Full Online Books
BOOK CATEGORIES
Authors Authors Short Stories Short Stories Long Stories Long Stories Funny Stories Funny Stories Love Stories Love Stories Stories For Kids Stories For Kids Poems Poems Essays Essays Nonfictions Nonfictions Plays Plays Folktales Folktales Fairy Tales Fairy Tales Fables Fables Learning Kitchen Learning Kitchen
LINKS
Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Free Classified Website Without Registration Free Classified Website Daniel Company
Twitter Twitter Add book
donate
Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Flaming Forest - Chapter 20
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
The Flaming Forest - Chapter 20 Post by :rlscott Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :2854

Click below to download : The Flaming Forest - Chapter 20 (Format : PDF)

The Flaming Forest - Chapter 20

Chapter XX

The 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 dishonor for him to spy. He realized now that he had made a mistake in leaving the window too quickly.

But he did not move back through the gloom, for there was something too revolting in what he had seen, and with the revulsion of it a swift understanding of the truth which made his hands clench as he sat down on the edge of the raft with his feet and legs submerged in the slow-moving current of the river. The thing was not uncommon. It was the same monstrous story, as old as the river itself, but in this instance it filled him with a sickening sort of horror which gripped him at first even more than the strangeness of the fact that Carmin Fanchet was the other woman. His vision and his soul were reaching out to the bateau lying in darkness on the far side of the river, where St. Pierre's wife was alone in her unhappiness. His first impulse was to fling himself in the river and race to her--his second, to go back to St. Pierre, even in his nakedness, and call him forth to a reckoning. In his profession of man-hunting he had never had the misfortune to kill, but he could kill St. Pierre--now. His fingers dug into the slippery wood of the log under him, his blood ran hot, and in his eyes blazed the fury of an animal as he stared into the wall of gloom between him and Marie-Anne Boulain.

How much did she know? That was the first question which pounded in his brain. He suddenly recalled his reference to the fight, his apology to Marie-Anne that it should happen so near to her presence, and he saw again the queer little twist of her mouth as she let slip the hint that she was not the only one of her sex who would know of tomorrow's fight. He had not noticed the significance of it then. But now it struck home. Marie-Anne was surely aware of Carmin Fanchet's presence on the raft.

But did she know more than that? Did she know the truth, or was her heart filled only with suspicion and fear, aggravated by St. Pierre's neglect and his too-apparent haste to return to the raft that night? Again David's mind flashed back, recalling her defense of Carmin Fanchet when he had first told her his story of the woman whose brother he had brought to the hangman's justice. There could be but one conclusion. Marie-Anne knew Carmin Fanchet, and she also knew she was on the raft with St. Pierre.

As cooler judgment returned to him, Carrigan refused to concede more than that. For any one of a dozen reasons Carmin Fanchet might be on the raft going down the river, and it was also quite within reason that Marie-Anne might have some apprehension of a woman as beautiful as Carmin, and possibly intuition had begun to impinge upon her a disturbing fear of a something that might happen. But until tonight he was confident she had fought against this suspicion, and had overridden it, even though she knew a woman more beautiful than herself was slowly drifting down the stream with her husband. She had betrayed no anxiety to him in the days that had passed; she had waited eagerly for St. Pierre; like a bird she had gone to him when at last he came, and he had seen her crushed close in St. Pierre's arms in their meeting. It was this night, with its gloom and its storm, that had made the shadowings of her unrest a torturing reality. For St. Pierre had brought her back to the bateau and had played a pitiably weak part in concealing his desire to return to the raft.

So he told himself Marie-Anne did not know the truth, not as he had seen it through the window of St. Pierre's cabin. She had been hurt, for he had seen the sting of it, and in that same instant he had seen her soul rise up and triumph. He saw again the sudden fire that came into her eyes when St. Pierre urged the necessity of his haste, he saw her slim body grow tense, her red lips curve in a flash of pride and disdain. And as Carrigan thought of her in that way his muscles grew tighter, and he cursed St. Pierre. Marie-Anne might be hurt, she might guess that her husband's eyes and thoughts were too frequently upon another's face--but in the glory of her womanhood it was impossible for her to conceive of a crime such as he had witnessed through the cabin window. Of that he was sure.

And then, suddenly, like a blinding sheet of lightning out of a dark sky, came back to him all that St. Pierre had said about Marie-Anne. He had pitied St. Pierre then; he had pitied this great cool-eyed giant of a man who was fighting gloriously, he had thought, in the face of a situation that would have excited most men. Frankly St. Pierre had told him Marie-Anne cared more for him than she should. With equal frankness he had revealed his wife's confessions to him, that she knew of his love for her, of his kiss upon her hair.

In the blackness Carrigan's face burned hot. If he had in him the desire to kill St. Pierre now, might not St. Pierre have had an equally just desire to kill him? For he had known, even as he kissed her hair, and as his arms held her close to his breast in crossing the creek, that she was the wife of St. Pierre. And Marie-Anne--

His muscles relaxed. Slowly he lowered himself into the cool wash of the river, and struck out toward the bateau. He did not breast the current with the same fierce determination with which he had crossed through the storm to the raft, but drifted with it and reached the opposite shore a quarter of a mile below the bateau. Here he waited for a time, while the thickness of the clouds broke, and a gray light came through them, revealing dimly the narrow path of pebbly wash along the shore. Silently, a stark naked shadow in the night, he came back to the bateau and crawled through his window.

