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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Valley Of Silent Men: A Story Of The Three River Country - Chapter 7
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The Valley Of Silent Men: A Story Of The Three River Country - Chapter 7 Post by :Joe_Coon Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :3341

Click below to download : The Valley Of Silent Men: A Story Of The Three River Country - Chapter 7 (Format : PDF)

The Valley Of Silent Men: A Story Of The Three River Country - Chapter 7

CHAPTER VII

From the window, the glorious day outside, and the vision he had made for himself of Marette Radisson, Kent turned at the sound of a hand at his door and saw it slowly open. He was expecting it. He had read young Mercer like a book. Mercer's nervousness and the increased tightening of the thing in his chest had given him warning. The thing was going to happen soon, and Father Layonne had come. He tried to smile, that he might greet his wilderness friend cheerfully and unafraid. But the smile froze when the door opened and he saw the missioner standing there.

More than once he had accompanied Father Layonne over the threshold of life into the presence of death, but he had never before seen in his face what he saw there now. He stared. The missioner remained in the doorway, hesitating, as if at the last moment a great fear held him back. For an interval the eyes of the two men rested upon each other in a silence that was like the grip of a living thing. Then Father Layonne came quietly into the room and closed the door behind him.

Kent drew a deep breath and tried to grin. "You woke me out of a dream," he said, "a day-dream. I've had a very pleasant experience this morning, mon pere."

"So some one was trying to tell me, Jimmy," replied the little missioner with an effort to smile back.

"Mercer?"

"Yes. He told me about it confidentially. The poor boy must have fallen in love with the young lady."

"So have I, mon pere. I don't mind confessing it to you. I'm rather glad. And if Cardigan hadn't scheduled me to die--"

"Jimmy," interrupted the missioner quickly, but a bit huskily, "has it ever occurred to you that Doctor Cardigan may be mistaken?"

He had taken one of Kent's hands. His grip tightened. It began to hurt. And Kent, looking into his eyes, found his brain all at once like a black room suddenly illuminated by a flash of fire. Drop by drop the blood went out of his face until it was whiter than Father Layonne's.

"You--you don't--mean--"

"Yes, yes, boy, I mean just that," said the missioner, in a voice so strange that it did not seem to be his own. "You are not going to die, Jimmy. You are going to live!"

"Live!" Kent dropped back against his pillows. "LIVE!" His lips gasped the one word.

He closed his eyes for an instant, and it seemed to him that the world was aflame. And he repeated the word again, but only his lips formed it, and there came no sound. His senses, strained to the breaking-point to meet the ordeal of death, gave way slowly to the mighty reaction. He felt in those moments like a reeling man. He opened his eyes, and there was a meaningless green haze through the window where the world should have been. But he heard Father Layonne's voice. It seemed a great distance off, but it was very clear. Doctor Cardigan had made an error, it was saying. And Doctor Cardigan, because of that error, was like a man whose heart had been taken out of him. But it was an excusable error.

If there had been an X-ray--But there had been none. And Doctor Cardigan had made the diagnosis that nine out of ten good surgeons would probably have made. What he had taken to be the aneurismal blood-rush was an exaggerated heart murmur, and the increased thickening in his chest was a simple complication brought about by too much night air. It was too bad the error had happened. But he must not blame Cardigan!

HE MUST NOT BLAME CARDIGAN! Those last words pounded like an endless series of little waves in Kent's brain. He must not blame Cardigan! He laughed, laughed before his dazed senses readjusted themselves, before the world through the window pieced itself into shape again. At least he thought he was laughing. He must--not-- blame--Cardigan! What an amazingly stupid thing for Father Layonne to say! Blame Cardigan for giving him back his life? Blame him for the glorious knowledge that he was not going to die? Blame him for--

Things were coming clearer. Like a bolt slipping into its groove his brain found itself. He saw Father Layonne again, with his white, tense face and eyes in which were still seated the fear and the horror he had seen in the doorway. It was not until then that he gripped fully at the truth.

"I--I see," he said. "You and Cardigan think it would have been better if I had died!"

The missioner was still holding his hand. "I don't know, Jimmy, I don't know. What has happened is terrible."

