THE FLAMING FOREST
JAMES OLIVER CURWOOD
AUTHOR OF THE VALLEY OF SILENT MEN, THE COUNTRY BEYOND, THE ALASKAN, ETC.
THE FLAMING FOREST
An hour ago, under the marvelous canopy of the blue northern sky, David Carrigan, Sergeant in His Most Excellent Majesty's Royal Northwest Mounted Police, had hummed softly to himself, and had thanked God that he was alive. He had blessed McVane, superintendent of "N" Division at Athabasca Landing, for detailing him to the mission on which he was bent. He was glad that he was traveling alone, and in the deep forest, and that for many weeks his adventure would carry him deeper and deeper into his beloved north. Making his noonday tea over a fire at the edge of the river, with the green forest crowding like an inundation on three sides of him, he had come to the conclusion—for the hundredth time, perhaps—that it was a nice thing to be alone in the world, for he was on what his comrades at the Landing called a "bad assignment."
"If anything happens to me," Carrigan had said to McVane, "there isn't anybody in particular to notify. I lost out in the matter of family a long time ago."
He was not a man who talked much about himself, even to the superintendent of "N" Division, yet there were a thousand who loved Dave Carrigan, and many who placed their confidences in him. Superintendent Me Vane had one story which he might have told, but he kept it to himself, instinctively sensing the sacredness of it. Even Carrigan did not know that the one thing which never passed his lips was known to McVane.
Of that, too, he had been thinking an hour ago. It was the thing which, first of all, had driven him into the north. And though it had twisted and disrupted the earth under his feet for a time, it had brought its compensation. For he had come to love the north with a passionate devotion. It was, in a way, his God. It seemed to him that the time had never been when he had lived any other life than this under the open skies. He was thirty-seven now. A bit of a philosopher, as philosophy comes to one in a sun-cleaned and unpolluted air, A good-humored brother of humanity, even when he put manacles on other men's wrists; graying a little over the temples—and a lover of life. Above all else he was that. A lover of life. A worshiper at the shrine of God's Country.
So he sat, that hour ago, deep in the wilderness eighty miles north of Athabasca Landing, congratulating himself on the present conditions of his existence. A hundred and eighty miles farther on was Fort McMurray, and another two hundred beyond that was Chipewyan, and still beyond that the Mackenzie and its fifteen-hundred-mile trail to the northern sea. He was glad there was no end to this world of his. He was glad there were few people in it. But these people he loved. That hour ago he had looked out on the river as two York boats had forged up against the stream, craft like the long, slim galleys of old, brought over through the Churchill and Clearwater countries from Hudson's Bay. There were eight rowers in each boat. They were singing. Their voices rolled between the walls of the forests. Their naked arms and shoulders glistened in the sun. They rowed like Vikings, and to him they were symbols of the freedom of the world. He had watched them until they were gone up-stream, but it was a long time before the chanting of their voices had died away. And then he had risen from beside his tiny fire, and had stretched himself until his muscles cracked. It was good to feel the blood running red and strong in one's veins at the age of thirty-seven. For Carrigan felt the thrill of these days when strong men were coming out of the north—days when the glory of June hung over the land, when out of the deep wilderness threaded by the Three Rivers came romance and courage and red-blooded men and women of an almost forgotten people to laugh and sing and barter for a time with the outpost guardians of a younger and more progressive world. It was north of Fifty-Four, and the waters of a continent flowed toward the Arctic Sea. Yet soon would the strawberries be crushing red underfoot; the forest road was in bloom, scarlet fire-flowers reddened the trail, wild hyacinths and golden-freckled violets played hide-and-seek with the forget-me-nots in the meadows, and the sky was a great splash of velvety blue. It was the north triumphant—at the edge of civilization; the north triumphant, and yet paying its tribute. For at the other end were waiting the royal Upper Ten Thousand and the smart Four Hundred with all the beau monde behind them, coveting and demanding that tribute to their sex—the silken furs of a far country, the life's blood and labor of a land infinitely beyond the pale of drawing-rooms and the whims of fashion.
Carrigan had thought of these things that hour ago, as he sat at the edge of the first of the Three Rivers, the great Athabasca. From down the other two, the Slave and the Mackenzie, the fur fleets of the unmapped country had been toiling since the first breakups of ice. Steadily, week after week, the north had been emptying itself of its picturesque tide of life and voice, of muscle and brawn, of laughter and song—and wealth. Through, long months of deep winter, in ten thousand shacks and tepees and cabins, the story of this June had been written as fate had written it each winter for a hundred years or more. A story of the triumph of the fittest. A story of tears, of happiness here and there, of hunger and plenty, of new life and quick death; a story of strong men and strong women, living in the faith of their forefathers, with the best blood of old England and France still surviving in their veins.
Through those same months of winter, the great captains of trade in the city of Edmonton had been preparing for the coming of the river brigades. The hundred and fifty miles of trail between that last city outpost of civilization and Athabasca Landing, the door that opened into the North, were packed hard by team and dog-sledge and packer bringing up the freight that for another year was to last the forest people of the Three River country—a domain reaching from the Landing to the Arctic Ocean. In competition fought the drivers of Revillon Brothers and Hudson's Bay, of free trader and independent adventurer. Freight that grew more precious with each mile it advanced must reach the beginning of the waterway. It started with the early snows. The tide was at full by midwinter. In temperature that nipped men's lungs it did not cease. There was no let-up in the whip-hands of the masters of trade at Edmonton, Winnipeg, Montreal, and London across the sea. It was not a work of philanthropy. These men cared not whether Jean and Jacqueline and Pierre and Marie were well-fed or hungry, whether they lived or died, so far as humanity was concerned. But Paris, Vienna, London, and the great capitals of the earth must have their furs—and unless that freight went north, there would be no velvety offerings for the white shoulders of the world. Christmas windows two years hence would be bare. A feminine wail of grief would rise to the skies. For woman must have her furs, and in return for those furs Jean and Jacqueline and Pierre and Marie must have their freight. So the pendulum swung, as it had swung for a century or two, touching, on the one side, luxury, warmth, wealth, and beauty; on the other, cold and hardship, deep snows and open skies—with that precious freight the thing between.
And now, in this year before rail and steamboat, the glory of early summer was at hand, and the wilderness people were coming up to meet the freight. The Three Rivers—the Athabasca, the Slave, and the Mackenzie, all joining in one great two-thousand-mile waterway to the northern sea—were athrill with the wild impulse and beat of life as the forest people lived it. The Great Father had sent in his treaty money, and Cree song and Chipewyan chant joined the age-old melodies of French and half-breed. Countless canoes drove past the slower and mightier scow brigades; huge York boats with two rows of oars heaved up and down like the ancient galleys of Rome; tightly woven cribs of timber, and giant rafts made tip of many cribs were ready for their long drift into a timberless country. On this two-thousand-mile waterway a world had gathered. It was the Nile of the northland, and each post and gathering place along its length was turned into a metropolis, half savage, archaic, splendid with the strength of red blood, clear eyes, and souls that read the word of God in wind and tree.
And up and down this mighty waterway of wilderness trade ran the whispering spirit of song, like the voice of a mighty god heard under the stars and in the winds.
But it was an hour ago that David Carrigan had vividly pictured these things to himself close to the big river, and many things may happen in the sixty minutes that follow any given minute in a man's life. That hour ago his one great purpose had been to bring in Black Roger Audemard, alive or dead—Black Roger, the forest fiend who had destroyed half a dozen lives in a blind passion of vengeance nearly fifteen years ago. For ten of those fifteen years it had been thought that Black Roger was dead. But mysterious rumors had lately come out of the North. He was alive. People had seen him. Fact followed rumor. His existence became certainty. The Law took up once more his hazardous trail, and David Carrigan was the messenger it sent.
"Bring him back, alive or dead," were Superintendent McVane's last words.
And now, thinking of that parting injunction, Carrigan grinned, even as the sweat of death dampened his face in the heat of the afternoon sun. For at the end of those sixty minutes that had passed since his midday pot of tea, the grimly, atrociously unexpected had happened, like a thunderbolt out of the azure of the sky.
