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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Flaming Forest - Chapter 19
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The Flaming Forest - Chapter 19 Post by :mrtwist Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :550

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The Flaming Forest - Chapter 19

Chapter XIX

With the slow approach of the storm which was advancing over the wilderness, Carrigan felt more poignantly the growing unrest that was in him. He heard the last of St. Pierre's voice, and after that the fires on the distant shore died out slowly, giving way to utter blackness. Faintly there came to him the far-away rumbling of thunder. The air grew heavy and thick, and there was no sound of night-bird over the breast of the river, and out of the thick cedar and spruce and balsam there came no cry or whisper of the nocturnal life waiting in silence for the storm to break. In that stillness David put out the lights in the cabin and sat close to the window in darkness.

He was more than sleepless. Every nerve in his body demanded action, and his brain was fired by strange thoughts until their vividness seemed to bring him face to face with a reality that set his blood stirring with an irresistible thrill. He believed he had made a discovery, that St. Pierre had betrayed himself. What he had visioned, the conclusion he had arrived at, seemed inconceivable, yet what his own eyes had seen and his ears had heard pointed to the truth of it all. The least he could say was that St. Pierre's love for Marie-Anne Boulain was a strange sort of love. His attitude toward her seemed more like that of a man in the presence of a child of whom he was fond in a fatherly sort of way. His affection, as he had expressed it, was parental and careless. Not for an instant had there been in it a betrayal of the lover, no suggestion of the husband who cared deeply or who might be made jealous by another man.

Sitting in darkness thickening with the nearer approach of storm, David recalled the stab of pain mingled with humiliation that had come into the eyes of St. Pierre's wife when she had stood facing her husband. He heard again, with a new understanding, the low note of pathos in her voice as in song she had called upon the Mother of Christ to hear her--and help her. He had not guessed at the tragedy of it then. Now he knew, and he thought of her lying awake in the gloom beyond the bulkhead, her eyes were with tears. And St. Pierre had gone back to his raft, singing in the night! Where before there had been sympathy for him, there rose a sincere revulsion. There had been a reason for St. Pierre's masterly possession of himself, and it had not been, as he had thought, because of his bigness of soul. It was because he had not cared. He was a splendid hypocrite, playing his game well at the beginning, but betraying the lie at the end. He did not love Marie-Anne as he, Dave Carrigan, loved her. He had spoken of her as a child, and he had treated her as a child, and was serenely dispassionate in the face of a situation which would have roused the spirit in most men. And suddenly, recalling that thrilling hour in the white strip of sand and all that had happened since, it flashed upon David that St. Pierre was using his wife as the vital moving force in a game of his own--that under the masquerade of his apparent faith and bigness of character he was sacrificing her to achieve a certain mysterious something it the scheme of his own affairs.

Yet he could not forget the infinite faith Marie-Anne Boulain had expressed in her husband. There had been no hypocrisy in her waiting and her watching for him, or in her belief that he would straighten out the tangles of the dilemma in which she had become involved. Nor had there been make-believe in the manner she had left him that day in her eagerness to go to St. Pierre. Adding these facts as he had added the others, he fancied he saw the truth staring at him out of the darkness of his cabin room. Marie- Anne loved her husband. And St. Pierre was merely the possessor, careless and indifferent, almost brutally dispassionate in his consideration of her.

A heavy crash of thunder brought Carrigan back to a realization of the impending storm. He rose to his feet in the chaotic gloom, facing the bulkhead beyond which he was certain St. Pierre's wife lay wide awake. He tried to laugh. It was inexcusable, he told himself, to let his thoughts become involved in the family affairs of St. Pierre and Marie-Anne. That was not his business. Marie- Anne, in the final analysis, did not appear to be especially abused, and her mind was not a child's mind. Probably she would not thank him for his interest in the matter. She would tell him, like any other woman with pride, that it was none of his business and that he was presuming upon forbidden ground.

He went to the window. There was scarcely a breath of air, and unfastening the screen, he thrust out his head and shoulders into the night. It was so black that he could not see the shadow of the water almost within reach of his hands, but through the chaos of gloom that lay between him and the opposite shore he made out a single point of yellow light. He was positive the light was in the cabin on the raft. And St. Pierre was probably in that cabin.

A huge drop of rain splashed on his hand, and behind him he heard sweeping over the forest tops the quickening march of the deluge. There was no crash of thunder or flash of lightning when it broke. Straight down, in an inundation, it came out of a sky thick enough to slit with a knife. Carrigan drew in his head and shoulders and sniffed the sweet freshness of it. He tried again to make out the light on the raft, but it was obliterated.

