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Title: Riders of the Silences
Author: Brand, Max, 1892-1944
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Riders of the Silences" ***

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RIDERS OF THE SILENCES

Max Brand


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
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 Morgantown 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 blurted: "Tired?"

"Awfully. You don't mind me being frank, do you, Pierre?"

He could only stammer: "Sometimes I wish to God you _were_ a man,
Jack!"

"You don't often remember that I'm a woman."

"Do you mean that I'm rude or rough with you, Jacqueline?" Still the
silence, but Wilbur was grinning broader than ever. "Answer me!"

She started up and faced him, her face convulsed with rage.

"What do you want me to say? Yes, you are rude--I hate you and your
lot. Go away from me; I don't want you; I hate you all."

And she would have said more, but furious sobs swelled her throat and
she could not speak, but dropped, face down, on the bunk and gripped
the blankets in each hardset hand. Over her Pierre leaned, utterly
bewildered, found nothing that he could say, and then turned and
strode, frowning, from the room. Wilbur hastened after him and caught
him just as the door was closing.

"Come back," he pleaded. "This is the best game I've ever seen. Come
back, Pierre! You've made a wonderful start."

Pierre le Rouge shook off the detaining hand and glared up at Wilbur.

"Don't try irony, Dick. I feel like murder. Think of it! All this time
she's been hating me; and now it's making her weep; think of
it--Jack--weeping!"

"Why, you're a child, Pierre. She's in love with you."

"With me?"

"With Red Pierre."

"You can't make a joke out of Jack with me. You ought to know that."

"Pierre, I'd as soon make a joke out of a wildcat."

"Grinning still? Wilbur, I'm taking more from you than I would from
any man on the ranges."

"I know you are, and that's why I'm stringing this out because I'm
going to have a laugh--ha, ha, ha!--the rest of my life--ha, ha, ha,
ha!--whenever I think of this!"

The burst of merriment left him speechless, and Pierre, glowering,
his right hand twitching dangerously close to that holster at his hip.
He sobered, and said: "Go in and talk to her and prove that
I'm right."

"Ask Jack if she loves me? Why, I'd as soon ask any man the same
question."

The big long-rider was instantly curious.

"Has she never appealed to you as a woman, Pierre?"

"How could she? I've watched her ride; I've watched her use her gun;
I've slept rolled in the same blankets with her, back to back; I've
walked and talked and traveled with her as if she were my
kid brother."

Wilbur nodded, as if the miracle were being slowly unfolded before his
eyes.

"And you've never noticed anything different about her? Never watched
a little lift and grace in her walk that no man could ever have; never
seen her color change just because you, Pierre, came near or went far
away from her?"

"Because of me?" asked the bewildered Pierre.

"You fool, you! Why, lad, I've been kept amused by you two for a whole
evening, watching her play for your attention, saving her best smiles
for you, keeping her best attitudes for you, and letting all the
richness of her voice go out for--a block--a stone. Gad, the thing
still doesn't seem possible! Pierre, one instant of that girl would
give romance to a man's whole life."

"This girl? This Jack of ours?"

"He hasn't seen it! Why, if I hadn't seen years ago that she had tied
her hands and turned her heart over to you, I'd have been begging her
for a smile, a shadow of a hope."

"If I didn't know you, Dick, I'd say that you were partly drunk and
partly a fool."

"Here's a hundred--a cold hundred that I'm right. I'll make it a
thousand, if you dare."

"Dare what?"

"Ask her to marry you." "Marry--me?"

"Damn it all--well, then--whatever you like. But I say that if you go
back into that room and sit still and merely look at her, she'll be in
your arms within five minutes."

"I hate to take charity, but a bet is a bet. That hundred is in my
pocket already. It's a go!"

They shook hands.

"But what will be your proof, Dick, whether I win or lose?"

"Your face, blockhead, when you come out of the room."

Upon this Pierre pondered a moment, and then turned toward the door.
He set his hand on the knob, faltered, and finally set his teeth and
entered the room.



CHAPTER 18


She lay as he had left her, except that her face was now pillowed in
her arms, and the long sobs kept her body quivering. Curiosity swept
over Pierre, looking down at her, but chiefly a puzzled grief such as
a man feels when a friend is in trouble. He came closer and laid a
hand on her shoulder.

"Jack!"

She turned far enough to strike his hand away and instantly resumed
her former position, though the sobs were softer. This childish anger
irritated him. He was about to storm out of the room when the thought
of the hundred dollars stopped him. The bet had been made, and it
seemed unsportsmanlike to leave without some effort.

The effort which he finally made was that suggested by Wilbur. He
folded his arms and stood silent, waiting, and ready to judge the time
as nearly as he could until the five minutes should have elapsed. He
was so busy computing the minutes that it was with a start that he
noticed some time later that the weeping had ceased. She lay quiet.
Her hand was dabbing furtively at her face for a purpose which Pierre
could not surmise.

At last a broken voice murmured: "Pierre!"

He would not speak, but something in the voice made his anger go.
After a little it came, and louder this time: "Pierre?"

He did not stir.

She whirled and sat on the edge of the bunk, crying: "Pierre!" with a
note of fright.

Still he persisted in that silence, his arms folded, the keen blue
eyes considering her as if from a great distance.

She explained: "I was afraid--Pierre! Why don't you speak? Tell me,
are you angry?"

And she sprang up and made a pace toward him. She had never seemed so
little manlike, so wholly womanly. And the hand which stretched toward
him, palm up, was a symbol of everything new and strange that he
found in her.

He had seen it balled to a small, angry fist, brown and dangerous; he
had seen it gripping the butt of a revolver, ready for the draw; he
had seen it tugging at the reins and holding a racing horse in check
with an ease which a man would envy; but never before had he seen it
turned palm up, to his knowledge; and now, because he could not speak
to her, according to his plan, he studied her thoroughly for the
first time.

Slender and marvelously made was that hand. The whole woman was in
it, made for beauty, not for use. It was all he could do to keep from
exclaiming.

She made a quick step toward him, eager, uncertain: "Pierre, I thought
you had left me--that you were gone, and angry."

Something caught on fire in Pierre, but still he would say nothing. He
was beginning to feel a cruel pleasure in his victory, but it was not
without a deep sense of danger.

She had laid aside her six-gun, but she had not abandoned it. She had
laid aside her anger, but she could resume it again as swiftly as she
could take up her revolver.

She cried with a little burst of rage: "Pierre, you are making a game
of me!"

But seeing that he did not change she altered swiftly and caught his
hand in both of hers. She spoke the name which she always used when
she was greatly moved.

"Ah, Pierre le Rouge, what have I done?"

His silence tempted her on like the smile of the sphinx.

And suddenly she was inside his arms, though how she separated them he
could not tell, and crying: "Pierre, I am unhappy. Help me, Pierre!"

It was true, then, and Wilbur had won his bet. But how could it have
happened? He took the arms that encircled his neck and brought them
slowly down, and watched her curiously. Something was expected of him,
but what it was he could not tell, for women were as strange to him as
the wild sea is strange to the Arab.

He hunted his mind, and then: "One of the boys has angered you, Jack?"

And she said, because she could think of no way to cover the confusion
which came to her after the outbreak: "Yes."

He dropped her arms and strode a pace or two up and down the room.

"Gandil?"

"N-no!" "You're lying. It was Gandil."

And he made straight for the door.

She ran after him and flung herself between him and the door. Clearly,
as if it were a painted picture, she saw him facing Gandil--saw their
hands leap for the guns--saw Gandil pitch face forward on the floor.
"Pierre--for God's sake!"

Her terror convinced him partially, and the furor went back from his
eyes as a light goes back in a long, dark hall.

"On your honor, Jack, it's not Gandil?"

"On my honor."

"But someone has broken you up. And he's here--he's one of us, this
man who's bothered you."

She could not help but answer: "Yes."

He scowled down at the floor.

"You would never be able to guess who it is. Give it up. After all--I
can live through it--I guess."

He took her face between his hands and frowned down into her eyes.
"Tell me his name, Jack, and the dog--"

She said: "Let me go. Take your hands away, Pierre."

He obeyed her, deeply worried, and she stood up for a moment with a
hand pressed over her eyes, swaying. He had never seen her like this;
he was like a pilot striving to steer his ship through an unfathomable
fog. Following what had become an instinct with him, he raised his
left hand and touched the cross beneath his throat. And inspiration
came to him.



CHAPTER 19


"Whether you want to or not, Jack, we'll go to this dance tonight."

Jacqueline's hand fell away from her eyes. She seemed suddenly glad
again.

"Do you want to take me, Pierre?"

He explained: "Of course. Besides, we have to keep an eye on Wilbur.
This girl with the yellow hair--"

She had altered swiftly again. There was no understanding her or
following her moods this day. He decided to disregard them, as he had
often done before.

"Black Gandil swears that I'm bringing bad luck to the boys at last.
Patterson has disappeared; Wilbur has lost his head about a girl.
We've got to save Dick."

He knew that she was fond of Wilbur, but she showed no enthusiasm now.

"Let him go his own way. He's big enough to take care of himself."

"But it's common talk, Jack, that the end of Wilbur will come through
a woman. It was that that sent him on the long trail, you know. And
this girl with the yellow hair--"

"Why do you harp on her?"

"Harp on her?"

"Every other word--nothing but yellow hair. I'm sick of it. I know the
kind--faded corn color--dyed, probably. Pierre, you are all blind, and
you most of all."

This being obviously childish, Pierre brushed the consideration of it
from his mind. "And for clothes, Jack?"

They were both dumb. It had been years since she had worn the clothes
of a woman. She had danced with the men of her father's gang many a
time while someone whistled or played on a mouth-organ, and there was
the time they rode into Beulah Ferry and held up the dance hall, and
Jim Boone and Mansie lined up the crowd with their hands held high
above their heads while the sweating musicians played fast and furious
and Jack and Pierre danced down the center of the hall.

She had danced many a time, but never in the clothes of a woman; so
they stared, mutely puzzled.

A thought came first to Jacqueline. She stepped close and murmured her
suggestion in the ear of Pierre. Whatever it was, it made his jaw set
hard and brought grave lines into his face.

She stepped back, asking: "Well?"

"We'll do it. What a little demon you are, Jack!"

"Then we'll have to start now. There's barely time."

They ran from the room together, and as they passed through the room
below Wilbur called after them: "The dance?"

"Yes."

"Wait and go with me."

"We ride in a roundabout way."

They were through the door as Pierre called back, and a moment later
the hoofs of their horses scattered the gravel down the hillside.
Jacqueline rode a black stallion sired by her father's mighty Thunder,
who had grown old but still could do the work of three ordinary horses
in carrying the great bulk of his master. The son of Thunder was
little like his sire, but a slender-limbed racer, graceful, nervous,
eager. A clumsy rider would have ruined the horse in a single day's
hard work among the trails of the mountain-desert, but Jacqueline,
fairly reading the mind of the black, nursed his strength when it was
needed and let him run free and swift when the ground before him
was level.

Now she picked her course dexterously down the hillside with the
cream-colored mare of Pierre following half a length behind.

After the first down-pitch of ground was covered they passed into
difficult terrain, and for half an hour went at a jog trot, winging in
and out among the rocks, climbing steadily up and up through
the hills.

Here the ground opened up again, and they roved on at a free gallop,
the black always half a length in front. Along the ridge of a crest,
an almost level stretch of a mile or more, Jack eased the grip on the
reins, and the black responded with a sudden lengthening of stride and
lowered his head with ears pressed back flat while he fairly flew over
the ground.

Nothing could match that speed. The strong mare fell to the rear,
fighting gamely, but beaten by that effort of the stallion.

Jack swerved in the saddle and looked back, laughing her triumph.
Pierre smiled grimly in response and leaned forward, shifting his
weight more over the withers of Mary. He spoke to her, and one of her
pricking ears fell back as if to listen to his voice. He spoke again
and the other ear fell back, her neck straightened, she gave her whole
heart to her work.

First she held the stallion even, then she began to gain. That was the
meaning of those round, strong hips, and the breadth of the chest. She
needed a half-mile of running to warm her to her work, and now the
black came back to her with every leap.

The thunder of the approaching hoofs warned the girl. One more glance
she cast in apprehension over her shoulder, and then brought her spurs
into play again and again. Still the rush of hoofs behind her grew
louder and louder, and now there was a panting at her side and the
head of cream-colored Mary drew up and past.

She gave up the battle with a little shout of anger and slowed up her
mount with a sharp pull on the reins. It needed only a word from
Pierre and his mare drew down to a hand-gallop, twisting her head a
little toward the black as if she called for some recognition of her
superiority.

"It's always this way," cried Jack, and jerked at the reins with a
childish impotence of anger. "I beat you for the first quarter of a
mile and then this fool of a horse--I'm going to give him away."

"The black," said Pierre, assuming an air of quiet and superior
knowing which always aggravated her most, "is a good second-rate
cayuse when someone who knows horses is in the saddle. I'd give you
fifty for him on the strength of his looks and keep him for a
decoration."

She could only glare her speechless rage for a moment. Then she
changed swiftly and threw out her hands in a little gesture of
surrender.

"After all, what difference does it make? Your Mary can beat him in a
long run or a short one, but it's your horse, Pierre, and that takes
the sting away. If it were anyone else's I'd--well, I'd shoot either
the horse or the rider. But my partner's horse is my horse, you know."

He swerved his mare sharply to the left and took her hand with a
strong grip.

"Jack, of all the men I've ever known, I'd rather ride with you, I'd
rather fight for you."

"Of all the _men_ you ever knew," she said, "I suppose that I am."

He did not hear the low voice, for he was looking out over the canyon.
A few moments later they swung out onto the very crest of the range.

On all sides the hills dropped away through the gloom of the evening,
brown nearby, but falling off through a faint blue haze and growing
blue-black with the distance. A sharp wind, chill with the coming of
night, cut at them. Not a hundred feet overhead shot a low-winging
hawk back from his day's hunting and rising only high enough to clear
the range and then plunge down toward his nest.

Like the hawks they peered down from their point of vantage into the
profound gloom of the valley below. They shaded their eyes and studied
it with a singular interest for long moments, patient, as the hawk.

So these two marauders stared until she raised a hand slowly and then
pointed down. He followed the direction she indicated, and there,
through the haze of the evening, he made out a glimmer of lights.

He said sharply: "I know the place, but we'll have a devil of a ride
to get there."

And like the swooping hawk they started down the slope. It was
precipitous in many places, but Pierre kept almost at a gallop, making
the mare take the slopes often crouched back on her haunches with
forefeet braced forward, and sliding many yards at a time.

In between the boulders he darted, twisting here and there, and always
erect and jaunty in the saddle, swaying easily with every movement of
the mare. Not far behind him came the girl. Fine rider that she was,
she could not hope to compete with such matchless horsemanship where
man and horse were only one piece of strong brawn and muscle, one
daring spirit. Many a time the chances seemed too desperate to her,
but she followed blindly where he led, setting her teeth at each
succeeding venture, and coming out safe every time, until they swung
out at last through a screen of brush and onto the level floor of
the valley.



CHAPTER 20


In the heart of that valley two roads crossed. Many a year before a
man with some imagination and illimitable faith was moved by the
crossing of those roads to build a general merchandise store.

Time justified his faith, in a small way, and now McGuire's store was
famed for leagues and leagues about, for he dared to take chances with
all manner of novelties, and the curious, when their pocketbooks were
full, went to McGuire's to find inspiration.

Business was dull this night, however; there was not a single patron
at the bar, and the store itself was empty, so he went to put out the
big gasoline lamp which hung from the ceiling in the center of the
room, and was on the ladder, reaching high above his head, when a
singular chill caught him in the center of his plump back and radiated
from that spot in all directions, freezing his blood. He swallowed the
lump in his throat and with his arms still stretched toward the lamp
he turned his head and glanced behind.

Two men stood watching him from a position just inside the door. How
they had come there he could never guess, for the floor creaked at the
lightest step. Nevertheless, these phantoms had appeared silently, and
now they must be dealt with. He turned on the ladder to face them, and
still he kept the arms automatically above his head while he descended
to the floor. However, on a closer examination, these two did not
seem particularly formidable. They were both quite young, one with
dark-red hair and a somewhat overbright eye; the other was hardly more
than a boy, very slender, delicately made, the sort of handsome young
scoundrel whom women cannot resist.

Having made these observations, McGuire ventured to lower his arms by
jerks; nothing happened; he was safe. So he vented his feelings by
scowling on the strangers.

"Well," he snapped, "what's up? Too late for business. I'm closin'
up."

The two quite disregarded him. Their eyes were wandering calmly about
the place, and now they rested on the pride of McGuire's store. The
figure of a man in evening clothes, complete from shoes to gloves and
silk hat, stood beside a girl of wax loveliness. She wore a low-cut
gown of dark green, and over her shoulders was draped a scarf of dull
gold. Above, a sign said: "You only get married once; why don't you do
it up right?"

"That," said the taller stranger, "ought to do very nicely for us,
eh?"

And the younger replied in a curiously light, pleasant voice: "Just
what we want. But how'll I get away with all that fluffy stuff, eh?"

The elder explained: "We're going to a bit of a dance and we'll take
those evening clothes."

The heart of McGuire beat faster and his little eyes took in the
strangers again from head to foot.

"They ain't for sale," he said. "They's just samples. But right over
here--"

"This isn't a question of selling," said the red-headed man. "We've
come to accept a little donation, McGuire."

The storekeeper grew purple and white in patches. Still there was no
show of violence, no display of guns; he moved his hand toward his own
weapon, and still the strangers merely smiled quietly on him. He
decided that he had misunderstood, and went on: "Over here I got a
line of goods that you'll like. Just step up and--"

The younger man, frowning now, replied: "We don't want to see any more
of your junk. The clothes on the models suit us all right. Slip 'em
off, McGuire."

"But--" began McGuire and then stopped.

His first suspicion returned with redoubled force; above all, that
head of dark red hair made him thoughtful. He finished hoarsely: "What
the hell's this?"

"Why," smiled the taller man, "you've never done much in the interests
of charity, and now's a good time for you to start. Hurry up, McGuire;
we're late already!"

There was a snarl from the storekeeper, and he went for his gun, but
something in the peculiarly steady eyes of the two made him stop with
his fingers frozen hard around the butt.

He whispered: "You're Red Pierre?"

"The clothes," repeated Pierre sternly, "on the jump, McGuire."

And with a jump McGuire obeyed. His hands trembled so that he could
hardly remove the scarf from the shoulders of the model, but afterward
fear made his fingers supple, as he did up the clothes in two bundles.

Jacqueline took one of them and Pierre the other under his left arm;
with his right hand he drew out some yellow coins.

"I didn't buy these clothes because I didn't have the time to dicker
with you, McGuire. I've heard you talk prices before, you know. But
here's what the clothes are worth to us."

And into the quaking hands of McGuire he poured a chinking stream of
gold pieces.

Relief, amazement, and a very wholesome fear struggled in the face of
McGuire as he saw himself threefold overpaid. At that little
yellow heap he remained staring, unheeding the sound of the
retreating outlaws.

"It ain't possible," he said at last, "thieves have begun to pay."

His eyes sought the ceiling.

"So that's Red Pierre?" said McGuire.

As for Pierre and Jacqueline, they were instantly safe in the black
heart of the mountains. Many a mile of hard riding lay before them,
however, and there was no road, not even a trail that they could
follow. They had never even seen the Crittenden schoolhouse; they knew
its location only by vague descriptions.

But they had ridden a thousand times in places far more bewildering
and less known to them. Like all true denizens of the mountain-desert,
they had a sense of direction as uncanny as that of an Eskimo. Now
they struck off confidently through the dark and trailed up and down
through the mountains until they reached a hollow in the center of
which shone a group of dim lights. It was the schoolhouse near the
Barnes place, the scene of the dance.

So they turned back behind the hills and in the covert of a group of
cottonwoods they kindled two more little fires, shading them on three
sides with rocks and leaving them open for the sake of light on
the fourth.

They worked busily for a time, without a word spoken by either of
them. The only sound was the rustling of Jacqueline's stolen silks and
the purling of a small stream of water near them, some meager spring.

But presently: "P-P-Pierre, I'm f-freezing."

He himself was numbed by the chill air and paused in the task of
thrusting a leg into the trousers, which persisted in tangling and
twisting under his foot.

"So'm I. It's c-c-cold as the d-d-d-devil."

"And these--th-things--aren't any thicker than spider webs." "Wait.
I'll build you a great big fire."

And he scooped up a number of dead twigs.

There was an interlude of more silk rustling, then: "P-P-Pierre."

"Well?"

