her nails into her hands, and at intervals she writhed from head to
foot. Circles of pain spread from the deep burn on her shoulder,
spread and shrank, to spread and shrink again. The bones of her
shoulder and arm ached terribly; fire still seemed to be eating into
her flesh. The air was full of the smell of scorched skin so that she
tasted it herself. And hotter than her hurt her heart burned consuming
its own tenderness and love and trust.

When this pain left her, when she was free of her bonds, no force nor
fear would hold her to Pierre. She would leave him as she had left her
father. She would go away. There was no place for her to go to, but
what did that matter so long as she might escape from this horrible
place and this infernal tormentor? She did not look about to see the
actuality of Pierre's silence. She thought that he had dropped the
brand and was sitting near the table with his face hidden. How long
the stillness of pain and fury and horror lasted there was no one to
reckon. It was most startlingly broken by a voice. "Who screamed for
help?" it said, and at the same instant a draught of icy air smote
Joan. The door had opened with suddenness and violence. With
difficulty she mastered her pain and turned her head.

Pierre had staggered to his feet. Opposite him, framed against the
open door filled with the wan whiteness of the snow, stood a spare,
tall figure. The man wore his fur collar turned up about his chin and
ears, his fur cap pulled down about his brow, a sharp aquiline nose
stood out above frozen mustaches, keen and brilliant eyes searched the
room. He carried his gun across his arm in readiness, and snuffed the
air like a suspicious hound. Then he advanced a step toward Pierre.

"What devil's work have you been at?" said he, his voice cutting the
ear in its sharpness of astonished rage, and his hand slid down along
the handle of his gun.

Pierre, watching him like a lynx, side-stepped, crouched, whipped out
his gun, and fired. At almost the same second the other's gun went
off. Pierre dropped.

This time Joan's nerves gave way and the room, with its smell of
scorched flesh, of powder, and of frost, went out from her horrified
senses. For a moment the stranger's stern face and brilliant eyes made
the approaching center of a great cloud of darkness, then it too went
out.



CHAPTER VII

THE JUDGMENT OF GOD


The man who had entered with such violence upon so violent a scene,
stood waiting till the smoke of Pierre's discharge had cleared away,
then, still holding his gun in readiness, he stepped across the room
and bent over the fallen man.

"I've killed him!" he said, just above his breath, and added
presently, "That was the judgment of God." He looked about, taking in
every detail of the scene, the branding iron that had burnt its mark
deep into the boards where Pierre had thrown it down, the glowing fire
heaped high and blazing dangerously in the small room, the woman bound
and burnt, the white night outside the uncurtained window.

Afterwards he went over to the woman, who drooped in her bonds with
head hanging backward over the wounded shoulder. He untied the silk
scarf and the rope and carried her, still unconscious, into the
bedroom where he laid her on the bed and bathed her face in water.
Joan's crown of hair had fallen about her neck and temples. Her bared
throat and shoulder had the firm smoothness of marble, her lifeless
face, its pure, full lips fallen apart, its long lids closed,
black-fringed and black-browed, owing little of its beauty to color or
expression, was at no loss in this deathlike composure and whiteness.
The man dealt gently with her as though she had been a child. He found
clean rags which he soaked in oil and placed over her burn, then he
drew the coarse clothing about her and resumed his bathing of her
forehead.

She gave a moaning sigh, her face contracted woefully, and she opened
her eyes. The man looked into them as a curious child might look into
an opened door.

"Did you see what happened?" he asked her when she had come fully to
herself.

"Yes," Joan whispered, her lips shaking.

"I've killed the brute."

Her face became a classic mask of tragedy, the drawn brows, horrified
eyes, and widened mouth.

"Pierre? Killed?" Her voice, hardly more than a whisper, filled the
house with its agony.

"Are you sorry?" demanded her rescuer sternly. "Was he in the habit of
tying you up or was this--branding--a special diversion?"

Joan turned her face away, writhed from head to foot, put up her two
hands between him and her agonizing memories.

The man rose and left her, going softly into the next room. There he
stood in a tense attitude of thought, sat down presently with his
long, narrow jaw in his hands and stared fixedly at Pierre. He was
evidently trying to fight down the shock of the spectacle, grimly
telling himself to become used to the fact that here lay the body of a
man that he had killed. In a short time he seemed to be successful,
his face grew calm. He looked away from Pierre and turned his mind to
the woman.

"She can't stay here," he said presently, in the tone of a man who has
fallen into the habit of talking aloud to himself. He looked about in
a hesitant, doubtful fashion. "God!" he said abruptly and snapped his
fingers and thumb. He looked angry. Again he bent over Pierre,
examined him with thoroughness and science, his face becoming more and
more calm. At the end he rose and with an air of authority he went in
again to Joan. She lay with her face turned to the wall.

"It is impossible for you to stay here," said he in a voice of
command. "You are not fit to take care of yourself, and I can't stay
and take care of you. You must come with me. I think you can manage
that. Your husband--if he is your husband--is dead. It may or may not
be a matter for sorrow to you, but I should say that it ought not to
be anything but a merciful release. Women are queer creatures,
though.... However, whether you are in grief or in rejoicing, you
can't stay here. By to-morrow or next day you'll need more nursing
than you do now. I don't want to take you to a neighbor, even if there
was one near enough, but I'll take you with me. Will you get ready
now?"

His sure, even, commanding voice evidently had a hypnotizing effect
upon the dazed girl. Slowly, wincing, she stood up, and with his help
gathered together some of her belongings which he put in the pack he
carried on his shoulders. She wrapped herself in her warmest outdoor
clothing. He then put his hand upon her arm and drew her toward the
door of that outer room. She followed him blindly with no will of her
own, but, as he stopped to strap on his snowshoes, her face lightened
with pain, and she made as if to run to Pierre's body. He stood before
her, "Don't touch him," said he, and, turning himself, he glanced back
at Pierre. In that glance he saw one of the lean, brown hands stir.
His face became suddenly suffused, even his eyes grew shot with blood.
Standing carefully so as to obstruct her view, he caught at the corner
of an elk hide and threw it over Pierre. Then he went to Joan, who
stared at him, white and shaking. He put his arm around her and drew
her out, shutting the door of her home and leaning against it.

"You can't go back," said he gently and reasonably. "The man tried to
kill you. You can't go back. Surely you meant to go away."

"Yes," said Joan, "yes. I did mean to go away. But--but it's Pierre."

He bent and began to strap on her snowshoes. There was a fighting
brilliance in his eyes and a strange look of hurry about him that had
its effect on Joan. "It's Pierre no longer," said he. "What can you do
for him? What can he do for you? Be sensible, child. Come. Don't waste
time. There will be snow to-day."

In fact it was to-day. The moon had set and a gray dawn possessed the
world. It was not nearly so cold and the great range had vanished in a
bank of gray-black clouds moving steadily northward under a damp wind.
Joan looked at this one living creature with wide, fever-brightened
eyes.

"Come," said the man impatiently.

Joan bent her head and followed him across the snow.



CHAPTER VIII

DELIRIUM


It is not the people that have led still and uneventful lives who are
best prepared for emergencies. They are not trained to face crises, to
make prompt and just decisions. Joan had made but two such resolutions
in her life; the first when she had followed Pierre, the second when
she had kept Holliwell's books in defiance of her husband's jealousy.
The leaving her father had been the result of long and painful
thought. Now, in a few hours, events had crashed about her so that her
whole life, outer and inner, had been shattered. Beyond the pain and
fever of her wound there was an utter confusion of her faculties.
Before she fainted she had, indeed, made a distinct resolve to leave
Pierre. It was this purpose, working subconsciously on her will, as
much as the urgent pressure of the stranger, that took her past
Pierre's body out into the dawn and sent her on that rash journey of
hers in the footsteps of an unknown man. This being seemed to her then
hardly human. Mysteriously he had stepped in out of the night,
mysteriously he had condemned Pierre, and in self-defense, for Joan
had seen Pierre draw his gun and fire, he had killed her husband. Now,
just as mysteriously, as inevitably it seemed to her, he took command
of her life. She was a passive, shipwrecked thing--a derelict. She had
little thought and no care for her life.

As the silent day slowly brightened through its glare of clouds, she
plodded on, setting her snowshoes in the tracks her leader made. The
pain in her shoulder steadily increased, more and more absorbed her
consciousness. She saw little but the lean, resolute figure that went
before her, turning back now and then with a look and a smile that
were a compelling mixture of encouragement, pity, and command. She did
not know that they were traveling north and west toward the wildest
and most desolate country, that every time she set down her foot she
set it down farther from humanity. She began soon to be a little
light-headed and thought that she was following Pierre.

At noon they entered the woods, and her guide came beside her and led
her through fallen timber and past pitfalls of soft snow. Suddenly, "I
can't go no more," she sobbed, and stopped, swaying. At that he took
her in his arms and carried her a few hundred feet till they entered a
cabin under the shelter of firs.

"It's the ranger-station," said he; "the ranger told me that I could
make use of it on my way back. We can pass the night here."

Joan knew that he had carried her across a strange room and put her on
a strange bed. He took off her snowshoes, and she lay watching him
light a fire in the cold, clean stove and cook a meal from supplies
left by the owner of the house. She was trying now to remember who he
was, what had happened, and why she was in such misery and pain.
Sometimes she knew that he was her father and that she was at home in
that wretched shack up Lone River, and an ineffable satisfaction would
relax her cramped mind; sometimes, just as clearly, she knew that he
was Pierre who had taken her away to some strange place, and, in this
certainty, she was even more content. But always the horrible flame on
her shoulder burnt her again to the confusion of half-consciousness.
He wasn't John Carver, he wasn't Pierre. Who, in God's name, was he?
And why was she here alone with him? She could not frame a question;
she had a fear that, if she began to speak, she would scream and rave,
would tell impossible, secret, sacred things. So she held herself to
silence, to a savage watchfulness, to a battle with delirium.

The man brought her a cup of strong coffee and held up her head so
that she could drink it, but it nauseated her and she thrust it weakly
away, asking for cold water. After she had drunk this, her mind
cleared for an instant and she tried to stand up.

"I must go back to Pierre now," she said, looking about with wild but
resolute eyes.

"Lie still," said the stranger gently. "You're not fit to stir. Trust
me. It's all right. You're quite safe. Get rested and well, then you
may go wherever you like. I want only to help you."

The reassuring tone, the promising words coerced her and she dropped
back. Presently, in spite of pain, she slept.

She woke and slept in fever for many hours, vaguely aware, at times,
that she was traveling. She felt the motion of a sled under her and
knew that she was lying on the warm hide of some freshly killed beast
and that a blanket and a canvas covering protected her from a swirl of
snow. Then she thought she heard a voice babbling queerly and saw a
face quite terribly different from other human faces. The covering was
taken from her, snowflakes touched her cheek, a lantern shone in her
eyes, and she was lifted and carried into a warm, pleasant-smelling
place from which were magically and completely banished all sound and
bitterness of storm. She tried to see where she was, but her eyes
looked on incredible colors and confusions, so she shut them and
passively allowed herself to be handled by deft hands. She knew only
that delicious coolness, cleanliness, and softness were given to her
body, that the pain in her shoulder was soothed, that dreamlessly she
slept.



CHAPTER IX

DRIED ROSE-LEAVES


The house that Prosper Gael had built for himself and for the woman
whom Joan came to think of as the "tall child," stood in a cañon, a
deep, secret fold of the hills, where a cliff stood behind it, and
where the pine-needled ground descended before its door, under the
far-flung, greenish-brown shade of fir boughs, to the lip of a green
lake. Here the highest snow-peak toppled giddily down and reared
giddily up from the crystal green to the ether blue, firs massed into
the center of the double image. In January, the lake was a glare of
snow, in which the big firs stood deep, their branches heavily
weighted. Prosper had dug a tunnel from his door through a big drift
which touched his eaves. It was curious to see Wen Ho come pattering
out of this Northern cave, his yellow, Oriental face and slant eyes
peering past the stalactite icicles as though they felt their own
incongruity almost with a sort of terror. The interior of the
five-room house gave just such an effect of bizarre and extravagant
contrast; an effect, too, of luxury, though in truth it was furnished
for the most part with stuffs and objects picked up at no very great
expense in San Francisco shops. Nevertheless, there was nothing tawdry
and, here and there, something really precious. Draperies on the
walls, furniture made by Wen Ho and Prosper, lacquered in black and
red, brass and copper, bright pewter, gay china, some fur rugs, a
gorgeous Oriental lamp, bookcases with volumes of a sober richness, in
fact the costliest and most laborious of imports to this wilderness,
small-paned, horizontal windows curtained in some heavy green-gold
stuff which slipped along the black lacquered pole on rings of jade;
all these and a hundred other points of softly brilliant color gave to
the living-room a rare and striking look, while the bedrooms were
matted, daintily furnished, carefully appointed as for a bride. Much
thought and trouble, much detailed labor, had gone to the making of
this odd nest in a Wyoming cañon. Whatever one must think of Prosper
Gael, it is difficult to shirk heartache on his account. A man of his
temperament does not lightly undertake even a companioned isolation in
a winter land. To picture what place of torment this well-appointed
cabin was to him before he brought to it Joan, as a lonely man brings
in a wounded bird to nurse and cherish, stretches the fancy on a rack
of varied painfulness.

On that night, snow was pouring itself down the narrow cañon in a
crowded whirl of dry, clean flakes. Wen Ho, watchful, for his master
was already a day or so beyond the promised date of his return, had
started a fire on the hearth and spread a single cover on the table.
He had drawn the green-and-gold curtains as though there had been
anything but whirling whiteness to look in and stood warming himself
with a rubbing of thin, dry hands before the open blaze. The real heat
of the house, and it was almost unbearably hot, came from the stoves
in kitchen and bedrooms, but this fire gave its quota of warmth and
more than its quota of that beauty so necessary to Prosper Gael.

Wen Ho put his head from one side to the other and stopped rubbing his
hands. He had heard the packing of snow under webs and runners. After
listening a moment, he nodded to himself, like a figure in a
pantomime, ran into the kitchen, did something to the stove, then
lighted a lantern and pattered out along the tunnel dodging the icicle
stalactites. Between the firs he stopped and held his lantern high so
that it touched a moving radius of flakes to silver stars. Back of him
through the open door streamed the glow of lamp and fire filling the
icicles with blood and flushing the walls and the roof of the cave.

Down the cañon Prosper shouted, "Wen Ho! Wen Ho!"

The Chinaman plunged down the trail, packed below the new-fallen snow
by frequent passage, and presently met the bent figure of his master
pulling and breathing hard. Without speaking, Wen Ho laid hold of the
sled rope and together the two men tugged up the last steep bit of the
hill.

"Velly heavy load," said Wen.

Prosper's eyes, gleaming below the visor of his cap, smiled
half-maliciously upon him. "It's a deer killed out of season," he
said, "and other cattle--no maverick either--fairly marked by its
owner. Lend me a hand and we'll unload."

Wen showed no astonishment. He removed the covering and peeped
slantwise at the strange woman who stared at him unseeingly with
large, bright eyes. She closed them, frowning faintly as though she
protested against the intrusion of a Chinese face into her disturbed
mental world.

The men took her up and carried her into the house, where they dressed
her wound and laid her with all possible gentleness in one of the two
beds of stripped and lacquered pine that stood in the bedroom facing
the lake. Afterwards they moved the other bed and Prosper went in to
his meal.

He was too tired to eat. Soon he pushed his plate away, turned his
chair to face the fire, and, slipping down to the middle of his spine,
stuck out his lean, long legs, locked his hands back of his head, let
his chin fall, and stared into the flames.

Wen Ho removed the dishes, glancing often at his master.

"You velly tired?" he questioned softly.

"It was something of a pull in the storm."

"Velly small deer," babbled the Chinaman, "velly big lady."

Prosper smiled a queer smile that sucked in and down the corners of
his mouth.

"She come after all?" asked Wen Ho.

Prosper's smile disappeared; he opened his eyes and turned a wicked,
gleaming look upon his man. What with the white face and drawn mouth
the look was rather terrible. Wen Ho vanished with an increase of
speed and silence.

Alone, Prosper twisted himself in his chair till his head rested on
his arms. It was no relaxation of weariness or grief, but an attitude
of cramped pain. His face, too, was cramped when, a motionless hour
later, he lifted it again. He got up then, broken with weariness, and
went softly across the matted hall into the room where Joan slept, and
he stood beside her bed.

A glow from the stove, and the light shining through the door, dimly
illumined her. She was sleeping very quietly now; the flush of fever
had left her face and it was clear of pain, quite simple and sad.
Prosper looked at her and looked about the room as though he felt what
he saw to be a dream. He put his hand on one long strand of Joan's
black hair.

"Poor child!" he said. "Good child!" And went out softly, shutting the
door.

In the bedroom where Joan came again to altered consciousness of life,
there stood a blue china jar of potpourri, rose-leaves dried and spiced
till they stored all the richness of a Southern summer. Joan's first
question, strangely enough, was drawn from her by the persistence of
this vague and pungent sweetness.

She was lying quietly with closed eyes, Prosper looking down at her,
his finger on her even pulse, when, without opening her long lids, she
asked, "What smells so good?"

Prosper started, drew away his fingers, then answered, smiling, "It's
a jar of dried rose-leaves. Wait a moment, I'll let you hold it."

He took the jar from the window sill and carried it to her.

She looked at it, took it in her hands, and when he removed the lid,
she stirred the leaves curiously with her long forefinger.

"I never seen roses," she said, and added, "What's basil?"

Prosper was startled. For an instant all his suppositions as to Joan
were disturbed. "Basil? Where did you ever hear of basil?"

"Isabella and Lorenzo," murmured Joan, and her eyes darkened with her
memories.

Prosper found his heart beating faster than usual. "Who are you, you
strange creature? I think it's time you told me your name. Haven't you
any curiosity about me?"

"Yes," said Joan; "I've thought a great deal about you." She wrinkled
her wide brows. "You must have been out after game, though 't was out
of season. And you must have heard me a-cryin' out an' come in. That
was right courageous, stranger. I would surely like you to know why I
come away with you," she went on, wistful and weak, "but I don't know
as how I can make it plain to you." She paused, turning the blue jar
in her hand. "You're very strange to me," she said, "an' yet,
someways, you takin' care of me so well an' so--so awful kind--" her
voice gave forth its tremolo of feeling--"seems like I knowed you
better than any other person in the world."

A flush came into his face.

"I wouldn't like you to be thinkin'--" She stopped, a little
breathless.

He took the jar, sat down on the bed, and laid a hand firmly over both
of hers. "I 'won't be thinking' anything," he said, "only what you
would like me to think. Listen--when a man finds a wounded bird out in
the winter woods, he'll bring it home to care for it. And he 'won't be
thinking' the worse of its helplessness and tameness. Of course I
know--but tell me your name, please!"

"Joan Landis."

At the name, given painfully, Joan drew a weighted breath, another,
then, pushing herself up as though oppressed beyond endurance, she
caught at Prosper's arm, clenched her fingers upon it, and bent her
black head in a terrible paroxysm of grief. It was like a tempest.
Prosper thought of storm-driven, rain-wet trees wild in a wind ... of
music, the prelude to "Fliegende Holländer." Joan's weeping bent and
rocked her. He put his arm about her, tried to soothe her. At her cry
of "Pierre! Pierre!" he whitened, but suddenly she broke from him and
threw herself back amongst the pillows.

"'T was you that killed him," she moaned. "What hev I to do with you?"

It was not the last time that bitter exclamation was to rise between
them; more and more fiercely it came to wring his peace and hers. This
time he bore it with a certain philosophy, calmed her patiently.

"How could I help it, Joan?" he pleaded. "You saw how it was?" As she
grew quieter, he talked. "I heard you scream like a person being
tortured to death--twice--a gruesome enough sound, let me tell you, to
hear in the dead of a white, still night. I didn't altogether want to
break into your house. I've heard some ugly stories about men
venturing to disturb the work of murderers. But, you see, Joan, I've a
fear of myself. I've a cruel brain. I can use it on my own failures.
I've been through some self-punishment--no! of course, you don't
understand all that.... Anyway, I came in, in great fear of my life,
and saw what I saw--a woman tied up and devilishly tortured, a man
gloating over her helplessness. Naturally, before I spoke my mind, as
a man was bound to speak it, under the pain and fury of such a
spectacle, I got ready to defend myself. Your--Pierre"--there was a
biting contempt in his tone--"saw my gesture, whipped out his gun, and
fired. My shot was half a second later than his. I might more readily
have lost my life than taken his. If he had lived, Joan, could you
have forgiven him?"

"No," sobbed Joan; "I think not." She trembled. "He said terrible hard
words to me. He didn't love me like I loved him. He planned to put a
brand on me so's I c'd be his own like as if I was a beast belongin'
to him. Mr. Holliwell said right, I don't belong to no man. I belong
to my own self."

The storm had passed into this troubled after-tossing of thought.

"Can you tell me about it all?" asked Prosper. "Would it help?"

"I couldn't," she moaned; "no, I couldn't. Only--if I hadn't 'a' left
Pierre a-lyin' there alone. A dog that had onct loved him wouldn't 'a'
done that." She sat up again, white and wild. "That's why I must go
back. I must surely go. I must! Oh, I must!"

"Go back thirty miles through wet snow when you can't walk across the
room, Joan?" He smiled pityingly.

Her hands twisting in his, she stared past him, out through the
window, where the still, sunny day shone blue through shadowy pine
branches. Tears rolled down her face.

"Can't you go back?" She turned the desolate, haunted eyes upon him.
"Oh, can't you?--to do some kindness to him? Can you ever stop
a-thinkin' of him lyin' there?"

Prosper's face was hard through its gentleness. "I've seen too many
dead men, less deserving of death. But, hush!--you lie down and go to
sleep. I'll try to manage it. I'll try to get back and show him some
kindness, as you say. There! Will you be a good girl now?"

She fell back and her eyes shone their gratitude upon him. "Oh, you
are good!" she said. "When I'm well--I'll work for you!"

He shook his head, smiled, kissed her hand, and went out.

She was entirely exhausted by her emotion, so that all her memories
fell away from her and left her in a peaceful blankness. She trusted
Prosper's word. With every fiber of her heart she trusted him, as
simply, as singly, as foolishly as a child trusts God.



CHAPTER X

PROSPER COMES TO A DECISION


Perhaps, in spite of his gruesome boast as to dead men, it was as much
to satisfy his own spirit as to comfort Joan's that Prosper actually
did undertake a journey to the cabin that had belonged to Pierre. It
was true that Prosper had never been able to stop thinking, not so
much of the tall, slim youth lying so still across the floor, all his
beauty and strength turned to an ashen slackness, as of a brown hand
that stirred. The motion of those fingers groping for life had
continually disturbed him. The man, to Prosper's mind, was an
insensate brute, deserving of death, even of torment, most deserving
of Joan's desertion, nevertheless, it was not easy to harden his
nerves against the picture of a man left, wounded and helpless, to die
slowly alone. Prosper went back expecting to find a dead man, went
back as a murderer visits the scene of his crime. He dubbed himself
more judge than murderer, but there was a restless misery of the
imagination not to be quieted by names. He went back stealthily at
dusk, choosing a dusk of wind-driven snow so that his tracks vanished
as soon as made. It was very desolate--the blank surface of the world
with its flying scud, the blank yellow-gray sky, the range, all iron
and white, the blue-black scars of leafless trees, the green-black
etchings of firs. The wind cut across like a scythe, sharp, but making
no stir above the drift. It was all dead and dark--an underground
world which, Prosper felt, never could have seen the sun, had no
memory of sun nor moon nor stars. The roof of Pierre's cabin made a
dark ridge above the snow, veiled in cloudy drift. He reached it with
a cold heart and slid down to its window, cautiously bending his face
near to the pane. He expected an interior already dark from the snow
piled round the window, so he cupped his hands about his eyes. At once
he let himself drop out of sight below the sill. There was a living
presence in the house. Prosper had seen a bright fire, the smoke of
which had been hidden by the snow-spray, a cot was drawn up before the
fire, and a big, fair young man in tweeds whose face, rosy, sensitive,
and quiet, was bent over the figure on the cot. A pair of large, white
hands were carefully busy.

Prosper, crouched below the window, considered what he had seen. It
was a week now since he had left Landis for a dying man. This big
fellow in tweeds must have come soon after the shooting. Evidently he
was not caring for a dead man. The black head on the pillow had moved.
Now there came the sound of speech, just a bass murmur. This time the
black head turned itself slightly and Prosper saw Pierre's face. He
had seen it only twice before; once when it had looked up, fierce and
crazed, at his first entrance into the house, once again when it lay
with lifted chin and pale lips on the floor. But even after so scarce
a memory, Prosper was startled by the change. Before, it had been the
face of a man beside himself with drink and the lust of animal power
and cruelty; now it was the wistful face of Pierre, drawn into a
tragic mask like Joan's when she came to herself; a miserably haunted
and harrowed face, hopeless as though it, too, like the outside world,
had lost or had never had a memory of sun. Evidently he submitted to
the dressing of his wound, but with a shamed and pitiful look.
Prosper's whole impression of the man was changed, and with the change
there began something like a struggle. He was afflicted by a crossing
of purposes and a stumbling of intention.

He did not care to risk a second look. He crept away and fled into the
windy dusk. He traveled with the wind like a blown rag, and, stopping
only for a few hours' rest at the ranger station, made the journey
home by morning of the second day. And on the journey he definitely
made up his mind concerning Joan.

Prosper Gael was a man of deliberate, though passionate, imagination.
He did not often act upon impulse, though his actions were often those
attempted only by passion-driven or impulsive folk. Prosper could
never plead thoughtlessness. He justified carefully his every action
to himself. Those were cold, dark hours of deliberation as he let the
wind drive him across the desolate land. When the wind dropped and a
splendid, still dawn swept up into the clean sky, he was at peace with
his own mind and climbed up the mountain trail with a half-smile on
his face.

In the dawn, awake on her pillows, Joan was listening for him, and at
the sound of his webs she sat up, pale to her lips. She did not know
what she feared, but she was filled with dread. The restful stupor
that had followed her storm of grief had spent itself and she was
suffering again--waves of longing for Pierre, of hatred for him,
alternately submerged her. All these bleak, gray hours of wind during
which Wen Ho had pattered in and out with meals, with wood for her
stove, with little questions as to her comfort, she had suffered as
people suffer in a dream; a restless misery like the misery of the
pine branches that leaped up and down before her window. The stillness
of the dawn, with its sound of nearing steps, gave her a sickness of
heart and brain, so that when Prosper came softly in at her door she
saw him through a mist. He moved quickly to her side, knelt by her,
took her hands. His touch at all times had a tingling charge of
vitality and will.

"He has been cared for, Joan," said Prosper. "Some friend of his came
and did all that was left to be done."

"Some friend?" In the pale, delicately expanding light Joan's face
gleamed between its black coils of hair with eyes like enchanted
tarns. In fact they had been haunted during his absence by images to
shake her soul. Prosper could see in them reflections of those terrors
that had been tormenting her. His touch pressed reassurance upon her,
his eyes, his voice.

"My poor child! My dear! I'm glad I am back to take care of you! Cry.
Let me comfort you. He has been cared for. He is not lying there
alone. He is dead. Let's forgive him, Joan." He shook her hands a
little, urgently, and a most painful memory of Pierre's beseeching
grasp came upon Joan.

She wrenched away and fell back, quivering, but she did not cry, only
asked in her most moving voice, "Who took care of Pierre--after I went
away and left him dead?"

Prosper got to his feet and stood with his arms folded, looking
wearily down at her. His mouth had fallen into rather cynical lines
and there were puckers at the corners of his eyes. "Oh, a big, fair
young man--a rosy boy-face, serious-looking, blue eyes."

Joan was startled and turned round. "It was Mr. Holliwell," she said,
in a wondering tone. "Did you talk with him? Did you tell him--?"

"No. Hardly." Prosper shook his head. "I found out what he had done
for your Pierre without asking unnecessary questions. I saw him, but
he did not see me."

"He'll be comin' to get me," said Joan. It was an entirely unemotional
statement of certainty.

Prosper pressed his lips into a line and narrowed his eyes upon her.

"Oh, he will?"

"Yes. He'll be takin' after me. He must 'a' ben scairt by somethin'
Pierre said in the town durin' their quarrel an' have come up after
him to look out what Pierre would be doin' to me.... I wisht he'd 'a'
come in time.... What must he be thinkin' of me now, to find Pierre
a-lyin' there dead, an' me gone! He'll be takin' after me to bring me
home."

Prosper would almost have questioned her then, his sharp face was
certainly at that moment the face of an inquisitor, a set of keen and
delicate instruments ready for probing, but so weary and childlike did
she look, so weary and childlike was her speech, that he forbore. What
did it matter, after all, what there was in her past? She had done
what she had done, been what she had been. If the fellow had branded
her for sin, why, she had suffered overmuch. Prosper admitted, that,
unbranded as to skin, he was scarcely fit to put his dirty civilized
soul under her clean and savage foot. Was the big, rosy chap her
lover? She had spoken of a quarrel between him and Pierre? But her
manner of speaking of him was scarcely in keeping with the thought,
rather it was the manner of a child-soul relying on the Shepherd who
would be "takin' after" some small, lost one. Well, he would have to
be a superman to find her here with no trails to follow and no fingers
to point. Pierre by now would have told his story--and Prosper knew
instinctively that he would tell it straight; whatever madness the
young savage might perpetrate under the influence of drink and
jealousy, he would hardly, with that harrowed face, be apt at
fabrications--they would be looking for Joan to come back, to go to
the town, to some neighboring ranch. They would make a search, but
winter would be against them with its teeth bared, a blizzard was on
its way. By the time they found her, thought Prosper,--and he quoted
one of Joan's quaint phrases to himself, smiling with radiance as he
did so,--"she won't be carin' to leave me." In his gay, little,
firelit room, he sat, stretched out, lank and long, in the low, deep,
red-lacquered chair, dozing through the long day, sipping strong
coffee, smoking, reading. He was singularly quiet and content. The
devil of disappointment and of thwarted desire that had wived him in
this carefully appointed hiding-place stood away a little from him and
that wizard imagination of his began to weave. By dusk, he was writing
furiously and there was a glow of rapture on his face.



CHAPTER XI

THE WHOLE DUTY OF WOMAN


Joan waited for Holliwell and, waiting, began inevitably to regain her
strength. One evening as Wen Ho was spreading the table, Prosper
looked up from his writing to see a tall, gaunt girl clinging to the
door-jamb. She was dressed in the heavy clothes, which hung loose upon
her long bones, her throat was drawn up to support the sharpened and
hollowed face in which her eyes had grown very large and wistful. Her
hair was braided and wrapped across her brow, her long, strong hands,
smooth and only faintly brown, were thin, too, and curiously
expressive as they clung to the logs. She was a moving figure,
piteous, lovely, rather like some graceful mountain beast, its spirit
half-broken by wounds and imprisonment and human tending, but ready to
leap into a savagery of flight or of attack. They were wild, those
great eyes, as well as wistful. Prosper, looking suddenly up at them,
caught his breath. He put down his book as quietly as though she had
indeed been a wild, easily startled thing, and, suppressing the
impulse to rise, stayed where he was, leaning a trifle forward, his
hands on the arms of his chair.