"But not so terrible as death," cried Kent, suddenly growing rigid against his pillows. "Great God, mon pere, I want to live! Oh--"

He snatched his hand free and stretched forth both arms to the open window. "Look at it out there! My world again! MY WORLD! I want to go back to it. It's ten times more precious to me now than it was. Why should I blame Cardigan? Mon pere--mon pere--listen to me. I can say it now, because I've got a right to say it. I LIED. I didn't kill John Barkley!"

A strange cry fell from Father Layonne's lips. It was a choking cry, a cry, not of rejoicing, but of a grief-stung thing. "Jimmy!"

"I swear it! Great heaven, mon pere, don't you believe me?"

The missioner had risen. In his eyes and face was another look. It was as if in all his life he had never seen James Kent before. It was a look born suddenly of shock, the shock of amazement, of incredulity, of a new kind of horror. Then swiftly again his countenance changed, and he put a hand on Kent's head.

"God forgive you, Jimmy," he said. "And God help you, too!"

Where a moment before Kent had felt the hot throb of an inundating joy, his heart was chilled now by the thing he sensed in Father Layonne's voice and saw in his face and eyes. It was not entirely disbelief. It was a more hopeless thing than that.

"You do not believe me!" he said.

"It is my religion to believe, Jimmy," replied Father Layonne in a gentle voice into which the old calmness had returned. "I must believe, for your sake. But it is not a matter of human sentiment now, lad. It is the Law! Whatever my heart feels toward you can do you no good. You are--" He hesitated to speak the words.

Then it was that Kent saw fully and clearly the whole monstrous situation. It had taken time for it to fasten itself upon him. In a general way it had been clear to him a few moments before; now, detail by detail, it closed in upon him, and his muscles tightened, and Father Layonne saw his jaw set hard and his hands clench. Death was gone. But the mockery of it, the grim exultation of the thing over the colossal trick it had played, seemed to din an infernal laughter in his ears. But--he was going to live! That was the one fact that rose above all others. No matter what happened to him a month or six months from now, he was not going to die today. He would live to receive Mercer's report. He would live to stand on his feet again and to fight for the life which he had thrown away. He was, above everything else, a fighting man. It was born in him to fight, not so much against his fellow men as against the overwhelming odds of adventure as they came to him. And now he was up against the deadliest game of all. He saw it. He felt it. The thing gripped him. In the eyes of that Law of which he had so recently been a part he was a murderer. And in the province of Alberta the penalty for killing a man was hanging. Because horror and fear did not seize upon him, he wondered if he still realized the situation. He believed that he did. It was merely a matter of human nature. Death, he had supposed, was a fixed and foregone thing. He had believed that only a few hours of life were left for him. And now it was given back to him, for months at least. It was a glorious reprieve, and--

Suddenly his heart stood still in the thrill of the thought that came to him. Marette Radisson had known that he was not going to die! She had hinted the fact, and he, like a blundering idiot, had failed to catch the significance of it. She had given him no sympathy, had laughed at him, had almost made fun of him, simply because she knew that he was going to live!

He turned suddenly on Father Layonne.

"They shall believe me!" he cried. "I shall make them believe me! Mon pere, I lied! I lied to save Sandy McTrigger, and I shall tell them why. If Doctor Cardigan has not made another mistake, I want them all here again. Will you arrange it?"

"Inspector Kedsty is waiting outside," said Father Layonne quietly, "but I should not act in haste, Jimmy. I should wait. I should think--think."

"You mean take time to think up a story that will hold water, mon pere? I have that. I have the story. And yet--" He smiled a bit dismally. "I did make one pretty thorough confession, didn't I, Father?"

"It was very convincing, Jimmy. It went so particularly into the details, and those details, coupled with the facts that you were seen at John Barkley's earlier in the evening, and that it was you who found him dead a number of hours later--"

"All make a strong case against me," agreed Kent. "As a matter of fact, I was up at Barkley's to look over an old map he had made of the Porcupine country twenty years ago. He couldn't find it. Later he sent word he had run across it. I returned and found him dead."

The little missioner nodded, but did not speak.