"I wish I had a m-m-m-mirror."

"Jack, are you vain?"

A cry of delight answered him. He threw caution to the winds and
advanced on her. He found her kneeling above a pool of water fed by
the soft sliding little stream from the spring. With one hand she held
a burning branch by way of a torch, and with the other she patted her
hair into shape and finally thrust the comb into the glittering,
heavy coils.

She started, as if she felt his presence.

"P-P-Pierre!"

"Yes?"

"Look!"

She stood with the torch high overhead, and he saw a beauty so
glorious that he closed his eyes involuntarily and still he saw the
vision in the dull-green gown, with the scarf of old gold about her
dazzling white shoulders. And there were two lights, the barbaric red
of the jewels in her hair, and the black shimmer of her eyes. He drew
back a step more. It was a picture to be looked at from a distance.

She ran to him with a cry of dismay: "Pierre, what's wrong with me?"

His arms went round her of their own accord. It was the only place
they could go. And all this beauty was held in the circle of his will.

"It isn't that, but you're so wonderful, Jack, so glorious, that I
hardly know you. You're like a different person."

He felt the warm body trembling, and the thought that it was not
entirely from the cold set his heart beating like a trip-hammer. What
he felt was so strange to him that he stepped back in a vague alarm,
and then laughed. She stood with an expectant smile.

"Jack, how am I to risk you in the arms of all the strangers in that
dance?

"It's late. Listen!"

She cupped a hand at her ear and leaned to listen. Up from the hollow
below them came a faint strain of music, a very light sound that was
drowned a moment later by the solemn rushing of the wind through the
great trees above them.

They looked up of one accord.

"Pierre, what was that?"

"Nothing; the wind in the branches, that's all."

"It was a hushing sound. It was like--it was like a warning, almost."

But he was already turning away, and she followed him hastily.



CHAPTER 21


Jacqueline could never ride a horse in that gown, or even sit sidewise
in the saddle without hopelessly crumpling it, so they walked to the
schoolhouse. It was a slow progress, for she had to step lightly and
carefully for fear of the slippers. He took her bare arm and helped
her; he would never have thought of it under ordinary conditions, but
since she had put on this gown she was greatly changed to him, no
longer the wild, free rider of the mountain-desert, but a
defenseless, strangely weak being. Her strength was now something
other than the skill to ride hard and shoot straight and quick.

So they came to the schoolhouse and reached the long line of buggies,
buckboards, and, most of all, saddled horses. They crowded the
horse-shed where the school children stabled their mounts in the
winter weather. They were tethered to the posts of the fence; they
were grouped about the trees.

It was a prodigious gathering, and a great affair for the
mountain-desert. They knew this even before they had set foot within
the building.

They stopped here and adjusted their masks carefully. They were made
from a strip of black lining which Jack had torn from one of the coats
in the trunk which lay far back in the hills.

Those masks had to be tied firmly and well, for some jester might try
to pull away that of Pierre, and if his face were seen, it would be
death--a slaughter without defense, for he had not been able to
conceal his big Colt in these tight-fitting clothes. Even as it was,
there was peril from the moment that the lights within should shine on
that head of dark-red hair.

As for Jack, there was little fear that she would be recognized. She
was strange even to Pierre every time he looked down at her, for she
had ceased to be Jack and had become very definitely "Jacqueline." But
the masks were on; the scarf adjusted about the throat and bare,
shivering shoulders of Jack, and they stood arm in arm before the door
out of which streamed the voices and the music.

"Are you ready?"

"Yes."

But she was trembling so, either from fear, or excitement, or both,
that he had to take a firm hold on her arm and almost carry her up the
steps, shove the door open, and force her in. A hundred eyes were
instantly upon them, practiced, suspicious eyes, accustomed to search
into all things and take nothing for granted; eyes of men who, when a
rap came at the door, looked to see whether or not the shadow of the
stranger fell full in the center of the crack beneath the door. If it
fell to one side the man might be an enemy, and therefore they would
stand at one side of the room, their hands upon the butt of a six-gun,
and shout: "Come in." Such was the battery of glances from the men,
and the color of Pierre altered, paled.

He knew some of those faces, for those who hunt and are hunted never
forget the least gestures of their enemies. There was a mighty
temptation to turn back even then, but he set his teeth and forced
himself to stand calmly.

The chuckle which replied to this maneuver freed him for the moment.
Suspicion was lulled. Moreover, the red-jeweled hair of Jacqueline and
her lighted eyes called all attention almost immediately upon her. She
shifted the golden scarf--the white arms and breast flashed in the
light--a gasp responded. There would be talk tomorrow; there were
whispers even now.

It was not the main hall that they stood in, for this school, having
been built by an aspiring community, contained two rooms; this smaller
room, used by the little ones of the school, was now converted into a
hat-and-cloak room.

Pierre hung up his hat, removed his gloves slowly, nerving himself to
endure the sharp glances, and opened the door for Jacqueline.

If she had held back tremulously before, something she had seen in the
eyes of those in the first room, something in the whisper and murmur
which rose the moment she started to leave, gave her courage. She
stepped into the dance-hall like a queen going forth to address
devoted subjects. The second ordeal was easier than the first. There
were many times more people in that crowded room, but each was intent
upon his own pleasure. A wave of warmth and light swept upon them, and
a blare of music, and a stir and hum of voices, and here and there the
sweet sound of a happy girl's laughter. They raised their heads, these
two wild rangers of the mountain-desert, and breathed deep of the
fantastic scene.

There was no attempt at beauty in the costumes of the masqueraders.
Here and there some girl achieved a novel and pleasing effect; but on
the whole they strove for cheaper and more stirring things in the line
of the grotesque.

Here passed a youth wearing a beard made from the stiff, red bristles
of the tail of a sorrel horse. Another wore a bear's head cunningly
stuffed, the grinning teeth flashing over his head and the skin draped
over his shoulders. A third disfigured himself by painting after the
fashion of an Indian on the warpath, with crimson streaks down his
forehead and red and black across his cheeks.

But not more than a third of all the assembly made any effort to
masquerade, beyond the use of the simple black mask across the upper
part of the face. The rest of the men and women contented themselves
with wearing the very finest clothes they could afford to buy, and
there was through the air a scent of the general merchandise store
which not even a liberal use of cheap perfume and all the drifts of
pale-blue cigarette smoke could quite overcome.

As for the music, it was furnished by two very old men, relics of the
days when there were contests in fiddling; a stout fellow of middle
age, with cheeks swelled almost to bursting as he thundered out
terrific blasts on a slide trombone; a youth who rattled two sticks on
an overturned dish-pan in lieu of a drum, and a cornetist of
real skill.

There were hard faces in the crowd, most of them, of men who had set
their teeth against hard weather and hard men, and fought their way
through, not to happiness, but to existence, so that fighting had
become their pleasure.

Now they relaxed their eternal vigilance, their eternal suspicion.
Another phase of their nature weakened. Some of them were smiling and
laughing for the first time in months, perhaps, of labor and
loneliness on the range. With the gates of good-nature opened, a
veritable flood of gaiety burst out. It glittered in their eyes, it
rose to their lips in a wild laughter. They seemed to be dancing more
furiously fast in order to forget the life which they had left, and to
which they must return.

These were the conquerors of the bitter nature of the mountain-desert.
There was beauty here, the beauty of strength in the men and a brown
loveliness in the girls; just as in the music, the blatancy of the
rattling dish-pan and the blaring trombone were more than balanced by
the real skill of the violinists, who kept a high, sweet, singing tone
through all the clamor.

And Pierre le Rouge and Jacqueline? They stood aghast for a moment
when that crash of noise broke around them; but they came from a life
where there was nothing of beauty except the lonely strength of the
mountains and the appalling silences of the stars that roll above the
desert. Almost at once they caught the overtone of human joyousness,
and they turned with smiles to each other, and it was "Pierre?"
"Jack?" Then a nod, and she was in his arms, and they glided into
the dance.



CHAPTER 22


When a crowd gathers in the street, there rises a babel of voices, a
confused and pointless clamor, no matter what the purpose of the
gathering, until some man who can think as well as shout begins to
speak. Then the crowd murmurs a moment, and after a few seconds
composes itself to listen.

So it was with the noise in the hall when Pierre and Jacqueline began
to dance. First there were smiles of derision and envy around them,
but after a moment a little hush came where they moved.

They could not help but dance well, for they had youth and grace and
strength, and the glances of applause and envy were like wine to
quicken their blood, while above all they caught the overtone of the
singing violins, and danced by that alone. The music ended with a long
flourish just as they whirled to a stop in a corner of the room. At
once an eddy of men started toward them.

"Who shall it be?" smiled Pierre. "With whom do you want to dance?
It's your triumph, Jack."

She was alight and alive with the victory, and her eyes roved over the
crowd.

"The big man with the tawny hair."

"But he's making right past us."

"No; he'll turn and come back."

"How do you know?"

For answer she glanced up and laughed, and he realized with a singular
sense of loneliness that she knew many things which were beyond his
ken. Someone touched his arm, and a voice, many voices, beset him.

"How's the chances for a dance with the girl, partner?"

"This dance is already booked," Pierre answered, and kept his eyes on
the tall man with the scarred face and the resolute jaw. He wondered
why Jacqueline had chosen such a partner.

At least she had prophesied correctly, for the big man turned toward
them just as he seemed about to head for another part of the hall. The
crowd gave way before him, not that he shouldered them aside, but they
seemed to feel the coming of his shadow before him, and separated as
they would have done before the shadow of a falling tree.

In another moment Pierre found himself looking up to the giant. No
mask could cover that long, twisting mark of white down his cheek, nor
hide the square set of the jaw, nor dim the steady eyes.

And there came to Pierre an exceedingly great uneasiness in his right
hand, and a twitching of the fingers low down on his thigh where the
familiar holster should have hung. His left hand rose, following the
old instinct, and touched beneath his throat where the cold cross lay.

He was saying easily: "This is your dance, isn't it?"

"Right, Bud," answered the big man in a mellow voice as great as his
size. "Sorry I can't swap partners with you, but I hunt alone."

An overwhelming desire to get a distance between himself and this huge
unknown came to Pierre.

He said: "There goes the music. You're off."

And the other, moving toward Jack, leaned down a little and murmured
at the ear of the outlaw: "Thanks, Pierre."

Then he was gone, and Jacqueline was laughing over his shoulder back
to Pierre.

Through his daze and through the rising clamor of the music, a voice
said beside him: "You look sort of sick, dude. Who's your friend?"

"Don't you know him?" asked Pierre.

"No more than I do you; but I've ridden the range for ten years around
here, and I know that he's new to these parts. If I'd ever glimpsed
him before, I'd remember him. He'd be a bad man in a mix, eh?"

And Pierre answered with devout earnestness: "He would."

"But where'd you buy those duds, pal? Hey, look! Here's what I've been
waiting for--the Barneses and the girl that's visitin' 'em from
the East."

"What girl?"

"Look!"

The Barnes group was passing through the door, and last came the
unmistakable form of Dick Wilbur, masked, but not masked enough to
hide his familiar smile or cover the well-known sound of his laughter
as it drifted to Pierre across the hall, and on his arm was a girl in
an evening dress of blue, with a small, black mask across her eyes,
and deep-golden hair.

Pausing before she swung into the dance with Wilbur, she made a
gesture with the white arm, and looked up laughing to big, handsome
Dick. Pierre trembled with a red rage when he saw the hands of Wilbur
about her.

Dick, in passing, marked Pierre's stare above the heads of the crowd,
and frowned with trouble. The hungry eyes of Pierre followed them as
they circled the hall again; and this time Wilbur, perhaps fearing
that something had gone wrong with Pierre, steered close to the edge
of the dancing crowd and looked inquisitively across.

He leaned and spoke to the girl, and she turned her head, smiling, to
Pierre. Then the smile went out, and even despite the mask, he saw her
eyes widen. She stopped and slipped from the arm of Wilbur, and came
step by step slowly toward him like one walking in her sleep. There,
by the edge of the dancers, with the noise of the music and the
shuffling feet to cover them, they met. The hands she held to him were
cold and trembling.

"Is it you?"

"It is I."

That was all; and then the shadow of Wilbur loomed above them.

"What's this? Do you know each other? It isn't possible! Pierre, are
you playing a game with me?"

But under the glance of Pierre he fell back a step, and reached for
the gun which was not there. They were alone once more.

"Mary--Mary Brown!"

"Pierre!"

"But you are dead!"

"No, no! But you--Pierre, where can we go?"

"Outside."

"Let us go quickly!"

"Do you need a wrap?"

"No."

"But it is cold outside, and your shoulders are bare."

"Then take that cloak. But quickly, Pierre, before we're followed."

He drew it about her; he led her through the door; it clicked shut;
they were alone with the sweet, frosty air before them. She tore
away the mask.

"And yours, Pierre?"

"Not here."

"Why?"

"Because there are people. Hurry. Now here, with just the trees around
us--"

And he tore off his mask.

The white, cold moon shone over them, slipping down between the dark
tops of the trees, and the wind stirred slowly through the branches
with a faint, hushing sound, as if once more a warning were coming to
Pierre this night. He looked up, his left hand at the cross.

"Look down. You are afraid of something, Pierre. What is it?"

"With your arms around my neck, there's nothing in the world I fear. I
never dreamed I could love anything more than the little girl who lay
in the snow, and died there that night."

"And I never dreamed I could smile at any man except the boy who lay
by me that night. And he died."

"What miracle saved you?"

She said: "It was wonderful, and yet very simple. You remember how the
tree crushed me down into the snow? Well, when the landslide moved, it
carried the tree before it; the weight of the trunk was lifted from
me. Perhaps it was a rock that struck me over the head then, for I
lost consciousness. The slide didn't bury me, but the rush carried me
before it like a stick before a wave, you see.

"When I woke I was almost completely covered with a blanket of debris,
but I could move my arms, and managed to prop myself up in a sitting
posture. It was there that my father and his searching party found me;
he had been combing that district all night. They carried me back,
terribly bruised, but without even a bone broken. It was a miracle
that I escaped, and the miracle must have been worked by your cross;
do you remember?"

He shuddered. "The cross--for every good fortune it has brought me, it
has brought bad luck to others. I'll throw it away, now--and then--no,
it makes no difference. We are done for."

"Pierre!"

"Don't you see, Mary, or are you still blind as I was ever since I saw
you tonight? It's all in that name--Pierre."

"There's nothing in it, Pierre, that I don't love."

His head was bowed as if with the weight of the words which he
foresaw. "You have heard of the wild men of the mountains, and the
long-riders?"

He knew that she nodded, though she could not speak.

"I am Red Pierre."

"_You_!"

"Yes."

Yet he had the courage to raise his head and watch her shrink with
horror. It was only an instant. Then she was beside him again, and one
arm around him, while she turned her head and glanced fearfully back
at the lighted schoolhouse. The faint music mocked them.

"And you dared to come to the dance? We must go. Look, there are
horses! We'll ride off into the mountains, and they'll never find
us--we'll--"

"Hush! One day's riding would kill you--riding as I ride."

"I'm strong--very strong, and the love of you, Pierre, will give me
more strength. But quickly, for if they knew you, every man in that
place would come armed and ready to kill. I know, for I've heard them
talk. Tell me, are one-half of all the terrible things they say--"

"They are true, I guess."

"I won't think of them. Whatever you've done, it was not you, but some
devil that forced you on. Pierre, I love you more than ever. Will you
go East with me, and home? We will lose ourselves in New York. The
millions of the crowd will hide us."

"Mary, there are some men from whom even the night can't hide me. If
they were blind their hate would give them eyes to find me."

"Pierre, you are not turning away from me--Pierre--There's some ghost
of a chance for us. Will you take that chance and come with me?"

He thought of many things, but what he answered was: "I will." "Then
let's go at once. The railroad--"

"Not that way. No one in that house suspects me now. We'll go back and
put on our masks again, and--hush. What's there?"

"Nothing."

"There is--a man's step."

And she, seeing the look on his face, covered her eyes in horror. When
she looked up a great form was looming through the dark, and then the
voice of Wilbur came, hard and cold.

"I've looked everywhere for you. Miss Brown, they are anxious about
you in the schoolhouse. Will you go back?"

"No--I--"

But Pierre commanded: "Go back."

So she turned, and he ordered again: "I think our friend has something
to say to me. You can find your way easily. Tomorrow--"

"Tomorrow, Pierre?"

"Yes."

"I shall be waiting."

With what a voice she said it! And then she was gone.

He turned quietly to big Dick Wilbur, on whose contorted face the
moonlight fell.

"Say it, Dick, and have it out in cursing me, if that'll help."

The big man stood with his hands gripped behind, fighting for
self-control.

"Pierre, I've cared for you more than I've cared for any other man.
I've thought of you like a kid brother. Now tell me that you haven't
done this thing, and I'll believe you rather than my senses. Tell me
you haven't stolen the girl I love away from me; tell me--"

"I love her, Dick."

"Damn you! And she?"

"She'll forget me; God knows I hope she'll forget me." "I brought
two guns with me. Here they are."

He held out the weapons.

"Take your choice."

"Does it have to be this way?"

"If you'd rather have me shoot you down in cold blood?"

"I suppose this is as good a way as any."

"What do you mean?"

"Nothing. Give me a gun."

"Here. This is ten paces. Are you ready?"

"Yes."

"Pierre. God forgive you for what you've done. She liked me, I know.
If it weren't for you, I would have won her and a chance for real life
again--but now--damn you!"

"I'll count to ten, slowly and evenly. When I reach ten we fire?"

"Yes."

"I'll trust you not to beat the count, Dick."

"And I you. Start."

He counted quietly, evenly: "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,
eight, nine--ten!"

The gun jerked up in the hand of Wilbur, but he stayed the movement
with his finger pressing still upon the trigger. The hand of Pierre
had not moved.

He cried: "By God, Pierre, what do you mean?"

There was no answer. He strode across the intervening space, dropped
his gun and caught the other by the shoulders. Out of Pierre's
nerveless fingers the revolver slipped to the ground.

"In the name of God, Pierre, what has happened to you?"

"Dick, why didn't you fire?"

"Fire? Murder you?"

"You shoot straight--I know--it would have been over quickly."

"What is it, boy? You look dead--there's no color in your face, no
light in your eyes, even your voice is dead. I know it isn't fear.
What is it?"

"You're wrong. It's fear."

"Fear and Red Pierre. The two don't mate."

"Fear of living, Dick."

"So that's it? God help you. Pierre, forgive me. I should have known
that you had met her before, but I was mad, and didn't know what I was
doing, couldn't think."

"It's over and forgotten. I have to go back and get Jack. Will you
ride home with us?"

"Jack? She's not in the hall. She left shortly after you went, and she
means some deviltry. There's a jealous fiend in that girl. I watched
her eyes when they followed you and Mary from the hall."

"Then we'll ride back alone."

"Not I. Carry the word to Jim that I'm through with the game. I'm
going to wash some of the grime off my conscience and try to make
myself fit to speak to this girl again."

"It's the cross," said Pierre.

"What do you mean?"

"Nothing. The bad luck has come to poor old Jim at last, because he
saved me out of the snow. Patterson has gone, and now you, and perhaps
Jack--well, this is good-bye, Dick?"

"Yes."

Their hands met.

"You forgive me, Dick?"

"With all my heart, old fellow."

"I'll try to wish you luck. Stay close to her. Perhaps you'll win
her."

"I'll do what one man can."

"But if you succeed, ride out of the mountain-desert with her--never
let me hear of it."

"I don't understand. Will you tell me what's between you, Pierre?
You've some sort of claim on her. What is it?" "I've said good-bye.
Only one thing more. Never mention my name to her."

So he turned and walked out into the moonlight and Wilbur stared after
him until he disappeared beyond the shoulder of a hill.



CHAPTER 23


It was early morning before Pierre reached the refuge of Boone's gang,
but there was still a light through the window of the large room, and
he entered to find Boone, Mansie, and Gandil grouped about the fire,
all ominously silent, all ominously wakeful. They looked up to him and
big Jim nodded his gray head. Otherwise there was no greeting.

From a shadowy corner Jacqueline rose and went toward the door. He
crossed quickly and barred the way.

"What is it, Jack?"

"Get out of the way."

"Not till you tell me what's wrong."

A veritable devil of fury came blazing in her eyes, and her hand
twitched nervously back to her hip where the dark holster hung. She
said in a voice that shook with anger: "Don't try your bluff on me. I
ain't no shorthorn, Pierre le Rouge."

He stepped aside, frowning.

"Tomorrow I'll argue the point with you, Jack." She turned at the
door and snapped back: "You? You ain't fast enough on the draw to
argue with me!"

