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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Valley Of Silent Men: A Story Of The Three River Country - Chapter 17
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The Valley Of Silent Men: A Story Of The Three River Country - Chapter 17 Post by :cclittle Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :2617

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The Valley Of Silent Men: A Story Of The Three River Country - Chapter 17

CHAPTER XVII

In ten seconds, it seemed to Kent, Marette Radisson was again the splendid creature who had held the three men at bay over the end of her little black gun at barracks. The sound of Mooie's second warning came at first as a shock. Accompanying it there was a moment of fear, of fear driven almost to the point of actual terror. Following it came a reaction so swift that Kent was dazed. Within those ten seconds the girl's slender body seemed to grow taller; a new light flamed in her face; her eyes, turning swiftly to him, were filled with the same fire with which they had faced the three constables. She was unafraid. She was ready to fight.

In such moments as these it was the quiet and dispassionate composure of her voice that amazed him most. It was musical in its softness now. Yet in that softness was a hidden thing. It was like velvet covering steel. She had spoken of Niska, the Gray Goose, the goddess of the Three Rivers. And he thought that something of the spirit of a goddess must be in Marette Radisson to give her the courage with which she faced him, even as the metallic thing outside tapped its warning again at the window.

"Inspector Kedsty is coming back," she said. "I did not think he would do that--tonight."

"He has not had time to go to barracks," said Kent.

"No. Possibly he has forgotten something. Before he arrives, I want to show you the nest I have made for you, Jeems. Come quickly!"

It was her first intimation that he was not to remain in her room, a possibility that had already caused him some inward embarrassment. She seized a number of matches, turned down her light, and hurried into the hall. Kent followed her to the end of this hall, where she paused before a low half-door that apparently opened into some sort of a space close under the sloping roof of the bungalow.

"It is an old storeroom," she whispered. "I have made it quite comfortable, I think. I have covered the window, so you may light the lamp. But you must see that no light shows under this door. Lock it on the inside, and be very quiet. For whatever you find in there you must thank M'sieu Fingers."

She pulled the door slightly open and gave him the matches. The illumination in the lower hall made its way only dimly to where they stood. In the gloom he found himself close to the soft glow of her eyes. His fingers closed about her hand as he took the matches.

"Marette, you believe me?" he entreated. "You believe that I love you, that I didn't kill John Barkley, that I am going to fight for you as long as God gives me breath to fight?"

For a moment there was silence. Her hand withdrew gently from his.

"Yes, I think that I believe. Good-night, Jeems."

She went from him quickly. At her door she turned. "Go in now, please," she called back softly. "If you care as you say you do, go IN."

She did not wait for his reply. Her own door closed behind her, and Kent, striking a match, stooped low and entered his hiding- place. In a moment he saw directly ahead of him a lamp on a box. He lighted this, and his first movement then was to close the door and turn the key that was in the lock. After that he looked about him. The storeroom was not more than ten feet square, and the roof was so close over his head that he could not stand upright. It was not the smallness of the place that struck him first, but the preparations which Marette had made for him. In a corner was a bed of blankets, and the rough floor of the place was carpeted with blankets, except for a two-or-three-foot space around the edge of it. Beyond the box was a table and a chair, and it was the burden of this table that made his pulse jump quickest. Marette had not forgotten that he might grow hungry. It was laid sumptuously, with a plate for one, but with food for half a dozen. There were a brace of roasted grouse, brown as nuts; a cold roast of moose meat or beef; a dish piled high with golden potato salad; olives, pickles, an open can of cherries, a loaf of bread, butter, cheese --and one of Kedsty's treasured thermos bottles, which undoubtedly held hot coffee or tea. And then he noticed what was on the chair --a belt and holster and a Colt automatic forty-five! Marette had not figured on securing a gun in the affair at barracks, and her foresight had not forgotten a weapon. She had placed it conspicuously where he could not fail to see it at once. And just beyond the chair, on the floor, was a shoulder-pack. It was of the regulation service sort, partly filled. Resting against the pack was a Winchester. He recognized the gun. He had seen it hanging in Dirty Fingers' shack.

