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.





Pictures And Plans And Mysterious Footsteps Pierre Lays His Hand On A Heart facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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