And she was gone. He turned to face the mocking smile of Black Gandil
and a rapid volley of questions.

"Where's Patterson?"

"No more idea than you have."

"And Branch?"

"What's become of Branch? Hasn't he returned?"

"No. And Dick Wilbur?"

"Boys, he's done with this life and I'm glad of it. He's starting on a
new track."

"After a woman?" sneered Bud Mansie.

"Shut up, Bud," broke in Boone, and then slowly to Pierre:

"Patterson is gone for two days now. You ought to know what that
means. Branch ought to have returned from looking for him, and Branch
is still out. Wilbur is gone. Out of seven we're only four left.
Who's next?"

He stared gloomily from face to face, and Gandil snarled: "A fellow
who saves a shipwrecked man--"

"Damn you, keep still, Gandil."

"Don't damn me, Pierre le Rouge, but damn the luck you've brought to
Jim Boone."

"Jim, do you chalk all this up against me?"

"I, lad? No, no! But it's queer. Patterson's done for; there's no
doubt of that. Good-natured Garry Patterson. God, boy, how we'll miss
him! And Branch seems to have gone the same way. If neither of them
show up before morning we can cross 'em off the list. Now Wilbur has
gone and Jack has ridden home looking like a small-sized thunderstorm,
and now you come with a white face and a blank eye. What hell is
trailin' us, Pierre, what hell is in store for us. You've seen
something, and we want to know what it is."

"A ghost, Jim, that's all."

Bud Mansie said softly: "There's only one ghost that could make you
look like this. Was it McGurk, Pierre?"

Boone commanded: "No more of that, Bud. Boys, we're going to turn in,
and tomorrow we'll climb the hills looking for the two we've lost. But
there's something or someone after us. Lads, I'm thinking our good
days are over. The seven of us have been too many for a small posse
and too fast for a big one, but the seven are down to four. The good
days are over."

And the three answered in a solemn chorus: "The good days are over."

All eyes fixed on Pierre, and his glance was settled on the floor.

The morning brought them no better cheer, for Jack, whose singing
generally wakened them, was not to be coaxed into speech, and when
Pierre entered the room she rose and left the breakfast table. The sad
eyes of Jim Boone followed her and then turned to Pierre. No
explanation was forthcoming, and he asked for none. The old fatalist
had accepted the worst, and now he waited for doom to descend.

They took their horses after breakfast and rode out to search the
hills, for it was quite possible that an accident had crippled at
least one of the two lost men, either Patterson or Branch. Not a gully
within miles was left unsearched, but toward evening they rode back,
one by one, with no tidings.

One by one they rode up, and whistled to announce their coming, and
then rode on to the stable to unsaddle their horses. About the supper
table all gathered with the exception of Bud Mansie. So they waited
the meal and each from time to time stole a glance at the fifth plate
where Bud should sit.

It was Jack who finally stirred herself from her dumb gloom to take up
that fifth and carry it out of the room. It was as if she had
announced the death of Mansie.

After that, they ate what they could and then went back around the
fire. The evening waned, but it brought no sign of any of the missing
three. The wood burned low in the fire. The first to break the long
silence was Jim Boone, with "Who brings in the wood?"

And Black Gandil answered: "We'll match, eh?"

In an outburst of energy the day before he disappeared Garry Patterson
had chopped up some wood and left a pile of it at the corner of the
house. It was a very little thing to bring in an armful of that wood,
but long-riders do not love work, and now they started the matching
seriously. The odd man was out, and Pierre went out on the first toss
of the coins.

"You see," said Gandil. "Bad luck to everyone but himself."

At the next throw Jacqueline was the lucky one, and her father
afterward. Gandil rose and stretched himself leisurely, yet as he
sauntered toward the door his backward glance at Pierre was black
indeed. He glanced curiously toward Jack--who looked away sharply--and
then turned his eyes to her father.

The latter was considering him with a gloomy, foreboding stare and
considering over and over again, as Pierre le Rouge well knew, the
prophecy of Black Morgan Gandil.

He fell in turn into a solemn brooding, and many a picture out of the
past came up beside him and stood near till he could almost feel its
presence. He was roused by the creaking of the floor beneath the
ponderous step of Jim Boone, who flung the door open and shouted:
"Oh, Morgan."

In the silence he turned and stared back at Pierre.

"What's up with Gandil?"

"God knows, not I."

Pierre rose and ran from the room and around the side of the building.
There by the woodpile lay the prostrate body. It was a mere limp
weight when he turned and raised it in his arms. So he walked back
into the house carrying all that was left of Black Morgan Gandil, and
placed his burden on a bunk at the side of the room.

There had been no outcry from either Jim Boone or his daughter, but
they came quickly to him, and Jacqueline pressed her ear over the
heart of the hurt man.

She said: "He's still alive, but nearly gone. Where's the wound?"

They found it when they drew off his coat--a small cut high on the
right breast, and another lower and more to the left. Either of them
would have been fatal, and about each the flesh was discolored where
the hilt of the knife or the fist of the striker had driven home
the blade.

They stood back and made no hopeless effort to save him. It was
uncanny that Black Morgan Gandil, after all of his battles, should die
without a struggle in this way. And it had been no cowardly attack
from the rear. Both wounds were in the front. A hope came to them when
his color increased at one time, but it was for only a moment; it went
out again as if someone were erasing paint from his cheeks.

But just as they were about to turn away his body stirred with a
slight convulsion, the eyes opened wide, and he strove to speak. A red
froth came on his lips. He made another desperate effort, and twisting
himself onto one elbow pointed a rigid arm at Pierre. He gasped:
"McGurk--God!" and dropped. He was dead before his head touched
the blanket.

It was Jacqueline who closed the staring eyes, for the two men were
frozen where they stood. They had heard the story of Patterson and
Branch and Mansie in one word from the lips of the dying man.

McGurk was back. McGurk was prowling about the last of the gang of
Boone, and the lone wolf had pulled down four of the band one by one
on successive days. Only two remained, and these two looked at one
another with a common thought.

"The lights!" cried Jacqueline, turning from the body of Gandil. "He
can shoot us down through the windows at his leisure."

"But he won't," said her father. "I've lived too long with the name of
McGurk in my ears not to know the man. He'll never kill by stealth,
but openly and man to man. I know him, damn him. He'll wait till he
meets us alone, and then we'll finish as poor Gandil, there, or
Patterson and Branch and Bud Mansie, all of them fallen somewhere in
the mountains with the buzzards left to bury 'em. That's how we'll
finish with McGurk on our trail. And you--Gandil was right--it's you
that's brought him on us. A shipwrecked man--by God, Gandil
was right!"

His right hand froze on the butt of his gun and his face convulsed
with impotent rage, for he knew, as both the others knew, that long
before that gun was clear of the holster the bullet from Pierre's gun
would be on its way. But Pierre threw his arms wide, and standing so,
his shadow made a black cross on the wall behind him. He even smiled
to tempt the big man further.



CHAPTER 24


Jacqueline ran between and caught the hand of her father, crying:

"Are you going to finish the work of McGurk before he has a chance to
start it? He hunted the rest down one by one. Dad, if you put out
Pierre what is left? Can you face that devil alone?"

And the old man groaned: "But it's his luck that's ruined me. It's his
damned luck which has broken up the finest fellowship that ever mocked
at law on the ranges. Oh, Jack, the heart in me's broken. I wish to
God that I lay where Gandil lies. What's the use of fighting any
longer? No man can stand up against McGurk!"

And the cold which had come in the blood of Pierre agreed with him. He
was a slayer of men, but McGurk was a devil incarnate. His father had
died at the hand of this lone rider; it was fitting, it was fate that
he himself should die in the same way. The girl looked from face to
face, and sensed their despondency. It seemed that their fear gave her
the greater courage. Her face flushed as she stood glaring her scorn.

"The yellow streak took a long time in showin', but it's in you, all
right, Pierre le Rouge."

"You've hated me ever since the dance, Jack. Why?"

"Because I knew you were yellow--like this!"

He shrugged his shoulders like one who gives up the fight against a
woman, and seeing it, she changed suddenly and made a gesture with
both hands toward him, a sudden gesture filled with grace and a queer
tenderness.

She said: "Pierre, have you forgotten that when you were only a boy
you stood up to McGurk and drew blood from him? Are you afraid of
him now?"

"I'll take my chance with any man--but McGurk--"

"He has no cross to bring him luck."

"Aye, and he has no friends for that luck to ruin. Look at Gandil,
Jack, and then speak to me of the cross."

"Pierre, that first time you met you almost beat him to the draw. Oh,
if I were a man, I'd--Pierre, it was to get McGurk that you rode out
to the range. You've been here six years, and McGurk is still alive,
and now you're ready to run from his shadow."

"Run?" he said hotly. "I swear to God that as I stand here I've no
fear of death and no hope for the life ahead."

She sneered: "You're white while you say it. Your will may be brave,
but your blood's a coward, Pierre. It deserts you."

"Jack, you devil--"

"Aye, you can threaten me safely. But if McGurk were here--"

"Let him come."

"Then give me one promise."

"A thousand of 'em."

"Let me hunt him with you."

He stared at her with wonder.

"Jack, what a heart you have! If you were a man we could rule the
mountains, you and I."

"Even as I am, what prevents us, Pierre?"

And looking at her he forgot the sorrow which had been his ever since
he looked up to the face framed with red-gold hair and the dark tree
behind and the cold stars steady above it. It would come to him again,
but now it was gone, and he murmured, smiling: "I wonder?"

They made their plans that night, sitting all three together. It was
better to go out and hunt the hunter than to wait there and be tracked
down. Jack, for she insisted on it, would ride out with Pierre the
next morning and hunt through the hills for the hiding-place
of McGurk.

Some covert he must have, so as to be near his victims. Nothing else
could explain the ease with which he kept on their track. They would
take the trail, and Jim Boone, no longer agile enough to be effective
on the trail, would guard the house and the body of Gandil in it.

There was little danger that even McGurk would try to rush a hostile
house, but they took no chances. The guns of Jim Boone were given a
thorough overhauling, and he wore as usual at his belt the
heavy-handled hunting knife, a deadly weapon in a hand-to-hand fight.
Thus equipped, they left him and took the trail.

They had not ridden a hundred yards when a whistle followed them, the
familiar whistle of the gang. They reined short and saw big Dick
Wilbur riding his bay after them, but at some distance he halted and
shouted: "Pierre!"

"He's come back to us!" cried Jack.

"No. It's only some message."

"Do you know?"

"Yes. Stay here. This is for me alone."

And he rode back to Wilbur, who swung his horse close alongside.
However hard he had followed in the pursuit of happiness, his face was
drawn with lines of age and his eyes circled with shadows.

He said: "I've kept close on her trail, Pierre, and the nearest she
has come to kindness has been to send me back with a message to you."

He laughed without mirth, and the sound stopped abruptly.

"This is the message in her own words: 'I love him, Dick, and there's
nothing in the world for me without him. Bring him back to me. I don't
care how; but bring him back.' So tell Jack to ride the trail alone
today and go back with me. I give her up, not freely, but because I
know there's no hope for me."

But Pierre answered: "Wherever I've gone there's been luck for me and
hell for everyone around me. I lived with a priest, Dick, and left him
when I was nearly old enough to begin repaying his care. I came South
and found a father and lost him the same day. I gambled for money with
which to bury him, and a man died that night and another was hurt. I
escaped from the town by riding a horse to death. I was nearly killed
in a landslide, and now the men who saved me from that are done for.

"It's all one story, the same over and over. Can I carry a fortune
like that back to her? Dick, it would haunt me by day and by night.
She would be the next. I know it as I know that I'm sitting in the
saddle here. That's my answer. Carry it back to her."

"I won't lie and tell you I'm sorry, because I'm a fool and still have
a ghost of a hope, but this will be hard news to tell her, and I'd
rather give five years of life than face the look that will come in
her eyes."

"I know it, Dick."

"But this is final?"

"It is."

"Then good-bye again, and--God bless you, Pierre."

"And you, old fellow."

They swerved their horses in opposite directions and galloped apart.

"It was nothing," said Pierre to Jack, when he came up with her and
drew his horse down to a trot. But he knew that she had read his mind.

But all day through the mazes of canyon and hill and rolling ground
they searched patiently. There was no cranny in the rocks too small
for them to reconnoiter with caution. There was no group of trees they
did not examine.

Yet it was not strange that they failed. In the space of every square
mile there were a hundred hiding-places which might have served
McGurk. It would have taken a month to comb the country. They had only
a day, and left the result to chance, but chance failed them. When the
shadows commenced to swing across the gullies they turned back and
rode with downward heads, silent.

One hill lay between them and the old ranch house which had been the
headquarters for their gang so many days, when they saw a faint drift
of smoke across the sky--not a thin column of smoke such as rises from
a chimney, but a broad stream of pale mist, as if a dozen chimneys
were spouting wood smoke at once.

They exchanged glances and spurred their horses up the last slope. As
always in a short spurt, the long-legged black of Jacqueline
out-distanced the cream-colored mare, and it was she who first topped
the rise of land. The girl whirled in her saddle with raised arm,
screamed back at Pierre, and rode on at a still more furious pace.

What he saw when he reached a corresponding position was the ranch
house wreathed in smoke, and through all the lower windows was the red
dance of flames. Before him fled Jacqueline with all the speed of the
black. He loosened the reins, spoke to the mare, and she responded
with a mighty rush. Even that tearing pace could not quite take him up
to the girl, but he flung himself from the saddle and was at her side
when she ran across the smoking veranda and wrenched at the
front door.

The whole frame gave back at her, and as Pierre snatched her to one
side the doorway fell crashing on the porch, while a mighty volume of
smoke burst out at them like a puff from the pit.

They stood sputtering, coughing, and choking, and when they could look
again they saw a solid wall of red flame, thick, impenetrable,
shuddering with the breath of the wind.

While they stared a stronger breath of that wind tore the wall of
flames apart, driving it back in a raging tide to either side. The
fire had circled the walls of the entire room, but it had scarcely
encroached on the center, and there, seated at the table, was Boone.

He had scarcely changed from the position in which they last saw him,
save that he was fallen somewhat deeper in the chair, his head resting
against the top of the back. He greeted them, through that infernal
furnace, with laughter, and wide, steady eyes. At least it seemed
laughter, for the mouth was agape and the lips grinned back, but there
was no sound from the lips and no light in the fixed eyes. Laughter
indeed it was, but it was the laughter of death, as if the soul of the
man, in dying, recognized its natural wild element and had burst into
convulsive mirth. So he sat there, untouched as yet by the wide river
of fire, chuckling at his destiny. The wall of fire closed across the
doorway again and the work of red ruin went on with a crashing of
timbers from the upper part of the building.

As that living wall shut solidly, Jacqueline leaped forward, shouting,
like a man, words of hope and rescue; Pierre caught her barely in
time--a precarious grasp on the wrist from which she nearly wrenched
herself free and gained the entrance to the fire. But the jerk threw
her off balance for the least fraction of an instant, and the next
moment she was safe in his arms.

Safe? He might as well have held a wildcat, or captured with his bare
hands a wild eagle, strong of talon and beak. She tore and raged in a
wild fury.

"Pierre, coward, devil!"

"Steady, Jack!"

"Are you going to let him die?"

"Don't you see? He's already dead."

"You lie. You only fear the fire!"

"I tell you, McGurk has been here before us."

Her arm was freed by a twisting effort and she beat him furiously
across the face. One blow cut his lip and a steady trickle of hot
blood left a taste of salt in his mouth.

"You young fiend!" he cried, and grasped both her wrists with a
crushing force.

She leaned and gnashed at his hands, but he whirled her about and held
her from behind, impotent, raging still.

"A hundred McGurks could never have killed him!"

There was a sharp explosion from the midst of the fire.

"See! He's fighting against his death!"

"No! No! It's only the falling of a timber!"

Yet with a panic at his heart he knew that it was the sharp crack of a
firearm. "Liar again! Pierre, for God's sake, do something for him.
Father! He's fighting for his life!"

Another and another explosion from the midst of the fire. He
understood then.

"The flames have reached his guns. That's all, Jack. Don't you see?
We'd be throwing ourselves away to run into those flames."

Realization came to her at last. A heavy weight slumped down suddenly
over his arms. He held her easily, lightly. Her head had tilted back,
and the red flare of the fire beat across her face and throat. The
roar of the flames shut out all other thought of the world and cast a
wide inferno of light around them.

Higher and higher rose the fires, and the wind cut off great fragments
and hurried them off into the night, blowing them, it seemed, straight
up against the piled thunder of the clouds. Then the roof sagged,
swayed, and fell crashing, while a vast cloud of sparks and livid
fires shot up a hundred feet into the air. It was as if the soul of
old Boone had departed in that final flare.

It started the girl into sudden life, surprising Pierre, so that she
managed to wrench herself free and ran from him. He sprang after her
with a shout, fearing that in her hysteria she might fling herself
into the fire, but that was not her purpose. Straight to the black
horse she ran, swung into the saddle with the ease of a man, and rode
furiously off through the falling of the night.

He watched her with a curious closing of loneliness like a hand about
his heart. He had failed, and because of that failure even Jacqueline
was leaving him. It was strange, for since the loss of the girl of the
yellow hair and those deep blue eyes, he had never dreamed that
another thing in life could pain him.

So at length he mounted the mare again and rode slowly down the hill
and out toward the distant ranges, trotting mile after mile with
downward head, not caring even if McGurk should cross him, for
surely this was the final end of the world to Pierre le Rouge.

About midnight he halted at last, for the uneasy sway of the mare
showed that she was nearly dead on her feet with weariness. He found a
convenient place for a camp, built his fire, and wrapped his blanket
about him without thinking of food.

He never knew how long he sat there, for his thoughts circled the
world and back again and found all a prospect of desert before him and
behind, until a sound, a vague sound out of the night, startled him
into alertness. He slipped from beside the fire and into the shadow of
a steep rock, watching with eyes that almost pierced the dark on
all sides.

And there he saw her creeping up on the outskirts of the firelight,
prone on her hands and knees, dragging herself up like a young wildcat
hunting prey; it was the glimmer of her eyes that he caught first
through the gloom. A cold thought came to him that she had returned
with her gun ready.

Inch by inch she came closer, and now he was aware of her restless
glances probing on all sides of the camp-fire. Silence--only the
crackling of a pitchy stick. And then he heard a muffled sound, soft,
soft as the beating of a heart in the night, and regularly pulsing. It
hurt him infinitely, and he called gently: "Jack, why are
you weeping?"

She started up with her fingers twisted at the butt of her gun.

"It's a lie," called a tremulous voice. "Why should I weep?"

And then she ran to him.

"Oh, Pierre, I thought you were gone!"

That silence which came between them was thick with understanding
greater than speech. He said at last: "I've made my plan. I am going
straight for the higher mountains and try to shake McGurk off my
trail. There's one chance in ten I may succeed, and if I do then I'll
wait for my chance and come down on him, for sooner or later we have
to fight this out to the end."

"I know a place he could never find," said Jacqueline. "The old cabin
in the gulley between the Twin Bears. We'll start for it tonight."

"Not we," he answered. "Jack, here's the end of our riding together."

She frowned with puzzled wonder.

He explained: "One man is stronger than a dozen. That's the strength
of McGurk--that he rides alone. He's finished your father's men.
There's only Wilbur left, and Wilbur will go next--then me!"

She stretched her hands to him. She seemed to be pleading for her very
life.

"But if he finds us and has to fight us both--I shoot as straight as a
man, Pierre!"

"Straighter than most. And you're a better pal than any I've ever
ridden with. But I must go alone. It's only a lone wolf that will ever
bring down McGurk. Think how he's rounded us up like a herd of cattle
and brought us down one by one."

"By getting each man alone and killing him from behind."

"From the front, Jack. No, he's fought square with each one. The
wounds of Black Gandil were all in front, and when McGurk and I meet
it's going to be face to face."

Her tone changed, softened: "But what of me, Pierre?"

"You have to leave this life. Go down to the city, Jack. Live like a
woman; marry some lucky fellow; be happy."

"Can you leave me so easily?"

"No, it's hard, devilish hard to part with a pal like you, Jack; but
all the rest of my life I've got hard things to face, partner."

"Partner!" she repeated with an indescribable emphasis. "Pierre, I
can't leave you."

"Why?"

"I'm afraid to go: Let me stay!"

He said gloomily: "No good will come of it."

"I'll never trouble you--never!"

