MoboReader > Literature > The Flaming Forest

   Chapter 6 No.6

The Flaming Forest By James Oliver Curwood Characters: 22059

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:03


For what seemed to be an interminable time after the final breakdown of his physical strength David Carrigan lived in a black world where a horde of unseen little devils were shooting red-hot arrows into his brain. He did not sense the fact of human presence; nor that the divan had been changed into a bed and the four lamps lighted, and that wrinkled, brown hands with talon-like fingers were performing a miracle of wilderness surgery upon him. He did not see the age-old face of Nepapinas-"The Wandering Bolt of Lightning"-as the bent and tottering Cree called upon all his eighty years of experience to bring him back to life. And he did not see Bateese, stolid-faced, silent, nor the dead-white face and wide-open, staring eyes of Jeanne Marie-Anne Boulain as her slim, white fingers worked with the old medicine man's. He was in a gulf of blackness that writhed with the spirits of torment. He fought them and cried out against them, and his fighting and his cries brought the look of death itself into the eyes of the girl who was over him. He did not hear her voice nor feel the soothing of her hands, nor the powerful grip of Bateese as he held him when the critical moments came. And Nepapinas, like a machine that had looked upon death a thousand times, gave no rest to his claw-like fingers until the work was done-and it was then that something came to drive the arrow-shooting devils out of the darkness that was smothering Carrigan.

After that Carrigan lived through an eternity of unrest, a life in which he seemed powerless and yet was always struggling for supremacy over things that were holding him down. There were lapses in it, like the hours of oblivion that come with sleep, and there were other times when he seemed keenly alive, yet unable to move or act. The darkness gave way to flashes of light, and in these flashes he began to see things, curiously twisted, fleeting, and yet fighting themselves insistently upon his senses. He was back in the hot sand again, and this time he heard the voices of Jeanne Marie-Anne and Golden-Hair, and Golden-Hair flaunted a banner in his face, a triangular pennon of black on which a huge bear was fighting white Arctic wolves, and then she would run away from him, crying out-"St. Pierre Boulain-St. Pierre Boulain-" and the last he could see of her was her hair flaming like fire in the sun. But it was always the other-the dark hair and dark eyes-that came to him when the little devils returned to assault him with their arrows. From somewhere she would come out of darkness and frighten them away. He could hear her voice like a whisper in his ears, and the touch of her hands comforted him and quieted his pain. After a time he grew to be afraid when the darkness swallowed her up, and in that darkness he would call for her, and always he heard her voice in answer.

Then came a long oblivion. He floated through cool space away from the imps of torment; his bed was of downy clouds, and on these clouds he drifted with a great shining river under him; and at last the cloud he was in began to shape itself into walls and on these walls were pictures, and a window through which the sun was shining, and a black pennon-and he heard a soft, wonderful music that seemed to come to him faintly from another world. Other creatures were at work in his brain now. They were building up and putting together the loose ends of things. Carrigan became one of them, working so hard that frequently a pair of dark eyes came out of the dawning of things to stop him, and quieting hands and a voice soothed him to rest. The hands and the voice became very intimate. He missed them when they were not near, especially the hands, and he was always groping for them to make sure they had not gone away.

Only once after the floating cloud transformed itself into the walls of the bateau cabin did the chaotic darkness of the sands fully possess him again. In that darkness he heard a voice. It was not the voice of Golden-Hair, or of Bateese, or of Jeanne Marie-Anne. It was close to his ears. And in that darkness that smothered him there was something terrible about it as it droned slowly the words-"HAS-ANY-ONE-SEEN-BLACK-ROGER-AUDEMARD?" He tried to answer, to call back to it, and the voice came again, repeating the words, emotionless, hollow, as if echoing up out of a grave. And still harder he struggled to reply to it, to say that he was David Carrigan, and that he was out on the trail of Black Roger Audemard, and that Black Roger was far north. And suddenly it seemed to him that the voice changed into the flesh and blood of Black Roger himself, though he could not see in the darkness-and he reached out, gripping fiercely at the warm substance of flesh, until he heard another voice, the voice of Jeanne Marie-Anne Boulain, entreating him to let his victim go. It was this time that his eyes shot open, wide and seeing, and straight over him was the face of Jeanne Marie-Anne, nearer him than it had been even in the visionings of his feverish mind. His fingers were clutching her shoulders, gripping like steel hooks.

"M'sieu-M'sieu David!" she was crying.

For a moment he stared; then his hands and fingers relaxed, and his arms dropped limply. "Pardon-I-I was dreaming," he struggled weakly. "I thought-"

He had seen the pain in her face. Now, changing swiftly, it lighted up with relief and gladness. His vision, cleared by long darkness, saw the change come in an instant like a flash of sunshine. And then-so near that he could have touched her-she was smiling down into his eyes. He smiled back. It took an effort, for his face felt stiff and unnatural.

