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."





Flesh Florence Grace Hallman Speaks Plainly facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Feedback