"No, the bad luck comes on the people who are with me, but never on
me. It's struck them all down, one by one; your turn is next, Jack. If
I could leave the cross behind--"

He covered his face and groaned: "But I don't dare; I don't dare! I
have to face McGurk. Jack, I hate myself for it, but I can't help it.
I'm afraid of McGurk, afraid of that damned white face, that lowered,
fluttering eyelid, that sneering mouth. Without the cross to bring me
luck, how could I meet him? But while I keep the cross there's ruin
and hell without end for everyone with me."

She was white and shaking. She said: "I'm not afraid. I've one friend
left; there's nothing else to care for."

"So it's to be this way, Jack?"

"This way, and no other."

"Partner, I'm glad. My God, Jack, what a man you would have made!"

Their hands met and clung together, and her head had drooped, perhaps
in acquiescence.



CHAPTER 25


Dick Wilbur, telling Mary how Pierre had cut himself adrift, did not
even pretend to sorrow, and she listened to him with her eyes fixed
steadily on his own. As a matter of fact, she had shown neither hope
nor excitement from the moment he came back to her and started to tell
his message. But if she showed neither hope nor excitement for
herself, surely she gave Dick still fewer grounds for any optimistic
foresights.

So he finished gloomily: "And as far as I can make out, Pierre is
right. There's some rotten bad luck that follows him. It may not be
the cross--I don't suppose you believe in superstition like that,
Miss Brown?"

She said: "It saved my life."

"The cross?"

"Yes."

"Then Pierre--you mean--you met before the dance--you mean--"

He was stammering so that he couldn't finish his thoughts, and she
broke in: "If he will not come to me, then I must go to him."

"Follow Pierre le Rouge?" queried Wilbur. "You're an optimist. But
that's because you've never seen him ride. I consider it a good day's
work to start out with him and keep within sight till night, but as
for following and over-taking him--"

He laughed heartily at the thought.

And she smiled a little sadly, answering: "But I have the most
boundless patience in the world. He may gallop all the way, but I will
walk, and keep on walking, and reach him in the end."

Her hands moved out as though testing their power, gripping at the
air.

"Where will you go to hunt for him?"

"I don't know. But every evening, when I look out at the sunset hills,
with the purple along the valleys, I think that he must be out there
somewhere, going toward the highest ranges. If I were up in that
country I know that I could find him." "Never in a thousand years."

"Why?"

"Because he's on the trail--"

"On the trail?"

"Of McGurk."

She started.

"What is this man McGurk? I hear of him on all sides. If one of the
men rides a bucking horse successfully, someone is sure to say: 'Who
taught you what you know, Bud--McGurk?' And then the rest laugh. The
other day a man was pointed out to me as an expert shot. 'Not as fast
as McGurk,' it was said, 'but he shoots just as straight.' Finally I
asked someone about McGurk. The only answer I received was: 'I hope
you never find out what he is.' Tell me, what is McGurk?"

Wilbur considered the question gravely.

He said at last: "McGurk is--hell!"

He expanded his statement: "Think of a man who can ride anything that
walks on four feet, who never misses with either a rifle or a
revolver, who doesn't know the meaning of fear, and then imagine that
man living by himself and fighting the rest of the world like a lone
wolf. That's McGurk. He's never had a companion; he's never trusted
any man. Perhaps that's why they say about him the same thing that
they say about me."

"What's that?"

"You will smile when you hear. They say that McGurk will lose out in
the end on account of some woman."

"And they say that of you?"

"They say right of me. I know it myself. Look at me now. What right
have I here? If I'm found I'm the meat of the first man who sights me,
but here I stay, and wait and watch for your smiles--like a love-sick
boy. By God, you must despise me, Mary!"

"I don't try to understand you Westerners," she answered, "and that's
why I have never questioned you before. Tell me, why is it that
you come so stealthily to see me and run away as soon as anyone
else appears?"

He said with wonder: "Haven't you guessed?"

"I don't dare guess."

"But you have, and your guess was right. There's a price on my head.
By right, I should be out there on the ranges with Pierre le Rouge and
McGurk. There's the only safe place; but I saw you and I came down out
of the wilds and can't go back. I'll stay, I suppose, till I run my
head into a halter."

She was too much moved to speak for a moment, and then: "You come to
me in spite of that? Dick, whatever you have done, I know that it's
only chance which made you go wrong, just as it made Pierre. I wish--"

The dimness of her eyes encouraged him with a hope. He moved closer to
her.

He repeated: "You wish--"

"That you could be satisfied with a mere friendship. I could give you
that, Dick, with all my heart."

He stepped back and smiled somewhat grimly on her.

She went on: "And this McGurk--what do you mean when you say that
Pierre is on his trail?"

"Hunting him with a gun."

She grew paler, but her voice remained steady.

"But in all those miles of mountains they may never meet?"

"They can't stay apart any more than iron can stay away from a magnet.
Listen: half a dozen years ago McGurk had the reputation of bearing a
charmed life. He had been in a hundred fights and he was never touched
with either a knife or a bullet. Then he crossed Pierre le Rouge when
Pierre was only a youngster just come onto the range. He put two
bullets through Pierre, but the boy shot him from the floor and
wounded him for the first time. The charm of McGurk was broken.

"For half a dozen years McGurk was gone; there was never a whisper
about him. Then he came back and went on the trail of Pierre. He has
killed the friends of Pierre one by one; Pierre himself is the next in
order--Pierre or myself. And when those two meet there will be the
greatest fight that was ever staged in the mountain-desert."

She stood straight, staring past Wilbur with hungry eyes.

"I knew he needed me. I have to save him, Dick. You see that? I have
to bring him down from the mountains and keep him safe from McGurk.
McGurk! Somehow the sound means what 'devil' used to mean to me."

"You've never traveled alone, and yet you'd go up there and brave
everything that comes for the sake of Pierre? What has he done to
deserve it, Mary?".

"What have I done, Dick, to deserve the care you have for me?"

He stared gloomily on her.

"When do you start?"

"Tonight."

"Your friends won't let you go."

"I'll steal away and leave a note behind me."

"And you'll go alone?"

She caught at a hope.

"Unless you'll go with me, Dick?"

"I? Take you--to Pierre?"

She did not speak to urge him, but in the silence her beauty pleaded
for her.

He said: "Mary, how lovely you are. If I go I will have you for a few
days--for a week at most, all to myself."

She shook her head. From the window behind her the sunset light flared
in her hair, flooding it with red-gold.

"All the time that we are gone, you will never say things like this,
Dick?"

"I suppose not. I should be near you, but terribly far away from your
thoughts all the while. Still, you will be near. You will be very
beautiful, Mary, riding up the trail through the pines, with all the
scents of the evergreens blowing about you, and I--well, I must go
back to a second childhood and play a game of suppose--"

"A game of what?"

"Of supposing that you are really mine, Mary, and riding out into the
wilderness for my sake."

She stepped a little closer, peering into his face.

"No matter what you suppose, I'm sure you'll leave that part of it
merely a game, Dick!"

He laughed suddenly, though the sound broke off as short and sharp as
it began.

"Haven't I played a game all my life with the fair ladies? And have I
anything to show for it except laughter? I'll go with you, Mary, if
you'll let me."

"Dick, you've a heart of gold! What shall I take?"

"I'll make the pack up, and I'll be back here an hour after dark and
whistle. Like this--"

And he gave the call of Boone's gang.

"I understand. I'll be ready. Hurry, Dick, for we've very little
time."

He hesitated, then: "All the time we're on the trail you must be far
from me, and at the end of it will be Pierre le Rouge--and happiness
for you. Before we start, Mary, I'd like to--"

It seemed that she read his mind, for she slipped suddenly inside
his arms, kissed him, and was gone from the room. He stood a moment
with a hand raised to his face.

"After all," he muttered, "that's enough to die for, and--" He threw
up his long arms in a gesture of resignation.

"The will of God be done!" said Wilbur, and laughed again.



CHAPTER 26


She was ready, crouched close to the window of her room, when the
signal came, but first she was not sure, because the sound was as
faint as a memory. Moreover, it might have been a freakish whistling
in the wind, which rose stronger and stronger. It had piled the
thunder-clouds higher and higher, and now and again a heavy drop of
rain tapped at her window like a thrown pebble.

So she waited, and at last heard the whistle a second time,
unmistakably clear. In a moment she was hurrying down to the stable,
climbed into the saddle, and rode at a cautious trot out among the
sand-hills.

For a time she saw no one, and commenced to fear that the whole thing
had been a gruesomely real, practical jest. So she stopped her horse
and imitated the signal whistle as well as she could. It was repeated
immediately behind her--almost in her ear, and she turned to make out
the dark form of a tall horseman.

"A bad night for the start," called Wilbur. "Do you want to wait till
tomorrow?"

She could not answer for a moment, the wind whipping against her face,
while a big drop stung her lips.

She said at length: "Would a night like this stop Pierre--or McGurk?"

For answer she heard his laughter.

"Then I'll start. I must never stop for weather."

He rode up beside her.

"This is the start of the finish."

"What do you mean?" "Nothing. But somewhere on this ride, I've an
idea a question will be answered for me."

"What question?"

Instead of replying he said: "You've got a slicker on?"

"Yes."

"Then follow me. We'll gallop into the wind a while and get the horses
warmed up. Afterward we'll take the valley of the Old Crow and follow
it up to the crest of the range."

His horse lunged out ahead of hers, and she followed, leaning far
forward against a wind that kept her almost breathless. For several
minutes they cantered steadily, and before the end of the gallop she
was sitting straight up, her heart beating fast, a faint smile on her
lips, and the blood running hot in her veins. For the battle was
begun, she knew, by that first sharp gallop, and here at the start she
felt confident of her strength. When she met Pierre she could force
him to turn back with her.

Wilbur checked his horse to a trot; they climbed a hill, and just as
the rain broke on them with a rattling gust they swung into the valley
of the Old Crow. Above them in the sky the thunder rode; the rain
whipped against the rocks like the rattle of a thousand flying hoofs;
and now and again the lightning flashed across the sky.

Through that vast accompaniment they moved on in the night straight
toward the heart of the mountains which sprang into sight with every
flash of the lightning and seemed toppling almost above them, yet they
were weary miles away, as she knew.

By those same flashes she caught glimpses of the face of Wilbur. She
hardly knew him. She had seen him always big, gentle, handsome,
good-natured; now he was grown harder, with a stern set of the jaw,
and a certain square outline of face. It had seemed impossible. Now
she began to guess how the law could have placed a price upon his
head. For he belonged out here with the night and the crash of the
storm, with strong, lawless things about him. An awe grew in her,
and she was filled half with dread and half with curiosity at the
thought of facing him, as she must many a time, across the camp-fire.
In a way, he was the ladder by which she climbed to an understanding
of Pierre le Rouge, Red Pierre. For that Pierre, she knew, was to big
Wilbur what Dick himself was to the great mass of law-abiding men.
Accident had cut Wilbur adrift, but it was more than accident which
started Pierre on the road to outlawry; it was the sheer love of
dangerous chance, the glory in fighting other men. This was Pierre.

What was the man for whom Pierre hunted? What was McGurk? Not even the
description of Wilbur had proved very enlightening. Her thought of him
was vague, nebulous, and taking many forms. Sometimes he was tall and
dark and stern. Again he was short and heavy and somewhat deformed of
body. But always he was everywhere in the night about her.

All this she pondered as they began the ride up the valley, but as the
long journey continued, and the hours and the miles rolled past them,
a racking weariness possessed her and numbed her mind. She began to
wish desperately for morning, but even morning might not bring an end
to the ride. That would be at the will of the outlaw beside her.
Finally, only one picture remained to her. It stabbed across the
darkness of her mind--the red hair and the keen eyes of Pierre.

The storm decreased as they went up the valley. Finally the wind fell
off to a pleasant breeze, and the clouds of the rain broke in the
center of the heavens and toppled west in great tumbling masses. In
half an hour's time the sky was clear, and a cold moon looked down on
the blue-black evergreens, shining faintly with the wet, and on the
dead black of the mountains.

For the first time in all that ride her companion spoke: "In an hour
the gray will begin in the east. Suppose we camp here, eat, get a
bit of sleep, and then start again?"

As if she had waited for permission, fighting against her weariness,
she now let down the bars of her will, and a tingling stupor swept
over her body and broke in hot, numbing waves on her brain.

"Whatever you say. I'm afraid I couldn't ride much further tonight."

"Look up at me."

She raised her head.

"No; you're all in. But you've made a game ride. I never dreamed there
was so much iron in you. We'll make our fire just inside the trees and
carry water up from the river, eh?"

A scanty growth of the evergreens walked over the hills and skirted
along the valley, leaving a broad, sandy waste in the center where the
river at times swelled with melted snow or sudden rains and rushed
over the lower valley in a broad, muddy flood.

At the edge of the forest he picketed the horses in a little open
space carpeted with wet, dead grass. It took him some time to find dry
wood. So he wrapped her in blankets and left her sitting on a saddle.
As the chill left her body she began to grow delightfully drowsy, and
vaguely she heard the crack of his hatchet. He had found a rotten
stump and was tearing off the wet outer bark to get at the dry
wood within.

After that it was only a moment before a fire sputtered feebly and
smoked at her feet. She watched it, only half conscious, in her utter
weariness, and seeing dimly the hollow-eyed face of the man who
stooped above the blaze. Now it grew quickly, and increased to a
sharp-pointed pyramid of red flame. The bright sparks showered up,
crackling and snapping, and when she followed their flight she saw the
darkly nodding tops of the evergreens above her. With the fire well
under way, he took the coffeepot to get water from the river, and left
her to fry the bacon. The fumes of the frying meat wakened her at
once, and brushed even the thought of her exhaustion from her mind.
She was hungry--ravenously hungry.

So she tended the bacon slices with care until they grew brown and
crisped and curled at the edges. After that she removed the pan from
the fire, and it was not until then that she began to wonder why
Wilbur was so long in returning with the water. The bacon grew cold;
she heated it again and was mightily tempted to taste one piece of it,
but restrained herself to wait for Dick.

Still he did not come. She stood up and called, her high voice rising
sharp and small through the trees. It seemed that some sound answered,
so she smiled and sat down. Ten minutes passed and he was still gone.
A cold alarm swept over her at that. She dropped the pan and ran out
from the trees.

Everywhere was the bright moonlight--over the wet rocks, and sand, and
glimmering on the slow tide of the river, but nowhere could she see
Wilbur, or a form that looked like a man. Then the moonlight glinted
on something at the edge of the river. She ran to it and found the
coffee-can half in the water and partially filled with sand.

A wild temptation to scream came over her, but the tight muscles of
her throat let out no sound. But if Wilbur were not here, where had he
gone? He could not have vanished into thin air. The ripple of the
water washing on the sand replied. Yes, that current might have rolled
his body away.

To shut out the grim sight of the river she turned. Stretched across
the ground at her feet she saw clearly the impression of a body in the
moist sand.



CHAPTER 27


The heels had left two deeply defined gouges in the ground; there was
a sharp hollow where the head had lain, and a broad depression for the
shoulders. It was the impression of the body of a man--a large man
like Wilbur. Any hope, any doubt she might have had, slipped from her
mind, and despair rolled into it with an even, sullen current, like
the motion of the river.

It is strange what we do with our big moments of fear and sorrow and
even of joy. Now Mary stooped and carefully washed out the coffeepot,
and filled it again with water higher up the bank; and turned back
toward the edge of the trees.

It was all subconscious, this completing of the task which Wilbur had
begun, and subconscious still was her careful rebuilding of the fire
till it flamed high, as though she were setting a signal to recall the
wanderer. But the flame, throwing warmth and red light across her
eyes, recalled her sharply to reality, and she looked up and saw the
dull dawn brightening beyond the dark evergreens.

Guilt, too, swept over her, for she remembered what big, handsome Dick
Wilbur had said: He would meet his end through a woman. Now it had
come to him, and through her.

She cringed at the thought, for what was she that a man should die in
her service? She raised her hands with a moan to the nodding tops of
the trees, to the vast, black sky above them, and the full knowledge
of Wilbur's strength came to her, for had he not ridden calmly,
defiantly, into the heart of this wilderness, confident in his power
to care both for himself and for her? But she! What could she do
wandering by herself? The image of Pierre le Rouge grew dim indeed and
sad and distant.

She looked about her at the pack, which had been distributed expertly,
and disposed on the ground by Wilbur. She could not even lash it in
place behind the saddle. So she drew the blanket once more around her
shoulders and sat down to think.

She might return to the house--doubtless she could find her way back.
And leave Pierre in the heart of the mountains, surely lost to her
forever. She made a determination, sullen, like a child, to ride on
and on into the wilderness, and let fate take care of her. The pack
she could bundle together as best she might; she would live as she
might; and for a guide there would be the hunger for Pierre.

So she ended her thoughts with a hope; her head nodded lower, and she
slept the deep sleep of the exhausted mind and body. She woke hours
later with a start, instantly alert, quivering with fear and life and
energy, for she felt like one who has gone to sleep with voices in
his ear.

While she slept someone had been near her; she could have sworn it
before her startled eyes glanced around.

And though she kept whispering, with white lips, "No, no; it is
impossible!" yet there was evidence which proved it. The fire should
have burned out, but instead it flamed more brightly than ever, and
there was a little heap of fuel laid conveniently close. Moreover,
both horses were saddled, and the pack lashed on the saddle of her
own mount.

Whatever man or demon had done this work evidently intended that she
should ride Wilbur's beautiful bay. Yes, for when she went closer,
drawn by her wonder, she found that the stirrups had been much
shortened.

Nothing was forgotten by this invisible caretaker; he had even left
out the cooking-tins, and she found a little batter of flapjack
flour mixed.

The riddle was too great for solving. Perhaps Wilbur had disappeared
merely to play a practical jest on her; but that supposition was too
childish to be retained an instant. Perhaps--perhaps Pierre himself
had discovered her, but having vowed never to see her again, he cared
for her like the invisible hands in the old Greek fable.

This, again, an instinctive knowledge made her dismiss. If he were so
close, loving her, he could not stay away; she read in her own heart,
and knew. Then it must be something else; evil, because it feared to
be seen; not wholly evil, because it surrounded her with care.

At least this new emotion obscured somewhat the terror and the sorrow
of Wilbur's disappearance. She cooked her breakfast as if obeying the
order of the unseen, climbed into the saddle of Wilbur's horse, and
started off up the valley, leading her own mount.

Every moment or so she turned in the saddle suddenly in the hope of
getting a glimpse of the follower, but even when she surveyed the
entire stretch of country from the crest of a low hill, she saw
nothing--not the least sign of life.

She rode slowly, this day, for she was stiff and sore from the violent
journey of the night before, but though she went slowly, she kept
steadily at the trail. It was a broad and pleasant one, being the
beaten sand of the river-bottom; and the horse she rode was the
finest that ever pranced beneath her.

His trot was as smooth and springy as the gallop of most horses, and
when she let him run over a few level stretches, it was as if she had
suddenly been taken up from the earth on wings. There was something
about the animal, too, which reminded her of its vanished owner; for
it had strength and pride and gentleness at once. Unquestionably
it took kindly to its new rider; for once when she dismounted the big
horse walked up behind and nuzzled her shoulder.

The mountains were much plainer before the end of the day. They rose
sheer up in wave upon frozen wave like water piled ragged by some
terrific gale, with the tops of the waters torn and tossed and then
frozen forever in that position, like a fantastic and gargantuan mask
of dreaming terror. It overawed the heart of Mary Brown to look up to
them, but there was growing in her a new impulse of friendly
understanding with all this scalped, bald region of rocks, as if in
entering the valley she had passed through the gate which closes out
the gentler world, and now she was admitted as a denizen of the
mountain-desert, that scarred and ugly asylum for crime and fear
and grandeur.

Feeling this new emotion, the old horizons of her mind gave way and
widened; her gentle nature, which had known nothing but smiles,
admitted the meaning of a frown. Did she not ride under the very
shadow of that frown with her two horses? Was she not armed? She
touched the holster at her hip, and smiled. To be sure, she could
never hit a mark with that ponderous weapon, but at least the pistol
gave the feeling of a dangerous lone rider, familiar with the wilds.

It was about dark, and she was on the verge of looking about for a
suitable camping-place, when the bay halted sharply, tossed up his
head, and whinnied. From the far distance she thought she heard the
beginning of a whinny in reply. She could not be sure, but the
possibility made her pulse quicken. In this region, she knew, no
stranger could be a friend.

So she started the bay at a gallop and put a couple of swift miles
between her and the point at which she had heard the sound; no living
creature, she was sure, could have followed the pace the bay held
during that distance. So, secure in her loneliness, she trotted the
horse around a bend of the rocks and came on the sudden light of
a campfire.

It was too late to wheel and gallop away; so she remained with her
hand fumbling at the butt of the revolver, and her eyes fixed on the
flicker of the fire. Not a voice accosted her. As far as she could
peer among the lithe trunks of the saplings, not a sign of a living
thing was near.

Yet whoever built that fire must be near, for it was obviously newly
laid. Perhaps some fleeing outlaw had pitched his camp here and had
been startled by her coming. In that case he lurked somewhere in the
woods at that moment, his keen eyes fixed on her, and his gun gripped
hard in his hand. Perhaps--and the thought thrilled her--this little
camp had been prepared by the same power, human or unearthly, which
had watched over her early that morning.

All reason and sane caution warned her to ride on and leave that camp
unmolested, but an overwhelming, tingling curiosity besieged her. The
thin column of smoke rose past the dark trees like a ghost, and
reaching the unsheltered space above the trees, was smitten by a light
wind and jerked away at a sharp angle.

She looked closer and saw a bed made of a great heap of the tips of
limbs of spruce, a bed softer than down and more fragrant than any
manufactured perfume, however costly.

Possibly it was the sight of this bed which tempted her down from the
saddle, at last. With the reins over her arm, she stood close to the
fire and warmed her hands, peering all the while on every side, like
some wild and beautiful creature tempted by the bait of the trap, but
shrinking from the scent of man.

As she stood there a broad, yellow moon edged its way above the hills
and rolled up through the black trees and then floated through the
sky. Beneath such a moon no harm could come to her. It was while she
stared at it, letting her tensed alertness relax little by little,
that she saw, or thought she saw, a hint of moving white pass over the
top of the rise of ground and disappear among the trees.

She could not be sure, but her first impulse was to gather the reins
with a jerk and place her foot in the stirrup; but then she looked
back and saw the fire, burning low now and asking like a human voice
to be replenished from the heap of small, broken fuel nearby; and she
saw also the softly piled bed of evergreens.

She removed her foot from the stirrup. What mattered that imaginary
figure of moving white? She felt a strong power of protection lying
all about her, breathing out to her with the keen scent of the pines,
fanning her face with the chill of the night breeze. She was alone,
but she was secure in the wilderness.



CHAPTER 28


For many a minute she waited by that camp-fire, but there was never a
sign of the builder of it, though she centered all her will in making
her eyes and ears sharper to pierce through the darkness and to gather
from the thousand obscure whispers of the forest any sounds of human
origin. So she grew bold at length to take off the pack and the
saddles; the camp was hers, built for her coming by the invisible
power which surrounded her, which read her mind, it seemed, and
chose beforehand the certain route which she must follow.

She resigned herself to that force without question, and the worry of
her search disappeared. It seemed certain that this omnipotence,
whatever it might be, was reading her wishes and acting with all its
power to fulfill them, so that in the end it was merely a question of
time before she should accomplish her mission--before she should meet
Pierre le Rouge face to face.

That night her sleep was deep, indeed, and she only wakened when the
slant light of the sun struck across her eyes. It was a bright day,
crisp and chill, and through the clear air the mountains seemed
leaning directly above her, and chief of all two peaks, almost exactly
similar, black monsters which ruled the range. Toward the gorge
between them the valley of the Old Crow aimed its course, and straight
up that diminishing canyon she rode all day.

The broad, sandy bottom changed and contracted until the channel was
scarcely wide enough for the meager stream of water, and beside it she
picked her way along a narrow path with banks on either side, which
became with every mile more like cliffs, walling her in and dooming
her to a single destination.

It was evening before she came to the headwaters of the Old Crow, and
rode out into the gorge between the two mountains. The trail failed
her here. There was no semblance of a ravine to follow, except the
mighty gorge between the two peaks, and she ventured into the dark
throat of this pass, riding through a gate with the guarding towers
tall and black on either side.

The moment she was well started in it and the steep shadow of the
evening fell across her almost like night from the west, her heart
grew cold as the air. A sense of coming danger filled her. Yet she
kept on, holding a tight rein, throwing many a fearful glance at the
vast rocks which might have concealed an entire army in every mile
of their extent.

When she found the cabin she mistook it at first for merely another
rock of singular shape. It was at this shape that she stared, and
checked her horse, and not till then did she note the faint flicker of
a light no brighter than the phosphorescent glow of the eyes of a
hunted beast.

Her impulse was to drive her spurs home and pass that place at a
racing gallop, but she checked the impulse sharply and began to
reason. In the first place, it was doubtless only the cabin of some
prospector, such as she had often heard of. In the second place, night
was almost upon her, and she saw no desirable camping-place, or at
least any with the necessary water at hand.

What harm could come to her? Among Western men, she well knew a woman
is safer than all the law and the police of the settled East can make
her, so she nerved her courage and advanced toward the faint,
changing light.

The cabin was hidden very cunningly. Crouched among the mighty
boulders which earthquakes and storms of some wilder, earlier epoch
had torn away from the side of the crags above, the house was like
another stone, leaning its back to the mountain for support.

When she drew very close she knew that the light which glimmered at
the window must come from an open fire, and the thought of a fire
warmed her. She hallooed, and receiving no answer, fastened the horses
and entered the house. The door swung to behind her, as if of its own
volition it wished to make her a prisoner.

The place consisted of one room, and not a spacious one at that, but
arranged as a shelter, not a home. The cooking, apparently, was done
over the open hearth, for there was no sign of any stove, and,
moreover, on the wall near the fireplace hung several soot-blackened
pans and the inevitable coffeepot. There were two bunks built on
opposite sides of the room, and in the middle a table was made of a
long section split from the heart of a log by wedges, apparently, and
still rude and undressed, except for the preliminary smoothing off
which had been done with a broad-ax.

The great plank was supported at either end by a roughly constructed
sawbuck. It was very low, and for this reason two fairly square
boulders of comfortable proportions were sufficiently high to serve
as chairs.

For the rest, the furniture was almost too meager to suggest human
habitation, but from nails on the wall there hung a few shirts and a
pair of chaps, as well as a much-battered quirt. But a bucket of
water in a corner suggested cleanliness, and a small, round, highly
polished steel plate, hanging on the wall in lieu of a mirror, further
fortified her decision that the owner of this place must be a man
somewhat particular as to his appearance.

Here she interrupted her observations to build up the fire, which was
flickering down and apparently on the verge of going out. She worked
busily for a few minutes, and a roaring blaze rewarded her; she took
off her slicker to enjoy the warmth, and in doing so, turned, and saw
the owner of the place standing with folded arms just inside the door.

"Making yourself to home?" asked the host, in a low, strangely
pleasant voice.

"Do you mind?" asked Mary Brown. "I couldn't find a place that would
do for camping."

And she summoned her most winning smile. It was wasted, she knew at
once, for the stranger hardened perceptibly, and his lip curled
slightly in scorn or anger. In all her life Mary had never met a man
so obdurate, and, moreover, she felt that he could not be wooed into a
good humor.

"If you'd gone farther up the gorge," said the other, "you'd of found
the best sort of a camping place--water and everything."

"Then I'll go," said Mary, shrinking at the thought of the strange,
cold outdoors compared with this cheery fire. But she put on the
slicker and started for the door.

At the last moment the host was touched with compunction. He called:
"Wait a minute. There ain't no call to hurry. If you can get along
here just stick around."

For a moment Mary hesitated, knowing that only the unwritten law of
Western hospitality compelled that speech; it was the crackle and
flare of the bright fire which overcame her pride.

She laid off the slicker again, saying, with another smile: "For just
a few minutes, if you don't mind."

"Sure," said the other gracelessly, and tossed his own slicker onto a
bunk.

Covertly, but very earnestly, Mary was studying him. He was hardly
more than a boy--handsome, slender.

Now that handsome face was under a cloud of gloom, a frown on the
forehead and a sneer on the lips, but it was something more than the
expression which repelled Mary. For she felt that no matter how she
wooed him, she could never win the sympathy of this darkly handsome,
cruel youth; he was aloof from her, and the distance between them
could never be crossed. She knew at once that the mysterious bridges
which link men with women broke down in this case, and she was
strongly tempted to leave the cabin to the sole possession of her
surly host.

It was the warmth of the fire which once more decided against her
reason, so she laid hands on one of the blocks of stone to roll it
nearer to the hearth. She could not budge it. Then she caught the
sneering laughter of the man, and strove again in a fury. It was no
use; for the stone merely rocked a little and settled back in its
place with a bump.

"Here," said the boy, "I'll move it for you." It was a hard lift for
him, but he set his teeth, raised the stone in his slender hands, and
set it down again at a comfortable distance from the fire.

"Thank you," smiled Mary, but the boy stood panting against the wall,
and for answer merely bestowed on her a rather malicious glance of
triumph, as though he gloried in his superior strength and despised
her weakness.

Some conversation was absolutely necessary, for the silence began to
weigh on her. She said: "My name is Mary Brown."

"Is it?" said the boy, quite without interest. "You can call me Jack."

He sat down on the other stone, his dark face swept by the shadows of
the flames, and rolled a cigarette, not deftly, but like one who is
learning the mastery of the art. It surprised Mary, watching his
fumbling fingers. She decided that Jack must be even younger than
he looked.

She noticed also that the boy cast, from time to time, a sharp, rather
worried glance of expectation toward the door, as if he feared it
would open and disclose some important arrival. Furthermore, those old
worn shirts hanging on the wall were much too large for the throat and
shoulders of Jack.

Apparently, he lived there with some companion, and a companion of
such a nature that he did not wish him to be seen by visitors. This
explained the lad's coldness in receiving a guest; it also stimulated
Mary to linger about a few more minutes.



CHAPTER 29


Not that she stayed there without a growing fear, but she still felt
about her, like the protection of some invisible cloak, the presence
of the strange guide who had followed her up the valley of the
Old Crow.

It seemed as if the boy were reading her mind.

"See you got two horses. Come up alone?"

"Most of the way," said Mary, and tingled with a rather feline
pleasure to see that her curtness merely sharpened the interest
of Jack.

The boy puffed on his cigarette, not with long, slow breaths of
inhalation like a practiced smoker, but with a puckered face as though
he feared that the fumes might drift into his eyes.

"Why," thought Mary, "he's only a child!"

Her heart warmed a little as she adopted this view of her surly host.
Being warmed, and having much to say, words came of themselves. Surely
it would do no harm to tell the story to this queer urchin, who might
be able to throw some light on the nature of the invisible protector.

"I started with a man for guide." She fixed a searching gaze on the
boy. "His name was Dick Wilbur."

She could not tell whether it was a tremble of the boy's hand or a
short motion to knock off the cigarette ash.

"Did you say 'was' Dick Wilbur?"

"Yes. Did you know him?"

"Heard of him, I think. Kind of a hard one, wasn't he?"

"No, no! A fine, brave, gentle fellow--poor Dick!" She stopped,
her eyes filling with tears at many a memory.

"Hm!" coughed the boy. "I thought he was one of old Boone's gang? If
he's dead, that made the last of 'em--except Red Pierre."

It was like the sound of a trumpet call at her ear. Mary sat up with a
start.

"What do you know of Red Pierre?"

The boy flushed a little, and could not quite meet her eye.

"Nothin'."

"At least you know that he's still alive?"

"Sure. Anyone does. When he dies the whole range will know about it--damn
quick. I know _that_ much about Red Pierre; but who doesn't?"

"I, for one."

"You!"

Strangely enough, there was more of accusation than of surprise in the
word.

"Certainly," repeated Mary. "I've only been in this part of the
country for a short time. I really know almost nothing about
the--legends."

"Legends?" said the boy, and laughed. "Legend? Say, lady, if Red
Pierre is just a legend the Civil War ain't no more'n a fable. Legend?
You go anywhere on the range an' get 'em talking about that legend,
and they'll make you think it's an honest-to-goodness fact, and
no mistake."

Mary queried earnestly: "Tell me about Red Pierre. It's almost as hard
to learn anything of him as it is to find out anything about McGurk."

"What you doing?" asked the boy, keen with suspicion. "Making a study
of them two for a book?"

He wiped a damp forehead.

"Take it from me, lady, it ain't healthy to join up them two even in
talk!" "Is there any harm in words?"

The boy was so upset for some unknown reason that he rose and paced up
and down the room.

"Lots of harm in fool words."

He sat down again, and seemed a little anxious to explain his unusual
conduct.

"Ma'am, suppose you had a well plumb full of nitroglycerin in your
back yard; suppose there was a forest fire comin' your way from all
sides; would you like to have people talk about nitroglycerin and that
forest fire meeting? Even the talk would give you chills. That's the
way it is with Pierre and McGurk. When they meet there's going to be a
fight that'll stop the hearts of the people that have to look on."

Mary smiled to cover her excitement.

"But are they coming your way?"

The question seemed to infuriate young Jack, who cried: "Ain't that a
fool way of talkin'? Lady, they're coming everyone's way. You never
know where they'll start from or where they'll land. If there's a
thunder-cloud all over the sky, do you know where the lightning's
going to strike?"

"Excuse me," said Mary, but she was still eager with curiosity, "but I
should think that a youngster like you wouldn't have anything to fear
from even those desperadoes."

"Youngster, eh?" snarled the boy, whose wrath seemed implacable. "I
can make my draw and start my gun as fast as any man--except them two,
maybe"--he lowered his voice somewhat even to name them--"Pierre--McGurk!"

"It seems hopeless to find out anything about McGurk," said Mary, "but
at least you can tell me safely about Red Pierre."

"Interested in him, eh?" said the boy dryly.

"Well, he's a rather romantic figure, don't you think?" "Romantic?
Lady, about a month ago I was talking with a lady that was a widow
because of Red Pierre. She didn't think him none too romantic."

"Red Pierre had killed the woman's husband?" repeated Mary, with pale
lips.

"Yep. He was one of the gang that took a chance with Pierre and got
bumped off. Had three bullets in him and dropped without getting his
gun out of the leather. Pierre sure does a nice, artistic job. He
serves you a murder with all the trimmings. If I wanted to die nice
and polite without making a mess, I don't know who I'd rather go to
than Red Pierre."

"A murderer!" whispered Mary, with bowed head.

The boy opened his lips to speak, but changed his mind and sat
regarding the girl with a somewhat sinister smile.

"But might it not be," said Mary, "that he killed one man in
self-defense and then his destiny drove him, and bad luck forced him
into one bad position after another? There have been histories as
strange as that, you know."

Jack laughed again, but most of the music was gone from the sound, and
it was simply a low, ominous purr.

"Sure," he said. "You can take a bear-cub and keep him tame till he
gets the taste of blood, but after that you got to keep him muzzled,
you know. Pierre needs a muzzle, but there ain't enough gunfighters on
the range to put one on him."

Something like pride crept into the boy's voice while he spoke, and he
ended with a ringing tone. Then, feeling the curious, judicial eyes of
Mary upon him, he abruptly changed the subject.

"You say Dick Wilbur is dead?"

"I don't know. I think he is."

"But he started out with you. You ought to know."

"It was like this: We had camped on the edge of the trees coming up
the Old Crow Valley, and Dick went off with the can to get water at
the river. He was gone a long time, and when I went out to look for
him I found the can at the margin of the river half filled with sand,
and beside it there was the impression of the body of a big man. That
was all I found, and Dick never came back."

They were both silent for a moment.

"Could he have fallen into the river?"

"Sure. He was probably helped in. Did you look for the footprints?"

"I didn't think of that."

Jack was speechless with scorn.

"Sat down and cried, eh?"

"I was dazed; I couldn't think. But he couldn't have been killed by
some other man. There was no shot fired; I should have heard it."

Jack moistened his lips.

"Lady, a knife don't make much sound either going or coming out--not
much more sound than a whisper, but that whisper means a lot. I got an
idea that Dick heard it. Then the river covered him up."

He stopped short and stared at Mary with squinted eyes.

"D'you mean to tell me that you had the nerve to come all the way up
the Old Crow by yourself?"

"Every inch of the way."

Jack leaned forward, sneering, savage.

"Then I suppose you put the hitch that's on that pack outside?"

"No."

Jack was dumbfounded.

"Then you admit--"

"That first night when I went to sleep I felt as if there were
something near me. When I woke up there was a bright fire burning in
front of me and the pack had been lashed and placed on one of the
horses. At first I thought that it was Dick, who had come back. But
Dick didn't appear all day. The next night--" "Wait!" said Jack.
"This is gettin' sort of creepy. If you was the drinking kind I'd say
you'd been hitting up the red-eye."

"The next evening," continued Mary steadily, "I came about dark on a
camp-fire with a bed of twigs near it. I stayed by the fire, but no
one appeared. Once I thought I heard a horse whinny far away, and once
I thought that I saw a streak of white disappear over the top of
a hill."

The boy sprang up, shuddering with panic.

"You saw what?"

"Nothing. I thought for a minute that it was a bit of something white,
but it was gone all at once."

"White--vanished at once--went into the dark as fast as a horse can
gallop?"

"Something like that. Do you think it was someone?"

For answer the boy whipped out his revolver, examined it, and spun the
cylinder with shaking hands. Then he said through set teeth: "So you
come up here trailin' him after you, eh?"

"Who?"

"McGurk!"

The name came like a rifle shot and Mary rose in turn and shrank back
toward the wall, for there was murder in the lighted black eyes which
stared after her and crumbling fear in her own heart at the thought of
McGurk hovering near--of the peril that impended for Pierre. Of the
nights in the valley of the Crow she refused to let herself think.
Cold beads of perspiration stood out on her forehead.

"You fool--you fool! Damn your pretty pink-and-white face--you've done
for us all! Get out!"

Mary moved readily enough toward the door, her teeth chattering with
terror in the face of this fury.

Jack continued wildly: "Done for us all; got us all as good as under
the sod. I wish you was in--Get out quick, or I'll forget--you're a
woman!" He broke into hysterical laughter, which stopped short and
finished in a heartbroken whisper: "Pierre!"



CHAPTER 30


At that Mary, who stood with her hand on the latch, whirled and stood
wide-eyed, her astonishment greater than her fear, for that whisper
told her a thousand things.

Through her mind all the time that she stayed in the cabin there had
passed a curious surmise that this very place might be the covert of
Pierre le Rouge. There was a fatality about it, for the invisible
Power which had led her up the valley of the Old Crow surely would not
make mistakes.

In her search for Pierre, Providence brought her to this place, and
Providence could not be wrong. This, a vague emotion stirring in her
somewhere between reason and the heart, grew to an almost certain
knowledge as she heard the whisper, the faint, heartbroken
whisper: "Pierre!"

And when she turned to the boy again, noting the shirts and the chaps
hanging at the wall, she knew they belonged to Pierre as surely as if
she had seen him hang them there.

The fingers of Jack were twisted around the butt of his revolver,
white with the intensity of the pressure.

Now he cried: "Get out! You've done your work; get out!"

But Mary stepped straight toward the murderous, pale face. "I'll
stay," she said, "and wait for Pierre."

The boy blanched.

"Stay?" he echoed.

The heart of Mary went out to this trusted companion who feared for
his friend.

She said gently: "Listen; I've come all this way looking for Pierre,
but not to harm him or to betray him, I'm his friend. Can't you
trust me Jack?"

"Trust you? No more than I'll trust what came with you!"

And the fierce black eyes lingered on Mary and then fled past her
toward the door, as if the boy debated hotly and silently whether or
not it would be better to put an end to this intruder, but stayed his
hand, fearing that Power which had followed her up the valley of
the Old Crow.

It was that same invisible guardian who made Mary strong now; it was
like the hand of a friend on her shoulder, like the voice of a friend
whispering reassuring words at her ear. She faced those blazing, black
eyes steadily. It would be better to be frank, wholly frank.

"This is the house of Pierre. I know it as surely as if I saw him
sitting here now. You can't deceive me. And I'll stay. I'll even tell
you why. Once he said that he loved me, Jack, but he left me because
of a strange superstition; and so I've followed to tell him that I
want to be near no matter what fate hangs over him."

And the boy, whiter still, and whiter, looked at her with clearing,
narrowing eyes.

"So you're one of them," said the boy softly; "you're one of the fools
who listen to Red Pierre. Well, I know you; I've known you from the
minute I seen you crouched there at the fire. You're the one Pierre
met at the dance at the Crittenden schoolhouse. Tell me!"

"Yes," said Mary, marveling greatly.

"And he told you he loved you?"

"Yes." It was a fainter voice now, and the color was going up her
cheeks.

The lad fixed her with his cold scorn and then turned on his heel and
slipped into an easy position on the bunk.

"Then wait for him to come. He'll be here before morning."

But Mary followed across the room and touched the shoulder of Jack. It
was as if she touched a wild wolf, for the lad whirled and struck her
hand away in an outburst of silent fury.

"Why shouldn't I stay? He hasn't--he hasn't changed--Jack?"

The insolent black eyes looked up and scanned her slowly from head to
foot. Then he laughed in the same deliberate manner.

"No, I guess he thinks as much of you now as he ever did."

"You are lying to me," said the girl faintly, but the terror in her
eyes said another thing.

"He thinks as much of you as he ever did. He thinks as much of you as
he does of the rest of the soft-handed, pretty-faced fools who listen
to him and believe him. I suppose--"

He broke off to laugh heartily again, with a jarring, forced note
which escaped Mary.

"I suppose that he made love to you one minute and the next told you
that bad luck--something about the cross--kept him away from you?"

Each slow word was like a blow of a fist. Mary closed her eyes to shut
out the scorn of that handsome, boyish face; closed her eyes to summon
out from the dark of her mind the picture of Pierre le Rouge as he had
told her of his love; and then she heard the voice of Pierre
renouncing her.

She opened her eyes again. She cried: "It is all a lie! If he is not
true, there's no truth in the world."

"If you come down to that," said the boy coldly, "there ain't much
wasted this side of the Rockies. It's about as scarce as rain."

He continued in an almost kindly tone: "What would you do with a wild
man like Red Pierre? Run along; git out of here; grab your horse, and
beat it back to civilization; there ain't no place for you up here in
the wilderness."

"What would I do with him?" cried the girl. "Love him!"

It seemed as though her words, like whips, lashed the boy back to his
murderous anger. He lay with blazing eyes, watching her for a moment,
too moved to speak. At last he propped himself on one elbow, shook a
small, white-knuckled fist under the nose of Mary, and cried: "Then
what would he do with you?"

He went on: "Would he wear you around his neck like a watch charm?"

"I'd bring him back with me--back into the East, and he would be lost
among the crowds and never suspected of his past."

"_You'd_ bring Pierre anywhere? Say, lady, that's like hearing the
sheep talk about leading the wolf around by the nose. If all the men
in the ranges can't catch him, or make him budge an inch out of the
way he's picked, do you think you could stir him?"

Jeering laughter shook him; it seemed that he would never be done with
his laughter, yet there was a hint of the hysterically mirthless in
it. It came to a jarring stop.

He said: "D'you think he's just bein' driven around by chance? Lady,
d'you think he even _wants_ to get out of this life of his? No, he
loves it! He loves the danger. D'you think a man that's used to
breathing in a whirlwind can get used to living in calm air? It
can't be done!"

And the girl answered steadily: "For every man there is one woman,
and for that woman the man will do strange things."

"You poor, white-faced, whimpering fool," snarled the boy, gripping at
his gun again, "d'you dream that you're the one that's picked out for
Pierre? No, there's another!"

"Another? A woman who--"

"Who loves Pierre--a woman that's fit for him. She can ride like a
man; she can shoot almost as straight and as fast as Pierre; she can
handle a knife; and she's been through hell for Pierre, and she'll go
through it again. She can ride the trail all day with him and finish
it less fagged than he is. She can chop down a tree as well as he can,
and build a fire better. She can hold up a train with him or rob a
bank and slip through a town in the middle of the night and laugh with
him about it afterward around a campfire. I ask you, is that the sort
of a woman that's meant for Pierre?"

And Mary answered, with bowed head: "She is."

She cried instantly afterward, cutting short the look of wild triumph
on the face of the boy: "But there's no such woman; there's no one who
could do these things! I know it!"

The boy sprang to his feet, flushing as red as the girl was white.

"You fool, if you're blind and got to have your eyes open to see, look
at the woman!"

And she tore the wide-brimmed sombrero from her head. Down past the
shoulders flooded a mass of blue-black hair. The firelight flickered
and danced across the silken shimmer of it. It swept wildly past the
waist, a glorious, night-dark tide in which the heart of a strong man
could be tangled and lost. With quivering lips Jacqueline cried: "Look
at me! Am I worthy of him?"

Short step by step Mary went back, staring with fascinated eyes as one
who sees some devilish, midnight revelry, and shrinks away from it
lest the sight should blast her. She covered her eyes with her hands
but instantly strong grips fell on her wrists and her hands were
jerked down from her face. She looked up into the eyes of a
beautiful tigress.

"Answer me--your yellow hair against mine--your child fingers against
my grip--are you equal with me?"

But the strength of Jacqueline faded and grew small; her arms fell to
her side; she stepped back, with a rising pallor taking the place of
the red. For Mary, brushing her hands, one gloved and one bare, before
her eyes, returned the stare of the mountain girl with equal scorn. A
mighty loathing filled up her veins in place of strength.

"Tell me," she said, "was--was this man living with you when he came
to me and--and made speeches--about love?"

"Bah! He was living with me. I tell you, he came back and laughed with
me about it, and told me about your baby-blue eyes when they filled
with tears; laughed and laughed and laughed, I tell you, as I could
laugh now."

The other twisted her hands together, moaning: "And I have followed
him, even to the place where he keeps his--woman? Ah, how I hate
myself: how I despise myself. I'm unclean--unclean in my own eyes!"

"Wait!" called Jacqueline. "You are leaving too soon. The night is
cold."

"I am going. There is no need to gibe at me."

"But wait--he will want to see you! I will tell him that you have been
here--that you came clear up the valley of the Old Crow to see him and
beg him on your knees to love you--he'll be angry to have missed
the scene!"

But the door closed on Mary as she fled with her hands pressed against
her ears.



CHAPTER 31


Jacqueline ran to the door and threw it open.

"Ride down the valley!" she cried. "That's right. He's coming up, and
he'll meet you on the way. He'll be glad--to see you!"

She saw the rider swing sharply about, and the clatter of the
galloping hoofs died out up the valley; then she closed the door,
dropped the latch, and, running to the middle of the room, threw up
her arms and cried out, a wild, shrill yell of triumph like the call
of the old Indian brave when he rises with the scalp of his murdered
enemy dripping in his hand.

The extended arms she caught back to her breast, and stood there with
head tilted back, crushing her delight closer to her heart.

And she whispered: "Pierre! Mine, mine! Pierre!"

Next she went to the steel mirror on the wall and looked long at the
flushed, triumphant image. At length she started, like one awakening
from a happy dream, and hurriedly coiled the thick, soft tresses about
her head. Never before had she lingered so over a toilet, patting each
lock into place, twisting her head from side to side like a peacock
admiring its image.

Now she looked about hungrily for a touch of color and uttered a
little moan of vexation when she saw nothing, till her eyes, piercing
through the gloom of a dim corner, saw a spray of autumn leaves, long
left there and still stained with beauty. She fastened them at the
breast of her shirt, and so arrayed began to cook. Never was there a
merrier cook, not even some jolly French chef with a heart made warm
with good red wine, for she sang as she worked, and whenever she had
to cross the room it was with a dancing step. Spring was in her blood,
warm spring that sets men smiling for no cause except that they are
living, and rejoicing with the whole awakening world.

So it was with Jacqueline. Ever and anon as she leaned over the pans
and stirred the fire she raised her head and remained a moment
motionless, waiting for a sound, yearning to hear, and each time she
had to look down again with a sigh.

As it was, he took her by surprise, for he entered with the soft foot
of the hunted and remained an instant searching the room with a
careful glance. Not that he suspected, not that he had not relaxed his
guard and his vigilance the moment he caught sight of the flicker of
light through the mass of great boulders, but the lifelong habit of
watchfulness remained with him.

Even when he spoke face to face with a man, he never seemed to be
giving more than half his attention, for might not someone else
approach if he lost himself in order to listen to any one voice? He
had covered half the length of the room with that soundless step
before she heard, and rose with a glad cry: "Pierre!"

Meeting that calm blue eye, she checked herself mightily.

"A hard ride?" she asked.

"Nothing much."

He took the rock nearest the fire and then raised a glance of inquiry.

"I got cold," she said, "and rolled it over."

He considered her and then the rock, not with suspicion, but as if he
held the matter in abeyance for further consideration; a hunted man
and a hunter must keep an eye for little things, must carry an armed
hand and an armed heart even among friends. As for Jacqueline, her
color had risen, and she leaned hurriedly over a pan in which meat
was frying.

"Any results?" she asked.

"Some."

She waited, knowing that the story would come at length.

He added after a moment: "Strange how careless some people get to be."

"Yes?" she queried.

"Yes."

Another pause, during which he casually drummed his fingers on his
knee. She saw that he must receive more encouragement before he would
tell, and she gave it, smiling to herself. Women are old in certain
ways of understanding in which men remain children forever.

"I suppose we're still broke, Pierre?"

"Broke? Well, not entirely. I got some results."

"Good."

"As a matter of fact, it was a pretty fair haul. Watch that meat,
Jack; I think it's burning."

It was hardly beginning to cook, but she turned it obediently and hid
another slow smile. Rising, she passed behind his chair, and pretended
to busy herself with something near the wall. This was the environment
and attitude which would make him talk most freely, she knew.

"Speaking of careless men," said Pierre, "I could tell you a yarn,
Jack."

She stood close behind him and made about his unconscious head a
gesture of caress, the overflow of an infinite tenderness.

"I'd sure like to hear it, Pierre."

"Well, it was like this: I knew a fellow who started on the range with
a small stock of cattle. He wasn't a very good worker, and he didn't
understand cattle any too well, so he didn't prosper for quite a
while. Then his affairs took a sudden turn for the better; his herd
began to increase. Nobody understood the reason, though a good many
suspected, but one man fell onto the reason: our friend was simply
running in a few doggies on the side, and he'd arranged a very
ingenious way of changing the brands."

"Pierre--"

"Well?"

"What does 'ingenious' mean?"

"Why, I should say it means 'skillful, clever,' and it carries with it
the connotation of 'novel.'"

"It carries the con-conno--what's that word, Pierre?"

"I'm going to get some books for you, Jack, and we'll do a bit of
reading on the side, shall we?"

"I'd love that!"

He turned and looked up to her sharply.

He said: "Sometimes, Jack, you talk just like a girl."

"Do I? That's queer, isn't it? But go on with the story."

"He changed the brands very skillfully, and no one got the dope on him
except this one man I mentioned; and that man kept his face shut.
He waited.

"So it went on for a good many years. The herd of our friend grew very
rapidly. He sold just enough cattle to keep himself and his wife
alive; he was bent on making one big haul, you see. So when his
doggies got to the right age and condition for the market, he'd trade
them off, one fat doggie for two or three skinny yearlings. But
finally he had a really big herd together, and shipped it off to the
market on a year when the price was sky-high."

"Like this year?"

"Don't interrupt me, Jack!"

From the shadow behind him she smiled again.

"They went at a corking price, and our friend cleared up a good many
thousand--I won't say just how much. He sank part of it in a ruby
brooch for his wife, and shoved the rest into a satchel.

"You see how careful he'd been all those years while he was piling up
his fortune? Well, he began to get careless the moment he cashed in,
which was rather odd. He depended on his fighting power to keep that
money safe, but he forgot that while he'd been making a business of
rustling doggies and watching cattle markets, other men had been
making a business of shooting fast and straight.

"Among others there was the silent man who'd watched and waited for so
long. But this silent man hove alongside while our rich friend was
bound home in a buckboard.

"'Good evening!' he called.

"The rich chap turned and heard; it all seemed all right, but he'd
done a good deal of shady business in his day, and that made him
suspicious of the silent man now. So he reached for his gun and got it
out just in time to be shot cleanly through the hand.

"The silent man tied up that hand and sympathized with the rich chap;
then he took that satchel and divided the paper money into two
bundles. One was twice the size of the other, and the silent man took
the smaller one. There was only twelve thousand dollars in it. Also,
he took the ruby brooch for a friend--and as a sort of keepsake, you
know. And he delivered a short lecture to the rich man on the subject
of carelessness and rode away. The rich man picked up his gun with his
left hand and opened fire, but he'd never learned to shoot very well
with that hand, so the silent man came through safe."

"That's a bully story," said Jack. "Who was the silent man?"

"I think you've seen him a few times, at that."

She concealed another smile, and said in the most businesslike manner:
"Chow-time, Pierre," and set out the pans on the table. "By the
way," he said easily, "I've got a little present for you, Jack."

And he took out a gold pin flaming with three great rubies.



CHAPTER 32


She merely stared, like a child which may either burst into tears or
laughter, no one can prophesy which.

He explained, rather worried: "You see, you _are_ a girl, Jack, and I
remembered that you were pleased about those clothes that you wore to
the dance in the Crittenden schoolhouse, and so when I saw that pin
I--well--"

"Oh, Pierre!" said a stifled voice. "Oh, Pierre!"

"Jack, you aren't angry, are you? See, when you put it at the throat
it doesn't look half bad!"

And to try it, he pinned it on her shirt. She caught both his hands,
kissed them again and again, and then buried her face against them as
she sobbed. If the heavens had opened and a cloudburst crashed on the
roof of the house, he would have been less astounded.

"What is it?" he cried. "Damn it all--Jack--you see--I meant--"

But she tore herself away and flung herself face down on the bunk,
sobbing more bitterly than ever. He followed, awe-stricken--terrified.

He touched her shoulder, but she shrank away and seemed more
distressed than ever. It was not the crying of a weak woman: these
were heartrending sounds, like the sobbing of a man who has never
before known tears.

"Jack--perhaps I've done something wrong--"

He stammered again: "I didn't dream I was hurting you--"

Then light broke upon him.

He said: "It's because you don't want to be treated like a silly girl;
eh, Jack?"

But to complete his astonishment she moaned: "N-n-no! It's b-b-because
you--you n-n-never _do_ t-treat me like a g-g-girl, P-P-Pierre!"

He groaned heartily: "Well, I'll be damned!"

And because he was thoughtful he strode away, staring at the floor. It
was then that he saw it, small and crumpled on the floor. He picked it
up--a glove of the softest leather. He carried it back to Jacqueline.

"What's this?"

"Wh-wh-what?"

"This glove I found on the floor?"

The sobs decreased at once--broke out more violently--and then she
sprang up from the bunk.

"Pierre, I've acted a regular chump. Are you out with me?"

"Not a bit, old-timer. But about this glove?"

"Oh, that's one of mine."

She took it and slipped it into the bosom of her shirt--the calm blue
eye of Pierre noted.

He said: "We'll eat and forget the rest of this, if you want, Jack."

"And you ain't mad at me, Pierre?"

"Not a bit."

There was just a trace of coldness in his tone, and she knew perfectly
why it was there, but she chose to ascribe it to another cause.

She explained: "You see, a woman is just about nine tenths fool,
Pierre, and has to bust out like that once in a while."

"Oh!" said Pierre, and his eyes wandered past her as though he found
food for thought on the wall.

She ventured cautiously, after seeing that he was eating with
appetite: "How does the pin look?"

"Why, fine."

And the silence began again.

She dared not question him in that mood, so she ventured again: "The
old boy shooting left-handed--didn't he even fan the wind near you?"

"That was another bit of carelessness," said Pierre, but his smile
held little of life. "He might have known that if he _had_ shot
close--by accident--I might have turned around and shot him dead--on
purpose. But when a man stops thinking for a minute, he's apt to go on
for a long time making a fool of himself."

"Right," she said, brightening as she felt the crisis pass away, "and
that reminds me of a story about--"

"By the way, Jack, I'll wager there's a more interesting story than
that you could tell me."

"What?"

"About how that glove happened to be on the floor."

"Why, partner, it's just a glove of my own."

"Didn't know you wore gloves with a leather as soft as that."

"No? Well, that story I was speaking about runs something like this--"

And she told him a gay narrative, throwing all her spirit into it, for
she was an admirable mimic. He met her spirit more than half-way,
laughing gaily; and so they reached the end of the story and the end
of the meal at the same time. She cleared away the pans with a few
motions and tossed them clattering into a corner. Neat housekeeping
was not numbered among the many virtues of Jacqueline. "Now," said
Pierre, leaning back against the wall, "we'll hear about that glove."

"Damn the glove!" broke from her.

"Steady, pal!"

"Pierre, are you going to nag me about a little thing like that?"

"Why, Jack, you're red and white in patches. I'm interested."

He sat up.

"I'm more than interested. The story, Jack."

"Well, I suppose I have to tell you. I did a fool thing today. Took a
little gallop down the trail, and on my way back I met a girl sitting
in her saddle with her face in her hands, crying her heart out. Poor
kid! She'd come up in a hunting party and got separated from the rest.

"So I got sympathetic--"

"About the first time on record that you've been sympathetic with
another girl, eh?"

"Shut up, Pierre! And I brought her in here--right into your cabin,
without thinking what I was doing, and gave her a cup of coffee. Of
course it was a pretty greenhorn trick, but I guess no harm will come
of it. The girl thinks it's a prospector's cabin--which it was once.
She went on her way, happy, because I told her of the right trail to
get back with her gang. That's all there is to it. Are you mad at me
for letting anyone come into this place?"

"Mad?" He smiled. "No, I think that's one of the best lies you ever
told me, Jack."

Their eyes met, hers very wide, and his keen and steady. Then she
gripped at the butt of her gun, an habitual trick when she was very
angry, and cried: "Do I have to sit here and let you call me--that?
Pierre, pull a few more tricks like that and I'll call for a new
deal. Get me?"

She rose, whirled, and threw herself sullenly on her bunk. "Come
back," said Pierre. "You're more scared than angry. Why are you
afraid, Jack?"

"It's a lie--I'm not afraid!"

"Let me see that glove again."

"You've seen it once--that's enough."

He whistled carelessly, rolling a cigarette. After he lighted it he
said: "Ready to talk yet, partner?"

She maintained an obstinate silence, but that sharp eye saw that she
was trembling. He set his teeth and then drew several long puffs on
his cigarette.

"I'm going to count to ten, pal, and when I finish you're going to
tell me everything straight. In the meantime don't stay there thinking
up a new lie. I know you too well, and if you try the same thing on
me again--"

"Well?" she snarled, all the tiger coming back in her voice.

"You'll talk, all right. Here goes the count: One--two--three--four--"

As he counted, leaving a long drag of two or three seconds between
numbers, there was not a change in the figure of the girl. She still
lay with her back turned on him, and the only expressive part that
showed was her hand. First it lay limp against her hip, but as the
monotonous count proceeded it gathered to a fist.

"Five--six--seven--"

It seemed that he had been counting for hours, his will against her
will, the man in him against the woman in her, and during the pauses
between the sound of his voice the very air grew charged with waiting.
To the girl the wait for every count was like the wait of the doomed
traitor when he stands facing the firing-squad, watching the glimmer
of light go down the aimed rifles.

For she knew the face of the man who sat there counting; she knew how
the firelight flared in the dark red of his hair and made it seem like
another fire beneath which the blue of the eyes was strangely cold.
Her hand had gathered to a hard-balled fist.

"Eight--nine--"

She sprang up, screaming: "No, no, Pierre!" And threw out her arms to
him.

"Ten."

She whispered: "It was the girl with yellow hair--Mary Brown."



CHAPTER 33


It was as if she had said: "Good morning!" in the calmest of voices.
There was no answer in him, neither word nor expression, and out of
ten sharp-eyed men, nine would have passed him by without noting the
difference; but the girl knew him as the monk knows his prayers or the
Arab his horse, and a solemn, deep despair came over her. She felt
like the drowning, when the water closes over their heads for the
last time.

He puffed twice again at the cigarette and then flicked the butt into
the fire. When he spoke it was only to say: "Did she stay long?"

But his eyes avoided her. She moved a little so as to read his face,
but when he turned again and answered her stare she winced. "Not very
long, Pierre."

"Ah," he said. "I see! It was because she didn't dream that this was
the place I lived in."

It was the sort of heartless, torturing questioning which was once the
crudest weapon of the inquisition. With all her heart she fought to
raise her voice above the whisper whose very sound accused her, but
could not. She was condemned to that voice as the man bound in
nightmare is condemned to walk slowly, slowly, though the terrible
danger is racing toward him, and the safety which he must reach lies
only a dozen steps, a dozen mortal steps away.

She said in that voice: "No; of course she didn't dream it."

"And you, Jack, had her interests at heart--her best interests, poor
girl, and didn't tell her?"

Her hands went out to him in mute appeal.

"Please, Pierre--don't!"

"Is something troubling you, Jack?"

"You are breaking my heart."

"Why, by no means! Let's sit here calmly and chat about the girl with
the yellow hair. To begin with--she's rather pleasant to look at,
don't you think?"

"I suppose she is."

"Hm! Rather poor taste not to be sure of it. Well, let it go. You've
always had rather queer taste in women, Jack; but, of course, being a
long-rider, you haven't seen much of them. At least her name is
delightful--Mary Brown! You've no idea how often I've repeated it
aloud to myself--Mary Brown!"

