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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe River's End - Chapter 25
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The River's End - Chapter 25 Post by :vbhnl Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :2866

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The River's End - Chapter 25

CHAPTER XXV

It was many minutes, after Keith's arms had closed around Mary Josephine, before he released her enough to hold her out and look at her. She was there, every bit of her, eyes glowing with a greater glory and her face wildly aflush with a thing that had never been there before; and suddenly, as he devoured her in that hungry look, she gave a little cry, and hugged herself to his breast, and hid her face there.

And he was whispering again and again, as though he could find no other word,

"Mary--Mary--Mary--"

Duggan drew away from the door. The two had paid no attention to his voice, and the old river-man was one continuous chuckle as he unpacked Keith's horse and attended to his own, hobbling them both and tying cow-bells to them. It was half an hour before he ventured up out of the grove along the creek and approached the cabin again. Even then he halted, fussing with a piece of harness, until he saw Mary Josephine in the door. The sun was shining on her. Her glorious hair was down, and behind her was Keith, so close that his shoulders were covered with it. Like a bird Mary Josephine sped to Duggan. Great red beard and all she hugged him, and on the flaming red of his bare cheek-bone she kissed him.

"Gosh," said Duggan, at a loss for something better to say. "Gosh--"

Then Keith had him by the hand. "Andy, you ripsnorting old liar, if you weren't old enough to be my father, I'd whale the daylights out of you!" he cried joyously. "I would, just because I love you so! You've made this day the--the--the--"

"--The most memorable of my life," helped Mary Josephine. "Is that it--John?"

Timidly, for the first time, her cheek against his shoulder, she spoke his name. And before Duggan's eyes Keith kissed her.

Hours later, in a world aglow with the light of stars and a radiant moon, Keith and Mary Josephine were alone out in the heart of their little valley. To Keith it was last night returned, only more wonderful. There was the same droning song in the still air, the low rippling of running water, the mysterious whisperings of the mountains. All about them were the guardian peaks of the snow-capped ranges, and under their feet was the soft lush of grass and the sweet scent of flowers. "Our valley of dreams," Mary Josephine had named it, an infinite happiness trembling in her voice. "Our beautiful valley of dreams--come true!" "And you would have come with me--that night?" asked Keith wonderingly. "That night--I ran away?"

"Yes. I didn't hear you go. And at last I went to your door and listened, and then I knocked, and after that I called to you, and when you didn't answer, I entered your room."

"Dear heaven!" breathed Keith. "After all that, you would have come away with me, covered with blood, a--a murderer, they say--a hunted man--"

"John, dear." She took one of his hands in both her own and held it tight. "John, dear, I've got something to tell you."

He was silent.

"I made Duggan promise not to tell you I was here when he found you, and I made him promise something else--to keep a secret I wanted to tell you myself. It was wonderful of him. I don't see how he did it."

She snuggled still closer to him, and held his hand a little tighter. "You see, John, there was a terrible time after you killed Shan Tung. Only a little while after you had gone, I saw the sky growing red. It was Shan Tung's place--afire. I was terrified, and my heart was broken, and I didn't move. I must have sat at the window a long time, when the door burst open suddenly and Miriam ran in, and behind her came McDowell. Oh, I never heard a man swear as McDowell swore when he found you had gone, and Miriam flung herself on the floor at my feet and buried her head in my lap.

"McDowell tramped up and down, and at last he turned to me as if he was going to eat me, and he fairly shouted, 'Do you know--THAT CURSED FOOL DIDN'T KILL JUDGE KIRKSTONE!'"

There was a pause in which Keith's brain reeled. And Mary Josephine went on, as quietly as though she were talking about that evening's sunset:

"Of course, I knew all along, from what you had told me about John Keith, that he wasn't what you would call a murderer. You see, John, I had learned to LOVE John Keith. It was the other thing that horrified me! In the fight, that night, Judge Kirkstone wasn't badly hurt, just stunned. Peter Kirkstone and his father were always quarreling. Peter wanted money, and his father wouldn't give it to him. It seems impossible,--what happened then. But it's true. After you were gone, PETER KIRKSTONE KILLED HIS FATHER THAT HE MIGHT INHERIT THE ESTATE! And then he laid the crime on you!"

"My God!" breathed Keith. "Mary--Mary Josephine--how do you know?"

"Peter Kirkstone was terribly burned in the fire. He died that night, and before he died he confessed. That was the power Shan Tung held over Miriam. He knew. And Miriam was to pay the price that would save her brother from the hangman."

"And that," whispered Keith, as if to himself, "was why she was so interested in John Keith."

He looked away into the shimmering distance of the night, and for a long time both were silent. A woman had found happiness. A man's soul had come out of darkness into light.


(THE END)
James Oliver Curwood's novel: River's End

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