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.





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