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Riders of the Silences
Max Brand
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Title: Riders of the Silences
Author: Max Brand
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RIDERS OF THE SILENCES
Max Brand
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1919
Prologue
The Great West, prior to the century's turn, abounded in legend.
Stories were told of fabled gunmen whose bullets always magically
found their mark, of mighty stallions whose tireless gallop rivaled
the speed of the wind, of glorious women whose beauty stunned mind and
heart. But nowhere in the vast spread of the mountain-desert country
was there a greater legend told than the story of Red Pierre and the
phantom gunfighter, McGurk.
These two men of the wilderness, so unalike, of widely-differing
backgrounds, had in common a single trait: each was unbeatable. Fate
brought them clashing together, thunder to thunder, lightning to
lightning. They were destined to meet at the crossroads of a long,
long trail ... a trail which began in the northern wastes of Canada
and led, finally, to a deadly confrontation in the mountains of the
Far West.
Riders of the Silences
CHAPTER 1
It seemed that Father Anthony gathered all the warmth of the short
northern summer and kept it for winter use, for his good nature was an
actual physical force. From his ruddy face beamed such a kindliness
that people reached out toward him as they might extend their hands
toward a comfortable fire.
All the labors of his work as an inspector of Jesuit institutions
across the length and breadth of Canada could not lessen the good
father's enthusiasm; his smile was as indefatigable as his critical
eyes. The one looked sharply into every corner of a room and every
nook and hidden cranny of thoughts and deeds; the other veiled the
criticism and soothed the wounds of vanity.
On this day, however, the sharp eyes grew a little less keen and
somewhat wider, while that smile was fixed rather by habit than
inclination. In fact, his expression might be called a frozen
kindliness as he looked across the table to Father Victor.
It required a most indomitable geniality, indeed, to outface the rigid
piety of Jean Paul Victor. His missionary work had carried him far
north, where the cold burns men thin. The zeal which drove him north
and north and north over untracked regions, drove him until his body
ads:
failed, drove him even now, though his body was crippled.
A mighty yearning, and a still mightier self-contempt whipped him on,
and the school over which he was master groaned and suffered under his
régime. Father Anthony said gently: "Are there none among all your
lads, dear Father Victor, whom you find something more than imperfect
machines?"
The man of the north drew from a pocket of his robe a letter. His lean
fingers touched it almost with a caress.
"One. Pierre Ryder. He shall carry on my mission in the north. I, who
am silent, have done much; but Pierre will do more. I had to fight my
first battle to conquer my own stubborn soul, and the battle left me
weak for the great work in the snows, but Pierre will not fight that
battle, for I have trained him.
"This letter is for him. Shall we not carry it to him? For two days I
have not seen Pierre."
Father Anthony winced.
He said: "Do you deny yourself even the pleasure of the lad's company?
Alas, Father Victor, you forge your own spurs and goad yourself with
your own hands. What harm is there in being often with the lad?"
The sneer returned to the lips of Jean Paul Victor.
"The purpose would be lost--lost to my eyes and lost to his--the
purpose for which I have lived and for which he shall live. When I
first saw him he was a child, a baby, but he came to me and took one
finger of my hand in his small fist and looked up to me. Ah,
Gabrielle, the smile of an infant goes to the heart swifter than the
thrust of a knife! I looked down upon him and I knew that I was chosen
to teach the child. There was a voice that spoke in me. You will
smile, but even now I think I can hear it."
"I swear to you that I believe," said Father Anthony.
"Another man would have given Pierre a Bible and a Latin grammar and a
cell. I gave him the testament and the grammar; I gave him also the
wild north country to say his prayers in and patter his Latin. I
taught his mind, but I did not forget his body.
"He is to go out among wild men. He must have strength of the spirit.
He must also have a strength of the body that they will understand and
respect. He can ride a horse standing; he can run a hundred miles in a
day behind a dog-team. He can wrestle and fight with his hands, for
skilled men have taught him. I have made him a thunderbolt to hurl
among the ignorant and the unenlightened; and this is the hand which
shall wield it. Ha!
"It is now hardly a six month since he saved a trapper from a bobcat
and killed the animal with a knife. It must have been my prayers which
saved him from the teeth and the claws."
Good Father Anthony rose.
"You have described a young David. I am eager to see him. Let us go."
Father Victor nodded, and the two went out together. The chill of the
open was hardly more than the bitter cold inside the building, but
there was a wind that drove the cold through the blood and bones of
a man.
They staggered along against it until they came to a small house, long
and low. On the sheltered side they paused to take breath, and Father
Victor explained: "This is his hour in the gymnasium. To make the body
strong required thought and care. Mere riding and running and swinging
of the ax will not develop every muscle. Here Pierre works every day.
His teachers of boxing and wrestling have abandoned him."
There was almost a smile on the lean face.
"The last man left with a swollen jaw and limping on one leg."
Here he opened the door, and they slipped inside. The air was warmed
by a big stove, and the room--for the afternoon was dark--lighted by
two swinging lanterns suspended from the low roof. By that
illumination Father Anthony saw two men stripped naked, save for a
loincloth, and circling each other slowly in the center of a ring
which was fenced in with ropes and floored with a padded mat.
Of the two wrestlers, one was a veritable giant, swarthy of skin,
hairy-chested. His great hands were extended to grasp or to parry--his
head lowered with a ferocious scowl--and across his forehead swayed a
tuft of black, shaggy hair. He might have stood for one of those
northern barbarians whom the Romans loved to pit against their native
champions in the arena. He was the greater because of the opponent he
faced, and it was upon this opponent that the eyes of Father
Anthony centered.
Like Father Victor, he was caught first by the bright hair. It was a
dark red, and where the light struck it strongly there were places
like fire. Down from this hair the light slipped like running water
over a lithe body, slender at the hips, strong-chested, round and
smooth of limb, with long muscles leaping and trembling at every move.
He, like the big fighter, circled cautiously about, but the impression
he gave was as different from the other as day is from night. His head
was carried high; in place of a scowl, he smiled with a sort of
eagerness, a light which was partly exultation and partly mischief
sparkled in his eyes. Once or twice the giant caught at the other, but
David slipped from under the grip of Goliath easily. It seemed as if
his skin were oiled. The big man snarled with anger, and lunged more
eagerly at Pierre.
The two, abandoning their feints, suddenly rushed together, and the
swarthy arms of the monster slipped around the white body of Pierre.
For a moment they whirled, twisting and struggling.
"Now!" murmured Father Victor; and as if in answer to a command,
Pierre slipped down, whipped his hands to a new grip, and the two
crashed to the mat, with Pierre above.
"Open your eyes, Father Anthony. The lad is safe. How Goliath grunts!"
The boy had not cared to follow his advantage, but rose and danced
away, laughing softly. The Canuck floundered up and rushed like a
furious bull. His downfall was only the swifter. The impact of the two
bodies sounded like hands clapped together, and then Goliath rose into
the air, struggling mightily, and pitched with a thud to the mat.
He writhed there, for the wind was knocked from his body by the fall.
At length he struggled to a sitting posture and glared up at the
conqueror. The boy reached out a hand to his fallen foe.
"You would have thrown me that way the first time," he said, "but you
let me change grips on you. In another week you will be too much for
me, _bon ami_."
The other accepted the hand after an instant of hesitation and was
dragged to his feet. He stood looking down into the boy's face with a
singular grin. But there was no triumph in the eye of Pierre--only a
good-natured interest.
"In another week," answered the giant, "there would not be a sound
bone in my body."
CHAPTER 2
"You have seen him," murmured the tall priest. "Now let us go back and
wait for him. I will leave word."
He touched one of the two or three men who were watching the athletes,
and whispered his message in the other's ear. Then he went back with
Father Anthony. "You have seen him," he repeated, when they sat once
more in the cheerless room. "Now pronounce on him."
The other answered: "I have seen a wonderful body--but the mind,
Father Victor?"
"It is as simple as that of a child--his thoughts run as clear as
spring water."
"But suppose a strange thought came in the mind of your Pierre. It
would be like the pebbles in swift-running spring water. He would
carry it on, rushing. It would tear away the old boundaries of his
mind--it might wipe out the banks you have set down for him--it might
tear away the choicest teachings."
Father Victor sat straight and stiff with stern, set lips. He said
dryly: "Father Anthony has been much in the world."
"I speak from the best intention, good father. Look you, now, I have
seen that same red hair and those same lighted blue eyes before, and
wherever I have seen them has been war and trouble and unrest. I have
seen that same smile which stirs the heart of a woman and makes a man
reach for his revolver. This boy whose mind is so clear--arm him with
a single wrong thought, with a single doubt of the eternal goodness of
God's plans, and he will be a thunderbolt indeed, dear Father, but one
which even your strong hand could not control."
"I have heard you," said the priest; "but you will see. He is coming
now."
There was a knock at the door; then it opened and showed a modest
novice in a simple gown of black serge girt at the waist with the flat
encircling band. His head was downward; it was not till the blue eyes
flashed inquisitively up that Father Anthony recognized Pierre.
The hard voice of Jean Paul Victor pronounced: "This is that Father
Anthony of whom I have spoken."
The novice slipped to his knees and folded his hands, while the plump
fingers of Father Anthony poised over that dark red hair, pressed
smooth on top where the skullcap rested. The blessing which he spoke
was Latin, and Father Victor looked somewhat anxiously toward his
protege till the latter answered in a diction so pure that Cicero
himself would have smiled to hear it.
"Stand up!" cried Father Anthony. "By heavens, Jean Paul, it is the
purest Latin I have heard this twelvemonth."
And the lad answered: "It must be pure Latin; Father Victor has taught
me."
Gabrielle Anthony stared, and to save him from too obvious confusion
the other priest interrupted: "I have a letter for you, my son."
And he passed the envelope to Pierre. The latter examined it with
interest. "This comes from the south. It is marked from the
United States."
"So far!" exclaimed the tall priest. "Give me the letter, lad."
But here he caught the whimsical eyes of Father Anthony, and he
allowed his outstretched hand to fall. Yet he scowled as he said: "No;
keep it and read it, Pierre."
"I have no great wish to keep it," answered Pierre, studying anxiously
the dark brow of the priest.
"It is yours. Open it and read."
The lad obeyed instantly. He shook out the folded paper and moved a
little nearer the light. Then he read aloud, as if it had never
entered his mind that what was addressed to him might be meant for his
eyes alone.
"Morgantown,
"R.F.D. No. 4.
"SON PIERRE:
"Here I lie with a chunk of lead from the gun of Bob McGurk resting
somewheres in the insides of me, and there ain't no way of doubting
that I'm about to go out. Now, I ain't complaining none. I've had my
fling. I've eat my meat to order, well done and rare--mostly rare.
Maybe some folks will be saying that I've got what I've been asking
for, and I know that Bob McGurk got me fair and square, shooting from
the hip. That don't help me none, lying here with a through ticket to
some place that's farther south than Texas.
"Hell ain't none too bad for me, I know. I ain't whining none. I just
lie here and watch the world getting dimmer until I begin to be seeing
things out of my past. That shows the devil ain't losing no time with
me. But the thing that comes back oftenest and hits me the hardest is
the sight of your mother, lying with you in the hollow of her arm and
looking up at me and whispering, 'Dad,' just before she went out."
The hand of the boy fell, and his eyes sought the face of Father
Victor. The latter was standing.
"You told me I had no father--"
An imperious arm stretched toward him.
"Give me the letter."
He moved to obey, and then checked himself.
"This is my father's writing, is it not?"
"No, no! It's a lie, Pierre!"
But Pierre stood with the letter held behind his back, and the first
doubt in his life stood up darkly in his eyes. Father Victor sank
slowly back into his chair, his gaunt frame trembling.
"Read on," he commanded.
And Pierre, white of face, read on:
"So I got a idea that I had to write to you, Pierre. There ain't
nothing I can make up to you, but knowing the truth may help some.
Poor kid, you ain't got no father in the eyes of the law, and neither
did you have no mother, and there ain't no name that belongs to you
by rights.
"I was a man in them days, and your mother was a woman that brought
your heart into your throat and set it singing. She and me, we were
too busy being just plain happy to care much about what was right or
wrong; so you just sort of happened along, Pierre. Me being so close
to hell, I remember her eyes that was bluer than heaven looking up
to me, and her hair, that was copper with gold lights in it.
"I buried Irene on the side of the mountain under a big, rough rock,
and I didn't carve nothing on the rock. Then I took you, Pierre, and I
knew I wasn't no sort of a man to raise up the son of Irene; so I
brought you to Father Victor on a winter night and left you in his
arms. That was after I'd done my best to raise you and you was just
about old enough to chatter a bit. There wasn't nothing else to do. My
wife, she went pretty near crazy when I brought you home. And she'd of
killed you, Pierre, if I hadn't took you away.
"You see, I was married before I met Irene. So there ain't no alibi
for me. But me being so close to hell now, I look back to that time,
and somehow I see no wrong in it still.
"And if I done wrong then, I've got my share of hell-fire for it. Here
I lie, with my boys, Bill and Bert, sitting around in the corner of
the room waiting for me to go out. They ain't men, Pierre. They're
wolves in the skins of men. They're the right sons of their mother.
When I go out they'll grab the coin I've saved up, and leave me to lie
here and rot, maybe.
"Lad, it's a fearful thing to die without having no one around that
cares, and to know that even after I've gone out I'm going to lie here
and have my dead eyes looking up at the ceiling. So I'm writing to
you, Pierre, part to tell you what you ought to know; part because I
got a sort of crazy idea that maybe you could get down here to me
before I go out.
"You don't owe me nothing but hard words, Pierre; but if you don't try
to come to me, the ghost of your mother will follow you all your life,
lad, and you'll be seeing her blue eyes and the red-gold of her hair
in the dark of the night as I see it now. Me, I'm a hard man, but it
breaks my heart, that ghost of Irene. So here I'll lie, waiting for
you, Pierre, and lingering out the days with whisky, and fighting the
wolf eyes of them there sons of mine. If I weaken--If they find they
can look me square in the eye--they'll finish me quick and make off
with the coin. Pierre, come quick.
"MARTIN RYDER."
The hand of Pierre dropped slowly to his side, and the letter
fluttered with a crisp rustling to the floor.
CHAPTER 3
Then came a voice that startled the two priests, for it seemed that a
fourth man had entered the room, so changed was it from the musical
voice of Pierre.
"Father Victor, the roan is a strong horse. May I take him?"
"Pierre!" and the priest reached out his bony hands.
But the boy did not seem to notice or to understand.
"It is a long journey, and I will need a strong horse. It must be
eight hundred miles to that town."
"Pierre, what claim has he upon you? What debt have you to repay?"
And Pierre le Rouge answered: "He loved my mother."
"You are going?"
The boy asked in astonishment: "Would you not have me go, Father?"
And Jean Paul Victor could not meet the sorrowful blue eyes.
He bowed his head and answered: "My child, I would have you go. But
promise with your hand in mine that you will come back to me when your
father is buried."
The lean fingers caught the extended hand of Pierre and froze about
it.
"But first I have a second duty in the southland."
"A second?"
"You taught me to shoot and to use a knife. Once you said: 'An eye for
an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' Father Victor, my father was killed
by another man."
"Pierre, dear lad, swear to me here on this cross that you will not
raise your hands against the murderer. 'Vengeance is mine, saith
the Lord.'"
"He must have an instrument for his wrath. He shall work through me in
this."
"Pierre, you blaspheme."
"'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.'"
"It was a demon in me that quoted that in your hearing, and not
myself."
"The horse, Father Victor--may I have the roan?"
"Pierre, I command you--"
The light in the blue eyes was as cold and steady as that in the
starved eyes of Jean Paul Victor.
"Hush!" he said calmly. "For the sake of the love that I bear for you,
do not command me."
The stern priest dropped his head. He said at last: "I have nothing
saving one great and terrible treasure which I see was predestined to
you. It is the cross of Father Meilan. You have worn it before. You
shall wear it hereafter as your own."
He took from his own neck a silver cross suspended by a slender silver
chain, and the boy, with startled eyes, dropped to his knees and
received the gift.
"It has brought good to all who possessed it, but for every good thing
that it works for you it will work evil on some other. Great is its
blessing and great is its burden. I, alas, know; but you also have
heard of its history. Do you accept it, Pierre?"
"Dear Father, with all my heart."
The colorless hands touched the dark-red hair.
"God pardon the sins you shall commit."
Pierre crushed the hand of Jean Paul Victor against his lips and
rushed from the room, while the tall priest, staring down at the
fingers which had been kissed, pronounced: "I have forged a
thunderbolt, Father Gabrielle. It is too great for my hand. Listen!"
And they heard clearly the sharp clang of a horse's hoofs on the
hard-packed snow, loud at first, but fading rapidly away. The wind,
increasing suddenly, shook the house furiously about them.
It was a north wind, and traveled south before the rider of the strong
roan. Over a thousand miles of plain and hills it passed, and down
into the cattle country of the mountain-desert which the Rockies hem
on one side and the tall Sierras on the other.
It was a trail to try even the endurance of Pierre and the strong
roan, but the boy clung to it doggedly. On a trail that led down from
the edges of the northern mountain the roan crashed to the ground in a
plunging fall, hitting heavily on his knees. He was dead before the
boy had freed his feet from the stirrups.
Pierre threw the saddle over his shoulder and walked eight miles to
the nearest ranch house, where he spent practically the last cent of
his money on another horse, and drove on south once more.
There was little hope in him as day after day slipped past. Only the
ghost of a chance remained that Martin Ryder could fight away death
for another fortnight; yet Pierre had seen many a man from the
mountain-desert stave off the end through weeks and weeks of the
bitterest suffering. His father must be a man of the same hard durable
metal, and upon that Pierre staked all his hopes.
And always he carried the picture of the dying man alone with his two
wolf-eyed sons who waited for his eyes to weaken. Whenever he thought
of that he touched his horse with the spurs and rode fiercely for a
time. They were his flesh and blood, the man, and even the two
wolf-eyed sons.
So he came at last to a gap in the hills and looked down on Morgantown
in the hollow, twoscore unpainted houses sprawling along a single
street. The snow was everywhere white and pure, and the town was
like a stain on the landscape with wisps of smoke rising and trailing
across the hilltops.
Down to the edge of the town he rode, left his cow-pony standing with
hanging head outside a saloon, strode through the swinging doors, and
asked of the bartender the way to the house of Martin Ryder.
The bartender stopped in his labor of rubbing down the surface of his
bar and stared at the black-serge robe of the stranger, with curiosity
rather than criticism, for women, madmen, and clergymen have the
right-of-way in the mountain-desert.
He said: "Well, I'll be damned!--askin' your pardon. So old Mart Ryder
has come down to this, eh? Partner, you're sure going to have a rough
ride getting Mart to heaven. Better send a posse along with him,
because some first-class angels are going to get considerable riled
when they sight him coming. Ha, ha, ha! Sure I'll show you the way.
Take the northwest road out of town and go five miles till you see a
broken-backed shack lyin' over to the right. That's Mart
Ryder's place."
Out to the broken-backed shack rode Pierre le Rouge, Pierre the Red,
as everyone in the north country knew him. His second horse, staunch
cow-pony that it was, stumbled on with sagging knees and hanging head,
but Pierre rode upright, at ease, for his mind was untired.
Broken-backed indeed was the house before which he dismounted. The
roof sagged from end to end, and the stove pipe chimney leaned at a
drunken angle. Nature itself was withered beside that house; before
the door stood a great cottonwood, gashed and scarred by lightning,
with the limbs almost entirely stripped away from one side. Under this
broken monster Pierre stepped and through the door. Two growls like
the snarls of watch-dogs greeted him, and two tall, unshaven men
barred his way. Behind them, from the bed in the corner, a feeble
voice called: "Who's there?"
"In the name of God," said the boy gravely, for he saw a hollow-eyed
specter staring toward him from the bed in the corner, "let me pass! I
am his son!"
It was not that which made them give back, but a shrill, faint cry of
triumph from the sick man toward which they turned. Pierre slipped
past them and stood above Martin Ryder. He was wasted beyond
belief--only the monster hand showed what he had been.
"Son?" he queried with yearning and uncertainty.
"Pierre, your son."
And he slipped to his knees beside the bed. The heavy hand fell upon
his hair and stroked it.
"There ain't no ways of doubting it. It's red silk, like the hair of
Irene. Seein' you, boy, it ain't so hard to die. Look up! So! Pierre,
my son! Are you scared of me, boy?"
"I'm not afraid."
"Not with them eyes you ain't. Now that you're here, pay the coyotes
and let 'em go off to gnaw the bones."
He dragged out a small canvas bag from beneath the blankets and
gestured toward the two lurkers in the corner.
"Take it, and be damned to you!"
A dirty, yellow hand seized the bag; there was a chortle of
exultation, and the two scurried out of the room.
"Three weeks they've watched an' waited for me to go out, Pierre.
Three weeks they've waited an' sneaked up to my bed an' sneaked away
agin, seein' my eyes open."
Looking into their fierce fever brightness, Pierre understood why they
had quailed. For the man, though wrecked beyond hope of living, was
terrible still. The thick, gray stubble on his face could not hide
altogether the hard lines of mouth and jaw, and on the wasted arm the
hand was grotesquely huge. It was horror that widened the eyes of
Pierre as he looked at Martin Ryder; it was a grim happiness that made
his lips almost smile.
"You've taken holy orders, lad?"
"No."
"But the black dress?"
"I'm only a novice. I've sworn no vows."
"And you don't hate me--you hold no grudge against me for the sake of
your mother?"
Pierre took the heavy hand.
"Are you not my father? And my mother was happy with you. For her sake
I love you."
"The good Father Victor. He sent you to me."
"I came of my own will. He would not have let me go."
"He--he would have kept my flesh and blood away from me?"
"Do not reproach him. He would have kept me from a sin."
"Sin? By God, boy, no matter what I've done, is it sin for my son to
come to me? What sin?"
"The sin of murder!"
"Ha!"
"I have come to find McGurk."
CHAPTER 4
Like some old father-bear watching his cub flash teeth against a
stalking lynx, half proud and half fearful of such courage, so the
dying cattleman looked at his son. Excitement set a high and dangerous
color in his cheek. "Pierre--brave boy! Look at me. I ain't no
imitation man, even now, but I ain't a ghost of what I was. There
wasn't no man I wouldn't of met fair and square with bare hands or
with a gun. Maybe my hands was big, but they were fast on the draw.
I've lived all my life with iron on the hip, and my six-gun has
seven notches.
"But McGurk downed me fair and square. There wasn't no murder. I was
out for his hide, and he knew it. I done the provokin', an' he jest
done the finishin', that was all. It hurts me a lot to say it, but
he's a better man than I was. A kid like you, why, he'd jest eat
you, Pierre."
Pierre le Rouge smiled again. He felt a stern pride to be the son of
this man.
"So that's settled," went on Martin Ryder, "an' a damned good thing it
is. Son, you didn't come none too soon. I'm goin' out fast. There
ain't enough light left in me so's I can see my own way. Here's all I
ask: When I die touch my eyelids soft an' draw 'em shut--I've seen the
look in a dead man's eyes. Close 'em, and I know I'll go to sleep an'
have good dreams. And down in the middle of Morgantown is the
buryin'-ground. I've ridden past it a thousand times an' watched a
corner plot, where the grass grows quicker than it does anywheres else
in the cemetery. Pierre, I'd die plumb easy if I knew I was goin' to
sleep the rest of time in that place."
"It shall be done."
"But that corner plot, it would cost a pile, son. And I've no money. I
gave what I had to them wolf-eyed boys, Bill an' Bert. Money was what
they wanted, an' after I had Irene's son with me, money was the
cheapest way of gettin' rid of 'em."
"I'll buy the plot."
"Have you got that much money, lad?"
"Yes," lied Pierre calmly.
The bright eyes grew dimmer and then fluttered close. Pierre started
to his feet, thinking that the end had come. But the voice began
again, fainter, slowly.
"No light left inside of me, but dyin' this way is easy. There ain't
no wind will blow on me after I'm dead, but I'll be blanketed safe
from head to foot in cool, sweet-smellin' sod--the kind that has
tangles of the roots of grass. There ain't no snow will reach to me
where I lie. There ain't no sun will burn down to me. Dyin' like that
is jest--goin' to sleep."
After that he said nothing for a time, and the late afternoon darkened
slowly through the room.
As for Pierre, he did not move, and his mind went back. He did not see
the bearded wreck who lay dying before him, but a picture of Irene,
with the sun lighting her copper hair with places of burning gold, and
a handsome young giant beside her. They rode together on some upland
trail at sunset time, sharply framed against the bright sky.
There was a whisper below him: "Irene!"
And Pierre looked down to blankly staring eyes. He groaned, and
dropped to his knees.
"I have come for you," said the whisper, "because the time has come,
Irene. We have to ride out together. We have a long ways to go. Are
you ready?"
"Yes," said Pierre.
"Thank God! It's a wonderful night. The stars are asking us out.
Quick! Into your saddle. Now the spurs. So! We are alone and free,
with the winds around us, and all that we have been forgotten
behind us."
The eyes opened wide and stared up; without a stir in the great, gaunt
body, he was dead. Pierre reverently drew the eyes shut. There were no
tears in his eyes, but a feeling of hollowness about his heart. He
straightened and looked about him and found that the room was
quite dark.
So in the dimness Pierre fumbled, by force of habit, at his throat,
and found the cross which he wore by a silver chain about his throat.
He held it in a great grip and closed his eyes and prayed. When he
opened his eyes again it was almost deep night in the room, and Pierre
had passed from youth to manhood. Through the gloom nothing stood out
distinctly save the white face of the dead man, and from that Pierre
looked quickly away.
One by one he numbered his obligations to Martin Ryder, and first and
last he remembered the lie which had soothed his father. The money for
that corner plot where the grass grew first in the spring of the
year--where was he to find it? He fumbled in his pocket and found only
a single coin.
He leaned back against the wall and strove to concentrate on the
problem, but his thoughts wandered in spite of himself. Looking
backward, he remembered all things much more clearly than when he had
actually seen them. For instance, he recalled now that as he walked
through the door the two figures which had started up to block his way
had left behind them some playing-cards at the corner table. One of
these cards had slipped from the edge of the board and flickered
slowly to the floor.
With that memory the thoughts of Pierre le Rouge stopped. The picture
of the falling card remained; all else went out in his mind like the
snuffing of the candle. Then, as if he heard a voice directing him
through the utter blackness of the room, he knew what he must do.
All his wealth was the single half-dollar piece in his pocket, and
there was only one way in which that coin could be increased to the
sum he would need to buy that corner plot, where the soul of old
Martin Ryder could sleep long and deep.
From his brothers he would get no help. The least memory of those
sallow, hungry faces convinced him of that.
There remained the gaming table. In the north country he had watched
men sit in a silent circle, smoking, drinking, with the flare of an
oil-lamp against deep, seamed faces, and only the slip and whisper of
card against card.
Cold conscience tapped the shoulder of Pierre, remembering the lessons
of Father Victor, but a moment later his head went up and his eyes
were shining through the dark. After all, the end justified the means.
A moment later he was laughing softly as a boy in the midst of a
prank, and busily throwing off the robe of serge. Fumbling through the
night he located the shirt and trousers he had seen hanging from a
nail on the wall. Into these he slipped, and then went out under
the open sky.
The rest had revived the strength of the tough little cow-pony, and he
drove on at a gallop toward the twinkling lights of Morgantown. There
was a new consciousness about Pierre as if he had changed his whole
nature with his clothes. The sober sense of duty which had kept him in
awe all his life like a lifted finger, was almost gone, and in its
place was a joyous freedom.
For the first time he faintly realized what an existence other than
that of a priest might be. Now for a brief moment he could forget the
part of the subdued novice and become merely a man with nothing about
him to distinguish him from other men, nothing to make heads turn at
his approach and raise whispers as he passed.
It was a game, but he rejoiced in it as a girl does in her first
masquerade. Tomorrow he must be grave and sober-footed and an example
to other men; tonight he could frolic as he pleased.
So Pierre le Rouge tossed back his head and laughed up to the frosty
stars. The loose sleeves and the skirts of the robe no longer
entangled his limbs. He threw up his arms and shouted. A hillside
caught the sound and echoed it back to him with a wonderful clearness,
and up and down the long ravine beat the clatter of the flying hoofs.
The whole world shouted and laughed and rode with him on Morgantown.
If the people in the houses that he passed had known they would have
started up from their chairs and taken rifle and horse and chased
after him on the trail. But how could they tell from the passing of
those ringing hoofs that Pierre, the novice, was dead, and Red
Pierre was born?
So they drowsed on about their comfortable fires, and Pierre drew rein
with a jerk before the largest of Morgantown's saloons. He had to set
his teeth before he could summon the resolution to throw open the
door. It was done; he stepped inside, and stood blinking in the sudden
rush of light against his face.
It was all bewildering at first; the radiance, the blue tangle of
smoke, the storm of voices. For Muldoon's was packed from door to
door. Coins rang in a steady chorus along the bar, and the crowd
waited three and four deep.
Someone was singing a rollicking song of the range at one end of the
bar, and a chorus of four bellowed a profane parody at the other end.
The ears of Pierre le Rouge tingled hotly, and partly to escape the
uproar he worked his way to the quieter room at the back of
the saloon.
It was almost as crowded as the bar, but here no one spoke except for
an occasional growl. Sudden speaking, and a loud voice, indeed, was
hardly safe. Someone cursed at his ill-luck as Pierre entered, and a
dozen hands reached for six-guns. In such a place one had to
be prepared.
Pierre remembered with quick dismay that he was not armed. All his
life the straight black gown had been weapon enough to make all men
give way before him. Now he carried no borrowed strength upon his
shoulders.
Automatically he slipped his fingers under the breast of his shirt
until their tips touched the cold metal of the cross. That gave him
stronger courage. The joy of the adventure made his blood warm again
as he drew out his one coin and looked for a place to start
his venture.
So he approached the nearest table. On the surface of it were marked
six squares with chalk, and each with its appropriate number. The man
who ran the game stood behind the table and shook three dice. The
numbers which turned up paid the gambler. The numbers which failed to
show paid the owner of the game.
His luck had been too strong that night, and now only two men faced
him, and both of them lost persistently. They were "bucking" the dice
with savage stubbornness.
Pierre edged closer, shut his eyes, and deposited his coin. When he
looked again he saw that he had wagered on the five.
CHAPTER 5
The dice clattered across the table and were swept up by the hand of
the man behind the table before Pierre could note them. Sick at heart,
he began to turn away, as he saw that hand reach out and gather in the
coins of the other two bettors. It went out a third time and laid
another fifty-cent piece upon his. The heart of Pierre bounded up to
his throat.
Again the dice rolled, and this time he saw distinctly two fives turn
up. Two dollars in silver were dropped upon his, and still he let the
money lie. Again, again, and again the dice rolled. And now there were
pieces of gold among the silver that covered the square of the five.
The other two looked askance at him, and the owner of the game
growled: "Gimme room for the coins, stranger, will you?"
Pierre picked up his winnings. In his left hand he held them, and the
coins brimmed his cupped palm. With the free hand he placed his new
wagers. But he lost now.
"I cannot win forever," thought Pierre, and redoubled his bets in an
effort to regain the lost ground.
Still his little fortune dwindled, till the sweat came out on his
forehead and the blood that had flushed his face ran back and left him
pale with dread. And at last there remained only one gold piece. He
hesitated, holding it poised for the wager, while the owner of the
game rattled the dice loudly and looked up at the coin with
hungry eyes.