Joan's eyes wandered curiously about the brilliant room and came to
him at last. Prosper met them, relaxed, and smiled.

"Come in and dine with me, Joan," he said. "Tell me how you like it."

She felt her way weakly to the second large chair and sat down facing
him across the hearth. The Chinaman's shadow, thrown strongly by the
lamp, ran to and fro between and across them. It was a strange scene
truly, and Prosper felt with exhilaration all its strangeness. This was
no Darby and Joan fireside; a wizard with his enchanted leopardess,
rather. He was half-afraid of Joan and of himself.

"It's right beautiful," said Joan, "an' right strange to me. I never
seen anything like it before. That"--her eyes followed Wen Ho's
departure half-fearfully--"that man and all."

Prosper laughed delightedly, stretching up his arms in full enjoyment
of her splendid ignorance. "The Chinaman? Does he look so strange to
you?"

"Is that what he is? I--I didn't know." She smiled rather sadly and
ashamedly. "I'm awful ignorant, Mr. Gael. I just can read an' I've
only read two books." She flushed and her pupils grew large.

Prosper saw that this matter of reading trod closely on her pain.

"Yes, he's a Chinaman from San Francisco. You know where that is."

"Yes, sir. I've heard talk of it--out on the Pacific Coast, a big
city."

"Full of bad yellow men and a few good ones of whom let's hope Wen Ho
is one. And full of bric-à-brac like all these things that surprise
you so. Do you like bright colors, Joan?"

She pondered in the unself-conscious and unhurried fashion of the
West, stroking the yellow, spotted skin that lay over the black arm of
her chair and letting her eyes flit like butterflies in a garden on a
zigzag journey to one after another of the flowers of color in the
room.

"Well, sir," she said, "I c'd take to 'em better if they was more one
at a time. I mean"--she pushed up the braid a little from wrinkling
brows--"jest blue is awful pretty an' jest green. They're sort of
cool, an' yeller, that's sure fine. You'd like to take it in your
hands. Red is most too much like feelin' things. I dunno, it most
hurts an' yet it warms you up, too. If I hed to live here--"

Prosper's eyebrows lifted a trifle.

"I'd--sure clear out the whole of this"--and she swept a ruthless
hand.

Again Prosper made delighted use of that upward stretching of his
arms. He laughed. "And you'd clear me out, too, wouldn't you?--if you
had to live here."

"Oh, no," said Joan. She paused and fastened her enormous, grave look
upon him. "I'd like right soon now to begin to work for you."

Again Prosper laughed. "Why," said he, "you don't know the first thing
about woman's work, Joan. What could you do?"

Joan straightened wrathfully. "I sure do know. Sure I do. I can cook
fine. I can make a room clean. I can launder--"

"Oh, pooh! The Chinaman does all that as well--no, better than you
ever could do it. That's not woman's work."

Joan saw all the business of femininity swept off the earth. Profound
astonishment, incredulity, and alarm possessed her mind and so her
face. Truly, thought Prosper, it was like talking to a grave,
trustful, and most impressionable child, the way she sat there, rather
on the edge of her chair, her hands folded, letting everything he said
disturb and astonish the whole pool of her thought.

"But, Mr. Gael, sweepin', washin', cookin',--ain't all that a woman's
work?"

"Men can do it so much better," said Prosper, blowing forth a cloud of
blue cigarette smoke and brushing it impatiently aside so that he
could smile at her evident offense and perplexity.

"But they don't do it better. They're as messy an' uncomfortable as
they can be when there ain't no woman to look after 'em."

"Not if they get good pay for keeping themselves and other people
tidy. Look at Wen Ho."

"Oh," said Joan, "that ain't properly a man."

Prosper laughed out again. It was good to be able to laugh.

"I've known plenty of real white men who could cook and wash better
than any woman."

"But--but what is a woman's work?"

Prosper remained thoughtful for a while, his head thrown back a
little, looking at her through his eyelashes. In this position he was
extraordinarily striking. His thin, sharp face gained by the slight
foreshortening and his brilliant eyes, keen nose, and high brow did
not quite so completely overbalance the sad and delicate strength of
mouth and chin. In Joan's eyes, used to the obvious, clear beauty of
Pierre, Gael was an ugly fellow, but even she, artistically untrained,
caught at the moment the picturesqueness and grace of him, the
mysterious lines of texture, of race; the bold chiselings of thought
and experience. The colors of the room became him, too, for he was
dark, with curious, catlike, greenish eyes.

"The whole duty of woman, Joan," he said, opening these eyes upon her,
"can be expressed in just one little word--charm."

And again at her look of mystification he laughed aloud.

"There's--there's babies," suggested Joan after a pause during which
she evidently wrestled in vain with the true meaning of his speech.

"Dinner is served," said Prosper, rising quickly, and, getting back of
her, he pushed her chair to the table, hiding in this way a silent
paroxysm of mirth.

At dinner, Prosper, unlike Holliwell, made no attempt to draw Joan
into talk, but sipped his wine and watched her, enjoying her composed
silence and her slow, graceful movements. Afterwards he made a couch
for her on the floor before the fire, two skins and a golden cushion,
a rug of dull blue which he threw over her, hiding the ugly skirt and
boots. He took a violin from the wall and tuned it, Joan watching him
with all her eyes.

"I don't like what you're playin' now," she told him, impersonally and
gently.

"I'm tuning up."

"Well, sir, I'd be gettin' tired of that if I was you."

"I'm almost done," said Prosper humbly.

He stood up near her feet at the corner of the hearth, tucked the
instrument under his chin and played. It was the "Aubade Provençale,"
and he played it creditably, with fair skill and with some of the
wizardry that his nervous vitality gave to everything he did. At the
first note Joan started, her pupils enlarged, she lay still. At the
end he saw that she was quivering and in tears.

He knelt down beside her, drew the hands from her face. "Why, Joan,
what's the matter? Don't you like music?"

Joan drew a shaken breath. "It's as if it shook me in here, something
trembles in my heart," she said. "I never heerd music before, jest
whistlin'." And again she wept.

Prosper stayed there on his knee beside her, his chin in his hand.
What an extraordinary being this was, what a magnificent wilderness.
The thought of exploration, of discovery, of cultivation, filled him
with excitement and delight. Such opportunities are rarely given to a
man. Even that other most beautiful adventure--yes, he could think
this already!--might have been tame beside this one. He looked long at
Joan, long into the fire, and she lay still, with the brooding beauty
of that first-heard melody upon her face.

It was the first music she had ever heard, "except whistlin'," but there
had been a great deal of "whistlin'" about the cabin up Lone River;
whistling of robins in spring--nothing sweeter--the chordlike whistlings
of thrush and vireo after sunset, that bubbling "mar-guer-ite" with
which the blackbirds woo, and the light diminuendo with which the
bluebird caressed the air after an April flight. Perhaps Joan's musical
faculty was less untrained than any other. After all, that "Aubade
Provençale" was just the melodious story of the woods in spring. Every
note linked itself to an emotional, subconscious memory. It filled
Joan's heart with the freshness of childhood and pained her only because
it struck a spear of delight into her pain. She was eighteen, she had
grown like a tree, drinking in sunshine and storm, but rooted to a
solitude where very little else but sense-experience could reach her
mind. She had seen tragedies of animal life, lonely death-struggles,
horrible flights and more horrible captures, she had seen joyous
wooings, love-pinings, partings, and bereavements. She had seen maternal
fickleness and maternal constancy, maternal savagery; the end of mated
bliss and its--renewal. She had seen the relentless catastrophes of
storm. There had been starving winters and renewing springs, sad
beautiful autumns, the riotous waste and wantonness of summer. These had
all been objective experiences, but Joan's untamed and undistracted
heart had taken them in deeply and deeply pondered upon them. There was
no morality in their teachings, unless it was the morality of complete
suspension of any judgment whatsoever, the marvelous literal, "Judge
not." She knew that the sun shone on the evil and on the good, but she
knew also that frost fell upon the good as well as upon the evil nor was
the evil to be readily distinguished. Her father prated of only one
offense, her mother's sin. Joan knew that it was a man's right to kill
his woman for "dealin's with another man." This law was human; it
evidently did not hold good with animals. There was no bitterness,
though some ferocity, in the traffic of their loves.

While she pondered through the first sleepless nights in this strange
shelter of hers, and while the blizzard Prosper had counted on drove
bayoneted battalions of snow across the plains and forced them,
screaming like madmen, along the narrow cañon, Joan came slowly and
fully to a realization of the motive of Pierre's deed. He had been
jealous. He had thought that she was having dealings with another man.
She grew hot and shamed. It was her father's sin, that branding on her
shoulder, or, perhaps, going back farther, her mother's sin. Carver
had warned Pierre--of the hot and smothered heart--to beware of Joan's
"lookin' an' lookin' at another man." Now, in piteous woman fashion,
Joan went over and over her memories of Pierre's love, altering them
to fit her terrible experience. It was a different process from that
simple seeing of pictures in the fire from which she had been startled
by Pierre's return. A man's mind in her situation would have been
intensely occupied with thoughts of the new companion, but Joan,
thorough as a woman always is, had not yet caught up. She was still
held by all the strong mesh of her short married life. She had simply
not got as far as Prosper Gael. She accepted his hospitality vaguely,
himself even more vaguely. When she would be done with her passionate
grief, her laborious going-over of the past, her active and tormenting
anger with the lover whom Prosper had told her was dead, then it would
be time to study this other man. As for her future, she had no plans
at all. Joan's life came to her as it comes to a child, unsullied by
curiosity. At this time Prosper was infinitely the more curious, the
more excited of the two.



CHAPTER XII

A MATTER OF TASTE


"What are you writin' so hard for, Mr. Gael?" Joan voiced the question
wistfully on the height of a long breath. She drew it from a silence
which seemed to her to have filled this strange, gay house for an
eternity. For the first time full awareness of the present cut a rift
in the troubled cloudiness of her introspection. She had been sitting
in her chair, listless and wan, now staring at the flames, now
following Wen Ho's activities with absent eyes. A storm was swirling
outside. Near the window, Prosper, a figure of keen absorption, bent
over his writing-table, his long, fine hand driving the pencil across
sheet after sheet. He looked like a machine, so regular and rapid was
his work. A sudden sense of isolation came upon Joan. What part had
she in the life of this companion, this keeper of her own life? She
felt a great need of drawing nearer to him, of finding the humanity in
him. At first she fought the impulse, reserve, pride, shyness locking
her down, till at last her nerves gave her such torment that her
fingers knitted into each other and on the outbreathing of a desperate
sigh she spoke.

"What are you writin' so hard for, Mr. Gael?"

At once Prosper's hand laid down its pencil and he turned about in his
chair and gave her a gleaming look and smile. Joan was fairly
startled. It was as if she had touched some mysterious spring and
turned on a dazzling, unexpected light. As a matter of fact, Prosper's
heart had leapt at her wistful and beseeching voice.

He had been biding his time. He had absorbed himself in writing,
content to leave in suspense the training of his enchanted leopardess.
Half-absent glimpses of her desolate beauty as she moved about his
winter-bound house, contemplation of her unself-consciousness as she
companioned his meals, the pleasure he felt in her rapt listening to
his music in the still, frost-held evenings by the fire--these he had
made enough. They quieted his restlessness, soothed the ache of his
heart, filled him with a warm and patient desire, different from any
feeling he had yet experienced. He was amused by her lack of interest
in him. He was not accustomed to such through-gazing from beautiful
eyes, such incurious absence of questioning. She evidently accepted him
as a superior being, a Providence; he was not a man at all, not of the
same clay as Pierre and herself. Prosper had waited understandingly
enough for her first move. When the personal question came, it made a
sort of crash in the expectant silence of his heart.

Before answering, except by that smile, he lit himself a cigarette;
then, strolling to the fire, he sat on the rug below her, drawing his
knees up into his hands.

"I'd like to tell you about my writing, Joan. After all, it's the
great interest of my life, and I've been fairly seething with it; only
I didn't want to bother you, worry your poor, distracted head."

"I never thought," said Joan slowly, "I never thought you'd be carin'
to tell me things. I know so awful little."

"It wasn't your modesty, Joan. It was simply because you haven't given
me a thought since I dragged you in here on my sled. I've been
nothing"--under the careless, half-bitter manner, he was weighing his
words and their probable effect--"nothing, for all these weeks, but--a
provider."

"A provider?" Joan groped for the meaning of the word. It came, and
she flushed deeply. "You mean I've just taken things, taken your kind
doin's toward me an' not been givin' you a thought." Her eyes filled
and shone mortification down upon him so that he put his hand quickly
over hers, tightened together on her knee.

"Poor girl! I'm not reproaching you."

"But, Mr. Gael, I wanted to work for you. You wouldn't let me." She
brushed away her tears. "What can I do? Where can I go?"

"You can stay here and make me happy as you have been doing ever since
you came. I was very unhappy before. And you can give me just as much
or as little attention as you please. I don't ask you for a bit more.
Suppose you stop grieving, Joan, and try to be just a little happier
yourself. Take an interest in life. Why, you poor, young, ignorant
child, I could open whole worlds of excitement, pleasure, to you, if
you'd let me. There's more in life than you've dreamed of experiencing.
There's music, for one thing, and there are books and beauty of a
thousand kinds, and big, wonderful thoughts, and there's companionship
and talk. What larks we could have, you and I, if you would care--I
mean, if you would wake up and let me show you how. You do want to
learn a woman's work, don't you, Joan?"

She shook her head slowly, smiling wistfully, the tears gone from her
eyes, which were puzzled, but diverted from pain. "I didn't savvy what
you meant when you talked about what a woman's work rightly was. An'
I'm so awful ignorant, you know so awful much. It scares me, plumb
scares me, to think how much you know, more than Mr. Holliwell! Such
books an' books an' books! An' writin' too. You see I'd be no help nor
company fer you. I'd like to listen to you. I'd listen all day long,
but I'd not be understandin'. No more than I understand about that
there woman's work idea."

He laughed at her, keeping reassuring eyes on hers. "I can explain
anything. I can make you understand anything. I'll grant you, my idea
of a woman's work is difficult for you to get hold of. That's a big
question, after all, one of the biggest. But--just to begin with and
we'll drop it later for easier things--I believe, the world believes,
that a woman ought to be beautiful. You can understand that?"

Joan shook her head. "It's a awful hard sayin', Mr. Gael. It's awful
hard to say you had ought to be somethin' a person can't manage for
themselves. I mean--" poor Joan, the inarticulate, floundered, but he
left her, rather cruelly, to flounder out. "I mean, that's an awful
hard sayin' fer a homely woman, Mr. Gael."

He laughed. "Oh," said he with a gesture, "there is no such thing as a
homely woman. A homely woman simply does not count." He got up, looked
for a book, found it, opened it, and brought it to her. "Look at that
picture, Joan. What do you think of it?"

It was of a woman, a long-drawn, emaciated creature, extraordinarily
artificial in her grace and in the pose and expression of her ugly,
charming form and features. She had been aided by hair-dresser and
costumer and by her own wit, aided into something that made of her an
arresting and compelling picture. "What do you think of her, Joan?"
smiled Prosper Gael.

Joan screwed up her eyes distastefully. "Ain't she queer, Mr. Gael?
Poor thing, she's homely!"

He clapped to the book. "A matter of educated taste," he said. "You
don't know beauty when you see it. If you walked into a drawing-room by
the side of that marvelous being, do you think you'd win a look, my dear
girl? Why, your great brows and your great, wild eyes and your face and
form of an Olympian and your free grace of a forest beast--why, they
wouldn't be noticed. Because, Joan, that queer, poor thing knew woman's
work from A to Z. She's beautiful, Joan, beautiful as God most certainly
never intended her to be. Why, it's a triumph--it's something to blow a
trumpet over. It's art!"

He returned the volume and came back to stand by the mantel,
half-turned from her, looking down into the fire. For the moment, he
had created in himself a reaction against his present extraordinary
experiment, his wilderness adventure. He was keenly conscious of a
desire for civilized woman, for her practiced tongue, her poise, her
matchless companionship....

Joan spoke, "You mean I'm awful homely, Mr. Gael?"

The question set him to laughing outrageously. Joan's pride was stung.

"You've no right to laugh at me," she said. "I'd not be carin' what
you think." And she left him, moving like an angry stag, head high,
light-stepping.

He went back to his work, not at all in regret at her pique and still
amused by the utter femininity of her simple question.

Before dinner he rapped at her door. "Joan, will you do me a favor?"

A pause, then, in her sweet, vibrant voice, she answered, "I'd be
doin' anything fer you, Mr. Gael."

"Then, put on these things for dinner instead of your own clothes,
will you?"

She opened the door and he piled into her arms a mass of shining silk,
on top of it a pair of gorgeous Chinese slippers.

"Do it to please me, even if you think it makes you look queer, will
you, Joan?"

"Of course," she smiled, looking up from the gleaming, sliding stuff
into his face. "I'd like to, anyway. Dressing-up--that's fun."

And she shut the door.

She spread the silk out on the bed and found it a loose robe of dull
blue, embroidered in silver dragons and lined with brilliant rose.
There was a skirt of this same rose-colored stuff. In one weighted
pocket she found a belt of silver coins and a little vest of creamy
lace. There were rose silk stockings stuffed into the shoes. Joan
eagerly arrayed herself. She had trouble with the vest, it was so
filmy, so vaguely made, it seemed to her, and to wear it at all she
had to divest herself altogether of the upper part of her coarse
underwear. Then it seemed to her startlingly inadequate even as an
undergarment. However, the robe did go over it, and she drew that
close and belted it in. It was provided with long sleeves and fell to
her ankles. She thrilled at the delightful clinging softness of silk
stockings and for the first time admired her long, round ankles and
shapely feet. The Chinese slippers amused her, but they too were
beautiful, all embroidered with flowers and dragons.

She felt she must look very queer, indeed, and went to the mirror.
What she saw there surprised her because it was so strange, so
different. Pierre had not dealt in compliments. His woman was his
woman and he loved her body. To praise this body, surrendered in love
to him, would have been impossible to the reverence and reserve of his
passion.

Now, Joan brushed and coiled her hair, arranging it instinctively, but
perhaps a little in imitation of that queer picture that had looked to
her so hideous. Then, starting toward the door at Wen Ho's announcement
of "Dinner, lady," she was quite suddenly overwhelmed by shyness. From
head to foot for the first time in all her life she was acutely
conscious of herself.



CHAPTER XIII

THE TRAINING OF A LEOPARDESS


On that evening Prosper began to talk. The unnatural self-repression
he had practiced gave way before the flood of his sociability. It was
Joan's amazing beauty as she stumbled wretchedly into the circle of
his firelight, her neck drawn up to its full length, her head crowned
high with soft, black masses, her lids dropped under the weight of
shyness, vivid fright in her distended pupils, scarlet in her
cheeks,--Joan's beauty of long, strong lines draped to advantage for
the first time in soft and clinging fabrics,--that touched the spring
of Prosper's delighted egotism. There it was again, the ideal
audience, the necessary atmosphere, the beautiful, gracious,
intelligent listener. He forgot her ignorance, her utter simplicity,
the unplumbed emptiness of her experience, and he spread out his
colorful thoughts before her in colorful words, the mental plumage of
civilized courtship.

After dinner, now sipping from the small coffee cup in his hand, now
setting it down to move excitedly about the room, he talked of his
life, his book, his plans. He told anecdotes, strange adventures; he
drew his own inverted morals; he sketched his fantastic opinions; he
was in truth fascinating, a speaking face, a lithe, brilliant presence,
a voice of edged persuasion. He turned witty phrases. Poor Joan! One
sentence in ten she understood and answered with her slow smile and her
quaint, murmured, "Well!" His eloquence did her at least the service of
making her forget herself. She was rather crestfallen because he had
not complimented her; his veiled look of appreciation, this coming to
of his real self was too subtle a flattery for her perception.
Nevertheless, his talk pleased her. She did not want to disappoint him,
so she drew herself up straight in the big red-lacquered chair, sipped
her coffee, in dainty imitation of him, gave him the full, deep tribute
of her gaze, asked for no explanations and let the astounding
statements he made, the amazing pictures he drew, cut their way
indelibly into her most sensitive and preserving memory.

Afterwards, at night, for the first time she did not weep for Pierre,
the old lost Pierre who had so changed into a torturer, but, wakeful,
her brain on fire, she pondered over and over the things she had just
heard, feeling after their meaning, laying aside for future
enlightenment what was utterly incomprehensible, arguing with herself
as to the truth of half-comprehended speeches--an ignorant child
wrestling with a modern philosophy, tricked out in motley by a ready
wit.

There were more personal memories that gave her a flush of pleasure,
for after midnight, as she was leaving him, he came near to her, took
her hand with a grateful "Joan, you've done so much for me to-night,
you've made me happy," and the request, "You won't put your hair back
to the old way, will you? You will wear pretty things, if I give them
to you, won't you?" in a beseeching spoiled-boy's voice, very amusing
and endearing to her.

He gave her the "pretty things," whole quantities of them, fine linen
to be made up into underwear, soft white and colored silks and
crêpes, which Joan, remembering the few lessons in dressmaking she
had had from Maud Upper and with some advice from Prosper, made up not
too awkwardly, accepting the mystery of them as one of Prosper's
magic-makings. And, in the meantime, her education went on. Prosper
read aloud to her, gave her books to read to herself, questioned her,
tutored her, scolded her so fiercely sometimes that Joan would mount
scarlet cheeks and open angry eyes. One day she fairly flung her book
from her and ran out of the room, stamping her feet and shedding
tears. But back she came presently for more, thirsting for knowledge,
eager to meet her trainer on more equal grounds, to be able to answer
him to some purpose, to contradict him, to stagger ever so slightly
the self-assurance of his superiority.

And Prosper enjoyed the training of his captive leopardess, though he
sometimes all but melted over the pathos of her and had much ado to
keep his hands from her unconscious young beauty.

"You're so changed, Joan," he said one day abruptly. "You've grown as
thin as a reed, child; I can see every bone, and your eyes--don't you
ever shut them any more?"

Joan, prone on the skin before the fire, elbows on the fur, hands to
her temples, face bent over a book, looked up impatiently.

"I'd not be talkin' now if I was you, Mr. Gael. You had ought to be
writin' an' I'm readin'. I can't talk an' read; seems when I do a
thing I just hed to _do_ it!"

Prosper laughed and returned chidden to his task, but he couldn't help
watching her, lying there in her blue frock across his floor, like a
tall, thin Magdalene, all her rich hair fallen wildly about her face.
She was such a child, such a child!



CHAPTER XIV

JOAN RUNS AWAY


It was a January night when Joan, her rough head almost in the ashes,
had read "Isabella and the Pot of Basil" by the light of flames. It
was in March, a gray, still afternoon, when, looking through Prosper's
bookcase, she came upon the tale again.

Prosper was outdoors cutting a tunnel, freshly blocked with snow, and
Joan, having finished the "Life of Cellini," a writer she loathed, but
whose gorgeous fabrications her master had forced her to read, now
hurried to the book-shelves in search of something more to her taste.
She had the gay air of a holiday-seeker, returned "Cellini" with a
smart push, and kneeling, ran her finger along the volumes, pausing on
a binding of bright blue-and-gold. It was the color that had pleased
her and the fat, square shape, also the look of fair and well-spaced
type. She took the book and squatted on the rug happy as a child with
a new toy of his own choosing.

And then she opened her volume in its middle and her eye looked upon
familiar lines--

"So the two brothers and their murdered man--" Joan's heart fell like a
leaden weight and the color dropped from her face. In an instant she was
back in Pierre's room and the white night circled her in great silence
and she was going over the story of her love and Pierre's--their love,
their beautiful, grave, simple love that had so filled her life. And now
where was she? In the house of the man who had killed her husband! She
had been waiting for Holliwell, but for a long while now she had
forgotten that. Why was she still here? A strange, guilty terror came
with the question. She looked down at the soft, yellow crêpe of the
dress she had just made and she looked at her hands lying white and fine
and useless, and she felt for the high comb Prosper had put into her
hair. Then she stared around the gorgeous little room, snug from the
world, so secret in its winter cañon. She heard Wen Ho's incessant
pattering in the kitchen, the crunch and thud of Prosper's shoveling
outside. It was suddenly a horrible nightmare, or less a nightmare than
a dream, pleasant in the dreaming, but hideous to an awakened mind. She
was awake. Isabella's story had thrown her mind, so abruptly dislocated,
back to a time before the change, back to her old normal condition of a
young wife. That little homestead of Pierre's! Such a hunger opened in
her soul that she bent her head and moaned. She could think of nothing
now but those two familiar, bare, clean rooms--Pierre's gun, Pierre's
rod, her own coat there by the door, the snowshoes. There was no place
in her mind for the later tragedy. She had gone back of it. She would
rather be alone in her own home, desolate though it was, than anywhere
else in all the homeless world.

And what could prevent her from going? She laughed aloud,--a short,
defiant laugh,--rippled to her feet, and, in her room, took off
Prosper's "pretty things" and got into her own old clothes; the coarse
underwear, the heavy stockings and boots, the rough skirt, the man's
shirt. How loosely they all hung! How thin she was! Now into her coat,
her woolen cap down over her ears, her gloves--she was ready, her
heart laboring like an exhausted stag's, her knees trembling, her
wrists mysteriously absent. She went into the hall, found her
snowshoes, bent to tie them on, and, straightening up, met Prosper who
had come in out of the snow.

He was glowing from exercise, but at sight of her and her pale
excitement, the glow left him and his face went bleak and grim. He put
out his hand and caught her by the arm and she backed from him against
the wall--this before either of them spoke.

"Where are you going, Joan?"

"I'm a-goin' home."

He let go of her arm. "You were going like this, without a word to
me?"

"Mr. Gael," she panted, "I had a feelin' like you wouldn't 'a' let me
go."

He turned, threw open the door, and stepped aside. She confronted his
white anger.

"Mr. Gael, I left Pierre dead. I've been a-waitin' for Mr. Holliwell
to come. I'm strong now. I must be a-goin' home." Suddenly, she blazed
out: "You killed my man. What hev I to do with you?"

He bowed. Her breast labored and all the distress of her soul,
troubled by an instinctive, inarticulate consciousness of evil,
wavered in her eyes. Her reason already accused her of ingratitude and
treachery, but every fiber of her had suddenly revolted. She was all
for liberty, she must have it.

He was wise, made no attempt to hold her, let her go; but, as she fled
under the firs, her webs sinking deep into the heavy, uncrusted snow,
he stood and watched her keenly. He had not failed to notice the
trembling of her body, the quick lift and fall of her breast, the
rapid flushing and paling of her face. He let her go.

And Joan ran, drawing recklessly on the depleted store of what had
always been her inexhaustible strength. The snow was deep and soft,
heavy with moisture, the March air was moist, too, not keen with frost,
and the green firs were softly dark against an even, stone-colored sky
of cloud. To Joan's eyes, so long imprisoned, it was all astonishingly
beautiful, clean and grave, part of the old life back to which she was
running. Down the cañon trail she floundered, her short skirt
gathering a weight of snow, her webs lifting a mass of it at every
tugging step. Her speed perforce slackened, but she plodded on, out of
breath and in a sweat. She was surprised at the weakness; put it down
to excitement. "I was afeered he'd make me stay," she said, and, "I've
got to go. I've got to go." This went with her like a beating rhythm.
She came to the opening in the firs, the foot of the steep trail, and
out there stretched the valley, blank snow, blank sky, here and there a
wooded ridge, then a range of lower hills, blue, snow-mottled; not a
roof, not a thread of smoke, not a sound.

"I'm awful far away," Joan whispered to herself, and, for the first
time in her life, she doubted her strength. "I don't rightly know
where I am." She looked back. There stood a high, familiar peak, but
so were the outlines of these mountains jumbled and changed that she
could not tell if Prosper's cañon lay north or south of Pierre's
homestead. The former was high up on the foothills, and Pierre's was
well down, above the river. From where she stood, there was no
river-bed in sight. She tried to remember the journey, but nothing
came to her except a confused impression of following, following,
following. Had they gone toward the river first and then turned north
or had they traveled close to the base of the giant range? The
ranger's cabin where they had spent the night, surely that ought to be
visible. If she went farther out, say beyond the wooded spur which
shut the mountain country from her sight, perhaps she would find
it.... She braced her quivering muscles and went on. The end of the
jutting foothills seemed to crawl forward with her. She plunged into
drifts, struggled up; sometimes the snow-plane seemed to stand up like
a wall in front of her, the far hills lolling like a dragon along its
top. She could not keep the breath in her lungs. Often she sank down
and rested; when things grew steady she got up and worked on. Each
time she rested, she crouched longer; each time made slower progress;
and always the goal she had set herself, the end of that jutting hill,
thrust itself out, nosed forward, sliding down to the plain. It began
to darken, but Joan thought that her sight was failing. The enormous
efforts she was making took every atom of her will. At last her
muscles refused obedience, her laboring heart stopped. She stood a
moment, swayed, fell, and this time she made no effort to rise. She
had become a dark spot on the snow, a lifeless part of the loneliness
and silence.

Above her, where the sharp peaks touched the clouds, there came a
widening rift showing a cold, turquoise clarity. The sun was just
setting and, as the cloud-banks lifted, strong shadows, intensely
blue, pointed across the plain of snow. A small, black, energetic
figure came out from among the firs and ran forward where the longest
shadow pointed. It looked absurdly tiny and anxious; futile, in its
pigmy haste, across the exquisite stillness. Joan, lying so still, was
acquiescent; this little striving thing rebelled. It came forward
steadily, following Joan's uneven tracks, stamping them down firmly to
make a solid path, and, as the sun dropped, leaving an immense
gleaming depth of sky, he came down and bent over the black speck that
was Joan....

Prosper took her by the shoulder and turned her over a little in the
snow. Joan opened her eyes and looked at him. It was the dumb look of
a beaten dog.

"Get up, child," he said, "and come home with me."

She struggled to her feet, he helping her; and silently, just as a
savage woman, no matter what her pain, will follow her man, so Joan
followed the track he had made by pressing the snow down triply over
her former steps. "Can you do it?" he asked once, and she nodded. She
was pale, her eyes heavy, but she was glad to be found, glad to be
saved. He saw that, and he saw a dawning confusion in her eyes. At the
end he drew her arm into his, and, when they came into the house, he
knelt and took the snowshoes from her feet, she drooping against the
wall. He put a hand on each of her shoulders and looked reproach.

"You wanted to leave me, Joan? You wanted to leave me, as much as
that?"

She shook her head from side to side, then, drawing away, she stumbled
past him into the room, dropped to the bearskin rug, and held out her
hands to the flames. "It's awful good to be back," she said, and fell
to sobbing. "I didn't think you'd be carin'--I was thinkin' only of
old things. I was homesick--me that has no home."

Her shaken voice was so wonderful a music that he stood listening with
sudden tears in his eyes.

"An' I can't ferget Pierre nor the old life, Mr. Gael, an' when I
think 't was you that killed him, why, it breaks my heart. Oh, I know
you hed to do it. I saw. An' I know I couldn't 'a' stayed with him no
more. What he did, it made me hate him--but you can't be thinkin' how
it was with Pierre an' me before that night. We--we was happy. I ust
to live with my father, Mr. Gael, an' he was an awful man, an' there
was no lovin' between us, but when I first seen Pierre lookin' up at
me, I first knowed what lovin' might be like. I just came away with
him because he asked me. He put his hand on my arm an' said, 'Will you
be comin' home with me, Joan Carver?' That was the way of it.
Somethin' inside of me said, 'Yes,' fer all I was too scairt to do
anything but look at him an' shake my head. An' the next mornin' he
was there with his horses. Oh, Mr. Gael, I can't ferget him, even for
hatin'. That brand on my shoulder, it's all healed, but my heart's so
hurted, it's so hurted. An' when I come to thinkin' of how kind an'
comfortin' you are an' what you've been a-doin' fer me, why, then, at
the same time, I can't help but thinkin' that you killed my Pierre.
You killed him. Fergive me, please; I would love you if I could, but
somethin' makes me shake away from you--because Pierre's dead."

Again she wept, exhausted, broken-hearted weeping it was. And
Prosper's face was drawn by pity of her. That story of her life and
love, it was a sort of saga, something as moving as an old ballad most
beautifully sung. He half-guessed then that she had genius; at least,
he admitted that it was something more than just her beauty and her
sorrow that so greatly stirred him. To speak such sentences in such a
voice--that was a gift. She had no more need of words than had a
symphony. The varied and vibrant cadences of her voice gave every
delicate shading of feeling, of thought. She was utterly expressive.
All night, after he had seen her eat and sent her to her bed, the
phrases of her music kept repeating themselves in his ears. "An' so I
first knowed what lovin' might be like"; and, "I would love you, only
somethin' makes me shake away from you--because Pierre's dead." This
was a Joan he had not yet realized, and he knew that after all his
enchanted leopardess was a woman and that his wooing of her had hardly
yet begun. So did she baffle him by the utter directness of her heart.
There was so little of a barrier against him and yet--there was so
much. For the first time, he doubted his wizardry, and, at that, his
desire for the wild girl's love stood up like a giant and gripped his
soul.

Joan slept deeply without dreams; she had confessed herself. But
Prosper was as restless and troubled as a youth. She had not made her
escape; she had followed him home with humility, with confusion in her
eyes. She had been glad to hold out her hands again to the fire on his
hearth. And yet--he was now her prisoner.



CHAPTER XV

NERVES AND INTUITION


"Mr. Gael," said Joan standing before him at the breakfast-table, "I'm
a-goin' to work."

She was pale, gaunt, and imperturbable. He gave her a quick look, one
that turned to amusement, for Joan was really as appealing to his
humor as a child. She had such immense gravity, such intensity over
her one-syllable statements of fact. She announced this decision and
sat down.

"Woman's work?" he asked her, smiling quizzically.

"No, sir," with her own rare smile; "I ain't rightly fitted for that."

"Certainly not in those clothes," he murmured crossly, for she was
dressed again in her own things.

"I'm a-goin' to do man's work. I'm a-goin' to shovel snow an' help
fetch wood an' kerry in water. You tell your Chinese man, please."

"And you're not going to read or study any more?"

"Yes, sir. I like that. If you still want to teach me, Mr. Gael. But
I'm a-goin'--I'm _going_--to get some action. I'll just die if I
don't. Why, I'm so poor I can't hardly lift a broom. I don't know why
I'm so miserably poor, Mr. Gael."

She twisted her brows anxiously.

"You've had a nervous breakdown."

"A _what?_"

"A nervous breakdown."

He lit his cigarette and watched her in his usual lazy, smoke-veiled
manner, but she might have noticed the shaken fabric of his
self-assurance.

"Say, now," said Joan, "what's that the name for?"

"There's a book about it over there--third volume on the top
shelf--look up your case."

With an air of profound alarm, she went over and took it out.

"There's books about everything, ain't there?--isn't there,--Mr. Gael?
Why, there's books about lovin' an' about sickness an' about cattle
an' what-not, an' about women an' children--" She was shirking the
knowledge of her "case," but at last she pressed her lips together and
opened the book. She fell to reading, growing anxiety possessed her
face, she sat down on the nearest chair, she turned page after page.
Suddenly she gave him a look of anger.

"I ain't none of this, Mr. Gael," she said, smote the page, rose with
dignity, and returned the book.

He laughed so long and heartily that she was at last forced to join
him. "You was--you were--jobbin' me, wasn't you?" she said, sighing
relief. "Did you know what that volume said? It said like this--I'll
read you about it--" She took the volume, found the place and read in a
low tone of horror, he helping her with the hard words: "'One of the
most frequent forms of phobia, common in cases of psychic neurasthenia,
is agrophobia in which patients the moment they come into an open space
are oppressed by an exaggerated feeling of anxiety. They may break into
a profuse perspiration and assert that they feel as if chained to the
ground....' And here, listen to this, 'batophobia, the fear that high
things will fall, atrophobia, fear of thunder and lightning,
pantophobia, the fear of every thing and every one'.... Well, now,
ain't that too awful? An' you mean folks really get that way?"

Their talk was for some time of nervous diseases, Joan's horror
increasing.

"Well, sir," said she, "lead me out an' shoot me if I get anyways like
that! I believe it's caused by all that queer dressin' an' what-not. I
feel like somethin' _real_ to-day in this shirt an' all, an' when I
get through some work I'll feel a whole lot better. Don't you say I'm
one of those nervous breakdowns again, though, will you?" she pleaded.

"No, I won't, Joan. But don't make one of me, will you?"

"How's that?"

"By wearing those clothes all day and half the night. If you expect me
to teach you, you'll have to do something for me, to make up for
running away. You might put on pretty things for dinner, don't you
think? Your nervous system could stand that?"

"My nervous system," drawled Joan, and added startlingly, for she did
not often swear, "God!" It was an oath of scorn, and again Prosper
laughed.

But he heard with a sort of terror the sound of her "man's work" to
which she energetically applied herself. It meant the return of her
strength, of her independence. It meant the shortening of her
captivity. Before long spring would rush up the cañon in a wave of
melting snow, crested with dazzling green, and the valley would lie
open to Joan. She would go unless--had he really failed so utterly to
touch her heart? Was she without passion, this woman with the deep,
savage eyes, the lips, so sensuous and pure, the body so magnificently
made for living? She was not defended by any training, she had no
moral standards, no prejudices, none of the "ideals." She was
completely open to approach, a savage. If he failed, it was a personal
failure. Perhaps he had been too subtle, too restrained. She did not
yet know, perhaps, what he desired of her. But he was afraid of
rousing her hatred, which would be fully as simple and as savage as
her love. That evening, after she had dressed to please him, and sat
in her chair, tired, but with the beautiful, clean look of outdoor
weariness on her face, and tried, battling with drowsiness, to give
her mind to his reading and his talk, he was overmastered by his
longing and came to her and knelt down, drawing down her hands to him,
pressing his forehead on them.

For a moment she was stiff and still, then, "What is it, Mr. Gael?"
she asked in a frightened half-voice.

He felt, through her body, the slight recoil of spirit, and drew away,
and arose to his feet.

"You're angry?"

He laughed.

"Oh, no. I'm not angry; why should I be? I'm a superman. I'm
made--let's say--of alabaster. Women with great eyes and wonderful
voices and the beauty of broad-browed nymphs walking gravely down
under forest arches, such women give me only a great, great longing to
read aloud very slowly and carefully a 'Child's History of the English
Race'!" He took the book, tossed it across the room, then stood,
ashamed and defiant, laughing a little, a boy in disgrace.

Joan looked at him in profound bewilderment and dawning distress.

"Now," she said, "you _are_ angry with me. You always are when you
talk that queer way. Won't you please explain it to me, Mr. Gael?"

"No!" said he sharply. "I won't." And he added after a moment, "You'd
better go to bed. You're sleepy and as stupid as an owl."

"Oh!"

"Yes. And you've destroyed what little superstitious belief I had left
concerning something they tell little ignorant boys about a woman's
intuition. You haven't got a bit. You're stupid and I'm tired of
you--No, Joan, I'm not. Don't mind me. I'm only in fun. Please! Damn!
I've hurt your feelings."

Her lips were quivering, her eyes full. "I try so awful hard," she
said. It was a lovely, broken trail of music.

He bent over her and patted her shoulder. "Dear child! Joan, I won't
be so disagreeable again. Only, don't you ever think of me?"

"Yes, yes; all the while I'm thinking of you. I wisht I could do more
for you. Why do I make you so angry? I know I'm awful--awfully stupid
and ignorant. I--I must drive you most crazy, but truly"--here she
turned quickly in his arm and put her hands about his neck and laid
her cheek against his shoulder--"truly, Mr. Gael, I'm awful fond of
you." Then she drew quickly away, quivered back into the other corner
of her great chair, put her face to her hands. "Only--I can't help
seein'--Pierre."

Just her tone showed him that still and ghastly youth, and again he
saw the brown hand that moved. He had stood between her and that
sight. The man ought to have died. He did not deserve his life nor
this love of hers. Even though he had failed to kill the man, he would
not fail to kill her love for him, sooner or later, thought Prosper.
If only the hateful spring would give him time. He must move her from
her memory. She had put her hands about his neck, she had laid her
head against his shoulder, and, if it had been the action of a child,
then she would not have started from him with that sharp memory of
Pierre.



CHAPTER XVI

THE TALL CHILD


There were times, even now, when Prosper tried to argue himself back
into sardonic self-possession. "Pooh!" said his brain, "you were
beside yourself over a loss and then you were shut in for months of
winter alone with this mountain girl, so naturally you are off your
balance." He would school himself while Joan shoveled outdoors. He
would try to see her with critical, clear eyes when she strode in. But
one look at her and he was bemused again. For now she was at a great
height of beauty, vivid with growing strength and purpose, her lips
calm and scarlet, her eyes bright and hopeful. In fact, Joan had made
her plans. She would wait till spring, partly to get back her full
strength, partly to make further progress in her studies, but mostly
in order not to hurt this hospitable Prosper Gael. The naïveté of
her gratitude, of her delicate consideration for his feelings, which
continually triumphed over an instinctive fear, would have filled him
with amusement, perhaps with compunction, had he been capable of
understanding them. She was truly sorry that she had hurt him by
running away. She told herself she would not do that again. In the
spring she would make him a speech of thankfulness and of farewell,
and then she would tramp back to Pierre's homestead and win and hold
Pierre's land. As yet, you see, Prosper entered very little into her
conscious life. Somewhere, far down in her, there was a disturbance, a
growing doubt, a something vague and troubling.... Joan had not learnt
to probe her own heart. A sensation was not, or it was. She was
puzzled by the feeling Prosper was beginning to cause her, a feeling
of miserable complexity; but she was not yet mentally equipped for the
confronting of complexity. It was necessary for an emotion to rush at
Joan and throw down, as it were, her heart before she recognized it;
even then she might not give it a name. She would act, however, and
with violence.

So now she planned and worked and grew beautiful with work and
planning, while Prosper curbed his passion and worked, too, and his
instruments were delicate and deadly and his plans made no account of
hers. Every word he read to her, every note he played for her, had its
calculated effect. He worked on her subconsciousness, undermining her
path, and at nights and in her sleep she grew aware of him.

But even now, in his cool and passionate heart there were moments of
reaction, one at last that came near to wrecking his purpose.

"Your clothes are about done for, Joan," Prosper laughed one morning,
watching her belt in her tattered shirt; "you'll soon look like
Cophetua's beggar maid."

"I'm not quite barefoot yet." She held up a cracked boot.

"Joan--" He hesitated an instant, then got up from his desk, walked to
a window, and looked out at the bright morning. The lake was ruffled
with wind, the firs tossed, there were patches of brown-needled earth
under his window; his eyes were startled by a strip of green where
tiny yellow flowers trod on the very edge of the melting drift. The
window was open to soft, tingling air that smelt of snow and of sun,
of pines, of growing grass, of sap, of little leaf-buds. The birds
were in loud chorus. For several minutes Prosper stared and listened.

"What is it, Mr. Gael?" asked Joan patiently.

He started. "Oh," he said without looking at her again, "I was going
to tell you that there are a skirt and a sort of coat in--in a closet
in the hall. Do you want to use them?"

She went out to look. In five minutes--he had gone back to his work at
the desk--he heard her laugh, and, still laughing, she opened the door
again.

"Oh, Mr. Gael, were you really thinking that I could wear these?
Look."

He turned and looked at her. She had crowded her strong, lithe frame
into a brown tweed suit, a world too narrow for her, and she was
laughing heartily at herself and had come in to show him the misfit.

"These things, Mr. Gael," she said,--"they must have been made for a
tall child."

Prosper had too far tempted his pain, and in her vivid phrase it came
to life before him. She had painted a startling picture and he had
seen that suit, so small and trim, before.

Joan saw his face grow white, his eyes stared through her. He drew a
quick breath and winced away from her, hiding his face in his hands. A
moment later he was weeping convulsively, with violence, his head down
between his hands. Joan started toward him, but he made a wicked and
repellent gesture. She fled into her room and sat, bewildered, on her
bed.

All at once the question came to her: for whom had the delicate
fabrics been bought, for whom had this suit been made? "It was his
wife and she is dead," thought Joan, and very pitifully she took off
the suit, laid it and the other things away, and sitting by her window
rested her chin in her hands and stared out through the blue pines.
Tears ran down her face because she was so sorry for Prosper's pain.
And again, thought Joan, she had caused it, she who owed him
everything. Yes, she was deeply sorry for Prosper, deeply; her whole
heart was stirred. For the first time she had a longing to comfort him
with her hands.

For all that day Prosper fled the house and went across the country,
now fording a flood of melted snow, now floundering through a drift,
now walking on springy sod, unaware of the soft spring, conscious only
of a sort of fire in his breast. He suffered and he resented his
suffering, and he would have killed his heart if, by so doing, he
could have given it peace. And all day he did not once think of Joan,
but only of the "tall child" for whom the gay cañon refuge had been
built, but who had never set her slim foot upon its threshold. Sunset
found him miles away in the foothills of a low, many-folded range
across the plain. He was dog tired, so that for very exhaustion his
brain had stopped its tormenting work. He lit a fire and sat by it,
huddled in his coat, smoking, dozing, not able really to sleep for
cold and hunger. The bright stars, flung all about the sky, mildly
regarded hum. Coyotes mourned their loneliness and hunger near and
far, and once, in the broken woods above him, a mountain lion gave its
blood-curdling scream. Prosper hated the night and its beautiful
desolation, he hated the God that had made this land. He cursed the
dawn when it came delicately, spreading a green arc of radiance across
the east. And then, as he arose stiffly, stamped out his fire, and
started slowly on his way back, he was conscious of a passionate
homesickness, not for the old life he had lost, but for his cabin, his
bright hearth, his shut-in solitude, his Joan. Very dear and real and
human she was, and her laughter had been sweet. He had shocked it to
silence, he had repulsed her comforting hands. She had been so
innocent of any desire to hurt him. He could not imagine her ever
hurting any one, this broad-browed Joan. She was so kind. And now she
must be anxious about him. She would have sat up by the fire all
night.... His eagerness for her slighted comfort gave his lagging
steps a certain vigor, the long walk back seemed very long, indeed.
Noon was hot, but he found water and by sundown he came to the cañon
trail. He wanted Joan as badly now as a hurt child wants its mother.
He came, haggard and breathless, to the door, called "Joan," came into
the warm little room and found it empty. Wen Ho, to be sure, pattered
to meet him.

"Mister Gael been gone a long time, velly long, all night. Wen Ho, he
fix bed, fix breakfast--oh, the lady? She gone out yestiddy, not come
back. She leave a letter for him, there on the table."

Prosper took it, waved Wen Ho out, and, dropping into the big chair,
opened the paper. There was Joan's big handwriting, that he himself
had taught her. Before she could only sign her name.

  _Mister Gael, dere frend,_--

  You have ben too good to me an it has ben too hard for you to
  keep me when you were all the wile amissin her an it hurts me to
  think of how it must have ben terrible hard for you all this
  winter to see me where you had ben ust to seem her an me wearin
  her pretty things all the wile. Now dere frend this must not be
  no more. I will not stay to trouble you. You have ben awful
  free-hearted. When you come back from your wanderin an tryin to
  get over your bein so unhappy you will find your house quiet an
  peaceful an you will not be hurt by me no more. I am not able to
  say all I am feelin about your goodness an I hev not always ben
  as kind to you in my thoughts an axions but that has ben my own
  fault not yours. I want you to beleave this, Mister Gael. I am
  goin back to Pierre's ranch to work on his land an some day I
  will be hopin to see you come ridin in an I will keep on learnin
  as well as I can an mebbe you will not be ashamed of me. I feel
  awful bad to go but I would feel more bad to stay when it must
  hurt you so. Respectably

                                                             JOAN

There were blistered spots above that pathetic, mistaken signature.
The poor girl had meant to sign herself "Respectfully," and somehow
that half-broke his heart.

He drank the strong coffee Wen Ho brought for him, two great cups of
it, and he ate a piece of broiled elk meat. Then he went out again and
walked rapidly down the trail. It was not yet dark; the world was in a
soft glow of rose and violet, opalescent lights. The birds were
singing in a hundred chantries. And there, through the firs, a sight
to stop his heart, Joan came walking toward him, graceful, free, a
swinging figure, bareheaded, her rags girded beautifully about her.
And up and up to him she came soundlessly over the pine needles and
through the wet snow-patches, looking at him steadfastly and tenderly,
without a smile. She came and stood before him, still without dropping
her sad, grave look.

"Mr. Gael," she said, "I hev come back. I got out yonder an'"--her
breast heaved and a sort of terror came into her eyes--"an' the world
was awful lonely. There ain't a creature out yonder to care fer me,
fer me to care fer. It seemed like as if it was all dead. I couldn't
abear it."

She put out her hand wistfully asking for pity, but he fell upon his
knees and wrapped his hungry arms about her. "Joan," he sobbed, "Joan!
Don't leave me. Don't--I couldn't bear it!" He looked up at her, his
worn face wet with tears. "Don't leave me, Joan! I want you. Don't you
understand?"

Her deep gray eyes filled slowly with light, she put a hand on either
side of his face and bent her lips to his. "I never thought you'd be
wantin' _me_," she said.



CHAPTER XVII

CONCERNING MARRIAGE


And it was spring-time; these prisoners of frost were beautifully
sensitive. They, too, with the lake and the aspens and the earth, the
seeds and the beasts, had suffered the season of interment. In such
fashion Nature makes possible the fresh undertakings of last summer's
reckless prodigals; she drives them into her mock tomb and freezes
their hearts--it is a little rest of death--so that they wake like
turbulent bacchantes drunk with sleep and with forgetfulness. Love,
spring says, is an eternal fact, welcome its new manifestations.
Remating bluebirds built their nests near Joan's window; they were not
troubled by sad recollections of last year's nests nor the young birds
that flew away. It was another life, a resurrection. If they remembered
at all, they remembered only the impulses of pleasure; they had
somewhere before learned how to love, how to build; the past summers
had given practice to their singing little throats and to their rapid
wings. No ghosts forbade happiness and no God--man-voiced--saying,
because he knew the ugly human aftermaths, hard sayings of "Be ye
perfect."

What counsel was theirs for Joan and what had her human mentor taught
her? He had taught her in one form or another the beauty of passion and
its eternal sinlessness, for that was his sincere belief. By music he
had taught her, by musical speech, by the preaching of heathen sage and
the wit of modern arguers. He had given her all the moral schooling she
had ever had and its golden rule was, "Be ye beautiful and generous."
Joan was both beautiful and made for giving, "free-hearted" as she
might herself have said, Friday's child as the old rhyme has it,--and
to cry out to her with love, saying, "I want you, Joan," was just,
sooner or later, to see her turn and bend her head and hold out her
arms. Prosper had the reward of patience; his wild leopardess was tamed
to his hand and her sweetness made him tender and very merciful.

Their gay, little house stood open all day while they explored the
mountains and plunged into the lake, choosing the hot hour of noon.
Joan made herself mistress of the house and did her woman's work at
last of tidying and beautifying and decking corners with gorgeous
branches of blossoms while Prosper worked at his desk. He was happy;
the reality of Joan's presence had laid his ghost just as the reality
of his had laid hers. His work went on magically and added the glow of
successful creation to the glow of satisfied desire. And his sin of
deceit troubled him very little, for he had worked out that problem
and had decided that Pierre, dead or alive, was unworthy of this mate.

But sometimes in her sleep Joan would start and moan feeling the touch
of the white-hot iron on her shoulder. Her hatred of Pierre's cruelty,
her resolution to be done with him forever, must have vividly renewed
itself in those dreams, for she would cling to Prosper like a
frightened child, and wake, trembling, happy to find herself safe in
his arms.

So they lived their spring. Wen Ho, the silent and inscrutable, went
out of the valley for provisions, and during his absence Joan queened
it in the kitchen. She was learning to laugh, to see the absurd,
delightful twists of daily living, to mock Prosper's oddities as he
mocked hers. She was learning to be a comrade and she was learning
better speech and more exquisite ways. It was inevitable that she
should learn. Prosper, in these days, spent his whole soul upon her,
fed her with music and delight, and he trained her to sing her sagas so
that every day her voice gained in power and flexible sweetness. She
would sing, since he told her to, her voice beating its wings against
the walls of the house or ringing down the cañon in untrammeled
flight. Prosper was lost in wonder of her, in a passionate admiration
for his own handiwork. He was making, here in this God-forsaken
solitude, a thing of marvel; what he was making surely justified the
means. Joan's laughable simplicity and directness were the same; they
were part of her essence; no civilizing could confuse or disturb them;
but she changed, her brain grew, it absorbed material, it attempted
adventures. Nowadays Joan sometimes argued, and this filled Prosper
with delight, so quaint and logical she was and so skillful.

They were reading out under the firs by the green lip of the lake,
when Wen Ho led his pack-horse up the trail. He had been gone a month,
for Prosper had sent him out of the valley to a distant town for his
supplies. He didn't want the little frontier place to prick up its
ears. Wen Ho had ridden by a secret trail back over the range; he had
not passed even the ranger station on his way. He called out, and, in
the midst of a sentence Joan was reading, Prosper started up.

Joan looked at him smiling. "You're as easily turned away from
learning as a boy," she began, and faltered when she saw his face. It
was turned eagerly toward the climbing horses, toward the pack, and it
was sharp and keen with detached interest, an excitement that had
nothing, nothing in the world to do with her.

It was the great bundle of Prosper's mail that first brought home to
Joan the awareness of an outside world. She knew that Prosper was a
traveled and widely experienced man, but she had not fancied him held
to this world by human attachments. Concerning the "tall child" she
had not put a question and she still believed her to have been
Prosper's wife. But when, leaving her place under the tree, she came
into the house and found Prosper feverishly slitting open envelope
after envelope, with a pile of papers and magazines, ankle-high,
beside him on the floor, she stood aghast.

"What a lot of people must have been writing to you, Prosper!"

He did not hear her. He was greedy of eye and fingertips, searching
written sheet after sheet. He was flushed along the cheek-bones and a
little pale about the lips. Joan stood there, her hands hanging, her
head bent, staring up and out at him from under her brows. She looked,
in this attitude, rather dangerous.

Prosper sped through his mail, made an odd gesture of desperation, sat
still a moment staring, his brilliant, green-gray eyes gone dull and
blank, then he gave himself a shuddery shake, pulled a small parcel
from under the papers, and held it out to Joan. He smiled.

"Something for you, leopardess," he said--he had told her his first
impression of her.

She took the box haughtily and walked with it over to her chair. But
he came and kissed her.

"Jealous of my mail? You foolish child. What a girl-thing you are! It
doesn't matter, does it, how we train you or leave you untrained,
you're all alike, you women, under your skins. Open your box and thank
me prettily, and leave matters you don't understand alone. That's the
way to talk, isn't it?"

She flushed and smiled rather doubtfully, but, at sight of his gift,
she forgot everything else for a moment. It was a collar of topaz and
emerald set in heavy silver. She was awe-struck by its beauty, and
went, after he had fastened it for her, to stand a long while before
the glass looking at it. She wore her yellow dress cut into a V at the
neck and the jewels rested beautifully at the base of her long, round
throat, faintly brown like her face up to the brow. The yellow and the
green brought out all the value of her grave, scarlet lips, the soft,
even tints of her skin, the dark lights and shadows of her hair and
eyes.

"It's beautiful," she said. "It's wonderful. I love it."

All the time very grave and still, she took it off, put it on its box,
and laid it on the mantel. Then she went out of doors.

Prosper hurried to the window and saw her walk out to the garden they
had made and begin her work. He was puzzled by her manner, but
presently shrugged the problem of her mood away and went back to his
mail. That night he finished his novel and got it ready for the
publisher.

Again Wen Ho, calm and uncomplaining, was sent out over the hill, and
again the idyll was renewed, and Joan wore the collar and was almost
as happy as before. Only one night she startled Prosper.

"I asked Pierre," she said slowly, after a silence, in her low-pitched
voice, "when he was taking me away home, I asked, 'Where are you
going?' and he said to me, 'Don't you savvy the answer to that
question, Joan?' And, Prosper, I didn't savvy, so he told me and he
looked at me sort of hard and stern, 'We're a-goin' to be married,
Joan.'"

Prosper and Joan were sitting before the fire, Joan on the bearskin at
his feet, he lounging back, long-legged, smoke-veiled, in one of the
lacquered chairs. She had been fingering her collar and she kept on
fingering it as she spoke and staring straight into the flames, but,
at the last, quoting Pierre's words and tone, her voice and face
quivered and she looked at him with eyes of mysterious pain, in them a
sort of uncomprehended anguish.

"Why was that, Prosper?" she asked; "I mean, why did he say it that
way? And what--what does it stand for, marrying or not--?"

Prosper jerked a little in his chair, then said he blasphemously,
"Marriage is the sin against the Holy Ghost. Don't be the conventional
woman, Joan. Isn't this beautiful, this life of ours?"

"Yes." But her eyes of uncomprehended pain were still upon him. So he
put his hand over them and drew her head against his knee. "Yes, but
that other life was--was--before Pierre changed, it was beautiful--"

"Of course. Love is always beautiful. Not even marriage can always
spoil it, though it very often does. Well, Joan," he went on
flippantly, though the tickle of her lashes against his palm somehow
disturbed his flippancy, "I'll go into the subject with you one of
these days, when the weather isn't so beautiful. It's really a matter
of law, property rights, and so forth; a practice variously conducted
in various lands; it's man's most studied insult to woman; it's
recommended as the lesser of two evils by a man who despised woman as
only an Oriental can despise her, Saint Paul by name; it's a thing
civilized women cry for till they get it and then quite bitterly learn
to understand; it's a horrible invention which needn't touch your
beautiful clean soul, dear. Come out and look at the moon."

"Listen!" They stood side by side at the door. "Some silly bird thinks
that is the dawn. Look at me, Joan!"

She lifted obedient eyes.

"There! That's better. Don't get that other look. I can't bear it. I
love you."

A moment later they went out into the sweet, silver silence down to
the silver lake.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Four months later the name of Prosper Gael began to be on every one's
lips, and before every one's eyes; the world, his world, began to
clamor for him. Even Wen Ho grumbled at this going out on tremendous
journeys after the mail for which Prosper grew more and more greedy and
impatient. His novel, "The Cañon," had been accepted, was enormously
advertised, had made an extraordinary success. All this he explained to
Joan, who tried to rejoice because she saw that it was exquisite
delight to Prosper. He was by way of thinking now that his exile, his
Wyoming adventure, was to thank for his success, but when a woman, even
such a woman as Joan, begins to feel that she has been a useful
emotional experience, there begins pain. For Joan pain began and daily
it increased. It was suffering for her to watch Prosper reading his
letters, forwarded to him from the Western town where his friends and
his secretary believed him to be recovering from some nervous illness;
to watch him smoking and thinking of himself, his fame, his talents,
his future; to watch him scribbling notes, planning another work, to
hear his excited talk, now so impersonal, so unrelated to her; to see
how his eagerness over her education slackened, faltered, died; to
notice that he no longer watched the changeful humors of her beauty nor
cared if she wore bronze or blue or yellow; and worst of all, to find
him staring at her sometimes with a worried, impatient look which
scuttled out of sight like some ugly, many-legged creature when it met
her own eyes--painful, of course, yet such an old story. Joan, who had
never heard of such experience, did not foresee the inevitable end,
and, in so much, she was spared. The extra pain of forfeiting her
dignity and self-respect did not touch her, for she made none of those
most pitiful, unavailing efforts to hold him, to cling; did not even
pretend indifference. She only drew gradually into herself, shrinking
from her pain and from him as the cause of it; she only lost her glow
of love-happiness, her face seemed dwindled, seemed to contract, and
that secret look of a wild animal returned to her gray eyes. She
quietly gave up the old regulations of their life; she did not remind
him of the study-hours, the music-hours, the hours of wild outdoor
play. She read under the firs, alone; she studied faithfully, alone;
she climbed and swam, alone--or with his absent-minded, fitful company;
she worked in her garden, alone. At night, when he was asleep, she lay
with her hand pressed against her heart, staring at the darkness,
listening to the night, waiting. Curiously enough, his inevitable
returns of passion and interest, the always decreasing flood-mark, each
time a line lower, did not deceive her, did not distract her. She never
expressed her trouble, even to herself. She did not give it any words.
She took her pain without wincing, without complaint, and when he
seemed to need her in any little way, in any big way, she gave because
she could not help it, because she had promised him largesse, because
it was her nature to give. Besides, although she was instinctively
waiting, she did not foresee the end.

It was in late October when, somewhere in the pile of Prosper's mail,
there lay a small gray envelope. Joan drew his attention to it,
calling it a "queer little letter," and he took it up slowly as though
his deft and nervous fingers had gone numb. Before he opened it he
looked at Joan and, in one sense, it was the last time he ever did
look at her; for at that moment his stark spirit looked straight into
hers, acknowledged its guilt, and bade her a mute and remorseful
farewell.

He read and Joan watched. His face grew pale and bright as though some
electric current had been turned into his veins; his eyes, looking up
from the writing, but not returning to her, had the look given by some
drug which is meant to stupefy, but which taken in an overdose
intoxicates. He turned and made for the door, holding the little gray
folded paper in his hand. On the threshold he half-faced her without
lifting his eyes.

"I have had extraordinary news, Joan. I shall have to go off alone and
think things out. I don't know when I shall get back." He went out and
shut the door gently.

