Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Riders of the Silences

Max Brand




  With Frontispiece by Frank Tenney Johnson

  [Frontispiece: Each one of them should have ridden alone to be properlyappreciated. To see them together was like watching a flock of eagles.]

  A. L. Burt CompanyPublishers -------- New YorkPublished by arrangement with The H. K. Fly CompanyCopyright, 1920, byThe H. K. Fly CompanyCopyright, 1920,The Munsey Co.



  I. The Thunderbolt II. Irene III. The Launching of The Bolt IV. The Corner Plot V. Hurley VI. Fear VII. The Voice in The Storm VIII. Belief IX. Riders of The Silences X. The Guard XI. Jack Grows Up XII. The Burial XIII. A Tale of The Sledge XIV. McGurk XV. Gold Hair XVI. Ennui XVII. Black Gandil XVIII. Five Minutes' Silence XIX. Partners XX. Full Dress XXI. The Dance XXII. The Overtone XXIII. The Fear of The Living XXIV. The Luck of The Shipwrecked XXV. Jacqueline Waits XXVI. A Game of Suppose XXVII. The Trail XXVIII. A Hint of White XXIX. Jack XXX. The Whisper of The Knife XXXI. Laughter XXXII. A Tale of A Careless Man XXXIII. A Count To Ten XXXIV. Tiger-Heart XXXV. Jack Hears a Small Voice XXXVI. A Voice in The Night XXXVII. A Man's Death XXXVIII. The Waiting XXXIX. The Cross Goes On




  It seemed that Father Anthony gathered all the warmth of the shortnorthern summer and kept it for winter use, for his good nature was anactual physical force. From his ruddy face beamed such an ardentkindliness that people literally reached out towards him as they mightextend their hands toward a comfortable fire.

  All the labors of his work as an Inspector of Jesuit institutionsacross the length and breadth of Canada could not lessen the flame ofthe good father's enthusiasm; his smile was as indefatigable as hiscritical eyes. The one looked sharply into every corner of a room andevery nook and hidden cranny of thoughts and deeds; the other veiledthe criticism and soothed the wounds of vanity.

  On this day, however, the sharp eyes grew a little less keen andsomewhat wider, while that smile was fixed rather by habit thaninclination. In fact, his expression might be called a frozenkindliness as he looked across the table to Father Victor.

  It required a most indomitable geniality, indeed, to outface the rigidpiety of Jean Paul Victor. His missionary work had carried him farnorth, where the cold burns men thin. The eternal frost of the Arcticslay on his hair, and his starved eyes looked out from hollows shadowedwith blue. He might have posed for a painting of one of those damnedsouls whom Dante placed in the frozen circle of the "Inferno."

  It was his own spirit which tortured him--the zeal which drove himnorth and north and north over untracked regions, drove him until hisbody 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 hisregime, and the disciples caught his spirit and went out like warriorsin the name of God to spread the faith.

  He despised them as he despised himself, for he said continually in hisheart: "How great is the purpose and how little is our labor!"

  Some such thought as that curled his thin lip as he stared across atFather Anthony like a wolf that has not eaten for a fortnight. Thegood father sustained the gaze, but he shivered a little and sighed.There was awe, and pity, and even a touch of horror in his eyes.

  He said gently: "Are there none among all your lads, dear FatherVictor, whom you find something more than imperfect machines?"

  The man of the north drew from a pocket of his robe a letter. Hismarvelously lean fingers touched it almost with a caress, and when hespoke the softening which could not appear in the rigid features cameinto his voice and made it lower and deeper.


  Father Anthony started in astonishment, as one might start to hear adivine prophet admit a mistake, but being wise he remained silent,waiting. Jean Paul Victor peered into space.

  "Pierre Ryder. He is like a pleasant summer, and I"--he clasped hiscolorless hands--"am frozen--frozen to the heart."

  Still Father Anthony waited, but his eyes were like diamonds forbrightness.

  "He shall carry on my mission in the north. I, who am silent, havedone much; but Pierre sings, and he will do more. I had to fight myfirst battle to conquer my own stubborn soul, and the battle left meweak for the great work in the snows, but Pierre will not fight thatbattle, for I have trained him."

  He repeated after a pause: "For those who sing forget themselves andtheir weariness. I, Jean Paul Victor, have never sung."

  He bowed his head, submitting to the judgment of God.

  "This letter is for him. Shall we not carry it to him? For two days Ihave 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 withyour 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--thepurpose for which I have lived and for which he shall live--the purposeto which you are dedicated, Gabrielle Antoine Anthony."

  He relented in his fierceness, and continued with the strange gentlenote in his voice: "Our love for the young, it is like a vine thatclimbs through the branches of a strong tree. When the vine is youngit may be taken away in safety and both the tree and the vine willlive, but if it grows old it will kill the tree when the vine is tornaway.

  "I am the strong tree, and Pierre has grown into my heart. It is timethat he be torn away. He is almost ready. The work is prepared. Hemust start forth."

  Even while he announced his purpose the sweat poured out on hisforehead. He rose and paced noiselessly up and down the bare room, hisblack robe catching around the long, bony legs. Father Anthony drew agreat breath. At last Jean Paul Victor could speak again.

  "In all the history of our order, there is hardly one man who will goout armed like Pierre Ryder. He is young, he is strong, he isfearless, he is pure of heart and single of mind. He has never tastedwine; he has never looked wrongly on a woman."

  "A prodigy--but it is your work."

  "Mine--all mine!"

  The whole soul of the man stood up in his eyes in a fierce triumph.