Once more Pierre closed his eyes and laid his wager, while his empty
left hand slipped again inside his shirt and touched the metal of the
cross, and once more when he opened his eyes the hand of the gambler
was going out to lay a second coin over his.
"It is the cross!" thought Pierre. "It is the cross which brings me
luck."
The dice rattled out. He won. Again, and still he won. The gambler
wiped his forehead and looked up anxiously. For these were wagers in
gold, and the doubling stakes were running high. About Pierre a crowd
had grown--a dozen cattlemen who watched the growing heap of gold with
silent fascination. Then they began to make wagers of their own, and
there were faint whispers of wrath and astonishment as the dice
clicked out and each time the winnings of Pierre doubled.
Suddenly the dealer stopped and held up his left hand as a warning.
With his right, very slowly, inch by inch lest anyone should suspect
him of a gunplay, he drew out a heavy forty-five and laid it on the
table with the belt of cartridges. "Three years she's been on my hip
through thick and thin, stranger. Three years she's shot close an'
true. There ain't a butt in the world that hugs your hand tighter.
There ain't a cylinder that spins easier. Shoot? Lad, even a kid like
you could be a killer with that six-gun. What will you lay ag'in' it?"
And his red-stained eyes glanced covetously at the yellow heap of
Pierre's money.
"How much?" said Pierre eagerly. "Is there enough on the table to buy
the gun?"
"Buy?" said the other fiercely. "There ain't enough coin west of the
Rockies to buy that gun. D'you think I'm yaller enough to sell my six?
No, but I'll risk it in a fair bet. There ain't no disgrace in that;
eh, pals?"
There was a chorus of low grunts of assent.
"All right," said Pierre. "That pile against the gun."
"All of it?"
"All."
"Look here, kid, if you're tryin' to play a charity game with me--"
"Charity?"
The frank surprise of that look disarmed the other. He swept up the
dice-box, and shook it furiously, while his lips stirred. It was as if
he murmured an incantation for success. The dice rolled out, winking
in the light, spun over, and the owner of the gun stood with both
hands braced against the edge of the table, and stared hopelessly down.
A moment before his pockets had sagged with a precious weight, and
there had been a significant drag of the belt over his right hip. Now
both burdens were gone.
He looked up with a short laugh.
"I'm dry. Who'll stake me to a drink?"
Pierre scooped up a dozen pieces of the gold.
"Here."
The other drew back. "You're very welcome to it. Here's more, if
you'll have it."
"The coin I've lost to you? Take back a gamblin' debt?"
"Easy there," said one of the men. "Don't you see the kid's green?
Here's a five-spot."
The loser accepted the coin as carelessly as if he were conferring a
favor by taking it, cast another scowl in the direction of Pierre, and
went out toward the bar. Pierre, very hot in the face, pocketed his
winnings and belted on the gun. It hung low on his thigh, just in easy
gripping distance of his hand, and he fingered the butt with a smile.
"The kid's feelin' most a man," remarked a sarcastic voice. "Say, kid,
why don't you try your luck with Mac Hurley? He's almost through with
poor old Cochrane."
Following the direction of the pointing finger, Pierre saw one of
those mute tragedies of the gambling hall. Cochrane, an old cattleman
whose carefully trimmed, pointed white beard and slender, tapering
fingers set him apart from the others in the room, was rather far gone
with liquor. He was still stiffly erect in his chair, and would be
till the very moment consciousness left him, but his eyes were misty,
and when he spoke his lips moved slowly, as though numbed by cold.
Beside him stood a tall, black bottle with a little whisky glass to
flank it. He made his bets with apparent carelessness, but with a real
and deepening gloom. Once or twice he glanced up sharply as though
reckoning his losses, though it seemed to Pierre le Rouge almost like
an appeal.
And what appeal could affect Mac Hurley? There was no color in the
man, either body or soul. No emotion could show in those pale, small
eyes or change the color of the flabby cheeks. If his hands had been
cut off, he might have seemed some sodden victim of a drug habit, but
the hands saved him.
They seemed to belong to another body--beautiful, swift, and strong,
and grafted by some foul mischance onto this rotten hulk. Very white
they were, and long, with a nervous uneasiness in every motion,
continually hovering around the cards with little touches which were
almost caresses.
"It ain't a game," said the man who had first pointed out the group to
Pierre, "it's just a slaughter. Cochrane's too far gone to see
straight. Look at that deal now! A kid could see that he's crooking
the cards!"
It was blackjack, and Hurley, as usual, was dealing. He dealt with one
hand, flipping the cards out with a snap of the wrist, the fingers
working rapidly over the pack. Now and then he glanced over to the
crowd, as if to enjoy their admiration of his skill. He was showing it
now, not so much by the deftness of his cheating as by the openness
with which he exposed his tricks.
As the stranger remarked to Pierre, a child could have discovered that
the cards were being dealt at will from the top and the bottom of the
pack, but the gambler was enjoying himself by keeping his game just
open enough to be apparent to every other man in the room--just covert
enough to deceive the drink-misted brain of Cochrane. And the pale,
swinish eyes twinkled as they stared across the dull sorrow of the old
man. There was an ominous sound from Pierre: "Do you let a thing like
that happen in this country?" he asked fiercely.
The other turned to him with a sneer.
"_Let_ it happen? Who'll stop him? Say, partner, you ain't meanin' to
say that you don't know who Hurley is?"
"I don't need telling. I can see."
"What you can't see means a lot more than what you can. I've been in
the same room when Hurley worked his gun once. It wasn't any killin',
but it was the prettiest bit of cheatin' I ever seen. But even if
Hurley wasn't enough, what about Carl Diaz?"
He glared his triumph at Pierre, but the latter was too puzzled to
quail, and too stirred by the pale, gloomy face of Cochrane to turn
toward the other.
"What of Diaz?"
"Look here, boy. You're a kid, all right, but you ain't that young.
D'you mean to say that you ain't heard of Carlos Diaz?"
It came back to Pierre then, for even into the snowbound seclusion of
the north country the shadow of the name of Diaz had gone. He could
not remember just what they were, but he seemed to recollect grim
tales through which that name figured.
The other went on: "But if you ain't ever seen him before, look him
over now. They's some says he's faster on the draw than Bob McGurk,
but, of course, that's stretchin' him out a size too much. What's the
matter, kid; you've met McGurk?"
"No, but I'm going to."
"Might even be carried to him, eh--feet first?"
Pierre turned and laid a hand on the shoulder of the other.
"Don't talk like that," he said gently. "I don't like it."
The other reached up to snatch the hand from his shoulder, but he
stayed his arm.
He said after an uncomfortable moment of that silent staring: "Well,
partner, there ain't a hell of a lot to get sore over, is there? You
don't figure you're a mate for McGurk, do you?"
He seemed oddly relieved when the eyes of Pierre moved away from him
and returned to the figure of Carlos Diaz. The Mexican was a perfect
model for a painting of a melodramatic villain. He had waxed and
twirled the end of his black mustache so that it thrust out a little
spur on either side of his long face. His habitual expression was a
scowl; his habitual position was with a cigarette in the fingers of
his left hand, and his right hand resting on his hip. He sat in a
chair directly behind that of Hurley, and Pierre's new-found
acquaintance explained: "He's the bodyguard for Hurley. Maybe there's
some who could down Hurley in a straight gunfight; maybe there's one
or two like McGurk that could down Diaz--damn his yellow hide--but
there ain't no one can buck the two of 'em. It ain't in reason. So
they play the game together. Hurley works the cards and Diaz covers up
the retreat. Can't beat that, can you?"
Pierre le Rouge slipped his left hand once more inside his shirt until
the fingers touched the cross.
"Nevertheless, that game has to stop."
"Who'll--say, kid, are you stringin' me, or are you drunk? Look me in
the eye!"
CHAPTER 6
Pierre turned and looked calmly upon the other.
And the man whispered in a sort of awe: "Well, I'll be damned!"
"Stand aside!"
The other fell back a pace, and Pierre went straight to the table and
said to Cochrane: "Sir, I have come to take you home."
The old man looked up and rubbed his eyes as though waking from a
sleep.
"Stand back from the table!" warned Hurley.
"By the Lord, have they been missing me?" queried old Cochrane. "You
are waited for," answered Pierre le Rouge, "and I've been sent to take
you home."
"If that's the case--"
"It ain't the case. The kid's lying."
"Lying?" repeated Cochrane, as if he had never heard the word before,
and he peered with clearing eyes toward Pierre. "No, I think this boy
has never lied."
Silence had spread through the place like a vapor. Even the slight
sounds in the gaming-room were done now, and one pair after another of
eyes swung toward the table of Cochrane and Hurley. The wave of the
silence reached to the barroom. No one could have carried the tidings
so soon, but the air was surcharged with the consciousness of an
impending crisis.
Half a dozen men started to make their way on tiptoe toward the back
room. One stood with his whisky glass suspended in midair, and tilted
back his head to listen. In the gaming-room Hurley pushed back his
chair and leaned to the left, giving him a free sweep for his right
hand. The Mexican smiled with a slow and deep content.
"Thank you," answered Pierre, "but I am waiting still, sir."
The left hand of Hurley played impatiently on the table.
He said: "Of course, if you have enough--"
"I--enough?" flared the old aristocrat.
Pierre le Rouge turned fairly upon Hurley.
"In the name of God," he said calmly, "make an end of your game.
You're playing for money, but I think this man is playing for his
eternal soul."
The solemn, bookish phraseology came smoothly from his tongue. He knew
no other. It drew a murmur of amusement from the room and a snarl
from Hurley.
"Put on skirts, kid, and join the Salvation Army, but don't get
yourself messed all up in here. This is my party, and I'm damned
particular who I invite! Now, run along!" The head of Pierre tilted
back, and he burst into laughter which troubled even Hurley.
The gambler blurted: "What's happening to you, kid?"
"I've been making a lot of good resolutions, Mr. Hurley, about keeping
out of trouble; but here I am in it up to the neck."
"No trouble as long as you keep your hand out of another man's game,
kid."
"That's it. I can't see you rob Mr. Cochrane like this. You aren't
gambling--you're digging gold. The game stops now."
It was a moment before the crowd realized what was about to happen;
they saw it reflected first in the face of Hurley, which suddenly went
taut and pale, and then, even as they looked with a smile of curiosity
and derision toward Pierre le Rouge, they saw and understood.
For the moment Pierre said, "The game stops now," the calm which had
been with him was gone. It was like the scent of blood to the starved
wolf. The last word was scarcely off his tongue when he was crouched
with a devil of green fury in his eyes--the light struck his hair into
a wave of flame--his face altered by a dozen ugly years.
"D'you mean?" whispered Hurley, as if he feared to break the silence
with his full voice.
"Get out of the room."
And the impulse of Hurley, plainly enough, was to obey the order, and
go anywhere to escape from that relentless stare. His glance wavered
and flashed around the circle and then back to Red Pierre, for the
expectancy of the crowd forced him back.
When the leader of the pack springs and fails to kill, the rest of the
pack tear him to pieces. Remembering this, Mac Hurley forced his
glance back to Pierre. Moreover, there was a soft voice from behind,
and he remembered Diaz.
All this had taken place in the length of time that it takes a heavy
body to totter on the brink of a precipice or a cat to regain its feet
after a fall. After the voice of Diaz there was a sway through the
room, a pulse of silence, and then three hands shot for their
hips--Pierre, Diaz, and Hurley.
No stop-watch could have caught the differing lengths of time which
each required for the draw. The muzzle of Hurley's revolver was not
clear of the holster--the gun of Diaz was nearly at the level when
Pierre's weapon exploded at his hip. The bullet cut through the wrist
of Hurley. Never again would that slender, supple hand fly over the
cards, doing things other than they seemed. He made no effort to
escape from the next bullet, but stood looking down at his broken
wrist; horror for the moment gave him a dignity oddly out of place
with his usual appearance. He alone in all the room was moveless.
The crowd, undecided for an instant, broke for the doors at the first
shot; Pierre le Rouge pitched to the floor as Diaz leaped forward, the
revolver in either hand spitting lead and fire.
It was no bullet that downed Pierre but his own cunning. He broke his
fall with an outstretched left hand, while the bullets of Diaz pumped
into the void space which his body had filled a moment before.
Lying there at ease, he leveled the revolver, grinning with the
mirthless lust of battle, and fired over the top of the table. The
guns dropped from the hands of huge Diaz. He caught at his throat and
staggered back the full length of the room, crashing against the wall.
When he pitched forward on his face he was dead before he struck
the floor.
Pierre, now Red Pierre, indeed, rose and ran to the fallen man, and,
looking at the bulk of the giant, he wondered with a cold heart. He
knew before he slipped his hand over the breast of Diaz that this was
death. Then he rose again and watched the still fingers which seemed
to be gripping at the boards. These he saw, and nothing else, and
all he heard was the rattling of the wind of winter, wrenching at some
loose shingle on the roof, and he knew that he was alone in the world,
for he had put out a life.
He found a strange weight pulling down his right hand, and started
when he saw the revolver. He replaced it in the holster automatically,
and in so doing touched the barrel and found it warm.
Then fear came to Pierre, the first real fear of his life. He jerked
his head high and looked about him. The room was utterly empty. He
tiptoed to the door and found even the long bar deserted, littered
with tall bottles and overturned glasses. The cold in his heart
increased. A moment before he had been hand in hand with all the mirth
in that place.
Now the men whose laughter he had repeated with smiles, the men
against whose sleeves his elbow had touched, were further away from
him than they had been when all the snow-covered miles from Morgantown
to the school of Father Victor had laid between them. They were men
who might lose themselves in any crowd, but he was set apart with a
brand, even as Hurley and Diaz had been set apart that eventful evening.
He had killed a man. That fact blotted out the world. He drew his gun
again and stole down the length of the bar. Once he stopped and poised
the weapon before he realized that the white, fierce face that
squinted at him was his own reflection in a mirror.
Outside the door the free wind caught at his face, and he blessed it
in his heart, as if it had been the touch of the hand of a friend.
Beyond the long, dark, silent street the moor rose and passed up
through the safe, dark spaces of the sky.
He must move quickly now. The pursuit was not yet organized, but it
would begin in a space of minutes. From the group of half a dozen
horses which stood before the saloon he selected the best--a tall,
raw-boned nag with an ugly head. Into the saddle he swung, wondering
faintly that the theft of a horse mattered so little to him. His was
the greatest sin. All other things mattered nothing.
Down the long street he galloped. The sharp echoes flew out at him
from every unlighted house, but not a human being was in sight. So he
swung out onto the long road which wound up through the hills, and
beside him rode a grim brotherhood, the invisible fellowship of Cain.
The moon rose higher, brighter, and a grotesque black shadow galloped
over the snow beside him. He turned his head sharply to the other side
and watched the sweep of white hills which reached back in range after
range until they blended with the shadows of night.
The road faded to a bridle path, and this in turn he lost among the
windings of the valley. He was lost from even the traces of men, and
yet the fear of men pursued him. Fear, and yet with it there was a
thrill of happiness, for every swinging stride of the tall, wild roan
carried him deeper into freedom, the unutterable fierce freedom of
the hunted.
CHAPTER 7
All life was tame compared with this sudden awakening of Pierre. He
had killed a man. For fear of it he raced the tall roan furiously
through the night.
He had killed a man. For the joy of it he shouted a song that went
ringing across the blank, white hills. What place was there in Red
Pierre for solemn qualms of conscience? Had he not met the first and
last test triumphantly? The oldest instinct in creation was satisfied
in him. Now he stood ready to say to all the world: Behold, a man!
Let it be remembered that his early years had been passed in a dull,
dun silence, and time had slipped by him with softly padding,
uneventful hours. Now, with the rope of restraint snapped, he rode at
the world with hands, palm upward, asking for life, and that life
which lies under the hills of the mountain-desert heard his question
and sent a cold, sharp echo back to answer his lusty singing.
The first answer, as he plunged on, not knowing where, and not caring,
was when the roan reeled suddenly and flung forward to the ground.
Even that violent stop did not unseat Red Pierre. He jerked up on the
reins with a curse and drove in the spurs. Valiantly the horse reared
his shoulders up, but when he strove to rise the right foreleg dangled
helplessly. He had stepped in some hole and the bone was broken
cleanly across.
The rider slipped from the saddle and stood facing the roan, which
pricked its ears forward and struggled once more to regain its feet.
The effort was hopeless, and Pierre took the broken leg and felt the
rough edges of the splintered bone through the skin. The animal, as if
it sensed that the man was trying to do it some good, nosed his
shoulder and whinnied softly.
Pierre stepped back and drew his revolver. The bullet would do quickly
what the cold would accomplish after lingering hours of torture, yet,
facing those pricking ears and the trust of the eyes, he was blinded
by a mist and could not aim. He had to place the muzzle of the gun
against the roan's temple and pull the trigger. When he turned his
back he was the only living thing within the white arms of the hills.
Yet, when the next hill was behind him, he had already forgotten the
second life which he put out that night, for regret is the one sorrow
which never dodges the footsteps of the hunted. Like all his
brotherhood of Cain, Pierre le Rouge pressed forward across the
mountain-desert with his face turned toward the brave tomorrow. In the
evening of his life, if he should live to that time, he would walk and
talk with God.
Now he had no mind save for the bright day coming.
He had been riding with the wind and had scarcely noticed its violence
in his headlong course. Now he felt it whipping sharply at his back
and increasing with each step. Overhead the sky was clear. It seemed
to give vision for the wind and cold to seek him out, and the moon
made his following shadow long and black across the snow.
The wind quickened rapidly to a gale that cut off the surface of the
snow and whipped volleys of the small particles level with the
surface. It cut the neck of Red Pierre, and the gusts struck his
shoulders with staggering force like separate blows, twisting him a
little from side to side.
Coming from the direction of Morgantown, it seemed as if the vengeance
for Diaz was following the slayer. Once he turned and laughed in the
teeth of the wind, and shook his fist back at Morgantown and all the
avenging powers of the law.
Yet he was glad to turn away from the face of the storm and stride on
down-wind. Even traveling with the gale grew more and more impossible.
The snowdrifts which the wind picked up and hurried across the hills
pressed against Pierre's back like a great, invisible hand, bowing him
as if beneath a burden. In the hollows the labor was not so great, but
when he approached a summit the gale screamed in his ear and struck
him savagely.
For all his optimism, for all his young, undrained strength, a doubt
began to grow in the mind of Pierre le Rouge. At length, remembering
how that weight of gold came in his pockets, he slipped his left hand
into the bosom of his shirt and touched the icy metal of the cross.
Almost at once he heard, or thought he heard, a faint, sweet sound
of singing.
The heart of Red Pierre stopped. For he knew the visions which came to
men perishing with cold; but he grew calmer again in a moment. This
touch of cold was nothing compared with whole months of hard exposure
which he had endured in the northland. It had not the edge. If it were
not for the wind it was scarcely a threat to life. Moreover, the
singing sounded no more. It had been hardly more than a phrase of
music, and it must have been a deceptive murmur of the wind.
After all, a gale brought wilder deceptions than that. Some men had
actually heard voices declaiming words in such a wind. He himself had
heard them tell their stories. So he leaned forward again and gave his
stanch heart to the task. Yet once more he stopped, for this time the
singing came clearly, sweetly to him.
There was no doubt of it now. Of course it was wildly impossible,
absurd; but beyond all question he heard the voice of a girl come
whistling down the wind. He could almost catch the words. For a little
moment he lingered still. Then he turned and fought his way into the
strong arms of the storm.
Every now and then he paused and crouched to the snow. Usually there
was only the shriek of the wind in his ears, but a few times the
singing came to him and urged him on. If he had allowed the idea of
failure to enter his mind, he must have given up the struggle, but
failure was a stranger to his thoughts.
He lowered his head against the storm. Sometimes it caught under him
and nearly lifted him from his feet. But he clung against the slope of
the hill, sometimes gripping hard with his hands. So he worked his way
to the right, the sound of the singing coming more and more
frequently and louder and louder. When he was almost upon the source
of the music it ceased abruptly.
He waited a moment, but no sound came. He struggled forward a few more
yards and pitched down exhausted, panting. Still he heard the singing
no longer. With a falling heart he rose and resigned himself to wander
on his original course with the wind, but as he started he placed his
hand once more against the cross, and it was then that he saw her.
For he had simply gone past her, and the yelling of the storm had cut
off the sound of her voice. Now he saw her lying, a spot of bright
color on the snow. He read the story at a glance. As she passed this
steep-sided hill the loosely piled snow had slid down and carried with
it the dead trunk of a fallen tree.
Pierre came from behind and stood over her unnoticed. He saw that the
oncoming tree, by a strange chance, had knocked down the girl and
pinned her legs to the ground. His strength and the strength of a
dozen men would not be sufficient to release her. This he saw at the
first glance, and saw the bright gold of her hair against the snow.
Then he dropped on his knees beside her.
CHAPTER 8
The girl tossed up her arms in a silent greeting, and Pierre caught
the small cold hands and saw that she was only a child of twelve or
fourteen trapped by the wild storm sweeping over them. He crouched
lower still, and when he did so the strength of the wind against his
face decreased wonderfully, for the sharp angle of the hill's
declivity protected them. Seeing him kneel there, she cried out with a
little wail: "Help me--the tree--help me!" And, bursting into a
passion of sobbing, she tugged her hands from his and covered
her face.
Pierre placed his shoulder under the trunk and lifted till the muscles
of his back snapped and cracked. He could not budge the weight; he
could not even send a tremor through the mass of wood. He dropped back
beside her with a groan. He felt her eyes upon him; she had ceased her
sobs, and looked steadily into his face.
It would have been easy for him to meet that look on the morning of
this day, but after that night's work in Morgantown he had to brace
his nerve to withstand it.
She said: "You can't budge the tree?"
"Yes--in a minute; I will try again."
"You'll only hurt yourself for nothing. I saw how you strained at it."
The greatest miracle he had ever seen was her calm. Her eyes were wide
and sorrowful indeed, but she was almost smiling up to him.
After a while he was able to say, in a faint voice: "Are you very
cold?"
She answered: "I'm not afraid. But if you stay longer with me, you may
freeze. The snow and even the tree help to keep me almost warm; but
you will freeze. Go for help; hurry, and if you can, send it back
to me."
He thought of the long miles back to Morgantown; no human being could
walk that distance against this wind; not even a strong horse could
make its way through the storm. If he went on with the wind, how long
would it be before he reached a house? Before him, over range after
range of hills, he saw no single sign of a building. If he reached
some such place it would be the same story as the trip to Morgantown;
men simply could not beat a way against that wind.
Then a cold hand touched him, and he looked up to find her eyes grave
and wide once more, and her lips half smiling, as if she strove to
deceive him.
"There's no chance of bringing help?"
He merely stared hungrily at her, and the loveliest thing he had ever
seen was the play of golden hair beside her cheek. Her smile went out.
She withdrew her hand, but she repeated: "I'm not afraid. I'll simply
grow numb and then fall asleep. But you go on and save yourself."
Seeing him shake his head, she caught his hands again.
"I'll be unhappy. You'll make me so unhappy if you stay. Please go."
He raised the small hand and pressed it to his lips.
She said: "You are crying!"
"No, no!"
"There! I see the tears shining on my hand. What is your name?"
"Pierre."
"Pierre? I like that name. Pierre, to make me happy, will you go? Your
face is all white and touched with a shadow of blue. It is the cold.
Oh, won't you go?" Then she pleaded, finding him obdurate: "If you
won't go for me, then go for your father."
He raised his head with a sudden laughter, and, raising it, the wind
beat into his face fiercely and the particles of snow whipped
his skin.
"Dear Pierre, then for your mother?"
He bowed his head.
"Not for all the people who love you and wait for you now by some warm
fire--some cozy fire, all yellow and bright?"
He took her hands and with them covered his eyes. "Listen: I have no
father; I have no mother."
"Pierre! Oh, Pierre, I'm sorry!"
"And for the rest of 'em, I've killed a man. The whole world hates me;
the whole world's hunting me."
The small hands tugged away. He dared not raise his bowed head for
fear of her eyes. And then the hands came back to him and touched
his face.
She was saying tremulously: "Then he deserved to be killed. There must
be men like that--almost. And I--like you still, Pierre."
"Really?"
"I almost think I like you more--because you could kill a man--and
then stay here for me."
"If you were a grown-up girl, do you know what I'd say?"
"Please tell me."
"That I could love you."
"Pierre--"
"Yes."
"My name is Mary Brown."
He repeated several times: "Mary."
"And if I were a grown-up girl, do you know what I would answer?"
"I don't dare guess it."
"That I could love you, Pierre, if you were a grown-up man."
"But I am."
"Not a really one."
And they both broke into laughter--laughter that died out before a
sound of rushing and of thunder, as a mass slid swiftly past them,
snow and mud and sand and rubble. The wind fell away from them, and
when Pierre looked up he saw that a great mass of tumbled rock and
soil loomed above them.
The landslide had not touched them, by some miracle, but in a moment
more it might shake loose again, and all that mass of ton upon ton of
stone and loam would overwhelm them. The whole mass quaked and
trembled, and the very hillside shuddered beneath them.
She looked up and saw the coming ruin; but her cry was for him, not
herself.
"Run, Pierre--you can save yourself."
With that terror threatening him from above, he rose and started to
run down the hill. A moan of woe followed him, and he stopped and
turned back, and fought his way through the wind until he was beside
her once more.
She was weeping.
"Pierre--I couldn't help calling out for you; but now I'm strong
again, and I won't have you stay. The whole mountain is shaking and
falling toward us. Go now, Pierre, and I'll never make a sound to
bring you back."
He said: "Hush! I've something here which will keep us both safe.
Look!"
He tore from the chain the little metal cross, and held it high
overhead, glimmering in the pallid light. She forgot her fear
in wonder.
"I gambled with only one coin to lose, and I came out tonight with
hundreds and hundreds of dollars because I had the cross. It is a
charm against all danger and against all bad fortune. It has never
failed me."
Over them the piled mass slid closer. The forehead of Pierre gleamed
with sweat, but a strong purpose made him talk on. At least he could
take all the foreboding of death from the child, and when the end came
it would be swift and wipe them both out at one stroke. She clung to
him, eager to believe.
"I've closed my eyes so that I can believe."
"It has never failed me. It saved me when I fought two men. One of
them I crippled and the other died. You see, the power of the cross is
as great as that. Do you doubt it now, Mary?"
"Do you believe in it so much--really--Pierre?"
Each time there was a little lowering of her voice, a little pause and
caress in the tone as she uttered his name, and nothing in all his
life had stirred Red Pierre so deeply with happiness and sorrow.
"Do you believe, Pierre?" she repeated.
He looked up and saw the shuddering mass of the landslide creeping
upon them inch by inch. In another moment it would loose itself with a
rush and cover them.
"I believe," he said.
"If you should live, and I should die--"
"I would throw the cross away."
"No, you would keep it; and every time you touched it you would think
of me, Pierre, would you not?"
"When you reach out to me like that, you take my heart between your
hands."
"And I feel grown up and sad and happy both together. After we've been
together on such a night, how can we ever be apart again?"
The mass of the landslide toppled right above them. She did not seem
to see.
"I'm so happy, Pierre. I was never so happy."
And he said, with his eyes on the approaching ruin: "It was your
singing that brought me to you. Will you sing again?"
"I sang because I knew that when I sang the sound would carry farther
through the wind than if I called for help. What shall I sing for you
now, Pierre?"
"What you sang when I came to you."
And the light, sweet voice rose easily through the sweep of the wind.
She smiled as she sang, and the smile and music were all for Pierre,
he knew. Through the last stanza of the song the rumble of the
approaching death grew louder, and as she ended he threw himself
beside her and gathered her into protecting arms.
She cried: "Pierre! What is it?"
"I must keep you warm; the snow will eat away your strength."
"No; it's more than that. Tell me, Pierre! You don't trust the power
of the cross?"
"Are you afraid?"
"Oh, no; I'm not afraid, Pierre."
"If one life would be enough, I'd give mine a thousand times. Mary, we
are to die."
An arm slipped around his neck--a cold hand pressed against his cheek.
"Pierre."
"Yes."
The thunder broke above them with a mighty roaring.
"_You_ have no fear."
"Mary, if I had died alone I would have dropped down to hell under my
sins; but, with your arm around me, you'll take me with you. Hold
me close."
"With all my heart, Pierre. See--I'm not afraid. It is like going to
sleep. What wonderful dreams we'll have!"
And then the black mass of the landslide swept upon them.
CHAPTER 9
Down all the length of the mountain-desert and across its width of
rocks and mountains and valleys and stern plateaus there is a saying:
"You can tell a man by the horse he rides." For most other important
things are apt to go by opposites, which is the usual way in which a
man selects his wife. With dogs, for instance--a quiet man is apt to
want an active dog, and a tractable fellow may keep the most vicious
of wolf-dogs.
But when it comes to a horse, a man's heart speaks for itself, and if
he has sufficient knowledge he will choose a sympathetic mount. A
woman loves a neat-stepping saddle-horse; a philosopher likes a
nodding, stumble-footed nag which will jog all day long and care not a
whit whether it goes up dale or down.
To know the six wild riders who galloped over the white reaches of the
mountain-desert this night, certainly their horses should be studied
first and the men secondly, for the one explained the other.
They came in a racing triangle. Even the storm at its height could not
daunt such furious riders. At the point of the triangle thundered a
mighty black stallion, his muzzle and his broad chest flecked with
white foam, for he stretched his head out and champed at the bit with
ears laid flat back, as though even that furious pace gave him no
opportunity to use fully his strength.
He was an ugly headed monster with a savagely hooked Roman nose and
small, keen eyes, always red at the corners. A medieval baron in full
panoply of plate armor would have chosen such a charger among ten
thousand steeds, yet the black stallion needed all his strength to
uphold the unarmored giant who bestrode him, a savage figure.
When the broad brim of his hat flapped up against the wind the
moonshine caught at shaggy brows, a cruelly arched nose, thin,
straight lips, and a forward-thrusting jaw. It seemed as if nature had
hewn him roughly and designed him for a primitive age where he could
fight his way with hands and teeth.
This was Jim Boone. To his right and a little behind him galloped a
riderless horse, a beautiful young animal continually tossing its
head and looking as if for guidance at the big stallion.
To the left strode a handsome bay with pricking ears. A mound
interfered with his course, and he cleared it in magnificent style
that would have brought a cheer from the lips of any English lover of
the chase.
Straight in the saddle sat Dick Wilbur, and he raised his face a
little to the wind, smiling faintly as if he rejoiced in its fine
strength, as handsome as the horse he rode, as cleanly cut, as finely
bred. The moon shone a little brighter on him than on any other of the
six riders.
Bud Mansie behind, for instance, kept his head slightly to one side
and cursed beneath his breath at the storm and set his teeth at the
wind. His horse, delicately formed, with long, slender legs, could not
have endured that charge against the storm save that it constantly
edged behind the leaders and let them break the wind. It carried less
weight than any other mount of the six, and its strength was cunningly
nursed by the rider so that it kept its place, and at the finish it
would be as strong as any and swifter, perhaps, for a sudden, short
effort, just as Bud Mansie might be numbed through all his nervous,
slender body, but never too numb for swift and deadly action.
On the opposite wing of the flying wedge galloped a dust-colored gray,
ragged of mane and tail, and vindictive of eye, like its down-headed
rider, who shifted his glance rapidly from side to side and watched
the ground closely before his horse as if he were perpetually prepared
for danger.
He distrusted the very ground over which his mount strode. For all
this he seemed the least formidable of all the riders. To see him pass
none could have suspected that this was Black Morgan Gandil.
