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
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
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
“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
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.