"I hate her!"

"You two didn't have a very agreeable time of it? By the way, she must
have left in rather a hurry to forget her glove, eh?"

"Yes, she ran--like a coward."

"Ah?" "Like a trembling coward. How can you care for a white-faced
little fool like that? Is she your match? Is she your mate?"

He considered a moment, as though to make sure that he did not
exaggerate.

"I love her, Jack, as men love water when they've ridden all day over
hot sand without a drop on their lips--you know when the tongue gets
thick and the mouth fills with cotton--and then you see clear, bright
water, and taste it?

"She is like that to me. She feeds every sense; and when I look in her
eyes, Jack, I feel like the starved man on the desert, as I was
saying, drinking that priceless water. You knew something of the way I
feel, Jack. Isn't it a little odd that you didn't keep her here?"

She had stood literally shuddering during this speech, and now she
burst out, far beyond all control: "Because she loathes you; because
she hates herself for ever having loved you; because she despises
herself for having ridden up here after you. Does that fill your cup
of water, Pierre, eh?"

His forehead was shining with sweat, but he set his teeth, and, after
a moment, he was able to say in the same hard, calm voice: "I suppose
there was no real reason for her change. She can be persuaded back to
me in a moment. In that case just tell me where she has gone and I'll
ride after her."

He made as if to rise, but she cried in a panic, and yet with a wild
exultation: "No, she's done with you forever, and the more you make
love to her now the more she'll hate you. Because she knows that when
you kissed her before--when you kissed her--you were living with
a woman."

"I--living with a woman?"

Her voice had risen out of the whisper for the outbreak. Now it sank
back into it.

"Yes--with me!" "With you? I see. Naturally it must have gone hard
with her--Mary! And she wouldn't see reason even when you explained
that you and I are like brothers?"

He leaned a little toward her and just a shade of emotion came in his
voice.

"When you carefully explained, Jack, with all the eloquence you could
command, that you and I have ridden and fought and camped together
like brothers for six years? And how I gave you your first gun? And
how I've stayed between you and danger a thousand times? And how I've
never treated you otherwise than as a man? And how I've given you the
love of a blood-brother to take the place of the brother who died? And
how I've kept you in a clean and pure respect such as a man can only
give once in his life--and then only to his dearest friend? She
wouldn't listen--even when you talked to her like this?"

"For God's sake--Pierre!"

"Ah, but you talked well enough to pave the way for me. You talked so
eloquently that with a little more persuasion from me she will know
and understand. Come, I must be gone after her. Which way did she
ride--up or down the valley?"

"You could talk to her forever and she'd never listen. Pierre, I told
her that I was--your woman--that you'd told me of your scenes with
her--and that we'd laughed at them together."

She covered her eyes and crouched, waiting for the wrath that would
fall on her, but he only smiled bitterly on the bowed head, saying:
"Why have I waited so long to hear you say what I knew already? I
suppose because I wouldn't believe until I heard the whole abominable
truth from your own lips. Jack, why did you do it?"

"Won't you see? Because I've loved you always, Pierre!"

"Love--you--your tiger-heart? No, but you were like a cruel, selfish
child. You were jealous because you didn't want the toy taken away. I
knew it. I knew that even if I rode after her it would be hopeless.
Oh, God, how terribly you've hurt me, partner!"

It wrung a little moan from her. He said after a moment: "It's only
the ghost of a chance, but I'll have to take it. Tell me which way she
rode? No? Then I'll try to find her."

She leaped between him and the door, flinging her shoulders against it
with a crash and standing with outspread arms to bar the way.

"You must not go!"

He turned his head somewhat.

"Don't stand in front of me, Jack. You know I'll do what I say, and
just now it's a bit hard for me to face you."

"Pierre, I feel as if there were a hand squeezing my heart small, and
small, and small. Pierre, I'd die for you!"

"I know you would. I know you would, partner. It was only a mistake,
and you acted the way any coldhearted boy would act if--if someone
were to try to steal his horse, for instance. But just now it's hard
for me to look at you and be calm."

"Don't try to be! Swear at me--curse--rave--beat me; I'd be glad of
the blows, Pierre. I'd hold out my arms to 'em. But don't go out
that door!"

"Why?"

"Because--if you found her--she's not alone."

"Say that slowly. I don't understand. She's not alone?"

"I'll try to tell you from the first. She started out for you with
Dick Wilbur for a guide."

"Good old Dick, God bless him! I'll fill all his pockets with gold for
that; and he loves her, you know."

"You'll never see Dick Wilbur again. On the first night they camped
she missed him when he went for water. She went down after a while and
saw the mark of his body on the sand. He never appeared again."

"Who was it?"

"Listen. The next morning she woke up and found that someone had
taken care of the fire while she slept, and her pack was lashed on one
of the saddles. She rode on that day and came at night to a camp-fire
with a bed of boughs near it and no one in sight. She took that camp
for herself and no one showed up.

"Don't you see? Someone was following her up the valley and taking
care of the poor baby on the way. Someone who was afraid to let
himself be seen. Perhaps it was the man who killed Dick Wilbur without
a sound there beside the river; perhaps as Dick died he told the man
who killed him about the lonely girl and this other man was white
enough to help Mary.

"But all Mary ever saw of him was that second night when she thought
she saw a streak of white, traveling like a galloping horse, that
disappeared over a hill and into the trees--"

"A streak of white--"

"Yes, yes! The white horse--McGurk!"

"McGurk!" repeated Pierre stupidly; then: "And you knew she would be
going out to him when she left this house?"

"I knew--Pierre--don't look at me like that--I knew that it would be
murder to let you cross with McGurk. You're the last of seven--he's a
devil--no man--"

"And you let her go out into the night--to him."

She clung to a last thread of hope: "If you met him and killed him
with the luck of the cross it would bring equal bad luck on someone
you love--on the girl, Pierre!"

He was merely repeating stupidly: "You let her go out--to him--in the
night! She's in his arms now--you devil--you tiger--"

She threw herself down and clung about his knees with hysterical
strength.

He tore the little cross from his neck and flung it into her upturned
face.

"Don't make me put my hands on you, Jack. Let me go!" There was no
need to tear her grasp away. She crumpled and slipped sidewise to the
floor. He leaned over and shook her violently by the shoulder.

"Which way did she ride? Which way did they ride?"

She whispered: "Down the valley, Pierre; down the valley; I swear they
rode that way."

And as she lay in a half swoon she heard the faint clatter of
galloping hoofs over the rocks and a wild voice yelling, fainter and
fainter with distance: "McGurk!"



CHAPTER 34


It came back to her like a threat; it beat at her ears and roused her,
that continually diminishing cry: "McGurk!" It went down the valley,
and Mary Brown, and McGurk with her, perhaps, had gone up the gorge,
but it would be a matter of a short time before Pierre le Rouge
discovered that there was no camp-fire to be sighted in the lower
valley and whirled to storm back up the canyon with that battle-cry:
"McGurk!" still on his lips.

And if the two met she knew the result. Seven strong men had ridden
together, fought together, and one by one they had fallen, disappeared
like the white smoke of the camp-fire, jerked off into thin air by the
wind, until only one remained.

How clearly she could see them all! Bud Mansie, meager, lean, with a
shifting eye; Garry Patterson, of the red, good-natured face; Phil
Branch, stolid and short and muscled like a giant; Handsome Dick
Wilbur on his racing bay; Black Gandil, with his villainies from the
South Seas like an invisible mantle of awe about him; and her father,
the stalwart, gray Boone.

All these had gone, and there remained only Pierre le Rouge to follow
in the steps of the six who had gone before.

She crawled to the door, feeble in mind and shuddering of body like a
runner who has spent his last energy in a long race, and drew it open.
The wind blew up the valley from the Old Crow, but no sound came back
to her, no calling from Pierre; and over her rose the black pyramid of
the western peak of the Twin Bears like a monstrous nose pointing
stiffly toward the stars.

She closed the door, dragged herself back to her feet, and stood with
her shoulders leaning against the wall. Her weakness was not
weariness--it was as if something had been taken from her. She
wondered at herself somewhat vaguely. Surely she had never been like
this before, with the singular coldness about her heart and the
feeling of loss, of infinite loss.

What had she lost? She began to search her mind for an answer. Then
she smiled uncertainly, a wan, small smile. It was very clear; what
she had lost was all interest in life and all hope for the brave
tomorrow. Nothing remained of all those lovely dreams which she had
built up by day and night about the figure of Pierre le Rouge. He was
gone, and the bright-colored bubble she had blown vanished at once.

She felt a slight pain at her forehead and then remembered the cross
which Pierre had thrown into her face. Casting that away he had thrown
his faintest chance of victory with it; it would be a slaughter, not a
battle, and red-handed McGurk would leave one more foe behind him.

But looking down she found the cross and picked up the shining bit
of metal; it seemed as if she held the greater part of Pierre le Rouge
in her hands. She raised the cross to her lips.

When she fastened the cross about her throat it was with no
exultation, but like one who places over his heart a last memorial of
the dead; a consecration, like the red sign or the white which the
crusaders wore on the covers of their shields.

Then she took from her breast the spray of autumn leaves. He had not
noticed them, yet perhaps they had helped to make him happy when he
came into the cabin that night, so she placed the spray on the table.
Next she unpinned the great rubies from her throat and let her eye
linger over them for a moment. They were chosen stones, a lure and a
challenge at once.

The first thought of what she must do came to Jacqueline then, but not
in an overwhelming tide--it was rather a small voice that whispered in
her heart.

Last, she took from her bosom the glove of the yellow-haired girl.
Compared with her stanch riding gloves, how small was this! Yet, when
she tried it, it slipped easily on her hand. This she laid in that
little pile, for these were the things which Pierre would wish to find
if by some miracle he came back from the battle. The spray, perhaps,
he would not understand; and yet he might. She pressed both hands to
her breast and drew a long breath, for her heart was breaking. Through
her misted eyes she could barely see the shimmer of the cross.

She dropped to her knees, and twisted her hands together in agony. It
was prayer. There were no words to it, but it was prayer, a wild
appeal for aid.

That aid came in the form of a calm that swept on her like the flood
of a clear moonlight over a storm-beaten landscape. The whisper which
had come to her before was now a solemn-speaking voice, and she knew
what she must do. She could not keep the two men apart, but she
might reach McGurk before and strike him down by stealth, by craft,
any way to kill that man as terrible as a devil, as invulnerable as
a ghost.

This she might do in the heart of the night, and afterward she might
have the courage left to tell the girl the truth and then creep off
somewhere and let this steady pain burn its way out of her heart.

Once she had reached a decision, it was characteristic that she moved
swiftly. Also, there was cause for haste, for by this time Pierre must
have discovered that there was no one in the lower reaches of the
gorge and would be galloping back with all the speed of the
cream-colored mare which even McGurk's white horse could not match.

She ran from the cabin and into the little lean-to behind it where the
horses were tethered. There she swung her saddle with expert hands,
whipped up the cinch, and pulled it with the strength of a man,
mounted, and was off up the gorge.

For the first few minutes she let the long-limbed black race on at
full speed, a breathless course, because the beat of the wind in her
face raised her courage, gave her a certain impulse which was almost
happiness, just as the martyrs rejoiced and held out their hands to
the fire that was to consume them; but after the first burst of
headlong galloping, she drew down the speed to a hand-canter, and this
in turn to a fast trot, for she dared not risk the far-echoed sound of
the clattering hoofs over the rock.

And as she rode she saw at last the winking eye of red which she
longed for and dreaded. She pulled her black to an instant halt and
swung from the saddle, tossing the reins over the head of the horse to
keep him standing there.

Yet, after she had made half a dozen hurried paces something forced
her to turn and look again at the handsome head of the horse. He
stood quite motionless, with his ears pricking after her, and now as
she stopped he whinnied softly, hardly louder than the whisper of a
man. So she ran back again and threw the reins over the horn of the
saddle; he should be free to wander where he chose through the free
mountains, but as for her, she knew very certainly now that she would
never mount that saddle again, or control that triumphant steed with
the touch of her hands on the reins. She put her arms around his neck
and drew his head down close.

There was a dignity in that parting, for it was the burning of her
bridges behind her. She drew back, the horse followed her a pace, but
she raised a silent hand in the night and halted him; a moment later
she was lost among the boulders.

It was rather slow work to stalk that camp-fire, for the big boulders
cut off the sight of the red eye time and again, and she had to make
little, cautious detours before she found it again, but she kept
steadily at her work. Once she stopped, her blood running cold, for
she thought that she heard a faint voice blown up the canyon on the
wind: "McGurk!"

For half a minute she stood frozen, listening, but the sound was not
repeated, and she went on again with greater haste. So she came at
last in view of a hollow in the side of the gorge. Here there were a
few trees, growing in the cove, and here, she knew, there was a small
spring of clear water. Many a time she had made a cup of her hands and
drunk here.

Now she made out the fire clearly, the trees throwing out great spokes
of shadow on all sides, spokes of shadows that wavered and shook with
the flare of the small fire beyond them. She dropped to her hands and
knees and, parting the dense underbrush, began the last stealthy
approach.



CHAPTER 35


Up the same course which Jacqueline followed, Mary Brown had fled
earlier that night with the triumphant laughter of Jack still ringing
in her ears and following her like a remorseless, pointed hand
of shame.

There is no power like shame to disarm the spirit. A dog will fight if
a man laughs at him; a coward will challenge the devil himself if he
is whipped on by scorn; and this proud girl shrank and moaned on the
saddle. She had not progressed far enough to hate Pierre. That would
come later, but now all her heart had room for was a consuming
loathing of herself.

Some of that torture went into the spurs with which she punished the
side of the bay, and the tall horse responded with a high-tossed head
and a burst of whirlwind speed. The result was finally a stumble over
a loose rock that almost flung Mary over the pommel of the saddle and
forced her to draw rein.

Having slowed the pace she became aware that she was very tired from
the trip of the day, and utterly exhausted by the wild scene with
Jacqueline, so that she began to look about for a place where she
could stop for even an hour or so and rest her aching body.

Thought of McGurk sent her hand trembling to her holster. Still she
knew she must have little to fear from him. He had been kind to her.
Why had this scourge of the mountain-desert spared her? Was it to
track down Pierre?

It was at this time that she heard the purl and whisper of running
water, a sound dear to the hearts of all travelers. She veered to the
left and found the little grove of trees with a thick shrubbery
growing between, fed by the water of that diminutive brook. She
dismounted and tethered the horses.

By this time she had seen enough of camping out to know how to make
herself fairly comfortable, and she set about it methodically,
eagerly. It was something to occupy her mind and keep out a little of
that burning sense of shame. One picture it could not obliterate, and
that was the scene of Jacqueline and Pierre le Rouge laughing together
over the love affair with the silly girl of the yellow hair.

That was the meaning, then, of those silences that had come between
them? He had been thinking, remembering, careful lest he should forget
a single scruple of the whole ludicrous affair. She shuddered,
remembering how she had fairly flung herself into his arms.

On that she brooded, after starting the little fire. It was not that
she was cold, but the fire, at least, in the heart of the black night,
was a friend incapable of human treachery. She had not been there long
when the tall bay, Wilbur's horse, stiffened, raised his head, arched
his tail, and then whinnied.

She started to her feet, stirred by a thousand fears, and heard, far
away, an answering neigh. At once all thought of shame and of Pierre
le Rouge vanished from her mind, for she remembered the man who had
followed her up the valley of the Old Crow. Perhaps he was coming now
out of the night; perhaps she would even see him.

And the excitement grew in her pulse by pulse, as the excitement grows
in a man waiting for a friend at a station; he sees first the faint
smoke like a cloud on the skyline, and then a black speck beneath the
smoke, and next the engine draws up on him with a humming of the rails
which grows at length to a thunder.

The heart of Mary Brown beat faster, though she could not see, but
only felt the coming of the stranger.

The only sign she saw was in the horses, which showed an increasing
uneasiness. Her own mare now shared the restlessness of the tall bay,
and the two were footing it nervously here and there, tugging at the
tethers, and tossing up their heads, with many a start, as if they
feared and sought to flee from some approaching catastrophe--some vast
and preternatural change--some forest fire which came galloping faster
than even their fleet limbs could carry them.

Yet all beyond the pale of her camp-fire's light was silence, utter
and complete silence. It seemed as if a muscular energy went into the
intensity of her listening, but not a sound reached her except a faint
whispering of the wind in the dark trees above her.

But at last she knew that the thing was upon her. The horses ceased
their prancing and stared in a fixed direction through the thicket of
shrubbery; the very wind grew hushed above her; she could feel the new
presence as one feels the silence when a door closes and shuts away
the sound of the street below.

It came on her with a shock, thrilling, terrible, yet not altogether
unpleasant. She rose, her hands clenched at her sides and her eyes
abnormally wide as they stared in the same direction as the eyes of
the two horses held. Yet for all her preparation she nearly fainted
when a voice sounded directly behind her, a pleasantly modulated
voice: "Look this way. I am here, in front of the fire."

She turned about and the two horses, quivering, whirled toward that
sound.

She stepped back, back until the embers of the fire lay between her
and that side of the little clearing. In spite of herself the
exclamation escaped her--"McGurk!"

The voice spoke again: "Do not be afraid. You are safe, absolutely."

"What are you?" "Your friend."

"Is it you who followed me up the valley?"

"Yes."

"Come into the light. I must see you." A faint laughter reached her
from the dark.

"I cannot let you do that. If that had been possible I should have
come to you before."

"But I feel--I feel almost as if you are a ghost and no man of flesh
and blood."

"It is better for you to feel that way about it," said the voice
solemnly, "than to know me."

"At least, tell me why you have followed me, why you have cared for
me."

"You will hate me if I tell you, and fear me."

"No, whatever you are, trust me. Tell me at least what came to Dick
Wilbur?"

"That's easy enough. I met him at the river, a little by surprise, and
caught him before he could even shout. Then I took his guns and
let him go."

"But he didn't come back to me?"

"No. He knew that I would be there. I might have finished him without
giving him a chance to speak, girl, but I'd seen him with you and I
was curious. So I found out where you were going and why, and let
Wilbur go. I came back and looked at you and found you asleep."

She grew cold at the thought of him leaning over her.

"I watched you a long time, and I suppose I'll remember you always as
I saw you then. You were very beautiful with the shadow of your lashes
against your cheek--almost as beautiful as you are now as you stand
over there, fearing and loathing me. I dared not let you see me, but I
decided to take care of you--for a while."

"And now?"

"I have come to say farewell to you."

"Let me see you once before you go."

"No! You see, I fear you even more than you fear me." "Then I'll
follow you."

"It would be useless--utterly useless. There are ways of becoming
invisible in the mountains. But before I go, tell me one thing: Have
you left the cabin to search for Pierre le Rouge in another place?"

"No. I do not search for him."

There was an instant of pause. Then the voice said sharply: "Did
Wilbur lie to me?"

"No. I started up the valley to find him."

"But you've given him up?"

"I hate him--I hate him as much as I loathe myself for ever
condescending to follow him."

She heard a quick breath drawn in the dark, and then a murmur: "I am
free, then, to hunt him down!"

"Why?"

"Listen: I had given him up for your sake; I gave him up when I stood
beside you that first night and watched you trembling with the cold in
your sleep. It was a weak thing for me to do, but since I saw you,
Mary, I am not as strong as I once was."

"Now you go back on his trail? It is death for Pierre?"

"You say you hate him?"

"Ah, but as deeply as that?" she questioned herself.

"It may not be death for Pierre. I have ridden the ranges many years
and met them all in time, but never one like him. Listen: six years
ago I met him first and then he wounded me--the first time any man has
touched me. And afterward I was afraid, Mary, for the first time in my
life, for the charm was broken. For six years I could not return, but
now I am at his heels. Six are gone; he will be the last to go."

"What are you?" she cried. "Some bloodhound reincarnated?"

He said: "That is the mildest name I have ever been called."



CHAPTER 36


"Give up the trail of Pierre."

And there, brought face to face with the mortal question, even her
fear burned low in her, and once more she remembered the youth who
would not leave her in the snow, but held her in his arms with the
strange cross above them.

She said simply: "I still love him."

A faint glimmer came to her through the dark and she could see deeper
into the shrubbery, for now the moon stood up on the top of the great
peak above them and flung a faint light into the hollow. That glimmer
she saw, but no face of a man.

And then the silence held; every second of it was more than a hundred
spoken words.

Then the calm voice said: "I cannot give him up."

"For the sake of God!"

"God and I have been strangers for a good many years."

