The Flaming Forest
James Oliver Curwood
Part 4 out of 5
"That was a playful blow, m'sieu? It was--a joke?"
"It was for you, St. Pierre," replied Carrigan, "You are a coward
--and a skunk. I swam to the raft last night, looked through your
window, and saw what happened there. You are not fit for a decent
man to fight, yet I will fight you, if you are not too great a
coward--and dare to let our wagers stand as they were made."
St. Pierre's eyes widened, and for a breath or two he stared at
Carrigan, as if looking into him and not at him. His big hands
relaxed, and slowly the panther-like readiness went out of his
body. Those who looked beheld the transformation in amazement, for
of all who waited only St. Pierre and the half-breed had heard
Carrigan's words, though they had seen and heard the blow of
"You swam to the raft," repeated St. Pierre in a low voice, as if
doubting what he had heard. "You looked through the window--and
David nodded. He could not cover the sneering poison in his voice,
his contempt for the man who stood before him.
"Yes, I looked through the window. And I saw you, and the lowest
woman on the Three Rivers--the sister of a man I helped to hang,
St. Pierre's voice broke out of him like the sudden crash of
thunder. He came a step nearer, his face livid, his eyes shooting
flame. With a mighty effort he controlled himself again. And then,
as if he saw something which David could not see, he tried to
smile, and in that same instant David caught a grin cutting a
great slash across the face of Concombre Bateese. The change that
came over St. Pierre now was swift as sunlight coming out from
shadowing cloud. A rumble grew in his great chest. It broke in a
low note of laughter from his lips, and he faced the bateau across
"M'sieu, you are sorry for HER. Is that it? You would fight--"
"For the cleanest, finest little girl who ever lived--your wife!"
"It is funny," said St. Pierre, as if speaking to himself, and
still looking at the bateau. "Yes, it is very funny, ma belle
Marie-Anne! He has told you he loves you, and he has kissed your
hair and held you in his arms--yet he wants to fight me because he
thinks I am steeped in sin, and to make me fight in place of
Bateese he has called my Carmin a low woman! So what else can I
do? I must fight. I must whip him until he can not walk. And then
I will send him back for you to nurse, cherie, and for that
blessing I think he will willingly take my punishment! Is it not
He was smiling and no longer excited when he turned to David.
"M'sieu, I will fight you. And the wagers shall stand. And in this
hour let us be honest, like men, and make confession. You love ma
belle Jeanne--Marie-Anne? Is it not so? And I--I love my Carmin,
whose brother you hanged, as I love no other woman in the world.
Now, if you will have it so, let us fight!"
He began stripping off his shirt, and with a bellow in his throat
Concombre Bateese slouched away like a beaten gorilla to explain
to St. Pierre's people the change in the plan of battle. And as
that news spread like fire in the fir-tops, there came but a
single cry in response--shrill and terrible--and that was from the
throat of Andre, the Broken Man.
As Carrigan stripped off his shirt, he knew that at least in one
way he had met more than his match in St. Pierre Boulain. In the
splendid service of which he was a part he had known many men of
iron and steel, men whose nerve and coolness not even death could
very greatly disturb. Yet St. Pierre, he conceded, was their
master--and his own. For a flash he had transformed the chief of
the Boulains into a volcano which had threatened to break in
savage fury, yet neither the crash nor destruction had come. And
now St. Pierre was smiling again, as Carrigan faced him, stripped
to the waist. He betrayed no sign of the tempest of passion that
had swept him a few minutes before. His cool, steely eyes had in
them a look that was positively friendly, as Concombre Bateese
marked in the hard sand the line of the circle within which no man
might come. And as he did this and St. Pierre's people crowded
close about it, St. Pierre himself spoke in a low voice to David.
"M'sieu, it seems a shame that we should fight. I like you. I have
always loved a man who would fight to protect a woman, and I shall
be careful not to hurt you more than is necessary to make you see
reason--and to win the wagers. So you need not be afraid of my
killing you, as Bateese might have done. And I promise not to
destroy your beauty, for the sake of--the lady in the bateau. My
Carmin, if she knew you spied through her window last night, would
say kill you with as little loss of time as possible, for as
regards you her sweet disposition was spoiled when you hung her
brother, m'sieu. Yet to me she is an angel!"
Contempt for the man who spoke of his wife and the infamous Carmin
Fanchet in the same breath drew a sneer to Carrigan's lips. He
nodded toward the waiting circle of men.
"They are ready for the show, St. Pierre. You talk big. Now let us
see if you can fight."
For another moment St. Pierre hesitated. "I am so sorry, m'sieu--
"Are you ready, St. Pierre?"
"It is not fair, and she will never forgive me. You are no match
for me. I am half again as heavy."
"And as big a coward as you are a scoundrel, St. Pierre."
"It is like a man fighting a boy."
"Yet it is less dishonorable than betraying the woman who is your
wife for another who should have been hanged along with her
brother, St. Pierre."
Boulain's face darkened. He drew back half a dozen steps and cried
out a word to Bateese. Instantly the circle of waiting men grew
tense as the half-breed jerked the big handkerchief from his head
and held it out at arm's length. Yet, with that eagerness for the
fight there was something else which Carrigan was swift to sense.
The attitude of the watchers was not one of uncertainty or of very
great expectation, in spite of the staring faces and the muscular
tightening of the line. He knew what was passing in their minds
and in the low whispers from lip to lip. They were pitying him.
Now that he stood stripped, with only a few paces between him and
the giant figure of St. Pierre, the unfairness of the fight struck
home even to Concombre Bateese. Only Carrigan himself knew how
like tempered steel the sinews of his body were built. But to the
eye, in size alone, he stood like a boy before St. Pierre. And St.
Pierre's people, their voices stilled by the deadly inequality of
it, were waiting for a slaughter and not a fight.
A smile came to Carrigan's lips as he saw Bateese hesitating to
drop the handkerchief, and with the swiftness of the trained
fighter he made his first plan for the battle before the cloth
fell from the half-breed's fingers, As the handkerchief fluttered
to the ground, he faced St. Pierre, the smile gone.
"Never smile when you fight," the greatest of all masters of the
ring had told him. "Never show anger, Don't betray any emotion at
all if you can help it."
Carrigan wondered what the old ring-master would say could he see
him now, backing away slowly from St. Pierre as the giant advanced
upon him, for he knew his face was betraying to St. Pierre and his
people the deadliest of all sins--anxiety and indecision. Very
closely, yet with eyes that seemed to shift uneasily, he watched
the effect of his trick on Boulain. Twice the huge riverman
followed him about the ring of sand, and the steely glitter in his
eyes changed to laughter, and the tense faces of the men about
them relaxed. A subdued ripple of merriment rose where there had
been silence. A third time David maneuvered his retreat, and his
eyes shot furtively to Concombre Bateese and the men at his back.
They were grinning. The half-breed's mouth was wide open, and his
grotesque body hung limp and astonished. This was not a fight! It
was a comedy--like a rooster following a sparrow around a
barnyard! And then a still funnier thing happened, for David began
to trot in a circle around St. Pierre, dodging and feinting, and
keeping always at a safe distance. A howl of laughter came from
Bateese and broke in a roar from the men. St. Pierre stopped in
his tracks, a grin on his face, his big arms and shoulders limp
and unprepared as Carrigan dodged in close and out again. And
A howl broke in the middle of the half-breed's throat. Where there
had been laughter, there came a sudden shutting off of sound, a
great gasp, as if made by choking men. Swifter than anything they
had ever seen in human action Carrigan had leaped in. They saw him
strike. They heard the blow. They saw St. Pierre's great head rock
back, as if struck from his shoulders by a club, and they saw and
heard another blow, and a third--like so many flashes of
lightning--and St. Pierre went down as if shot. The man they had
laughed at was no longer like a hopping sparrow. He was waiting,
bent a little forward, every muscle in his body ready for action.
They watched for him to leap upon his fallen enemy, kicking and
gouging and choking in the riverman way. But David waited, and St.
Pierre staggered to his feet. His mouth was bleeding and choked
with sand, and a great lump was beginning to swell over his eye. A
deadly fire blazed in his face, as he rushed like a mad bull at
the insignificant opponent who had tricked and humiliated him.
This time Carrigan did not retreat, but held his ground, and a
yell of joy went up from Bateese as the mighty bulk of the giant
descended upon his victim. It was an avalanche of brute-force,
crushing in its destructiveness, and Carrigan seemed to reach for
it as it came upon him. Then his head went down, swifter than a
diving grebe, and as St. Pierre's arm swung like an oaken beam
over his shoulder, his own shot in straight for the pit of the
other's stomach. It was a bull's-eye blow with the force of a
pile-driver behind it, and the groan that forced its way out of
St. Pierre's vitals was heard by every ear in the cordon of
watchers. His weight stopped, his arms opened, and through that
opening Carrigan's fist went a second time to the other's jaw, and
a second time the great St. Pierre Boulain sprawled out upon the
sand. And there he lay, and made no effort to rise.
Concombre Bateese, with his great mouth agape, stood for an
instant as if the blow had stunned him in place of his master.
Then, suddenly he came to life, and leaped to David's side.
"Diable! Tonnerre! You have not fight Concombre Bateese yet!" he
howled. "Non, you have cheat me, you have lie, you have run lak
cat from Concombre Bateese, ze stronges' man on all T'ree River!
You are wan' gran' coward, wan poltroon, an' you 'fraid to fight
ME, who ees greates' fightin' man in all dees countree! Sapristi!
Why you no hit Concombre Bateese, m'sieu? Why you no hit ze
greates' fightin' man w'at ees--"
David did not hear the rest. The opportunity was too tempting. He
swung, and with a huge grunt the gorilla-like body of Concombre
Bateese rolled over that of the chief of the Boulains. This time
Carrigan did not wait, but followed up so closely that the half-
breed had scarcely gathered the crook out of his knees when
another blow on the jaw sent him into the sand again. Three times
he tried the experiment of regaining his feet, and three times he
was knocked down. After the last blow he raised himself groggily
to a sitting posture, and there he remained, blinking like a
stunned pig, with his big hands clutching in the sand. He stared
up unseeingly at Carrigan, who waited over him, and then stupidly
at the transfixed cordon of men, whose eyes were bulging and who
were holding their breath in the astonishment of this miracle
which had descended upon them. They heard Bateese muttering
something incoherent as his head wobbled, and St. Pierre himself
seemed to hear it, for he stirred and raised himself slowly, until
he also was sitting in the sand, staring at Bateese.
Carrigan picked up his shirt, and the riverman who had brought him
from the bateau returned with him to the canoe. There was no
demonstration behind them. To David himself the whole thing had
been an amazing surprise, and he was not at all reluctant to leave
as quickly as his dignity would permit, before some other of St.
