In that big, deep chair which must have been St. Pierre's own, Marie-Anne sat facing Carrigan. Between its great arms her slim little figure seemed diminutive and out of place. