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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.

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 regime. 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

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