Pierre's people offered to put a further test upon his prowess. He
wanted to laugh. He wanted to thank God at the top of his voice
for the absurd run of luck that had made his triumph not only easy
but utterly complete. He had expected to win, but he had also
expected a terrific fight before the last blow was struck. And
there had been no fight! He was returning to the bateau without a
scratch, his hair scarcely ruffled, and he had defeated not only
St, Pierre, but the giant half-breed as well! It was
inconceivable--and yet it had happened; a veritable burlesque, an
opera-bouffe affair that might turn quickly into a tragedy if
either St. Pierre or Concombre Bateese guessed the truth of it.
For in that event he might have to face them again, with the god
of luck playing fairly, and he was honest enough with himself to
confess that the idea no longer held either thrill or desire for
him. Now that he had seen both St. Pierre and Bateese stripped for
battle, he had no further appetite for fistic discussion with
them. After all, there was a merit in caution, and he had several
lucky stars to bless just at the present moment!
Inwardly he was a bit suspicious of the ultimate ending of the
affair. St. Pierre had almost no cause for complaint, for it was
his own carelessness, coupled with his opponent's luck, that had
been his undoing--and luck and carelessness are legitimate factors
of every fight, Carrigan told himself. But with Bateese it was
different. He had held up his big jaw, uncovered and tempting,
entreating some one to hit him, and Carrigan had yielded to that
temptation. The blow would have stunned an ox. Three others like
it had left the huge half-breed sitting weak-mindedly in the sand,
and no one of those three blows were exactly according to the
rules of the game. They had been mightily efficacious, but the
half-breed might demand a rehearing when he came fully into his
Not until they were half-way to the bateau did Carrigan dare to
glance back over his shoulder at the man who was paddling, to see
what effect the fistic travesty had left on him. He was a big-
mouthed, clear-eyed, powerfully-muscled fellow, and he was
grinning from ear to ear.
"Well, what did you think of it, comrade?"
The other gave his shoulders a joyous shrug.
"Mon Dieu! Have you heard of wan garcon named Joe Clamart, m'sieu?
Non? Well, I am Joe Clamart what was once great fightin' man.
Bateese hav' whip' me five times, m'sieu--so I say it was wan gr-
r-r-a-n' fight! Many years ago I have seen ze same t'ing in
Montreal--ze boxeur de profession. Oui, an' Rene Babin pays me
fifteen prime martin against which I put up three scrubby red fox
that you would win. They were bad, or I would not have gambled,
m'sieu. It ees fonny!"
"Yes, it is funny," agreed David. "I think it is a bit too funny.
It is a pity they did not stand up on their legs a little longer!"
Suddenly an inspiration hit him. "Joe, what do you say--shall you
and I return and put up a REAL fight for them?"
Like a sprung trap Joe Clamart's grinning mouth dosed. "Non, non,
non," he grunted. "Dere has been plenty fight, an' Joe Clamart
mus' save hees face tor Antoinette Roland, who hate ze sign of
fight lak she hate ze devil, m'sieu! Non, non!"
His paddle dug deeper into the water, and David's heart felt
lighter. If Joe was an average barometer, and he was a husky and
fearless-looking chap, it was probable that neither St. Pierre nor
Bateese would demand another chance at him, and St. Pierre would
pay his wager.
He could see no one aboard the bateau when he climbed from the
canoe. Looking back, he saw that two other canoes had started from
the opposite shore. Then he went to his cabin door, opened it, and
entered, Scarcely had the door closed behind him when he stopped,
staring toward the window that opened on the river.
Standing full in the morning glow of it was Marie-Anne Boulain.
She was facing him. Her cheeks were flushed. Her red lips were
parted. Her eyes were aglow with a fire which she made no effort
to hide from him. In her hand she still held the binoculars he had
left on the cabin table. He guessed the truth. Through the glasses
she had watched the whole miserable fiasco.
He felt creeping over him a sickening shame, and his eyes fell
slowly from her to the table. What he saw there caught his breath
in the middle. It was the entire surgical outfit of Nepapinas, the
old Indian doctor. And there were basins of water, and white
strips of linen ready for use, and a pile of medicated cotton, and
all sorts of odds and ends that one might apply to ease the
agonies of a dying man, And beyond the table, huddled in so small
a heap that he was almost hidden by it, was Nepapinas himself,
disappointment writ in his mummy-like face as his beady eyes
rested on David.
The evidence could not be mistaken. They had expected him to come
back more nearly dead than alive, and St. Pierre's wife had
prepared for the thing she had thought inevitable. Even his bed
was nicely turned down, its fresh white sheets inviting an
And David, looking at St. Pierre's wife again, felt his heart
beating hard in his breast at the look which was in her eyes. It
was not the scintillation of laughter, and the flame in her cheeks
was not embarrassment. She was not amused. The ludicrousness of
her mislaid plans had not struck her as they had struck him. She
had placed the binoculars on the table, and slowly she came to
him. Her hands reached out, and her fingers rested like the touch
of velvet on his arms.
"It was splendid!" she said softly, "It was splendid!"
She was very near, her breast almost touching him, her hands
creeping up until the tips of her fingers rested on his shoulders,
her scarlet mouth so close he could feel the soft breath of it in
"It was splendid!" she whispered again.
And then, suddenly, she rose up on her tiptoes and kissed him. So
swiftly was it done that she was gone before he sensed that wild
touch of her lips against his own. Like a swallow she was at the
door, and the door opened and closed behind her, and for a moment
he heard the quick running of her feet. Then he looked at the old
Indian, and the Indian, too, was staring at the door through which
St. Pierre's wife had flown.
For many seconds that seemed like minutes David stood where she
had left him, while Nepapinas rose gruntingly to his feet, and
gathered up his belongings, and hobbled sullenly to the bateau
door and out. He was scarcely conscious of the Indian's movement,
for his soul was aflame with a red-hot fire. Deliberately--with
that ravishing glory of something in her eyes--St. Pierre's wife
had kissed him! On her tiptoes, her cheeks like crimson flowers,
she had given her still redder lips to him! And his own lips
burned, and his heart pounded hard, and he stared for a time like
one struck dumb at the spot where she had stood by the window.
Then suddenly, he turned to the door and flung it wide open, and
on his lips was the reckless cry of Marie-Anne's name. But St.
Pierre's wife was gone, and Nepapinas was gone, and at the tail of
the big sweep sat only Joe Clamart, guarding watchfully.
The two canoes were drawing near, and in one of them were two men,
and in the other three, and David knew that--like Joe Clamart--
they were watchers set over him by St. Pierre. Then a fourth canoe
left the far shore, and when it had reached mid-stream, he
recognized the figure in the stern as that of Andre, the Broken
Man. The other, he thought, must be St. Pierre.
He went back into the cabin and stood where Marie-Anne had stood--
at the window. Nepapinas had not taken away the basins of water,
and the bandages were still there, and the pile of medicated
cotton, and the suspiciously made-up bed. After all, he was losing
something by not occupying the bed--and yet if St. Pierre or
Bateese had messed him up badly, and a couple of fellows had
lugged him in between them, it was probable that Marie-Anne would
not have kissed him. And that kiss of St. Pierre's wife would
remain with him until the day he died!
He was thinking of it, the swift, warm thrill of her velvety lips,
red as strawberries and twice as sweet, when the door opened and
St. Pierre came in. The sight of him, in this richest moment of
his life, gave David no sense of humiliation or shame. Between him
and St. Pierre rose swiftly what he had seen last night--Carmin
Fanchet in all the lure of her disheveled beauty, crushed close in
the arms of the man whose wife only a moment before had pressed
her lips close to his; and as the eyes of the two met, there came
over him a desire to tell the other what had happened, that he
might see him writhe with the sting of the two-edged thing with
which he was playing. Then he saw that even that would not hurt
St. Pierre, for the chief of the Boulains, standing there with the
big lump over his eye, had caught sight of the things on the table
and the nicely turned down bed, and his one good eye lit up with
sudden laughter, and his white teeth flashed in an understanding
"TONNERRE, I said she would nurse you with gentle hands," he
rumbled. "See what you have missed, M'sieu Carrigan!"
"I received something which I shall remember longer than a fine
nursing," retorted David. "And yet right now I have a greater
interest in knowing what you think of the fight, St. Pierre--and
if you have come to pay your wager."
St. Pierre was chuckling mysteriously in his throat. "It was
splendid--splendid," he said, repeating Marie-Anne's words. "And
Joe Clamart says she ran out, blushing like a red rose in August,
and that she said no word, but flew like a bird into the white-
"She was dismayed because I beat you, St. Pierre."
"Non, non--she was like a lark filled with joy."
Suddenly his eyes rested on the binoculars.
David nodded. "Yes, she saw it all through the glasses."
St. Pierre seated himself at the table and heaved out a groan as
he took one of the bandage strips between his fingers. "She saw my
disgrace. And she didn't wait to bandage ME up, did she?"
"Perhaps she thought Carmin Fanchet would do that, St. Pierre."
"And I am ashamed to go to Carmin--with this great lump over my
eye, m'sieu. And on top of that disgrace--you insist that I pay
St. Pierre's face hardened.
"OUI, I am to pay. I am to tell you all I know about that BETE
NOIR--Black Roger Audemard. Is it not so?"
"That is the wager."
"But after I have told you--what then? Do you recall that I gave
you any other guarantee, M'sieu Carrigan? Did I say I would let
you go? Did I promise I would not kill you and sink your body to
the bottom of the river? If I did, I can not remember."
"Are you a beast, St. Pierre--a murderer as well as--"
"Stop! Do not tell me again what you saw through the window, for
it has nothing to do with this. I am not a beast, but a man. Had I
been a beast, I should have killed you the first day I saw you in
this cabin. I am not threatening to kill you, and yet it may be
necessary if you insist that I pay the wager. You understand,
m'sieu. To refuse to pay a wager is a greater crime among my
people than the killing of a man, if there is a good reason for
the killing. I am helpless. I must pay, if you insist. Before I
pay it is fair that I give you warning."
"I mean nothing, as yet. I can not say what it will be necessary
for me to do, after you have heard what I know about Roger
Audemard. I am quite settled on a plan just now, m'sieu, but the
plan might change at any moment. I am only warning you that it is
a great hazard, and that you are playing with a fire of which you
know nothing, because it has not burned you yet."
Carrigan seated himself slowly in a chair opposite St. Pierre,
with the table between them.
"You are wasting time in attempting to frighten me," he said. "I
shall insist on the payment of the wager, St Pierre."