"For my sake."

"But you see, I have been lying to myself. I told myself that I was
coming merely to see you once--for the last time. But after I saw you
I had to speak, and now that I have spoken it is hard to leave you,
and now that I am with you I cannot give you up to Pierre le Rouge."

She cried: "What will you have of me?"

He answered with a ring of melancholy: "Friendship? No, I can't take
those white hands--mine are so red. All I can do is to lurk about you
like a shadow--a shadow with a sting that strikes down all other men
who come near you."

She said: "For all men have told me about you, I know you could not do
that."

"Mary, I tell you there are things about me, and possibilities, about
which I don't dare to question myself."

"You have guarded me like a brother. Be one to me still; I have never
needed one so deeply!"

"A brother? Mary, if your eyes were less blue or your hair less golden
I might be; but you are too beautiful to be only that to me."

"Listen to me--"

But she stopped in the midst of her speech, because a white head
loomed beside the dim form. It was the head of a horse, with pricking
ears, which now nosed the shoulder of its master, and she saw the
firelight glimmering in the great eyes.

"Your horse," she said in a trembling voice, "loves you and trusts
you."

"It is the only thing which has not feared me. When it was a colt it
came out of the herd and nosed my hand. It is the only thing which has
not fought me, as all men have done--as you are doing now, Mary."

The wind that blew up the gorge came in gusts, not any steady current,
but fitful rushes of air, and on one of these brief blasts it seemed
to Mary that she caught the sound of a voice blown to whistling
murmur. It was a vague thing of which she could not be sure, as faint
as a thought. Yet the head of the white horse disappeared, and the
glimmer of the man's face went out.

She called: "Whatever you are, wait! Let me speak!"

But no answer came, and she knew that the form was gone forever.

She cried again: "Who's there?"

"It is I," said a voice at her elbow, and she turned to look into the
dark eyes of Jacqueline. "So he's gone?" asked Jack bitterly.

She fingered the butt of her gun.

"I thought--well, my chance at him is gone."

"But what--"

"Bah, if you knew you'd die of fear. Listen to what I have to say. All
the things I told you in the cabin were lies."

"Lies?" said Mary evenly. "No, they proved themselves."

"Be still till I've finished, because if you talk you may make me
forget--"

The gesture which finished the sentence was so eloquent of hate that
Mary shrank away and put the embers of the fire between them.

"I tell you, it was all a lie, and Pierre le Rouge has never loved
anything but you, you milk-faced--"

She stopped again, fighting against her passion. The pride of Mary
held her stiff and straight, though her voice shook.

"Has he sent you after me with mockery?"

"No, he's given up the hope of you."

"The hope?"

"Don't you see? Are you going to make me crawl to explain? It always
seemed to me that God meant Pierre for me. It always seemed to me that
a girl like me was what he needed. But Pierre had never seen it.
Maybe, if my hair was yellow an' my eyes blue, he might have felt
different; but the way it is, he's always treated me like a kid
brother--"

"And lived with you?" said the other sternly.

"Like two men! D'you understand how a woman could be the bunky of a
man an' yet be no more to him than--than a man would be. You don't?
Neither do I, but that's what I've been to Pierre le Rouge.
What's that?"

She lifted her head and stood poised as if for flight. Once more the
vague sound blew up to them upon the wind. Mary ran to her and grasped
both of her hands in her own. "If it's true--"

But Jack snatched her hands away and looked on the other with a mighty
hatred and a mightier contempt.

"True? Why, it damn near finished Pierre with me to think he'd take up
with--a thing like you. But it's true. If somebody else had told me
I'd of laughed at 'em. But it's true. Tell me: what'll you do
with him?"

"Take him back--if I can reach him--take him back to the East."

"Yes--maybe he'd be happy there. But when the spring comes to the
city, Mary, wait till the wind blows in the night and the rain comes
tappin' on the roof. Then hold him if you can. D'ye hear? Hold him
if you can!"

"If he cares it will not be hard. Tell me again, if--"

"Shut up. What's that again?"

The sound was closer now and unmistakably something other than the
moan of the wind.

Jacqueline turned in great excitement to Mary:

"Did McGurk hear that sound down the gorge?"

"Yes. I think so. And then he--"

"My God!"

"What is it?"

"Pierre, and he's calling for--d'you hear?"

Clear and loud, though from a great distance, the wind carried up the
sound and the echo preserved it: "McGurk!"

"McGurk!" repeated Mary.

"Yes! And you brought him up here with you, and brought his death to
Pierre. What'll you do to save him now? Pierre!"

She turned and fled out among the trees, and after her ran Mary,
calling, like the other: "Pierre!"



CHAPTER 37


After that call first reached him, clear to his ears though vague as a
murmur at the ear of Mary, McGurk swung to the saddle of his white
horse, and galloped down the gorge like a veritable angel of death.

The end was very near, he felt, yet the chances were at least ten to
one that he would miss Pierre in the throat of the gorge, for among
the great boulders, tall as houses, which littered it, a thousand men
might have passed and repassed and never seen each other. Only the
calling of Pierre could guide him surely.

The calling had ceased for some moments, and he began to fear that he
had overrun his mark and missed Pierre in the heart of the pass, when,
as he rounded a mighty boulder, the shout ran ringing in his very
ears: "McGurk!" and a horseman swung into view.

"Here!" he called in answer, and stood with his right hand lifted,
bringing his horse to a sharp halt, like some ancient cavalier
stopping in the middle of the battle to exchange greetings with a
friendly foe.

The other rider whirled alongside, his sombrero's brim flaring back
from his forehead, so that McGurk caught the glare of the eyes beneath
the shadow.

"So for the third time, my friend--" said McGurk.

"Which is the fatal one," answered Pierre. "How will you die, McGurk?
On foot or on horseback?"

"On the ground, Pierre, for my horse might stir and make my work
messy. I love a neat job, you know." "Good."

They swung from the saddles and stood facing each other.

"Begin!" commanded McGurk. "I've no time to waste."

"I've very little time to look at the living McGurk. Let me look my
fill before the end."

"Then look, and be done. I've a lady coming to meet me."

The other grew marvelously calm.

"She is with you, McGurk?"

"My dear Pierre, I've been with her ever since she started up the Old
Crow."

"It will be easier to forget her. Are you ready?"

"So soon? Come, man, there's much for us to say. Many old times to
chat over."

"I only wonder," said Pierre, "how one death can pay back what you've
done. Think of it! I've actually run away from you and hidden myself
among the hills. I've feared you, McGurk!"

He said it with a deep astonishment, as a grown man will speak of the
way he feared darkness when he was a child. McGurk moistened his white
lips. The white horse pawed the rocks as though impatient to be gone.

"Listen," said Pierre, "your horse grows restive. Suppose we stand
here--it's a convenient distance apart--and wait with our arms folded
for the next time the white horse paws the rocks, because when I kill
you, McGurk, I want you to die knowing that another man was faster on
the draw and straighter with his bullets than you are. D'you see?"

He could not have spoken with a more formal politeness if he had been
asking the other to pass first through the door of a dining-room. The
wonder of McGurk grew and the sweat on his forehead seemed to be
spreading a chill through his entire body. He said: "I see. You
trust all to the cross, eh, Pierre? The little cross under your neck?"

"It's gone," said Pierre le Rouge. "Why should I use it against a
night rider, McGurk? Are you ready?"

And McGurk, not trusting his voice for some strange reason, nodded.
The two folded their arms.

But the white horse which had been pawing the stones only a moment
before was now unusually quiet. The very postures of the men seemed to
turn him to stone, a beautiful, marble statue with the moonlight
glistening on the muscles of his perfect shoulders.

At length he stirred. At once a quiver jerked through the tense bodies
of the waiting men, but the white horse had merely stiffened and
raised his head high. Now, with arched neck and flaunting tail he
neighed loudly, as if he asked a question. How could he know, dumb
brute, that what he asked only death could answer?

And as they waited an itching came at the palm of McGurk's hand. It
was not much, just a tingle of the blood. To ease it, he closed his
fingers and found that his hand was moist with cold perspiration.

He began to wonder if his fingers would be slippery on the butt of the
gun. Then he tried covertly to dry them against his shirt. But he
ceased this again, knowing that he must be of hair-trigger alertness
to watch for the stamp of the white horse.

It occurred to him, also, that he was standing on a loose stone which
might wobble when he pulled his gun, and he cursed himself silently
for his hasty folly. Pierre, doubtless, had noticed that stone, and
therefore he had made the suggestion that they stand where they were.
Otherwise, how could there be that singular calm in the steady eyes
which looked across at him?

Also, how explain the hunger of that stare? Was not he McGurk, and was
not this man whom he had already once shot down? God, what a fool he
had been not to linger an instant longer in that saloon in the old
days and place the final shot in the prostrate body! In all his life
he had made only one such mistake, and now that folly was pursuing
him. And now--

The foot of the white horse lifted--struck the rock. The sound of its
fall was lost in the explosion of two guns, and a ring of metal on
metal. The revolver snapped from the hand of McGurk, whirled in a
flashing circle, and clanged on the rocks at his feet. The bullet of
Pierre had struck the barrel and knocked it cleanly from his hand.

It was luck, only luck, that placed that shot, and his own bullet,
which had started first, had traveled wild, for there stood Pierre le
Rouge, smiling faintly, alert, calm. For the first time in his life
McGurk had missed. He set his teeth and waited for death.

But that steady voice of Pierre said: "To shoot you would be a
pleasure, but there wouldn't be any lasting satisfaction in it. So
there lies your gun at your feet. Well, here lies mine."

He dropped his own weapon to a position corresponding with that of
McGurk's.

"We were both very wild that time. We must do better now. We'll stoop
for our guns, McGurk. The signal? No, we won't wait for the horse to
stamp. The signal will be when you stoop for your gun. You shall have
every advantage, you see? Start for that gun, McGurk, when you're
ready for the end."

The hand of McGurk stretched out and his arm stiffened but it seemed
as though all the muscles of his back had grown stiff. He could not
bend. It was strange. It was both ludicrous and incomprehensible.
Perhaps he had grown stiff with cold in that position.

But he heard the voice of Pierre explaining gently: "You can't move,
my friend. I understand. It's fear that stiffened your back.
It's fear that sends the chill up and down your blood. It's fear that
makes you think back to your murders, one by one. McGurk, you're done
for. You're through. You're ready for the discard. I'm not going to
kill you. I've thought of a finer hell than death, and that is to live
as you shall live. I've beaten you, McGurk, beaten you fairly on the
draw, and I've broken your heart by doing it. The next time you face a
man you'll begin to think--you'll begin to remember how one other man
beat you at the draw. And that wonder, McGurk, will make your hand
freeze to your side, as you've made the hands of other men before me
freeze. D'you understand?"

The lips of McGurk parted. The whisper of his dry panting reached
Pierre, and the devil in him smiled.

"In six weeks, McGurk, you'll be finished. Now get out!"

And pace by pace McGurk drew back, with his face still toward Pierre.

The latter cried: "Wait. Are you going to leave your gun?"

Only the steady retreat continued.

"And go unarmed through the mountains? What will men say when they see
McGurk with an empty holster?"

But the outlaw had passed out of view beyond the corner of one of the
monster boulders. After him went the white horse, slowly, picking his
steps, as if he were treading on dangerous and unknown ground and
would not trust his leader. Pierre was left to the loneliness of
the gorge.

The moonlight only served to make more visible its rocky nakedness,
and like that nakedness was the life of Pierre under his hopeless
inward eye. Over him loomed from either side the gleaming pinnacles of
the Twin Bears, and he remembered many a time when he had looked up
toward them from the crests of lesser mountains--looked up toward them
as a man looks to a great and unattainable ideal. Here he was come
to the crest of all the ranges; here he was come to the height and
limit of his life, and what had he attained? Only a cruel, cold
isolation. It had been a steep ascent; the declivity of the farther
side led him down to a steep and certain ruin and the dark night
below. But he stiffened suddenly and threw his head high as if he
faced his fate; and behind him the cream-colored mare raised her head
with a toss and whinnied softly.

It seemed to him that he had heard something calling, for the sound
was lost against the sweep of wind coming up the gorge. Something
calling there in the night of the mountains as he himself had called
when he rode so wildly in the quest for McGurk. How long ago had
that been?

But it came once more, clear beyond all doubt. He recognized the voice
in spite of the panting which shook it; a wild wail like that of a
heartbroken child, coming closer to him like someone running: "Pierre!
Oh, Pierre!"

And all at once he knew that the moon was broad and bright and fair,
and the heavens clear and shining with gold points of light. Once more
the cry. He raised his arms and waited.



CHAPTER 38


So Mary, running through the wilderness of boulders, was guided
straight and found Pierre, and before the morning came, they were
journeying east side by side, east and down to the cities and a new
life; but Jacqueline, a thousand times quicker of foot and surer
of eye and ear, missed her goal, went past it, and still on and on,
running finally at a steady trot.

Until at last she knew that she had far overstepped her mark and sank
down against one of the rocks to rest and think out what next she must
do. There seemed nothing left. Even the sound of a gun fired she might
not hear, for that sharp call would not travel far against the wind.

It was while she sat there, burying Pierre in her thoughts, a white
shape came glimmering down to her through the moonlight. She was on
her feet at once, alert and gun in hand. It could only be one horse,
only one rider, McGurk coming down from his last killing with the
sneer on his pale lips. Well, he would complete his work this night
and kill her fighting face to face.

A man's death; that was all she craved. She rose; she stepped boldly
out into the center of the trail between the rocks.

There she saw the greatest wonder she had ever looked on. It was
McGurk walking with bare, bowed head, and after him, like a dog after
the master, followed the white horse. She shoved the revolver back
into the holster. This should be a fair fight.

"McGurk!"

Very slowly the head went up and back, and there he stood, not ten
paces from her, with the white moon full on his face. The sneer was
still there; the eyelid fluttered in scornful derision. And the heart
of Jacqueline came thundering in her throat.

But she cried in a strong voice: "McGurk, d'you know me?"

He did not answer.

"You murderer, you night rider! Look again: it's the last of the
Boones!"

The sneer, it seemed to her, grew bitterer, but still the man did
not speak. Then the thought of Pierre, lying dead somewhere among the
rocks, burned across her mind. Her hand leaped for the revolver, and
whipped it out in a blinding flash to cover him, but with her finger
curling on the trigger she checked herself in the nick of time. McGurk
had made no move to protect himself.

A strange feeling came to her that perhaps the man would not war
against women; the case of Mary was almost proof enough of that. But
as she stepped forward, wondering, she looked at the holster at his
side and saw that it was empty. Then she understood.

Understood in a daze that Pierre had met the man and conquered him and
sent him out through the mountains disarmed. The white horse raised
his head and whinnied, and the sound gave a thought to her. She could
not kill this man, unarmed as he was; she could do a more
shameful thing.

"The bluff you ran was a strong one, McGurk," she said bitterly, "and
you had these parts pretty well at a standstill; but Pierre was a bit
too much for you, eh?"

The white face had not altered, and still it did not change, but the
sneer was turned steadily on her.

She cried: "Go on! Go on down the gorge!"

Like an automaton the man stepped forward, and after him paced the
white horse. She stepped between, caught the reins, and swung up to
the saddle, and sat there, controlling between her stirrups the
best-known mount in all the mountain-desert. A thrill of wild
exultation came to her. She cried: "Look back, McGurk! Your gun is
gone, your horse is gone; you're weaker than a woman in the
mountains!"

Yet he went on without turning, not with the hurried step of a coward,
but still as one stunned. Then, sitting quietly in the saddle, she
forgot McGurk and remembered Pierre. He was happy by this time with
the girl of the yellow hair; there was nothing remaining to her from
him except the ominous cross which touched cold against her breast.
That he had abandoned as he had abandoned her.

What, then, was left for her? The horse of an outlaw for her to ride;
the heart of an outlaw in her breast.

She touched the white horse with the spurs and went at a reckless
gallop, weaving back and forth among the boulders down the gorge. For
she was riding away from the past.

The dawn came as she trotted out into a widening valley of the Old
Crow. To maintain even that pace she had to use the spurs continually,
for the white horse was deadly weary, and his head fell more and more.
She decided to make a brief halt, at last, and in order to make a fire
that would take the chill of the cold morning from her, she swung up
to the edge of the woods. There, before she could dismount, she saw a
man turn the shoulder of the slope. She drew the horse back deeper
among the trees and waited.

He came with a halting step, reeling now and again, a big man,
hatless, coatless, apparently at the last verge of exhaustion. Now his
foot apparently struck a small rock, and he pitched to his face. It
required a long struggle before he could regain his feet; and now he
continued his journey at the same gait, only more uncertainly than
ever, close and closer. There was something familiar now about the
fellow's size, and something in the turn of his head. Suddenly she
rode out, crying: "Wilbur!"

He swerved, saw the white horse, threw up his hands high above his
head, and went backward, reeling, with a hoarse scream which
Jacqueline would never forget. She galloped to him and swung to
the ground.

"It's me--Jack. D'you hear?"

He would not lower those arms, and his eyes stared wildly at her. On
his forehead the blood had caked over a cut; his shirt was torn to
rags, and the hair matted over his eyes. She caught his hands and
pulled them down.

"It's not McGurk! Don't you hear me? It's Jack!"

He reached out, like a blind man who has to see by the sense of touch,
and stroked her face.

"Jack!" he whispered at last. "Thank God!"

"What's happened?"

"McGurk--"

A violent palsy shook him, and he could not go on.

"I know--I understand. He took your guns and left you to wander in
this hell! Damn him! I wish--"

She stopped.

"How long since you've eaten?"

"Years!"

"We'll eat--McGurk's food!"

But she had to assist him up the slope to the trees, and there she
left him propped against a trunk, his arms fallen weakly at his sides,
while she built the fire and cooked the food. Afterward she could
hardly eat, watching him devour what she placed before him; and it
thrilled all the woman in her to a strange warmth to take care of the
long-rider. Then, except for the disfigured face and the bloodshot
eyes, he was himself.

"Up there? What happened?"

He pointed up the valley.

"The girl and Pierre. They're together."

"She found him?"

"Yes."

He bowed his head and sighed.

"And the horse, Jack?" He said it with awe.

"I took the horse from McGurk."

"You!"

She nodded. After all, it was not a lie. "You killed McGurk?"

She said coolly: "I let him go the way he let you, Dick. He's on foot
in the mountains without a horse or a gun."

"It isn't possible!"

"There's the horse for proof."

He looked at her as if she were something more than human.

"Our Jack--did this?"

"We've got to start on. Can you walk, Dick?"

"A thousand miles now."

Yet he staggered when he tried to rise, and she made him climb up to
the saddle. The white horse walked on, and she kept her place close at
the stirrup of the rider. He would have stopped and dismounted for her
a hundred times, but she made him keep his place.

"What's ahead of us, Jack? We're the last of the gang?"

"The last of Boone's gang. We are."

"The old life over again?"

"What else?"

"Yes; what else?"

"Are you afraid, Dick?"

"Not with you for a pal. Seven was too many; with two we can rule the
range."

"Partners, Dick?"

How could he tell that her voice was gone so gentle because she was
seeing in her mind's eye another face than his? He leaned toward her.

"Why not something more than partners, after a while, Jack?"

She smiled strangely up to him.

"Because of this, Dick."

And fumbling at her throat, she showed him the glittering metal of the
cross.

"The cross goes on, but what of you, Jack?" A long silence fell
between them. Words died in the making.

The great weight pressing down on that slender throat was like the
iron hand of a giant, but slowly, one by one, the sounds marshalled
themselves:

"...God knows..." It was the passing of Judgment. "God knows...not I."



Epilogue

But what of the legendary gunfighter, McGurk? How could the spirit of
any man survive that terrible defeat at the hands of Red Pierre?

After that night, when he had walked from the dark heart of the
mountain without horse or gun, head bowed, eyes glazed, it seemed that
the life of Bob McGurk had burned down to black ash.

Indeed, no one heard of him for five long years. Then, phoenix-like,
he was reborn in fire, emerging in the raw border country of Texas.
His rebirth was spectacular. No longer the lone phantom fighter of
past days, he led a gang of coldhearted thieves and killers that
became the scourge of the Rio Grande.

But McGurk never returned to the mountain-desert country of his shame
and defeat. And only he knew that the face of Red Pierre never left
him; it blazed in his mind by day and haunted his nights.

Then, as suddenly as he had reappeared, after proving his skill and
courage afresh in a score of wild, bullet-filled encounters, the great
gunfighter vanished from the world of civilized men. His gang
dispersed and the border country saw no more of him.

McGurk was finally gone.

Only the legend remained.





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