Huddled behind a rock which was scarcely larger than his body, groveling in the white, soft sand like a turtle making a nest for its eggs, Carrigan told himself this without any reservation. He was, as he kept repeating to himself for the comfort of his soul, in a deuce of a fix. His head was bare—simply because a bullet had taken his hat away. His blond hair was filled with sand. His face was sweating. But his blue eyes were alight with a grim sort of humor, though he knew that unless the other fellow's ammunition ran out he was going to die.
For the twentieth time in as many minutes he looked about him. He was in the center of a flat area of sand. Fifty feet from him the river murmured gently over yellow bars and a carpet of pebbles. Fifty feet on the opposite side of him was the cool, green wall of the forest. The sunshine playing in it seemed like laughter to him now, a whimsical sort of merriment roused by the sheer effrontery of the joke which fate had inflicted upon him.
Between the river and the balsam and spruce was only the rock behind which he was cringing like a rabbit afraid to take to the open. And his rock was a mere up-jutting of the solid floor of shale that was under him. The wash sand that covered it like a carpet was not more than four or five inches deep. He could not dig in. There was not enough of it within reach to scrape up as a protection. And his enemy, a hundred yards or so away, was a determined wretch—and the deadliest shot he had ever known.
Three times Carrigan had made experiments to prove this, for he had in mind a sudden rush to the shelter of the timber. Three times he had raised the crown of his hat slightly above the top of the rock, and three times the marksmanship of the other had perforated it with neatness and dispatch. The third bullet had carried his hat a dozen feet away. Whenever he showed a patch of his clothing, a bullet replied with unerring precision. Twice they had drawn blood. And the humor faded out of Carrigan's eyes.
Not long ago he had exulted in the bigness and glory of this country of his, where strong men met hand to hand and eye to eye. There were the other kind in it, the sort that made his profession of manhunting a thing of reality and danger, but he expected these—forgot them—when the wilderness itself filled his vision. But his present situation was something unlike anything that had ever happened in his previous experience with the outlawed. He had faced dangers. He had fought. There were times when he had almost died. Fanchet, the half-breed who had robbed a dozen wilderness mail sledges, had come nearest to trapping him and putting him out of business. Fanchet was a desperate man and had few scruples. But even Fanchet—before he was caught—would not have cornered a man with such bloodthirsty unfairness as Carrigan found himself cornered now. He no longer had a doubt as to what was in the other's mind. It was not to wound and make merely helpless. It was to kill. It was not difficult to prove this. Careful not to expose a part of his arm or shoulder, he drew a white handkerchief from his pocket, fastened it to the end of his rifle, and held the flag of surrender three feet above the rock. And then, with equal caution, he slowly thrust up a flat piece of shale, which at a distance of a hundred yards might appear as his shoulder or even his head. Scarcely was it four inches above the top of the rock before there came the report of a rifle, and the shale was splintered into a hundred bits.
Carrigan lowered his flag and gathered himself in tighter. The accuracy of the other's marksmanship was appalling. He knew that if he exposed himself for an instant to use his own rifle or the heavy automatic in his holster, he would be a dead man before he could press a trigger. And that time, he felt equally sure, would come sooner or later. His muscles were growing cramped. He could not forever double himself up like a four-bladed jackknife behind the altogether inefficient shelter of the rock.
His executioner was hidden in the edge of the timber, not directly opposite him, but nearly a hundred yards down stream. Twenty times he had wondered why the fiend with the rifle did not creep up through that timber and take a good, open pot-shot at him from the vantage point which lay at the end of a straight line between his rock and the nearest spruce and balsam. From that angle he could not completely shelter himself. But the man a hundred yards below had not moved a foot from his ambush since he had fired his first shot. That had come when Carrigan was crossing the open space of soft, white sand. It had left a burning sensation at his temple—half an inch to the right and it would have killed him. Swift as the shot itself, he dropped behind the one protection at hand, the up-jutting shoulder of shale.
For a quarter of an hour he had been making efforts to wriggle himself free from his bulky shoulder-pack without exposing himself to a coup-de-grace. At last he had the thing off. It was a tremendous relief when he thrust it out beside the rock, almost doubling the size of his shelter. Instantly there came the crash of a bullet in it, and then another. He heard the rattle of pans, and wondered if his skillet would be any good after today.
For the first time he could wipe the sweat from his face and stretch himself. And also he could think. Carrigan possessed an unalterable faith in the infallibility of the mind. "You can do anything with the mind," was his code. "It is better than a good gun."
Now that he was physically more at ease, he began reassembling his scattered mental faculties. Who was this stranger who was pot-shotting at him with such deadly animosity from the ambush below? Who—
Another crash of lead in tinware and steel put an unpleasant emphasis to the question. It was so close to his head that it made him wince, and now—with a wide area within reach about him—he began scraping up the sand for an added protection. There came a long silence after that third clatter of distress from his cooking utensils. To David Carrigan, even in his hour of deadly peril, there was something about it that for an instant brought back the glow of humor in his eyes. It was hot, swelteringly hot, in that packet of sand with the unclouded sun almost straight overhead. He could have tossed a pebble to where a bright-eyed sandpiper was cocking itself backward and forward, its jerky movements accompanied by friendly little tittering noises. Everything about him seemed friendly. The river rippled and murmured in cooling song just beyond the sandpiper. On the other side the still cooler forest was a paradise of shade and contentment, astir with subdued and hidden life. It was nesting season. He heard the twitter of birds. A tiny, brown wood warbler fluttered out to the end of a silvery birch limb, and it seemed to David that its throat must surely burst with the burden of its song. The little fellow's brown body, scarcely larger than a butternut, was swelling up like a round ball in his effort to vanquish all other song.
"Go to it, old man," chuckled Carrigan. "Go to it!"
The little warbler, that he might have crushed between thumb and forefinger, gave him a lot of courage.
Then the tiny chorister stopped for breath. In that interval Carrigan listened to the wrangling of two vivid-colored Canada jays deeper in the timber. Chronic scolds they were, never without a grouch. They were like some people Carrigan had known, born pessimists, always finding something to complain about, even in their love days.
And these were love days. That was the odd thought that came to Carrigan as he lay half on his face, his fingers slowly and cautiously working a loophole between his shoulder-pack and the rock. They were love days all up and down the big rivers, where men and women sang for joy, and children played, forgetful of the long, hard days of winter. And in forest, plain, and swamp was this spirit of love also triumphant over the land. It was the mating season of all feathered things. In countless nests were the peeps and twitters of new life; mothers of first-born were teaching their children to swim and fly; from end to end of the forest world the little children of the silent places, furred and feathered, clawed and hoofed, were learning the ways of life. Nature's yearly birthday was half-way gone, and the doors of nature's school wide open. And the tiny brown songster at the end of his birch twig proclaimed the joy of it again, and challenged all the world to beat him in his adulation.
Carrigan found that he could peer between his pack and the rock to where the other warbler was singing—and where his enemy lay watching for the opportunity to kill. It was taking a chance. If a movement betrayed his loophole, his minutes were numbered. But he had worked cautiously, an inch at a time, and was confident that the beginning of his effort to fight back was, up to the present moment, undiscovered. He believed that he knew about where the ambushed man was concealed. In the edge of a low-hanging mass of balsam was a fallen cedar. From behind the butt of that cedar he was sure the shots had come.
And now, even more cautiously than he had made the tiny opening, he began to work the muzzle of his rifle through the loophole. As he did this he was thinking of Black Roger Audemard. And yet, almost as quickly as suspicion leaped into his mind, he told himself that the thing was impossible. It could not be Black Roger, or one of Black Roger's friends, behind the cedar log. The idea was inconceivable, when he considered how carefully the secret of his mission had been kept at the Landing. He had not even said goodby to his best friends. And because Black Roger had won through all the preceding years, Carrigan was stalking his prey out of uniform. There had been nothing to betray him. Besides, Black Roger Audemard must be at least a thousand miles north, unless something had tempted him to come up the rivers with the spring brigades. If he used logic at all, there was but one conclusion for him to arrive at. The man in ambush was some rascally half-breed who coveted his outfit and whatever valuables he might have about his person.
A fourth smashing eruption among his comestibles and culinary possessions came to drive home the fact that even that analysis of the situation was absurd. Whoever was behind the rifle fire had small respect for the contents of his pack, and he was surely not in grievous need of a good gun or ammunition. A sticky mess of condensed cream was running over Carrigan's hand. He doubted if there was a whole tin in his kit.
For a few moments he lay quietly on his face after the fourth shot. His eyes were turned toward the river, and on the far side, a quarter of a mile away, three canoes were moving swiftly up the slow current of the stream. The sunlight flashed on their wet sides. The gleam of dripping paddles was like the flutter of silvery birds' wings, and across the water came an unintelligible shout in response to the rifle shot. It occurred to David that he might make a trumpet of his hands and shout back, but the distance was too great for his voice to carry its message for help. Besides, now that he had the added protection of the pack, he felt a certain sense of humiliation at the thought of showing the white feather. A few minutes more, if all went well, and he would settle for the man behind the log.
He continued again the slow operation of worming his rifle barrel between the pack and the rock. The near-sighted little sandpiper had discovered him and seemed interested in the operation. It had come a dozen feet nearer, and was perking its head and seesawing on its long legs as it watched with inquisitive inspection the unusual manifestation of life behind the rock. Its twittering note had changed to an occasional sharp and querulous cry. Carrigan wanted to wring its neck. That cry told the other fellow that he was still alive and moving.
It seemed an age before his rifle was through, and every moment he expected another shot. He flattened himself out, Indian fashion, and sighted along the barrel. He was positive that his enemy was watching, yet he could make out nothing that looked like a head anywhere along the log. At one end was a clump of deeper foliage. He was sure he saw a sudden slight movement there, and in the thrill of the moment was tempted to send a bullet into the heart of it. But he saved his cartridge. He felt the mighty importance of certainty. If he fired once—and missed—the advantage of his unsuspected loophole would be gone. It would be transformed into a deadly menace. Even as it was, if his enemy's next bullet should enter that way—
He felt the discomfort of the thought, and in spite of himself a tremor of apprehension ran up his spine. He felt an even greater desire to wring the neck of the inquisitive little sandpiper. The creature had circled round squarely in front of him and stood there tilting its tail and bobbing its head as if its one insane desire was to look down the length of his rifle barrel. The bird was giving him away. If the other fellow was only half as clever as his marksmanship was good—
Suddenly every nerve in Carrigan's body tightened. He was positive that he had caught the outline of a human head and shoulders in the foliage. His finger pressed gently against the trigger of his Winchester. Before he breathed again he would have fired. But a shot from the foliage beat him out by the fraction of a second. In that precious time lost, his enemy's bullet entered the edge of his kit—and came through. He felt the shock of it, and in the infinitesimal space between the physical impact and the mental effect of shock his brain told him the horrible thing had happened. It was his head—his face. It was as if he had plunged them suddenly into hot water, and what was left of his skull was filled with the rushing and roaring of a flood. He staggered up, clutching his face with both hands. The world about him was twisted and black, a dizzily revolving thing—yet his still fighting mental vision pictured clearly for him a monstrous, bulging-eyed sandpiper as big as a house. Then he toppled back on the white sand, his arms flung out limply, his face turned to the ambush wherein his murderer lay.
His body was clear of the rock and the pack, but there came no other shot from the thick clump of balsam. Nor, for a time, was there movement. The wood warbler was cheeping inquiringly at this sudden change in the deportment of his friend behind the shoulder of shale. The sandpiper, a bit startled, had gone back to the edge of the river and was running a race with himself along the wet sand. And the two quarrelsome jays had brought their family squabble to the edge of the timber.
It was their wrangling that roused Carrigan to the fact that he was not dead. It was a thrilling discovery—that and the fact that he made out clearly a patch of sunlight in the sand. He did not move, but opened his eyes wider. He could see the timber. On a straight line with his vision was the thick clump of balsam. And as he looked, the boughs parted and a figure came out. Carrigan drew a deep breath. He found that it did not hurt him. He gripped the fingers of the hand that was under his body, and they closed on the butt of his service automatic. He would win yet, if God gave him life a few minutes longer.
His enemy advanced. As he drew nearer, Carrigan closed his eyes more and more. They must be shut, and he must appear as if dead, when the other came up. Then, when the scoundrel put down his gun, as he naturally would—his chance would be at hand. If a quiver of his eyes betrayed him—
He closed them tight. Dizziness began to creep over him, and the fire in his brain grew hot again. He heard footsteps, and they stopped in the sand close beside him. Then he heard a human voice. It did not speak in words, but gave utterance to a strange and unnatural cry. With a mighty effort Carrigan assembled his last strength. It seemed to him that he brought himself up quickly, but his movement was slow, painful—the effort of a man who might be dying. The automatic hung limply in his hand, its muzzle pointing to the sand. He looked up, trying to swing into action that mighty weight of his weapon. And then from his own lips, even in his utter physical impotence, fell a cry of wonder and amazement.
His enemy stood there in the sunlight, staring down at him with big, dark eyes that were filled with horror. They were not the eyes of a man. David Carrigan, in this most astounding moment of his life, found himself looking up into the face of a woman.
For a matter of twenty seconds—even longer it seemed to Carrigan—the life of these two was expressed in a vivid and unforgettable tableau. One half of it David saw—the blue sky, the dazzling sun, the girl in between. The pistol dropped from his limp hand, and the weight of his body tottered on the crook of his under-elbow. Mentally and physically he was on the point of collapse, and yet in those few moments every detail of the picture was painted with a brush of fire in his brain. The girl was bareheaded. Her face was as white as any face he had ever seen, living or dead; her eyes were like pools that had caught the reflection of fire; he saw the sheen of her hair, the poise of her slender body—its shock, stupefaction, horror. He sensed these things even as his brain wobbled dizzily, and the larger part of the picture began to fade out of his vision. But her face remained to the last. It grew clearer, like a cameo framed in an iris—a beautiful, staring, horrified face with shimmering tresses of jet-black hair blowing about it like a veil. He noticed the hair, that was partly undone as if she had been in a struggle of some sort, or had been running fast against the breeze that came up the river.
He fought with himself to hold that picture of her, to utter some word, make some movement. But the power to see and to live died out of him. He sank back with a queer sound in his throat. He did not hear the answering cry from the girl as she flung herself, with a quick little prayer for help, on her knees in the soft, white sand beside him. He felt no movement when she raised his head in her arm and with her bare hand brushed back his sand-littered hair, revealing where the bullet had struck him. He did not know when she ran back to the river.
His first sensation was of a cool and comforting something trickling over his burning temples and his face. It was water. Subconsciously he knew that, and in the same way he began to think. But it was hard to pull his thoughts together. They persisted in hopping about, like a lot of sand-fleas in a dance, and just as he got hold of one and reached for another, the first would slip away from him. He began to get the best of them after a time, and he had an uncontrollable desire to say something. But his eyes and his lips were sealed tight, and to open them, a little army of gnomes came out of the darkness in the back of his head, each of them armed with a lever, and began prying with all their might. After that came the beginning of light and a flash of consciousness.
The girl was working over him. He could feel her and hear her movement. Water was trickling over his face. Then he heard a voice, close over him, saying something in a sobbing monotone which he could not understand.
With a mighty effort he opened his eyes.
"Thank LE BON DIEU, you live, m'sieu," he heard the voice say, as if coming from a long distance away. "You live, you live—"
"Tryin' to," he mumbled thickly, feeling suddenly a sense of great elation. "Tryin'—"
He wanted to curse the gnomes for deserting him, for as soon as they were gone with their levers, his eyes and his lips shut tight again, or at least he thought they did. But he began to sense things in a curious sort of way. Some one was dragging him. He could feel the grind of sand under his body. There were intervals when the dragging operation paused. And then, after a long time, he seemed to hear more than one voice. There were two—sometimes a murmur of them. And odd visions came to him. He seemed to see the girl with shining black hair and dark eyes, and then swiftly she would change into a girl with hair like blazing gold. This was a different girl. She was not like Pretty Eyes, as his twisted mind called the other. This second vision that he saw was like a radiant bit of the sun, her hair all aflame with the fire of it and her face a different sort of face. He was always glad when she went away and Pretty Eyes came back.
To David Carrigan this interesting experience in his life might have covered an hour, a day, or a month. Or a year for that matter, for he seemed to have had an indefinite association with Pretty Eyes. He had known her for a long time and very intimately, it seemed. Yet he had no memory of the long fight in the hot sun, or of the river, or of the singing warblers, or of the inquisitive sandpiper that had marked out the line which his enemy's last bullet had traveled. He had entered into a new world in which everything was vague and unreal except that vision of dark hair, dark eyes, and pale, beautiful face. Several times he saw it with marvelous clearness, and each time he drifted away into darkness again with the sound of a voice growing fainter and fainter in his ears.
Then came a time of utter chaos and soundless gloom. He was in a pit, where even his subconscious self was almost dead under a crushing oppression. At last a star began to glimmer in this pit, a star pale and indistinct and a vast distance away. But it crept steadily up through the eternity of darkness, and the nearer it came, the less there was of the blackness of night. From a star it grew into a sun, and with the sun came dawn. In that dawn he heard the singing of a bird, and the bird was just over his head. When Carrigan opened his eyes, and understanding came to him, he found himself under the silver birch that belonged to the wood warbler.
For a space he did not ask himself how he had come there. He was looking at the river and the white strip of sand. Out there were the rock and his dunnage pack. Also his rifle. Instinctively his eyes turned to the balsam ambush farther down. That, too, was in a blaze of sunlight now. But where he lay, or sat, or stood—he was not sure what he was doing at that moment—it was shady and deliciously cool. The green of the cedar and spruce and balsam was close about him, inset with the silver and gold of the thickly-leaved birch. He discovered that he was bolstered up partly against the trunk of this birch and partly against a spruce sapling. Between these two, where his head rested, was a pile of soft moss freshly torn from the earth. And within reach of him was his own kit pail filled with water.
He moved himself cautiously and raised a hand to his head. His fingers came in contact with a bandage.
For a minute or two after that he sat without moving while his amazed senses seized upon the significance of it all. In the first place he was alive. But even this fact of living was less remarkable than the other things that had happened. He remembered the final moments of the unequal duel. His enemy had got him. And that enemy was a woman! Moreover, after she had blown away a part of his head and had him helpless in the sand, she had—in place of finishing him there—dragged him to this cool nook and tied up his wound. It was hard for him to believe, but the pail of water, the moss behind his shoulders, the bandage, and certain visions that were reforming themselves in his brain convinced him. A woman had shot him. She had worked like the very devil to kill him. And afterward she had saved him! He grinned. It was final proof that his mind hadn't been playing tricks on him. No one but a woman would have been quite so unreasonable. A man would have completed the job.
He began to look for her up and down the white strip of sand. And in looking he saw the gray and silver flash of the hard-working sandpiper. He chuckled, for he was exceedingly comfortable, and also exhilaratingly happy to know that the thing was over and he was not dead. If the sandpiper had been a man, he would have called him up to shake hands with him. For if it hadn't been for the bird getting squarely in front of him and giving him away, there might have been a more horrible end to it all. He shuddered as he thought of the mighty effort he had made to fire a shot into the heart of the balsam ambush—and perhaps into the heart of a woman!
He reached for the pail and drank deeply of the water in it. He felt no pain. His dizziness was gone. His mind had grown suddenly clear and alert. The warmth of the water told him almost instantly that it had been taken from the river some time ago. He observed the change in sun and shadows. With the instinct of a man trained to note details, he pulled out his watch. It was almost six o'clock. More than three hours had passed since the sandpiper had got in front of his gun. He did not attempt to rise to his feet, but scanned with slower and more careful scrutiny the edge of the forest and the river. He had been mystified while cringing for his life behind the rock, but he was infinitely more so now. Greater desire he had never had than this which thrilled him in these present minutes of his readjustment—desire to look upon the woman again. And then, all at once, there came back to him a mental flash of the other. He remembered, as if something was coming back to him out of a dream, how the whimsical twistings of his sick brain had made him see two faces instead of one. Yet he knew that the first picture of his mysterious assailant, the picture painted in his brain when he had tried to raise his pistol, was the right one. He had seen her dark eyes aglow; he had seen the sunlit sheen of her black hair rippling in the wind; he had seen the white pallor in her face, the slimness of her as she stood over him in horror—he remembered even the clutch of her white hand at her throat. A moment before she had tried to kill him. And then he had looked up and had seen her like that! It must have been some unaccountable trick in his brain that had flooded her hair with golden fire at times.
His eyes followed a furrow in the white sand which led from where he sat bolstered against the tree down to his pack and the rock. It was the trail made by his body when she had dragged him up to the shelter and coolness of the timber. One of his laws of physical care was to keep himself trained down to a hundred and sixty, but he wondered how she had dragged up even so much as that of dead weight. It had taken a great deal of effort. He could see distinctly three different places in the sand where she had stopped to rest.
Carrigan had earned a reputation as the expert analyst of "N" Division. In delicate matters it was seldom that McVane did not take him into consultation. He possessed an almost uncanny grip on the working processes of a criminal mind, and the first rule he had set down for himself was to regard the acts of omission rather than the one outstanding act of commission. But when he proved to himself that the chief actor in a drama possessed a normal rather than a criminal mind, he found himself in the position of checkmate. It was a thrilling game. And he was frankly puzzled now, until—one after another—he added up the sum total of what had been omitted in this instance of his own personal adventure. Hidden in her ambush, the woman who had shot him had been in both purpose and act an assassin. Her determination had been to kill him. She had disregarded the white flag with which he had pleaded for mercy. Her marksmanship was of fiendish cleverness. Up to her last shot she had been, to all intent and purpose, a murderess.
The change had come when she looked down upon him, bleeding and helpless, in the sand. Undoubtedly she had thought he was dying. But why, when she saw his eyes open a little later, had she cried out her gratitude to God? What had worked the sudden transformation in her? Why had she labored to save the life she had so atrociously coveted a minute before?
If his assailant had been a man, Carrigan would have found an answer. For he was not robbed, and therefore robbery was not a motif. "A case of mistaken identity," he would have told himself. "An error in visual judgment."
But the fact that in his analysis he was dealing with a woman made his answer only partly satisfying. He could not disassociate himself from her eyes—their beauty, their horror, the way they had looked at him. It was as if a sudden revulsion had come over her; as if, looking down upon her bleeding handiwork, the woman's soul in her had revolted, and with that revulsion had come repentance—repentance and pity.
"That," thought Carrigan, "would be just like a woman—and especially a woman with eyes like hers."
This left him but two conclusions to choose from. Either there had been a mistake, and the woman had shown both horror and desire to amend when she discovered it, or a too tender-hearted agent of Black Roger Audemard had waylaid him in the heart of the white strip of sand.
The sun was another hour lower in the sky when Carrigan assured himself in a series of cautious experiments that he was not in a condition to stand upon his feet. In his pack were a number of things he wanted—his blankets, for instance, a steel mirror, and the thermometer in his medical kit. He was beginning to feel a bit anxious about himself. There were sharp pains back of his eyes. His face was hot, and he was developing an unhealthy appetite for water. It was fever and he knew what fever meant in this sort of thing, when one was alone. He had given up hope of the woman's return. It was not reasonable to expect her to come back after her furious attempt to kill him. She had bandaged him, bolstered him up, placed water beside him, and had then left him to work out the rest of his salvation alone. But why the deuce hadn't she brought up his pack?