For a moment St. Pierre was clearly troubled. Then his lips
tightened, and he smiled grimly over the table at David.
"I am sorry, M'sieu David. I like you. You are a fighting man and
no coward, and I should like to travel shoulder to shoulder with
you in many things. And such a thing might be, for you do not
understand. I tell you it would have been many times better for
you had I whipped you out there, and it had been you--and not me--
to pay the wager!"
"It is Roger Audemard I am interested in, St. Pierre. Why do you
"I? Hesitate? I am not hesitating, m'sieu. I am giving you a
chance." He leaned forward, his great arms bent on the table. "And
you insist, M'sieu David?"
"Yes, I insist."
Slowly the fingers of St. Pierre's hands closed into knotted
fists, and he said in a low voice, "Then I will pay, m'sieu. _I_
AM ROGER AUDEMARD!"
The astounding statement of the man who sat opposite him held
David speechless. He had guessed at some mysterious relationship
between St. Pierre and the criminal he was after, but not this,
and Roger Audemard, with his hands unclenching and a slow humor
beginning to play about his mouth, waited coolly for him to
recover from his amazement. In those moments, when his heart
seemed to have stopped beating, Carrigan was staring at the other,
but his mind had shot beyond him--to the woman who was his wife.
Marie-Anne AUDEMARD--the wife of Black Roger! He wanted to cry out
against the possibility of such a fact, yet he sat like one struck
dumb, as the monstrous truth took possession of his brain and a
whirlwind of understanding swept upon him. He was thinking
quickly, and with a terrific lack of sentiment now. Opposite him
sat Black Roger, the wholesale murderer. Marie-Anne was his wife.
Carmin Fanchet, sister of a murderer, was simply one of his kind.
And Bateese, the man-gorilla, and the Broken Man, and all the
dark-skinned pack about them were of Black Roger's breed and kind.
Love for a woman had blinded him to the facts which crowded upon
him now. Like a lamb he had fallen among wolves, and he had tried
to believe in them. No wonder Bateese and the man he had known as
St. Pierre had betrayed such merriment at times!
A fighting coolness possessed him as he spoke to Black Roger.
"I will admit this is a surprise. And yet you have cleared up a
number of things very quickly. It proves to me again that comedy
is not very far removed from tragedy at times."
"I am glad you see the humor of it, M'sieu David." Black Roger was
smiling as pleasantly as his swollen eye would permit. "We must
not be too serious when we die. If I were to die a-hanging, I
would sing as the rope choked me, just to show the world one need
not be unhappy because his life is coming to an end."
"I suppose you understand that ultimately I am going to give you
that opportunity," said David.
Almost eagerly Black Roger leaned toward him over the table. "You
believe you are going to hang me?"
"I am sure of it."
"And you are willing to wager the point, M'sieu David?"
"It is impossible to gamble with a condemned man."
Black Roger chuckled, rubbing his big hands together until they
made a rasping sound, and his one good eye glowed at Carrigan.
"Then I will make a wager with myself, M'sieu David. MA FOI, I
swear that before the leaves fall from the trees, you will be
pleading for the friendship of Black Roger Audemard, and you will
be as much in love with Carmin Fanchet as I am! And as for Marie-
He thrust back his chair and rose to his feet, the old note of
subdued laughter rumbling in his chest. "And because I make this
wager with myself, I cannot kill you, M'sieu David--though that
might be the best thing to do. I am going to take you to the
Chateau Boulain, which is in the forests of the Yellowknife,
beyond the Great Slave. Nothing will happen to you if you make no
effort to escape. If you do that, you will surely die. And that
would hurt me, M'sieu David, because I love you like a brother,
and in the end I know you are going to grip the hand of Black
Roger Audemard, and get down on your knees to Carmin Fanchet. And
as for Marie-Anne--" Again he interrupted himself, and went out of
the cabin, laughing. And there was no mistake in the metallic
click of the lock outside the door.
For a time David did not move from his seat near the table. He had
not let Roger Audemard see how completely the confession had upset
his inner balance, but he made no pretense of concealing the thing
from himself now. He was in the power of a cut-throat, who in turn
had an army of cut-throats at his back, and both Marie-Anne and
Carmin Fanchet were a part of this ring. And he was not only a
prisoner. It was probable, under the circumstances, that Black
Roger would make an end of him when a convenient moment came. It
was even more than a probability. It was a grim necessity. To let
him live and escape would be fatal to Black Roger.
From back of these convictions, riding over them as if to
demoralize any coherence and logic that might go with the evidence
he was building up, came question after question, pounding at him
one after the other, until his mind became more than ever a
whirling chaos of uncertainty. If St. Pierre was Black Roger, why
would he confess to that fact simply to pay a wager? What reason
could he have for letting him live at all? Why had not Bateese
killed him? Why had Marie-Anne nursed him back to life? His mind
shot to the white strip of sand in which he had nearly died. That,
at least, was convincing. Learning in some way that he was after
Black Roger, they had attempted to do away with him there. But if
that were so, why was it Bateese and Black Roger's wife and the
Indian Nepapinas had risked so much to make him live, when if they
had left him where he had fallen he would have died and caused
them no trouble?
There was something exasperatingly uncertain and illogical about
it all. Was it possible that St. Pierre Boulain was playing a huge
joke on him? Even that was inconceivable. For there was Carmin
Fanchet, a fitting companion for a man like Black Roger, and there
was Marie-Anne, who, if it had been a joke, would not have played
her part so well.
Suddenly his mind was filled only with her. Had she been his
friend, using all her influence to protect him, because her heart
was sick of the environment of which she was a part? His own heart
jumped at the thought. It was easy to believe. In Marie-Anne he
had faith, and that faith refused to be destroyed, but persisted--
even clearer and stronger as he thought again of Carmin Fanchet
and Black Roger. In his heart grew the conviction it was sacrilege
to believe the kiss she had given him that morning was a lie. It
was something else--a spontaneous gladness, a joyous exultation
that he had returned unharmed, a thing unplanned in the soul of
the woman, leaping from her before she could stop it. Then had
come shame, and she had run away from him so swiftly he had not
seen her face again after the touch of her lips. If it had been a
subterfuge, a lie, she would not have done that.
He rose to his feet and paced restlessly back and forth as he
tried to bring together a few tangled bits of the puzzle. He heard
voices outside, and very soon felt the movement of the bateau
under his feet, and through one of the shoreward windows he saw
trees and sandy beach slowly drifting away. On that shore, as far
as his eyes could travel up and down, he saw no sign of Marie-
Anne, but there remained a canoe, and near the canoe stood Black
Roger Audemard, and beyond him, huddled like a charred stump in
the sand, was Andre, the Broken Man. On the opposite shore the
raft was getting under way.
During the next half-hour several things happened which told him
there was no longer a sugar-coating to his imprisonment. On each
side of the bateau two men worked at his windows, and when they
had finished, no one of them could be opened more than a few
inches. Then came the rattle of the lock at the door, the grating
of a key, and somewhat to Carrigan's surprise it was Bateese who
came in. The half-reed bore no facial evidence of the paralyzing
blows which had knocked him out a short time before. His jaw, on
which they had landed, was as aggressive as ever, yet in his face
and his attitude, as he stared curiously at Carrigan, there was no
sign of resentment or unfriendliness. Nor did he seem to be
ashamed. He merely stared, with the curious and rather puzzled
eyes of a small boy gazing at an inexplicable oddity. Carrigan,
standing before him, knew what was passing in the other's mind,
and the humor of it brought a smile to his lips.
Instantly Concombre's face split into a wide grin. "MON DIEU, w'at
if you was on'y brother to Concombre Bateese, m'sieu. T'ink of
zat--you--me--FRERE D'ARMES! VENTRE SAINT GRIS, but we mak' all
fightin' men in nort' countree run lak rabbits ahead of ze fox!
OUI, we mak' gr-r-r-eat pair, m'sieu--you, w'at knock down
Bateese--an' Bateese, w'at keel polar bear wit hees naked hands,
w'at pull down trees, w'at chew flint w'en hees tobacco gone."
His voice had risen, and suddenly there came a laugh from outside
the door, and Concombre cut himself short and his mouth closed
with a snap. It was Joe Clamart who had laughed.
"I w'ip heem five time, an' now I w'ip heem seex!" hissed Bateese
in an undertone. "Two time each year I w'ip zat gargon Joe Clamart
so he understan' w'at good fightin' man ees. An' you will w'ip
heem, eh, m'sieu? Oui? An' I will breeng odder good fightin' mans
for you to w'ip--all w'at Concombre Bateese has w'ipped--ten,
dozen, forty--an' you w'ip se gran' bunch, m'sieu. Eh, shall we
mak' ze bargain?"
"You are planning a pleasant time for me, Bateese," said Carrigan,
"but I am afraid it will be impossible. You see, this captain of
yours, Black Roger Audemard--"
"W'at!" Bateese jumped as if stung. "W'at you say, m'sieu?"
"I said that Roger Audemard, Black Roger, the man I thought was
St. Pierre Boulain--"
Carrigan said no more. What he had started to say was unimportant
compared with the effect of Roger Audernard's name on Concombre
Bateese. A deadly light glittered in the half-breed's eyes, and
for the first time David realized that in the grotesque head of
the riverman was a brain quick to grip at the significance of
things. The fact was evident that Black Roger had not confided in
Bateese as to the price of the wager and the confession of his
identity, and for a moment after the repetition of Audemard's name
came from David's lips the half-breed stood as if something had
stunned him. Then slowly, as if forcing the words in the face of a
terrific desire that had transformed his body into a hulk of
quivering steel, he said:
"M'sieu--I come with message--from St. Pierre. You see windows--
closed. Outside door--she locked. On bot' sides de bateau, all de
time, we watch. You try get away, an' we keel you. Zat ees all. We
shoot. We five mans on ze bateau, all ze day, TOUTE LA NUIT. You
He turned sullenly, waiting for no reply, and the door opened and
closed after him--and again came the snap of the lock outside.
Steadily the bateau swept down the big river that day. There was
no let-up in the steady creaking of the long sweep. Even in the
swifter currents David could hear the working of it, and he knew
he had seen the last of the more slowly moving raft. Near one of
the partly open windows he heard two men talking just before the
bateau shot into the Brule Point rapids. They were strange voices.
He learned that Audemard's huge raft was made up of thirty-five
cribs, seven abreast, and that nine times between the Point Brule
and the Yellowknife the raft would be split up, so that each crib
could be run through dangerous rapids by itself.