Last of the crew came two men almost as large as Jim Boone himself, on
strong steady-striding horses. They came last in this crew, but among
a thousand other long-riders they would have ridden first, either
red-faced, good-humored, loud-voiced Garry Patterson, or Phil Branch,
stout-handed, blunt of jaw, who handled men as he had once hammered
red iron at the forge.
Each of them should have ridden alone in order to be properly
appreciated. To see them together was like watching a flock of eagles
every one of which should have been a solitary lord of the air. But
after scanning that lordly train which followed, the more terrible
seemed the rider of the great black horse.
Yet the king was sad, and the reason for his sadness was the riderless
horse which galloped so freely beside him. His son had ridden that
horse when they set out, and all the way down to the railroad Handsome
Hal Boone had kept his mount prancing and curveting and had ridden
around and around tall Dick Wilbur, playing pranks, and had teased his
father's black until the big stallion lashed out wildly with
furious heels.
It was the memory of this that kept the grave shadow of a smile on the
father's lips for all the sternness of his eyes. He never turned his
head, for, looking straight forward, he could conjure up the laughing
vision; but when he glanced to the empty saddle he heard once more the
last unlucky shot fired from the train as they raced off with their
booty, and saw Hal reel in his saddle and pitch forward; and how he
had tried to check his horse and turn back; and how Dick Wilbur, and
Patterson, and big Phil Branch had forced him to go on and leave that
form lying motionless on the snow.
At that he groaned, and spurred the black, and so the cavalcade rushed
faster and faster through the night.
They came over a sharp ridge and veered to the side just in time, for
all the further slope was a mass of treacherous sand and rubble and
raw rocks and mud, where a landslide had stripped the hill to
the stone.
As they veered about the ruin and thundered on down to the foot of
the hill, Jim Boone threw up his hand for a signal and brought his
stallion to a halt on back-braced, sliding legs.
For a metallic glitter had caught his eye, and then he saw, half
covered by the pebbles and dirt, the figure of a man. He must have
been struck by the landslide and not overwhelmed by it, but rather
carried before it like a stick in a rush of water. At the outermost
edge of the wave he lay with the rocks and dirt washed over him. Boone
swung from the saddle and lifted Pierre le Rouge.
The gleam of metal was the cross which his fingers still gripped.
Boone examined it with a somewhat superstitious caution, took it from
the nerveless fingers, and slipped it into a pocket of Pierre's shirt.
A small cut on the boy's forehead showed where the stone struck which
knocked him senseless, but the cut still bled--a small trickle--Pierre
lived. He even stirred and groaned and opened his eyes, large and
deeply blue.
It was only an instant before they closed, but Boone had seen. He
turned with the figure lifted easily in his arms as if Pierre had been
a child fallen asleep by the hearth and now about to be carried off
to bed.
And the outlaw said: "I've lost my boy tonight. This here one was
given me by the will of--God."
Black Morgan Gandil reined his horse close by, leaned to peer down,
and the shadow of his hat fell across the face of Pierre.
"There's no good comes of savin' shipwrecked men. Leave him where you
found him, Jim. That's my advice. Sidestep a redheaded man. That's
what I say."
The quick-stepping horse of Bud Mansie came near, and the rider wiped
his stiff lips, and spoke from the side of his mouth, a prison habit
of the line that moves in the lockstep: "Take it from me, Jim, there
ain't any place in our crew for a man you've picked up without knowing
him beforehand. Let him lay, I say." But big Dick Wilbur was already
leading up the horse of Hal Boone, and into the saddle Jim Boone swung
the inert body of Pierre. The argument was settled, for every man of
them knew that nothing could turn Boone back from a thing once begun.
Yet there were muttered comments that drew Black Morgan Gandil and Bud
Mansie together.
And Gandil, from the South Seas, growled with averted eyes: "This is
the most fool stunt the chief has ever pulled."
"Right, pal," answered Mansie. "You take a snake in out of the cold,
and it bites you when it comes to in the warmth; but the chief has
started, and there ain't nothing that'll make him stop, except maybe
God or McGurk."
And Black Gandil answered with his evil, sudden grin: "Maybe McGurk,
but not God."
They started on again with Garry Patterson and Dick Wilbur riding
close on either side of Pierre, supporting his limp body. It delayed
the whole gang, for they could not go on faster than a jog-trot. The
wind, however, was falling off in violence. Its shrill whistling
ceased, at length, and they went on, accompanied only by the harsh
crunching of the snow underfoot.
CHAPTER 10
Consciousness returned to Pierre slowly. Many a time his eyes opened,
and he saw nothing, but when he did see and hear it was by
vague glimpses.
He heard the crunch of the snow underfoot; he heard the panting and
snorting of the horses; he felt the swing and jolt of the saddle
beneath him; he saw the grim faces of the long-riders, and he said:
"The law has taken me."
Thereafter he let his will lapse, and surrendered to the sleepy
numbness which assailed his brain in waves. He was riding without
support by this time, but it was an automatic effort. There was no
more real life in him than in a dummy figure. It was not the effect of
the blow. It was rather the long exposure and the overexertion of mind
and body during the evening and night. He had simply collapsed beneath
the strain.
But an old army man has said: "Give me a soldier of eighteen or
twenty. In a single day he may not march quite so far as a more mature
man or carry quite so much weight. He will go to sleep each night dead
to the world. But in the morning he awakens a new man. He is like a
slate from which all the writing has been erased. He is ready for a
new day and a new world. Thirty days of campaigning leaves him as
strong and fresh as ever.
"Thirty days of campaigning leaves the old soldier a wreck. Why?
Because as a man grows older he loses the ability to sleep soundly. He
carries the nervous strain of one day over to the next. Life is a
serious problem to a man over thirty. To a man under thirty it is
simply a game. For my part, give me men who can play at war."
So it was with Pierre le Rouge. He woke with a faint heaviness of
head, and stretched himself. There were many sore places, but nothing
more. He looked up, and the slant winter sun cut across his face and
made a patch of bright yellow on the wall beside him.
Next he heard a faint humming, and, turning his head, saw a boy of
fourteen or perhaps a little more, busily cleaning a rifle in a way
that betokened the most expert knowledge of the weapon. Pierre himself
knew rifles as a preacher knows his Bible, and as he lay half awake
and half asleep he smiled with enjoyment to see the deft fingers move
here and there, wiping away the oil. A green hand will spend half a
day cleaning a gun, and then do the work imperfectly; an expert does
the job efficiently in ten minutes. This was an expert.
Undoubtedly this was a true son of the mountain-desert. He wore his
old slouch hat even in the house, and his skin was that olive brown
which comes from many years of exposure to the wind and sun. At the
same time there was a peculiar fineness about the boy. His feet were
astonishingly small and the hands thin and slender for all their
supple strength. And his neck was not bony, as it is in most youths at
this gawky age, but smoothly rounded.
Men grow big of bone and sparse of flesh in the mountain-desert. It
was the more surprising to Pierre to see this young fellow with the
marvelously delicate-cut features. By some freak of nature here was a
place where the breed ran to high blood.
The cleaning completed, the boy tossed the butt of the gun to his
shoulder and squinted down the barrel. Then he loaded the magazine,
weighted the gun deftly at the balance, and dropped the rifle across
his knees.
"Morning," said Pierre le Rouge cheerily, and swung off the bunk to
the floor. "How old's the gun?"
The boy, without the slightest show of excitement, snapped the butt to
his shoulder and drew a bead on Pierre's breast.
"Sit down before you get all heated up," said a musical voice.
"There's nobody waiting for you on horseback."
And Pierre sat down, partly because Western men never argue a point
when that little black hole is staring them in the face, partly
because he remembered with a rush that the last time he had fully
possessed his consciousness he had been lying in the snow with the
cross gripped hard and the toppling mass of the landslide above him.
All that had happened between was blotted from his memory. He fumbled
at his throat. The cross was not there. He touched his pockets.
"Ease your hands away from your hip," said the cold voice of the boy,
who had dropped his gun to the ready with a significant finger curled
around the trigger, "or I'll drill you clean."
Pierre obediently raised his hands to the level of his shoulders. The
boy sneered.
"This isn't a hold-up," he explained. "Put 'em down again, but watch
yourself."
The sneer varied to a contemptuous smile.
"I guess you're tame, all right."
"Point that gun another way, will you, son?"
The boy flushed.
"Don't call me son."
"Is this a lockup--a jail?"
"This?"
"What is it, then? The last I remember I was lying in the snow with--"
"I wish to God you'd been let there," said the boy bitterly.
But Pierre, overwhelmed with the endeavor to recollect, rushed on with
his questions and paid no heed to the tone.
"I had a cross in my hand--"
The scorn of the boy grew to mighty proportions.
"It's there in the breast-pocket of your shirt."
Pierre drew out the little cross, and the touch of it against his palm
restored whatever of his strength was lacking. Very carefully he
attached it to the chain about his throat. Then he looked up to the
contempt of the boy, and as he did so another memory burst on him and
brought him to his feet. The gun went to the boy's shoulders at the
same time.
"When I was found--was anyone else with me?"
"Nope."
"What happened?"
"Must have been buried in the landslide. Half a hill caved in, and
the dirt rolled you down to the bottom. Plain luck, that's all, that
kept you from going out."
"Luck?" said Pierre and he laid his hand against his breast where he
could feel the outline of the cross. "Yes, I suppose it was luck.
And she--"
He sat down slowly and buried his face in his hands. A new tone came
in the voice of the boy as he asked: "Was a woman with you?" But
Pierre heard only the tone and not the words. His face was gray when
he looked up again, and his voice hard.
"Tell me as briefly as you can how I come here, and who picked me up."
"My father and his men. They passed you lying on the snow. They
brought you home."
"Who is your father?"
The boy stiffened and his color rose.
"My father is Jim Boone."
Instinctively, while he stared, the right hand of Pierre le Rouge
crept toward his hip.
"Keep your hand steady," said the boy. "I got a nervous
trigger-finger. Yeh, dad is pretty well known."
"You're his son?"
"I'm Jack Boone."
"But I've heard--tell me, why am I under guard?"
Jack was instantly aflame with the old anger.
"Not because I want you here."
"Who does?"
"Dad."
"Put away your pop-gun and talk sense. I won't try to get away until
Jim Boone comes. I only fight men."
Even the anger and grief of the boy could not keep him from smiling.
"Just the same I'll keep the shooting-iron handy. Sit still. A gun
don't keep me from talking sense, does it? You're here to take Hal's
place. Hal!" The little wail told a thousand things, and Pierre,
shocked out of the thought of his own troubles, waited.
"My brother, Hal; he's dead; he died last night, and on the way back
dad found you and brought you to take Hal's place. _Hal's_ place!"
The accent showed how impossible it was that Hal's place could be
taken by any mortal man.
"I got orders to keep you here, but if I was to do what I'd like to
do, I'd give you the best horse on the place and tell you to clear
out. That's me!"
"Then do it."
"And face dad afterward?"
"Tell him I overpowered you. That would be easy; you a slip of a boy,
and me a man."
"Stranger, it goes to show you may have heard of Jim Boone, but you
don't anyways know him. When he orders a thing done he wants it done,
and he don't care how, and he don't ask questions why. He just
raises hell."
"He really expects to keep me here?"
"Expects? He will."
"Going to tie me up?" asked Pierre ironically.
"Maybe," answered Jack, overlooking the irony. "Maybe he'll just put
you on my shoulders to guard."
He moved the gun significantly.
"And I can do it."
"Of course. But he would have to let me go sometime."
"Not till you'd promised to stick by him. I told him that myself, but
he said that you're young and that he'd teach you to like this life
whether you wanted to or not. Me speaking personally, I agree with
Black Gandil: This is the worst fool thing that dad has ever done.
What do we want with you--in Hal's place!"
"But I've got a thing to do right away--today; it can't wait."
"Give dad your word to come back and he'll let you go. He says you're
the kind that will keep your word. You see, he found you with a
cross in your hand."
And Jack's lips curled again.
It was all absurd, too impossible to be real. The only real things
were the body of yellow-haired Mary Brown, under the tumbled rocks and
dirt of the landslide, and the body of Martin Ryder waiting to be
placed in that corner plot where the grass grew quicker than all other
grass in the spring of the year.
However, having fallen among madmen, he must use cunning to get away
before the outlaw and his men came back from wherever they had gone.
Otherwise there would be more bloodshed, more play of guns and hum
of lead.
"Tell me of Hal," he said, and dropped his elbows on his knees as if
he accepted his fate.
"Don't know you well enough to talk of Hal."
"I'm sorry."
The boy made a little gesture of apology.
"I guess that was a mean thing to say. Sure I'll tell you about
Hal--if I can."
"Tell me anything you can," said Pierre gently, "because I've got to
try to be like him, haven't I?"
"You could try till rattlers got tame, but it'd take ten like you to
make one like Hal. He was dad's own son--he was my brother."
The sob came openly now, and the tears were a mist in the boy's eyes.
"What's your name?"
"Pierre."
"Pierre? I suppose I got to learn it."
"I suppose so." And he edged farther forward so that he was sitting
only on the edge of the bunk.
"Please do." And he gathered his feet under him, ready for a spring
forward and a grip at the boy's threatening rifle.
Jack had canted his head a little to one side. "Did you ever see a
horse that was gentle and yet had never been ridden, or his spirit
broke, Pierre--"
Here Pierre made his leap swift as some bobcat of the northern woods;
his hand whipped out as lightning fast as the striking paw of the
lynx, and the gun was jerked from the hands of Jack. Not before the
boy clutched at it with a cry of horror, but the force of the pull
sent him lurching to the floor and broke his grip.
He was up in an instant, however, and a knife of ugly length glittered
in his hand as he sprang at Pierre.
Pierre tossed aside the rifle and met the attack barehanded. He caught
the knife-bearing hand at the wrist and under his grip the hand
loosened its hold and the steel tinkled on the floor. His other arm
caught the body of Jack in a mighty vise.
There was a brief and futile struggle, and a hissing of breath in the
silence till the hat tumbled from the head of Jack and down over the
shoulders streamed a torrent of silken black hair.
Pierre stepped back. This was the meaning, then, of the strangely
small feet and hands and the low music of the voice. It was the body
of a girl that he had held.
CHAPTER 11
It was not fear nor shame that made the eyes of Jacqueline so wide as
she stared past Pierre toward the door. He glanced across his
shoulder, and blocking the entrance to the room, literally filling
the doorway, was the bulk of Jim Boone.
"Seems as if I was sort of steppin' in on a little family party," he
said. "I'm sure glad you two got acquainted so quick. Jack, how did
you and--What the hell's your name, lad?"
"He tricked me, dad, or he would never have got the gun away from me.
This--this Pierre--this beast--he got me to talk of Hal. Then
he stole--"
"The point," said Jim Boone coldly, "is that he _got_ the gun. Run
along, Jack. You ain't so growed up as I was thinkin'. Or hold
on--maybe you're _more_ grown up. Which is it? Are you turnin' into a
woman, Jack?"
She whirled on Pierre in a white fury.
"You see? You see what you've done? He'll never trust me again--never!
Pierre, I hate you. I'll always hate you. And if Hal were here--"
A storm of sobs and tears cut her short, and she disappeared through
the door. Boone and Pierre stood regarding each other critically.
Pierre spoke first: "You're not as big as I expected."
"I'm plenty big; but you're older than I thought."
"Too old for what you want of me. The girl told me what that was."
"Not too old to be made what I want."
And his hands passed through a significant gesture of molding the
empty air. The boy met his eye dauntlessly.
"I suppose," he said, "that I've a pretty small chance of getting
away."
"Just about none, Pierre. Come here."
Pierre stepped closer and looked down the hall into another room.
