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   Chapter 15 No.15

The Flaming Forest By James Oliver Curwood Characters: 8720

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

It was easy for Carrigan to guess why the riverman had turned back for him. Men were busy about the bateau, and Concombre Bateese stood in the stern, a long pole in his hands, giving commands to the others. The bateau was beginning to swing out into the stream when he leaped aboard. A wide grin spread over the half-breed's face. He eyed David keenly and laughed in his deep chest, an unmistakable suggestiveness in the note of it.

"You look seek, m'sieu," he said in an undertone, for David's ears alone, "You look ver' unhappy, an' pale lak leetle boy! Wat happen w'en you look t'rough ze glass up there, eh? Or ees it zat you grow frighten because ver' soon you stan' up an' fight Concombre Bateese? Eh, coq de bruyere? Ees it zat?"

A quick thought came to David. "Is it true that St. Pierre can not whip you, Bateese?"

Bateese threw out his chest with a mighty intake of breath. Then he exploded: "No man on all T'ree River can w'ip Concombre Bateese."

"And St. Pierre is a powerful man," mused David, letting his eyes travel slowly from the half-breed's moccasined feet to the top of his head. "I measured him well through the glasses, Bateese. It will be a great fight. But I shall whip you!"

He did not wait for the half-breed to reply, but went into the cabin and closed the door behind him. He did not like the taunting note of suggestiveness in the other's words. Was it possible that Bateese suspected the true state of his mind, that he was in love with the wife of St. Pierre, and that his heart was sick because of what he had seen aboard the raft? He flushed hotly. It made him uncomfortable to feel that even the half-breed might have guessed his humiliation.

David looked through the window toward the raft. The bateau was drifting downstream, possibly a hundred feet from the shore, but it was quite evident that Concombre Bateese was making no effort to bring it close to the floating mass of timber, which had made no change in its course down the river. David's mind painted swiftly what was happening in the cabin into which Marie-Anne and St. Pierre had disappeared. At this moment Marie-Anne was telling of him, of the adventure in the hot patch of sand. He fancied the suppressed excitement in her voice as she unburdened herself. He saw St. Pierre's face darken, his muscles tighten-and crouching in silence, he seemed to see the misshapen hulk of Andre, the Broken Man, listening to what was passing between the other two. And he heard again the mad monotone of Andre's voice, crying plaintively, "HAS ANY ONE SEEN BLACK ROGER AUDEMARD?"

His blood ran a little faster, and his old craft was a dominantly living thing within him once more. Love had dulled both his ingenuity and his desire. For a space a thing had risen before him that was mightier than the majesty of the Law, and he had TRIED to miss the bull's-eye-because of his love for the wife of St. Pierre Boulain. Now he shot squarely for it, and the bell rang in his brain. Two times two again made four. Facts assembled themselves like arguments in flesh and blood. Those facts would have convinced Superintendent McVane, and they now convinced David. He had set out to get Black Roger Audemard, alive or dead. And Black Roger, wholesale murderer, a monster who had painted the blackest page of crime known in the history of Canadian law, was closely and vitally associated with Marie-Anne and St. Pierre Boulain!

The thing was a shock, but Carrigan no longer tried to evade the point. His business was no longer with a man supposed to be a thousand or fifteen hundred miles farther north. It was with Marie-Anne, St. Pierre, and Andre, the Broken Man. And also with Concombre Bateese.

He smiled a little grimly as he thought of his approaching battle with the half-breed. St. Pierre would be astounded at the proposition he had in store for him. But he was sure that St. Pierre would accept. And then, if he won the fight with Bateese-

The smile faded from his lips. His face grew older as he looked slowly about the bateau cabin, with its sweet and lingering whispers of a woman's presence. It was a part of her. It breathed of her fragrance and her beauty; it seemed to be waiting for her, crying softly for her return. Yet once had there been another woman even lovelier than the wife of St. Pierre. He had not hesitated then. Without g

reat effort he had triumphed over the loveliness of Carmin Fanchet and had sent her brother to the hangman. And now, as he recalled those days, the truth came to him that even in the darkest hour Carmin Fanchet had made not the slightest effort to buy him off with her beauty. She had not tried to lure him. She had fought proudly and defiantly. And had Marie-Anne done that? His fingers clenched slowly, and a thickening came in his throat. Would she tell St. Pierre of the many hours they had spent together? Would she confess to him the secret of that precious moment when she had lain close against his breast, her arms about him, her face pressed to his? Would she speak to him of secret hours, of warm flushes that had come to her face, of glowing fires that at times had burned in her eyes when he had been very near to her? Would she reveal EVERYTHING to St. Pierre-her husband? He was powerless to combat the voice that told him no. Carmin Fanchet had fought him openly as an enemy and had not employed her beauty as a weapon. Marie-Anne had put in his way a great temptation. What he was thinking seemed to him like a sacrilege, yet he knew there could be no discriminating distinctions between weapons, now that he was determined to play the game to the end, for the Law.

When Carrigan went out on deck, the half-breed was sweating from his exertion at the stern sweep. He looked at the agent de police who was going to fight him, perhaps tomorrow or the next day. There was a change in Carrigan. He was not the same man who had gone into the cabin an hour before, and the fact impressed itself upon Bateese. There was something in his appearance that held back the loose talk at the end of Concombre's tongue. And so it was Carrigan himself who spoke first.

"When will this man St. Pierre come to see me?" he demanded. "If he doesn't come soon, I shall go to him."

For an instant Concombre's face darkened. Then, as he bent over the sweep with his great back to David, he chuckled audibly, and said:

"Would you go, m'sieu? Ah-it is le malade d'amour over there in the cabin. Surely you would not break in upon their love-making?"

Bateese did not look over his shoulder, and so he did not see the hot flush that gathered in David's face. But David was sure he knew it was there and that Concombre had guessed the truth of matters. There was a sly note in his voice, as if he could not quite keep to himself his exultation that beauty and bright eyes had played a clever trick on this man who, if his own judgment had been followed, would now be resting peacefully at the bottom of the river. It was the final stab to Carrigan. His muscles tensed. For the first time he felt the desire to shoot a naked fist into the grinning mouth of Concombre Bateese. He laid a hand on the half-breed's shoulder, and Bateese turned about slowly. He saw what was in the other's eyes.

"Until this moment I have not known what a great pleasure it will be to fight you, Bateese," said David quietly. "Make it tomorrow-in the morning, if you wish. Take word to St. Pierre that I will make him a great wager that I win, a gamble so large that I think he will be afraid to cover it. For I don't think much of this St. Pierre of yours, Bateese. I believe him to be a big-winded bluff, like yourself. And also a coward. Mark my word, he will be so much afraid that he will not accept my wager!"

Bateese did not answer. He was looking over David's shoulder. He seemed not to have heard what the other had said, yet there had come a sudden gleam of exultation in his eyes, and he replied, still gazing toward the raft,

"Diantre, m'sieu coq de bruyere may keep ze beeg word in hees mout'! See!-St. Pierre, he ees comin' to answer for himself. Mon Dieu, I hope he does not wring ze leetle rooster's neck, for zat would spoil wan great, gran' fight tomorrow!"

David turned toward the big raft. At the distance which separated them he could make out the giant figure of St. Pierre Boulain getting into a canoe. The humped-up form already in that canoe he knew was the Broken Man. He could not see Marie-Anne.

Very lightly Bateese touched his arm. "M'sieu will go into ze cabin," he suggested softly. "If somet'ing happens, it ees bes' too many eyes do not see it. You understan', m'sieu agent de police?"

Carrigan nodded. "I understand," he said.

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