That would be a big job, David assured himself. It would be slow
work as well as hazardous, and as his own life was in no immediate
jeopardy, he would have ample time in which to formulate some plan
of action for himself. At the present moment, it seemed, the one
thing for him to do was to wait--and behave himself, according to
the half-breed's instructions. There was, when he came to think
about it, a saving element of humor about it all. He had always
wanted to make a trip down the Three Rivers in a bateau. And now--
he was making it!
At noon a guard brought in his dinner. He could not recall that he
had ever seen this man before, a tall, lithe fellow built to run
like a hound, and who wore a murderous-looking knife at his belt.
As the door opened, David caught a glimpse of two others. They
were business-like looking individuals, with muscles built for
work or fight; one sitting cross-legged on the bateau deck with a
rifle over his knees, and the other standing with a rifle in his
hand. The man who brought his dinner wasted no time or words. He
merely nodded, murmured a curt bonjour, and went out. And
Carrigan, as he began to eat, did not have to tell himself twice
that Audemard had been particular in his selection of the bateau's
crew, and that the eyes of the men he had seen could be as keen as
a hawk's when leveled over the tip of a rifle barrel. They meant
business, and he felt no desire to smile in the face of them, as
he had smiled at Concombre Bateese.
It was another man, and a stranger, who brought in his supper. And
for two hours after that, until the sun went down and gloom began
to fall, the bateau sped down the river. It had made forty miles
that day, he figured.
It was still light when the bateau was run ashore and tied up, but
tonight there were no singing voices or wild laughter of men whose
hours of play-time and rest had come. To Carrigan, looking through
his window, there was an oppressive menace about it all. The
shadowy figures ashore were more like a death-watch than a guard,
and to dispel the gloom of it he lighted two of the lamps in the
cabin, whistled, drummed a simple chord he knew on the piano, and
finally settled down to smoking his pipe. He would have welcomed
the company of Bateese, or Joe Clamart, or one of the guards, and
as his loneliness grew upon him there was something of
companionship even in the subdued voices he heard occasionally
outside. He tried to read, but the printed words jumbled
themselves and meant nothing.
It was ten o'clock, and clouds had darkened the night, when
through his open windows he heard a shout coming from the river.
Twice it came before it was answered from the bateau, and the
second time Carrigan recognized it as the voice of Roger Audemard.
A brief interval passed between that and the scraping of a canoe
alongside, and then there was a low conversation in which even
Audemard's great voice was subdued, and after that the grating of
a key in the lock, and the opening of the door, and Black Roger
came in, bearing an Indian reed basket under his arm. Carrigan did
not rise to meet him. It was not like the coming of the old St.
Pierre, and on Black Roger's lips there was no twist of a smile,
nor in his eyes the flash of good-natured greeting. His face was
darkly stern, as if he had traveled far and hard on an unpleasant
mission, but in it there was no shadow of menace, as there had
been in that of Concombre Bateese. It was rather the face of a
tired man, and yet David knew what he saw was not physical
exhaustion. Black Roger guessed something of his thought, and his
mouth for an instant repressed a smile.
"Yes, I have been having a rough time," he nodded, "This is for
He placed the basket on the table. It held half a bushel, and was
filled to the curve of the handle. What lay in it was hidden under
a cloth securely tied about it.
"And you are responsible," he added, stretching himself in a chair
with a gesture of weariness. "I should kill you, Carrigan. And
instead of that I bring you good things to eat! Half the day she
has been fussing with the things in the basket, and then insisted
that I bring them to you. And I have brought them simply to tell
you another thing. I am sorry for her. I think, M'sieu Carrigan,
you will find as many tears in the basket as anything else, for
her heart is crushed and sick because of the humiliation she
brought upon herself this morning."
He was twisting his big, rough hands, and David's own heart went
sick as he saw the furrowed lines that had deepened in the other's
face. Black Roger did not look at him as he went on.
"Of course, she told me. She tells me everything. And if she knew
I was telling you this, I think she would kill herself. But I want
you to understand. She is not what you might think she is. That
kiss came from the lips of the best woman God ever made, M'sieu
David, with the blood in him running like fire, heard himself
answering, "I know it. She was excited, glad you had not stained
your hands with my life--"
This time Audemard smiled, but it was the smile of a man ten years
older than he had appeared yesterday. "Don't try to answer,
m'sieu. I only want you to know she is as pure as the stars. It
was unfortunate, but to follow the impulse of one's heart can not
be a sin. Everything has been unfortunate since you came. But I
blame no one, except--"
Audemard nodded. "Yes. I have sent her away. Marie-Anne is in the
cabin on the raft now. But even Carmin I can not blame very
greatly, m'sieu, for it is impossible to hold anything against one
you love. Tell me if I am right? You must know. You love my Marie-
Anne. Do you hold anything against her?"
"It is unfair," protested David. "She is your wife, Audemard, is
it possible you don't love her?"
"Yes, I love her."
"And Carmin Fanchet?"
"I love her, too. They are so different. Yet I love them both. Is
it not possible for a big heart like mine to do that, m'sieu?"
With almost a snort David rose to his feet and stared through one
of the windows into the darkness of the river. "Black Roger," he
said without turning his head, "the evidence at Headquarters
condemns you as one of the blackest-hearted murderers that ever
lived. But that crime, to me, is less atrocious than the one you
are committing against your own wife. I am not ashamed to confess
I love her, because to deny it would be a lie. I love her so much
that I would sacrifice myself--soul and body--if that sacrifice
could give you back to her, clean and undefiled and with your hand
unstained by the crime for which you must hang!"
He did not hear Roger Audemard as he rose from his chair. For a
moment the riverman stared at the back of David's head, and in
that moment he was fighting to keep back what wanted to come from
his lips in words. He turned before David faced him again, and did
not pause until he stood at the cabin door with his hand at the
latch. There he was partly in shadow.
"I shall not see you again until you reach the Yellowknife," he
said. "Not until then will you know--or will I know--what is going
to happen. I think you will understand strange things then, but
that is for the hour to tell. Bateese has explained to you that
you must not make an effort to escape. You would regret it, and so
would I. If you have red blood in you, m'sieu--if you would
understand all that you cannot understand now--wait as patiently
as you can. Bonne nuit, M'sieu Carrigan!"
"Good night!" nodded David.
In the pale shadows he thought a mysterious light of gladness
illumined Black Roger's face before the door opened and closed,
leaving him alone again.
With the going of Black Roger also went the oppressive loneliness
which had gripped Carrigan, and as he stood listening to the low
voices outside, the undeniable truth came to him that he did not
hate this man as he wanted to hate him. He was a murderer, and a
scoundrel in another way, but he felt irresistibly the impulse to
like him and to feel sorry for him. He made an effort to shake off
the feeling, but a small voice which he could not quiet persisted
in telling him that more than one good man had committed what the
law called murder, and that perhaps he didn't fully understand
what he had seen through the cabin window on the raft. And yet,
when unstirred by this impulse, he knew the evidence was damning.
But his loneliness was gone. With Audemard's visit had come an
unexpected thrill, the revival of an almost feverish anticipation,
the promise of impending things that stirred his blood as he
thought of them. "You will understand strange things then," Roger
Audemard had said, and something in his voice had been like a key
unlocking mysterious doors for the first time. And then, "Wait, as
patiently as you can!" Out of the basket on the table seemed to
come to him a whispering echo of that same word--wait! He laid his
hands upon it, and a pulse of life came with the imagined
whispering. It was from Marie-Anne. It seemed as though the warmth
of her hands were still there, and as he removed the cloth the
sweet breath of her came to him. And then, in the next instant, he
was trying to laugh at himself and trying equally hard to call
himself a fool, for it was the breath of newly-baked things which
her fingers had made.
Yet never had he felt the warmth of her presence more strangely in
his heart. He did not try to explain to himself why Roger
Audemard's visit had broken down things which had seemed
insurmountable an hour ago. Analysis was impossible, because he
knew the transformation within himself was without a shred of
reason. But it had come, and with it his imprisonment took on
another form. Where before there had been thought of escape and a
scheming to jail Black Roger, there filled him now an intense
desire to reach the Yellowknife and the Chateau Boulain.
It was after midnight when he went to bed, and he was up with the
early dawn. With the first break of day the bateau men were
preparing their breakfast. David was glad. He was eager for the
day's work to begin, and in that eagerness he pounded on the door
and called out to Joe Clamart that he was ready for his breakfast
with the rest of them, but that he wanted only hot coffee to go
with what Black Roger had brought to him in the basket.
That afternoon the bateau passed Fort McMurray, and before the sun
was well down in the west Carrigan saw the green slopes of
Thickwood Hills and the rising peaks of Birch Mountains. He
laughed outright as he thought of Corporal Anderson and Constable
Frazer at Fort McMurray, whose chief duty was to watch the big
waterway. How their eyes would pop if they could see through the
padlocked door of his prison! But he had no inclination to be
discovered now. He wanted to go on, and with a growing exultation
he saw there was no intention on the part of the bateau's crew to
loiter on the way. There was no stop at noon, and the tie-up did
not come until the last glow of day was darkening into the gloom
of night in the sky. For sixteen hours the bateau had traveled
steadily, and it could not have made less than sixty miles as the
river ran. The raft, David figured, had not traveled a third of
The fact that the bateau's progress would bring him to Chateau
Boulain many days, and perhaps weeks, before Black Roger and
Marie-Anne could arrive on the raft did not check his enthusiasm.
It was this interval between their arrivals which held a great
speculative promise for him. In that time, if his efficiency had
not entirely deserted him, he would surely make discoveries of
Day after day the journey continued without rest. On the fourth
day after leaving Fort McMurray it was Joe Clamart who brought in
David's supper, and he grunted a protest at his long hours of
muscle-breaking labor at the sweeps. When David questioned him he
shrugged his shoulders, and his mouth closed tight as a clam. On
the fifth, the bateau crossed the narrow western neck of Lake
Athabasca, slipping past Chipewyan in the night, and on the sixth
it entered the Slave River. It was the fourteenth day when the
bateau entered Great Slave Lake, and the second night after that,
as dusk gathered thickly between the forest walls of the
Yellowknife, David knew that at last they had reached the mouth of
the dark and mysterious stream which led to the still more
mysterious domain of Black Roger Audemard.
That night the rejoicing of the bateau men ashore was that of men
who had come out from under a strain and were throwing off its
tension for the first time in many days. A great fire was built,
and the men sang and laughed and shouted as they piled wood upon
it. In the flare of this fire a smaller one was built, and kettles
and pans were soon bubbling and sizzling over it, and a great
coffee pot that held two gallons sent out its steam laden with an
aroma that mingled joyously with the balsam and cedar smells in
the air. David could see the whole thing from his window, and when
Joe Clamart came in with supper, he found the meat they were
cooking over the fire was fresh moose steak. As there had been no
trading or firing of guns coming down, he was puzzled and when he
asked where the meat had come from Joe Clamart only shrugged his
shoulders and winked an eye, and went out singing about the
allouette bird that had everything plucked from it, one by one.
