The Branding Iron (The Two-Bar Brand Chapter 9 Dried Rose-Leaves, page 1 of 9)


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The house that Prosper Gael had built for himself and for the woman
whom Joan came to think of as the "tall child," stood in a cañon, a
deep, secret fold of the hills, where a cliff stood behind it, and
where the pine-needled ground descended before its door, under the
far-flung, greenish-brown shade of fir boughs, to the lip of a green
lake. Here the highest snow-peak toppled giddily down and reared
giddily up from the crystal green to the ether blue, firs massed into
the center of the double image. In January, the lake was a glare of
snow, in which the big firs stood deep, their branches heavily
weighted. Prosper had dug a tunnel from his door through a big drift
which touched his eaves. It was curious to see Wen Ho come pattering
out of this Northern cave, his yellow, Oriental face and slant eyes
peering past the stalactite icicles as though they felt their own
incongruity almost with a sort of terror. The interior of the
five-room house gave just such an effect of bizarre and extravagant
contrast; an effect, too, of luxury, though in truth it was furnished
for the most part with stuffs and objects picked up at no very great
expense in San Francisco shops. Nevertheless, there was nothing tawdry
and, here and there, something really precious. Draperies on the
walls, furniture made by Wen Ho and Prosper, lacquered in black and
red, brass and copper, bright pewter, gay china, some fur rugs, a
gorgeous Oriental lamp, bookcases with volumes of a sober richness, in
fact the costliest and most laborious of imports to this wilderness,
small-paned, horizontal windows curtained in some heavy green-gold
stuff which slipped along the black lacquered pole on rings of jade;
all these and a hundred other points of softly brilliant color gave to
the living-room a rare and striking look, while the bedrooms were
matted, daintily furnished, carefully appointed as for a bride. Much
thought and trouble, much detailed labor, had gone to the making of
this odd nest in a Wyoming cañon. Whatever one must think of Prosper
Gael, it is difficult to shirk heartache on his account. A man of his
temperament does not lightly undertake even a companioned isolation in
a winter land. To picture what place of torment this well-appointed
cabin was to him before he brought to it Joan, as a lonely man brings
in a wounded bird to nurse and cherish, stretches the fancy on a rack
of varied painfulness.

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