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.





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