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.


“R.F.D. No. 4.


“Here I lie with a chunk of lead from the gun of Bob McGurk resting somewheres in the insides of me, and there ain't no way of doubting that I'm about to go out. Now, I ain't complaining none. I've had my fling. I've eat my meat to order, well done and 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.


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


Then came a voice that startled the two priests, for it seemed that a fourth man had entered the room, so changed was it from the musical voice of Pierre.

“Father Victor, the roan is a strong horse. May I take him?”

“Pierre!” and the priest reached out his bony hands.

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.”

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