  "Hear how I worked. When I first saw him he was a child, a baby, buthe came to me and took one finger of my hand in his small fist andlooked up to me. Ah, Gabrielle the smile of an infant goes to theheart swifter than the thrust of a knife! I looked down upon him andthought many things, 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 Ithink I can hear it."

  "I swear to you that I believe," said Father Anthony, and his voicetrembled.

  "Another man would have given Pierre a Bible and a Latin grammar and acell. I gave him the testament and the grammar; I gave him also thewild north country to say his prayers in and patter his Latin. Itaught 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 andrespect. How else can he translate for them the truths of the HolySpirit? Every day of his life I have made him handle firearms. Othermen think, and aim, and fire; Pierre thinks and shoots, and hasforgotten how to miss.

  "He goes among wild men. These lessons must be learned. He is asoldier of God. He can ride a horse standing; he can run a hundredmiles
in a day behind a dog-team. He can wrestle and fight with hishands, for I have brought skilled men to teach him. I have made him athunderbolt to hurl among the ignorant and the unenlightened; and thisis the hand which shall wield it. Ha!"

  A flash of cold fire came for a single instant in his eyes as he stoodwith upturned face. He changed.

  "Yet he is gentle as a woman. He goes out through the villages andcomes back unharmed, and after him come letters from girls and old menand dames. Even strong men come many miles to see him and they writeto him. He is known. It is now hardly a six month since he saved atrapper from a bobcat and killed the animal with a knife."

  His heart failed him at the thought, and he murmured: "It must havebeen 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."

  "Wait. Before you go you must know that he does not suspect that hediffers from other youths. Women have looked lewdly upon him andwritten him letters with singing words, but Pierre being of a simplenature, he answers them briefly and commends them to God. In fact, theflattery of women he does not understand, and the flattery of men hethinks is mere kindliness. Are you prepared to meet him, father?"

  Father Anthony nodded, and the two went out together. The chill of theopen was hardly more than the bitter cold inside the building, butthere was a wind that drove the cold through the blood and bones of aman.

  They staggered along against it until they came to a small outhouse,long and low. On the sheltered side of it they paused to take breath,and Feather Victor explained: "This is his hour in the gymnasium. Tomake the body strong required thought and care. Mere riding andrunning and swinging of the ax will not develop every muscle. So Imade this gymnasium, and here Pierre works every day. His teachers ofboxing 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."

  Conscience-stricken, he stopped short, crossed himself, and then wenton: "So I give him for partners men who have committed small sins.Their penance is to stand before Pierre and box each day for a fewminutes and then to wrestle against him. They are fierce men, thesewoodsmen and trappers, and big of body; but little Pierre, they dreadhim like a whip of fire. One and all, they come to me within afortnight and beg for an easier penance."

  Here he opened the door, and they slipped inside. The air was warmedby a big stove, and the room--for the afternoon was dark--lighted bytwo swinging lanterns suspended from the low roof. By thatillumination Father Anthony saw two men stripped naked, save for aloin-cloth, and circling each other slowly in the center of a ringwhich was fenced in with ropes and floored with a padded mat.Certainly Father Victor had spared nothing in expense to make thefittings of the gymnasium perfect.

  Of the two wrestlers, one was a veritable giant of a Canuck, swarthy ofskin, hairy-chested. His great hands were extended to grasp or toparry--his head lowered with a ferocious scowl--and across his foreheadswayed a tuft of black, shaggy hair. He might have stood for one ofthose northern barbarians whom the Romans loved to pit against theirnative champions in the arena. He was the greater because of theopponent he faced, and it was upon this opponent that the eyes ofFather Anthony centered.

  Like Father Victor, he was caught first by the bright hair. It was adark red, and where the light struck it strongly there were places likefire. Down from this hair the light slipped like running water over alithe body, slender at the hips, strong-chested, round and smooth oflimb, with long muscles everywhere leaping and trembling at every move.

  He, like the big Canuck, circled cautiously about, but the impressionhe gave was as different from the other as day is from night. His headwas carried high; in place of a scowl, he smiled with a sort of boyisheagerness, and a light which was partly exultation and partly mischiefsparkled in his eyes. Once or twice the giant caught at the other, butDavid slipped from under the grip of Goliath easily. It seemed as ifhis skin were oiled. The big man snarled with anger, and lunged moreeagerly at Pierre. Father Anthony caught the shoulder of his friend.

  "Quick!" he whispered anxiously. "Stop them, for if the black fellowsets his fingers on the boy he will break him like a willow wand,and--in the name of God, Jean Paul!"

  For the two, abandoning their feints, suddenly rushed together, and theswarthy 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, Pierreslipped down, whipped his hands to a new grip, and the two crashed tothe 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 dancedaway, laughing softly. The Canuck floundered up and rushed like afurious bull. His downfall was only the swifter. The impact of thetwo bodies sounded like hands clapped together, and then Goliath roseinto 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 theconqueror. The boy reached out a hand to his fallen foe.

  "You would have thrown me that way the first time," he said, "but youlet me change grips on you. In another week you will be too much forme, _bon ami_."

  The other accepted the hand after an instant of hesitation and wasdragged to his feet. He stood resting one elbow on the gleamingshoulder of Pierre and looking down into the boy's face with a singulargrin. But there was no triumph in the eye of Pierre--only agood-natured interest.

  "In another week," answered the giant, "there will not be a sound bonein my body. This very night I shall go to Father Victor. I had ratherstarve for three days in the forest than stand up to you for threeminutes, little brother."