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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Valley Of Silent Men: A Story Of The Three River Country - Chapter 14
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The Valley Of Silent Men: A Story Of The Three River Country - Chapter 14 Post by :ben.g Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :2825

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The Valley Of Silent Men: A Story Of The Three River Country - Chapter 14

CHAPTER XIV

The manner in which Kent stared at Marette Radisson after her announcement that it was Dirty Fingers who had planned his escape must have been, he thought afterward, little less than imbecile. He had wronged Fingers, he believed. He had called him a coward and a backslider. In his mind he had reviled him for helping to raise his hopes to the highest pitch, only to smash them in the end. And all the time Dirty Fingers had been planning this! Kent began to grin. The thing was clear in a moment--that is, the immediate situation was clear--or he thought it was. But there were questions--one, ten, a hundred of them. They wanted to pile over the end of his tongue, questions that had little or nothing to do with Kedsty. He saw nothing now but Marette.

She had begun to take down her hair. It fell about her in wet, shining masses. Kent had never seen anything like it. It clung to her face, her neck, her shoulders and arms, and shrouded her slender body to her hips, lovely in its confusion. Little drops of water glistened in it like diamonds in the lamp glow, trickling down and dropping to the floor. It was like a glowing coat of velvety sable beaten by storm. Marette ran her arms up through it, shaking it out in clouds, and a mist of rain leaped out from it, some of it striking Kent in the face. He forgot Fingers. He forgot Kedsty. His brain flamed only with the electrifying nearness of her. It was the thought of her that had inspired the greatest hope in him. It was his dreams of her, somewhere on the Big River, that had given him his great courage to believe in the ultimate of things. And now time and space had taken a leap backward. She was not four or five hundred miles north. There was no long quest ahead of him. She was here, within a few feet of him, tossing the wet from that glorious hair he had yearned to touch, brushing it out now, with her back toward him, in front of her mirror.

And as he sat there, uttering no word, looking at her, the demands of the immense responsibility that had fallen upon him and of the great fight that lay ahead pounded within him with naked fists. Fingers had planned. She had executed. It was up to him to finish.

He saw her, not as a creature to win, but as a priceless possession. Her fight had now become his fight. The rain was beating against the window near him. Out there was blackness, the river, the big world. His blood leaped with the old fighting fire. They were going tonight; they must be going tonight! Why should they wait? Why should they waste time under Kedsty's roof when freedom lay out there for the taking? He watched the swift movements of her hand, listened to the silken rustle of the brush as it smoothed out her long hair. Bewilderment, reason, desire for action fought inside him.

Suddenly she faced him again. "It has just this moment occurred to me," she said, "that you haven't said 'Thank you.'"

So suddenly that he startled her he was at her side. He did not hesitate this time, as he had hesitated in his room at Cardigan's place. He caught her two hands in his, and with them he felt the soft, damp crush of her hair between his fingers. Words tumbled from his lips. He could not remember afterward all that he said. Her eyes widened, and they never for an instant left his own. Thank her! He told her what had happened to him--in the heart and soul of him--from the hour she had come to him at Cardigan's. He told her of dreams and plans, of his determination to find her again after he had escaped, if it took him all his life. He told her of Mercer, of his discovery of her visit to Kim's Bayou, of his scheme to follow her down the Three Rivers, to seek for her at Fort Simpson, to follow her to the Valley of Silent Men, wherever it was. Thank her! He held her hands so tight they hurt, and his voice trembled. Under the cloud of her hair a slow fire burned in Marette Radisson's cheeks. But it did not show in her eyes. They looked at him so steadily, so unfalteringly, that his own face burned before he had finished what was in his mind to say, and he freed her hands and stepped back from her again.

"Forgive me for saying all that," he entreated. "But it's true. You came to me there, at Cardigan's place, like something I'd always dreamed about, but never expected to find. And you came to me again, at the cell, like--"

"Yes, I know how I came," she interrupted him. "Through the mud and the rain, Mr. Kent. And it was so black I lost my way and was terrified to think that I might not find barracks. I was half an hour behind Mr. Fingers' schedule. For that reason I think Inspector Kedsty may return at any moment, and you must not talk so loud--or so much."

"Lord!" he breathed in a whisper. "I have said a lot in a short time, haven't I? But it isn't a hundredth part of what I want to get out of my system. I won't ask the million questions that want to be asked. But I must know why we are here. Why have we come to Kedsty's? Why didn't we make for the river? There couldn't be a better night to get away."

"But it is not so good as the fifth night from now will be," she said, resuming the task of drying her hair. "On that night you may go to the river. Our plans were a little upset, you know, by Inspector Kedsty's change in the date on which you were to leave for Edmonton. Arrangements have been made so that on the fifth night you may leave safely."

"And you?"

"I shall remain here." And then she added in a low voice that struck his heart cold, "I shall remain to pay Kedsty the price which he will ask for what has happened tonight."

"Good God!" he cried. "Marette!"

She turned on him swiftly. "No, no, I don't mean that he will hurt me," she cried, a fierce little note in her voice. "I would kill him before that! I'm sorry I told you. But you must not question me. You shall not!"