He lighted a lamp, and turned it very low, and in the dim glow of it rubbed his muscles until they burned. He was fit for tomorrow, and the knowledge of that fitness filled him with a savage elation. A good-humored love of sport had induced him to fling his first half-bantering challenge into the face of Concombre Bateese, but that sentiment was gone. The approaching fight was no longer an incident, a foolish error into which he had unwittingly plunged himself. In this hour it was the biggest physical thing that had ever loomed up in his life, and he yearned for the dawn with the eagerness of a beast that waits for the kill which comes with the break of day. But it was not the half-breed's face he saw under the hammering of his blows. He could not hate the half-breed. He could not even dislike him now. He forced himself to bed, and later he slept. In the dream that came to him it was not Bateese who faced him in battle, but St. Pierre Boulain.

He awoke with that dream a thing of fire in his brain. The sun was not yet up, but the flush of it was painting the east, and he dressed quietly and carefully, listening for some sound of awakening beyond the bulkhead. If Marie-Anne was awake, she was very still. There was noise ashore. Across the river he could hear the singing of men, and through his window saw the white smoke of early fires rising above the tree-tops. It was the Indian who unlocked the door and brought in his breakfast, and it was the Indian who returned for the dishes half an hour later.

After that Carrigan waited, tense with the desire for action to begin. He sensed no premonition of evil about to befall him. Every nerve and sinew in his body was alive for the combat. He thrilled with an overwhelming confidence, a conviction of his ability to win, an almost dangerous, self-conviction of approaching triumph in spite of the odds in weight and brute strength which were pitted against him. A dozen times he listened at the bulkhead between him and Marie-Anne, and still he heard no movement on the other side.

It was eight o'clock when one of the bateau men appeared at the door and asked if he was ready. Quickly David joined him. He forgot his taunts to Concombre Bateese, forgot the softly padded gloves in his pack with which he had promised to pommel the half- breed into oblivion. He was thinking only of naked fists.

Into a canoe he followed the bateau man, who turned his craft swiftly in the direction of the opposite shore. And as they went, David was sure he caught the slight movement of a curtain at the little window of Marie-Anne's forward cabin. He smiled back and raised his hand, and at that the curtain was drawn back entirely, and he knew that St. Pierre's wife was watching him as he went to the fight.

The raft was deserted, but a little below it, on a wide strip of beach made hard and smooth by flood water, had gathered a crowd of men. It seemed odd to David they should remain so quiet, when he knew the natural instinct of the riverman was to voice his emotion at the top of his lungs. He spoke of this to the bateau man, who shrugged his shoulders and grinned.

"Eet ees ze command of St. Pierre," he explained. "St. Pierre say no man make beeg noise at--what you call heem--funeral? An' theese goin' to be wan gran' fun-e-RAL, m'sieu!"

"I see," David nodded. He did not grin back at the other's humor.

He was looking at the crowd. A giant figure had appeared out of the center of it and was coming slowly down to the river. It was St. Pierre. Scarcely had the prow of the canoe touched shore when David leaped out and hurried to meet him. Behind St. Pierre came Bateese, the half-breed. He was stripped to the waist and naked from the knees down. His gorilla-like arms hung huge and loose at his sides, and the muscles of his hulking body stood out like carven mahogany in the glisten of the morning sun. He was like a grizzly, a human beast of monstrous power, something to look at, to back away from, to fear.

Yet, David scarcely noticed him. He met St. Pierre, faced him, and stopped--and he had gone swiftly to this meeting, so that the chief of the Boulains was within earshot of all his men.

St. Pierre was smiling. He held out his hand as he had held it out once before in the bateau cabin, and his big voice boomed out a greeting.

Carrigan did not answer, nor did he look at the extended hand. For an instant the eyes of the two men met, and then, swift as lightning, Carrigan's arm shot out, and with the flat of his hand he struck St. Pierre a terrific blow squarely on the cheek. The sound of the blow was like the smash of a paddle on smooth water. Not a riverman but heard it, and as St. Pierre staggered back, flung almost from his feet by its force, a subdued cry of amazement broke from the waiting men. Concombre Bateese stood like one stupefied. And then, in another flash, St. Pierre had caught himself and whirled like a wild beast. Every muscle in his body was drawn for a gigantic, overwhelming leap; his eyes blazed; the fury of a beast was in his face. Before all his people he had suffered the deadliest insult that could be offered a man of the Three River Country--a blow struck with the flat of another's hand. Anything else one might forgive, but not that. Such a blow, if not avenged, was a brand that passed down into the second and third generations, and even children would call out "Yellow-Back-- Yellow-Back," to the one who was coward enough to receive it without resentment. A rumbling growl rose in the throat of Concombre Bateese in that moment when it seemed as though St. Pierre Boulain was about to kill the man who had struck him. He saw the promise of his own fight gone in a flash. For no man in all the northland could now fight David Carrigan ahead of St. Pierre.

David waited, prepared to meet the rush of a madman. And then, for a second time, he saw a mighty struggle in the soul of St. Pierre. The giant held himself back. The fury died out of his face, but his great hands remained clenched as he said, for David alone,

"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 insult.

"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 saw--"

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, I--"

"STOP!"

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 the river.

"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 so, m'sieu?"

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.

If you like this book please share to your friends :
NEXT BOOKS

The Flaming Forest - Chapter 21 The Flaming Forest - Chapter 21

The Flaming Forest - Chapter 21
Chapter XXIAs 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
PREVIOUS BOOKS

The Flaming Forest - Chapter 19 The Flaming Forest - Chapter 19

The Flaming Forest - Chapter 19
Chapter XIXWith 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
NEXT 10 BOOKS | PREVIOUS 10 BOOKS | RANDOM 10 BOOKS
LEAVE A COMMENT