"I was dreaming-of a man-named Roger Audemard," he continued to apologize. "Did I-hurt you?"

The smile on her lips was gone as swiftly as it had come. "A little, m'sieu. I am glad you are better. You have been very sick."

He raised a hand to his face. The bandage was there, and also a stubble of beard on his cheeks. He was puzzled. This morning he had fastened his steel mirror to the side of a tree and shaved.

"It was three days ago you were hurt," she said quietly. "This is the afternoon of the third day. You have been in a great fever. Nepapinas, my Indian doctor, saved your life. You must lie quietly now. You have been talking a great deal."

"About-Black Roger?" he said.

She nodded.

"And-Golden-Hair?"

"Yes, of Golden-Hair."

"And-some one else-with dark hair-and dark eyes-"

"It may be, m'sieu."

"And of little devils with bows and arrows, and of polar bears, and white wolves, and of a great lord of the north who calls himself St. Pierre Boulain?"

"Yes, of all those."

"Then I haven't anything more to tell you," grunted David. "I guess I've told you all I know. You shot me, back there. And here I am. What are you going to do next?"

"Call Bateese," she answered promptly, and she rose swiftly from beside him and moved toward the door.

He made no effort to call her back. His wits were working slowly, readjusting themselves after a carnival in chaos, and he scarcely sensed that she was gone until the cabin door closed behind her. Then again he raised a hand to his face and felt his beard. Three days! He turned his head so that he could take in the length of the cabin. It was filled with subdued sunlight now, a western sun that glowed softly, giving depth and richness to the colors on the floor and walls, lighting up the piano keys, suffusing the pictures with a warmth of life. David's eyes traveled slowly to his own feet. The divan had been opened and transformed into a bed. He was undressed. He had on somebody's white nightgown. And there was a big bunch of wild roses on the table where three days ago the cat had been sleeping in the work-basket. His head cleared swiftly, and he raised himself a little on one elbow, with extreme caution, and listened. The big bateau was not moving. It was still tied up, but he could hear no voices out where the tar-sands were.

He dropped back on his pillow, and his eyes rested on the black pennon. His blood stirred again as he looked at the white bear and the fighting wolves. Wherever men rode the waters of the Three Rivers that pennon was known. Yet it was not common. Seldom was it seen, and never had it come south of Chipewyan. Many things came to Carrigan now, things that he had heard at the Landing and up and down the rivers. Once he had read the tail-end of a report the Superintendent of "N" Division had sent in to headquarters.

"We do not know this St. Pierre. Few men have seen him out of his own country, the far headwaters of the Yellowknife, where he rules like a great overlord. Both the Yellowknives and the Dog Ribs call him KICHEOO KIMOW, or King, and the same rumors say there is never starvation or plague in his regions; and it is fact that neither the Hudson's Bay nor Revillon Brothers in their cleverest generalship and trade have been able to uproot his almost dynastic jurisdiction. The Police have had no reason to investigate or interfere."

At least that was the gist of what Carrigan had read in McVane's report. But he had never associated it with the name of Boulain. It was of St. Pierre that he had heard stories, St. Pierre and his black pennon with its white bear and fighting wolves. And so-it was St. Pierre BOULAIN!

He closed his eyes and thought of the long winter weeks he had passed at Hay River Post, watching for Fanchet, the mail robber. It was there he had heard most about this St. Pierre, and yet no one he had talked with had ever seen him; no one knew whether he was old or young, a pigmy or a giant. Some stories said that he was strong, that he could twist a gun-barrel double in his hands; others said that he was old, very old, so that he never set forth with his brigades that brought down each year a treasure of furs to be exchanged for freight. And never did a Dog Rib or a Yellowknife open his mouth about KICHEOO KIMOW St. Pierre, the master of their unmapped domains. In that great country north and west of the Great Slave he remained an enigma and a sphinx. If he ever came out with his brigades, he did not disclose his identity, so that if one saw a fleet of boats or canoes with the St. Pierre pennon, one had to make his own guess whether St. Pierre himself was there or not. But these things were known-that the keenest, quickest, and strongest men in the northland ran the St. Pierre brigades, that they brought out the richest cargoes of furs, and that they carried back with them into the secret fastnesses of their wilderness the greatest cargoes of freight that treasure could buy. So much the name St. Pierre dragged out of Carrigan's memory. It came to him now why the name "Boulain" had pounded so insistently in his brain. He had seen this pennon with its white bear and fighting wolves only once before, and that had been over a Boulain scow at Chipewyan. But his memory had lost its grip on that incident while retaining vividly its hold on the stories and rumors of

the mystery-man, St. Pierre.