She was trembling. He had never seen her excited like that before, and as she stood there before him, he knew that he was not afraid for her in the way that had flashed into his mind. She had not spoken empty words. She would fight. She would kill, if it was necessary to kill. And he saw her, all at once, as he had not seen her before. He remembered a painting which he had seen a long time ago in Montreal. It was L'Esprit de la Solitude--The Spirit of the Wild--painted by Conne, the picturesque French-Canadian friend of Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, and a genius of the far backwoods who had drawn his inspiration from the heart of the wilderness itself. And that painting stood before him now in flesh and blood, its crudeness gone, but the marvelous spirit it had breathed remaining. Shrouded in her tumbled hair, her lips a little parted, every line of her slender body vibrant with an emotion which seemed consuming her, her beautiful eyes aglow with its fire, he saw in her, as Conne must have seen at another time, the soul of the great North itself. She seemed to him to breathe of the God's country far down the Three Rivers; of its almost savage fearlessness; its beauty, its sunshine, and its storm; its tragedy, its pathos, and its song. In her was the courage and the glory of that North. He had seen; and now he felt these things, and the thrill of them swept over him like an inundation.

He had heard her soft laugh, she had made fun of him when he thought he was dying; she had kissed him, she had fought for him, she had clung in terror to his hand when the lightning flashed; and now she stood with her little hands clenched in her hair, like a storm about to break. A moment ago she was so near that he had almost taken her in his arms. Now, in an instant, she had placed something so vast between them that he would not have dared to touch her hand or her hair. Like sun and cloud and wind she changed, and for him each change added to the wonder of her. And now it was storm. He saw it in her eyes, her hands, her body. He felt the electrical nearness of it in those low-spoken, trembling words, "YOU SHALL NOT!" The room seemed surcharged for a moment with impending shock. And then his physical eyes took in again the slimness of her, seized upon the alluring smallness of her and the fact that he could have tossed her to the ceiling without great effort. And yet he saw her as one sees a goddess.

"No, I won't ask you questions, when you look at me like that," he said, finding his tongue. "I won't ask you what this price is that Kedsty may demand, because you're not going to pay it. If you won't go with me, I won't go. I'd rather stay here and be hung. I'm not asking you questions, so please don't shoot, but if you told me the truth, and you belong in the North, you're going back with me--or I'm not going. I'll not budge an inch."

She drew a deep breath, as if something had greatly relieved her. Again her violet eyes came out from the shadow into sunlight, and her trembling mouth suddenly broke into a smile. It was not apologetic. There was about it a quick and spontaneous gladness which she made no effort at all to conceal.

"That is nice of you," she said. "I'm glad to hear you say it. I never knew how pleasant it was to have some one who was willing to be hung for me. But you will go. And I will not go. There isn't time to explain all about it just now, for Inspector Kedsty will be here very soon, and I must dry my hair and show you your hiding-place--if you have to hide."

She began to brush her hair again. In the mirror Kent caught a glimpse of the smile still trembling on her lips.

"I'm not questioning you," he guarded himself again, "but if you could only understand how anxious I am to know where Kedsty is, how Fingers found you, why you made us believe you were leaving the Landing and then returned--and--how badly I want to know something about you--I almost believe you'd talk a little while you are drying your hair."

"It was Mooie, the old Indian," she said. "It was he who found out in some way that I was here, and then M'sieu Fingers came himself one night when the Inspector was away--got in through a window and simply said that you had sent him, when I was just about to shoot him. You see, I knew you weren't going to die. Kedsty had told me that. I was going to help you in another way, if M'sieu Fingers hadn't come. Inspector Kedsty was over there tonight, at his cabin, when the thing happened down there. It was a part of Fingers' scheme--to keep him out of the way."

Suddenly she grew rigid. The brush remained poised in her hair. Kent, too, heard the sound that she had heard. It was a loud tapping at one of the curtained windows, the tapping of some metallic object. And that window was fifteen feet above the ground!

With a little cry the girl threw down her brush, ran to the window, and raised and lowered the curtain once. Then she turned to Kent, swiftly dividing her hair into thick strands and weaving them into a braid.

"It is Mooie," she cried. "Kedsty is coming!"

She caught his hand and hurried him toward the head of the bed, where two long curtains were strung on a wire. She drew these apart. Behind them were what seemed to Kent an innumerable number of feminine garments.

"You must hide in them, if you have to," she said, the excited little tremble in her voice again. "I don't think it will come to that, but if it does, you must! Bury yourself way back in them, and keep quiet. If Kedsty finds you are here--"

She looked into his eyes, and it seemed to Kent that there was something which was very near to fear in them now.

"If he should find you here, it would mean something terrible for me," she went on, her hands creeping to his arms. "I can not tell you what it is now, but it would be worse than death. Will you promise to stay here, no matter what happens down there, no matter what you may hear? Will you--Mr. Kent?"

"Not if you call me Mr. Kent," he said, something thickening in his throat.

"Will you--Jeems? Will you--no matter what happens--if I promise-- when I come back--to kiss you?"

Her hands slipped almost caressingly from his arms, and then she had turned swiftly and was gone through the partly open door, closing it after her, before he could give his promise.

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CHAPTER XIIIIn that moment Kent did not speak. He made no sound. He gave no sign of welcome, but stood in the middle of his cell, staring. If life had hung upon speech in those few seconds, he would have died, but everything he would have said, and more, was in his face. The girl must have seen it. With her two hands she was gripping at the bars of the cell and looking through at him. Kent saw that her face was pale in the lamp glow. In that pallor her violet eyes were like pools of black. The hood
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