On his hands and knees he began to work himself toward it slowly. He found that the movement caused him pain, and that with this pain, if he persisted in movement, there was a synchronous rise of nausea. The two seemed to work in a sort of unity. But his medicine case was important now, and his blankets, and his rifle if he hoped to signal help that might chance to pass on the river. A foot at a time, a yard at a time, he made his way down into the sand. His fingers dug into the footprints of the mysterious gun-woman. He approved of their size. They were small and narrow, scarcely longer than the palm and fingers of his hand—and they were made by shoes instead of moccasins.
It seemed an interminable time to him before he reached his pack. When he got there, a pendulum seemed swinging back and forth inside his head, beating against his skull. He lay down with his pack for a pillow, intending to rest for a spell. But the minutes added themselves one on top of another. The sun slipped behind clouds banking in the west. It grew cooler, while within him he was consumed by a burning thirst. He could hear the ripple of running water, the laughter of it among pebbles a few yards away. And the river itself became even more desirable than his medicine case, or his blankets, or his rifle. The song of it, inviting and tempting him, blotted thought of the other things out of his mind. And he continued his journey, the swing of the pendulum in his head becoming harder, but the sound of the river growing nearer. At last he came to the wet sand, and fell on his face, and drank.
After this he had no great desire to go back. He rolled himself over, so that his face was turned up to the sky. Under him the wet sand was soft, and it was comfortingly cool. The fire in his head died out. He could hear new sounds in the edge of the forest evening sounds. Only weak little twitters came from the wood warblers, driven to silence by thickening gloom in the densely canopied balsams and cedars, and frightened by the first low hoots of the owls. There was a crash not far distant, probably a porcupine waddling through brush on his way for a drink; or perhaps it was a thirsty deer, or a bear coming out in the hope of finding a dead fish. Carrigan loved that sort of sound, even when a pendulum was beating back and forth in his head. It was like medicine to him, and he lay with wide-open eyes, his ears picking up one after another the voices that marked the change from day to night. He heard the cry of a loon, its softer, chuckling note of honeymoon days. From across the river came a cry that was half howl, half bark. Carrigan knew that it was coyote, and not wolf, a coyote whose breed had wandered hundreds of miles north of the prairie country.
The gloom gathered in, and yet it was not darkness as the darkness of night is known a thousand miles south. It was the dusky twilight of day where the sun rises at three o'clock in the morning and still throws its ruddy light in the western sky at nine o'clock at night; where the poplar buds unfold themselves into leaf before one's very eyes; where strawberries are green in the morning and red in the afternoon; where, a little later, one could read newspaper print until midnight by the glow of the sun—and between the rising and the setting of that sun there would be from eighteen to twenty hours of day. It was evening time in the wonderland of the north, a wonderland hard and frozen and ridden by pain and death in winter, but a paradise upon earth in this month of June.
The beauty of it filled Carrigan's soul, even as he lay on his back in the damp sand. Far south of him steam and steel were coming, and the world would soon know that it was easy to grow wheat at the Arctic Circle, that cucumbers grew to half the size of a man's arm, that flowers smothered the land and berries turned it scarlet and black. He had dreaded these days—days of what he called "the great discovery"—the time when a crowded civilization would at last understand how the fruits of the earth leaped up to the call of twenty hours of sun each day, even though that earth itself was eternally frozen if one went down under its surface four feet with a pick and shovel.
Tonight the gloom came earlier because of the clouds in the west. It was very still. Even the breeze had ceased to come from up the river. And as Carrigan listened, exulting in the thought that the coolness of the wet sand was drawing the fever from him, he heard another sound. At first he thought it was the splashing of a fish. But after that it came again, and still again, and he knew that it was the steady and rhythmic dip of paddles.
A thrill shot through him, and he raised himself to his elbow. Dusk covered the river, and he could not see. But he heard low voices as the paddles dipped. And after a little he knew that one of these was the voice of a woman.
His heart gave a big jump. "She is coming back," he whispered to himself. "She is coming back!"
Carrigan's first impulse, sudden as the thrill that leaped through him, was to cry out to the occupants of the unseen canoe. Words were on his lips, but he forced them back. They could not miss him, could not get beyond the reach of his voice—and he waited. After all, there might be profit in a reasonable degree of caution. He crept back toward his rifle, sensing the fact that movement no longer gave him very great distress. At the same time he lost no sound from the river. The voices were silent, and the dip, dip, dip of paddles was approaching softly and with extreme caution. At last he could barely hear the trickle of them, yet he knew the canoe was coming steadily nearer. There was a suspicious secretiveness in its approach. Perhaps the lady with the beautiful eyes and the glistening hair had changed her mind again and was returning to put an end to him.
The thought sharpened his vision. He saw a thin shadow a little darker than the gloom of the river; it grew into shape; something grated lightly upon sand and pebbles, and then he heard the guarded plash of feet in shallow water and saw some one pulling the canoe up higher. A second figure joined the first. They advanced a few paces and stopped. In a moment a voice called softly,
"M'sieu! M'sieu Carrigan!"
There was an anxious note in the voice, but Carrigan held his tongue. And then he heard the woman say,
"It was here, Bateese! I am sure of it!"
There was more than anxiety in her voice now. Her words trembled with distress. "Bateese—if he is dead—he is up there close to the trees."
"But he isn't dead," said Carrigan, raising himself a little. "He is here, behind the rock again!"
In a moment she had run to where he was lying, his hand clutching the cold barrel of the pistol which he had found in the sand, his white face looking up at her. Again he found himself staring into the glow of her eyes, and in that pale light which precedes the coming of stars and moon the fancy struck him that she was lovelier than in the full radiance of the sun. He heard a throbbing note in her throat. And then she was down on her knees at his side, leaning close over him, her hands groping at his shoulders, her quick breath betraying how swiftly her heart was beating.
"You are not hurt—badly?" she cried.
"I don't know," replied David. "You made a perfect shot. I think a part of my head is gone. At least you've shot away my balance, because I can't stand on my feet!"
Her hand touched his face, remaining there for an instant, and the palm of it pressed his forehead. It was like the touch of cool velvet, he thought. Then she called to the man named Bateese. He made Carrigan think of a huge chimpanzee as he came near, because of the shortness of his body and the length of his arms. In the half light he might have been a huge animal, a hulking creature of some sort walking upright. Carrigan's fingers closed more tightly on the butt of his automatic. The woman began to talk swiftly in a patois of French and Cree. David caught the gist of it. She was telling Bateese to carry him to the canoe, and to be very careful, because m'sieu was badly hurt. It was his head, she emphasized. Bateese must be careful of his head.
David slipped his pistol into its holster as Bateese bent over him. He tried to smile at the woman to thank her for her solicitude—after having nearly killed him. There was an increasing glow in the night, and he began to see her more plainly. Out on the middle of the river was a silvery bar of light. The moon was coming up, a little pale as yet, but triumphant in the fact that clouds had blotted out the sun an hour before his time. Between this bar of light and himself he saw the head of Bateese. It was a wild, savage-looking head, bound pirate-fashion round the forehead with a huge Hudson's Bay kerchief. Bateese might have been old Jack Ketch himself bending over to give the final twist to a victim's neck. His long arms slipped under David. Gently and without effort he raised him to his feet. And then, as easily as he might have lifted a child, he trundled him up in his arms and walked off with him over the sand.
Carrigan had not expected this. He was a little shocked and felt also the impropriety of the thing. The idea of being lugged off like a baby was embarrassing, even in the presence of the one who had deliberately put him in his present condition. Bateese did the thing with such beastly ease. It was as if he was no more than a small boy, a runt with no weight whatever, and Bateese was a man. He would have preferred to stagger along on his own feet or creep on his hands and knees, and he grunted as much to Bateese on the way to the canoe. He felt, at the same time, that the situation owed him something more of discussion and explanation. Even now, after half killing him, the woman was taking a rather high-handed advantage of him. She might at least have assured him that she had made a mistake and was sorry. But she did not speak to him again. She said nothing more to Bateese, and when the half-breed deposited him in the midship part of the canoe, facing the bow, she stood back in silence. Then Bateese brought his pack and rifle, and wedged the pack in behind him so that he could sit upright. After that, without pausing to ask permission, he picked up the woman and carried her through the shallow water to the bow, saving her the wetting of her feet.