For a matter of five minutes he scarcely moved from where he stood beside the table. Nothing but an unplastered roof was between him and the storm, and over his head the thunder crashed, and the rain beat in torrents. He saw where the window was, carefully covered with a blanket. Even through the blanket he caught faintly the illumination of lightning. This window overlooked the entrance to Kedsty's bungalow, and the idea came to him of turning out the light and opening it. In darkness he took down the blanket. But the window itself was not movable, and after assuring himself of this fact he flattened his face against it, peering out into the chaos of the night.

In that instant came a flare of lightning, and to Kent, looking down, was revealed a sight that tightened every muscle in his body. More vividly than if it had been day he saw a man standing below in the deluge. It was not Mooie. It was not Kedsty. It was no one that he had ever seen. Even more like a ghost than a man was that apparition of the lightning flare. A great, gaunt giant of a ghost, bare-headed, with long, dripping hair and a long, storm-twisted beard. The picture shot to his brain with the swiftness of the lightning itself. It was like the sudden throwing of a cinema picture on a screen. Then blackness shut it out. Kent stared harder. He waited.

Again came the lightning, and again he saw that tragic, ghost-like figure waiting in the storm. Three times he saw it. And he knew that the mysterious, bearded giant was an old man. The fourth time the lightning came, the figure was gone. And in that flare it was the bowed figure of Kedsty he saw hurrying up the gravel path to the door.

Quickly Kent covered the window, but he did not relight the lamp. Before Kedsty could have reached the foot of the stair, he had unlocked the door. Cautiously he opened it three or four inches and sat down with his back against the wall, listening. He heard Kedsty pass through into the big room where Marette had waited for him a short time before. After that there was silence except for the tumult of the storm.

For an hour Kent listened. In all that time he did not hear a sound from the lower hall or from Marette's room. He wondered if she was sleeping, and if Kedsty had gone to bed, waiting for morning before he set in action his bloodhounds of the law.

Kent had no intention of disturbing the comfortable looking bed of blankets. He was not only sleepless, but filled with a premonition of events about to happen. He felt impinging itself more and more upon him a sense of watchfulness. That Inspector Kedsty and Marette Radisson were under the same roof, and that there was some potent and mysterious reason which kept Kedsty from betraying the girl's presence, was the thought which troubled him most. He was not developing further the plans for his own escape.

He was thinking of Marette. What was her power over Kedsty? Why was it that Kedsty would like to see her dead? Why was she in his house? Again and again he asked himself the questions and found no answers to them. And yet, even in this purgatory of mystery that environed him, he felt himself happier than he had ever been in his life. For Marette was not four or five hundred miles down the river. She was in the same house with him. And he had told her that he loved her. He was glad that he had been given courage to let her know that. He relighted the lamp, and opened his watch and placed it on the table, where frequently he could look at the time. He wanted to smoke his pipe, but the odor of tobacco, he was sure, would reach Kedsty, unless the Inspector had actually retired into his bedroom for the night.

Half a dozen times he questioned himself as to the identity of the ghostly apparition he had seen in the lightning flare of the storm. Perhaps it was some one of Fingers' strange friends from out of the wilderness, Mooie's partner in watching the bungalow. The picture of that giant of a man with his great beard and long hair, as his eyes had caught him in a sea of electrical fire, was indelibly burned into his brain. It was a tragic picture.

Again he put out the light and bared the blanketed window, but he saw nothing but the sodden gleam of the earth when the lightning flashed. A second time he opened the door a few inches and sat down with his back to the wall, listening.

How long it was before drowsiness stole upon him he did not know, but it came, and for a few moments at a time, as his eyes closed, it robbed him of his caution. And then, for a space, he slept. A sound brought him suddenly into wide wakefulness. His first impression was that the sound had been a cry. For a moment or two, as his senses adjusted themselves, he was not sure. Then swiftly the thing grew upon him.