There, about a table, sat the five grimmest riders of the
mountain-desert that he had ever seen. They were such men as one could
judge at a glance, and Pierre made that instinctive motion for his
six-gun. "The girl," Jim Boone was saying, "kept you pretty busy
tryin' to make a break, and if she could do anything maybe you'd have
a pile of trouble with one of them guardin' you. But if I'd had a good
look at you, lad, I'd never have let Jack take the job of
guardin' you."
"Thanks," answered Pierre dryly.
"You got reason; I can see that. Here's the point, Pierre. I know
young men because I can remember pretty close what I was at your age.
I wasn't any ladies' lap dog, at that, but time and older men molded
me the way I'm going to mold you. Understand?"
Pierre was nerved for many things, but the last word made him stir. It
roused in him a red-tinged desire to get through the forest of black
beard at the throat of Boone and dim the glitter of those keen eyes.
It brought him also another thought.
Two great tasks lay before him: the burial of his father and the
avenging of him on McGurk. As to the one, he knew it would be childish
madness for him to attempt to bury his father in Morgantown with only
his single hand to hold back the powers of the law or the friends of
the notorious Diaz and crippled Hurley.
And for the other, it was even more vain to imagine that through his
own unaided power he could strike down a figure of such almost
legendary terror as McGurk. The bondage of the gang might be a
terrible thing through the future, but the present need blinded him to
what might come.
He said: "Suppose I stop raising questions or making a fight, but give
you my hand and call myself a member--"
"Of the family? Exactly. If you did that I'd know it was because you
were wantin' something, Pierre, eh?"
"Two things."
"Lad, I like this way of talk. One--two--you hit quick like a two-gun
man. Well, I'm used to paying high for what I get. What's up?"
"The first--"
"Wait. Can I help you out by myself, or do you need the gang?"
"The gang."
"Then come, and I'll put it up to them. You first."
It was equally courtesy and caution, and Pierre smiled faintly as he
went first through the door. He stood in a moment under the eyes of
five silent men.
The booming voice of Jim Boone pronounced: "This is Pierre. He'll be
one of us if he can get the gang to do two things. I ask you, will you
hear him for me, and then pass on whether or not you try his game?"
They nodded. There were no greetings to acknowledge the introduction.
They waited, eyeing the youth with distrust.
Pierre eyed them in turn, and then he spoke directly to big Dick
Wilbur.
"Here's the first: I want to bury a man in Morgantown and I need help
to do it."
Black Gandil snarled: "You heard me, boys; blood to start with. Who's
the man you want us to put out?"
"He's dead--my father."
They came up straight in their chairs like trained actors rising to a
stage crisis. The snarl straightened on the lips of Black
Morgan Gandil.
"He's lying in his house a few miles out of Morgantown. As he died he
told me that he wanted to be buried in a corner plot in the Morgantown
graveyard. He'd seen the place and counted it for his a good many
years because he said the grass grew quicker there than any other
place, after the snow went."
"A damned good reason," said Garry Patterson. As the idea stuck more
deeply into his imagination he smashed his fist down on the table so
that the crockery on it danced. "A damned good reason, say I!"
"Who's your father?" asked Dick Wilbur, who eyed Pierre more
critically but with less enmity than the rest.
"Martin Ryder."
"A ringer!" cried Bud Mansie, and he leaned forward alertly. "You
remember what I said, Jim?"
"Shut up. Pierre, talk soft and talk quick. We all know Mart Ryder had
only two sons and you're not either of them."
The Northerner grew stiff and as his face grew pale the red mark where
the stone had struck his forehead stood out like a danger signal.
He said slowly: "I'm his son, but not by the mother of those two."
"Was he married twice?"
Pierre was paler still, and there was an uneasy twitching of his right
hand which every man understood.
He barely whispered. "No; damn you!"
But Black Gandil loved evil.
He said, with a marvelously unpleasant smile: "Then she was--"
The voice of Dick Wilbur cut in like the snapping of a whip: "Shut up,
Gandil, you devil!"
There were times when not even Boone would cross Wilbur, and this was
one of them.
Pierre went on: "The reason I can't go to Morgan town is that I'm not
very well liked by some of the men there."
"Why not?"
"When my father died there was no money to pay for his burial. I had
only a half-dollar piece. I went to the town and gambled and won a
great deal. But before I came out I got mixed up with a man called
Hurley, a professional gambler."
"And Diaz?" queried a chorus.
"Yes. Hurley was hurt in the wrist and Diaz died. I think I'm wanted
in Morgantown."
Out of a little silence came the voice of Black Gandil: "Dick, I'm
thankin' you now for cuttin' me so short a minute ago."
Phil Branch had not spoken, as usual, but now he repeated, with rapt,
far-off eyes: "'Hurley was hurt in the wrist and Diaz died?' Hurley
and Diaz! I played with Hurley, a couple of times."
"Speakin' personal," said Garry Patterson, his red verging toward
purple in excitement, "which I'm ready to go with you down to
Morgantown and bury your father."
"And do it shipshape," added Black Gandil.
"With all the trimmings," said Bud Mansie, "with all Morgantown
joinin' the mournin' voluntarily under cover of our six-guns."
"Wait," said Boone. "What's the second request?"
"That can wait."
"It's a bigger job than this one?"
"Lots bigger."
"And in the meantime?"
"I'm your man."
They shook hands. Even Black Gandil rose to take his share in the
ceremony--all save Bud Mansie, who had glanced out the window a moment
before and then silently left the room. A bottle of whisky was
produced and glasses filled all round. Jim Boone brought in the
seventh chair and placed it at the table. They raised their glasses.
"To the empty chair," said Boone.
They drank, and for the first time in his life, the liquid fire went
down the throat of Pierre. He set down his glass, coughing, and the
others laughed good-naturedly.
"Started down the wrong way?" asked Wilbur.
"It's beastly stuff; first I ever drank."
A roar of laughter answered him.
"Still I got an idea," broke in Jim Boone, "that he's worthy of takin'
the seventh chair. Draw it up lad."
Vaguely it reminded Pierre of a scene in some old play with himself
in the role of the hero signing away his soul to the devil, but an
interruption kept him from taking the chair. There was a racket at the
door--a half-sobbing, half-scolding voice, and the laughter of a man;
then Bud Mansie appeared carrying Jack in spite of her struggles. He
placed her on the floor and held her hands to protect himself from
her fury.
"I glimpsed her through the window," he explained. "She was lining out
for the stable and then a minute later I saw her swing a saddle
onto--what horse d'you think?"
"Out with it."
"Jim's big Thunder. Yep, she stuck the saddle on big black Thunder and
had a rifle in the holster. I saw there was hell brewing somewhere, so
I went out and nabbed her."
"Jack!" called Jim Boone. "What were you started for?"
Bud Mansie released her arms and she stood with them stiffening at her
sides and her fists clenched.
"Hal--he died, and there was nothing but talk about him--nothing done.
You got a live man in Hal's place."
She pointed an accusing finger at Pierre.
"Maybe he takes his place for you, but he's not my brother--I hate
him. I went out to get another man to make up for Pierre."
"Well?"
"A dead man. I shoot straight enough for that."
A very solemn silence spread through the room; for every man was
watching in the eyes of the father and daughter the same shining black
devil of wrath.
"Jack, get into your room and don't move out of it till I tell you to.
D'you hear?"
She turned on her heel like a soldier and marched from the room.
"Jack."
She stopped in the door but would not turn back. "Jack, don't you
love your old dad anymore?" She whirled and ran to him with
outstretched arms and clung to him, sobbing. "Oh, dad," she groaned.
"You've broken my heart."
CHAPTER 12
The annals of the mountain-desert have never been written and can
never be written. They are merely a vast mass of fact and tradition
and imagining which floats from tongue to tongue from the Rockies to
the Sierra Nevadas. A man may be a fact all his life and die only a
local celebrity. Then again, he may strike sparks from that
imagination which runs riot by camp-fires and at the bars of the
crossroads saloons.
In that case he becomes immortal. It is not that lies are told about
him or impossible feats ascribed to him, but every detail about him is
seized upon and passed on with a most scrupulous and loving care.
In due time he will become a tradition. That is, he will be known
familiarly at widely separated parts of the range, places which he has
never visited. It has happened to a few of the famous characters of
the mountain-desert that they became traditions before their deaths.
It happened to McGurk, of course. It also happened to Red Pierre.
Oddly enough, the tradition of Red Pierre did not begin with his ride
from the school of Father Victor to Morgantown, distant many days of
difficult and dangerous travel. Neither did tradition seize on the
gunfight that crippled Hurley and "put out" wizard Diaz. These things
were unquestionably known to many, but they did not strike the popular
imagination. What set men first on fire was the way Pierre le Rouge
buried his father "at the point of the gun" in Morgantown.
That day Boone's men galloped out of the higher mountains down the
trail toward Morgantown. They stole a wagon out of a ranch stable on
the way and tied two lariats to the tongue. So they towed it, bounding
and rattling, over the rough trail to the house where Martin Ryder
lay dead.
His body was placed in state in the body of the wagon, pillowed with
everything in the line of cloth which the house could furnish. Thus
equipped they went on at a more moderate pace toward Morgantown.
What followed it is useless to repeat here. Tradition rehearsed every
detail of that day's work, and the purpose of this narrative is only
to give the details of some of the events which tradition does not
know, at least in their entirety.
They started at one end of Morgantown's street. Pierre guarded the
wagon in the center of the street and kept the people under cover of
his rifle. The rest of Boone's men cleaned out the houses as they went
and sent the occupants piling out to swell the crowd.
And so they rolled the crowd out of town and to the cemetery, where
"volunteers" dug the grave of Martin Ryder wide and deep, and Pierre
paid for the corner plot three times over in gold.
Then a coffin--improvised hastily for the occasion out of a
packing-box--was lowered reverently, also by "volunteer" mourners, and
before the first sod fell on the dead. Pierre raised over his head the
crucifix of Father Victor that brought good luck, and intoned a
service in the purest Ciceronian Latin, surely, that ever regaled
the ears of Morgantown's elect.
The moment he raised that cross the bull throat of Jim Boone bellowed
a command, the poised guns of the gang enforced it, and all the crowd
dropped to their knees, leaving the six outlaws scattered about the
edges of the mob like sheep dogs around a folding flock, while in the
center stood Pierre with white, upturned face and the raised cross.
So Martin Ryder was buried with "trimmings," and the gang rode back,
laughing and shouting, through the town and up into the safety of the
mountains. Election day was fast approaching and therefore the rival
candidates for sheriff hastily organized posses and made the usual
futile pursuit.
In fact, before the pursuit was well under way, Boone and his men sat
at their supper table in the cabin. The seventh chair was filled; all
were present except Jack, who sulked in her room. Pierre went to her
door and knocked. He carried under his arm a package which he had
secured in the General Merchandise Store of Morgantown.
"We're all waiting for you at the table," he explained.
"Just keep on waiting," said the husky voice of Jacqueline.
"I've brought you a present."
"I hate your presents!"
"It's a thing you've wanted for a long time, Jacqueline."
Only a stubborn silence.
"I'm putting your door a little ajar."
"If you dare to come in I'll--"
"And I'm leaving the package right here at the entrance. I'm so sorry,
Jacqueline, that you hate me."
And then he walked off down the hall--cunning Pierre--before she could
send her answer like an arrow after him. At the table he arranged an
eighth plate and drew up a chair before it. "If that's for Jack,"
remarked Dick Wilbur, "you're wasting your time. I know her and I know
her type. She'll never come out to the table tonight--nor tomorrow,
either. I know!"
In fact, he knew a good deal too much about girls and women also, did
Wilbur, and that was why he rode the long trails of the
mountain-desert with Boone and his men. Far south and east in the
Bahamas a great mansion stood vacant because he was gone, and the dust
lay thick on the carpets and powdered the curtains and tapestries with
a common gray.
He had built it and furnished it for a woman he loved, and afterward
for her sake he had killed a man and fled from a posse and escaped in
the steerage of a west-bound ship. Still the law followed him, and he
kept on west and west until he reached the mountain-desert, which
thinks nothing of swallowing men and their reputations.
There he was safe, but someday he would see some woman smile, catch
the glimmer of some eye, and throw safety away to ride after her.
It was a weakness, but what made a tragic figure of handsome Dick
Wilbur was that he knew his weakness and sat still and let fate walk
up and overtake him.
Yet Pierre le Rouge answered this man of sorrowful wisdom: "In my part
of the country men say: 'If you would speak of women let money talk
for you.'"
And he placed a gold piece on the table.
"She will come out to the supper table."
"She will not," smiled Wilbur, and covered the coin. "Will you take
odds?"
"No charity. Who else will bet?"
"I," said Jim Boone instantly. "You figure her for an ordinary sulky
kid."
Pierre smiled upon him.
"There's a cut in my shirt where her knife passed through; and that's
the reason that I'll bet on her now." The whole table covered his
coin, with laughter.
"We've kept one part of your bargain, Pierre. We've seen your father
buried in the corner plot. Now, what's the second part?"
"I don't know you well enough to ask you that," said Pierre.
They plied him with suggestions.
"To rob the Berwin Bank?"
"Stick up a train?"
"No. That's nothing."
"Round up the sheriffs from here to the end of the mountains?"
"Too easy."
"Roll all those together," said Pierre, "and you'll begin to get an
idea of what I'll ask."
Then a low voice called from the black throat of the hall: "Pierre!"
The others were silent, but Pierre winked at them, and made great
flourish with knife and fork against his plate as if to cover the
sound of Jacqueline's voice.
"Pierre!" she called again. "I've come to thank you."
He jumped up and turned toward the hall.
"Do you like it?"
"It's a wonder!"
"Then we're friends?"
"If you want to be."
"There's nothing I want more. Then you'll come out and have supper
with us, Jack?"
There was a little pause, and then Jim Boone struck his fist on the
table and cursed, for she stepped from the darkness into the flaring
light of the room.
CHAPTER 13
She wore a cartridge-belt slung jauntily across her hips and from it
hung a holster of stiff new leather with the top flap open to show the
butt of a man-sized forty-five caliber six-shooter--her first gun. Not
a man of the gang but had loaned her his guns time and again, but they
had never dreamed of giving her a weapon of her own.
So they stared at her agape, where she stood with her head back, one
hand resting on her hip, one hovering about the butt of the gun, as if
she challenged them to question her right to be called "man."
It was as if she abandoned all claims to femininity with that single
step; the gun at her side made her seem inches taller and years older.
She was no longer a child, but a long-rider who could shoot with
the best.
One glance she cast about the room to drink in the amazement of the
gang, and then her father broke in rather hoarsely: "Sit down, girl.
Sit down and be one of us. One of us you are by your own choice from
this day on. You're neither man nor woman, but a long-rider with every
man's hand against you. You've done with any hope of a home or of
friends. You're one of us. Poor Jack--my girl!"
"Poor?" she returned. "Not while I can make a quick draw and shoot
straight."
And then she swept the circle of eyes, daring them to take her boast
lightly, but they knew her too well, and were all solemnly silent. At
this she relented somewhat, and went directly to Pierre, flushing
from throat to hair. She held out her hand.
"Will you shake and call it square?"
"I sure will," nodded Pierre.
"And we're pals--you and me, like the rest of 'em?"
"We are."
She took the place beside him.
As the whisky went round after round the two seemed shut away from the
others; they were younger, less marked by life; they listened while
the others talked, and now and then exchanged glances of interest
or aversion.
"Listen," she said after a time, "I've heard this story before."
It was Phil Branch, square-built and square of jaw, who was talking.
"There's only one thing I can handle better than a gun, and that's a
sledgehammer. A gun is all right in its way, but for work in a crowd,
well, give me a hammer and I'll show you a way out."
Bud Mansie grinned: "Leave me my pair of sixes and you can have all
the hammers between here and Central Park in a crowd. There's nothing
makes a crowd remember its heels like a pair of barking sixes."
"Ah, ah!" growled Branch. "But when they've heard bone crunch under
the hammer there's nothing will hold them."