As she turned to find her paddle her face was toward David, and for a moment she was looking at him.
"Do you mind telling me who you are, and where we are going?" he asked.
"I am Jeanne Marie-Anne Boulain," she said. "My brigade is down the river, M'sieu Carrigan."
He was amazed at the promptness of her confession, for as one of the working factors of the long arm of the police he accepted it as that. He had scarcely expected her to divulge her name after the cold-blooded way in which she had attempted to kill him. And she had spoken quite calmly of "my brigade." He had heard of the Boulain Brigade. It was a name associated with Chipewyan, as he remembered it—or Fort McMurray. He was not sure just where the Boulain scows had traded freight with the upper-river craft. Until this year he was positive they had not come as far south as Athabasca Landing. Boulain—Boulain—The name repeated itself over and over in his mind. Bateese shoved off the canoe, and the woman's paddle dipped in and out of the water beginning to shimmer in moonlight. But he could not, for a time, get himself beyond the pounding of that name in his brain. It was not merely that he had heard the name before. There was something significant about it. Something that made him grope back in his memory of things. Boulain! He whispered it to himself, his eyes on the slender figure of the woman ahead of him, swaying gently to the steady sweep of the paddle in her hands. Yet he could think of nothing. A feeling of irritation swept over him, disgust at his own mental impotency. And the dizzying sickness was brewing in his head again.
"I have heard that name—somewhere—before," he said. There was a space of only five or six feet between them, and he spoke with studied distinctness.
"Possibly you have, m'sieu."
Her voice was exquisite, clear as the note of a bird, yet so soft and low that she seemed scarcely to have spoken. And it was, Carrigan thought, criminally evasive—under the circumstances. He wanted her to turn round and say something. He wanted, first of all, to ask her why she had tried to kill him. It was his right to demand an explanation. And it was his duty to get her back to the Landing, where the law would ask an accounting of her. She must know that. There was only one way in which she could have learned his name, and that was by prying into his identification papers while he was unconscious. Therefore she not only knew his name, but also that he was Sergeant Carrigan of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police. In spite of all this she was apparently not very deeply concerned. She was not frightened, and she did not appear to be even slightly excited.
He leaned nearer to her, the movement sending a sharp pain between his eyes. It almost drew a cry from him, but he forced himself to speak without betraying it.
"You tried to murder me—and almost succeeded. Haven't you anything to say?"
"Not now, m'sieu—except that it was a mistake, and I am sorry. But you must not talk. You must remain quiet. I am afraid your skull is fractured."
Afraid his skull was fractured! And she expressed her fear in the casual way she might have spoken of a toothache. He leaned back against his dunnage sack and closed his eyes. Probably she was right. These fits of dizziness and nausea were suspicious. They made him top-heavy and filled him with a desire to crumple up somewhere. He was clear-mindedly conscious of this and of his fight against the weakness. But in those moments when he felt better and his head was clear of pain, he had not seriously thought of a fractured skull. If she believed it, why did she not treat him a bit more considerately? Bateese, with that strength of an ox in his arms, had no use for her assistance with the paddle. She might at least have sat facing him, even if she refused to explain matters more definitely.
A mistake, she called it. And she was sorry for him! She had made those statements in a matter-of-fact way, but with a voice that was like music. She had spoken perfect English, but in her words were the inflection and velvety softness of the French blood which must be running red in her veins. And her name was Jeanne Marie-Anne Boulain!
With eyes closed, Carrigan called himself an idiot for thinking of these things at the present time. Primarily he was a man-hunter out on important duty, and here was duty right at hand, a thousand miles south of Black Roger Audemard, the wholesale murderer he was after. He would have sworn on his life that Black Roger had never gone at a killing more deliberately than this same Jeanne Marie-Anne Boulain had gone after him behind the rock!
Now that it was all over, and he was alive, she was taking him somewhere as coolly and as unexcitedly as though they were returning from a picnic. Carrigan shut his eyes tighter and wondered if he was thinking straight. He believed he was badly hurt, but he was as strongly convinced that his mind was clear. And he lay quietly with his head against the pack, his eyes closed, waiting for the coolness of the river to drive his nausea away again.
He sensed rather than felt the swift movement of the canoe. There was no perceptible tremor to its progress. The current and a perfect craftsmanship with the paddles were carrying it along at six or seven miles an hour. He heard the rippling of water that at times was almost like the tinkling of tiny bells, and more and more bell-like became that sound as he listened to it. It struck a certain note for him. And to that note another added itself, until in the purling rhythm of the river he caught the murmuring monotone of a name Boulain—Boulain—Boulain. The name became an obsession. It meant something. And he knew what it meant—if he could only whip his memory back into harness again. But that was impossible now. When he tried to concentrate his mental faculties, his head ached terrifically.
He dipped his hand into the water and held it over his eyes. For half an hour after that he did not raise his head. In that time not a word was spoken by Bateese or Jeanne Marie-Anne Boulain. For the forest people it was not an hour in which to talk. The moon had risen swiftly, and the stars were out. Where there had been gloom, the world was now a flood of gold and silver light. At first Carrigan allowed this to filter between his fingers; then he opened his eyes. He felt more evenly balanced again.
Straight in front of him was Jeanne Marie-Anne Boulain. The curtain of dusk had risen from between them, and she was full in the radiance of the moon. She was no longer paddling, but was looking straight ahead. To Cardigan her figure was exquisitely girlish as he saw it now. She was bareheaded, as he had seen tier first, and her hair hung down her back like a shimmering mass of velvety sable in the star-and-moon glow. Something told Carrigan she was going to turn her face in his direction, and he dropped his hand over his eyes again, leaving a space between the fingers. He was right in his guess. She fronted the moon, looking at him closely—rather anxiously, he thought. She even leaned a little toward him that she might see more clearly. Then she turned and resumed her paddling.
Carrigan was a bit elated. Probably she had looked at him a number of times like that during the past half-hour. And she was disturbed. She was worrying about him. The thought of being a murderess was beginning to frighten her. In spite of the beauty of her eyes and hair and the slim witchery of her body he had no sympathy for her. He told himself that he would give a year of his life to have her down at Barracks this minute. He would never forget that three-quarters of an hour behind the rock, not if he lived to be a hundred. And if he did live, she was going to pay, even if she was lovelier than Venus and all the Graces combined. He felt irritated with himself that he should have observed in such a silly way the sable glow of her hair in the moonlight. And her eyes. What the deuce did prettiness matter in the present situation? The sister of Fanchet, the mail robber, was beautiful, but her beauty had failed to save Fanchet. The Law had taken him in spite of the tears in Carmin Fanchet's big black eyes, and in that particular instance he was the Law. And Carmin Fanchet was pretty—deucedly pretty. Even the Old Man's heart had been stirred by her loveliness.
"A shame!" he had said to Carrigan. "A shame!" But the rascally Fanchet was hung by the neck until he was dead.
Carrigan drew himself up slowly until he was sitting erect. He wondered what Jeanne Marie-Anne Boulain would say if he told her about Carmin. But there was a big gulf between the names Fanchet and Boulain. The Fanchets had come from the dance halls of Alaska. They were bad, both of them. At least, so they had judged Carmin Fanchet—along with her brother. And Boulain—
His hand, in dropping to his side, fell upon the butt of his pistol. Neither Bateese nor the girl had thought of disarming him. It was careless of them, unless Bateese was keeping a good eye on him from behind.
A new sort of thrill crept into Carrigan's blood. He began to see where he had made a huge error in not playing his part more cleverly. It was this girl Jeanne who had shot him. It was Jeanne who had stood over him in that last moment when he had made an effort to use his pistol. It was she who had tried to murder him and who had turned faint-hearted when it came to finishing the job. But his knowledge of these things he should have kept from her. Then, when the proper moment came, he would have been in a position to act. Even now it might be possible to cover his blunder. He leaned toward her again, determined to make the effort.