Mechanically he began taking off his clothes, and in a few moments he stood again at the window, naked. Thunder and lightning had caught up with the rain, and in the flashes of fire Carrigan's ghost-white face stared in the direction of the raft. In his veins was at work an insistent and impelling desire. Over there was St. Pierre, he was undoubtedly in the cabin, and something might happen if he, Dave Carrigan, took advantage of storm and gloom to go to the raft.

It was almost a presentiment that drew his bare head and shoulders out through the window, and every hunting instinct in him urged him to the adventure. The stygian darkness was torn again by a flash of fire. In it he saw the river and the vivid silhouette of the distant shore. It would not be a difficult swim, and it would be good training for tomorrow.

Like a badger worming his way out of a hole a bit too small for him, Carrigan drew himself through the window. A lightning flash caught him at the edge of the bateau, and he slunk back quickly against the cabin, with the thought that other eyes might be staring out into that same darkness. In the pitch gloom that followed he lowered himself quietly into the river, thrust himself under water, and struck out for the opposite shore.

When he came to the surface again it was in the glare of another lightning flash. He flung the water from his face, chose a point several hundred yards above the raft, and with quick, powerful strokes set out in its direction. For ten minutes he quartered the current without raising his head. Then he paused, floating unresistingly with the slow sweep of the river, and waited for another illumination. When it came, he made out the tented raft scarcely a hundred yards away and a little below him. In the next darkness he found the edge of it and dragged himself up on the mass of timbers.

The thunder had been rolling steadily westward, and David crouched low, hoping for one more flash to illumine the raft. It came at last from a mass of inky cloud far to the west, so indistinct that it made only dim shadows out of the tents and shelters, but it was sufficient to give him direction. Before its faint glare died out, he saw the deeper shadow of the cabin forward.

For many minutes he lay where he had dragged himself, without making a movement in its direction. Nowhere about him could he see a sign of light, nor could he hear any sound of life. St. Pierre's people were evidently deep in slumber.

Carrigan had no very definite idea of the next step in his adventure. He had swum from the bateau largely under impulse, with no preconceived scheme of action, urged chiefly by the hope that he would find St. Pierre in the cabin and that something might come of it. As for knocking at the door and rousing the chief of the Boulains from sleep--he had at the present moment no very good excuse for that. No sooner had the thought and its objection come to him than a broad shaft of light shot with startling suddenness athwart the blackness of the raft, darkened in another instant by an obscuring shadow. Swift as the light itself David's eyes turned to the source of the unexpected illumination. The door of St. Pierre's cabin was wide open. The interior was flooded with lampglow, and in the doorway stood St. Pierre himself.

The chief of the Boulains seemed to be measuring the weather possibilities of the night. His subdued voice reached David, chuckling with satisfaction, as he spoke to some one who was behind him in the cabin.

"Pitch and brimstone, but it's black!" he cried. "You could carve it with a knife, and stand it on end, AMANTE. But it's going west. In a few hours the stars will be out."

He drew back into the cabin, and the door closed. David held his breath in amazement, staring at the blackness where a moment before the light had been. Who was it St. Pierre had called sweetheart? AMANTE! He could not have been mistaken. The word had come to him clearly, and there was but one guess to make. Marie- Anne was not on the bateau. She had played him for a fool, had completely hoodwinked him in her plot with St. Pierre. They were cleverer than he had supposed, and in darkness she had rejoined her husband on the raft! But why that senseless play of falsehood? What could be their object in wanting him to believe she was still aboard the bateau?

He stood up on his feet and mopped the warm rain from his face, while the gloom hid the grim smile that came slowly to his lips. Close upon the thrill of his astonishment he felt a new stir in his blood which added impetus to his determination and his action. He was not disgusted with himself, nor was he embittered by what he had thought of a moment ago as the lying hypocrisy of his captors. To be beaten in his game of man-hunting was sometimes to be expected, and Carrigan always gave proper credit to the winners. It was also "good medicine" to know that Marie-Anne, instead of being an unhappy and neglected wife, had blinded him with an exquisitely clever simulation. Just why she had done it, and why St. Pierre had played his masquerade, it was his duty now to find out.

An hour ago he would have cut off a hand before spying upon St. Pierre's wife or eavesdropping under her window. Now he felt no uneasiness of conscience as he approached the cabin, for Marie- Anne herself had destroyed all reason for any delicate discrimination on his part.

The rain had almost stopped, and in one of the near tents he heard a sleepy voice. But he had no fear of chance discovery. The night would remain dark for a long time, and in his bare feet he made no sound the sharpest ears of a dog ten feet away might have heard. Close to the cabin door, yet in such a way that the sudden opening of it would not reveal him, he paused and listened.