"I'd have to see that."
"Maybe you will, Bud, maybe you will. It was the hammer that started
me for the trail west. I had a big Scotchman in the factory who
couldn't learn how to weld. I'd taught him day after day and cursed
him and damn near prayed for him. But he somehow wouldn't learn--the
swine--ah, ah!"
He grew vindictively black at the memory.
"Every night he wiped out what I'd taught him during the day and the
eraser he used was booze. So one fine day I dropped the hammer after
watchin' him make a botch on a big bar, and cussed him up one leg and
down the other. The Scotchman had a hangover from the night before and
he made a pass at me. It was too much for me just then, for the day
was hot and the forge fire had been spitting cinders in my face all
morning. So I took him by the throat."
He reached out and closed his taut fingers slowly.
"I didn't mean nothin' by it, but after a man has been moldin' iron,
flesh is pretty weak stuff. When I let go of Scotchy he dropped on the
floor, and while I stood starin' down at him somebody seen what had
happened and spread the word.
"I wasn't none too popular, bein' not much on talk, so the boys got
together and pretty soon they come pilin' through the door at me,
packin' everything from hatchets to crowbars.
"Lads, I was sorry about Scotchy, but after I glimpsed that gang
comin' I wasn't sorry for nothing. I felt like singin', though there
wasn't no song that could say just what I meant. But I grabbed up the
big fourteen-pound hammer and met 'em halfway.
"The first swing of the hammer it met something hard, but not as hard
as iron. The thing crunched with a sound like an egg under a man's
heel. And when that crowd heard it they looked sick. God, how sick
they looked! They didn't wait for no second swing, but they beat it
hard and fast through the door with me after 'em. They scattered, but
I kept right on and didn't never really stop till I reached the
mountain-desert and you, Jim."
"Which is a good yarn," said Bud Mansie, "but I can tell you one
that'll cap it. It was--"
He stopped short, staring up at the door. Outside, the wind had kept
up a perpetual roaring, and no one noticed the noise of the opening
door. Bud Mansie, facing that door, however, turned a queer yellow
and sat with his lips parted on the last word. He was not pretty to
see. The others turned their heads, and there followed the strangest
panic which Pierre had ever seen.
Jim Boone jerked his hand back to his hip, but stayed the motion, half
completed, and swung his hands stiffly above his head. Garry Patterson
sat with his eyes blinked shut, pale, waiting for death to come. Dick
Wilbur rose, tall and stiff, and stood with his hands gripped at his
sides, and Black Morgan Gandil clutched at the table before him and
his eyes wandered swiftly about the room, seeking a place for escape.
There was only one sound, and that was a whispering moan of terror
from Jacqueline. Only Pierre made no move, yet he felt as he had when
the black mass of the landslide loomed above him.
What he saw in the door was a man of medium size and almost slender
build. In spite of the patch of gray hair at either temple he was only
somewhere between twenty-five and thirty. But to see him was to forget
all details except the strangest face which Pierre had ever seen or
would ever look upon in all his career.
It was pale, with a pallor strange to the ranges; even the lips seemed
bloodless, and they curved with a suggestion of a smile that was a
nervous habit rather than any sign of mirth. The nerves of the left
eye were also affected, and the lid dropped and fluttered almost shut,
so that he had to carry his head far back in order to see plainly.
There was such pride and scorn in the man that his name came up to the
lips of Pierre: "McGurk."
A surprisingly gentle voice said: "Jim, I'm sorry to drop in on you
this way, but I've had some unpleasant news."
His words dispelled part of the charm. The hands of big Boone lowered;
the others assumed more natural positions, but each, it seemed to
Pierre, took particular and almost ostentatious care that their
right hands should be always far from the holsters of their guns.
The stranger went on: "Martin Ryder is finished, as I suppose you
know. He left a spawn of two mongrels behind him. I haven't bothered
with them, but I'm a little more interested in another son that has
cropped up. He's sitting over there in your family party and his name
is Pierre. In his own country they call him Pierre le Rouge, which
means Red Pierre, in our talk.
"You know I've never crossed you in anything before, Jim. Have I?"
Boone moistened his white lips and answered: "Never," huskily, as if
it were a great muscular effort for him to speak.
"This time I have to break the custom. Boone, this fellow Pierre has
to leave the country. Will you see that he goes?"
The lips of Boone moved and made no sound.
He said at length: "McGurk, I'd rather cross the devil than cross you.
There's no shame in admitting that. But I've lost my boy, Hal."
"Too bad, Jim. I knew Hal; at a distance, of course."
"And Pierre is filling Hal's place in the family."
"Is that your answer?"
"McGurk, are you going to pin me down in this?"
And here Jack whirled and cried: "Dad, you won't let Pierre go!"
"You see?" pleaded Boone.
It was uncanny and horrible to see the giant so unnerved before this
stranger, but that part of it did not come to Pierre until later. Now
he felt a peculiar emptiness of stomach and a certain jumping chill
that traveled up and down his spine. Moreover, he could not move his
eyes from the face of McGurk, and he knew at length that this was
fear--the first real fear that he had ever known.
Shame made him hot, but fear made him cold again. He knew that if he
rose his knees would buckle under him; that if he drew out his
revolver it would slip from his palsied fingers. For the fear of death
is a mighty fear, but it is nothing compared with the fear of man.
"I've asked you a question," said McGurk. "What's your answer?"
There was a quiver in the black forest of Boone's beard, and if Pierre
was cold before, he was sick at heart to see the big man cringe
before McGurk.
He stammered: "Give me time."
"Good," said McGurk. "I'm afraid I know what your answer would be now,
but if you take a couple of days you will think things over and come
to a reasonable conclusion. I will be at Gaffney's place about fifteen
miles from here. You know it? Send your answer there. In the
meantime"--he stepped forward to the table and poured a small drink
of whisky into a glass and raised it high--"here's to the long health
and happiness of us all. Drink!"
There was a hasty pouring of liquor.
"And you also!"
Pierre jumped as if he had been struck, and obeyed the order hastily.
"So," said the master, pleasant again, and Pierre wiped his forehead
furtively and stared up with fascinated eyes. "An unwilling pledge is
better than none at all. To you, gentlemen, much happiness; to you,
Pierre le Rouge, bon voyage."
They drank; the master placed his glass on the table again, smiled
upon them, and was gone through the door. He turned his back in
leaving. There was no fitter way in which he could have expressed his
contempt.
CHAPTER 14
The mirth died and in its place came a long silence. Jim Boone stared
upon Pierre with miserable eyes, and then rose and left the room. The
others one by one followed his example. Dick Wilbur in passing dropped
his hand on Pierre's shoulder. Jacqueline was silent.
As he sat there minute after minute and then hour after hour of the
long night Pierre saw the meaning of it. If they sent word that they
would not give up Pierre it was war, and war with McGurk had only one
ending. If they sent word that Pierre was surrendered the shame would
never leave Boone and his men.
Whatever they did there was ruin for them in the end. All this Pierre
conned slowly in his mind, until he was cold. Then he looked up and
saw that the lamp had burned out and that the wood in the fireplace
was consumed to a few red embers.
He replenished the fire, and when the yellow flames began to mount he
made his resolution and walked slowly up and down the floor with it.
For he knew that he must go to meet McGurk.
The very thought of the man sent the old chill through his blood, yet
he must go and face him and end the thing.
It came over him with a pang that he was very young; that life was
barely a taste in his mouth, whether bitter or sweet he could not
tell. He picked a flaming stick from the fire and went before a little
round mirror on the wall.
Back at him stared the face of a boy. He had seen so much of the
grim six in the last day that the contrast startled him. They were
men, hardened to life and filled with knowledge of it. They were books
written full. But he? He was a blank page with a scribbled word here
and there. Nevertheless, he was chosen and he must go.
Having reached that decision he closed his mind on what would happen.
There was a vague fear that when he faced McGurk he would be frozen
with fear; that his spirit would be broken and he would become a thing
too despicable for a man to kill.
One thing was certain: if he was to act a man's part and die a man's
death he must not stand long before McGurk. It seemed to him then that
he would die happy if he had the strength to fire one shot before
the end.
Then he tiptoed from the house and went over the snow to the barn and
saddled the horse of Hal Boone. It was already morning, and as he led
the horse to the door of the barn a shadow, a faint shadow in that
early light, fell across the snow before him.
He looked up and saw Jacqueline. She stepped close, and the horse
nosed her shoulder affectionately.
She said: "Isn't there anything that will keep you from going?"
"It's just a little ride before breakfast. I'll be back in an hour."
It was foolish to try to blind her, as he saw by her wan, unchildish
smile.
"Is there no other way, Pierre?"
"I don't know of any, do you?"
"You have to leave us, and never come back?"
"Is he as sure as that, Jack?"
"Sure? Who?"
She had not known, after all; she thought that he was merely riding
away from the region where McGurk was king. Now she caught his wrists
and shook them. "Pierre, you are not going to face McGurk? Pierre!"
"If you were a man, you would understand."
"I know; because of your father. I do understand, but oh, Pierre,
listen! I can shoot as straight as almost any man. We will ride down
together. We will go through the doors together--me first to take his
fire, and you behind to shoot him down."
"I guess no man can be as brave as a woman, Jack. No; I have to see
McGurk alone. He faced my father alone and shot him down. I'll face
McGurk alone and live long enough to put my mark on him."
"But you don't know him. He can't be hurt. Do you think my father
and--and Dick Wilbur would fear any man who could be hurt? No, but
McGurk has been in a hundred fights and never been touched. There's a
charm over him, don't you see?"
"I'll break the charm, that's all."
He was up in the saddle.
"Then I'll call dad--I'll call them all--if you die they shall all
follow you. I swear they shall. Pierre!"
He merely leaned forward and touched the horse with his spurs, but
after he had raced the first hundred yards he glanced back. She was
running hard for the house, and calling as she went. Pierre cursed and
spurred the horse again.
Yet even if Jim Boone and his men started out after him they could
never overtake him. Before they were in their saddles and up with him,
he'd be a full three miles out in the hills. Not even black Thunder
could make up as much ground as that.
So all the fifteen miles to Gaffney's place he urged his horse. The
excitement of the race kept the thought of McGurk back in his mind.
Only once he lost time when he had to pull up beside a buckboard and
inquire the way. After that he flew on again. Yet as he clattered up
to the door of Gaffney's crossroads saloon and swung to the ground
he looked back and saw a cluster of horsemen swing around the shoulder
of a hill and come tearing after him. Surely his time was short.
He thrust open the door of the place and called for a drink. The
bartender spun the glass down the bar to him.
"Where's McGurk?"
The other stopped in the very act of taking out the bottle from the
shelf, and his curious glance went over the face of Pierre le Rouge.
He decided, apparently, that it was foolish to hold suspicions against
so young a man.
"In that room," and he jerked his hand toward a door. "What do you
want with him?"
"Got a message for him."
"Tell it to me, and I'll pass it along."
Pierre met the eye of the other and smiled faintly.
"Not _this_ message."
"Oh," said the other, and then shouted: "McGurk!"
Far away came the rush of hoofs over a hard trail. Only a minute more
and they would be here; only a minute more and the room would be full
of fighting men ready to die with him and for him. Yet Pierre was
glad; glad that he could meet the danger alone; ten minutes from now,
if he lived, he could answer certainly one way or the other the
greatest of all questions: "Am I a man?"
Out of the inner room the pleasant voice which he dreaded answered:
"What's up?"
The barkeeper glanced Pierre le Rouge over again and then answered: "A
friend with a message."
The door opened and framed McGurk. He did not start, seeing Pierre.
He said: "None of the rest of them had the guts even to bring me the
message, eh?"
Pierre shrugged his shoulders. It was a mighty effort, but he was able
to look his man fairly in the eyes. "All right, lad. How long is it
going to take you to clear out of the country?"
"That's not the message," answered a voice which Pierre did not
recognize as his own.
"Out with it, then."
"It's in the leather on my hip."
And he went for his gun. Even as he started his hand he knew that he
was too slow for McGurk, yet the finest splitsecond watch in the world
could not have caught the differing time they needed to get their guns
out of the holsters.
Just a breath before Pierre fired there was a stunning blow on his
right shoulder and another on his hip. He lurched to the floor, his
revolver clattering against the wood as he fell, but falling, he
scooped up the gun with his left and twisted.
That movement made the third shot of McGurk fly wide and Pierre fired
from the floor and saw a spasm of pain contract the face of
the outlaw.
Instantly the door behind him flew open and Boone's men stormed into
the room. Once more McGurk fired, but his wound made his aim wide and
the bullet merely tore up a splinter beside Pierre's head. A fusillade
from Boone and his men answered, but the outlaw had leaped back
through the door.
"He's hurt," thundered Boone. "By God, the charm of McGurk is broken.
Dick, Bud, Gandil, take the outside of the place. I'll force
the door."
Wilbur and the other two raced through the door and raised a shout at
once, and then there was a rattle of shots. Big Patterson leaned
over Pierre.
He said in an awe-stricken voice: "Lad, it's a great work that you've
done for all of us, if you've drawn the blood from McGurk."
"His left shoulder," said Pierre, and smiled in spite of his pain.
"And you, lad?"
"I'm going to live; I've got to finish the job. Who's that beside you?
There's a mist over my eyes."
"It's Jack. She outrode us all."
Then the mist closed over the eyes of Pierre and his senses went out
in the dark.
CHAPTER 15
Those who are curious about the period which followed during which the
title "Le Rouge" was forgotten and he became known only as "Red"
Pierre through all the mountain-desert, can hear the tales of his
doing from the analysts of the ranges. This story has to do only with
his struggle with McGurk.
The gap of six years which occurs here is due to the fact that during
that period McGurk vanished from the mountain-desert. He died away
from the eyes of men and in their minds he became that tradition which
lives still so vividly, the tradition of the pale face, the sneering,
bloodless lips, and the hand which never failed.
During this lapse of time there were many who claimed that he had
ridden off into some lonely haunt and died of the wound which he
received from Pierre's bullet. A great majority, however, would never
accept such a story, and even when the six years had rolled by they
still shook their heads. They awaited his return just as certain
stanch old Britons await the second coming of Arthur from the island
of Avalon. In the meantime the terror of his name passed on to him who
had broken the "charm" of McGurk.
Not all that grim significance passed on to Red Pierre, indeed,
because he never impressed the public imagination as did the terrible
ruthlessness of McGurk. At that he did enough to keep tongues wagging.
Cattlemen loved to tell those familiar exploits of the "two sheriffs,"
or that "thousand-mile pursuit of Canby," with its half-tragic,
half-humorous conclusion, or the "Sacking of Two Rivers," or the
"three-cornered battle" against Rodriguez and Blond.
But men could not forget that in all his work there rode behind Red
Pierre six dauntless warriors of the mountain-desert, while McGurk had
been always a single hand against the world, a veritable lone wolf.
Whatever kept him away through those six years, the memory of the
wound he received at Gaffney's place never left McGurk, and now he was
coming back with a single great purpose in his mind, and in his heart
a consuming hatred for Pierre and all the other of Boone's men.
Certainly if he had sensed the second coming of McGurk, Pierre would
not have ridden so jauntily through the hills this day, or whistled so
carelessly, or swept the hills with such a complacent, lordly eye. A
man of mark cannot bear himself too modestly, and Pierre, from boots
to high-peaked, broad-brimmed sombrero, was the last word in elegance
for a rider of the mountain-desert.
Even his mount seemed to sense the pride of his master. It was a
cream-colored mustang, not one of the lump-headed, bony-hipped species
common to the ranges, but one of those rare reversions to the Spanish
thoroughbreds from which the Western cow-pony is descended. The mare
was not over-large, but the broad hips and generous expanse of chest
were hints, and only hints, of her strength and endurance. There was
the speed of the blooded racer in her and the tirelessness of
the mustang.
