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Pierre Lays His Hand On A Heart

From: The Branding Iron

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.

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