He rose to his feet and widened the crack of his door. A bar of light shot across the upper hall. It was from Marette's room. He had taken off his boots to deaden the sound of his feet, and he stepped outside his door. He was positive he heard a low cry, a choking, sobbing cry, only barely audible, and that it came from down the stair.

No longer hesitating, he moved quickly to Marette's room and looked in. His first glimpse was of the bed. It had not been used. The room was empty.

Something cold and chilling gripped at his heart, and an impulse which he no longer made an effort to resist pulled him to the head of the stair. It was more than an impulse--it was a demand. Step by step he went down, his hand on the butt of his Colt.

He reached the lower hall, which was still lighted, and a step or two brought him to a view of the door that opened into the big living-room beyond. That door was partly open, and the room itself was filled with light. Soundlessly Kent approached. He looked in.

What he saw first brought him relief together with shock. At one end of the long desk table over which hung a great brass lamp stood Marette. She was in profile to him. He could not see her face. Her hair fell loose about her, glowing like a rich, sable cape in the light of the lamp. She was safe, alive, and yet the attitude of her as she looked down was the thing that gave him shock. He was compelled to move a few inches more before he could see what she was staring at. And then his heart stopped dead still.

Huddled down in his chair, with his head flung back so that the terrible ghastliness of his face fronted Kent, was Kedsty. And Kent, in an instant, knew. Only a dead man could look like that.

With a cry he entered the room. Marette did not start, but an answering cry came into her throat as she turned her eyes from Kedsty to him. To Kent it was like looking upon the dead in two ways. Marette Radisson, living and breathing, was whiter than Kedsty, who was white with the unbreathing pallor of the actually dead. She did not speak. She made no sound after that answering cry in her throat. She simply looked. And Kent spoke her name gently as he saw her great, wide eyes blazing dully their agony and despair. Then, like one stunned and fascinated, she stared down upon Kedsty again.

Every instinct of the man-hunter became alive in Kent's brain as he, too, turned toward the Inspector of Police. Kedsty's arms hung limp over the side of his chair. On the floor under his right hand was his Colt automatic. His head was strained so far over the back of the chair that it looked as though his neck had been broken. On his forehead, close up against his short-cropped, iron-gray hair, was a red stain.

Kent approached and bent over him. He had seen death too many times not to recognize it now, but seldom had he seen a face twisted and distorted as Kedsty's was. His eyes were open and bulging in a glassy stare. His jaws hung loose. His--

It was then Kent's blood froze in his veins. Kedsty had received a blow, but it was not the blow that had killed him. Afterward he had been choked to death. And the thing that had choked him was a TRESS OF WOMAN'S HAIR.

In the seconds that followed that discovery Kent could not have moved if his own life had paid the penalty of inaction. For the story was told--there about Kedsty's throat and on his chest. The tress of hair was long and soft and shining and black. It was twisted twice around Kedsty's neck, and the loose end rippled down over his shoulder, GLOWING LIKE A BIT OF RICH SABLE IN THE LAMPLIGHT. It was that thought of velvety sable that had come to him at the doorway, looking at Marette. It was the thought that came to him now. He touched it; he took it in his fingers; he unwound it from about Kedsty's neck, where it had made two deep rings in the flesh. From his fingers it rippled out full length. And he turned slowly and faced Marette Radisson.

Never had human eyes looked at him as she was looking at him now. She reached out a hand, her lips mute, and Kent gave her the tress of hair. And the next instant she turned, with a hand clasped at her own throat, and passed through the door.

After that he heard her going unsteadily up the stairs.

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CHAPTER XVIIIKent did not move. His senses for a space were stunned. He was almost physically insensible to all emotions but that one of shock and horror. He was staring at Kedsty's gray-white, twisted face when he heard Marette's door close. A cry came from his lips, but he did not hear it--was unconscious that he had made a sound. His body shook with a sudden tremor. He could not disbelieve, for the evidence was there. From behind, as he had sat in his chair Marette Radisson had struck the Inspector of Police with some blunt object. The blow had stunned
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CHAPTER XVIKent 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
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