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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Valley Of Silent Men: A Story Of The Three River Country - Chapter 16
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The Valley Of Silent Men: A Story Of The Three River Country - Chapter 16 Post by :runtonk Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :2033

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The Valley Of Silent Men: A Story Of The Three River Country - Chapter 16

CHAPTER XVI

Kent stood still while Marette moved in that gloom, found matches, and lighted the lamp. He had not spoken a word after the kiss. He had not taken advantage of it. The gentle pressure of her hands had restrained him from taking her in his arms. But the kiss itself fired him with a wild and glorious thrill that was like a vibrant music to which every atom of life in his body responded. If he claimed his reward at all, he had expected her kiss to be perhaps indifferent, at least neutral. But the lips she had given him there in the darkness of the room were warm, living, breathing lips. They had not been snatched away from him too quickly. Their sweetness, for an instant, had lingered.

Then, in the lamp glow, he was looking into Marette Radisson's face. He knew that his own was aflame. He had no desire to hide its confession, and he was eager to find what lay in her own eyes. And he was astonished, and then startled. The kiss had not disturbed Marette. It was as if it had never happened.

She was not embarrassed, and there was no hint of color in her face. It was her deathly whiteness that startled him, a pallor emphasized by the dark masses of her hair, and a strange glow in her eyes. It was not a glow brought there by the kiss. It was fear, fading slowly out of them as he looked, until at last it was gone, and her lips trembled with an apologetic smile.

"He was very angry," she said. "How easily some men lose their tempers, don't they--Jeems?"

The little break in her voice, her brave effort to control herself, and the whimsical bit of smile that accompanied her words made him want to do what the gentle pressure of her hands had kept him from doing a few moments before--pick her up in his arms. What she was trying to hide he saw plainly. She had been in danger, a danger greater than that which she had quietly and fearlessly faced at barracks. And she was still afraid of that menace. It was the last thing which she wanted him to know, and yet he knew it. A new force swept through him. It was the force which comes of mastery, of possessorship, of fighting grimly against odds. It rose in a mighty triumph. It told him this girl belonged to him, that she was his to fight for. And he was going to fight. Marette saw the change that came into his face. For a moment after she had spoken there was silence between them. Outside the storm beat in a fiercer blast. A roll of thunder crashed over the bungalow. The windows rattled in a sweep of wind and rain. Kent, looking at her, his muscles hardening, his face growing grimmer, nodded toward the window at which Mooie's signal had come.

"It is a splendid night--for us," he said. "And we must go."

She did not answer.

"In the eyes of the law I am a murderer," he went on. "You saved me. You shot a man. In those same eyes you are a criminal. It is folly to remain here. It is sheer suicide for both of us. If Kedsty--"

"If Kedsty does not do what I told him to do to-night, I shall kill him!" she said.

The quietness of her words, the steadiness of her eyes, held him speechless. Again it seemed to him, as it had seemed to him in his room at Cardigan's place, that it was a child who was looking at him and speaking to him. If she had shown fear a few moments before, that fear was not revealed in her face now. She was not excited. Her eyes were softly and quietly beautiful. She amazed him and discomfited him. Against that child-like sureness he felt himself helpless. Its potency was greater than his strength and greater than his determination. It placed between them instantly a vast gulf, a gulf that might be bridged by prayer and entreaty, but never by force. There was no hint of excitement in her threat against Kedsty, and yet in the very calmness of it he felt its deadliness.

A whimsical half-smile was trembling on her lips again, and a warmer glow came into her eyes. "Do you know," she said, "that according to an old and sacred code of the North you belong to me?"

"I have heard of that code," he replied. "A hundred years ago I should have been your slave. If it exists today, I am happy."

"Yes, you see the point, Jeems, don't you? You were about to die, probably. I think they would have hanged you. And I saved your life. Therefore your life belongs to me, for I insist that the code still lives. You are my property, and I am going to do with you as I please, until I turn you over to the Rivers. And you are not going tonight. You shall wait here for Laselle and his brigade."

"Laselle--Jean Laselle?"

She nodded. "Yes, that is why you must wait. We have made a splendid arrangement. When Laselle and his brigade start north, you go with them. And no one will ever know. You are safe here. No one will think of looking for you under the roof of the Inspector of Police."

"But you, Marette!" He caught himself, remembering her injunction not to question her. Marette shrugged her slim shoulders the slightest bit and nodded for him to look upon what she knew he had already seen, her room.

"It is not uncomfortable," she said. "I have been here for a number of weeks, and nothing has happened to me. I am quite safe. Inspector Kedsty has not looked inside that door since the day your big red-headed friend saw me down in the poplars. He has not put a foot on the stair. That is the dead-line. And--I know--you are wondering. You are asking yourself a great many questions--a bon droit, M'sieu Jeems. You are burning up with them. I can see it. And I--"

There was something suddenly pathetic about her, as she sank into the big-armed, upholstered chair which had been Kedsty's favorite reading chair. She was tired, and for a moment it seemed to Kent that she was almost ready to cry. Her ringers twisted nervously at the shining end of the braid in her lap, and more than ever he thought how slim and helpless, she was, yet how gloriously unafraid, how unconquerable with that something within her that burned like the fire of a dynamo. The flame of that force had gone down now, as though the fire itself was dying out; but when she raised her eyes to him, looking up at him from out of the big chair, he knew that back of the yearning, child-like glow that lay in them the heart of that fire was living and unquenchable. Again, for him, she had ceased to be a woman. It was the soul of a child that lay in her wide-open, wonderfully blue eyes. Twice before he had seen that miracle, and it held him now, as it had held him that first time when she had stood with her back at Cardigan's door. And as it had changed then, so it changed now, slowly, and she was a woman again, with that great gulf of unapproachableness between them. But the yearning was still there, revealing itself to him, and yet, like the sun, infinitely remote from him.

"I wish that I might answer those questions for you," she said, in a voice that was low and tired. "I should like to have you know, because I--I have great faith in you, Jeems. But I cannot. It is impossible. It is inconceivable. If I did--" She made a hopeless little gesture. "If I told you everything, you would not like me any more. And I want you to like me--until you go north with M'sieu Jean and his brigade."

"And when I do that," cried Kent, almost savagely, "I shall find this place you call the Valley of Silent Men, if it takes me all my life."

It was becoming a joy for him to see the sudden flashes of pleasure that leaped into her eyes. She attempted no concealment. Whatever her emotions were they revealed themselves unaffectedly and with a simple freedom from embarrassment that swept him with an almost reverential worship. And what he had just said pleased her. Unreservedly her glowing eyes and her partly smiling lips told him that, and she said: "I am glad you feel that way, Jeems. And I think you would find it--in time. Because--"

Her little trick of looking at him so steadily, as if there was something inside him which she was trying to see more clearly, made him feel more helplessly than ever her slave. It was as if, in those moments, she forgot that he was of flesh and blood, and was looking into his heart to see what was there before she gave voice to things.

And then she said, still twisting her braid between her slim fingers, "You would find it--perhaps--because you are one who would not give up easily. Shall I tell you why I came to see you at Doctor Cardigan's? It was curiosity, at first--largely that. Just why or how I was interested in the man you freed is one of the things I can not tell you. And I can not tell you why I came to the Landing. Nor can I say a word about Kedsty. It may be, some day, that you will know. And then you will not like me. For nearly four years before I saw you that day I had been in a desolation. It was a terrible place. It ate my heart and soul out with its ugliness, its loneliness, its emptiness. A little while longer and I would have died. Then the thing happened that brought me away. Can you guess where it was?"

He shook his head, "No."

"To all the others it was a beautiful place, Montreal."

"You were at school there?" he guessed.

"Yes, the Villa Maria. I wasn't quite sixteen then. They were kind. I think they liked me. But each night I prayed one prayer. You know what the Three Rivers are to us, to the people of the North. The Athabasca is Grandmother, the Slave is Mother, the Mackenzie is Daughter, and over them watches always the goddess Niska, the Gray Goose. And my prayer was that I might go back to them. In Montreal there were people, people everywhere, thousands and tens of thousands of them, so many that I was lonely and heartsick and wanted to get away. For the Gray Goose blood is in me, Jeems. I love the forests. And Niska's God doesn't live in Montreal. Her sun doesn't rise there. Her moon isn't the same there. The flowers are not hers. The winds tell different stories. The air is another air. People, when they look at you, look in another way. Away down the Three Rivers I had loved men. There I was learning to hate them. Then, something happened. I came to Athabasca Landing. I went to see you because--"

She clasped her two hands tightly in her lap. "Because, after those four terrible years, you were the first man I found who was playing a great, big, square game to the end. Don't ask me how I found it out. Please don't ask me anything. I am telling you all you can know, all you SHALL know. But I did find it out. And then I learned that you were not going to die. Kedsty told me that. And when I had talked with you I knew that you would play any game square, and I made up my mind to help you. That is why I am telling you all this--just to let you know that I have faith in you, and that you must not break that faith. You must not insist on knowing more about me. You must still play the game. I am playing mine, and you must play yours. And to play yours clean, you must go with Laselle's brigade and leave me with Kedsty. You must forget what has happened. You must forget what MAY happen. You can not help me. You can only harm me. And if--some day, a long time from now--you should happen to find the Valley of Silent Men--"

He waited, his heart pounding like a fist.