But David noticed there were never more than four men ashore at
the same time. At least one was always aboard the bateau, watching
his door and windows.
And he, too, felt the thrill of an excitement working subtly
within him, and this thrill pounded in swifter running blood when
he saw the men about the fire jump to their feet suddenly and go
to meet new and shadowy figures that came up indistinctly just in
the edge of the forest gloom. There they mingled and were lost in.
identity for a long time, and David wondered if the newcomers were
of the people of Chateau Boulain. After that, Bateese and Joe
Clamart and two others stamped out the fires and came over the
plank to the bateau to sleep. David followed their example and
went to bed.
The cook fires were burning again before the gray dawn was broken
by a tint of the sun, and when the voices of many men roused
David, he went to his window and saw a dozen figures where last
night there had been only four. When it grew lighter he recognized
none of them. All were strangers. Then he realized the
significance of their presence. The bateau had been traveling
north, but downstream. Now it would still travel north, but the
water of the Yellow-knife flowed south into Great Slave Lake, and
the bateau must be towed. He caught a glimpse of the two big York
boats a little later, and six rowers to a boat, and after that the
bateau set out slowly but steadily upstream.
For hours David was at one window or the other, with something of
awe working inside him as he saw what they were passing through--
and between. He fancied the water trail was like an entrance into
a forbidden land, a region of vast and unbroken mystery, a country
of enchantment, possibly of death, shut out from the world he had
known. For the stream narrowed, and the forest along the shores
was so dense he could not see into it. The tree-tops hung in a
tangled canopy overhead, and a gloom of twilight filled the
channel below, so that where the sun shot through, it was like
filtered moonlight shining on black oil. There was no sound except
the dull, steady beat of the rowers' oars, and the ripple of water
along the sides of the bateau. The men did not sing or laugh, and
if they talked it must have been in whispers. There was no cry of
birds from ashore. And once David saw Joe Clamart's face as he
passed the window, and it was set and hard and filled with the
superstition of a man who was passing through a devil-country.
And then suddenly the end of it came. A flood of sunlight burst in
at the windows, and all at once voices came from ahead, a laugh, a
shout, and a yell of rejoicing from the bateau, and Joe Clamart
started again the everlasting song of the allouette bird that was
plucked of everything it had. Carrigan found himself grinning.
They were a queer people, these bred-in-the-blood northerners--
still moved by the superstitions of children. Yet he conceded that
the awesome deadness of the forest passage had put strange
thoughts into his own heart.
Before nightfall Bateese and Joe Clamart came in and tied his arms
behind him, and he was taken ashore with the rumble of a waterfall
in his ears. For two hours he watched the labors of the men as
they beached the bateau on long rollers of smooth birch and rolled
it foot by foot over a cleared trail until it was launched again
above the waterfall. Then he was led back into the cabin and his
arms freed. That night he went to sleep with the music of the
waterfall in his ears.
The second day the Yellowknife seemed to be no longer a river, but
a narrow lake, and the third day the rowers came into the Nine
Lake country at noon, and until another dusk the bateau threaded
its way through twisting channels and impenetrable forests, and
beached at last at the edge of a great open where the timber had
been cut. There was more excitement here, but it was too dark for
David to understand the meaning of it. There were many voices;
dogs barked. Then voices were at his door, a key rattled in the
lock, and it opened. David saw Bateese and Joe Clamart first. And
then, to his amazement, Black Roger Audemard stood there, smiling
at him and nodding good-evening.
It was impossible for David to repress his astonishment.
"Welcome to Chateau Boulain," greeted Black Roger. "You are
surprised? Well, I beat you out by half a dozen hours--in a canoe,
m'sieu. It is only courtesy that I should be here to give you
Behind him Bateese and Joe Clamart were grinning widely, and then
both came in, and Joe Clamart picked up his dunnage-sack and threw
it over his shoulder.
"If you will come with us, m'sieu--"
David followed, and when he stepped ashore there were Bateese, and
Joe Clamart and one other behind him, and three or four shadowy
figures ahead, with Black Roger walking at his side. There were no
more voices, and the dog had ceased barking. Ahead was a wall of
darkness, which was the deep black forest beyond the clearing, and
into it led a trail which they followed. It was a path worn smooth
by the travel of many feet, and for a mile not a star broke
through the tree-tops overhead, nor did a flash of light break the
utter chaos of the way but once, when Joe Clamart lighted his
pipe. No one spoke. Even Black Roger was silent, and David found
no word to say.
At the end of the mile the trees began to open above their heads,
and they soon came to the edge of the timber. In the darkness
David caught his breath. Dead ahead, not a rifle shot away, was
the Chateau Boulain. He knew it before Black Roger had said a
word. He guessed it by the lighted windows, full a score of them,
without a curtain drawn to shut out their illumination from the
night. He could see nothing but these lights, yet they measured
off a mighty place to be built of logs in the heart of a
wilderness, and at his side he heard Black Roger chuckling in low
"Our home, m'sieu," he said. "Tomorrow, when you see it in the
light of day, you will say it is the finest chateau in the north--
all built of sweet cedar where birch is not used, so that even in
the deep snows it gives us the perfume of springtime and flowers."
David did not answer, and in a moment Audemard said:
"Only on Christmas and New Year and at birthdays and wedding
feasts is it lighted up like that. Tonight it is in your honor,
M'sieu David." Again he laughed softly, and under his breath he
added, "And there is some one waiting for you there whom you will
be surprised to see!"
David's heart gave a jump. There was meaning in Black Roger's
words and no double twist to what he meant. Marie-Anne had come
ahead with her husband!
Now, as they passed on to the brilliantly lighted chateau, David
made out the indistinct outlines of other buildings almost hidden
in the out-creeping shadows of the forest-edges, with now and then
a ray of light to show people were in them. But there was a
brooding silence over it all which made him wonder, for there was
no voice, no bark of dog, not even the opening or closing of a
door. As they drew nearer, he saw a great veranda reaching the
length of the chateau, with screening to keep out the summer pests
of mosquitoes and flies and the night prowling insects attracted
by light. Into this they went, up wide birch steps, and ahead of
them was a door so heavy it looked like the postern gate of a
castle. Black Roger opened it, and in a moment David stood beside
him in a dimly lighted hall where the mounted heads of wild beasts
looked down like startled things from the gloom of the walls. And
then David heard the low, sweet notes of a piano coming to them
He looked at Black Roger. A smile was on the lips of the chateau
master; his head was up, and his eyes glowed with pride and joy as
the music came to him. He spoke no word, but laid a hand on
David's arm and led him toward it, while Bateese and Joe Clamart
remained standing at the entrance to the hall. David's feet trod
in thick rugs of fur; he saw the dim luster of polished birch and
cedar in the walls, and over his head the ceiling was rich and
matched, as in the bateau cabin. They drew nearer to the music and
came to a closed door. This Black Roger opened very quietly, as if
anxious not to disturb the one who was playing.
They entered, and David held his breath. It was a great room he
stood in, thirty feet or more from end to end, and scarcely less
in width--a room brilliant with light, sumptuous in its comfort,
sweet with the perfume of wild-flowers, and with a great black
fireplace at the end of it, from over which there stared at him
the glass eyes of a monster moose. Then he saw the figure at the
piano, and something rose up quickly and choked him when his eyes
told him it was not Marie-Anne. It was a slim, beautiful figure in
a soft and shimmering white gown, and its head was glowing gold in
Roger Audemard spoke, "Carmin!"
The woman at the piano turned about, a little startled at the
unexpectedness of the voice, and then rose quickly to her feet--
and David Carrigan found himself looking into the eyes of Carmin
Never had he seen her more beautiful than in this moment, like an
angel in her shimmering dress of white, her hair a radiant glory,
her eyes wide and glowing--and, as she looked at him, a smile
coming to her red lips. Yes, SHE WAS SMILING AT HIM--this woman
whose brother he had brought to the hangman, this woman who had
stolen Black Roger from another! She knew him--he was sure of
that; she knew him as the man who had believed her a criminal
along with her brother, and who had fought to the last against her
freedom. Yet from her lips and her eyes and her face the old
hatred was gone. She was coming toward him slowly; she was
reaching out her hand, and half blindly his own went out, and he
felt the warmth of her fingers for a moment, and he heard her
voice saying softly,
"Welcome to Chateau Boulain, M'sieu Carrigan."
He bowed and mumbled something, and Black Roger gently pressed his
arm, drawing him back to the door. As he went he saw again that
Carmin Fanchet was very beautiful as she stood there, and that her
lips were very red--but her face was white, whiter than he had
ever seen the face of a woman before.
As they went up a winding stair to the second floor, Roger
Audemard said, "I am proud of my Carmin, M'sieu David. Would any
other woman in the world have given her hand like that to the man
who had helped to kill her brother?"
They stopped at another door. Black Roger opened it. There were
lights within, and David knew it was to be his room. Audemard did
not follow him inside, but there was a flashing humor in his eyes.
"I say, is there another woman like her in the world, m'sieu?"
"What have you done to Marie-Anne--your wife?" asked David.
It was hard for him to get the words out. A terrible thing was
gripping at his throat, and the clutch of it grew tighter as he
saw the wild light in Black Roger's eyes.
"Tomorrow you will know, m'sieu. But not to-night. You must wait
He nodded and stepped back, and the door closed--and in the same
instant came the harsh grating of a key in the lock.
Carrigan turned slowly and looked about his room. There was no
other door except one opening into a closet, and but two windows.
Curtains were drawn at these windows, and he raised them. A grim
smile came to his lips when he saw the white bars of tough birch
nailed across each of them, outside the glass. He could see the
birch had been freshly stripped of bark and had probably been
nailed there that day. Carmin Fanchet and Black Roger had welcomed
him to Chateau Boulain, but they were evidently taking no chances
with their prisoner. And where was Marie-Anne?
The question was insistent, and with it remained that cold grip of
something in his heart that had come with the sight of Carmin
Fanchet below. Was it possible that Carmin's hatred still lived,
deadlier than ever, and that with Black Roger she had plotted to
bring him here so that her vengeance might be more complete--and a
greater torture to him? Were they smiling and offering him their
hands, even as they knew he was about to die? And if that was
conceivable, what had they done with Marie-Anne?
He looked about the room. It was singularly bare, in an unusual
sort of way, he thought. There were rich rugs on the floor--three
magnificent black bearskins, and two wolf. The heads of two bucks
and a splendid caribou hung against the walls. He could see, from
marks on the floor, where a bed had stood, but this bed was now
replaced by a couch made up comfortably for one inclined to sleep.
The significance of the thing was clear--nowhere in the room could
he lay his hand upon an object that might be used as a weapon!
His eyes again sought the white-birch bars of his prison, and he
raised the two windows so that the cool, sweet breath of the
forests reached in to him. It was then that he noticed the
mosquito-proof screening nailed outside the bars. It was rather
odd, this thinking of his comfort even as they planned to kill
If there was truth to this new suspicion that Black Roger and his
mistress were plotting both vengeance and murder, their plans must
also involve Marie-Anne. Suddenly his mind shot back to the raft.
Had Black Roger turned a clever coup by leaving his wife there,
while he came on ahead of the bateau with Carmin Fanchet? It would
be several weeks before the raft reached the Yellowknife, and in
that time many things might happen. The thought worried him. He
was not afraid for himself. Danger, the combating of physical
forces, was his business. His fear was for Marie-Anne. He had seen
enough to know that Black Roger was hopelessly infatuated with
Carmin Fanchet. And several things might happen aboard the raft,
planned by agents as black-souled as himself. If they killed
His hand gripped the knob of the door, and for a moment he was
filled with the impulse to shout for Black Roger and face him with
what was in his mind. And as he stood there, every muscle in his
body ready to fight, there came to him faintly the sound of music.
He heard the piano first, and then a woman's voice singing. Soon a
man's voice joined the woman's, and he knew it was Black Roger,
singing with Carmin Fanchet.
Suddenly the mad impulse in his heart went out, and he leaned his
head nearer to the crack of the door, and strained his ears to
hear. He could make out no word of the song, yet the singing came
to him with a thrill that set his lips apart and brought a staring
wonder into his eyes. In the room below him, fifteen hundred miles
from civilization, Black Roger and Carmin Fanchet were singing
"Home, Sweet Home!"
An hour later David looked through one of the barred windows upon
a world lighted by a splendid moon. He could see the dark edge of
the distant forest that rimmed in the chateau, and about him
seemed to be a level meadow, with here and there the shadow of a
building in which the lights were out. Stars were thick in the
sky, and a strange quietness hovered over the world he looked
upon. From below him floated up now and then a perfume of tobacco
smoke. The guard under his window was awake, but he made no sound.
A little later he undressed, put out the two lights in his room,
and stretched himself between the cool, white sheets on the couch.
After a time he slept, but it was a restless slumber filled with
troubled dreams. Twice he was half awake, and the second time it
seemed to him his nostrils sensed a sharper tang of smoke than
that of burning tobacco, yet he did not fully rouse himself, and
the hours passed, and new sounds and smells that rose in the night
impinged themselves upon him only as a part of the troublous
fabric of his dreams. But at last there came a shock, something
which beat over these things which chained him, and seized upon
his consciousness, demanding that he rouse himself, open his eyes,
and get up.
He obeyed the command, and before he was fully awake, found
himself on his feet. It was still dark, but he heard voices,
voices no longer subdued, but filled with a wild note of
excitement and command. And what he smelled was not the smell of
tobacco smoke! It was heavy in his room. It filled his lungs. His
eyes were smarting with the sting of it.
Then came vision, and with a startled cry he leaped to a window.
To the north and east he looked out upon a flaming world!
With his fist he rubbed his smarting eyes. The moon was gone. The
gray he saw outside must be the coming of dawn, ghostly with that
mist of smoke that had come into his room. He could see shadowy
figures of men running swiftly in and out and disappearing, and he
could hear the voices of women and children, and from beyond the
edge of the forest to the west came the howling of many dogs. One
voice rose above the others. It was Black Roger's, and at its
commands little groups of figures shot out into the gray smoke-
gloom and did not appear again.
North and east the sky was flaming sullen red, and a breath of air
blowing gently in David's face told him the direction of the wind.
The chateau lay almost in the center of the growing line of
He dressed himself and went again to the window. Quite distinctly
now, he could make out Joe Clamart under his window, running
toward the edge of the forest at the head of half a dozen men and
boys who carried axes and cross-cut saws over their shoulders. It
was the last of Black Roger's people that he saw for some time in
the open meadow, but from the front of the chateau he could hear
many voices, chiefly of women and children, and guessed it was
from there that the final operations against the fire were being
directed. The wind was blowing stronger in his face. With it came
a sharper tang of smoke, and the widening light of day was
fighting to hold its own against the deepening pall of flame-lit
gloom advancing with the wind.
There seemed to come a low and distant sound with that wind, so
indistinct that to David's ears it was like a murmur a thousand
miles away. He strained his ears to hear, and as he listened,
there came another sound--a moaning, sobbing voice below his
window! It was grief he heard now, something that went to his
heart and held him cold and still. The voice was sobbing like that
of a child, yet he knew it was not a child's. Nor was it a
woman's. A figure came out slowly in his view, humped over,
twisted in its shape, and he recognized Andre, the Broken Man.
David could see that he was crying like a child, and he was facing
the flaming forests, with his arms reaching out to them in his
moaning. Then, of a sudden, he gave a strange cry, as if defiance
had taken the place of grief, and he hurried across the meadow and
disappeared into the timber where a great lightning-riven spruce
gleamed dully white through the settling veil of smoke-mist.
For a space David looked after him, a strange beating in his
heart. It was as if he had seen a little child going into the face
of a deadly peril, and at last he shouted out for some one to
bring back the Broken Man. But there was no answer from under his
window. The guard was gone. Nothing lay between him and escape--if
he could force the white birch bars from the window.
He thrust himself against them, using his shoulder as a battering-
ram. Not the thousandth part of an inch could he feel them give,
yet he worked until his shoulder was sore. Then he paused and
studied the bars more carefully. Only one thing would avail him,
and that was some object which he might use as a lever.
He looked about him, and not a thing was there in the room to
answer the purpose. Then his eyes fell on the splendid horns of
the caribou head. Black Roger's discretion had failed him there,
and eagerly David pulled the head down from the wall. He knew the
woodsman's trick of breaking off a horn from the skull, yet in
this room, without log or root to help him, the task was
difficult, and it was a quarter of an hour after he had last seen
the Broken Man before he stood again at the window with the
caribou horn in his hands. He no longer had to hold his breath to
hear the low moaning in the wind, and where there had been smoke-
gloom before there were now black clouds rolling and twisting up
over the tops of the north and eastern forests, as if mighty
breaths were playing with them from behind.
David thrust the big end of the caribou horn between two of the
white-birch bars, but before he had put his weight to the lever he
heard a great voice coming round the end of the chateau, and it
was calling for Andre, the Broken Man. In a moment it was followed
by Black Roger Audemard, who ran under the window and faced the
lightning-struck spruce as he shouted Andre's name again.
Suddenly David called down to him, and Black Roger turned and
looked up through the smoke-gloom, his head bare, his arms naked,
and his eyes gleaming wildly as he listened.
"He went that way twenty minutes ago," David shouted. "He
disappeared into the forest where you see the dead spruce yonder.
And he was crying, Black Roger--he was crying like a child."
If there had been other words to finish, Black Roger would not
have heard them. He was running toward the old spruce, and David
saw him disappear where the Broken Man had gone. Then he put his
weight on the horn, and one of the tough birch bars gave way
slowly, and after that a second was wrenched loose, and a third,
until the lower half of the window was free of them entirely. He
thrust out his head and found no one within the range of his
vision. Then he worked his way through the window, feet first, and
hanging the length of arms and body from the lower sill, dropped
to the ground.
Instantly he faced the direction taken by Roger Audemard, it was
HIS turn now, and he felt a savage thrill in his blood. For an
instant he hesitated, held by the impulse to rush to Carmin
Fanchet and with his fingers at her throat, demand what she and
her paramour had done with Marie-Anne. But the mighty
determination to settle it all with Black Roger himself
overwhelmed that impulse like an inundation. Black Roger had gone
into the forest. He was separated from his people, and the
opportunity was at hand.
Positive that Marie-Anne had been left with the raft, the thought
that the Chateau Boulain might be devoured by the onrushing
conflagration did not appal David. The chateau held little
interest for him now. It was Black Roger he wanted. As he ran
toward the old spruce, he picked up a club that lay in the path.
This path was a faintly-worn trail where it entered the forest
beyond the spruce, very narrow, and with brush hanging close to
the sides of it, so that David knew it was not in general use and
that but few feet had ever used it. He followed swiftly, and in
five minutes came suddenly out into a great open thick with smoke,
and here he saw why Chateau Boulain would not burn. The break in
the forest was a clearing a rifle-shot in width, free of brush and
grass, and partly tilled; and it ran in a semi-circle as far as he
could see through the smoke in both directions. Thus had Black
Roger safeguarded his wilderness castle, while providing tillable
fields for his people; and as David followed the faintly beaten
path, he saw green stuffs growing on both sides of him, and
through the center of the clearing a long strip of wheat, green
and very thick. Up and down through the fog of smoke he could hear
voices, and he knew it was this great, circular fire-clearing the
people of Chateau Boulain were watching and guarding.
But he saw no one as he trailed across the open. In soft patches
of the earth he found footprints deeply made and wide apart, the
footprints of hurrying men, telling him Black Roger and the Broken
Man were both ahead of him, and that Black Roger was running when
he crossed the clearing.
The footprints led him to a still more indistinct trail in the
farther forest, a trail which went straight into the face of the
fire ahead. He followed it. The distant murmur had grown into a
low moaning over the tree-tops, and with it the wind was coming
stronger, and the smoke thicker. For a mile he continued along the
path, and then he stopped, knowing he had come to the dead-line.
Over him was a swirling chaos. The fire-wind had grown into a roar
before which the tree-tops bent as if struck by a gale, and in the
air he breathed he could feel a swiftly growing heat. For a space
he stood there, breathing quickly in the face of a mighty peril.
Where had Black Roger and the Broken Man gone? What mad impulse
could it be that dragged them still farther into the path of
death? Or had they struck aside from the trail? Was he alone in
As if in answer to the questions there came from far ahead of him
a loud cry. It was Black Roger's voice, and as he listened, it
called over and over again the Broken Man's name,
Something in the cry held Carrigan. There was a note of terror in
it, a wild entreaty that was almost drowned in the trembling wind
and the moaning that was in the air. David was ready to turn back.
He had already approached too near to the red line of death, yet
that cry of Black Roger urged him on like the lash of a whip. He
plunged ahead into the chaos of smoke, no longer able to
distinguish a trail under his feet. Twice again in as many minutes
he heard Black Roger's voice, and ran straight toward it. The
blood of the hunter rushed over all other things in his veins. The
man he wanted was ahead of him and the moment had passed when
danger or fear of death could drive him back. Where Black Roger
lived, he could live, and he gripped his club and ran through the
low brush that whipped in stinging lashes against his face and
He came to the foot of a ridge, and from the top of this he knew
Black Roger had called. It was a huge hog's-back, rising a hundred
feet up out of the forest, and when he reached the top of it, he
was panting for breath. It was as if he had come suddenly within
the blast of a hot furnace. North and east the forest lay under
him, and only the smoke obstructed his vision. But through this
smoke he could make out a thing that made him rub his eyes in a
fierce desire to see more clearly. A mile away, perhaps two, the
conflagration seemed to be splitting itself against the tip of a
mighty wedge. He could hear the roar of it to the right of him and
to the left, but dead ahead there was only a moaning whirlpool of
fire-heated wind and smoke. And out of this, as he looked, came
again the cry,
Again he stared north and south through the smoke-gloom. Mountains
of resinous clouds, black as ink, were swirling skyward along the
two sides of the giant wedge. Under that death-pall the flames
were sweeping through the spruce and cedar tops like race-horses,
hidden from his eyes. If they closed in there could be no escape;
in fifteen minutes they would inundate him, and it would take him
half an hour to reach the safety of the clearing.
His heart thumped against his ribs as he hurried down the ridge in
the direction of Black Roger's voice. The giant wedge of the
forest was not burning--yet, and Audemard was hurrying like mad
toward the tip of that wedge, crying out now and then the name of
the Broken Man. And always he kept ahead, until at last--a mile
from the ridge--David came to the edge of a wide stream and saw
what it was that made the wedge of forest. For under his eyes the
stream split, and two arms of it widened out, and along each shore
of the two streams was a wide fire-clearing made by the axes of
Black Roger's people, who had foreseen this day when fire might
sweep their world.
Carrigan dashed water into his eyes, and it was warm. Then he
looked across. The fire had passed, the pall of smoke was clearing
away, and what he saw was the black corpse of a world that had
been green. It was smoldering; the deep mold was afire. Little
tongues of flame still licked at ten thousand stubs charred by the
fire-death--and there was no wind here, and only the whisper of a
distant moaning sweeping farther and farther away.
And then, out of that waste across the river, David heard a
terrible cry. It was Black Roger, still calling--even in that
place of hopeless death--for Andre, the Broken Man!
Into the stream Carrigan plunged and found it only waist-deep in
crossing. He saw where Black Roger had come out of the water and
where his feet had plowed deep in the ash and char and smoldering
debris ahead. This trail he followed. The air he breathed was hot
and filled with stifling clouds of ash and char-dust and smoke.
His feet struck red-hot embers under the ash, and he smelled
burning leather. A forest of spruce and cedar skeletons still
crackled and snapped and burst out into sudden tongues of flame
about him, and the air he breathed grew hotter, and his face
burned, and into his eyes came a smarting pain--when ahead of him
he saw Black Roger. He was no longer calling out the Broken Man's
name, but was crashing through the smoking chaos like a great
beast that had gone both blind and mad. Twice David turned aside
where Black Roger had rushed through burning debris, and a third
time, following where Audemard had gone, his feet felt the sudden
stab of living coals. In another moment he would have shouted
Black Roger's name, but even as the words were on his lips,
mingled with a gasp of pain, the giant river-man stopped where the
forest seemed suddenly to end in a ghostly, smoke-filled space,
and when David came up behind him, he was standing at the black
edge of a cliff which leaped off into a smoldering valley below.
Out of this narrow valley between two ridges, an hour ago choked
with living spruce and cedar, rose up a swirling, terrifying heat.
Down into this pit of death Black Roger stood looking, and David
heard a strange moaning coming in his breath. His great, bare arms
were black and scarred with heat; his hair was burned; his shirt
was torn from his shoulders. When David spoke--and Black Roger
turned at the sound--his eyes glared wildly out of a face that was
like a black mask. And when he saw it was David who had spoken,
his great body seemed to sag, and with an unintelligible cry he
David, staring, saw nothing with his half-blind eyes, but under
his feet he felt a sudden giving way, and the fire-eaten tangle of
earth and roots broke off like a rotten ledge, and with it both he
and Black Roger went crashing into the depths below, smothered in
an avalanche of ash and sizzling earth. At the bottom David lay
for a moment, partly stunned. Then his fingers clutched a bit of
living fire, and with a savage cry he staggered to his feet and
looked to see Black Roger. For a space his eyes were blinded, and
when at last he could see, he made out Black Roger, fifty feet
away, dragging himself on his hands and knees through the
blistering muck of the fire. And then, as he stared, the stricken
giant came to the charred remnant of a stump and crumpled over it
with a great cry, moaning again that name--
David hurried to him, and as he put his hands under Black Roger's
arms to help him to his feet, he saw that the charred stump was
not a stump, but the fire-shriveled corpse of Andre, the Broken
Horror choked back speech on his own lips. Black Roger looked up
at him, and a great breath came in a sob out of his body. Then,
suddenly, he seemed to get grip of himself, and his burned and
bleeding fingers closed about David's hand at his shoulder.
"I knew he was coming here," he said, the words forcing themselves
with an effort through his swollen lips. "He came home--to die."
"Yes. His mother and father were buried here nearly thirty years
ago, and he worshiped them. Look at him, Carrigan. Look at him
closely. For he is the man you have wanted all these years, the
finest man God ever made, Roger Audemard! When he saw the fire, he
came to shield their graves from the flames. And now he is dead!"
A moan came to his lips, and the weight of his body grew so heavy
that David had to exert his strength to keep him from falling.
"And YOU?" he cried. "For God's sake, Audemard--tell me--"
"I, m'sieu? Why, I am only St. Pierre Audemard, his brother."
And with that his head dropped heavily, and he was like a dead man
in David's arms.
How at last David came to the edge of the stream again, with the
weight of St. Pierre Audemard on his shoulders, was a torturing
nightmare which would never be quite clear in his brain. The
details were obliterated in the vast agony of the thing. He knew
that he fought as he had never fought before; that he stumbled
again and again in the fire-muck; that he was burned, and blinded,
and his brain was sick. But he held to St. Pierre, with his
twisted, broken leg, knowing that he would die if he dropped him
into the flesh-devouring heat of the smoldering debris under his
feet. Toward the end he was conscious of St. Pierre's moaning, and
then of his voice speaking to him. After that he came to the water
and fell down in the edge of it with St. Pierre, and inside his
head everything went as black as the world over which the fire had
He did not know how terribly he was hurt. He did not feel pain
after the darkness came. Yet he sensed certain things. He knew
that over him St. Pierre was shouting. For days, it seemed, he
could hear nothing but that great voice bellowing away in the
interminable distance. And then came other voices, now near and
now far, and after that he seemed to rise up and float among the
clouds, and for a long time he heard no other sound and felt no
movement, but was like one dead.
Something soft and gentle and comforting roused him out of
darkness. He did not move, he did not open his eyes for a time,
while reason came to him. He heard a voice, and it was a woman's
voice, speaking softly, and another voice replied to it. Then he
heard gentle movement, and some one went away from him, and he
heard the almost noiseless opening and closing of a door. A very
little he began to see. He was in a room, with a patch of sunlight
on the wall. Also, he was in a bed. And that gentle, comforting
hand was still stroking his forehead and hair, light as
thistledown. He opened his eyes wider and looked up. His heart
gave a great throb. Over him was a glorious, tender face smiling
like an angel into his widening eyes. And it was the face of
He made an effort, as if to speak.
"Hush," she whispered, and he saw something shining in her eyes,
and something wet fell upon his face. "She is returning--and I
will go. For three days and nights she has not slept, and she must
be the first to see you open your eyes."
She bent over him. Her soft lips touched his forehead, and he
heard her sobbing breath.
"God bless you, David Carrigan!"
Then she was going to the door, and his eyes dropped shut again.
He began to experience pain now, a hot, consuming pain all over
him, and he remembered the fight through the path of the fire.
Then the door opened very softly once more, and some one came in,
and knelt down at his side, and was so quiet that she scarcely
seemed to breathe. He wanted to open his eyes, to cry out a name,
but he waited, and lips soft as velvet touched his own. They lay
there for a moment, then moved to his closed eyes, his forehead,
his hair--and after that something rested gently against him.
His eyes shot open. It was Marie-Anne, with her head nestled in
the crook of his arm as she knelt there beside him on the floor.
He could see only a bit of her face, but her hair was very near,
crumpled gloriously on his breast, and he could see the tips of
her long lashes as she remained very still, seeming not to
breathe. She did not know he had roused from his sleep--the first
sleep of those three days of torture which he could not remember
now; and he, looking at her, made no movement to tell her he was
awake. One of his hands lay over the edge of the bed, and so
lightly he could scarce feel the weight of her fingers she laid
one of her own upon it, and a little at a time drew it to her,
until the bandaged thing was against her lips. It was strange she
did not hear his heart, which seemed all at once to beat like a
drum inside him!
Suddenly he sensed the fact that his other hand was not bandaged.
He was lying on his side, with his right arm partly under him, and
against that hand he felt the softness of Marie-Anne's cheek, the
velvety crush of her hair!
And then he whispered, "Marie-Anne--"
She still lay, for a moment, utterly motionless. Then, slowly, as
if believing he had spoken her name in his sleep, she raised her
head and looked into his wide-open eyes. There was no word between
them in that breath or two. His bandaged hand and his well hand
went to her face and hair, and then a sobbing cry came from Marie-
Anne, and swiftly she crushed her face down to his, holding him
close with both her arms for a moment. And after that, as on that
other day when she kissed him after the fight, she was up and gone
so quickly that her name had scarcely left his lips when the door
closed behind her, and he heard her running down the hall.
He called after her, "Marie-Anne! Marie-Anne!"
He heard another door, and voices, and quick footsteps again,
coming his way, and he was waiting eagerly, half on his elbow,
when into his room came Nepapinas and Carmin Fanchet. And again he
saw the glory of something in the woman's face.
His eyes must have burned strangely as he stared at her, but it
did not change that light in her own, and her hands were
wonderfully gentle as she helped Nepapinas raise him so that he
was sitting up straight, with pillows at his back.
"It doesn't hurt so much now, does it?" she asked, her voice low
with a mothering tenderness.
He shook his head. "No. What is the matter?"
"You were burned--terribly. For two days and nights you were in
great pain, but for many hours you have been sleeping, and
Nepapinas says the burns will not hurt any more. If it had not
been for you--"
She bent over him. Her hand touched his face, and now he began to
understand the meaning of that glory shining in her eyes.
