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.


"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 Canyon. 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.

Pierre Becomes Alarmed About His Property Pierre Takes Steps To Preserve His Property facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail