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Authors: John Frederick

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Here he opened the door, and they slipped inside. The air was warmed by a big
stove, and the roomfor the afternoon was darklighted by two swinging lanterns
suspended from the low roof. By that illumination Father Anthony saw two men
stripped naked, save for a loin-cloth, and circling each other slowly in the
center of a ring which was fenced in with ropes and floored with a padded mat.
Certainly Father Victor had spared nothing in expense to make the fittings of
the gymnasium perfect.

Of the two wrestlers, one was a veritable giant of a Canuck, swarthy of skin,
hairy-chested. His great hands were extended to grasp or to parryhis head
lowered with a ferocious scowland 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
everywhere leaping and trembling at every move.

He, like the big Canuck, 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 boyish eagerness, and 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. Father Anthony caught the shoulder of
his friend.

"Quick!" he whispered anxiously. "Stop them, for if the black fellow sets his
fingers on the boy he will break him like a willow wand, andin the name of God,
Jean Paul!"

For 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,

The other accepted the hand after an instant of hesitation and was dragged to
his feet. He stood resting one elbow on the gleaming shoulder of Pierre and
looking down into the boy's face with a singular grin. But there was no triumph
in the eye of Pierreonly a good-natured interest.

"In another week," answered the giant, "there will not be a sound bone in my
body. This very night I shall go to Father Victor. I had rather starve for three
days in the forest than stand up to you for three minutes, little brother."





"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 bodybut the mind, Father

"It is as simple as that of a childhis thoughts run as clear as spring

"Ah, but they are swift thoughts. Suppose the spring water gathers up a few
stones and rushes on down the side of the mountain. Very soon it is wearing a
deeper channelthen but a little space, and it is a raging torrent and tears
down great trees from its banks and goes shouting and leaping out toward the

"Suppose a strange thought came in the mind of your Pierre. It would be like
the pebbles in the swift-running spring water. He would carry it on, rushing. It
would tear away the old boundaries of his mindit might wipe out the banks you
have set down for himit 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 whimsical
smile which stirs the heart of a woman and makes a man reach for his revolver.
This boy whose mind is so cleararm 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

"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. The two priests
exchanged glances, one of triumph and one of wonder, while the plump fingers of
Father Anthony poised over that dark red hair, pressed smooth on top where the
skull-cap rested, and curling somewhat at the sides. 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:

"Father, I thank thee, and if my mind were as old as thine I might be able to
wish blessings as great as these in return."

"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.

"The writing sprawls like the knees of a boy of ten. What old man has written
to you, Pierre?"

"No man that I know. This comes from the south. It is marked from the United

"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,

"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. And as he read he
reminded Father Anthony of some childish chorister pronouncing words beyond his
understanding. The tears came to the eyes of the good father.

And he said in his heart: "Alas! I have been too much in the world of men,
and now a child can teach me."

The musical voice of the boy began:


"R. F. D. No. 4.


"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 raremostly 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."


Pierre lowered the letter and looked gravely upon Father Victor.

"There are blasphemies coming. Shall I read on?"


He began again, a little spot of red coming into either cheek:


"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 wide 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. All his gaunt frame was 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."


Father Anthony veiled his eyes, but the bright starved eyes of Jean Paul
Victor stared on at the reader. His voice was lower now, and the lips moved
slowly, as though numb with cold:


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 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, ran down across the white of her shoulder, and even past her
side and around you, Pierre, till it seemed like you was lying in a red river.
She being about all in, she got hold of my hand and looked up to me with them
blue eyes I been talking about, and said 'Dad,' and went out. And I damned near
followed her.

"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. I just acted the hound. 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
weakenIf they find they can look me square in the eyethey'll finish me quick,
and make off with the coin. Pierre, come quick.



The hand of Pierre dropped slowly to his side, and the letter fluttered with
a crisp rustling to the floor.





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.

BOOK: Riders of the Silences
6.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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