Joan stood listening. She heard him go along the passage and through
the second door. She heard his feet on the mountain trail. Afterwards
she went out and stood between the two sentinel firs that had marked
the entrance to that snow-tunnel long since disappeared. Now it was a
late October day, bright as a bared sword. The flowers of the Indian
paint-brush burned like red candle flames everywhere under the firs,
the fire-weed blazed, the aspen leaves were laid like little golden
tiles against the metallic blue of the sky. The high peak pointed up
dizzily and down, down dizzily into the clear emptiness of the lake.
This great peak stood there in the glittering stillness of the day. A
grouse boomed, but Joan was not startled by the sudden rush of its
wings. She felt the sharp weight of that silent mountain in her heart;
she might have been buried under it. So she felt it all day while she
worked, a desperate, bright day,--hideous in her memory,--and at night
she lay waiting. After hours longer than any other hours, the door of
her bedroom opened and an oblong of moonlight, as white as paper, fell
across the matted floor. Prosper stepped in noiselessly and walked
over to her bed. He stood a moment and she heard him swallow.

"You're awake, Joan?"

Her eyes were staring up at him, but she lay still.

"Listen, Joan." He spoke in short sentences, waiting between each for
some comment of hers which did not come. "I shall have to go away
to-morrow. I shall have to go away for some time. I don't want you to
be unhappy. I want you to stay here for a while if you will, for as
long as you want to stay. I am leaving you plenty of money. I will
write and explain it all very clearly to you. I know that you will
understand. Listen." Here he knelt and took her hands, which he found
lying cold and stiff under the cover, pressed against her heart. "I
have made you happy here in this little house, haven't I, Joan?"

She would not answer even this except by the merest flicker of her
eyelids.

"You have trusted me; now, trust me a little longer. My life is very
complicated. This beautiful year with you, the year you have given to
me, is just a temporary respite from--from all sorts of things. I've
taught you a great deal, Joan. I've healed the wound that brute made
on your shoulder and in your heart. I've taught you to be beautiful.
I've filled your mind with beauty. You are a wonderful woman. You'll
live to be grateful to me. Some day you'll tell me so."

Her quiet, curved lips moved. "Are you tellin' me good-bye, Prosper?"

It was impossible to lie to her. He bent his head.

"Yes, Joan."

"Then tell it quick and go out and leave me here to-night."

It was impossible to touch her. She might have been wrapped in white
fire. He found that though she had not stirred a finger, his hand had
shrunk away from hers. He got to his feet, all the cleverness which all
day long he had been weaving like a silk net to catch, to bewilder, to
draw away her brain from the anguish of full comprehension, was
shriveled. He stood and stared helplessly at her, dumb as a youth. And,
obedient, he went out and shut the door, taking the white patch of
moonlight with him.

So Joan, having waited, behind an obstinately locked door, for his
departure, came out at noon and found herself in the small, gay house
alone.

She sat in one of the lacquered chairs and saw after a long while that
the Chinaman was looking at her.

Wen Ho, it seemed, had been given instructions. He was to stay and
take care of the house and the lady for as long as she wanted it, or
him. Afterwards he was to lock up the house and go. He handed her a
large and bulky envelope which Joan took and let lie in her lap.

"You can go to-morrow, Wen Ho," she said.

"You no wait for Mr. Gael come back? He say he come back."

"No. I'm not going to wait. I guess"--here Joan twisted her mouth into
a smile--"I'm not one of the waiting kind. I'm a-going back to my own
ranch now. It won't seem so awful lonesome, perhaps, as I was thinking
last spring that it would."

She touched the envelope without looking at it.

"Is this money, Wen Ho?"

"I tink so, lady."

She held it, unopened, out to him.

"I will give it to you, then. I have no need of it."

She stood up.

"I am going out now to climb up this mountain back of the house so's I
can see just where I am. I'll come down to-night for dinner and
to-morrow after breakfast I'll be going away. You understand?"

"Lady, you mean give me all this money?" babbled the Chinaman.

"Yes," said Joan gravely; "I have no need of it."

She went past him with her swinging step.

She was coming down the mountain-side that evening, very tired, but
with the curious, peaceful stillness of heart that comes with an
entire acceptance of fate, when she heard the sound of horses' hoofs
in the hollow of the cañon. Her heart began to beat to suffocation.
She ran to where, standing near a big fir tree, she could look
straight down on the trail leading up to Prosper's cabin. Presently
the horsemen came in sight--the one that rode first was tall and broad
and fair, she could see under his hat-brim his straight nose and
firmly modeled chin.

"The sin-buster!" said Joan; then, looking at the other, who rode
behind him, she caught at the tree with crooked hands and began to
sink slowly to her knees. He was tall and slight, he rode with
inimitable grace. As she stared, he took off his sombrero, rested his
hand on the saddle-horn, and looked haggardly, eagerly, up the trail
toward the house. His face was whiter, thinner, worn by protracted
mental pain, but it was the beautiful, living face of Pierre.

Joan shrank back into the shadows of the pines, crouched for a few
minutes like a mortally wounded beast, then ran up the mountain-side
as though the fire that had once touched her shoulder had eaten its
way at last into her heart.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Book Two
THE ESTRAY

----------------------------------------------------------------------



BOOK TWO: The Estray

CHAPTER I

A WILD CAT


The Lazy-Y ranch-house, a one-storied building of logs, was built
about three sides of a paved court. In the middle of this court stood
a well with a high rustic top, and about this well on a certain
brilliant July night, a tall man was strolling with his hands behind
his back. It was a night of full moon, sailing high, which poured
whiteness into the court, making its cobbles embedded in the earth
look like milky bubbles and drawing clear-cut shadows of the well-top
and the gables and chimneys of the house. The man slowly circled the
court beginning close to the walls and narrowing till he made a loop
about the well, and then, reversing, worked in widening orbits as far
as the walls again. His wife, looking out at him through one of the
windows, thought that, in the moonlight, followed by his own squat,
active shadow, he looked like a huge spider weaving a web. This effect
was heightened by the fact that he never looked up. He was deep in
some plan to which it was impossible for her not to believe that the
curious pattern of his walk bore some relation.

From the northern wing of the ranch-house, strongly lighted, came a
tumult of sound; music, thumping feet, a man's voice chanting
couplets:

           "Oh, you walk right through and you turn around
             and swing the girl that finds you,
           And you come right back by the same old track
             and turn the girl behind you."

Some one was directing a quadrille in native fashion. There was much
laughter, confusion, and applause. None of this noise disturbed the
man. He did not look at the lighted windows. He might really have been
a gigantic insect entirely unrelated to the human creatures so noisily
near at hand.

A man came round the corner of the house, crossed the square, and,
lurching a little, made for the door of the lighted wing. Shortly
after his entrance the sound of music and dancing abruptly stopped.
This stillness gave the spider pause, but he was about to renew his
weaving, when, in the silence, a woman spoke.

"You, Mabel, don't you go home," she said.

She had not spoken loudly, but her voice beat against the walls of the
court as though it could have filled the whole moonlight night with
dangerous beauty. The listener outside lifted his head with a low,
startled exclamation. Suddenly the world was alive with adventure and
alarm.

"Mind your own business, you wild cat," answered a man's raucous
voice. "She's my wife, which is somethin' that your sort knows nothin'
about. Come on, you Mabel. You think that outlaw can keep me from
takin' home my wife, you're betting wrong."

Another silence; then the voice again, a little louder, as though the
speaker had stepped out into the center of the room.

"Mabel is not a-goin' home with you," it said; and the listener
outside threw back his head with the gesture of a man sensitive to
music who listens to some ecstatic melody. "She happens to be stoppin'
here with us to-night. You say that she's your wife, but that don't
mean that she belongs to you, body and soul, Bill Greer--not to you,
who don't possess your own body, or soul. Why, you can't keep your
feet steady, you can't pull your hand away from mine. You can't hold
your tipsy eyes on mine. Do you call that ownin' your own body? And as
fer your soul, it's a hell of rage and dirty feelin's that I'd hate to
burn my eyes by lookin' closely at."

A deep, short, alarming chorus of laughter interrupted the speech. The
speaker evidently had her audience.

"So you don't own anything to-night," went on the extraordinary,
deliberate voice; "surely you don't own Mabel. You can't get a claim
on her, not thataway. She's her own. She belongs to her own self. When
you're fit to take her, why, then come and tell us about it, and if we
judge you're a-tellin' us the truth, mebbe we'll let her go. Till
then--" a pause which was filled with a rapid shuffling of feet. The
door flew open and in its lighted oblong the observer saw a huddled
figure behind which rose a woman's black and shapely head. "Till
then," repeated the deep-toned, ringing voice, "_get out_!" And the
huddled man came on a staggering run which ended in a backward fall on
the cobbles of the court.

The man who watched trod lightly past him and came to the open door.
Inside, firelight beat on the golden log walls and salmon-colored
timber ceiling; a lamp hanging from a beam threw down a strong,
conflicting arc of white light. A dozen brown-faced, booted young men
stood about, three musicians were ready to take up their interrupted
music, the little fat man who had called out the figures of the
quadrille, stood on a barrel, his arms folded across his paunch. A
fair-haired girl, her face marred by recent tears, drooped near him.
Two of the young men were murmuring reassurances to her; others
surrounded a stout, red-faced girl who was laughing and talking
loudly. The Jew's eyes wandered till they came to the fireplace. There
another woman leaned against the wall.

The music struck up, the dancing began again, the two other girls,
quickly provided with partners, began to waltz, the superfluous men
stood up together and went at it with gravity and grace. No one asked
this woman, who stood at ease, watching the dancers, her hands resting
on her hips, her head tilted back against the logs. As he looked at
her, the intruder had a queer little thrill of fright. He remembered
something he had once seen--a tame panther which was to be used in
some moving-picture play. Its confident owner had led it in on a chain
and held it negligently in a corner of the room, waiting for his cue.
The panther had stood there drowsily, its eyes shifting a little,
then, watching people, its inky head had begun to move from side to
side. He remembered the way the loose chain jerked. The animal's eyes
half-closed, it lowered its head, its upper lip began to draw away
from its teeth. All at once it had dropped on its belly. Some one
cried out, "Hold your beast!"

This young woman by the fireplace had just that panther-air of
perilous quietness. She was very haggard, very thin; she wore her
massive, black hair drawn away hideously from brow and temple, and out
of this lean, unshaded face a pair of deep eyes looked drowsily,
dangerously. Her mouth was straightened into an expression of proud
bitterness, her round chin thrust forward; there was a deep, scowling
line that rose from the bridge of her straight, short nose almost to
the roots of her hair. It cut across a splendidly modeled brow. She
was very graceful, if such a bundle of bones might be said to have any
grace. Her pose was arresting. There was a tragic force and attraction
about her.

The man by the door appraised her carefully between his narrowed lids.
He kept in mind the remembered melody of her voice, and, after a few
moments, he strolled across the floor and came up to her.

"Will you dance?" he said.

He had a very charming and subtle smile, a very charming and
sympathetic look. The woman was startled, color rose into her face.
She stared at him.

"I'm not dancing, Mr. Morena," she answered.

"You know my name," smiled Morena; "and I don't know yours. I've been
on Mr. Yarnall's ranch for a month. Why haven't I seen you?"

"Fer not lookin', I suppose." She had given him that one startled
glance, and now she had turned her eyes back to the dancers and wore a
grim, contemptuous air. Her speeches, though they were cut into short,
crisp words, were full of music of a sharp, metallic quality different
from the tone of her other speech, but quite as beautifully expressive.

"May I smoke?" asked Morena. He was still smiling his charming smile
and watching her out of the corners of his eyes.

"I'm not hinderin' you any," said she.

Morena smiled deeper. He took some time making and lighting his
cigarette.

"You don't smoke, yourself?" he asked.

"No."

"Nor dance?"

"No."

"Nor behave prettily to polite young men?"

Again the woman looked at him. "You ain't so awful young, are you?"

He laughed aloud.

"I amuse you, don't I? Well, I'm not always so all-fired funny,"
drawled the creature, lowering her head a little.

"No. I've heard that you're not. You rather run things here, I gather;
got the boys 'plumb-scared'?"

"Did Mr. Yarnall tell you that?"

"Yes. I've just in the last few minutes remembered who you are. You're
Jane. You cook for the 'outfit,' and Yarnall was telling us the other
night how he sent one of the boys out for a cook, the last one, a man,
having been beaten up, and how the boy had brought you back behind him
on his saddle. He said you'd kept order for him ever since, were
better than a foreman. Who was the man you threw out to-night?"

"Perhaps," drawled Jane, "he was just a feller who asked too many
questions?"

Again Morena's smile deepened into his cheeks. He gave way, in the
Jewish fashion so deceptively suggestive of meekness and timidity,
when it is, at its worst, merely pliable insolence, at its best,
pliable determination. "You must pardon me, Miss Jane," he said in his
murmuring, cultivated voice. "You see I've had a great misfortune.
I've never been in your West. I've lived in New York where good
manners haven't time or space to flourish. I hadn't the least
intention of being impertinent. Do you want me to go?"

He moved as if to leave her, and she did not lift a finger to detain
him.

"I'm not carin'. Do as you please," she said with entire indifference.

"Oh," said Morena, looking back at her, "I don't stay where people are
'not carin'.'"

She gave him an extraordinarily intelligent look. "I should say that's
the only place you'd be wantin' to stay in at all--where you're not
exactly urged to come," she said.

Morena flushed and his lids flickered. He was for an instant absurdly
inclined to anger and made two or three steps away. But he came back.

He bowed and spoke as he would have spoken to a great lady, suavely,
deferentially.

"Good-night. I wish I could think that you have enjoyed our talk as
greatly as I have, Miss Jane. I should very much like to be allowed to
repeat it. May I be stupidly personal and tell you that you are very
beautiful?" He bowed, gave her an upward look and went out, finding
his way cleverly among the dancers.

Outside, in the moonlit court, he stood, threw back his head and
laughed, not loudly but consumedly. He was remembering her white face
of mute astonishment. She looked almost as if his compliment had given
her sharp pain.

Morena went laughing to his room in the opposite wing. He wanted to
describe the interview to his wife.



CHAPTER II

MORENA'S WIFE


Betty Morena was sitting in a rustic chair before an open fire, smoking
a cigarette. She was a short woman, so slenderly, even narrowly built,
as to appear overgrown, and she was a mature woman so immaturely shaped
and featured as to appear hardly more than a child. Her curly, russet
hair was parted at the side, her wide, long-lashed eyes were set far
apart, her nose was really a finely modeled snub,--more, a boy's nose
even to a light sprinkling of freckles,--and her mouth was provokingly
the soft, red mouth of a sorrowful child. She lounged far down in her
chair, her slight legs, clad in riding-breeches of perfect cut,
stretched out straight, her limber arms along the arms of the chair,
her chin sunk on her flat chest, and her big, clear eyes staring into
the fire. It was an odd figure of a wife for Jasper Morena, a Jew of
thirty-eight, producer and manager of plays.

When Betty Kane had run away with him, there had been lamentation and
rage in the houses of Kane and of Morena. To the pride of an old
Hebrew family, the marriage even of this wandering son with a Gentile
was fully as degrading as to the pride of the old Tory family was the
marriage with a Jew. Her perverse Gaelic blood on fire with the
insults heaped upon her lover, Betty, seventeen years old, romantic,
clever, would have walked over flint to give her hand to him. That was
ten years ago. Now, when Jasper came into her room, she drew her quick
brows together, puffed at her cigarette, and blinked as though she was
looking at something distasteful and at the same time rather alarming.

"Have they stopped dancing, Jasper?" she asked in a voice that was at
once brusque and soft.

Jasper rubbed his hands delightedly. He was still merry, and came to
stand near the fire, looking down at her with eyes entirely kind and
admiring.

"Have you ever noticed Jane, who cooks for the outfit, Betty?"

"Yes. She's horrible."

"She's extraordinary, and I mean to get hold of her for Luck's play.
Did you read it?"

"Yes."

"The play is absolutely dependent on the leading part and I have found
it simply impossible to fill. Now, here's a woman of extraordinary
grace and beauty--"

Betty lifted skeptical eyebrows, twisted her limber mouth, but forbore
to contradict.

"And with a magical voice--a woman who not only looks the part, but is
it. You remember Luck's heroine?"

Betty flicked off the ash of her cigarette and looked away. "A savage,
isn't she? The man has her tamed, takes her back to London, and there
gives her cause for jealousy and she springs on him--yes, I remember.
This woman, Jane, is absolutely without education and hasn't a notion
of acting, I suppose."

Jasper rubbed his hands with increased delight. "Not a notion and she
murders the King's English. But she is Luck's savage and--in spite of
your eyebrows, Betty--she is beautiful. I can school her. It will take
money, no end of patience, but I can do it. It's one of the things I
can do. But, of course, there's the initial difficulty of persuading
her to try it."

"That oughtn't to be any difficulty at all. Of course she'll jump at
the chance."

"I'm not so sure. She was ready to throw me out of the kitchen
to-night. She is really a virago. Do you know what one of the men said
about her?" Jasper laughed and imitated the gentle Western drawl.
"Jane's plumb movin' to me. She's about halfway between 'You go to
hell' and 'You take me in your arms to rest.'"

Betty smiled. Her smile was vastly more mature than her appearance. It
was clever and cynical and cold. The Oriental, looking down at her,
lost his merriment.

"Do you feel better, dear?" he asked timidly. "Do you think you will
be able to go back next week?"

She stood up as he came nearer and walked over to the little table
that played the part of dressing-table under a wavy mirror. "Oh, yes.
I am quite well. I don't think the doctors have much sense. I'm sure I
hadn't anything like a nervous breakdown. I was just tired out."

Jasper drew back the hand whose touch she had eluded, and nervously,
his long supple fingers a little unsteady, lighted a cigarette. At
that moment he did not look like a spider, but like a lover who has
been hurt. Betty could see in the mirror a distorted image of his
dejected gracefulness, but, entirely unmoved, she put up her thin,
brown hands and began to take the pins out of her hair.

"I like your Jane experiment," she said. "Let me know how you get on
with it and whether I can help. I shall have to turn in now. I'm dead
beat. Yarnall took me halfway up the mountain and back. Good-night."

Jasper looked at her, then pressed his lips into a straight line and
went to the door which led from her bedroom to his. He said "Good-night"
in a low tone, glanced at her over his shoulder, and went out.

Betty waited an instant, then slowly unlaced her heavy, knee-high
boots, took them off, and began to walk to and fro on stocking feet,
hands clasped behind her back. With her curly hair all about her face
and shoulders, she looked like a wild, extravagantly naughty
school-girl, a girl in a wicked temper, a rebel against authority. In
fact, she was rejoicing that this horrible enforced visit to the West
was all but over. One week more! She was almost at an end of her
endurance. How she hated the beautiful white night outside, those
mountain peaks, the sound of that rapid river, the stillness of
sagebrush, the voice of the big pines! And she hated the log room, its
simplicity now all littered with incongruous luxuries; ivory toilet
articles on the board table; lacy, beribboned underwear thrown over the
rustic chair; silver-framed photographs; an exquisite, gold-mounted
crystal vase full of wild flowers on the pine shelf; satin bedroom
slippers on the clay hearth; a gorgeous, fur-trimmed dressing-gown over
the foot of her narrow, iron cot; all the ridiculous necessities that
Betty's maid had put into her trunk. Yes, Betty hated it all because it
was what she had always thirsted for. What a malevolent trick of fate
that Jasper should have brought her to Wyoming, that the doctor had
insisted upon at least a month of just this life. "Take her West," he
had said, and Betty, lying limp and white in her bed, her small head
sunk into the pillow, had jerked from head to foot. "Take her West. I
know a ranch in Wyoming--Yarnall's. She'll get outdoor exercise, tonic
air, sound sleep, release from all these pestiferous details, like a
cloud of flies, that sting women's nerves to death. Don't pay any
attention to whether she likes it or not. Let her behave like a naughty
child, let her kick and scream and cry. Pick her up, Morena, and carry
her off. Do you hear? Don't let her make you change your plans." The
doctor had seen his patient's convulsive jerk. "Pack her up. Make your
reservations and go straight to 'Buck' Yarnall's ranch, Lazy-Y,--that's
his brand, I believe,--Middle Fork, Wyoming. I'll send him a wire. He
knows me. She needs all outdoors to run about in. She needs joggin'
around all day through the sagebrush on a cow-pony in that sun; she
needs the smell of a camp-fire--Gad! wish I could get back to it
myself."

Betty, having heard this out, began to laugh. She laughed till they
gave her something to keep her quiet. But, except for that laughter,
she had made no protest whatever; she did not "kick and scream and
cry." In fact, though she looked like a child, she was not at all
inclined to such exhibitions. This doctor had not seen her through her
recent ordeal. Two years before her breakdown, Jasper had been
terribly hurt in an automobile accident, and Betty had come to him at
the hospital, had waited, as white as a snow-image, for the result of
the examination. They had told her emphatically that there was no
hope. Jasper Morena could not live for more than a few days. She must
not allow herself to hope. He might or might not regain consciousness.
If he did, it would be for a few minutes before the end. Betty had
listened with her white, rigid, child face, had thanked them, had gone
home. There in her exquisite, little sitting room above Central Park,
she had sat at her desk and written a few lines on square, gray note
paper.

  "Jasper is dying," she had written. "By the time you get this, he
  will be dead. If you can forgive me for having failed in courage
  last year, come back. What I have been to you before I will be
  again, only, this time we can love openly. Come back."

Then she had dropped her head on the desk and cried. Afterwards she
had addressed her letter to a certain Prosper Gael. The letter went to
Wyoming. When it reached its destination, it was taken over a
mountain-range by a patient Chinaman.

Three days later Jasper regained consciousness and began slowly to
return to health. He had the tenacious vitality of his race, and, in
his own spirit, an iron will to live. He kept Betty beside his bed for
hours, and held her cold hand in his long, sensitive one, and he
stared at her under his lashes till she thought she must go mad. But
she did not. She nursed him through an interminable convalescence. She
received Prosper, very early in this convalescence, by her husband's
bed, and Jasper had murmured gratitude for the emotion that threatened
to overwhelm his friend. It was not till some time--an extraordinarily
long time--after Morena's complete recovery that she had snapped like
a broken icicle. And then, forsooth, they had sent her to Wyoming to
get back her health!

Having paced away some of her restlessness, Betty stopped by the cabin
window and pushed aside one of the short, calico curtains. She looked
out on the court. A tall woman had just pulled up a bucket of water
from the well and had emptied it into a pitcher. She finished, let the
bucket drop with a whirr and a clash, and raised her head. For a
second she and Jasper Morena's wife looked at each other. Betty
nodded, smiled, and drew the curtain close.



CHAPTER III

JANE


After that night, there began a sort of persecution, skillfully
conducted by Jasper and Betty, against the ferocity of Jane. It was a
persecution impossible to imagine in any other setting, even the social
simplicity of Lazy-Y found itself a trifle amused. For Jasper, the
stately Jewish figure, would carry pails of water for Jane from the
well to the kitchen, would help her in the vegetable garden, and to
straighten out her recalcitrant stove-pipe; Betty would put on an apron
a mile too large, to wash dishes and shell peas. She would sit on the
kitchen table swinging her long, childlike legs and chatter amiably.
Jasper talked, too, to the virago, talked delightfully, about horses
and dogs,--he had a charming gift of humorous observation,--talked
about hunting and big-game shooting, about trapping, about travel, and,
at last, about plays. Undoubtedly Jane listened. Sometimes she laughed.
Once in a while she ejaculated, musically, "Well!" Occasionally she
swore.

One afternoon he met her riding home from an errand to a neighboring
ranch, and, turning his horse, rode with her. In worn corduroy skirt,
flannel shirt, and gray sombrero, she looked like a handsome, haggard
boy, and, that afternoon, there was a certain unusual wistfulness in
her eyes, and her mouth had relaxed a little from its bitterness.
Perhaps it was the beauty of a clear, keen summer day; without doubt,
also, she was touched by the courteous pleasure of his greeting and by
his giving up his ride in order to accompany her. She even unbent from
her silence and, for the first time, really talked to him. And she
spoke, too, in a new manner, using her beautiful voice with beautiful
carefulness. It was like a master-musician who, after a long illness,
takes up his beloved instrument and tentatively tests his shaken
powers. Jasper had much ado to keep his surprise to himself, for the
rough ranch girl could speak pure enough English if she would.

"You and your wife are leaving soon?" she asked him, and, when he
nodded, she gave a sigh. "I'll be missing you," she said, throwing
away her _brusquerie_ like a rag with which she was done. "You've been
company for me. You've made use of lots of patience and courage, but I
have really liked it. I've not got the ways of being sociable and I
don't know that I want ever to get them. I am not seeking for friends.
There isn't another person on the ranch that would dare talk to me as
you and Mrs. Morena have talked. They don't know anything about me
here and I don't mean that they should know." She paused, then gave
way to an impulse of confidence. "One of the boys asked me to marry
him. He came and shouted it through the window and I caught him with a
pan of water." She sighed. "I don't know rightly if he meant it for a
joke or not, but the laugh wasn't on me."

Jasper controlled his laughter, then saw the dry humor of her eyes and
lips and let out his mirth.

"Why, sir," said Jane, "you'd be surprised at the foolishness of men.
Sometimes it seems that, just for pure contrariness, they want to
marry her that least wants them about. The day I came tramping into
this valley, I stopped for food at the ranch of an old bachelor down
yonder at the ford. And he invited me to be his wife while I was
drinking a glass of water from his well. He told me how much money he
had and said he'd start my stove for me winter mornings. There's a
good husband! And he was sure kind to me even when I told him 'no.' 'T
was that same evening that the boy from Lazy-Y rode in and claimed me
for a cook. Mr. Yarnall is a trusting man. He took me and didn't ask
any questions. I told him I was 'Jane' and that I wasn't planning to
let him know more. He hasn't asked me another question since. He's a
gentleman, I figure it, and he's kind of quiet himself about what he
was before he came to this country. He's a man of fifty and he has
lots back of him only he's taken a fresh start." She sighed, "Folks
like you and Betty seem awfully open-hearted. It's living in cities, I
suppose, where every one knows every one else so well."

This astonishing picture of the candid simplicity of New York's social
life absorbed Jasper's attention for some time.

"Wouldn't you like to live in a city, Jane?"

She laughed her short, boyish "Hoo!" "It isn't what I would like, Mr.
Morena," she said. "Why, I'd like to see the world. I would like to be
that fellow who was condemned to wander all over the earth and never
to die. He was a Jew, too, wasn't he?"

Jasper flushed. People were not in the habit of making direct
reference to his nationality, and, being an Israelite who had early
cut himself off with dislike from his own people and cultivated the
society of Gentiles, "a man without a country," he was acutely
sensitive.

"The Wandering Jew? Yes. Where did you ever hear of him?"

"I read his story," she answered absently; "an awful long one, but
interesting, about lots of people, by Eugène Sue."

Jasper's lips fell apart and he stared. She had spoken unwittingly and
he could see that she was not thinking of him, that she was far away,
staring beyond her horse's head into the broad, sunset-brightened
west.

"Where were you schooled?" he asked her.

He had brought her back and her face stiffened. She gave him a
startled, almost angry look, dug her heels into her horse and broke
into a gallop; nor could he win from her another word.

A few days before he left, he took Yarnall into his confidence. At
first the rancher would do nothing but laugh. "Jane on the boards!
That's a notion!" followed by explosion after explosion of mirth. The
Jew waited, patient, pliant, smiling, and then enumerated his reasons.
He talked to Yarnall for an hour, at the end of which time, Yarnall,
his eyes still twinkling, sent for Jane.

The two men sat in a log-walled room, known as the office. Yarnall's
big desk crowded a stove. There was no other furniture except shelves
and a box seat beneath a window. Jasper sat on the end of the desk,
swinging his slim, well-booted leg; Yarnall, stocky, gray, shabby,
weather-beaten, leaned back in his wicker chair. The door which Jasper
faced was directly behind Yarnall. When Jane opened it, he turned.

The girl looked grim and a little pale. She was evidently frightened.
This summons from Yarnall suggested dismissal or reproof. She came
around to face him and stood there, looking fierce and graceful, her
head lowered, staring gloomily at him from under her brows. To Jasper
she gave not so much as a glance.

"Well, Jane, I fancy I shall have to let you go," said Yarnall. He was
not above tormenting the wild-cat. Female ferocity always excites the
teasing boy in a man. "You're getting too ambitious for us. You see,
once these rich New Yorkers take you up, you're no more use to a plain
ranchman like me."

"What are you drivin' at?" asked Jane.

"Do let me explain it to her, Yarnall!" Jasper snapped his elastic
fingers, color had risen to his face, and he looked annoyed. "Miss
Jane, won't you sit down?"

Jane turned her deep, indignant eyes upon him. "Are you and your wife
the rich New Yorkers he says are takin' me up?"

"No, no. He's joking. This is a serious business. It's of vital
importance to me and it ought to be of vital importance to you. Please
do sit down!"

Jane took a long step back and sat down on the settle under the long,
horizontal window. She folded her hands on her knee and looked up at
Morena. She had transferred her attention completely to him. Yarnall
watched them. He was an Englishman of much experience and this picture
of the skillful, cultivated, handsome Jew angling deftly for the
gaunt, young savage diverted him hugely. He screwed up his eyes to get
a picture of it.

"I am a producer and manager of plays," said Jasper, "which means that
I take a play written by a more gifted man and arrange it for the
stage. Have you ever seen a play?"

"No, sir."

"But you have some idea what they are?"

"Yes. I have read them. Shakespeare wrote quite a lot of that kind of
talking pieces, didn't he?"

Jasper was less surprised than Yarnall. "At present I have a play on
my hands which is a very brilliant and promising piece of work, but
which I have been unable to produce for lack of a heroine. There isn't
an actress on my list that can take the part and do it justice. Now,
Miss Jane, I believe that with some training you could take it to
perfection. My wife and I would like to take you to New York, paying
all your expenses, of course, and put you into training at once. It
would take a year's hard work to get you fitted for the part. Then
next fall we could bring out the play and I think I can promise you
success and fame and wealth in no small measure. I don't know you very
well; I don't know whether or not you are ambitious; but I do know
that every woman must love beauty and ease and knowledge and
experience. For what else," he smiled, "did Eve eat the apple? All
these you can have if you will let us take you East. Of course, if I
find you cannot take this part, I will hold myself accountable for
you. I will not let you be a loser in any way by the experiment. With
your beauty"--Yarnall fell back in his chair and gaped from the
excited speaker to the silent listener--"and your extraordinary voice,
and your magnetism, you must be especially fitted for a career of some
kind. I promise to find you your career."

Every drop of blood had fallen from Jane's face and the rough hands on
her knee were locked together.

"What part," she asked in a quick, low voice, "is this that you think
I could learn to do?"

Jasper changed his position. He came nearer and spoke more rapidly.
"It is the story of a girl, a savage girl, whom a man takes up and
trains. He trains her as a professional might train a lioness. It is a
passion with him to break spirits and shape them to his will. He
trains her with coaxing and lashing--not actual lashing, though I
believe in one place he does come near to beating her--and he gets her
broken so that she lies at his feet and eats out of his hand. All
this, you understand, while he's an exile from his own world. Then, in
the second act,--that is the second part of the play,--he takes his
tamed lioness back to civilization. They go to London and there the
woman does his training infinite credit. She is extraordinarily
beautiful; she is civilized, successful, courted. Her eccentricities
only add to her charm. So it goes on very prettily for a while. Then
he makes a mistake. He blunders very badly. He gives his lioness cause
for jealousy and--to come to the point--she flies at his throat. You
see, he hadn't really tamed her. She was under the skin, a lioness, a
beast, at heart."