"I want to ask your pardon," he said. "May I?"
His voice startled her. It was as if the stinging tip of a whip-lash had touched her bare neck. He was smiling when she turned. In her face and eyes was a relief which she made no effort to repress.
"You thought I might be dead," he laughed softly. "I'm not, Miss Jeanne. I'm very much alive again. It was that accursed fever—and I want to ask your pardon! I think—I know—that I accused you of shooting me. It's impossible. I couldn't think of it—In my clear mind. I am quite sure that I know the rascally half-breed who pot-shotted me like that. And it was you who came in time, and frightened him away, and saved my life. Will you forgive me—and accept my gratitude?"
There came into the glowing eyes of the girl a reflection of his own smile. It seemed to him that he saw the corners of her mouth tremble a little before she answered him.
"I am glad you are feeling better, m'sieu."
"And you will forgive me for—for saying such beastly things to you?"
She was lovely when she smiled, and she was smiling at him now. "If you want to be forgiven for lying, yes," she said. "I forgive you that, because it is sometimes your business to lie. It was I who tried to kill you, m'sieu. And you know it."
"You must not talk, m'sieu. It is not good for you: Bateese, will you tell m'sieu not to talk?"
Carrigan heard a movement behind him.
"M'sieu, you will stop ze talk or I brak hees head wit' ze paddle in my han'!" came the voice of Bateese close to his shoulder. "Do I mak' ze word plain so m'sieu compren'?"
"I get you, old man," grunted Carrigan. "I get you—both!"
And he leaned back against his dunnage-sack, staring again at the witching slimness of the lovely Jeanne Marie-Anne Boulain as she calmly resumed her paddling in the bow of the canoe.
In the few minutes following the efficient and unexpected warning of Bateese an entirely new element of interest entered into the situation for David Carrigan. He had more than once assured himself that he had made a success of his profession of man-hunting not because he was brighter than the other fellow, but largely because he possessed a sense of humor and no vanities to prick. He was in the game because he loved the adventure of it. He was loyal to his duty, but he was not a worshipper of the law, nor did he covet the small monthly stipend of dollars and cents that came of his allegiance to it. As a member of the Scarlet Police, and especially of "N" Division, he felt the pulse and thrill of life as he loved to live it. And the greatest of all thrills came when he was after a man as clever as himself, or cleverer.
This time it was a woman—or a girl! He had not yet made up his mind which she was. Her voice, low and musical, her poise, and the tranquil and unexcitable loveliness of her face had made him, at first, register her as a woman. Yet as he looked at the slim girlishness of her figure in the bow of the canoe, accentuated by the soft sheen of her partly unbraided hair, he wondered if she were eighteen or thirty. It would take the clear light of day to tell him. But whether a girl or a woman, she had handled him so cleverly that the unpleasantness of his earlier experience began to give way slowly to an admiration for her capability.
He wondered what the superintendent of "N" Division would say if he could see Black Roger Audemard's latest trailer propped up here in the center of the canoe, the prisoner of a velvety-haired but dangerously efficient bit of feminine loveliness—and a bull-necked, chimpanzee-armed half-breed!
Bateese had confirmed the suspicion that he was a prisoner, even though this mysterious pair were bent on saving his life. Why it was their desire to keep life in him when only a few hours ago one of them had tried to kill him was a. question which only the future could answer. He did not bother himself with that problem now. The present was altogether too interesting, and there was but little doubt that other developments equally important were close at hand. The attitude of both Jeanne Marie-Anne Boulain and her piratical-looking henchman was sufficient evidence of that. Bateese had threatened to knock his head off, and he could have sworn that the girl—or woman—had smiled her approbation of the threat. Yet he held no grudge against Bateese. An odd sort of liking for the man began to possess him, just as he found himself powerless to resist an ingrowing admiration for Marie-Anne. The existence of Black Roger Audemard became with him a sort of indefinite reality. Black Roger was a long way off. Marie-Anne and Bateese were very near. He began thinking of her as Marie-Anne. He liked the name. It was the Boulain part of it that worked in him with an irritating insistence.
For the first time since the canoe journey had begun, he looked beyond the darkly glowing head and the slender figure in the bow. It was a splendid night. Ahead of him the river was like a rippling sheet of molten silver. On both sides, a quarter of a mile apart, rose the walls of the forest, like low-hung, oriental tapestries. The sky seemed near, loaded with stars, and the moon, rising with almost perceptible movement toward the zenith, had changed from red to a mellow gold. Carrigan's soul always rose to this glory of the northern light. Youth and vigor, he told himself, must always exist under those unpolluted lights of the upper worlds, the unspeaking things which had told him more than he had ever learned from the mouths of other men. They stood for his religion, his faith, his belief in the existence of things greater than the insignificant spark which animated his own body. He appreciated them most when there was stillness. And tonight it was still. It was so quiet that the trickling of the paddles was like subdued music. From the forest there came no sound. Yet he knew there was life there, wide-eyed, questing life, life that moved on velvety wing and padded foot, just as he and Marie-Anne and the half-breed Bateese were moving in the canoe. To have called out in this hour would have taken an effort, for a supreme and invisible Hand seemed to have commanded stillness upon the earth.
And then there came droning upon his ears a break in the stillness, and as he listened, the shores closed slowly in, narrowing the channel until he saw giant masses of gray rock replacing the thick verdure of balsam, spruce, and cedar. The moaning grew louder, and the rocks climbed skyward until they hung in great cliffs. There could be but one meaning to this sudden change. They were close to LE SAINT-ESPRIT RAPIDE—the Holy Ghost Rapids. Carrigan was astonished. That day at noon he had believed the Holy Ghost to be twenty or thirty miles below him. Now they were at its mouth, and he saw that Bateese and Jeanne Marie-Anne Boulain were quietly and unexcitedly preparing to run that vicious stretch of water. Unconsciously he gripped the gunwales of the canoe with both hands as the sound of the rapids grew into low and sullen thunder. In the moonlight ahead he could see the rock walls closing in until the channel was crushed between two precipitous ramparts, and the moon and stars, sending their glow between those walls, lighted up a frothing path of water that made Carrigan hold his breath. He would have portaged this place even in broad day.
He looked at the girl in the bow. The slender figure Was a little more erect, the glowing head held a little higher. In those moments he would have liked to see her face, the wonderful something that must be in her eyes as she rode fearlessly into the teeth of the menace ahead. For he could see that she was not afraid, that she was facing this thing with a sort of exultation, that there was something about it which thrilled her until every drop of blood in her body was racing with the impetus of the stream itself. Eddies of wind puffing out from between the chasm walls tossed her loose hair about her back in a glistening veil. He saw a long strand of it trailing over the edge of the canoe into the water. It made him shiver, and he wanted to cry out to Bateese that he was a fool for risking her life like this. He forgot that he was the one helpless individual in the canoe, and that an upset would mean the end for him, while Bateese and his companion might still fight on. His thought and his vision were focused on the girl—and what lay straight ahead. A mass of froth, like a windrow of snow, rose up before them, and the canoe plunged into it with the swiftness of a shot. It spattered in his face, and blinded him for an instant. Then they were out of it, and he fancied he heard a note of laughter from the girl in the bow. In the next breath he called himself a fool for imagining that. For the run was dead ahead, and the girl became vibrant with life, her paddle flashing in and out, while from her lips came sharp, clear cries which brought from Eateese frog-like bellows of response. The walls shot past; inundations rose and plunged under them; black rocks whipped with caps of foam raced up-stream with the speed of living things; the roar became a drowning voice, and then—as if outreached by the wings of a swifter thing—dropped suddenly behind them. Smoother water lay ahead. The channel broadened. Moonlight filled it with a clearer radiance, and Carrigan saw the girl's hair glistening wet, and her arms dripping.
For the first time he turned about and faced Bateese. The half-breed was grinning like a Cheshire cat!