"I may--be there," she finished, in a voice so low that it was scarcely above a whisper.

It seemed to him that she was looking a long way off, and it was not in his direction. And then she smiled, not at him, but in a half-hopeless little way.

"I think I shall be disappointed if you don't find it," she said then, and her eyes were pure as the blue flowers from which they had stolen their color, as she looked at him. "You know the great Sulphur Country beyond Fort Simpson, westward between the Two Nahannis?"

"Yes. That is where Kilbane and his patrol were lost. The Indians call it the Devil Country. Is that it?"

She nodded. "They say no living thing has ever been through the Sulphur Country," she said. "But that is not true. I have been through it. It is beyond the Sulphur Country you must go to find the Valley of Silent Men, straight through that gap between the North and the South Nahanni. That is the way YOU must go if you should ever find it, Jeems, for otherwise you would have to come down from Dawson or up from Skagway, and the country is so great that you would never come upon it in a thousand years. The police will not find you there. You will always be safe. Perhaps I shall tell you more before the Brigade comes. But that is all tonight. I may never tell you anything more. And you must not question me."

Speechless he had stood, all the life of his soul burning like a fire in his eyes as he looked at her and listened to her, and now, quietly and unexcitedly, he said:

"Marette, I am going to play this game as you want me to play it, because I love you. It is only honest for me to tell you in words what you must already know. And I am going to fight for you as long as there is a drop of blood in my body. If I go with Jean Laselle's brigade, will you promise me--"

His voice trembled. He was repressing a mighty emotion. But not by the quiver of one of her long lashes did Marette Radisson give evidence that she had even heard his confession of love. She interrupted him before he had finished.

"I can promise you nothing, no matter what you do. Jeems, Jeems, you are not like those other men I learned to hate? You will not INSIST? If you do--if you are like them--yes, you may go away from here tonight and not wait for Jean Laselle. Listen! The storm will not break for hours. If you are going to demand a price for playing the game as I want you to play it, you may go. You have my permission."

She was very white. She rose from the big chair and stood before him. There was no anger in her voice or gesture, but her eyes glowed like luminous stars. There was something in them which he had not seen before, and suddenly a thought struck his heart cold as ice.

With a low cry he stretched out his hands, "My God, Marette, I am not a murderer! I did not kill John Barkley!"

She did not answer him.

"You don't believe me," he cried. "You believe that I killed Barkley, and that now--a murderer--I dare to tell you that I love you!"

She was trembling. It was like a little shiver running through her. For only a flash it seemed to him that he had caught a glimpse of something terrible, a thing she was hiding, a thing she was fighting as she stood there with her two little clenched hands. For in her face, in her eyes, in the beating throb of her white throat he saw, in that moment, the almost hidden agony of a hurt thing. And then it was gone, even as he entreated again, pleading for her faith.

"I did not kill John Barkley!"

"I am not thinking of that, Jeems," she said. "It is of something--"

They had forgotten the storm. It was howling and beating at the windows outside. But suddenly there came a sound that rose above the monotonous tumult of it, and Marette started as if it had sent an electric shock through her. Kent, too, turned toward the window.

It was the metallic tap, tap, tapping which once before had warned them of approaching danger. And this time it was insistent. It was as if a voice was crying out to them from beyond the window. It was more than premonition--it was the alarm of a near and impending menace. And in that moment Kent saw Marette Radisson's hands go swiftly to her throat and her eyes leap with sudden fire, and she gave a little cry as she listened to the sound.

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CHAPTER XVFor a space he stood where she had left him, staring at the door through which she had gone. The nearness of her in those last few seconds of her presence, the caressing touch of her hands, what he had seen in her eyes, her promise to kiss him if he did not reveal himself--these things, and the thought of the splendid courage that must be inspiring her to face Kedsty now, made him blind even to the door and the wall at which he was apparently looking. He saw only her face, as he had seen it in that
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