Carrigan pulled himself a little higher on his pillow and with a new interest scanned the cabin. He had never heard of Boulain women. Yet here was the proof of their existence and of the greatness that ran in the red blood of their veins. The history of the great northland, hidden in the dust-dry tomes and guarded documents of the great company, had always been of absorbing interest to him. He wondered why it was that the outside world knew so little about it and believed so little of what it heard. A long time ago he had penned an article telling briefly the story of this half of a great continent in which for two hundred years romance and tragedy and strife for mastery had gone on in a way to thrill the hearts of men. He had told of huge forts with thirty-foot stone bastions, of fierce wars, of great warships that had fired their broadsides in battle in the ice-filled waters of Hudson's Bay. He had described the coming into this northern world of thousands and tens of thousands of the bravest and best-blooded men of England and France, and how these thousands had continued to come, bringing with them the names of kings, of princes, and of great lords, until out of the savagery of the north rose an aristocracy of race built up of the strongest men of the earth. And these men of later days he had called Lords of the North-men who had held power of life and death in the hollow of their hands until the great company yielded up its suzerainty to the Government of the Dominion in 1870; men who were kings in their domains, whose word was law, who were more powerful in their wilderness castles than their mistress over the sea, the Queen of Britain.

And Carrigan, after writing of these things, had stuffed his manuscript away in the bottom of his chest at barracks, for he believed that it was not in his power to do justice to the people of this wilderness world that he loved. The powerful old lords were gone. Like dethroned monarchs, stripped to the level of other men, they lived in the memories of what had been. Their might now lay in trade. No more could they set out to wage war upon their rivals with powder and ball. Keen wit, swift dogs, and the politics of barter had taken the place of deadlier things. LE FACTEUR could no longer slay or command that others be slain. A mightier hand than his now ruled the destinies of the northern people-the hand of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police.

It was this thought, the thought that Law and one of the powerful forces of the wilderness had met in this cabin of the big bateau, that came to Carrigan as he drew himself still higher against his pillow. A greater thrill possessed him than the thrill of his hunt for Black Roger Audemard. Black Roger was a murderer, a wholesale murderer and a fiend, a Moloch for whom there could be no pity. Of all men the Law wanted Black Roger most, and he, David Carrigan, was the chosen one to consummate its desire. Yet in spite of that he felt upon him the strange unrest of a greater adventure than the quest for Black Roger. It was like an impending thing that could not be seen, urging him, rousing his faculties from the slough into which they had fallen because of his wound and sickness. It was, after all, the most vital of all things, a matter of his own life. Jeanne Marie-Anne Boulain had tried to kill him deliberately, with malice and intent. That she had saved him afterward only added to the necessity of an explanation, and he was determined that he would have that explanation and settle the present matter before he allowed another thought of Black Roger to enter his head.

This resolution reiterated itself in his mind as the machine-like voice of duty. He was not thinking of the Law, and yet the consciousness of his accountability to that Law kept repeating itself. In the very face of it Carrigan knew that something besides the moral obligation of the thing was urging him, something that was becoming deeply and dangerously personal. At least-he tried to think of it as dangerous. And that danger was his unbecoming interest in the girl herself. It was an interest distinctly removed from any ethical code that might have governed him in his experience with Carmin Fanchet, for instance. Comparatively, if they had stood together, Carmin would have been the lovelier. But he would have looked longer at Jeanne Marie-Anne Boulain.

He conceded the point, smiling a bit grimly as he continued to study that part of the cabin which he could see from his pillow. He had lost interest-temporarily at least-in Black Roger Audemard. Not long ago the one question to which, above all others, he had desired an answer was, why had Jeanne Marie-Anne Boulain worked so desperately to kill him and so hard to save him afterward? Now, as he looked about him, the question which repeated itself insistently was, what relationship did she bear to this mysterious lord of the north, St. Pierre?

Undoubtedly she was his daughter, for whom St. Pierre had built this luxurious barge of state. A fierce-blooded offspring, he thought, one like Cleopatra herself, not afraid to kill-and equally quick to make amends when there was a mistake.

There came the quiet opening of the cabin door to break in upon his thought. He hoped it was Jeanne Marie-Anne returning to him. It was Nepapinas. The old Indian stood over him for a moment and put a cold, claw-like hand to his forehead. He grunted and nodded his head, his little sunken eyes gleaming with satisfaction. Then he put his hands under David's arms and lifted him until he was sitting upright, with three or four pillows at his back.

