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   Chapter 22 No.22

The Flaming Forest By James Oliver Curwood Characters: 6540

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

For many seconds that seemed like minutes David stood where she had left him, while Nepapinas rose gruntingly to his feet, and gathered up his belongings, and hobbled sullenly to the bateau door and out. He was scarcely conscious of the Indian's movement, for his soul was aflame with a red-hot fire. Deliberately-with that ravishing glory of something in her eyes-St. Pierre's wife had kissed him! On her tiptoes, her cheeks like crimson flowers, she had given her still redder lips to him! And his own lips burned, and his heart pounded hard, and he stared for a time like one struck dumb at the spot where she had stood by the window. Then suddenly, he turned to the door and flung it wide open, and on his lips was the reckless cry of Marie-Anne's name. But St. Pierre's wife was gone, and Nepapinas was gone, and at the tail of the big sweep sat only Joe Clamart, guarding watchfully.

The two canoes were drawing near, and in one of them were two men, and in the other three, and David knew that-like Joe Clamart-they were watchers set over him by St. Pierre. Then a fourth canoe left the far shore, and when it had reached mid-stream, he recognized the figure in the stern as that of Andre, the Broken Man. The other, he thought, must be St. Pierre.

He went back into the cabin and stood where Marie-Anne had stood-at the window. Nepapinas had not taken away the basins of water, and the bandages were still there, and the pile of medicated cotton, and the suspiciously made-up bed. After all, he was losing something by not occupying the bed-and yet if St. Pierre or Bateese had messed him up badly, and a couple of fellows had lugged him in between them, it was probable that Marie-Anne would not have kissed him. And that kiss of St. Pierre's wife would remain with him until the day he died!

He was thinking of it, the swift, warm thrill of her velvety lips, red as strawberries and twice as sweet, when the door opened and St. Pierre came in. The sight of him, in this richest moment of his life, gave David no sense of humiliation or shame. Between him and St. Pierre rose swiftly what he had seen last night-Carmin Fanchet in all the lure of her disheveled beauty, crushed close in the arms of the man whose wife only a moment before had pressed her lips close to his; and as the eyes of the two met, there came over him a desire to tell the other what had happened, that he might see him writhe with the sting of the two-edged thing with which he was playing. Then he saw that even that would not hurt St. Pierre, for the chief of the Boulains, standing there with the big lump over his eye, had caught sight of the things on the table and the nicely turned down bed, and his one good eye lit up with sudden laughter, and his white teeth flashed in an understanding smile.

"TONNERRE, I said she would nurse you with gentle hands," he rumbled. "See what you have missed, M'sieu Carrigan!"

"I received something which I shall remember longer than a fine nursing," retorted David. "And yet right now I have a greater interest in knowing what you think of the fight, St. Pierre-and if you have come to pay your wager."

St. Pierre was chuckling mysteriously in his throat. "It was splendid-splendid," he said, repeating Marie-Anne's words. "An

d Joe Clamart says she ran out, blushing like a red rose in August, and that she said no word, but flew like a bird into the white-birch ashore!"

"She was dismayed because I beat you, St. Pierre."

"Non, non-she was like a lark filled with joy."

Suddenly his eyes rested on the binoculars.

David nodded. "Yes, she saw it all through the glasses."

St. Pierre seated himself at the table and heaved out a groan as he took one of the bandage strips between his fingers. "She saw my disgrace. And she didn't wait to bandage ME up, did she?"

"Perhaps she thought Carmin Fanchet would do that, St. Pierre."

"And I am ashamed to go to Carmin-with this great lump over my eye, m'sieu. And on top of that disgrace-you insist that I pay the wager?"

"I do."

St. Pierre's face hardened.

"OUI, I am to pay. I am to tell you all I know about that BETE NOIR-Black Roger Audemard. Is it not so?"

"That is the wager."

"But after I have told you-what then? Do you recall that I gave you any other guarantee, M'sieu Carrigan? Did I say I would let you go? Did I promise I would not kill you and sink your body to the bottom of the river? If I did, I can not remember."

"Are you a beast, St. Pierre-a murderer as well as-"

"Stop! Do not tell me again what you saw through the window, for it has nothing to do with this. I am not a beast, but a man. Had I been a beast, I should have killed you the first day I saw you in this cabin. I am not threatening to kill you, and yet it may be necessary if you insist that I pay the wager. You understand, m'sieu. To refuse to pay a wager is a greater crime among my people than the killing of a man, if there is a good reason for the killing. I am helpless. I must pay, if you insist. Before I pay it is fair that I give you warning."

"You mean?"

"I mean nothing, as yet. I can not say what it will be necessary for me to do, after you have heard what I know about Roger Audemard. I am quite settled on a plan just now, m'sieu, but the plan might change at any moment. I am only warning you that it is a great hazard, and that you are playing with a fire of which you know nothing, because it has not burned you yet."

Carrigan seated himself slowly in a chair opposite St. Pierre, with the table between them.

"You are wasting time in attempting to frighten me," he said. "I shall insist on the payment of the wager, St Pierre."

For a moment St. Pierre was clearly troubled. Then his lips tightened, and he smiled grimly over the table at David.

"I am sorry, M'sieu David. I like you. You are a fighting man and no coward, and I should like to travel shoulder to shoulder with you in many things. And such a thing might be, for you do not understand. I tell you it would have been many times better for you had I whipped you out there, and it had been you-and not me-to pay the wager!"

"It is Roger Audemard I am interested in, St. Pierre. Why do you hesitate?"

"I? Hesitate? I am not hesitating, m'sieu. I am giving you a chance." He leaned forward, his great arms bent on the table. "And you insist, M'sieu David?"

"Yes, I insist."

Slowly the fingers of St. Pierre's hands closed into knotted fists, and he said in a low voice, "Then I will pay, m'sieu. I AM ROGER AUDEMARD!"

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