Riders of the Silences
Riders of the Silences
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."
"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 mon