"If it hadn't been for you--he would have died!"
She drew back, turning to the door. "He is coming to see you--
alone," she said, a little broken note in her throat. "And I pray
God you will see with clear understanding, David Carrigan--and
forgive me--as I have forgiven you--for a thing that happened long
He waited. His head was in a jumble, and his thoughts were
tumbling over one another in an effort to evolve some sort of
coherence out of things amazing and unexpected. One thing was
impressed upon him--he had saved St. Pierre's life, and because he
had done this Carmin Fanchet was very tender to him. She had
kissed him, and Marie-Anne had kissed him, and--
A strange dawning was coming to him, thrilling him to his finger-
tips. He listened. A new sound was approaching from the hall. His
door was opened, and a wheel-chair was rolled in by old Nepapinas.
In the chair was St. Pierre Audemard. Feet and hands and arms were
wrapped in bandages, but his face was uncovered and wreathed in
smiling happiness when he saw David propped up against his
pillows. Nepapinas rolled him close to the bed and then shuffled
out, and as he closed the door, David was sure he heard the
subdued whispering of feminine voices down the hall.
"How are you, David?" asked St. Pierre.
"Fine," nodded Carrigan. "And you?"
"A bit scorched, and a broken leg." He held up his padded hands.
"Would be dead if you hadn't carried me to the river. Carmin says
she owes you her life for having saved mine."
"That's what I've come to tell you about," said St. Pierre. "The
instant they knew you were able to listen, both Carmin and Marie-
Anne insisted that I come and tell you things. But if you don't
feel well enough to hear me now--"
"Go on!" almost threatened David.
The look of cheer which had illumined St. Pierre's face faded
away, and David saw in its place the lines of sorrow which had
settled there. He turned his gaze toward a window through which
the afternoon sun was coming, and nodded slowly.
"You saw--out there. He's dead. They buried him in a casket made
of sweet cedar. He loved the smell of that. He was like a little
child. And once--a long time ago--he was a splendid man, a greater
and better man than St. Pierre, his brother, will ever be. What he
did was right and just, M'sieu David. He was the oldest--sixteen--
when the thing happened. I was only nine, and didn't fully
understand. But he saw it all--the death of our father because a
powerful factor wanted my mother. And after that he knew how and
why our mother died, but not a word of it did he tell us until
years later--after the day of vengeance was past.
"You understand, David? He didn't want me in that. He did it
alone, with good friends from the upper north. He killed the
murderers of our mother and father, and then he buried himself
deeper into the forests with us, and we took our mother's family
names which was Boulain, and settled here on the Yellowknife.
Roger--Black Roger, as you know him--brought the bones of our
father and mother and buried them over in the edge of that plain
where he died and where our first cabin stood. Five years ago a
falling tree crushed him out of shape, and his mind went at the
same time, so that he has been like a little child, and was always
seeking for Roger Audemard--the man he once was. That was the man
your law wanted. Roger Audemard. Our brother,"
"OUR brother," cried David. "Who is the other?"
"Good God!" choked David. "St. Pierre, do you lie? Is this another
bit of trickery?"
"It is the truth," said St. Pierre. "Marie-Anne is my sister, and
Carmin--whom you saw in my arms through the cabin window--"
He paused, smiling into David's staring eyes, taking full measure
of recompense in the other's heart-breaking attitude as he waited.
"--Is my wife, M'sieu David."
A great gasp of breath came out of Carrigan.
"Yes, my wife, and the greatest-hearted woman that ever lived,
without one exception in all the world!" cried St. Pierre, a
fierce pride in his voice. "It was she, and not Marie-Anne, who
shot you on that strip of sand, David Carrigan! Mon Dieu, I tell
you not one woman in a million would have done what she did--let
you live! Why? Listen, m'sieu, and you will understand at last.
She had a brother, years younger than she, and to that brother she
was mother, sister, everything, because they had no parents almost
from babyhood. She worshiped him. And he was bad. Yet the worse he
became, the more she loved him and prayed for him. Years ago she
became my wife, and I fought with her to save the brother. But he
belonged to the devil hand and foot, and at last he left us and
went south, and became what he was when you were sent out to get
him, Sergeant Carrigan. It was then that my wife went down to make
a last fight to save him, to bring him back, and you know how she
made that fight, m'sieu--until the day you hanged him!"
St. Pierre was leaning from his chair, his face ablaze. "Tell me,
did she not fight?" he cried. "And YOU, until the last--did you
not fight to have her put behind prison bars with her brother?"
"Yes, it is so," murmured Carrigan.
"She hated you," went on St. Pierre. "You hanged her brother, who
was almost a part of her flesh and body. He was bad, but he had
been hers from babyhood, and a mother will love her son if he is a
devil. And then--I won't take long to tell the rest of it! Through
friends she learned that you, who had hanged her brother, were on
your way to run down Roger Audemard. And Roger Audemard, mind you,
was the same as myself, for I had sworn to take my brother's place
if it became necessary. She was on the bateau with Marie-Anne when
the messenger came. She had but one desire--to save me--to kill
you. If it had been some other man, but it was you, who had hanged
her brother! She disappeared from the bateau that day with a
rifle. You know, M'sieu David, what happened. Marie-Anne heard the
shooting and came--alone--just as you rolled out in the sand as if
dead. It was she who ran out to you first, while my Carmin
crouched there with her rifle, ready to send another bullet into
you if you moved. It was Marie-Anne you saw standing over you, it
was she who knelt down at your side, and then--"
St. Pierre paused, and he smiled, and then grimaced as he tried to
rub his two bandaged hands together. "David, fate mixes things up
in a funny way. My Carmin came out and stood over you, hating you;
and Marie-Anne knelt down there at your side, loving you. Yes, it
is true. And over you they fought for life or death, and love won,
because it is always stronger than hate. Besides, as you lay there
bleeding and helpless, you looked different to my Carmin than as
you did when you hanged her brother. So they dragged you up under
a tree, and after that they plotted together and planned, while I
was away up the river on the raft. The feminine mind works
strangely, M'sieu David, and perhaps it was that thing we call
intuition which made them do what they did. Marie-Anne knew it
would never do for you to see and recognize my Carmin, so in their
scheming of things she insisted on passing herself off as my wife,
while my Carmin came back in a canoe to meet me. They were
frightened, and when I came, the whole thing had gone too far for
me to mend, and I knew the false game must be played out to the
end. When I saw what was happening--that you loved Marie-Anne so
well that you were willing to fight for her honor even when you
thought she was my wife--I was sure it would all end well. But I
could take no chances until I knew. And so there were bars at your
St. Pierre shrugged his shoulders, and the lines of grief came
into his face again, and in his voice was a little break as he
continued: "If Roger had not gone out there to fight back the
flames from the graves of his dead, I had planned to tell you as
much as I dared, M'sieu David, and I had faith that your love for
our sister would win. I did not tell you on the river because I
wanted you to see with your own eyes our paradise up here, and I
knew you would not destroy it once you were a part of it. And so I
could not tell you Carmin was my wife, for that would have
betrayed us--and--besides--that fight of yours against a love
which you thought was dishonest interested me very much, for I saw
in it a wonderful test of the man who might become my brother if
he chose wisely between love and what he thought was duty. I loved
you for it, even when you sat me there on the sand like a silly
loon. And now, even my Carmin loves you for bringing me out of the
fire--But you are not listening!"
David was looking past him toward the door, and St. Pierre smiled
when he saw the look that was in his face.
"Nepapinas!" he called loudly. "Nepapinas!"
In a moment there was shuffling of feet outside, and Nepapinas
came in. St. Pierre held out his two great, bandaged hands, and
David met them with his own, one bandaged and one free. Not a word
was spoken between them, but their eyes were the eyes of men
between whom had suddenly come the faith and understanding of a
brotherhood as strong as life itself.
Then Nepapinas wheeled St. Pierre from the room and David
straightened himself against his pillows, and waited, and
listened, until it seemed two hearts were thumping inside him in
the place of one.
It was an interminable time, he thought, before Marie-Anne stood
in the doorway. For a breath she paused there, looking at him as
he stretched out his bandaged arm to her, moved by every yearning
impulse in her soul to come in, yet ready as a bird to fly away.
And then, as he called her name, she ran to him and dropped upon
her knees at his side, and his arms went about her, insensible to
their hurt--and her hot face was against his neck, and his lips
crushed in the smothering sweetness of her hair. He made no effort
to speak, beyond that first calling of her name. He could feel her
heart throbbing against him, and her hands tightened at his
shoulders, and at last she raised her glorious face so near that
the breath of it was on his lips. Then, seeing what was in his
eyes, her soft mouth quivered in a little smile, and with a broken
throb in her throat she whispered,
"Has it all ended--right--David?"
He drew the red mouth to his own, and with a glad cry which was no
word in itself he buried his face in the lustrous tresses he
loved. Afterward he could not remember all it was that he said,
but at the end Marie-Anne had drawn a little away so that she was
looking at him, her eyes shining gloriously and her cheeks
beautiful as the petals of a wild rose. And he could see the
throbbing in her white throat, like the beating of a tiny heart.
"And you'll take me with you?" she whispered joyously.
"Yes; and when I show you to the old man--Superintendent Me Vane,
you know--and tell him you're my wife, he can't go back on his
promise. He said if I settled this Roger Audemard affair, I could
have anything I might ask for. And I'll ask for my discharge, I
ought to have it in September, and that will give us time to
return before the snow flies. You see--"
He held out his arms again. "You see," he cried, his face
smothered in her hair again, "I've found the place of my dreams up
here, and I want to stay--always. Are you a little glad, Marie-
In a great room at the end of the hall, with windows opening in
three directions upon the wilderness, St. Pierre waited in his
wheel-chair, grunting uneasily now and then at the long time it
was taking Carmin to discover certain things out in the hall.
Finally he heard her coming, tiptoeing very quietly from the
direction of David Carrigan's door, and St. Pierre chuckled and
tried to rub his bandaged hands when she came in, her face pink
and her eyes shining with the greatest thrill that can stir a
"If we'd only known," he tried to whisper, "I would have had the
keyhole made larger, Cherie! He deserves it for having spied on us
at the cabin window. But--tell me!--Could you see? Did you hear?
Carmin's soft hand went over his mouth. "In another moment you'll
be shouting," she warned. "Maybe I didn't see, and maybe I didn't
hear, Big Bear--but I know there are four very happy people in
Chateau Boulain. And now, if you want to guess who is the
"I am, chere-coeur."
"Well, then, if you insist--YOU are."
"Yes. And the next?"
St. Pierre chuckled. "David Carrigan," he said.
"No, no, no! If you mean that--"
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