"Thanks," said Carrigan. "That makes me feel better. And-if you don't mind-my last lunch was three days ago, boiled prunes and a piece of bannock-"

"I have brought you something to eat, M'sieu David," broke in a soft voice behind him.

Nepapinas slipped away, and Jeanne Marie-Anne stood in his place. David stared up at her, speechless. He heard the door close behind the old Indian. Then Jeanne Marie-Anne drew up a chair, so that for the first time he could see her clear eyes with the light of day full upon her.

He forgot that a few days ago she had been his deadliest enemy. He forgot the existence of a man named Black Roger Audemard. Her slimness was as it had pictured itself to him in the hot sands. Her hair was as he had seen it there. It was coiled upon her head like ropes of spun silk, jet-black, glowing softly. But it was her eyes he stared at, and so fixed was his look that the red lips trembled a bit on the verge of a smile. She was not embarrassed. There was no color in the clear whiteness of her skin, except that redness of her lips.

"I thought you had black eyes," he said bluntly. "I'm glad you haven't. I don't like them. Yours are as brown as-as-"

"Please, m'sieu," she interrupted him, sitting down close beside him. "Will you eat-now?"

A spoon was at his mouth, and he was forced to take it in or have its contents spilled over him. The spoon continued to move quickly between the bowl and his mouth. He was robbed of speech. And the girl's eyes, as surely as he was alive, were beginning to laugh at him. They were a wonderful brown, with little, golden specks in them, like the freckles he had seen in wood-violets. Her lips parted. Between their bewitching redness he saw the gleam of her white teeth. In a crowd, with her glorious hair covered and her eyes looking straight ahead, one would not have picked her out. But close, like this, with her eyes smiling at him, she was adorable.

Something of Carrigan's thoughts must have shown in his face, for suddenly the girl's lips tightened a little, and the warmth went out of her eyes, leaving them cold and distant. He finished the soup, and she rose again to her feet.

"Please don't go," he said. "If you do, I think I shall get up and follow. I am quite sure I am entitled to a little something more than soup."

"Nepapinas says that you may have a bit of boiled fish for supper," she assured him.

"You know I don't mean that. I want to know why you shot me, and what you think you are going to do with me."

"I shot you by mistake-and-I don't know just what to do with you," she said, looking at him tranquilly, but with what he thought was a growing shadow of perplexity in her eyes. "Bateese says to fasten a big stone to your neck and throw you in the river. But Bateese doesn't always mean what he says. I don't think he is quite as bloodthirsty-"

"-As the young lady who tried to murder me behind the rock," Carrigan interjected.

"Exactly, m'sieu. I don't think he would throw you into the river-unless I told him to. And I don't believe I am going to ask him to do that," she added, the soft glow flashing back into her eyes for an instant. "Not after the splendid work Nepapinas has done on your head. St. Pierre must see that. And then, if St. Pierre wishes to finish you, why-" She shrugged her slim shoulders and made a little gesture with her hands.

In that same moment there came over her a change as sudden as the passing of light itself. It was as if a thing she was hiding had broken beyond her control for an instant and had betrayed her. The gesture died. The glow went out of her eyes, and in its place came a light that was almost fear-or pain. She came nearer to Carrigan again, and somehow, looking up at her, he thought of the little brush warbler singing at the end of its birch twig to give him courage. It must have been because of her throat, white and soft, which he saw pulsing like a beating heart before she spoke to him.

"I have made a terrible mistake, m'sieu David," she said, her voice barely rising above a whisper. "I'm sorry I hurt you. I thought it was some one else behind the rock. But I can not tell you more than that-ever. And I know it is impossible for us to be friends." She paused, one of her hands creeping to her bare throat, as if to cover the throbbing he had seen there.

"Why is it impossible?" he demanded, leaning away from his pillows so that he might bring himself nearer to her.

"Because-you are of the police, m'sieu."

"The police, yes," he said, his heart thrumming inside his breast. "I am Sergeant Carrigan. I am out after Roger Audemard, a murderer. But my commission has nothing to do with the daughter of St. Pierre Boulain. Please-let's be friends-"

He held out his hand; and in that moment David Carrigan placed another thing higher than duty-and in his eyes was the confession of it, like the glow of a subdued fire. The girl's fingers drew more closely at her throat, and she made no movement to accept his hand.

"Friends," he repeated. "Friends-in spite of the police."

Slowly the girl's eyes had widened, as if she saw that new-born thing riding over all other things in his swiftly beating heart. And afraid of it, she drew a step away from him.

"I am not St. Pierre Boulain's daughter," she said, forcing the words out one by one. "I am-his wife."

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares