The Branding Iron (The Two-Bar Brand - Chapter 6 Pierre Takes Steps to Preserve his Property, page 1 of 7)


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A log fell forward and Joan lifted her head. She had not come to an
end of Isabella's tragedy nor of her own memories, but something other
than the falling log had startled her; a light, crunching step upon
the snow.

She looked toward the window. For an instant the room was almost dark
and the white night peered in at her, its gigantic snow-peaks pressing
against the long, horizontal window panes, and in that instant she saw
a face. The fire started up again, the white night dropped away, the
face shone close a moment longer, then it too disappeared. Joan came
to her feet with pounding pulses. It had been Pierre's face, but at
the same time, the face of a stranger. He had come back five days too
soon and something terrible had happened. Surely his chancing to see
her with her book would not make him look like that. Besides, she was
not wasting oil. She had stood up, but at first she was incapable of
moving forward. For the first time in her life she knew the paralysis
of unreasoning fear. Then the door opened and Pierre came in out of
the crystal night.

"What brought you back so soon?" asked Joan.

"Too soon fer you, eh?" He strode over to the hearth where she had
lain, took up the book, struck it with his hand as though it had been
a hated face, and flung it into the fire. "I seen you through the
window," he said. "So you been happy readin' while I been away?"

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