"You're a confoundedly queer pair!" grunted Carrigan, and he turned about again to find Jeanne Marie-Anne Boulain as unconcerned as though running the Holy Ghost Rapids in the glow of the moon was nothing more than a matter of play.
It was impossible for him to keep his heart from beating a little faster as he watched her, even though he was trying to regard her in a most professional sort of way. He reminded himself that she was an iniquitous little Jezebel who had almost murdered him. Carmin Fanchet had been like her, an AME DAMNEE—a fallen angel—but his business was not sympathy in such matters as these. At the same time he could not resist the lure of both her audacity and her courage, and he found himself all at once asking himself the amazing question as to what her relationship might be to Bateese. It occurred to him rather unpleasantly that there had been something distinctly proprietary in the way the half-breed had picked her up on the sand, and that Bateese had shown no hesitation a little later in threatening to knock his head off unless he stopped talking to her. He wondered if Bateese was a Boulain.
The two or three minutes of excitement in the boiling waters of the Holy Ghost had acted like medicine on Carrigan. It seemed to him that something had given way in his head, relieving him of an oppression that had been like an iron hoop drawn tightly about his skull. He did not want Bateese to suspect this change in him, and he slouched lower against the dunnage-pack with his eyes still on the girl. He was finding it increasingly difficult to keep from looking at her. She had resumed her paddling, and Bateese was putting mighty efforts in his strokes now, so that the narrow, birchbark canoe shot like an arrow with the down-sweeping current of the river. A few hundred yards below was a twist in the channel, and as the canoe rounded this, taking the shoreward curve with dizzying swiftness, a wide, still straight-water lay ahead. And far down this Carrigan saw the glow of fires.
The forest had drawn back from the river, leaving in its place a broken tundra of rock and shale and a wide strip of black sand along the edge of the stream itself. Carrigan knew what it was—an upheaval of the tar-sand country so common still farther north, the beginning of that treasure of the earth which would some day make the top of the American continent one of the Eldorados of the world. The fires drew nearer, and suddenly the still night was broken by the wild chanting of men. David heard behind him a choking note in the throat of Bateese. A soft word came from the lips of the girl, and it seemed to Carrigan that her head was held higher in the moon glow. The chant increased in volume, a rhythmic, throbbing, savage music that for a hundred and fifty years had come from the throats of men along the Three Rivers. It thrilled Carrigan as they bore down upon it. It was not song as civilization would have counted song. It was like an explosion, an exultation of human voice unchained, ebullient with the love of life, savage in its good-humor. It was LE GAITE DE COEUR of the rivermen, who thought and sang as their forefathers did in the days of Radisson and good Prince Rupert; it was their merriment, their exhilaration, their freedom and optimism, reaching up to the farthest stars. In that song men were straining their vocal muscles, shouting to beat out their nearest neighbor, bellowing like bulls in a frenzy of sudden fun. And then, as suddenly as it had risen in the night, the clamor of voices died away. A single shout came up the river. Carrigan thought he heard a low rumble of laughter. A tin pan banged against another. A dog howled. The flat of an oar played a tattoo for a moment on the bottom of a boat. Then one last yell from a single throat—and the night was silent again.
And that was the Boulain Brigade—singing at this hour of the night, when men should have been sleeping if they expected to be up with the sun. Carrigan stared ahead. Shortly his adventure would take a new twist. Something was bound to happen when they got ashore. The peculiar glow of the fires had puzzled him. Now he began to understand. Jeanne Marie-Anne Boulain's men were camped in the edge of the tar-sands and had lighted a number of natural gas-jets that came up out of the earth. Many times he had seen fires like these burning up and down the Three Rivers. He had lighted fires of his own; he had cooked over them and had afterward had the fun and excitement of extinguishing them with pails of water. But he had never seen anything quite like this that was unfolding itself before his eyes now. There were seven of the fires over an area of half an acre—spouts of yellowish flame burning like giant torches ten or fifteen feet in the air. And between them he very soon made out great bustle and activity. Many figures were moving about. They looked like dwarfs at first, gnomes at play in a little world made out of witchcraft. But Bateese was sending the canoe nearer with powerful strokes, and the figures grew taller, and the spouts of flame higher. Then he knew what was happening. The Boulain men were taking advantage of the cool hours of the night and were tarring up.
He could smell the tar, and he could see the big York boats drawn up in the circle of yellowish light. There were half a dozen of them, and men stripped to the waist were smearing the bottoms of the boats with boiling tar and pitch. In the center was a big, black cauldron steaming over a gas-jet, and between this cauldron and the boats men were running back and forth with pails. Still nearer to the huge kettle other men were filling a row of kegs with the precious black GOUDRON that oozed up from the bowels of the earth, forming here and there jet-black pools that Carrigan could see glistening in the flare of the gas-lamps. He figured there were thirty men at work. Six big York boats were turned keel up in the black sand. Close inshore, just outside the circle of light, was a single scow.
Toward this scow Bateese sent the canoe. And as they drew nearer, until the laboring men ashore were scarcely a stone's throw away, the weirdness of the scene impressed itself more upon Carrigan. Never had he seen such a crew. There were no Indians among them. Lithe, quick-moving, bare-headed, their naked arms and shoulders gleaming in the ghostly illumination, they were racing against time with the boiling tar and pitch in the cauldron. They did not see the approach of the canoe, and Bateese did not draw their attention to it. Quietly he drove the birchbark under the shadow of the big bateau. Hands were waiting to seize and steady it. Carrigan caught but a glimpse of the faces. In another instant the girl was aboard the scow, and Bateese was bending over him. A second time he was picked up like a child in the chimpanzee-like arms of the half-breed. The moonlight showed him a scow bigger than he had ever seen on the upper river, and two-thirds of it seemed to be cabin. Into this cabin Bateese carried him, and in darkness laid him upon what Carrigan thought must be a cot built against the wall. He made no sound, but let himself fall limply upon it. He listened to Bateese as he moved about, and closed his eyes when Bateese struck a match. A moment later he heard the door of the cabin close behind the half-breed. Not until then did he open his eyes and sit up.
He was alone. And what he saw in the next few moments drew an exclamation of amazement from him. Never had he seen a cabin like this on the Three Rivers. It was thirty feet long if an inch, and at least eight feet wide. The walls and ceiling were of polished cedar; the floor was of cedar closely matched. It was the exquisite finish and craftsmanship of the woodwork that caught his eyes first. Then his astonished senses seized upon the other things. Under his feet was a soft rug of dark green velvet. Two magnificent white bearskins lay between him and the end of the room. The walls were hung with pictures, and at the four windows were curtains of ivory lace draped with damask. The lamp which Bateese had lighted was fastened to the wall close to him. It was of polished silver and threw a brilliant light softened by a shade of old gold. There were three other lamps like this, unlighted. The far end of the room was in deep shadow, but Carrigan made out the thing he was staring at—a piano. He rose to his feet, disbelieving his eyes, and made his way toward it. He passed between chairs. Near the piano was another door, and a wide divan of the same soft, green upholstery. Looking back, he saw that what he had been lying upon was another divan. And dose to this were book-shelves, and a table on which were magazines and papers and a woman's workbasket, and in the workbasket—sound asleep—a cat!
And then, over the table and the sleeping cat, his eyes rested upon a triangular banner fastened to the wall. In white against a background of black was a mighty polar bear holding at bay a horde of Arctic wolves. And suddenly the thing he had been fighting to recall came to Carrigan—the great bear—the fighting wolves—the crest of St. Pierre Boulain!
He took a quick step toward the table—then caught at the back of a chair. Confound his head! Or was it the big bateau rocking under his feet? The cat seemed to be turning round in its basket. There were half a dozen banners instead of one; the lamp was shaking in its bracket; the floor was tilting, everything was becoming hideously contorted and out of place. A shroud of darkness gathered about him, and through that darkness Carrigan staggered blindly toward the divan. He reached it just in time to fall upon it like a dead man.
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.
"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?