Jasper had been absorbed in the plot and had not noticed Jane, but
Yarnall for several minutes had been leaning forward, his hands
tightened on the arms of his chair. The instant Jasper stopped he held
up his hand.

"Quiet, Jane," he said softly as a man might speak to a plunging
horse. "Steady!"

Jane got to her feet. She was very white. She put up her hand and
pressed the back of it against her forehead and from under this hand
she looked at the two men with eyes of such astonished pain and beauty
as they could never forget.

"Yes," she said presently; "that's something I _could_ do."

At once Jasper hastened to retrieve his error. "Oh, I'm so sorry. I've
been horribly clumsy. Do forgive me. Do let me explain. I didn't mean
that you were a wild--"

She let the hand fall and held it up to stop his speech. "I'm not
taking offense, Mr. Morena," she said. "You say you arrange plays and
that you have been seeking for some one to play that girl, that
lioness-girl who wasn't rightly tamed, though the man had done his
worst to break her?"

Jasper nodded with a puzzled, anxious air. For all his skill and
subtlety, he could not interpret her tone.

"And you think I'm beautiful?"

"My dear child, I know you are," said he. "You try to disguise it. And
I know that in many other ways you disguise yourself. I think you make
a great mistake. Your work is hard and rough--"

She smiled. "I'm not complaining of my work," she said. "It's rough
and so am I. Oh, yes, I'm real, true rough. I was born to roughness
and raised to it. I'm not anything I don't seem, Mr. Morena. I've had
rough travel all my days, only--only--" She sat down again, twisting
her hands painfully in her apron and bending her face down from the
sight of the two men. The line of her long, bent neck was a beautiful
thing to see. She spoke low and rapidly, holding down her emotion,
though she could not control all the exquisite modulations of her
voice. "There's only one part of my travel that I want to forget and
that's the one smooth bit. And it's hateful to me and you've been
reminding me of it. I must tell you now that I'd rather be burnt by a
white-hot iron"--here she gave him a wide and horrified look like a
child who speaks of some dreadful remembered punishment--"than do that
thing you've asked of me. I hate everything you've been telling me
about. I don't want to be beautiful. I don't want any one to be
telling me such things. I don't want to be any different from what I
am now. This is my real self. It is. I hate beauty. I hate it. I'm not
good enough to love it. Beauty and learning and--and music--"

Her head had been bending lower and lower, her voice rocking under its
weight of restrained anguish. On the word "music" she dropped her head
to her knees and was silent.

"I can't talk no more," she said, after a moment, and she stood up and
ran out of the room.

"I'll be d----d!" swore Yarnall.

But Jasper stood, his face pale, smiting one hand into the other.

"I feel that I, at least, deserve to be," he said.



CHAPTER IV

FLIGHT


There was a girl named Joan who followed Pierre Landis because he laid
his hand upon her wrist, and there was another Joan who fled up the
mountain-side at sight of him, as though the fire that had once
touched her shoulder had burnt its way into her heart. Then there was
a third Joan, a Joan astray. It was this Joan that had come to Lazy-Y
Ranch and had cooked for and bullied "the outfit"--a Joan of set face
and bitter tongue, whose two years' lonely battle with life had
twisted her youth out of its first comely straightness. In Joan's
brief code of moral law there was one sin--the dealings of a married
woman with another man. When Pierre's living and seeking face looked
up toward her where she stood on the mountain-side above Prosper's
cabin, she felt for the first time that she had sinned, and so, for
the first time, she was a sinner, and the inevitable agony of soul
began.

She fled and hid till dark, then prowled about till she knew that Wen
Ho was alone in the house. She came like a spirit from hell and
questioned him.

"What did the men ask? What did you tell them?"

The men had asked for a lady. He had told them, as Prosper had once
instructed him, that no lady was living there, that the man had just
gone. They had been satisfied and had left. But Joan was still in
terror. Pierre must never find her now. She had accepted the lie of a
stranger, had left her husband for dead, had made no effort to
ascertain the truth, and had "dealings with another man." Joan sat in
judgment and condemned herself to loneliness. She turned herself out
from all her old life as though she had been Cain, and, following Wen
Ho's trail over the mountains, had gone into strange lands to work for
her bread. She called herself "Jane" and her ferocity was the armor
for her beauty. Always she worked in fear of Pierre's arrival, and, as
soon as she had saved money enough for further traveling, she moved
on. She worked by preference on lonely ranches as cook or harvester,
and it was after two years of such life that she had drifted into
Yarnall's kitchen. She was then greatly changed, as a woman who works
to the full stretch of her strength, who suffers privation and
hardship, who gives no thought to her own youth and beauty, and who,
moreover, suffers under a scourge of self-scorn and fear, is bound to
change. Of all the people that had seen her after months of such
living, Jasper Morena was the only one to find her beautiful. But with
his sensitive observation he had seen through the shell to the
sweetness underneath; for surely Joan was sweet, a Friday's child. It
was good that Jasper had torn the skin from her wound, good that he
had broken up the hardness of her heart. She left him and Yarnall that
afternoon and went away to her cabin in the trees and lay face down on
the bare boards of the floor and was young again. Waves of longing for
love and beauty and adventure flooded her. For a while she had been
very beautiful and had been very passionately loved; for a while she
had been surrounded by beauty and taught its meanings. She had fled
from it all. She hated it, yes, but she longed for it with every fiber
of her being. The last two years were scalded away. She was Joan, who
had loved Pierre; Joan, whom Prosper Gael had loved.

Toward morning, dawn feeling with white fingers through the pine
boughs into her uncurtained window, Joan stopped her weeping and stood
up. She was very tired and felt as though all the hardness and
strength had been beaten from her heart. She opened her door and
looked at pale stars and a still, slowly brightening world. In a
hollow below the pines a stream ran and poured its hoarse, hurrying
voice into the silence. Joan bent under the branches, undressed and
bathed. The icy water shocked life back into her spirit. She began to
tingle and to glow. In spite of herself she felt happier. She had been
stony for so long, neither sorrowful nor glad; now, after the night of
sharp pain, she was aware of the gladness of morning. She came up from
her plunge, glowing and beautiful, with loose, wet hair.

In the corral the men were watering their teams; above them on the
edge of a mesa, against the rosy sky, the other ponies, out all night
on the range, were trooping, driven by a cowboy who darted here and
there on his nimble pony, giving shrill cries. In the clear air every
syllable was sharp to the ear, every tint and line sharp to the eye.
It was beautiful, very beautiful, and it was near and dear to her,
native to her--this loveliness of quick action, of inarticulate
calling to dumb beasts, of work, of simple, often repeated beginnings.
She was glad that she was working with her hands. She twisted up her
hair and went over to the ranch-house where she began soberly and
thankfully to light her kitchen fire.

It was after breakfast, two or three mornings later, when a stranger
on a chestnut pony rode into Yarnall's ranch, tied his pony to a tree,
and, striding across the cobbled square, came to knock at the office
door. At the moment, Yarnall, on the other side of the house, was
saying farewell to his guests, and helping the men pile the baggage
into the two-seated wagon, so this other visitor, getting no answer to
his knock, turned and looked about the court. He did not, it was
evident, mind waiting. It was to be surmised from the look of him that
he was used to it; patient and not to be discouraged by delay. He was
a very brown young man of quite astounding beauty and his face had
been schooled to keenness and restraint. He was well-dressed, very
clean, an outdoor man, a rider, but a man who had, in some sense,
arrived. He had the inimitable stamp of achievement. He had been hard
driven--the look of that, too, was there; he had been driven to more
than ordinary effort. One of the men, seeing him, walked over and
spoke respectfully.

"You want to see Mr. Yarnall?"

"Yes, sir." The man's eyes were searching the ranch-house wistfully
again. "I would like to see him if I can. I have some questions to ask
him."

"He's round the house, gettin' rid of a bunch of dudes. Some job. Both
hands tied up. Will you go round or wait?"

The stranger dropped to his heels, squatted, and rolled a cigarette.

"I'll wait," he murmured. "You can let him know when the dudes make
their get-away. He'll get round to me. My name? It won't mean anything
to him--Pierre Landis."

He did not go round the house, and Yarnall, being very busy and
perturbed for some time after the departure of his guests, did not get
round to him till nearly noon. By that time he was sitting on the
step, his back against the wall, still smoking and still wistfully
observant of his surroundings.

He stood up when Yarnall came.

"Sorry," said the latter; "that fool boy didn't tell me you were here
till ten minutes ago. Come in. You'll stop for dinner--if we get any
to-day."

"Thank you," said Pierre.

He came in and talked and stayed for dinner. Yarnall was used to the
Western fashion of doing business. He knew that it would be a long
time before the young man would come to his point. But the Englishman
was in no hurry, for he liked his visitor and found his talk diverting
enough. Landis had been in Alaska--a lumber camp. He had risen to be
foreman and now he was off for a vacation, but had to go back soon. He
had been everywhere. It seemed to Yarnall that the stranger had
visited every ranch in the Rocky Mountain belt.

After dinner, strolling beside his host toward his horse, Pierre
spoke, and before Yarnall had heard a word he knew that the long delay
had been caused by suppressed emotion. Pierre, when he did ask his
question, was white to the lips.

"I've taken a lot of your time," he said slowly. "I came to ask you
about someone. I heard that you had a woman on your ranch, a woman who
came in and didn't give you any history. I want to see her if I may."
He was actually fighting an unevenness of breath, and Yarnall,
unemotional as he was, was gripped with sympathetic suspense. "I
want," stammered the young man, "to know her name."

Yarnall swore. "Her name, as she gave it," said he, "is Jane. But, my
boy, you can't see her. She left this morning."

Pierre raised a white, tense face.

"Left?" He turned as if he would run after her.

"Yes, sir. These people I've had here took her away with them. That
is, they've been urging her to go, but she'd refused. Then, suddenly,
this morning, just as they were putting the trunks in, up came Jane,
white as chalk, asking them to take her with them, said she must go.
Well, sir, they rigged her up with some traveling clothes and drove
away with her. That was six hours ago. By now they're in the train,
bound for New York."

Yarnall's guest looked at him without speaking, and Yarnall nervously
went on, "She's been with us about six months, Landis, and I don't
know anything about her. She was tall, gray eyes, black hair, slow
speaking, and with the kind of voice you'd be apt to notice ... yes, I
see she's the girl you've been looking for. I can give you the New
York people's address, but first, for Jane's sake,--I'm a pretty good
friend of hers, I think a lot of Jane,--I'll have to know what you
want with her--what she is to you."

Pierre's pupils widened till they all but swallowed the smoke-colored
iris.

"She is my wife," he said.

Again Yarnall swore. But he lit a cigarette and took his time about
answering. "Well, sir," he said, "you must excuse me, but--it was
because she saw you, I take it, that Jane cut off this morning. That's
clear. Now, I don't know what would make a girl run off from her
husband. She might have any number of reasons, bad and good, but it
seems to me that it would be a pretty strong one that would make a
girl run off, with a look such as she wore, from a man like you. Did
you treat her well, Landis?"

It had the effect of a lash taken by a penitent. The man shrank a
little, whitened, endured. "I can't tell you how I treated her," he
said in a dangerous voice; "it don't bear tellin'. But--I want her
back. I was--I was--that was three years ago; I am more like a man
now. You'll give me the people's name, their address?..."

Pierre laid his hand on the older man's wrist and gave it a queer
urgent and beseeching shake.

After a moment of searching scrutiny, Yarnall bent his head.

"Very well," said he shortly; "come in."



CHAPTER V

LUCK'S PLAY


A young man who had just landed in New York from one of the big,
adventurous transatlantic liners hailed a taxicab and was quickly
drawn away into the glitter and gayety of a bright winter morning. He
sat forward eagerly, looking at everything with the air of a lad on a
holiday. He was a young man, but he was not in his first youth, and
under a heavy sunburn he was pale and a trifle worn, but there was
about him a look of being hard and very much alive. Under a broad brow
there were hawk eyes of greenish gray, a delicate beak, a mouth and
chin of cleverness. It was an interesting face and looked as though it
had seen interesting things. In fact, Prosper Gael had just returned
from his three months of ambulance service in France, and it was the
extraordinary success of his play, "The Leopardess," that had chiefly
brought him back.

"Dear Luck," his manager had written, using the college title which
Prosper's name and unvarying good fortune suggested, "you'd better
come back and gather up some of these laurels that are smothering us
all. The time is very favorable for the disappearance of your
anonymity. I, for one, find it more and more difficult to keep the
secret. So far, not even your star knows it. She calls you 'Mr. Luck'
... to that extent I have been indiscreet...."

Prosper had another letter in his pocket, a letter that he had re-read
many times, always with an uneasy conflict of emotions. He was in a
sort of hot-cold humor over it, in a fever-fit that had a way of
turning into lassitude. He postponed analysis indefinitely. Meanwhile
his eyes searched the bright, cold city, its crowds, its traffics, its
windows--most of all, its placards, and, not far to seek, there were
the posters of "The Leopardess." He leaned out to study one of them; a
tall, wild-eyed woman crouched to spring upon a man who stared at her
in fear. Prosper dropped back with a gleaming smile of amused
excitement. "They've made it look like cheap melodrama," he said to
himself; "and yet it's a good thing, the best thing I've ever done.
Yet they will vulgarize the whole idea with their infernal notions of
'what the public wants.' Morena is as bad as the rest of them!" He
expressed disgust, but underneath he was aglow with pride and
interest. "There's a performance to-night. I'll dine with Jasper. I'll
have to see Betty first...." His thoughts trailed off and he fell into
that hot-cold confusion, that uncomfortable scorching fog of mood. The
cab turned into Fifth Avenue and became a scale in the creeping
serpent of vehicles that glided, paused, and glided again past the
thronged pavements. Prosper contrasted everything with the grim
courage and high-pitched tragedy of France. He could not but wonder at
the detached frivolity of these money-spenders, these spinners in the
sun. How soon would the shadow fall upon them too and with what change
of countenance would they look up! To him the joyousness seemed almost
childish and yet he bathed his fagged spirit in it. How high the white
clouds sailed, how blue was the midwinter sky! How the buildings
towered, how quickly the people stepped! Here were the pretty painted
faces, the absurd silk stockings, the tripping, exquisitely booted
feet, the swinging walk, the tall, up-springing bodies of the women he
remembered. He regarded them with impersonal delight, untinged by any
of his usual cynicism.

It was late afternoon when Prosper, obedient to a telephone call from
Betty, presented himself at the door of Morena's house, just east of
the Park, off Fifth Avenue; a very beautiful house where the wealthy
Jew had indulged his passion for exquisite things. Prosper entered its
rich dimness with a feeling of oppression--that unanalyzed mood of hot
and cold feeling intensified to an almost unbearable degree. In the
large carved and curtained drawing-room he waited for Betty. The
tea-things were prepared; there would be no further need of service
until Betty should ring. Everything was arranged for an uninterrupted
tête-à-tête. Prosper stood near an ebony table, his shoulder
brushed by tall, red roses, and felt his nerves tighten and his pulses
hasten in their beat. "The tall child ... the tall child ..." he had
called her by that name so often and never without a swift and
stabbing memory of Joan, and of Joan's laughter which he had silenced.

He took out the letter he had lately received from Betty and re-read
it and, as he read, a deep line cut between his eyes. "You say you
will not come back unless I can give you more than I have ever given
you in the past. You say you intend to cut yourself free, that I have
failed you too often, that you are starved on hope. I'm not going to
ask much more patience of you. I failed you that first time because I
lost courage; the second time, fate failed us. How could I think that
Jasper would get well when the doctors told me that I mustn't allow
myself even a shadow of hope! Now, I think that Jasper, himself, is
preparing my release. This all sounds like something in a book. That's
because you've hurt me. I feel frozen up. I couldn't bear it if now,
just when the door is opening, you failed me. Prosper, you are my
lover for always, aren't you? I have to believe that to go on living.
You are the one thing in my wretched life that hasn't lost its value.
Now, read this carefully; I am going to be brutal. Jasper has been
unfaithful to me. I know it. I have sufficient evidence to prove it in
a law court and I shall not hesitate to get a divorce. Tear this up,
please. Now, of all times, we must be extraordinarily careful. There
has never been a whisper against us and there mustn't be. Jasper must
not suspect. A counter-suit would ruin my life. I must talk it over
with you. I'll see you once alone--just once--before I leave Jasper
and begin the suit. We must have patience for just this last bit. It
will seem very long...."

Prosper folded the letter. He was conscious of a faint feeling of
sickness, of fear. Then he heard Betty's step across the marble
pavement of the hall. She parted the heavy curtains, drew them
together behind her, and stood, pale with joy, opening and shutting
her big eyes. Then she came to meet him, held him back, listening for
any sound that might predict interruption, and gave herself to his
arms. She was no longer pale when he let her go. She went a few steps
away and stood with her hands before her face, then she went to sit by
the tea-table. They were both flushed. Betty's eyes were shining under
their fluttering lids. Prosper rejoiced in his own emotion. The mental
fog had lifted and the feeling of faintness was gone.

"You've decided not to break away altogether, then?" she asked, giving
him a quick glance.

He shook his head. "Not if what you have written me is true. I've had
such letters from you before and I've grown very suspicious. Are you
sure this time?" He laid stress upon his bitterness. It was his one
weapon against her and he had been sharpening it with a vague purpose.

"Oh," said Betty, speaking low and furtively, "Jasper is fairly
caught. I have a reliable witness in the girl's maid. There is no
doubt of his guilt, Prosper, none. Everyone is talking of it. He has
been perfectly open in his attentions."

Every minute Betty looked younger and prettier, more provoking. Her
child-mouth with its clever smile was bright as though his kiss had
painted it.

"Who is the girl?" asked Prosper. He was deeply flushed. Being capable
of simultaneous points of view, he had been stung by that cool phrase
of Betty's concerning "Jasper's guilt."

"I'll tell you in a moment. Did you destroy my letter?"

He shook his head.

"Oh, Prosper, please!"

He took it out, tore it up, and walking over to the open fire, burned
the papers. He came back to his tea. "Well, Betty?"

"The girl," said Betty, "is the star in your play, 'The Leopardess,'
the girl that Jasper picked up two Septembers ago out West. He has
written to you about her. She was a cook, if you please, a hideous
creature, but Jasper saw at once what there was in her. She has made
the play. You'll have to acknowledge that yourself when you see her.
She is wonderful. And, partly owing to the trouble I've taken with
her, the girl is beautiful. One wouldn't have thought it possible. She
is not charming to me, she's not in the least subtle. It's odd that
she should have had such an effect upon Jasper, of all men...."

Prosper sipped his tea and listened. He looked at her and was bitterly
conscious that the excitement which had pleased and surprised him was
dying out. That faintness again assailed his spirit. He was feeling
stifled, ashamed, bored. Yes, that was it, bored. That life of service
and battle-danger in France had changed him more than he had realized
till now. He was more simple, more serious, more moral, in a certain
sense. He was like a man who, having denied the existence of Apollyon,
has come upon him face to face and has been burnt by his breath. Such
a man is inevitably moral. All this long, intricate intrigue with the
wife of a man who called him friend, seemed to him horribly unworthy.
If Betty had been a great lover, if she had not lost courage at the
eleventh hour and left him to face that terrible winter in Wyoming,
then their passion might have justified itself: but now there was a
staleness in their relationship. He hated the thought of the long
divorce proceedings, of the decent interval, of the wedding, of the
married life. He had never really wanted that. And now, in the ebb of
his passion, how could he force himself to take her when he had
learned to live more keenly, more completely without her! He would
have to take her, to spend his days and nights with her, to travel
with her. She would want to visit that gay, little forsaken house in a
Wyoming cañon. With vividness he saw a girl lying prone on a black
rug before a dancing fire, her hair all fallen about her face, her
secret eyes lifted impatiently from the book--"You had ought to be
writin', Mr. Gael...."

"What are you smiling for, Prosper?" Betty asked sharply.

He looked up, startled and confused. "Sorry. I've got into beastly
absent-minded habits. Is that Morena?"

Jasper opened the curtains and came in, greeting Prosper in his
stately, charming fashion. "To-night," he said, "we'll show you a
leopardess worth looking at, won't we, Betty? But first you must tell
us about your own experience. You look wonderfully fit, doesn't he,
Betty? And changed. They say the life out there stamps a man, and
they're right. It's taken some of that winged-demon look out of your
face, Prosper, put some soul into it."

He talked and Betty laughed, showing not the slightest evidence of
effort, though the soul Jasper had seen in Prosper's face felt shriveled
for her treachery. Prosper wondered if she could be right in her surmise
about Jasper. The Jew was infinitely capable of dissimulation, but there
was a clarity of look and smile that filled Prosper with doubts. And the
eyes he turned upon his wife were quite as apparently as ever the eyes
of a disappointed man.

So absorbed was he in such observations that he found it intolerably
difficult to fix his attention on the talk. Jasper's fluency seemed to
ripple senselessly about his brain.

"You must consent to one thing, Luck: you must allow me to choose my
own time for announcing the authorship." This found its way partially
to his intelligence and he gave careless assent.

"Oh, whenever you like, as soon as I've had my fun."

"Of course--" Morena was thoughtful for an instant. "How would it do
for me to leave it with Melton, the business manager? Eh? Suppose I
phone him and talk it over a little. He'll want to wait till toward
the end of the run. He's keen; has just the commercial sense of the
born advertiser. Let him choose the moment. Then we can feel sure of
getting the right one. Will you, Luck?"

"If you advise it. You ought to know."

"You see, I'm so confoundedly busy, so many irons in the fire, I might
just miss the psychic moment. I think Melton's the man--I'll call him
up to-night before we leave. Then I won't forget it and I'll be sure
to catch him too."

Again Prosper vaguely agreed and promptly forgot that he had given his
permission. Later, there came an agonizing moment when he would have
given the world to recall his absent, careless words.

With an effort Prosper kept his poise, with an effort, always
increasing, he talked to Jasper while Betty dressed, and kept up his
end at dinner. The muscles round his mouth felt tight and drawn, his
throat was dry. He was glad when they got into the limousine and
started theaterwards. It had been a long time since he had been put
through this particular ordeal and he was out of practice.

They reached the house just as the lights went out. Prosper was amused
at his own intense excitement. "I didn't know I was still such a kid,"
he said, flashing a smile, the first spontaneous one he had given her,
upon Betty who sat beside him in the proscenium box.

The success of his novel had had no such effect upon him as this. It
was entrancing to think that in a few moments the words he had written
would come to him clothed in various voices, the people his brain had
pictured would move before him in flesh and blood, doing what he had
ordained that they should do. When the curtain rose, he had forgotten
his personal problem, had forgotten Betty. He leaned forward, his
elbows on his knees, his chin in his hand.

The scene was of a tropical island, palms, a strip of turquoise sea. A
girl pushed aside the great fronds of ferns and stepped down to the
beach. At her appearance the audience broke into applause. She was a
tall girl, her stained legs and arms bare below her ragged dress, her
black hair hung wild and free about her face and neck. As the daughter
of a native mother and an English father, her beauty had been made to
seem both Saxon and savage. Stained and painted, darkened below the
great gray eyes, Joan with her brows and her classic chin and throat,
Joan with her secret, dangerous eyes and lithe, long body, made an
arresting picture enough against the setting of vivid green and blue.
She moved slowly, deliberately, naturally, and stood, hands on hips,
to watch a ship sail into the turquoise harbor. It was not like
acting, she seemed really to look. She threw back her head and gave a
call. It was the name of her stage brother, but it came from her deep
chest and through her long column of a throat like music. Prosper
brought down his hands on the railing before him, half pushed himself
up, turned a blind look upon Betty, who laid a restraining hand upon
his arm.

He whispered a name, which Betty could not make out, then he sat down,
moistened his lips with his tongue, and sat through the entire first
act and neither moved nor spoke. As the curtain went down he stood up.

"I must go out," he said, and hesitated in the back of the box till
Jasper came over to him with an anxious question. Then he began to
stammer nervously. "Don't tell her, Jasper, don't tell her."

"Tell her what, man? Tell whom?" Jasper gave him a shake. "Don't you
like Jane? Isn't she wonderful?"

"Yes, yes, extraordinary!"

"Made for the part?"

"No." Prosper's face twisted into a smile. "No. The part came second,
she was there first. Morena, promise me you won't tell her who wrote
the play."

"Look here, Prosper, suppose you tell me what's wrong. Have you seen a
ghost?"

Prosper laughed; then, seeing Betty, her face a rigid question, he
struggled to lay hands upon his self-control.

"Something very astonishing has happened, Morena,--one of those
'things not dreamt of in a man's philosophy.' I can't tell you. Have
you arranged for me to meet Jane West?"

"After the show, yes, at supper."

"But not as the author?"

"No. I was waiting for you to tell her that."

"She mustn't know. And--and I can't meet her that way, at supper."
Again he made visible efforts at self-control. "Don't tell Betty what
a fool I am. I'll go out a minute. I'll be all right."

Betty was coming toward them. He gave a painful smile and fled.



CHAPTER VI

JOAN AND PROSPER


The situation was no doubt an extraordinary, an unimaginable one, but
it had to be met. When he returned to the box, Prosper had himself in
hand, and, sitting a little farther back than before, he watched the
second act with a sufficiency of outward calm.

This part was the most severe test of his composure, for he had
fashioned it almost in detail upon that idyll in a cañon. There were
even speeches of Joan's that he had used. To sit here and watch Joan
herself go through it, while he looked on, was an exciting form of
torment. The setting was different, tropical instead of Northern, and
the half-native heroine was more passionate, more emotional, more
animal than Joan. Nevertheless, the drama was a repetition. As Prosper
had laid his trap for Joan, silently, subtly undermining her whole
mental structure, using her loneliness, playing upon the artist soul
of her, so did this Englishman lay his trap for Zona. He was more
cruel than Prosper, rougher, necessarily more dramatic, but there was
all the essence of the original drama, the ensnarement of a simple,
direct mind by a complex and skillful one. Joan's surrender, Prosper's
victory, were there. He wondered how Joan could act it, play the part
in cold blood. Now he was condemned to live in his own imagination
through Joan's tragedy. There was that first pitifulness of a tamed
and broken spirit; then later, in London, the agony of loneliness, of
separation, of gradual awakening to the change in her master's heart.
Prosper had written the words, but it was Joan who, with her voice,
the music of memory-shaken heart-strings, made the words alive and
meaningful. Others in the audience might wonder over the girl's
ability to interpret this unusual experience, to make it natural,
human, inevitable. But Prosper did not wonder. He knew that simply she
forced herself to re-live this most painful part of her own life and
to re-live it articulately. What, in God's name, had induced her to do
it? Necessity? Poverty? Morena? All at once he remembered Betty's
belief, that Joan was the manager's mistress--his wild, beautiful
Joan, Joan the creation of his own wizardry. This thought gave him
such pain that he whitened.

"Prosper," murmured Betty, "you must tell me what is wrong. Evidently
your nerves are in bad shape. Is the excitement too much for you?"

"I believe it is," he said, avoiding her eyes and moving stiff, white
lips; "I've never seen such acting. I--I--Morena says he'll let me see
her in her dressing-room afterwards. You see, Betty, I'm badly shaken
up."

"Ye-es," drawled Betty, and looked at him through narrowed lids, and
she sat with this look on her face and with her fingers locked, when
Prosper, not giving her further notice, followed Morena out.

"Jasper,"--Prosper held his friend back in the middle of a passage
that led to the dressing-rooms,--"I want very particularly to see Miss
West alone. I am very much moved by her performance and I want to tell
her so. Also, I want her to express herself naturally with no idea of
my being the author of the play and without the presence of her
manager. Will you just ask if she will see a friend of yours--alone?"

Jasper smiled his subtle smile. "Of course, Prosper. It's all as clear
as daylight."

Prosper did not notice the Jew's intelligent expression. He was too
much absorbed in his own excitement. In a moment he would be with
Joan--Joan, his love of winter nights!

Morena tapped upon a door. A maid half-opened it.

"Ask Miss West, please, if she will see a friend of Mr. Morena's. Tell
her I particularly wish her to give him a private interview." He
scribbled a line on a card and the maid took it in.

In five minutes, during which the two men waited silently, she came
back.

"Miss West will see your friend, sir."

"Ah! Then I'll take myself off. Prosper, will you join Betty and me at
supper?"

"No, thanks. I'll have my brief interview with Miss West and then go
home, if you'll forgive me. I'm about all in. New York's too much for
a man just home from the front."

Jasper laid his hand for a moment on Prosper's shoulder, smiled,
shrugged, and turned away. Prosper waited till his friend was out of
sight and hearing, then knocked and was admitted to the dressing-room
of Miss Jane West.

She had not changed from the evening dress she had worn in the last
scene nor had she yet got rid of her make-up. She was sitting in a
narrow-backed chair that had been turned away from the dressing-table.
The maid was putting away some costumes.

Prosper walked half across the room and stopped.

"Miss West," he said quietly.

She stood up. The natural color left her face ghastly with patches of
paint and daubs of black. She threw back her head and said, "Prosper!"
just above her breath.

"Go out, Henrietta." This was spoken to the maid in the voice of Jane
the virago and Henrietta fled.

At sight of Joan, Prosper had won back instantly his old poise, his
old feeling of ascendancy.

"Joan, Joan," he said gently; "was ever anything so strange? Why
didn't you let me know? Why didn't you answer my letters? Why didn't
you take my money? I have suffered greatly on your account."

Joan laughed. Four years ago she would not have been capable of this
laugh, and Prosper started.

"I wrote again and again," he said passionately. "Wen Ho told me that
you had gone, that he didn't know anything about your plans. I went
out to Wyoming, to our house. I scoured the country for you. Did you
know that?"

"No," said Joan slowly, "I didn't know that But it makes no difference
to me."

They were still standing a few paces apart, too intent upon their
inner tumult to heed any outward situation. She lowered her head in
that dangerous way of hers, looking up at him from under her brows.
Her color had returned and the make-up had a more natural look.

"Maybe you did write, maybe you did send money, maybe you did come
back--I don't care anything for all that." She made a gesture as if to
sweep something away. "The day after you left me in that house,
Pierre, my husband, came up the trail. He was taking after me. He
meant to fetch me home. You told me"--she began to tremble so
violently that the jewels on her neck clicked softly--"you told me he
was _dead_."

Prosper came closer, she moving back, till, striking the chair, she
sat down on it and looked up at him with her changed and embittered
eyes.

"Would you have gone back to him, Joan Landis, after he had tied you
up and branded your shoulder with his cattlebrand?"

"What has that got to do with it?" she asked, her voice lifting on a
wave of anger. "That was between my man and me. That was not for you
to judge. He loved me. It was through loving me too much, too
ignorantly, that he hurt me so." She choked. "But you--"

"Joan," said Prosper, and he laid his hand on her cold and rigid
fingers, "I loved you too."

She was still and stiff. After a long silence she seemed to select one
question from a tide of them.

"Why did you leave me?"

"I wrote you a full explanation. The letter came back to me unread."

Again Joan gave the laugh and the gesture of disdain.

"That doesn't matter ... your loving or not loving. You made use of me
for your own ends, and when you saw fit, you left me. But that's not
my complaint. I don't say I didn't deserve that. I was easy to use.
But it was all based on what wasn't true. I was married, my man was
living, and I had dealings with you. That was sin. That was horrible.
That was what my mother did. She was a ----" Joan used the coarse and
ugly word her father had taught her, and Prosper laid a hand over her
mouth.

"Joan! No! Never say it, never think it. You are clean."

Joan twisted herself free, stood up, and walked away. "I am _that_!"
she said grimly; "and it was you that made me. You took lots of
trouble to make me see things in a way where nothing a person wants is
either right or wrong. You made me thirsty with your talk and your
books and your music, and when I was tormented with thirst, you came
and offered me a drink of water. That was it. I don't care about your
not marrying me. I still don't see that that has much to do with it
except, perhaps, that a man would be caring to give any woman he
rightly loves whatever help or cherishing or gifts the world has
decided to give her. But, you see, Prosper, we didn't start fair. You
knew that Pierre was alive."

"But, Joan, you say yourself that marrying--"

She stopped him with so fierce a gesture that he flinched. "Yes.
Pierre did rightly love me. He gave me his best as he knew it. Oh, he
was ignorant, a savage, I guess, like I was. But he did rightly love
me. He was not trying to break my spirit nor to tame me, nor to amuse
himself with me, nor to give me a longing for beauty and easiness and
then leave me to fight through my own rough life without any of those
things. Did you really think, Prosper Gael, that I would stay in your
house and live on your money till you should be caring to come back to
me--if ever you would care? Did you honestly think that you would be
coming back--as--as my lover? No. Whatever it was that took you away,
it was likely to keep you from me for always, wasn't it?"

"Yes," said Prosper in a muffled voice, "it was likely to. But, Joan,
Fate was on your side. Since I have been yours, I haven't belonged to
any one but you. You've put your brand on me."

"I don't want to hear about you," Joan broke in. "I am done with you.
Have you seen this play?"

"Yes." He found that in telling her so he could not meet her eyes.

"Well, the man who wrote that knew what you are, and, if he didn't,
every one that has seen me act in it, knows what you are." She paused,
breathing fast and trembling. "Good-bye," she said.

He went vaguely toward the door, then threw up his head defiantly.
"No," he said, "it's not going to be good-bye. I've found you. You
must let me tell you the truth about myself. Come, Joan, you're as
just as Heaven. You never read my explanations. You've never heard my
side of it. You'll let me come to see you and you'll hear me out.
Don't do me an injustice. I'll leave the whole thing in your hands
after that. But you must give me that one chance."

"Chance?" repeated Joan. "Chance for what?"

"Oh,"--Prosper flung up his lithe, long hands--"oh, for nothing but a
cleansing in your sight. I want what forgiveness I can wring from you.
I want what understanding I can force from you. That's all."

She thought, standing there, still and tall, her arms hanging, her
eyes wide and secret, as he had remembered them in her thin, changed,
so much more expressive face.

"Very well," she said, "you may come. I'll hear you out." She gave him
the address and named an afternoon hour. "Good-night."

It was a graceful and dignified dismissal. Prosper bit his lip, bowed
and left her.

As the door closed upon her, he knew that it had closed upon the only
real and vivid presence in his life. War had burnt away his glittering,
clever frivolity. Betty was the adventure, Betty was the tinsel; Joan
was the grave, predestined woman of his man. For the first time in his
life he found himself face to face with the cleanness of despair.



CHAPTER VII

AFTERMATH


Joan waited for Prosper on the appointed afternoon. There was a fire
on her hearth and a March snow-squall tapped against the window panes.
The crackle of the logs inside and that eerie, light sound outside
were so associated with Prosper that, even before he came, Joan,
sitting on one side of the hearth, closed her eyes and felt that he
must be opposite to her in his red-lacquered chair, his long legs
stuck out in front, his amused and greedy eyes veiled by a cloud of
cigarette smoke.

Since she had seen him at the theater, she had been suffering from
sleeplessness. At night she would go over and over the details of
their intercourse, seeing them, feeling them, living them in the light
of later knowledge, till the torment was hardly to be borne. Three
days and nights of this inner activity had brought back that sharp
line between her brows and the bitter tightening of her lips.

This afternoon she was white with suspense. Her dread of the impending
interview was like a physical illness. She sat in a high-backed chair,
hands along the arms, head resting back, eyes half-closed, in that
perfect stillness of which the animal and the savage are alone
entirely capable. There were many gifts that Joan had brought from the
seventeen years on Lone River. This grave immobility was one. She was
very carefully dressed in a gown that accentuated her height and
dignity. And she wore a few jewels. She wanted, pitifully enough, to
mark every difference between this Joan and the Joan whom Prosper had
drawn on his sled up the cañon trail. If he expected to force her
back into the position of enchanted leopardess, to see her "lie at his
feet and eat out of his hand," as Morena had once described the plight
of Zona, he would see at a glance that she was no longer so easily
mastered. In fact, sitting there, she looked as proud and perilous as
a young Medea, black-haired with long throat and cold, malevolent
lips. It was only in the eyes--those gray, unhappy, haunted eyes--that
Joan gave away her eternal simplicity of heart. They were unalterably
tender and lonely and hurt. It was the look in them that had prompted
Shorty's description, "She's plumb movin' to me--looks about halfway
between 'You go to hell' and 'You take me in your arms to rest.'"

Prosper was announced, and Joan, keeping her stillness, merely turned
her head toward him as he came into the room.

She saw his rapid observation of the room, of her, even before she
noticed the very apparent change in him. For he, too, was haggard and
utterly serious as she did not remember him. He stood before her fire
and asked her jerkily if she would let him smoke. She said "Yes," and
those were the only words spoken for five unbearable minutes the
seconds of which her heart beat out like a shaky hammer in some worn
machine.

Prosper smoked and stood there looking, now at her, now at the fire.
At last, with difficulty, he smiled. "You are not going to make it
easy for me, are you, Joan?"

For her part she was not looking at him. She kept her eyes on the fire
and this averted look distressed and irritated his nerves.

"I am not trying to make it hard," she said; "I want you to say what
you came to say and go."

"Did _you_ ever love me, Joan?"

He had said it to force a look from her, but it had the effect only of
making her more still, if possible.

"I don't know," she said slowly, answering with her old directness. "I
thought you needed me. I was alone. I was scared of the emptiness when
I went out and looked down the valley. I thought Pierre had gone out
of the world and there was no living thing that wanted me. I came back
and you met me and you put your arms round me and you said"--she
closed her eyes and repeated his speech as though she had just heard
it--"'Don't leave me, Joan.'"

Her voice was more than ever before moving and expressive. Prosper
felt that half-forgotten thrill. The muscles of his throat contracted.
"Joan, I did want you. I spoke the truth," he pleaded.

She went on with no impatience but very coldly. "You came to tell me
your side. Will you tell me, please?"

For the first time she looked into his eyes and he drew in his breath
at the misery of hers.

"I built that cabin, Joan," he said, "for another woman."

"Your wife?" asked Joan.

"No."

"For the one I said must have been like a tall child? She wasn't your
wife? She was dead?"

Prosper shook his head. "No. Did you think that? She was a woman I
loved at that time very dearly and she was already married to another
man."

"You built that house for her? I don't understand."

"She had promised to leave her husband and to come away with me. I had
everything ready, those rooms, those clothes, those materials, and
when I went out to get her, I had a message saying that her courage
had failed her, that she wouldn't come."

"She was a better woman than me," said Joan bitterly.

Prosper laughed. "By God, she was not! She sent me down to hell. I
couldn't go back to the East again. I had laid very careful and
elaborate plans. I was trapped out there in that horrible winter
country...."

"It was not horrible," said Joan violently; "it was the most
wonderful, beautiful country in all the world." And tears ran suddenly
down her face.

But she would not let him come near to comfort her. "Go on," she said
presently.

"Before you came, Joan," Prosper went on, "it was horrible. It was
like being starved. Every thing in the house reminded me of--her. I
had planned it all very carefully and we were to have been--happy. You
can fancy what it was to be there alone."

Joan nodded. She _was_ just and she was honestly trying to put herself
in his place. "Yes," she said; "if I had gone back and Pierre had been
dead, his homestead would have been like that to me."

"It was because I was so miserable that I went out to hunt. I'd scour
the country all day and half the night to tire myself out, that I
could get some sleep. I was pretty far from home that moonlight night
when I heard you scream for help...."

Joan's face grew whiter. "Don't tell about that," she pleaded.

He paused, choosing another opening. "After I had bandaged you and
told you that Pierre was dead--and I honestly thought he was--I didn't
know what to do with you. You couldn't be left, and there was no
neighbor nearer than my own house; besides, I had shot a man, and,
perhaps,--I don't know, maybe I was influenced by your beauty, by my
own crazy loneliness.... You were very beautiful and very desolate. I
was in a fury over the brute's treatment of you...."

"Hush!" said Joan; "you are not to talk about Pierre."

Prosper shrugged. "I decided to take you home with me. I wanted you
desperately, just, I believe, to take care of, just to be kind
to--truly, Joan, I was lonely to the point of madness. Some one to
care for, some one to talk to, was absolutely necessary to save my
reason. So when I was leading you out, I--I saw Pierre's hand move--"

Joan stood up. After a moment she controlled herself with an effort
and sat down again. "Go on. I can stand it," she said.

"And I thought to myself, 'The devil is alive and he deserves to be
dead. This woman can never live with him again. God wouldn't sanction
such an act as giving her back to his hands.' And I was half-mad
myself, I'd been alone so long ... I stood so you couldn't see him,
Joan, and I threw an elk-hide over him and led you out."

"I followed you; I didn't look at Pierre; I left him lying there,"
gasped Joan.

Prosper went on monotonously. "When I came back a week later, I
thought he would be dead. It was dusk, the wind was blowing, the snow
was driving in a scud. I came down to the cabin and dropped below the
drift by that northern window, and, the second I looked in, I dropped
out of sight. There was a light and a fire. Your husband was lying
before the fire on a cot. There was another man there, your Mr.
Holliwell; they were talking, Holliwell was dressing Pierre's wound. I
went away like a ghost, and while I was going back, I thought it all
out; and I decided to keep you for myself. I suppose," said Prosper
dully, "that that was a horrible sin. I didn't see it that way then.
I'm not sure I see it that way now. Pierre had tied you up and pressed
a white-hot iron into your bare shoulder. If you went back to him, if
he took you back, how was I to know that he might not repeat his
drunken deviltry, or do worse, if anything could be worse! It was the
act of a fiend. It put him out of court with me. Whatever I gave you,
education and beauty, and ease, must be better and happier for you
than life with such a brute as Pierre--"

"Stop!" said Joan between her teeth; "you know nothing of Pierre and
me; you only know that one dreadful night. You don't know--the rest."

"I don't want to know the rest," he said sharply; "that is enough to
justify my action. I thought so then and I think so now. You won't be
able to make me change that opinion."

"I shall not try," said Joan.

He accepted this and went on. "When I found you in your bed waiting
for news of Pierre, I thought you the most beautiful, pitiful thing I
had ever seen. I loved you then, Joan, then. Tell me, did I ever in
those days hurt you or give you a moment's anxiety or fear?"

"No," Joan admitted, "you did not. In those days you were wonderful,
kind and patient with me. I thought you were more like God than a
human then."

Prosper laughed with bitterness. "You thought very wrong, but,
according to my own lights, I was very careful of you. I meant to give
you all I could and I meant to win you with patience and forbearance.
I had respect for you and for your grief and for the horrible thing
you had suffered. Joan, by now you know better what the world is. Can
you reproach me so very bitterly for our--happiness, even if it was
short?"

"You lied to me," said Joan. "It wasn't just. We didn't start even.
And--and you knew what you wanted of me. I never guessed."

"You didn't? You never guessed?"

"No. Sometimes, toward the last, I was afraid. I felt that I ought to
go away. That day I ran off--you remember--I was afraid of you. I felt
you were bad and that I was bad too. Then it seemed to me that I'd
been dreadfully ungrateful and unkind. That was what began to make me
give way to my feelings. I was sorrowful because I had hurt you and
you so kind! The day I came in with that suit and spoke of--her as a
'tall child' and you cried, why, I felt so sorrowful that I'd made you
suffer. I wanted to comfort you, to put my hands on you in comfort,
like a mother, I felt. And you went out like you were angry and stayed
away all night as though you couldn't bear to be seeing me again in
your house that you had built for her. So I wrote you my letter and
went away. And then--it was all so awful cold and empty. I didn't know
Pierre was out there. I came back...."

They were both silent for a long time and in the silence the idyll was
re-lived. Spring came again with its crest of green along the cañon
and the lake lay like a turquoise drawing the glittering peak down
into its heart.

"My book--its success," Prosper began at last, "made me restless.
You'll understand that now that you are an artist yourself. And one
day there came a letter from that woman I had loved."

"It was a little square gray envelope," said Joan breathlessly. "I can
see it now. You never rightly looked at me again."

"Ah!" said Prosper. He turned and hid his face.

"Tell me the rest," said Joan.

He went on without turning back to her, his head bent. "The woman
wrote that her husband was dying, that I must come back to her at
once."

The snow tapped and the fire crackled.

"And when you--went back?"

"Her husband did not die," said Prosper blankly; "he is still alive."

"And you still love her very much?"

"That's the worst of it, Joan," groaned Prosper. His groan changed
into a desperate laugh. "I love you. Now truly I do love you. If I
could marry you--if I could have you for my wife--" He waited,
breathing fast, then came and stood close before her. "I have never
wanted a woman to be my wife till now. I want you. I want you to be
the mother of my children."

Then Joan did look at him with all her eyes.

"I am Pierre's wife," she said. The liquid beauty had left her voice.
It was hoarse and dry. "I am Pierre's wife and I have already been the
mother of your child."

There was a long, rigid silence. "Joan--when?--where?" Prosper's
throat clicked.

"I knew it before you left. I couldn't tell you because you were so
changed. I worked all winter. It--it was born on an awful cold March
night. I think the woman let it--made it--die. She wanted me to work
for her during the summer and she thought I would be glad if the child
didn't live. She used to say I was 'in trouble' and she'd be glad if
she could 'help me out.'... It was what I was planning to live for ...
that child."

During the heavy stillness following Joan's dreadful, brief account of
birth and death, Prosper went through a strange experience. It seemed
to him that in his soul something was born and died. Always afterwards
there was a ghost in him--the father that might have been.

"I can't talk any more," said Joan faintly. "Won't you please go?"



CHAPTER VIII

AGAINST THE BARS


Jasper Morena had stood for an hour in a drafty passage of that dirty
labyrinth known vaguely to the public as "behind the scenes,"
listening to the wearisome complaints of a long-nosed young actor. It
was the sixth of such conversations that he had held that day: to
begin with, there had been a difficulty between a director and the
leading man. Morena's tact was still complete; he was very gentle to
the long-nosed youth; but the latter, had he been capable of seeing
anything but himself, must have noticed that his listener's face was
pale and faintly lined.

"Yes, my boy, of course, that's reasonable enough. I'll do what I
can."

"I don't make extravagant demands, you see," the young man spread down
and out his hands, quivering with exaggerated feeling; "I ask only for
decent treatment, what my own self-respect ab-so-lute-ly demands."

Morena put a hand on his shoulder and walked beside him.

"Did you ever stop to think," he said with his charming smile, "that
the other fellow is thinking and saying just the same thing? Now, this
chap that has, as you put it, got your goat, why, he came to me
himself this morning, and, word for word, he said of you just
precisely what you have just said of him to me. Odd, isn't it?"

Again the young actor stopped for one of his gestures, hands up this
time. "But, my God, sir! Is there such a thing as honesty? He couldn't
accuse me of--"

"Well, he thought he could. However, I do get your point of view and I
think we can fix it up for you so that you'll get off with your
self-respect entirely intact. I'll talk to George to-morrow. You're
worth the bother. Good-afternoon."

The young man bowed, his air of tragic injury softened to one of
tragic self-appreciation. Worth the bother, indeed!

Morena left him at the top of the dingy stairs down which the manager
fled to an alley at one side of the theater, where his car was waiting
for him. He stood for a while with his foot on the step and his hand
on the door, looking rather blankly at the gray, cold wall and the
scurrying whirlwinds of dust and paper.

"Drop yourself at the garage, Ned," he said, "and I'll take the car."

He climbed in beside the wheel. He was very tired, but he had
remembered that Jane West, when he had last seen her, had worn a look
of profound discouragement. She never complained, but when he saw that
particular expression he was frightened and the responsibility for her
came heavily upon him. This wild thing he had brought to New York must
not be allowed to beat its head dumbly against the bars.

When he had got rid of his driver, he turned the car northward, and a
few minutes later Mathilde, the French maid chosen by Betty, opened
Jane's door to him.

While he took off his coat he looked along the hall and saw its owner
sitting, her chin propped on a latticework of fingers. She was gazing
out of the window. It was a beautiful, desperate silhouette; something
fateful in the long, still pose and the fixed look. She was still
dressed in street clothes as when she had left the theater, a blouse
and skirt of dark gray, very plain. Her figure, now that it was
trained to slight corseting, was less vigorous and more fine-drawn.
She was very thin, but she had lost her worn and haggard look; the
premature hard lines had almost disappeared; a softer climate, proper
care, rest, food, luxury had given back her young, clear skin and the
brightness of eyes and lips. Her hair, arranged very simply to frame
her face in a broken setting of black, was glossy, and here and there,
deeply waved. It was the arrangement chosen for her by Betty and
copied from a Du Maurier drawing of the Duchess of Towers. It was hard
to believe that this graceful woman was the virago Jane, harder for
any one that had seen a heavy, handsome girl stride into Mrs. Upper's
hotel and ask for work, to believe that she was here.

Morena clapped his hands in the Eastern fashion of summons, and Jane
looked toward him.

"Oh," she said, "I'm glad you came."

He strolled in and stood beside her shaking his head.

"I didn't like the look of you this afternoon, my dear."

"Well, sir," said Jane, "I don't like the look of you either." She
smiled her slow, unself-conscious smile. "You sit down and I'll make
tea for you."

He knew that thought for some one else was the best tonic for her
mood, so he dropped, with his usual limp grace, into the nearest
chair, put back his head and half-closed his eyes.

"I'm used up," he said; "I haven't a word--not one to throw at a dog."

"Please don't throw one at me, then. I surely wouldn't take it as a
compliment." She made the tea gravely, as absorbed in the work as a
little girl who makes tea for her dolls. She brought him his cup and
went back to her place and again her face settled into that look. She
had evidently forgotten him and her eyes held a vision as of
distances.

He put a hand up to break her fixed gaze. "What is it, Jane? What do
you see?"

To his astonishment she hid her face in her hands. "It's awful to live
like this," she moaned; and it frightened him to see her move her head
from side to side like an imprisoned beast, shifting before bars.

He looked about the pretty room and repeated, "Like this?"
half-reproachfully.

"I hate it!" She spoke through her teeth. "I hate it! And, oh, the
sounds, the noises, grinding into your ears."

Here the hands came to her ears and framed a white, desperate face in
which the lids had fallen over sick eyes.

Jasper sat listening to the hum and roar and clatter of the street. To
him it was a pleasant sound, and here it was subdued and remote
enough. Her face was like that of some one maddened by noise.

"You don't smell anything fresh"--her chest lifted--"you don't get
air. I can't breathe. Everything presses in." She opened her eyes,
bright and desperate. "What am I doing here, Mr. Morena?"

He had put down his cup quietly, for he was really half-afraid of her.
"Why did you come, Jane?"

"Because I was afraid of some one. I was running away, Mr. Morena.
There's some one that mustn't ever find me now, and to run away from
him--that was the business of my life. And it kept my heart full of
him and the dread of his coming. You see, that was my happiness. I
hoped he was taking after me so's I could run away." She laughed
apologetically. "Does that sound crazy to you?"

"No. I think I understand. And here?"

"He'll never come here. He'll never find me. It's been four years. And
I'm so changed. This"--she gave herself a downward look--"this isn't
the 'gel' he wants.... Probably by now he's given me up. Maybe he's
found another. Everything that's bad and hateful can find me out here.
Bad things can find you out and try to clutch after you anywheres. But
when something wild and clean comes hunting for you, something out of
the big lonely places--why, it would be scared to follow into this
city."

"You're lonely, Jane. I've told you a hundred times that you ought to
make friends for yourself."

"Oh, I don't care for that. I don't want friends, not many friends.
These acting people, they're not real folks. I don't savvy their ways
and they don't savvy mine. They always end by disliking me because I'm
queer and different from them. You have been my friend, and your
wife--that is, she used to be." Suddenly Jane became more her usual
self and spoke with childlike wistfulness. "She doesn't come to see me
any more, Mr. Morena. And I could love her. She's so like a little
girl with those round eyes--" Jane held up two circles made by
forefingers and thumbs to represent Betty's round eyes. "Oh, dear!"
she said; "isn't she awfully winning? Seems as if you must be taking
care of her. She's so small and fine."

Jasper laughed with some bitterness.

"She doesn't like me now," sighed Jane, but the feelings Betty had
hurt were connected with a later development so that they turned her
mood and brought her to a more normal dejection. She was no longer a
caged beast, she had temporarily forgotten her bars.

"I think you're wrong," said Jasper doubtfully. "Betty does like you.
She's merely busy and preoccupied. I've been neglected myself."

Jane gave him a far too expressive look. It was as though she had
said, "You don't fancy that she cares for you?"

Jasper flushed and blinked his long, Oriental eyes.

"It's a pity you haven't a lover, Jane," he said.

She had walked over to the window, and his speech, purposely a trifle
cruel and insulting, did not make her turn.

"You're angry," she said. "You'd better go home. I'm not in good humor
myself."

At which he laughed his murmuring, musical laugh and prepared to leave
her.

"I have a great deal of courage," he said, getting into his coat, "to
bring a wild-cat here, chain her up, and tease her--eh?"

"You think you have me chained?" Her tone was enraged and scornful. "I
can snap your flimsy little tether and go."

She wheeled upon him. She looked tall and fierce and free.

"No, no," he cried with deprecating voice and gesture. "You are making
Mr. Luck's fortune and mine, not to mention your own. You mustn't
break your chains. Get used to them. We all have to, you know. It's
much the best method."

"I shall never get used to this life, never. It just--somehow--isn't
mine."

"Perhaps when you meet Mr. Luck, he'll be able to reconcile you."

Her expressive face darkened. "When shall I meet Mr. Luck?"

"Soon, I hope. Mr. Melton knows just when to announce the authorship."

"I hate Mr. Luck more than any one in the world," she said in a low,
quiet voice.

Jasper stared. "Hate him! Why, in the name of savagery, should you
hate him?"

"Oh, I can't explain. But you'd better keep us apart. How came he to
write 'The Leopardess'?"

"I shall leave him to tell you that. Good-night."



CHAPTER IX

GRAY ENVELOPES


It was with more than the usual sinking of heart that Jasper let
himself that evening into the beautiful house which Betty and he
called their home. Joan's too expressive look had stung the old
soreness of his disillusionment. He knew that the house was empty of
welcome. He took off his hat and coat dejectedly. There were footsteps
of his man who came from the far end of the hall.

While he stood waiting, Jasper noticed the absence of a familiar
fragrance. For the first time in years Betty had forgotten to order
flowers. The red roses which Jasper always caressed with a long,
appreciative finger as he went by the table in the hall, were missing.
Their absence gave him a faint sensation of alarm.

"Mr. Kane, Mrs. Morena's brother, has called to see you, sir. He is
waiting."

Jasper's eyebrows rose. "To see me? Is he with Mrs. Morena now?"

"No, sir. Mrs. Morena went out this morning and has not yet returned.
Mr. Kane has been here since five o'clock, sir."

"Very well."

It was a mechanical speech of dismissal. The footman went off. Jasper
stood tapping his chin with his finger. Woodward Kane come to see him
during Betty's absence! Woodward had not spoken more than three or four
icy words of necessity to him since the marriage. After a stiff,
ungracious fashion this brother had befriended Betty, but to his Jewish
brother-in-law he had shown only a slightly disguised distaste. The Jew
was well used to such a manner. He treated it with light bitterness,
but he did not love to receive the users of it in his own house. It was
with heightened color and bent brows that he pushed apart the long,
crimson hangings and came into the immense drawing-room.

It was softly lighted and pleasantly warmed. A fire burned. The tall,
fair visitor rose from a seat near the blaze and turned all in one
rigid piece toward his advancing host. Jasper was perfectly conscious
that his own gesture and speech of greeting were too eager, too
ingratiating, that they had a touch of servility. He hated them
himself, but they were inherited with his blood, as instinctive as the
wagging of a dog's tail. They were met by a precise bow, no smile, no
taking of his outstretched hand.

Jasper drew himself up at once, put the slighted hand on the back of a
tall, crimson-damask chair, and looked his stateliest and most
handsome self.

"Betty hasn't come in yet," he said. "You've been waiting for her?"

Woodward Kane pulled at his short, yellow mustache and stared at
Jasper with his large, blank, blue eyes. "As a matter of fact I didn't
call to see my sister, but to see you. I have just come from
Elizabeth. She is at my house. She came to me this morning."

Jasper's fingers tightened on the chair. "She is sick?"

"No." There was a pause during which the blank, blue eyes staring at
him slowly gathered a look of cold pleasure. Jasper was aware that
this man who hated him was enjoying his present mission.

"Shall we sit down? I shall have to take a good deal of your time, I
am afraid. There is rather a good deal to be gone over."

Jasper sat down in the chair the back of which he had been holding.
"Will you smoke?" he asked, and smiled his charming smile.

There was now not a trace of embarrassment, anger, or anxiety about
him. His eyes were quiet, his voice flexible. Woodward declined to
smoke, crossed his beautifully clothed legs and drew a small gray
envelope from his pocket. Jasper's eyes fastened upon it at once. It
was Betty's paper and her angular, boyish writing marched across it.
Evidently the note was addressed to him. He waited while Woodward
turned it about in his long, stiff, white fingers.

"About two months ago Betty came to me one evening in great distress
of mind. She asked for my advice and to the best of my ability I gave
it to her. I wish that she had asked for it ten years ago. She might
have saved herself a great deal. This time she has not only asked for
it, but she has been following it, and, in following it, she has now
left your house and come to mine. This, of course, will not surprise
you."

"It does, however, surprise me greatly." It was still the gentle
murmur, but Jasper's cigarette smoke veiled his face.

"I cannot understand that. However, it's not my business. Betty has
asked me to interview you to-day so that she may be spared the
humiliation. After this, you must address your communications to her
lawyers. In a short time Rogers and Daring will serve you with notice
of divorce."

Jasper sat perfectly still, leaning slightly forward, his cigarette
between his fingers.

"So-o!" he said after a long silence. Then he held out his hand. "I
may have Betty's letter?"

Woodward Kane withheld it and again that look of pleasure was visible
in his eyes. "Just a moment, please. I should like to have my own say
out first. I shall have to be brutal, I am afraid. In these matters
there is nothing for it but frankness. Your infidelity has been common
talk for some time. The story of it first came to Betty's ears on the
evening when she came to me two months ago. Since then there has been
but one possible course."

Jasper kept another silence, more difficult, however, than his last.
His pallor was noticeable. "You say my--infidelity is common talk.
There has been a name used?"

"Your protégée from Wyoming--Jane West."

Jasper was on his feet, and Woodward too rose, jerkily holding up a
hand. "No excitement, please," he begged. "Let us conduct this
unfortunate interview like gentlemen, if possible."

Jasper laughed. "As you say--if possible. Why, man, it was Betty who
helped me bring Miss West to New York, it was Betty who helped me to
install her here, it was Betty who chose the furnishings for her
apartment, who helped her buy her clothes, who engaged her maid, who
gave her most of her training. This is the most preposterous, the most
filthy perversion of the truth. Betty must know it better than any one
else. Come, now, Woodward, there's something more in it than this?"
Jasper had himself in hand, but it was easy now to see the effort it
cost him. The veins of his forehead were swollen.

"I shall not discuss the matter with you. Betty has excellent
evidence, unimpeachable witnesses. There is no doubt in my mind, nor
in the minds of her lawyers, that she will win her suit and get her
divorce, her release. Of course, you will not contest--"

Jasper stopped in his pacing which had begun to take the curious,
circling, weaving form characteristic of him, and, standing now with
his head thrown back, he spoke sonorously.

"Do you imagine for one instant, Kane,--does Betty imagine for one
instant,--that I shall not contest?"

This changed the look of cold pleasure in Woodward's eyes, which grew
blank again. "Do you mean me to understand--Naturally, I took it for
granted that you would act as most gentlemen act under the
circumstances."

"Then you have taken too much for granted, you and Betty. Ten years
ago your sister gave herself to me. She is mine. I will not for a
whim, for a passion, for a temporary alienation, let her go. Neither
will I have my good name and the name of a good woman besmirched for
the sake of this impertinent desire for a release. I love my
wife"--his voice was especially Hebraic and especially abhorrent to
the other--"and as a husband I mean to keep her from the ruin this
divorce would mean to her--"

"Far from being her ruin, Morena, it would be the saving of her. Her
ruin was as nearly as possible brought about ten years ago, when
against the advice, against the wishes of every one who loved her, she
made her insane marriage with an underbred, commercial, and licentious
Jew. She was seventeen and you seized your opportunity."

Jasper had stepped close. He was a head taller and several inches
broader of shoulder than his brother-in-law. "As long as you are in my
house, don't insult me. I am, as you say, a Jew, and I am, as you say,
of a commercial family. But I am not, I have never been licentious. Is
it necessary to use such language? You suggested that this interview
be conducted by us like gentlemen."

"The man who refuses to give her liberty to a wife that loathes him,
scarcely comes under the definition."

"My ideas on the matter are different. We need not discuss them. If
you will let me read my wife's letter, I think that we can come to an
end of this."

Woodward unwillingly surrendered the small, gray envelope to a
quivering, outstretched hand. Jasper turned away and stood near the
lamp. But his excitement prevented him from reading. The angular
writing jumped before his eyes. At last, the words straightened
themselves.

  I am glad that you have given me this opportunity to escape from a
  life that for a long time has been dreadful to me. Ten years ago I
  made a disaster of my life and yours. Forgive me if you can and
  let me escape. I will not see you again. Whatever you may have to
  say, please say it to Woodward. From now on he is my protector. In
  other matters there are my lawyers. It is absolutely not to be
  thought of that I should speak to you. I hope never to see you
  alone. I want you to hate me and this note ought to make it easy
  for you.

                                                            Betty

Jasper stared at the name. He was utterly bewildered, utterly
staggered, by the amazing dissimulation practiced by this small,
soft-lipped, round-eyed girl who had lived with him for so long,
sufficiently pliable, sufficiently agreeable. What was back of it all?
Another man, of course. In imagination he was examining the faces of
his acquaintances, narrowing his lids as though the real men passed in
review before him.

"Perhaps you understand the situation better now?" asked Woodward
cruelly.

