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?”


“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!”


“I have come to find McGurk.”


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

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