Distinctly he heard St. Pierre's voice, but not the words. A moment later came the soft, joyous laughter of a woman, and for an instant a hand seemed to grip David's heart, filling it with pain. There was no unhappiness in that laughter. It seemed, instead, to tremble in an exultation of gladness.

Suddenly St. Pierre came nearer the door, and his voice was more distinct. "Chere-coeur, I tell you it is the greatest joke of my life," he heard him say. "We are safe. If it should come to the worst, we can settle the matter in another way. I can not but sing and laugh, even in the face of it all. And she, in that very innocence which amuses me so, has no suspicion--"

He turned, and vainly David keyed his ears to catch the final words. The voices in the cabin grew lower. Twice he heard the soft laughter of the woman. St. Pierre's voice, when he spoke, was unintelligible.

The thought that his random adventure was bringing him to an important discovery possessed Carrigan. St. Pierre, he believed, had been on the very edge of disclosing something which he would have given a great deal to know. Surely in this cabin there must be a window, and the window would be open--

Quietly he felt his way through the darkness to the shore side of the cabin. A narrow bar of light at least partly confirmed his judgment. There was a window. But it was almost entirely curtained, and it was closed. Had the curtain been drawn two inches lower, the thin stream of light would have been shut entirely out from the night.

Under this window David crouched for several minutes, hoping that in the calm which was succeeding the storm it might be opened. The voices were still more indistinct inside. He scarcely heard St. Pierre, but twice again he heard the low and musical laughter of the woman. She had laughed differently with HIM--and the grim smile settled on his lips as he looked up at the narrow slit of light over his head. He had an overwhelming desire to look in. After all, it was a matter of professional business--and his duty.

He was glad the curtain was drawn so low. From experiments of his own he knew there was small chance of those inside seeing him through the two-inch slit, and he raised himself boldly until his eyes were on a level with the aperture.

Directly in the line of his vision was St. Pierre's wife. She was seated, and her back was toward him, so he could not see her face. She was partly disrobed, and her hair was streaming loose about her. Once, he remembered, she had spoken of fiery lights that came into her hair under certain illumination. He had seen them in the sun, but never as they revealed themselves now in that cabin lamp glow. He scarcely looked at St. Pierre, who was on his feet, looking down upon her--not until St. Pierre reached out and crumpled the smothering mass of glowing tresses in his big hands, and laughed. It was a laugh filled with the unutterable joy of possession. The woman rose to her feet. Up through her hair went her two white, bare arms, encircling St. Pierre's neck. The giant drew her close. Her slim form seemed to melt in his, and their lips met.

And then the woman threw back her head, laughing, so that her glory of hair fell straight down, and she was out of reach of St. Pierre's lips. They turned. Her face fronted the window, and out in the night Carrigan stifled a cry that almost broke from his lips. For a flash he was looking straight into her eyes. Her parted lips seemed smiling at him; her white throat and bosom were bared to him. He dropped down, his heart choking him as he stumbled through the darkness to the edge of the raft. There, with the lap of the water at his feet, he paused. It was hard for him to get Breath. He stared through the gloom in the direction of the bateau. Marie-Anne Boulain, the woman he loved, was there! In her little cabin, alone, on the bateau, was St. Pierre's wife, her heart crushed.

And in this cabin on the raft, forgetful of her degradation and her grief, was the vilest wretch he had ever known--St. Pierre Boulain. And with him, giving herself into his arms, caressing him with her lips and hair, was the sister of the man he had helped to hang--CARMIN FANCHET!

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Chapter XXThe shock of the amazing discovery which Carrigan had made was as complete as it was unexpected. His eyes had looked upon the last thing in the world he might have guessed at or anticipated when they beheld through the window of St. Pierre's cabin the beautiful face and partly disrobed figure of Carmin Fanchet. The first effect of that shock had been to drive him away. His action had been involuntary, almost without the benefit of reason, as if Carmin had been Marie-Anne herself receiving the caresses which were rightfully hers, and upon which it was both insult and
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Chapter XVIIIHe did not turn toward Marie-Anne when he had lighted the first of the great brass lamps hanging at the side of the bateau. He went to the second, and struck another match, and flooded the cabin with light.She still stood silhouetted against the darkness beyond the cabin door when he faced her. She was watching him, her eyes intent, her face a little pale, he thought. Then he smiled and nodded. He could not see a great change in her since this afternoon, except that there seemed to be a little more fire in the glow of her eyes.
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