Jasper's intense pain and humiliation gave him a sort of calm. He
seemed entirely cool when he moved back toward his brother-in-law; his
eyes were clear, the heat had gone from his temples. He was even
smiling a little, though there was a white, even frame to his lips.

"I shall not write to Betty nor attempt to see her," he said quietly.
"But I shall ask you to take a message to her."

Woodward assented.

"Tell her she shall have her release, but to get it she will have to
walk through the mire and there will be no one waiting for her on the
other side. Can you remember that? Not even you will be there." He was
entirely self-assured so that Woodward felt a chill of dismay.

"I shall contest the suit," went on Jasper, "and I believe that I
shall win it. You may tell Betty so if you like or she can wait to
hear it from my lawyer." He put the envelope into his pocket, crossed
the room, and held back one of the crimson curtains of the door.

"If you have nothing more to say," he smiled, "neither have I.
Good-bye."

He bowed slightly, and Woodward found himself passing before him in
silence and some confusion. He stood for a moment in the hall and,
having stammered his way to a cold "Good-afternoon," he put on his hat
and went out.

Jasper returned to the empty drawing-room and began his weaving march.

Before he could begin his spinning which he hoped would entangle Betty
and leave her powerless for him to hold or to release at will, he must
go to Jane West and tell her what trick life with his help had played
upon her. The prospect was bitterly distasteful. Jasper accused
himself of selfishness. Because she cared nothing for the world, was a
creature apart, he had let the world think what it would. He knew that
an askance look would not hurt her; for himself, secure in innocence,
he did not care; for Betty, he had thought her cruelly certain of him.

He went to Jane the day after his interview with Woodward Kane. It was
Sunday afternoon. She was out, but came in very soon, and he stood up
to meet her with an air of confusion and guilt.

"What's the matter with you?" she asked, pulling her gloves from her
long hands.

Her quickly observant eyes swept him. She walked to him and stood
near. The frosty air was still about her and her face was lightly
stung to color with exercise. Her wild eyes were startling under the
brim of her smart, tailored hat.

Jasper put a hand on either of her shoulders and bent his head before
her. "My poor child--if I'd only left you in your kitchen!"

Joan tightened her lips, then smiled uncertainly. "You've got me
scared," she said, stepped back and sat down, her hands in her muff.
"What is it?" she asked; and in that moment of waiting she was sickly
reminded of other moments in her life--of the nearing sound of
Pierre's webs on a crystal winter night, of the sound of Prosper's
footsteps going away from her up the mountain trail on a swordlike,
autumn morning.

Jasper began his pacing. Feeling carefully for delicate phrases, he
told her Betty's accusation, of her purpose.

Joan took off her hat, pushed back the hair from her forehead; then,
as he came to the end, she looked up at him. Her pupils were larger
than usual and the light, frosty tint of rose had left her cheeks.

"Would you mind telling me that again?" she asked.

He did so, more explicitly.

"She thinks, Betty thinks, that I have been--that we have been--? She
thinks that of me? No wonder she hasn't been coming to see me!" She
stopped, staring blindly at him; then, "You must tell her it isn't
true," she said pitifully, and the quiver of her lips hurt him.

"Ah! But she doesn't want to believe that, my dear. She wants to
believe the worst. It is her opportunity to escape me."

"Haven't you loved her? Have you hurt her?" asked Joan.

"God knows I have loved her. I have never hurt her--consciously. Even
she cannot think that I have."

"Why must she blame me? Why do I have to be brought into this, Mr.
Morena? Can't she go away from you? Why do the lawyers have to take it
up? You are unhappy, and I am so sorry. But you wouldn't want her to
stay if--if she doesn't love you?"

"I want her. I mean to keep her or--break her." He turned his back to
say this and went toward the window. Joan, fascinated, watched his
fingers working into one another, tightening, crushing. "It's another
man she wants," he said hoarsely, "and if I can prevent it, she shall
not have him. I will force her to keep her vows to me--force her. If
it kills her, I'll break this passion, this fancy. I'll have her
back--" He wheeled round, showing a twitching face. "I'll prove her
infidelity whether she's been unfaithful or not, and then I'll take
her back, after the world has given her one of its names--"

"You don't love her," said Joan, very white. "You want to brand her."

"By God!" swore the Jew, "and I will brand her. I'll brand her."

He fumbled in his pocket and brought out the small envelope Woodward
Kane had handed to him the day before. He stood turning the letter
about in his hands as though some such meaningless occupation was a
necessity to him. Joan's eyes, falling upon the letter, widened and
fixed.

"She has written to me," said Jasper. "She wants her liberty. She
wants it in such a way that she will fly clear and I--yes, and you,
too, will be left in the mud. There's a man somewhere, of course. She
thinks she has evidence, witnesses against me. I don't know what
rubbish she has got together. But I'm going to fight her. I'm going to
win. I'll save you if I can, Jane; if not, of course I am at your
service for any amends--"

He stopped in his halting speech, for Joan had stood up and was moving
across the room, her eyes fastened on the letter in his hands. She had
the air of a sleep-walker.

She opened a drawer of her desk, took out an old tin box, once used
for tobacco, and drew forth a small, gray envelope torn in two. Then
she came back to him and said, "Let me see that letter," and he obeyed
as though she had the right to ask.

She took his letter and hers and compared the two, the small, gray
squares lying unopened on her knee, and she spoke incomprehensibly.

"Betty is 'the tall child,'" she said, and laughed with a catch in her
breath.

Jasper looked at the envelopes. They were identical; Betty's gray
note-paper crossed by Betty's angular, upright hand, very bold, very
black. The torn envelope was addressed to Prosper Gael. Jasper took
it, opened each half, laid the parts together, and read:

  Jasper is dying. By the time you get this he will be dead. If
  you can forgive me for having failed you in courage last year,
  come back. What I have been to you before I will be again, only,
  this time, we can love openly. Come back.

"Jane,"--Morena spoke brokenly,--"what does it mean?"

"He built that cabin in Wyoming for her," said Joan, speaking as
though Jasper had seen the cañon hiding-place and known its history,
"and she didn't come. He brought me there on his sled. I was hurt. I
was terribly hurt. He took care of me--"

"Prosper?" Jasper thrust in. His face was drawn with excitement.

"Yes. Prosper Gael. I was there with him for months. At first I wasn't
strong enough to go away, and then, after a while, I tried. But I was
too lonely and sorrowful. In the spring I loved him. I thought I loved
him. He wanted me. I was all alone in the world. I didn't know that he
loved another woman. I thought she was dead--like Pierre. Prosper had
clothes for her there. I suppose--I've thought it out since--that she
was to leave as if for a short journey, and then secretly go on that
long one, and she couldn't take many things with her. So he had
beautiful stuffs for her--and a little suit to wear in the snow.
That's how I came to call her 'the tall child,' seeing that little
suit, long and narrow.... This letter came one morning, one awfully
bright morning. He read it and went out and the next day he went away.
Afterwards I found the letter torn in two beside his desk on the
floor. I took it and I've always kept it. 'The tall child'! He looked
so terrible when I called her that.... And she was your Betty all the
time!"

"Yes," said Morena slowly. "She was my Betty all the time." He gave
her a twisted smile and put the two papers carefully into an inside
pocket. "I am going to keep this letter, Jane. Truly the ways of the
Lord are past finding out."

Joan looked at him in growing uneasiness. Her mind, never quick to
take in all the bearings and the consequences of her acts, was
beginning to work. "What are you going to do with it, Mr. Morena? I
don't want you to do Betty a hurt. She must have loved Prosper Gael.
Perhaps she still loves him."

This odd appeal drew another difficult smile from Betty's husband.
"Quite obviously she still loves him, Jane. She is divorcing me so
that she can marry him."

"But, Mr. Morena, I don't believe he will marry her now. He is tired
of her. He is that kind of lover. He gets tired. Now he would like to
marry me. He told me so. Perhaps--if Betty knew that--she might come
back to you, without your branding her."

Jasper was startled out of his vengeful stillness.

"Prosper Gael wants to marry you? He has told you so?"

"Yes." She was sad and humbled. "_Now_ he wants to marry me and once
he told me things about marrying. He said"--Joan quoted slowly, her
eyes half-closed in Prosper's manner, her voice a musical echo of his
thin, vibrant tone--"'It's man's most studied insult to woman.'"

"Yes. That's Prosper," murmured Jasper.

"I wouldn't marry him, Mr. Morena, even if I could--not if I were to
be--burnt for refusing him."

Jasper looked probingly at her, a new speculation in his eyes. She had
begun to fit definitely into his plans. It seemed there might be a way
to frustrate Betty and to keep a hold upon his valuable protégée.
"Are you so sure of that, Jane?"

"Ah!" she answered; "you doubt it because I once thought I loved him?
But you don't know all about me...."

He stood silent, busy with his weaving. At last he looked at her
rather blankly, impersonally. Joan was conscious of a frightened,
lonely chill. She put out her hand uncertainly, a wrinkle appearing
sharp and deep between her eyes.

"Mr. Morena, please--I haven't any one but you. I don't understand
very well what this divorcing rightly means. Nor what they will do to
me. Will you be thinking of me a little? I wouldn't ask it, for I know
you are unhappy and bothered enough, but, you see--"

He did not notice the hand. "It will come out right, Jane. Don't
worry," he said with absent gentleness. "Keep your mind on your work.
I'll look out for your best interests. Be sure of that." He came near
to her, his hat in his hand, ready to go. "Try to forget all about it,
will you?"

"Oh, I can't do that. I feel sort of--burnt. Betty thinking--that! But
I'll do my work just the same, of course."

She sighed heavily and sat, the unnoticed hand clasped in its fellow.

When he had gone she called nervously for her maid. She had a hitherto
unknown dread of being alone. But when Mathilde, chosen by Betty, came
with her furtive step and treacherous eyes, Joan invented some duty
for her. It occurred to her that Mathilde might be one of Betty's
witnesses. For some time the girl's watchfulness and intrusions had
become irritatingly noticeable. And Morena was Joan's only frequent
and informal visitor.

"Mathilde thinks I am--_that_!" Joan said to herself; and afterwards,
with a burst of weeping, "And, of course, that is what I am." Her past
sin pressed upon her and she trembled, remembering Pierre's wistful,
seeking face. If he should find her now, he would find her branded,
indeed--now he could never believe that she had indeed been innocent
of guilt in the matter of Holliwell. Her father had first put a mark
upon her. Since then the world had only deepened his revenge.

There followed a sleepless, dry, and aching night.



CHAPTER X

THE SPIDER


"Hullo. Is this Mrs. Morena?"

Betty held the receiver languidly. Her face had grown very thin and
her eyes were patient. They were staring now absently through the
front window of Woodward Kane's sitting-room at a day of driving April
rain.

"Yes. This is Mrs. Morena."

The next speech changed her into a flushed and palpitating girl.

"Mr. Gael wishes to know, madam,"--the man-servant recited his lesson
automatically,--"if you have seen the exhibition of Foster's
water-colors, Fifty-eighth Street and Fifth Avenue. He wants to know
if you will be there this afternoon at five o'clock. No. 88 in the
inner room is the picture he would especially like you to notice,
madam."

Betty's hand and voice were trembling.

"No. I haven't seen it." She hesitated, looking at the downpour. "Tell
him, please, that I will be there."

Her voice trailed off doubtfully.

The man at the other end clipped out a "Very well, madam," and hung
up.

Betty was puzzled. Why had Prosper sent her this message, made this
appointment by his servant? Perhaps because he was afraid that, in her
exaggerated caution, she might refuse to meet him if she could explain
to him the reason for her refusal, or gauge the importance of his
request. With a servant she could do neither, and the very uncertainty
would force her to accept. It was a dreadful day. Nobody would be out,
certainly not at the tea-hour, to look at Foster's pictures--an
insignificant exhibition. Betty felt triumphant. At last, this far too
acquiescent lover had rebelled against her decree of silence and
separation.

At five o'clock she stepped out of her taxicab, made a run for
shelter, and found herself in the empty exhibition rooms. She checked
her wrap and her umbrella, took a catalogue from the little table,
chatted for a moment with the man in charge, then moved about, looking
carelessly at the pictures. No. 88 in the inner room! Her heart was
beating violently, the hand in her muff was cold. She went slowly
toward the inner room and saw at once that, under a small canvas at
its far end, Prosper stood waiting for her.

He waited even after he had seen her smile and quickening step, and
when he did come forward, it was with obvious reluctance. Betty's
smile faded. His face was haggard and grim, unlike itself; his eyes
lack-luster as she had never seen them. This was not the face of an
impatient lover. It was--she would not name it, but she was conscious
of a feeling of angry sickness.

He took her hand and forced a smile.

"Betty, I thought you disapproved of this kind of thing. I think,
myself, it's rather imprudent to arrange a meeting through your maid."

Betty jerked away her hand, drew a sharp breath. "What do you mean? I
didn't arrange this meeting. It was you--your man."

They became simultaneously aware of a trap. It had sprung upon them.
With the look of trapped things, they stared at each other, and Betty
instinctively looked back over her shoulder. There stood Jasper in the
doorway of the room. He looked like the most casual of visitors to an
art-gallery, he carried a catalogue in his hand. When he saw that he
was seen he smiled easily and came over to them.

"You will have to forgive me," he murmured pleasantly; "you see, it
was necessary to see you both together and Betty is not willing to
allow me an interview. I am sorry to have chosen a public place and to
have used a trick to get you here, but I could not think of any other
plan. This is really private enough. I have arranged this exhibition
for Foster and it is closed to the public to-day. We got in by special
permit--a fact you probably missed. And, after all, civilized people
ought to be able to talk about anything without excitement."

Betty's eyes glared at him. "I will not stay! This is insufferable!"

But he put out his hand and something in his gesture compelled her.
She sat down on the round, plush seat in the middle of the room and
looked up at the two men helplessly. Joan had once leaned in a
doorway, silent and unconsulted, while two men, her father and Pierre,
settled their property rights in her. Betty was, after all, in no
better case. She listened, whiter and whiter, till at the last she
slowly raised her muff and pressed it against her twisted mouth.

Morena stood with his hand resting on the high back of the circular seat
almost directly above Betty's head. It seemed to hold her there like a
bar. But it was at Prosper he looked, to Prosper he spoke. "My friend,"
he began, and the accentuation of the Hebraic quality of his voice had
an instantaneous effect upon his two listeners. Both Prosper and Betty
knew he was master of some intense agitation. They were conscious of an
increasing rapidity of their pulses. "My friend, I thought that I knew
you fairly well, as one man knows another, but I find that there have
been certain limits to my knowledge. How extraordinary it is! This inner
world of our own lives which we keep closely to ourselves! I have a
friend, yes, a very good friend, a very dear friend,"--the ironic
insistence upon this word gave Prosper the shock of a repeated
blow,--"and I fancy, in the ignorance of my conceit, that this friend's
life is sufficiently open to my understanding. I see him leave college,
I see him go out on various adventures. I share with him, by letters and
confidences, the excitement of these adventures. I know with regret that
he suffers from ill-health and goes West, and there, with a great deal
of sympathy, I imagine him living, drearily enough, in some small,
health-giving Western town, writing his book and later his play which he
has so generously allowed me to produce."

"What the devil are you after, Jasper?"

"But I do my friend an injustice," went on the manager, undiverted.
"His career is infinitely more romantic. He has built himself a little
log house amongst the mountains, and he has decorated it and laid in a
supply of dainty and exquisite stuffs. I believe that there is even an
outing suit, small and narrow--"

"My God!" said Prosper, very low.

There was a silence. Jasper moved slightly, and Prosper started, but
the Jew stayed in his former place, only that he bent his head a
little, half-closed his eyes, and marked time with the hand that was
not buried in the plush above Betty's head. He recited in a heavy
voice, and it was here that Betty raised her muff!

  Jasper is dying. By the time you get this letter he will be dead.
  If you can forgive me for having failed in courage last year, come
  back. What I have been to you before, I will be to you again, only
  this time we can love openly. Come back.

"I am going mad!" said Prosper harshly, and indeed his face had a
pinched, half-crazy look.

The Jew waved his hand. "Oh, no, no, no. It is only that you are
making a discovery. Letters should be burnt, my friend, not torn and
thrown away, but burnt." He stood up to his stateliest height and he
made a curious and rather terrible gesture of breaking something
between his two hands. "I have this letter and I hold you and
Betty--so!" he said softly--"so!"

Betty spoke. "I might have told you that I loved him, that I have
loved him for years, Jasper. If you use this evidence, if you bring
this counter-suit, it will bring about the same, the very same,
result. Prosper and I--" She broke off choking.

"Of course. Betty and I will be married at once, as soon as she gets
her divorce, or you get yours." But Prosper's voice was hollow and
strained.

"You will be married, Betty," went on Jasper as calmly as before;
"you, branded in the eyes of the world as an unfaithful wife, will be
married to a man who has ceased to love you."

"That is not true," said Betty.

"Look at his face, my dear. Look at it carefully. Now, watch it
closely. Prosper Gael, if I should tell that with a little patience, a
little skill, a little unselfishness, you could win a certain woman
who once loved you--eh?--a certain Jane West, could you bring yourself
to marry this discarded wife of mine?"

Betty sprang up and caught Prosper's arm in her small hand.

"He is tired of you, Betty. He loves Jane West." Jasper laughed
shortly, looking at the tableau they made: Prosper white, caught in
the teeth of honor, his face set to hide its secret, Betty reading his
eyes, his soul.

"I am entirely yours, in your hands," said Prosper Gael.

Betty shook his arm and let it go. "You are lying. You love the woman.
Do you think I can't see?"

"It will be a very strange divorce suit," went on Jasper. "Your
lawyers, Betty, will perhaps prove your case. My lawyers will
certainly prove mine, and, when we find ourselves free, our--our
lovers will then unite in holy matrimony--rather an original outcome."

"Will you go, Prosper?" asked Betty. It was a command.

He saw that, at that moment, his presence was intolerable to her.

"Of course. If you wish it. Jasper, you know where to find me, and,
Betty,"--he turned to her with a weary tenderness,--"forgive me and
make use of me, if you will, as you will."

He went out quickly, feeling himself a coward to leave her, knowing
that he would be a coward to stay to watch the anguish of her broken
heart and pride. For an instant he did hesitate and look back. They
were standing together, calmly, man and wife. What could he do to help
them, he that had broken their lives?

Betty turned to Jasper, still with the muff before her mouth, looking
at him above it with her wide, childlike, desperate eyes.

"What do you get out of this, Jasper? I will go to Woodward. I will
never come back to you.... Is it revenge?"

"If so," said Jasper, "it isn't yet complete. Betty, you have been
rash to pit yourself against me. You must have known that I would
break you utterly. I will break you, my dear, and I will have you
back, and I will be your master instead of your servant, and I will
love you--"

"You must be mad. I'm afraid of you. Please let me go."

"In a moment, when you have learned what home you have to go to. This
morning I had an interview with your brother in his office, and he
wrote this letter that I have in my pocket and asked me to give it to
you."

Betty laid down her muff, showing at last the pale and twisted mouth.
Jasper watched her read her brother's letter, and his eyes were as
patient and observant as the eyes of a skillful doctor who has given a
dangerous but necessary draught.

Betty read the small, sharp, careful writing, very familiar to her.

  I have instructed your maid to pack your things and to return at
  once to your husband's house. He is a much too merciful man. You
  have treated him shamelessly. I can find no excuse for you. My
  house is definitely closed to you. I will send you no money,
  allow you no support, countenance you in no way. This is final.
  You have only one course, to return humbly and with penitence to
  your husband, submit yourself to him, and learn to love and
  honor and obey him as he deserves. The evidence of your guilt is
  incontrovertible. I utterly disbelieve your story against him.
  It is part of your sin, and it is easily to be explained in the
  light of my present knowledge of your real character. Whether
  you return to Morena or not, I emphatically reassert that I will
  not see you or speak to you again. You are to my mind a woman of
  shameless life, such a woman as I should feel justified in
  turning out of any decent household.

                                                    Woodward Kane

The room turned giddily about Betty. She saw the whole roaring city
turn about her, and she knew that there was no home in it for her. She
could go to Prosper Gael, but at what horrible sacrifice of pride,
and, if Jasper now refused to bring suit, could she ask this man, who
no longer loved her, to keep her as his mistress? What could she do?
Where could she turn? How could she keep herself alive? For the first
time, life, stripped of everything but its hard and ugly bones, faced
her. She had always been sheltered, been dependent, been loved. Once
before she had lost courage and had failed to venture beyond the
familiar shelter of custom and convention. Now, she was again most
horribly afraid. Anything was better than this feeling of being lost,
alone. She looked at Jasper. At that moment he was nothing but a
protector, a means of life, and he knew it.

"Will you come home with me now?" he asked her bitterly.

Betty forced the twisted mouth to speech. "What else is there for me
to do?" she said.



CHAPTER XI

THE CLEAN WILD THING


"The Reverend Francis Holliwell." Morena turned the card over and over
in his hand. "Holliwell. Holliwell. Frank Holliwell." Yes. One of the
fellows that had dropped out. Big, athletic youngster; left college in
his junior year and studied for the ministry. Fine chap. Popular.
Especially decent to him when he had begun to play that difficult role
of a man without a country. Now here was the card of the Reverend
Francis Holliwell and the man himself, no doubt, waiting below. Jasper
tried to remember. He'd heard something about Frank. Oh, yes. The
young clergyman had given up a fashionable parish in the East--small
Norman church, wealthy parishioners, splendid stipend, beautiful stone
Norman rectory--thrown it all up to go West on some unheard-of mission
in the sagebrush. He was back now, probably for money, donations
wanted for a building, church or hospital or library. Jasper in
imagination wrote out a generous check. Before going down he glanced
at the card again and noticed some lines across the back:

  This is to introduce one of my best friends, Pierre Landis, of
  Wyoming. Please be of service to him. His mission has and deserves
  to have my full sympathy.

So, after all, it wasn't Holliwell below and the check-book would not
be needed. "Pierre Landis, of Wyoming." Jasper went down the stairs
and on the way he remembered a letter received from Yarnall a long
time before. He remembered it with an accession of alarm. "I've
probably let hell loose for your protégée, Jane; given your address,
and incidentally hers, to a fellow who wants her pretty badly. His
name's Pierre Landis. You're a pretty good judge of white men. Size
him up and do what's best for Jane."

For some time after receiving this letter, Jasper had expected the
appearance of this Pierre Landis, then had forgotten him. The fellow
who wanted Jane so badly had been a long while on his way to her.
Remembering and wondering, the manager opened the crimson curtains and
stepped into the presence of Pierre.

Even if he had had no foreknowledge, Jasper felt that, at sight of his
visitor, his fancy would have jumped to Joan. It was the eyes; he had
seen no others but hers like them for clarity; far-seeing, grave eyes
that held a curious depth of light. Here was one of Joan's kindred,
one of the clean, wild things.

Then came the gentle Western drawl. "I'm right sorry to trouble you,
Mr. Morena."

Jasper took a brown hand that had the feel of iron. The man's face, on
a level with Jasper's, was very brown and lean. It had a worn look, a
trifle desperate, perhaps, in the lines of lip and the expression of
the smoke-colored eyes. Jasper, sensitive to undercurrents, became
aware that he stood in some fashion for a forlorn hope in the life of
this Pierre. At the same time the manager remembered a confidence of
Jane's. She had been "afraid of some one." She had been running away.
There was one that mustn't find her, and to run away from him, that
was the business of her life. Pierre Landis was this "one," the
something wild and clean that had at last come searching even into
this city. It was necessary that Jane's present protector should be
very careful. There must be no running away this time, and Pierre must
be warned off. Jasper had plans of his own for his star player. For
one thing she must draw Prosper Gael completely out of Betty's life.

Jasper made his guest comfortable, sat opposite to him, and lighted a
cigarette. Although Pierre had accepted one, he did not smoke. He was
far too disturbed.

"Frank Holliwell gave me a note to you, Mr. Morena. I got your address
some years ago from Yarnall, of Lazy-Y Ranch, Middle Fork, Wyoming.
I've been gettin' my affairs into shape ever since, so that I could
come East. I don't rightly know whether Yarnall would have wrote to
you concernin' me or no."

"Yes. He did write--just a line--two years ago."

Pierre studied his own long, brown hands, turning the soft hat between
them. When he lifted his eyes, they were intensely blue. It was as
though blue fire had consumed the smoke.

"I've been takin' after a girl. She was called Jane on Yarnall's ranch
an' she was cook there for the outfit. Nobody knowed her story nor her
name. She left the mornin' I came in an' I didn't set eyes on her. You
were takin' her East to teach her to play-act for you. I don't know
whether you done so or not, but I've come here to learn where she is
so that I can find out if she's the woman I'm lookin' for."

Morena smiled kindly. "You've come a long way, Mr. Landis, on an
uncertainty."

"Yes, sir." Pierre did not smile. He was holding himself steady. "But
I'm used to uncertainty. There ain't no uncertainty that can keep me
from seekin' after the person I want." He paused, the eyes still fixed
upon Morena, who, uncomfortable under them, veiled himself thinly in
cigarette smoke. "I want to see this Jane," Pierre ended gently.

"Nothing easier, Landis. I'll give you a ticket to 'The Leopardess.'
She is acting the title part. She is my leading lady and a very
extraordinary young actress. Of course, it's none of my business, but
in a way I am Miss West's guardian--"

"Miss West?"

"Yes. That is Jane's name--Jane West. You think it is an assumed one?"

Pierre stood up. "I'm not thinkin' on this trip," he said; "I'm
hopin'."

"I am sorry, but I am afraid you're on the wrong track. There may be a
resemblance, there may even be a marked resemblance, between Miss West
and the person you want to find, but--again please forgive me--I am in
the place of guardian to her at present and I should like to know
something of your business, enough of it, that is, to be sure that
your sudden appearance, if you happen to be right in your surmise,
won't frighten my leading lady out of her wits and send her off to
Kalamazoo on the next train."

Pierre evidently resented the fashion of this speech. "I'm sorry," he
said with dignity, "not to be able to tell you anything. I'll be
careful not to frighten Miss West. I can see her first from a distance
an' then--"

"Certainly. Certainly."

Jasper rang and directed his man to get an envelope from an upstairs
table. When it came, he handed it to Pierre.

"That is a ticket for to-morrow night's performance. It's the best
seat I can give you, though it is not very near the stage. However,
you will certainly be able to recognize your--Jane, if she is your
Jane."

Pierre pocketed the ticket. "Thank you," he murmured. His face was
expressionless.

Jasper was making rapid plans. "Oh, by the way," he said hurriedly,
"if you should stand near the stage exit to-night, say at about twelve
o'clock, you could see Miss West come out and get into her motor. That
would give you a fairly close view. But even if you find you are
mistaken, Landis, be sure to see 'The Leopardess.' It's well worth
your while. You're going? Won't you dine with me to-night?"

"No, thank you. I wouldn't be carin' to to-night. I--I reckon I've got
this matter too much on my mind. Thank you very much, Mr. Morena."

"Before you go, tell me about Holliwell. He was a good friend of
mine."

"He was a good friend to most every one he knowed. He was more than
that to me."

"Then he's been a success out there?"

Pierre meditated over the words. "Success? Why, yes, I reckon he's
been all of that."

"A difficult mission, isn't it? Trying to bring you fellows to God?"

Pierre smiled. "I reckon we get closer to God out there than you do
here. We sure get the fear of Him even if we don't get nothin' else.
When you fight winter an' all outdoors an' come near to death with
hosses an' what-not, why, I guess you're gettin' close to _somethin'_
not quite to be explained. Holliwell, he's a first-class sin-buster,
best I ever knowed."

Morena laughed. He was beginning to enjoy his visitor. "Sin-buster?"

"That's one name fer a parson. Well, sir, I guess Holliwell is plumb
close to bein' a prize devil-twister."

"Tell me how you first met him. It ought to be a good story."

But the young man's face grew bleak at this. "It ain't a good story,
sir," he said grimly. "It ain't anything like that. I must wish you
good-by, an' thank you kindly."

"But you'll let me see you again? Where are you stopping? Holliwell's
friends are mine."

Pierre gave him the address of a small, downtown hotel, thanked him
again, and, standing in the hall, added, "If I'm wrong in the notion
that brought me to New York, I'll be goin' back again to my ranch, Mr.
Morena. I'm goin' back to ranchin' on the old homestead. I've got it
fixed up." He seemed to look through Jasper into an enormous distance.
Morena was almost uncannily aware of the long, long journey by which
this man's spirit had trodden, of the desert he faced ahead of him if
the search must fail. Was it wrong to warn Jane? Ought this man to be
given his chance? Surely here stood before him Jane's mate. Jasper
wished that he knew more of the history back of Pierre and the girl. A
man could do little but look out for his own interests, when he worked
in the dark. Which would be the better man for Jane?--this Jane so
trained, so educated, so far removed superficially from the
ungrammatical, bronzed, clumsily dressed, graceful visitor. In every
worldly respect, doubtless, Prosper Gael. Only--there were Pierre's
eyes and the soul looking out of them.

Jasper said good-bye half-absently.

An hour later he went to call on Jane.

He found her done up in an apron and a dust-cap cleaning house with
astonishing spirit. She and the Bridget, who had recently been
substituted for Mathilde, were merry. Bridget was sitting on the sill,
her upper half shut out, her round, brick-colored face laughing
through the pane she was polishing. Jane was up a ladder, dusting
books.

She came down to greet Morena, and he saw regretfully the sad change
in her face and bearing which his arrival caused. Bridget was sent to
the kitchen. Jane made apologies, and sitting on the ladder step she
looked up at him with the look of some one who expects a blow.

"What is it now, Mr. Morena? Have the lawyers begun to--"

He had purposely kept her in the dark, purposely neglected her, left
her to loneliness, in the hope of furthering the purposes of Prosper
Gael.

"I haven't come to discuss that, Jane. Soon I hope to have good news
for you. But to-day I've come to give you a hint--a warning, in
fact--to prepare you for what I am sure will be a shock."

"Yes?" She was flushed and breathing fast. Her fingers were busy with
the feather-duster on her knee and her eyes were still waiting.

"I had a visitor this morning--Pierre Landis, of Wyoming."

She rose, came to him, and clutched his arm. "Pierre? Pierre?" She
looked around her, wild as a captured bird. "Oh, I must go! I must
go!"

"Jane, my child,"--he put his arm about her, held her two hands in
his,--"you must do nothing of the kind. If you don't want this Pierre
to find you, if you don't want him to come into your life, there's an
easy, a very simple, way to put an end to his pursuit. Don't you know
that?"

She stared up at him, quivering in his arm. "No. What is it? How can
I? Oh, he mustn't see me! Never, never, never! I made that promise to
myself."

"Jane, you say yourself that you are changed, that you are not the
girl he wants to find."

She shook her head desolately enough. "Oh, no, I'm not."

"He isn't sure that Jane West is the woman he's looking for. He's
following the faintest, the most doubtful, of trails. He heard of you
from Yarnall; the description of you and your sudden flight made him
fairly sure that it must be--you--" Jasper laughed. "I'm talking quite
at random in a sense, because I haven't a notion, my dear, who you are
nor what this Pierre has been in your life. If you could tell me--?"

