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Authors: John Frederick

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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 to-morrow. 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, pitilessly 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 hard and short 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 woman, high and tender, 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 VIII
BELIEF

The girl tossed up her arms in a silent ecstasy, and Pierre caught the small
cold hands and saw that she was only a child of twelve or fourteen, lovely as
only a child can be, and still more beautiful with the wild storm sweeping over
her and the waste of snow around 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, helpless with wonder, she cried out with
a little wail: "Help methe treehelp 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, gravely,
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 mightily to
withstand it.

She said: "You can't budge the tree?"

"Yesin 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, small 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 his, 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, and so strongly that
the chill of her touch filled his veins with an icy fire.

"I'll be unhappy. You'll make me so unhappy if you stay. Please go."

He raised the small, white 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
firesome 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 and miserable 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 thatalmost. And Ilike you still, Pierre."

"Really?"

"I almost think I like you morebecause you could kill a manand 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 laughterhappy 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 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, Pierreyou 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 wringing the white, cold hands and weeping:

"PierreI couldn't help itbut when you left me the whole world went out, and
my heart broke. 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 which held it at his throat 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 to-night 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 once when I fought a big bobcat with
only a knife. It saved me again when I fought two men. Both of them were famous
fighters, but neither of them had the cross. 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 muchreallyPierre?"

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 it touched cold against your breast
you would think of me, Pierre, would you not?"

"When you reach out to me like that, you sort of take my heart between your
hands."

"And when you look at me like that I feel grown-up and sad and happy both
together. But, listen, Pierre, I know why I cannot die now. God means us to be
so happy together, doesn't He? Because 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.

"Of course we never can be."

"But we'll be like a brother and sister and something more."

"And something more, Mary."

She clapped her hands and laughed. The laughter hurt him more than her
sobbing, for as she lay wrapped in her thick furs, even the pale, cold light
could not make her pallid.

The blowing hair was as warm as yellow sunshine to the heart of Pierre le
Rouge, and the color of her cheeks was as dear to him as the early flowers of
spring in the northland.

BOOK: Riders of the Silences
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