"It is embarrassing," Kent went on. "It almost seems as though I ought to go through with it, like a sport. When a man loses, it isn't good taste to set up a howl. It makes him sort of yellow- backed, you know. To play the game according to rules, I suppose I ought to keep quiet and allow myself to be hung without making any disturbance. Die game, and all that, you know. Then there is the other way of looking at it. This poor neck of mine depends on me. It has given me a lot of good service. It has been mighty loyal. It has even swallowed eggs on the day it thought it was going to die. And I'd be a poor specimen of humanity to go back on it now. I want to do that neck a good turn. I want to save it. And I'm going to--if I can!"

In spite of the unpleasant tension of the moment, it cheered Father Layonne to see this old humor returning into the heart of his friend. With him love was an enduring thing. He might grieve for James Kent, he might pray for the salvation of his soul, he might believe him guilty, yet he still bore for him the affection which was too deeply rooted in his heart to be uptorn by physical things or the happenings of chance. So the old cheer of his smile came back, and he said:

"To fight for his life is a privilege which God gives to every man, Jimmy. I was terrified when I came to you. I believed it would have been better if you had died. I can see my error. It will be a terrible fight. If you win, I shall be glad. If you lose, I know that you will lose bravely. Perhaps you are right. It may be best to see Inspector Kedsty before you have had time to think. That point will have its psychological effect. Shall I tell him you are prepared to see him?"

Kent nodded. "Yes. Now."

Father Layonne went to the door. Even there he seemed to hesitate an instant, as if again to call upon Kent to reconsider. Then he opened it and went out.

Kent waited impatiently. His hand, fumbling at his bedclothes, seized upon the cloth with which he had wiped his lips, and it suddenly occurred to him that it had been a long time since it had shown a fresh stain of blood. Now that he knew it was not a deadly thing, the tightening in his chest was less uncomfortable. He felt like getting up and meeting his visitors on his feet. Every nerve in his body wanted action, and the minutes of silence which followed the closing of the door after the missioner were drawn out and tedious to him. A quarter of an hour passed before he heard returning footsteps, and by the sound of them he knew Kedsty was not coming alone. Probably le pere would return with him. And possibly Cardigan.

What happened in the next few seconds was somewhat of a shock to him. Father Layonne entered first, and then came Inspector Kedsty. Kent's eyes shot to the face of the commander of N Division. There was scarcely recognition in it. A mere inclination of the head, not enough to call a greeting, was the reply to Kent's nod and salute. Never had he seen Kedsty's face more like the face of an emotionless sphinx. But what disturbed him most was the presence of people he had not expected. Close behind Kedsty was McDougal, the magistrate, and behind McDougal entered Constables Felly and Brant, stiffly erect and clearly under orders. Cardigan, pale and uneasy, came in last, with the stenographer. Scarcely had they entered the room when Constable Pelly pronounced the formal warning of the Criminal Code of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police, and Kent was legally under arrest.

He had not looked for this. He knew, of course, that the process of the Law would take its course, but he had not anticipated this bloodthirsty suddenness. He had expected, first of all, to talk with Kedsty as man to man. And yet--it was the Law. He realized this as his eyes traveled from Kedsty's rock-like face to the expressionless immobility of his old friends, Constables Pelly and Brant. If there was sympathy, it was hidden except in the faces of Cardigan and Father Layonne. And Kent, exultantly hopeful a little while before, felt his heart grow heavy within him as he waited for the moment when he would begin the fight to repossess himself of the life and freed which he had lost.

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CHAPTER VIIIFor some time after the door to Kent's room had closed upon the ominous visitation of the Law, young Mercer remained standing in the hall, debating with himself whether his own moment had not arrived. In the end he decided that it had, and with Kent's fifty dollars in his pocket he made for the shack of the old Indian trailer, Mooie. It was an hour later when he returned, just in time to see Kent's door open again. Doctor Cardigan and Father Layonne reappeared first, followed in turn by the blonde stenographer, the magistrate, and Constables Pelly and Brant.
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CHAPTER VIJames Kent, among his other qualities good and bad, possessed a merciless opinion of his own shortcomings, but never, in that opinion, had he fallen so low as in the interval which immediately followed the closing of his door behind the mysterious girl who had told him that her name was Marette Radisson. No sooner was she gone than the overwhelming superiority of her childlike cleverness smote him until, ashamed of himself, he burned red in his aloneness.He, Sergeant Kent, the coolest man on the force next to Inspector Kedsty, the most dreaded of catechists when questioning criminals, the man
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