She shook her head. "No," she said; "no."

"Very well. Then I'll have to go on talking at random. Jane at the
Lazy-Y Ranch was a woman who had deliberately disguised herself. Jane
West in New York is a different woman altogether; but, unless I'm very
wrong, she is even more completely disguised from Pierre Landis. If
you can convince Pierre that you _are_ Jane West, not any other woman,
certainly not the woman he once knew, aren't you pretty safely rid of
him for always?"

She stood still now. He felt that her fingers were cold. "Yes. For
always. I suppose so. But how can I do that, Mr. Morena?"

"Nothing easier. You're an actress, aren't you? I advised Pierre
Landis to stand near the stage exit to-night and watch you get into
your motor."

Again she clutched at him. "Oh, no. Don't--don't let him do that!"

"Now, if you will make an effort, look him in the eyes, refuse to show
a single quiver of recognition, speak to some one in the most
artificial tone you can manage, pass him by, and drive away, why,
wouldn't that convince him that you aren't his quarry--eh?"

She thought! then slowly drew herself away and stood, her head bent,
her brows drawn sharply together. "Yes. I suppose so. I think I can do
it. That is the best plan." She looked at him wildly again. "Then it
will be over for always, won't it? He'll go away?"

"Yes, my poor child. He will go away. He told me so. Then, will you
try to forget him, to live your life for its own beautiful sake? I'd
like to see you happy, Jane."

"Would you?" She smiled like a pitying mother. "Why, I've given up
even dreaming of that. That isn't what keeps me going."

"What is it, then, Jane?"

"Oh, a queer notion." She laughed sadly. "A kind of kid's notion, I
guess, that if you live along, some way, some time, you'll be able to
make up for things you've done, and that perhaps there'll be another
meeting-place--a kind of a round-up--where you'll be fit to forgive
those you love and to be forgiven by them."

Jasper walked about. He was touched and troubled. Some minutes later
he said doubtfully, "Then you'll carry through your purpose of not
letting Pierre know you?"

"Yes. I've made up my mind to that. That's what I've got to do. He
mustn't find me. We can't meet here in this life. That's certain.
There are things that come between, things like bars." She made a
strange gesture as of a prisoner running his fingers across the barred
window of a cell. "Thank you for warning me. Thank you for telling me
what to do." She smiled faintly. "I think he will know me, anyway,"
she said, "but I won't know him. Never! Never!"

That night the theater was late in emptying itself. Jane West had acted
with especial brilliance and she was called out again and again. When
she came to her dressing-room she was flushed and breathless. She did
not change her costume, but drew her fur coat on over the green evening
dress she had worn in the last scene. Then she stood before her mirror,
looking herself over carefully, critically. Now that the paint was
washed off, and the flush of excitement faded, she looked haggard and
white. Her face was very thin, its beautiful bones--long sweep of jaw,
wide brow, straight, short nose--sharply accentuated. The round throat
rising against the fur collar looked unnaturally white and long. She
sat down before her dressing-table and deliberately painted her cheeks
and lips. She even altered the outlines of her mouth, giving it a
pursed and doll-like expression, so that her eyes appeared enormous and
her nose a little pinched. Then she drew a lock of waved hair down
across the middle of her forehead, pressed another at each side close
to the corners of her eyes. This took from the unusual breadth of brow
and gave her a much more ordinary look. A coat of powder, heavily
applied, more nearly produced the effect of a pink-and-white,
glassy-eyed doll-baby for which she was trying. Afterwards she turned
and smiled doubtfully at the astonished dresser.

"Good gracious, Miss West! You don't look like yourself at all!"

"Good!"

She said good-night and went rapidly down the draughty passages and
the concrete stairs. Jasper was standing inside the outer door and
applauded her.

"Well done. If it weren't for your pose and walk, my dear, I should
hardly have known you myself."

Joan stood beside him, holding her furs close, breathing fast through
the parted, painted lips.

"Is he here, do you know?"

"Yes. He's been waiting. I told him you might be late. Now, keep your
head. Everything depends upon that. Can you do it?"

"Oh, yes. Is the car there? I won't have to stop?"

"Not an instant. But give him a good looking-over so that he'll be
sure, and don't change the expression of your eyes. Feel, make
yourself feel _inside_, that he's a stranger. You know what I mean.
Good-night, my dear. Good luck. I'll call you up as soon as you get
home--that is, after I've seen your pursuer safely back to his rooms."
But this last sentence was addressed to himself.

Joan opened the door and stepped out into the chill dampness of the
April night. The white arc of electric light beat down upon her as she
came forward and it fell as glaringly upon the figure of Pierre. He
had pushed forward from the little crowd of nondescripts always
waiting at a stage exit, and stood, bareheaded, just at the door of
her motor drawn up by the curb. She saw him instantly and from the
first their eyes met. It was a horrible moment for Joan. What it was
for him, she could tell by the tense pallor of his keen, bronzed face.
The eyes she had not seen for such an agony of years, the strange,
deep, iris-colored eyes, there they were now searching her. She
stopped her heart in its beating, she stopped her breath, stopped her
brain. She became for those few seconds just one thought--"I have
never seen you. I have never seen you." She passed so close to him
that her fur touched his hand, and she looked into his face with a
cool, half-disdainful glitter of a smile.

"Step aside, please," she said; "I must get in." Her voice was
unnaturally high and quite unnaturally precise.

Pierre said one word, a hopeless word. "Joan." It was a prayer. It
should have been, "Be Joan." Then he stepped back and she stumbled
into shelter.

At the same instant another man--a man in evening dress--hastily
prevented her man from closing the door.

"Miss West, may I see you home?"

Before she could speak, could do more than look, Prosper Gael had
jumped in, the door slammed, the car began its whirr, and they were
gliding through the crowded, brilliant streets.

Joan had bent forward and was rocking to and fro.

"He called me 'Joan,'" she gasped over and over. "He called me
'Joan.'"

"That was Pierre?" Prosper had been forewarned by Jasper and had
planned his part.

She kept on rocking, holding her hands on either side of her face.

"I must go away. If I see him again I shall die. I could never do that
another time. O God! His hand touched me. He called me 'Joan' ... I
must go...."

Prosper did not touch her, but his voice, very friendly, very calm,
had an instantaneous effect. "I will take you away."

She laughed shakily. "Again?" she asked, and shamed him into silence.

But after a while he began very reasonably, very patiently:

"I can take you away so that you need not be put through this
unnecessary pain. I can arrange it with Morena. If Pierre sees you
often enough, he will be sure to recognize you. Joan, I did not
deserve that 'again' and you know it. I am a changed man. If you don't
know that now I have the heart of--of devotion, of service, toward
you, you are indeed a blind and stupid woman. But you do know it. You
must."

She sat silent beside him, the long and slender hand between her face
and him.

"I can take you away," he went on presently, "and keep you from Pierre
until he has given up his search and has gone West again. And I can
take you at once--in a day or two. Your understudy can fill the part.
This engagement is almost at an end. I can make it up to Morena. After
all, if we go, we shall be doing Betty and him a service."

Joan flung out her hands recklessly. "Oh," she cried, "what does it
matter? Of course I'll go. I'd run into the sea to escape Pierre--"
She leaned back against the cushioned seat, rolled her head a little
from side to side like a person in pain. "Take me away," she repeated.
"I believe that if I stay I shall go mad. I'll go anywhere--with any
one. Only take me away."



CHAPTER XII

THE LEOPARDESS


Pierre stood before the cheap bureau of his ugly hotel bedroom turning
a red slip of cardboard about in his fingers. The gas-jet sputtering
above his head threw heavy shadows down on his face. It was the face
of hopeless, heartsick youth, the muscles sagging, the eyes dull, the
lips tight and pale. Since last night when the contemptuous glitter of
Joan's smile had fallen upon him, he had neither slept nor eaten.
Jasper had joined him at the theater exit, had walked home with him,
and, while he was with the manager, Pierre's pride and reserve had
held him up. Afterwards he had ranged the city like a prairie wolf,
ranged it as though it had been an unpeopled desert, free to his
stride. He had fixed his eyes above and beyond and walked alone in
pain.

Dawn found him again in his room. What hope had sustained him, what
memory of Joan, what purpose of tenderness toward her--these hopes and
memories and purposes now choked and twisted him. He might have found
her, his "gel," his Joan, with her dumb, loving gaze; he might have
told her the story of his sorrow in such a way that she, who forgave
so easily, would have forgiven even him, and he might have comforted
her, holding her so and so, showing her utterly the true, unchanged,
greatly changed love of his chastened heart. This girl, this love of
his, whom, in his drunken, jealous madness, he had branded and driven
away, he would have brought her back and tended her and made it up to
her in a thousand, in ten thousand, ways. Pierre knelt by his bed, his
black head buried in the cover, his arms bent above it, his hands
clenched. Out there he had never lost hope of finding her, but here,
in this peopled loneliness, with a memory of that woman's heartless
smile, he did at last despair. In a strange, torturing way she had
been like Joan. His heart had jumped to his mouth at first sight of
her. And just there, to his shoulder where her head reached, had
Joan's dear black head reached too. Pierre groaned aloud. The picture
of her was so vivid. Not in months had the reality of his "gel" come
so close to his imagination. He could feel her--feel her! O God!

That was the sort of night he had spent and the next day he passed in
a lethargy. He had no heart to face the future now that the great
purpose of his life had failed. Holliwell's God of comfort and
forgiveness forsook him. What did he want with a God when that one
comrade of his lonely, young, human life was out there lost by his own
cruelty! Perhaps she was dead. Perhaps the wound had killed her. For
all these years she might have been lying dead somewhere in the snow,
under the sky. Sharp periods of pain followed dull periods of stupor.
Now it was night again and a recollection of Jasper's theater ticket
had dragged him to a vague purpose. He wanted to see again that woman
who had so vivified his memory of Joan. It would be hateful to see her
again, but he wanted the pain. He dressed and groomed himself
carefully. Then, feeling a little faint, he went out into the
clattering, glaring night.

Pierre's experience of theater-going was exceedingly small. He had
never been in so large a play-house as this one of Morena's; he had
never seen so large and well-dressed an audience; never heard a full
and well-trained orchestra. In spite of himself, he began to be
distracted, excited, stirred. When the curtain rose on the beautiful
tropical scene, the lush island, the turquoise sea, the realistic
strip of golden sand, Pierre gave an audible oath of admiration and
surprise. The people about him began to be amused by the excitement of
this handsome, haggard young man, so graceful and intense, so
different with his hardness and leanness, the brilliance of his eyes,
the brownness of his skin. His clothes were good enough, but they
fitted him with an odd air of disguise. An experienced eye would
inevitably have seen the appropriateness of flannel shirt, gay silk
neck-handkerchief, boots, spurs, and _chaparreras_. Pierre was
entirely unaware of being interesting or different. At that moment,
caught up in the action of the play, he was as outside of himself as a
child.

The palms of stage-land stirred, the ferns swayed; between then: tall,
vivid greenness came Joan with her tread and grace and watchful eyes
of a leopardess, her loose, wild hair decked with flowers: these and
her make-up and her thinness disguised her completely from Pierre, but
again his heart came to his throat and, when she put her hands up to
her mouth and called, his pulses gave a leap. He shut his eyes. He
remembered a voice calling him in to supper. "Pi-erre! Pi-erre!" He
could sniff the smoke of his cabin fire. He opened his eyes. Of
course, she wasn't Joan, this strange, gaunt creature. Besides, his
wife could never have done what this woman was doing. Why, Joan
couldn't talk like this, she couldn't act to save her soul! She was as
simple as a child, and shy, with the unself-conscious shyness of wild
things. To be sure, this "actress-lady" was making-believe she was a
wild thing, and she was doing it almighty well, but Joan had been the
reality, and grave and still, part of his own big, grave, mountain
country, not a fierce, man-devouring animal of the tropics. Pierre
lived in the play with all but one fragment of his brain, and that
remembered Joan. It hurt like a hot coal, but he deliberately ignored
the pain of it. He followed the action breathlessly, applauded with
contagious fervor, surreptitiously rid himself of tears, and when, in
the last scene, the angry, jealous woman sprang upon her tamer, he
muttered, "Serve you right, you coyote!" with an oath of the cow-camp
that made one of his neighbors jump and throttle a startled laugh.

The curtain fell, and while the applause rose and died down and rose
again, and the people called for "Jane West! Jane West!" the
stage-director, a plump little Jew, came out behind the footlights and
held up his hand. There was a gradual silence.

"I want to make an interesting announcement," he said; "the author of
'The Leopardess' has hitherto maintained his anonymity, but to-night I
have permission to give you his name. He is in the theater to-night.
The name is already familiar to you as that of the author of a popular
novel, 'The Cañon': Prosper Gael."

There was a stir of interest, a general searching of the house,
clapping, cries of "Author! Author!" and in a few moments Prosper Gael
left his box and appeared beside the director in answer to the calls.
He was entirely self-possessed, looked even a little bored, but he was
very white. He stood there bowing, a graceful and attractive figure,
and he was about to begin a speech when he was interrupted by a
renewed calling for "Jane West!" The audience wanted to see the star
and the author side by side. Pierre joined in the clamor.

After a little pause Jane West came out from the opposite wing,
walking slowly, dressed in her green gown, jewels on her neck and in
her hair. She did not look toward the audience at all, nor bow, nor
smile, and for some reason the applause began to falter as though the
sensitive mind of the crowd was already aware that here something must
be wrong. She came very slowly, her arms hanging, her head bent, her
eyes looking up from under her brows, and she stood beside Prosper
Gael, whose forced smile had stiffened on his lips. He looked at her
in obvious fear, as a man might look at a dangerous madwoman. There
must have been madness in her eyes. She stood there for a strange,
terrible moment, moving her head slightly from side to side. Then she
said something in a very low tone. Because of the extraordinary
carrying quality of her voice--the question was heard by every one
there present:

"_You_ wrote the play? _You_ wrote the play?"

She said it twice. She seemed to quiver, to gather herself together,
her hands bent, her arms lifted. She flew at Prosper with all the
sudden strength of her insanity.

There was an outcry, a confusion. People rushed to Gael's assistance.
Men caught hold of Joan, now struggling frantically. It was a dreadful
sight, mercifully a brief one. She collapsed utterly, fell forward,
the strap of her gown breaking in the grasp of one of the men who held
her. For an instant every one in the audience saw a strange double
scar that ran across her shoulder to the edge of the shoulder-blade.
It was like two bars.

Pierre got to his feet, dropped back, and hid his face. Then he was
up, and struggling past excited people down the row, out into the
aisle, along it, hurrying blindly down unknown passages till somehow
he got himself into that confused labyrinth behind the scenes. Here a
pale, distracted scene-shifter informed him that Miss West had already
been taken home.

Pierre got the address, found his way out to the street, hailed a
taxicab, and threw himself into it. He sat forward, every muscle
tight; he felt that he could take the taxicab up and hurl it forward,
so terrible was his impatience.

An apartment house was a greater novelty to him even than a theater,
but, after a dazed moment of discovering that he did not have to ring
or knock, but just push open the great iron-scrolled door and step
into the brightly lighted, steam-heated marble hall, he decided that
the woman at the desk was a person in authority, and to her he
addressed himself, soft hat gripped in his hand, his face set to hide
excitement.

The girl was pale and red-eyed. They had brought Miss West in a few
minutes ago, she told him, and carried her up. She was still
unconscious; poor thing! "I don't think you could see her, sir. Mr.
Morena is up there, and Mr. Gael, and a doctor. A trained nurse has
been sent for. Everything in the world will be done. She's such an
elegant actress, ain't she? I've often seen her myself. And so kind
and pleasant always. Yes, sir. I'll ask, if you like, but I'm sure
they won't allow you up."

She put the receiver to her ear, pushed in the black plug, and Pierre
listened to her questions.

"Can Miss West see any one? Can an old friend"--for so Pierre had
named himself--"be allowed to see her? No. I thought not." This, with
a sympathetic glance at Pierre. "She is not conscious yet. Dangerously
ill."

"Could I speak to the doctor?" Pierre asked hoarsely.

"The gentleman wants to know if he can speak to the doctor. Certainly
not at present. If he will wait, the doctor will speak to him on the
way out."

Pierre sat on the bench and waited. He leaned forward, elbows on
knees, head crushed in both hands, and the woman stared at him
pitilessly--not that he was aware of her scrutiny. His eyes looked
through his surroundings to Joan. He saw her in every pose and in
every look in which he had ever seen her, and, with a very sick and
frightened heart, he saw her, at the last, pass by him in her fur
coat, throwing him that half-contemptuous look and smile. She didn't
know him. Was he changed so greatly? Or was the change in her so
enormous that it had disassociated her completely from her old life,
from him? He kept repeating to himself Holliwell's stern, admonishing
speech: "However changed for the worse she may be when you do find
her, Pierre, you must remember that it is your fault, your sin. You
must not judge her, must not dare to judge her. Judge yourself.
Condemn yourself. It is for her to forgive if she can bring herself to
do it."

So now Pierre fought down his suspicions and his fears. He had not
recognized Prosper. The man who had come in out of the white night,
four years ago, had worn his cap low over his eyes, his collar turned
up about his face, and, even at that, Pierre, in his drunken stupor,
had not been able to see him very clearly. This Prosper Gael who had
stood behind the footlights, this Prosper Gael at whom Joan, from some
unknown cause, had sprung like a woman maddened by injury, was a
person entirely strange to Pierre. But Pierre hated him. The man had
done Joan some insufferable mischief, which at the last had driven her
beside herself. Pierre put up a hand, pressing it against his eyes. He
wanted to shut out the picture of that struggling girl with her torn
dress and the double scar across her shoulder. If it hadn't been for
the scar he would never have known her--his Joan, his gentle, silent
Joan! What had they been doing to her to change her so? No, not they.
He. He had changed her. He had branded her and driven her out. It was
his fault. He must try to find her again, to find the old Joan--if she
should live. The doctor had said that she was desperately ill. O God!
What was keeping him so long? Why didn't he come?

The arrival of the trained nurse distracted Pierre for a few moments.
She went past him in her gray cloak, very quiet and earnest, and the
elevator lifted her out of sight.

"Were you in the theater to-night?" asked the girl at the desk, seeing
that he was temporarily aware of her again.

"Yes, ma'am."

She was puzzled by his appearance and the fashion of his speech. He
must be a gentleman, she thought, for his bearing was gentle and
assured and unself-conscious, but he wore his clothes differently and
spoke differently from other gentlemen. That "Yes, ma'am," especially
disturbed her. Then she remembered a novel she had read and her mind
jumped to a conclusion. She leaned forward.

"Say, aren't you from the West?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"You weren't ever a cowboy, were you?"

Pierre smiled. "Yes, ma'am. I was raised in a cow-camp. I was a cowboy
till about seven years ago when I took to ranchin'."

"Where was that?"

"Out in Wyoming."

"And you've come straight from there to New York?" She pronounced it
"Noo Yoik."

"No, ma'am. I've been in Alasky for two years now. I've been in a
lumber-camp."

"Gee! That's real interesting. And you knew Miss West before she came
East, then?"

"Yes, ma'am." But there was a subtle change in Pierre's patient voice
and clear, unhappy eyes, so that the girl fell to humming and bottled up
her curiosity. But just as soon as he began to brood again she gave up
her whole mind to staring at him. Gee! He was brown and strong and thin!
And a good-looker! She wished that she had worn her transformation that
evening and her blue blouse. He might have taken more interest in her.

A stout, bald-headed man, bag in hand, stepped out of the elevator,
and Pierre rippled to his feet.

"Are you the doctor?"

"Yes. Oh, you're the gentleman who wanted to see Miss West. She's come
to, but she is out of her head completely ... doesn't know any one.
Can you step out with me?"

Pierre kept beside him and stood by the motor, hat still in his hand,
while the doctor talked irritably: "No. You certainly can't see her,
for some time. I shall not allow any one to see her, except the nurse.
It will be a matter of weeks. She'll be lucky if she gets back her
sanity at all. She was entirely out of her head there at the theater.
She's worn out, nerves frayed to a frazzle. Horribly unhealthy life
and unnatural. To take a country girl, an ignorant, untrained, healthy
animal, bring her to the city and force her under terrific pressure
into a life so foreign to her--well! it was just a piece of d----d
brutality." Then his acute eye suddenly fixed itself on the man
standing on the curb listening.

"You're from the West yourself?"

"Yes, sir."

"Knew her in the old days--eh?"

"Yes, sir." Pierre's voice was faint and he put a hand against the
motor.

"Well, why don't you take her back with you to that life? You're not
feeling any too fit yourself, are you? Look here. Get in and I'll drop
you where you belong."

Pierre obeyed rather blindly and leaned back with closed eyes. The
doctor got out a flask and poured him a dose of brandy.

"What's the trouble? Too much New York?"

Pierre shook his head and smiled. "No, sir. I've been bothered and
didn't get round to eating and sleeping lately."

"Then I'll take you to a restaurant and we'll have supper. I need
something myself. And, look here, I'll make you a promise. Just as
soon as I consider her fit for an interview with any one, I'll let you
see Miss West. That helps you a whole lot, doesn't it?"

But there were other powers, besides this friendly one, watching over
Joan, and they were bent upon keeping Pierre away. Day after sickening
day Pierre came and stood beside the desk, and the girl, each time a
little more careless of him, a little more insolent toward him--for
the cowboy would not notice her blue blouse and her transformation and
the invitation of her eyes--gave him negligent and discouraging
information.

"Miss West was better, but very weak. No. She wouldn't see any one.
Yes, Mr. Morena could see her, but not Mr. Landis, certainly not Mr.
Pierre Landis, of Wyoming."

And the doctor, being questioned by the half-frantic Westerner,
admitted that Mr. Morena had hinted at reasons why it might be
dangerous for the patient to see her old friend from the West. Pierre
stood to receive this sentence, and after it, his eyes fell. The
doctor had seen the quick, desperate moisture in them.

"I tell you what, Landis," he said, putting a hand on Pierre's
shoulder. "I'm willing to take a risk. I'm sure of one thing. Miss
West hasn't even heard of your inquiries."

"You mean Morena's making it up--about her not being willing to see
me?"

"I do mean that. And no doubt he's doing it with the best intentions.
But I'm willing to take a risk. See those stairs? You run up them to
the fifth floor. The nurse is out. Gael is in attendance; that is,
he's in the sitting-room. She doesn't know of his presence, hasn't
been allowed to see him. Miss West's door--the outside one--is ajar.
Go up. Get past Gael if you can. Behave yourself quietly, and if you
see the least sign of weakness on the part of Miss West, or if she
shows the slightest disinclination for your company, come down--I'm
trusting you--as quickly as you can and tell me. I'll wait. Have I
your promise?"

"Yes, sir," gasped Pierre.

The doctor smiled at the swift, leaping grace of his Western friend's
ascent. He was anxious concerning the result of his experiment, but
there was a memory upon him of a haunted look in Joan's eyes that
seemed the fellow to a look of Pierre's. He rather believed in
intuitions, especially his own.



CHAPTER XIII

THE END OF THE TRAIL


At the top of the fourth flight of steps, Pierre found himself facing
a door that stood ajar. Beyond that door was Joan and he knew not what
experience of discovery, of explanation, of punishment. What he had
suffered since the night of his cruelty would be nothing to what he
might have to suffer now at the hands of the woman he had loved and
hurt. That she was incredibly changed he knew, what had happened to
change her he did not know. That she had suffered greatly was certain.
One could not look at the face of Jane West, even under its disguise
of paint and pencil, without a sharp realization of profound and
embittering experience. And, just as certainly, she had gone far ahead
of her husband in learning, in a certain sort of mental and social
development. Pierre was filled with doubt and with dread, with an
almost unbearable self-depreciation. And at the same time he was
filled with a nameless fear of what Joan might herself have become.

He stood with his hand on the knob of that half-opened door, bent his
head, and drew some deep, uneven breaths. He thought of Holliwell as
though the man were standing beside him. He stepped in quietly, shut
the door, and walked without hesitation down the passageway into the
little, sunny sitting-room. There, before the crackling, open fire,
sat Prosper Gael.

Prosper, it seemed, was alone in the small, silent place. He was
sitting on the middle of his spine, as usual, with his long, thin legs
stretched out before him and a veil of cigarette smoke before his
eyes. He turned his head idly, expecting, no doubt, to see the nurse.

Pierre, white and grim, stood looking down at him.

The older man recognized him at once, but he did not change his
position by a muscle, merely lounged there, his head against the side
of the cushioned chair, the brilliant, surprised gaze changing slowly
to amused contempt. His cigarette hung between the long fingers of one
hand, its blue spiral of smoke rising tranquilly into a bar of
sunshine from the window.

"The doctor told me to come up," said Pierre gravely. He was aware of
the insult of this stranger's attitude, but he was too deeply stirred,
too deeply suspenseful, to be irritated by it. He seemed to be moving
in some rare, disconnected atmosphere. "I have his permission to
see--to see Miss West, if she is willing to see me."

Prosper flicked off an ash with his little finger. "And you believe
that she is willing to see you, Pierre Landis?" he asked slowly.

Pierre gave him a startled look. "You know my name?"

"Yes. I believe that four years ago, on an especially cold and snowy
night, I interrupted you in a rather extraordinary occupation and gave
myself the pleasure of shooting you." With that he got to his feet and
stood before the mantel, negligently enough, but ready to his
fingertips.

Pierre came nearer by a stride. He had been stripped at once of his
air of high detachment. He was pale and quivering. He looked at
Prosper with eyes of incredulous dread.

"Were you--that man?" A tide of shamed scarlet engulfed him and he
dropped his eyes.

"I thought that would take the assurance out of you," said Prosper.
"As a matter of fact, shooting was too good for you. On that night you
forfeited every claim to the consideration of man or woman. I have the
right of any decent citizen to turn you out of here. Do you still
maintain your intention of asking for an interview with Miss Jane
West?"

Pierre, half-blind with humiliation, turned without a word and made
his way to the door. He meant to go away and kill himself. The purpose
was like iron in his mind. That he should have to stand and, because
of his own cowardly fault, to endure insult from this contemptuous
stranger, made of life a garment too stained, too shameful to be worn.
He was in haste to be rid of it. Something, however, barred his exit.
He stumbled back to avoid it. There, holding aside the curtain in the
doorway, stood Joan.

This time there was no possible doubt of her identity. She was wrapped
in a long, blue gown, her hair had fallen in braided loops on either
side of her face and neck. The unchanged eyes of Joan under her broad
brows looked up at him. She was thin and wan, unbelievably broken and
tired and hurt, but she was Joan. Pierre could not but forget death at
sight of her. He staggered forward, and she, putting up her arms, drew
him hungrily and let fall her head upon his shoulder.

"My gel! My Joan!" Pierre sobbed.

Prosper's voice sawed into their tremulous silence.

"So, after all, the branding iron is the proper instrument," he said.
"A man can always recognize his estray, and when she is recognized she
will come to heel."

Joan pushed Pierre from her violently and turned upon Prosper Gael.
Her voice broke over him in a tumult of soft scorn.

"You know nothing of loving, Prosper Gael, not the first letter of
loving. Nobody has learned that about you as well as I have. Now,
listen and I will teach you something. This is something that _I_ have
learned. There are worse wounds than I had from Pierre, and it is by
the hands of such men as you are that they are given. The hurts you
get from love, they heal. Pierre was mad, he was a beast, he branded
me as though I had been a beast. For long years I couldn't think of
him but with a sort of horror in my heart. If it hadn't been for you,
I might never have thought of him no other way forever. But what you
did to me, Prosper, you with your white-hot brain and your gray-cold
heart, you with your music and your talk throbbing and talking and
whining about my soul, what you did to me has made Pierre's iron a
very gentle thing. I have not acted in the play you wrote, the play
you made out of me and my unhappiness, without understanding just what
it was that you did to me. Perhaps if it hadn't been for the play, I
might even have believed that you were capable of something better
than that passion you had once for me--but not now. Never now can I
believe it. What you make other people suffer is material for your own
success and you delight in it. You make notes upon it. Pierre was mad
through loving me, too ignorantly, too jealously, but what you did to
me was through loving me too little. That was a brand upon my brain
and soul. Sometimes since then that scar on my shoulder has seemed to
me almost like the memory of a caress. I went away from Pierre,
leaving him for dead, ready for death myself. When you left me, you
left me alive and ready for what sort of living? It has been Pierre's
love and his following after me that have kept me from low and beastly
things. I've run from him knowing I wasn't fit to be found by him, but
I've run clean and free." She began to tremble. "Will you say anything
more to me and to my man?"

Prosper's face wore its old look of the winged demon. He was cold in
his angry pain.

"Just one thing to your man, perhaps, if you will allow me, but
perhaps you'll tell him that yourself. That his method is the right
one, I admit. But in one respect not even a brand will altogether
preserve property rights. Morena could say something on that score. So
could I...."

"Hush!" said Joan; "I will tell him myself. Pierre, I left you for
dead and I went away with this man, and after a while, because I
thought you were dead, and because I was alone and sorrowful and weak,
and because, perhaps, of what my mother was, I--I--" She fell away
from Pierre, crouched against the side of the door, and wrapped the
curtain round her face. "He told me you were dead--" The words came
muffled.

Pierre had let her go and turned to Prosper. His own face was a mask
of rage. Prosper knew that it was the Westerner's intention to kill.
For a minute, no longer, he was a lightning channel of death. But
Pierre, the Pierre shaped during the last four difficult years, turned
upon his own writhing, savage soul and forced it to submit. It was as
though he fought with his hands. Sweat broke out on him. At last, he
stood and looked at Prosper with sane, stern eyes.

"If that's true what you hinted, if that's true what she was tryin' to
tell, if it's even partly true," he said painfully, "then it was me
that brought it upon her, not you--an' not herself, but me."

He turned back to Joan, drew the curtain from her face, drew down her
hands, lifted her and carried her to the couch beside the fire.

There she shrank away from him, tried to push him back.

"It's true, Pierre; not that about Morena, but the rest is true. It's
true. Only he told me you were dead. But you weren't--no, don't take
my hands, I never did have dealings with Holliwell. Indeed, I loved
only you. But you must have known me better than I knew myself. For I
am bad. I am bad. I left you for dead and I went away."

He had mastered her hands, both of them in one of his, and he drew
them close to his heart.

"Don't Joan! Hush, Joan! You mustn't. It was my doings, gel, all of
it. Hush!"

He bent and crushed his lips against hers, silencing her. Then she
gave way and clung to him, sobbing.

After a while Pierre looked up at Prosper Gael. All the patience and
the hunger and the beauty of his love possessed his face. There was
simply no room in his heart for any lesser thing.

"Stranger," he said in the grave and gentle Western speech, "I'll have
to ask you to leave me with my wife."

Prosper made a curious, silent gesture of self-despair and went out,
feeling his way before him.

It was half an hour later when the doctor came softly to the door and
held back the curtain in his hand. He did not say anything and, after
a silent minute, he let fall the curtain and moved softly away. He was
reassured as to the success of his experiment. He had seen Joan's
face.

THE END





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