Now, down the rocky, half-broken trail she picked her way as daintily
as any debutante tiptoeing down a great stairway to the ballroom. Life
had been easy for Mary since that thousand-mile struggle to overtake
Canby, and now her sides were sleek from good feeding and some casual
twenty miles a day, which was no more to her than a canter through the
park is to the city horse.
The eye which had been so red-stained and fierce during the long ride
after Canby was now bright and gentle. At every turn she pricked her
small sharp ears as if she expected home and friends on the other side
of the curve. And now and again she tossed her head and glanced back
at the master for a moment and then whinnied across some
echoing ravine.
It was Mary's way of showing happiness, and her master's
acknowledgment was to run his gloved left hand up through her mane and
with his ungloved right, that tanned and agile hand, pat her
shoulder lightly.
Passing to the end of the down-grade, they reached a slight upward
incline, and the mare, as if she had come to familiar ground, broke
into a gallop, a matchless, swinging stride. Swerving to right and to
left among the great boulders, like a football player running a broken
field, she increased the gallop to a racing pace.
That twisting course would have shaken an ordinary horseman to the
toes, but Pierre, swaying easily in the saddle, dropped the reins into
the crook of his left arm and rolled a cigarette in spite of the
motion and the wind. It was a little feat, but it would have drawn
applause from a circus crowd.
He spoke to the mare while he lighted a match and she dropped to an
easy canter, the pace which she could maintain from dawn to dark,
eating up the gray miles of the mountain and the desert, and it was
then that Red Pierre heard a gay voice singing in the distance.
His attitude changed at once. He caught a shorter grip on the reins
and swung forward a little in the saddle, while his right hand touched
the butt of the revolver in its holster and made sure that it was
loose; for to those who hunt and are hunted every human voice in the
mountain-desert is an ominous token.
The mare, sensing the change of her master through that weird
telegraphy which passed down the taut bridle reins, held her head high
and flattened her short ears against her neck.
The song and the singer drew closer, and the vigilance of Pierre
ceased as he heard a mellow baritone ring out.
"They call me poor, yet I am rich
In the touch of her golden hair,
My heart is filled like a miser's hands
With the red-gold of her hair.
The sky I ride beneath all day
Is the blue of her dear eyes;
The only heaven I desire
Is the blue of her dear eyes."
And here Dick Wilbur rode about the shoulder of a hill, broke off his
song at the sight of Pierre le Rouge, and shouted a welcome. They came
together and continued their journey side by side. The half-dozen
years had hardly altered the blond, handsome face of Wilbur, and now,
with the gladness of his singing still flushing his face, he seemed
hardly more than a boy--younger, in fact, than Red Pierre, into whose
eyes there came now and then a grave sternness.
"After hearing that song," said Pierre smiling, "I feel as if I'd
listened to a portrait." "Right!" said Wilbur, with unabated
enthusiasm. "It's the bare and unadorned truth, Prince Pierre. My fine
Galahad, if you came within eye-shot of her there'd be a small-sized
hell raised."
"No. I'm immune there, you know."
"Nonsense. The beauty of a really lovely woman is like a fine perfume.
It strikes right to a man's heart; there's no possibility of
resistance. I know. You, Pierre, act like a man already in love or a
boy who has never known a woman. Which is it, Pierre?"
The other made a familiar gesture with those who knew him, a touching
of his left hand against his throat where the cross lay.
He said: "I suppose it seems like that to you."
"Like what? Dodging me, eh? Well, I never press the point, but I'd
give the worth of your horse, Pierre, to see you and Mary together."
Red Pierre started, and then frowned.
"Irritates you a little, eh? Well, a woman is like a spur to most
men."
He added, with a momentary gloom: "God knows, I bear the marks of
'em."
He raised his head, as if he looked up in response to his thought.
"But there's a difference with this girl. I've named the quality of
her before--it disarms a man."
Pierre looked to his friend with some alarm, for there was a saying
among the followers of Boone that a woman would be the downfall of big
Dick Wilbur again, as a woman had been his downfall before. The
difference would be that this fall must be his last.
And Wilbur went on: "She's Eastern, Pierre, and out here visiting the
daughter of old Barnes who owns about a thousand miles of range, you
know. How long will she be here? That's the question I'm trying to
answer for her. I met her riding over the hills--she was galloping
along a ridge, and she rode her way right into my heart. Well, I'm a
fool, of course, but about this girl I can't be wrong. Tonight I'm
taking her to a masquerade."
He pulled his horse to a full stop.
"Pierre, you have to come with me."
CHAPTER 16
Pierre stared at his companion with almost open-mouthed astonishment.
"I? A dance?"
And then his head tilted back and he laughed.
"My good times, Dick, come out of the hills and the skyline, and the
gallop of Mary. But as for women, they bore me, Dick."
"Even Jack?"
"She's more man than woman."
It was the turn of Wilbur to laugh, and he responded uproariously
until Pierre frowned and flushed a little.
"When I see you out here on your horse with your rifle in the boot and
your six-gun swinging low in the scabbard, and riding the fastest bit
of horseflesh on the ranges," explained Wilbur, "I get to thinking
that you're pretty much king of the mountains; but in certain
respects, Pierre, you're a child."
Pierre stirred uneasily in his saddle. A man must be well over thirty
before he can withstand ridicule.
He said dryly: "I've an idea that I know Jack's about as well as the
next man." "Let it drop," said Wilbur, sober again, for he shared
with all of Boone's crew a deep-rooted unwillingness to press Red
Pierre beyond a certain point. "The one subject I won't quarrel about
is Jack, God bless her."
"She's the best pal," said Pierre soberly, "and the nearest to a man
I've ever met."
"Nearest to a man?" queried Wilbur, and smiled, but so furtively that
even the sharp eye of Red Pierre did not perceive the mockery. He went
on: "But the dance, what of that? It's a masquerade. There'd be no
fear of being recognized."
Pierre was silent a moment more. Then he said: "This girl--what did
you call her?"
"Mary."
"And about her hair--I think you said it was black?"
"Golden, Pierre."
"Mary, and golden hair," mused Red Pierre. "I think I'll go to that
dance."
"With Jack? She dances wonderfully, you know."
"Well--with Jack."
So they reached a tumbled ranch house squeezed between two hills so
that it was sheltered from the storms of the winter but held all the
heat of the summer.
Once it had been a goodly building, the home of some cattle king. But
bad times had come. A bullet in a saloon brawl put an end to the
cattle king, and now his home was a wreck of its former glory. The
northern wing shelved down to the ground as if the building were
kneeling to the power of the wind, and the southern portion of the
house, though still erect, seemed tottering and rotten throughout and
holding together until at a final blow the whole structure would
crumple at once.
To the stables, hardly less ruinous than the big house, Pierre and
Wilbur took their horses, and a series of whinnies greeted them from
the stalls. To look down that line of magnificent heads raised above
the partitions of the stalls was like glancing into the stud of some
crowned head who made hunting and racing his chief end in life, for
these were animals worthy of the sport of kings.
They were chosen each from among literal hundreds, and they were cared
for far more tenderly than the masters cared for themselves. There was
a reason in it, for upon their speed and endurance depended the life
of the outlaw. Moreover, the policy of Jim Boone was one of actual
"long riding."
Here he had come to a pause for a few days to recuperate his horses
and his men. Tomorrow, perhaps, he would be on the spur again and
sweeping off to a distant point in the mountain-desert to strike and
be gone again before the rangers knew well that he had been there.
Very rarely did one settler have another neighbor at a distance of
less than two hundred miles. It meant arduous and continual riding,
and a horse with any defect was worse than useless because the speed
of the gang had to be the speed of the slowest horse in the lot.
It was some time before the two long riders had completed the grooming
of their horses and had gone down the hill and into the house. In the
largest habitable room they found a fire fed with rotten timbers from
the wrecked portion of the building, and scattered through the room a
sullen and dejected group: Mansie, Branch, Jim Boone, and Black
Morgan Gandil.
At a glance it was easy to detect their malady; it was the horrible
ennui which comes to men who are always surrounded by one set of
faces. If a man is happily married he may bear with his wife and his
children constantly through long stretches of time, but the glamour of
life lies in the varying personalities which a man glimpses in
passing, but never knows.
This was a rare crew. Every man of them was marked for courage and
stamina and wild daring. Yet even so in their passive moments they
hated each other with a hate that passed the understanding of
common men.
Through seven years they had held together, through fair weather and
foul, and now each knew from the other's expression the words that
were about to be spoken, and each knew that the other was reading him,
and loathing what he read.
So they were apt to relapse into long silences unless Jack was with
them, for being a woman her variety was infinite, or Pierre le Rouge,
whom all except Black Gandil loved and petted, and feared.
They were a battered crowd. Wind and hard weather and a thousand suns
had marked them, and the hand of man had branded them. Here and there
was a touch of gray in their hair, and about the mouth of each were
lines which in such silent moments as this one gave an expression
of yearning.
"What's up? What's wrong?" asked Wilbur from the door, but since no
answer was deigned he said no more.
But Pierre, like a charmed man who dares to walk among lions, strolled
easily through the room, and looked into the face of big Boone, who
smiled faintly up to him, and Black Gandil, who scowled doubly dark,
and Bud Mansie, who shifted uneasily in his chair and then nodded, and
finally to Branch. He dropped a hand on the massive shoulder of the
blacksmith.
"Well?" he asked.
Branch let himself droop back into his chair. His big, dull, colorless
eyes stared up to his friend.
"I dunno, lad. I'm just weary with the sort of tired that you can't
help by sleepin'. Understand?"
Pierre nodded, slowly, because he sympathized. "And the trouble?"
Branch stared about as if searching for a reason. "Jack's upstairs
sulking; Patterson hasn't come home yet."
And Black Gandil, who heard all things, said without looking up: "A
man that saves a shipwrecked fellow, he gets bad luck for thanks."
Pierre turned a considerable eye on him, and Gandil scowled back.
"You've been croaking for six years, Morgan, about the bad luck that
would come to Jim from saving me out of the snow. It's never
happened, has it?"
Gandil, snarling from one side of his mouth, answered: "Where's
Patterson?"
"Am I responsible if the blockhead has got drunk someplace?"
"Patterson doesn't get drunk--not that way. And he knows that we were
to start again today."
"There ain't no doubt of that," commented Branch.
"It's the straight dope. Patterson keeps his dates," said Bud Mansie.
The booming bass of Jim Boone broke in: "Shut up, the whole gang of
you. We've had luck for the six years Pierre has been with us. Who
calls him a Jonah?"
And Black Gandil answered: "I do. I've sailed the seas. I know bad
luck when I see it."
"You've been seeing it for six years."
"The worst storms come on a voyage that starts with fair weather.
Patterson? He's gone; he ain't just delayed; he's gone."
It was not the first of these gloomy prophecies which Gandil had made,
but each time a heavy gloom broke over Red Pierre. For when he summed
up the good fortune which the cross of Father Victor had brought him,
he found that he had gained a father, and lost him at their first
meeting; and he had won money on that night of the gambling, but it
had cost the life of another man almost at once. The horse which
carried him away from the vengeance in Morgantown had died on the way
and he had been saved from the landslide, but the girl had perished.
He had driven McGurk from the ranges, and where would the penalty fall
on those who were near and dear to him? In a superstitious horror he
had asked himself the question a thousand times, and finally he could
hardly bear to look into the ominous, brooding eyes of Black Gandil.
It was as if the man had a certain and evil knowledge of the future.
CHAPTER 17
The knowledge of the torment he was inflicting made the eye of Black
Gandil bright with triumph.
He continued, and now every man in the room was sitting up, alert,
with gloomy eyes fixed upon Pierre: "Patterson is the first, but he
ain't the last. He's just the start. Who's next?" He looked
slowly around.
"Is it you, Bud, or you, Phil, or you, Jim, or maybe me?"
And Pierre said: "What makes you think you know that trouble's coming,
Morgan?"
"Because my blood runs cold in me when I look at you."
Red Pierre grew rigid and straightened in a way they knew.
"Damn you, Gandil, I've borne with you and your croaking too long,
d'ye hear? Too long, and I'll hear no more of it, understand?"
"Why not? You'll hear from me every time I sight you in the offing.
You c'n lay to that!"
The others were tense, ready to spring for cover, but Boone reared up
his great figure.
"Don't answer him, Pierre. You, Gandil, shut your face or I'll break
ye in two."
The fierce eyes of Pierre le Rouge never wavered from his victim, but
he answered: "Keep out of this. This is _my_ party. I'll tell you why
you'll stop gibbering, Gandil."
He made a pace forward and every man shrank a little away from him.
"Because the cold in your blood is part hate and more fear, Black
Gandil."
The eyes of Gandil glared back for an instant. With all his soul he
yearned for the courage to pull his gun, but his arm was numb; he
could not move it, and his eyes wavered and fell.
The shaggy gray head of Jim Boone fell likewise, and he was murmuring
to his savage old heart: "The good days are over. They'll never rest
till one of 'em is dead, and then the rest will take sides and we'll
have gun-plays at night. Seven years, and then to break up!"
Dick Wilbur, as usual, was the pacifier. He strode across the room,
and the sharp sound of his heels on the creaking floor broke the
tension. He said softly to Pierre: "You've raised hell enough. Now
let's go and get Jack down here to undo what you've just finished.
Besides, you've got to ask her for that dance, eh?"
The glance of Pierre still lingered on Gandil as he turned and
followed Wilbur up the complaining stairs to the one habitable room in
the second story of the house. It was set aside for the use of
Jacqueline.
At the door Wilbur said: "Shrug your shoulders back; you look as if
you were going to jump at something. And wipe the wolf look off your
face. After all, Jack's a girl, not a gunfighter."
Then he knocked and opened the door.
She lay face down on her bunk, her head turned from them toward the
wall. Slender and supple and strong, it was still only the size of her
boots and her hands that would make one look at her twice and then
guess that this was a woman, for she was dressed, from trousers even
to the bright bandanna knotted around her throat, like any prosperous
range rider.
Now, to be sure, the thick coils of black hair told her sex, but when
the broad-brimmed sombrero was pulled well down on her head, when the
cartridge-belt and the six-gun were slung about her waist, and most of
all when she spurred her mount recklessly across the hills no one
could have suspected that this was not some graceful boy born and bred
in the mountain-desert, willful as a young mountain lion, and as
dangerous.
"Sleepy?" called Wilbur.
She waited a moment and then queried with exaggerated impudence:
"Well?"
Ennui unspeakable was in that drawling monotone.
"Brace up; I've got news for you. And I've brought Pierre along to
tell you about it."
"Oh!"
And she sat bolt upright with shining eyes. Instantly she remembered
to yawn again, but her glance smiled on them above her hand.
She apologized. "Awfully sleepy, Dick."
But he was not deceived. He said: "There's a dance down near the
Barnes place, and Pierre wants you to go with him."
"Pierre! A dance?"
He explained: "Dick's lost his head over a girl with yellow hair, and
he wants me to go down and see her. He thought you might want to go
along." Her face changed like the moon when a cloud blows across it.
She answered with another slow, insolent yawn: "Thanks! I'm staying
home tonight."
Wilbur glared his rage covertly at Pierre, but the latter was blandly
unconscious that he had made any _faux pas_.
He said carelessly: "Too bad. It might be interesting. Jack?"
At his voice she looked up--a sharp and graceful toss of her head.
"What?"
"The girl with the yellow hair."
"Then go ahead and see her. I won't keep you. You don't mind if I go
on sleeping? Sit down and be at home."
With this she calmly turned her back again and seemed thoroughly
disposed to carry out her word.
Red Pierre flushed a little, watching her, and he spoke his anger
outright: "You're acting like a sulky kid, Jack, not like a man."
It was a habit of his to forget that she was a woman. Without turning
her head she answered: "Do you want to know why?"
"You're like a cat showing your claws. Go on! Tell me what the reason
is."
"Because I get tired of you."
In all his life he had never been so scorned. He did not see the
covert grin of Wilbur in the background. He bl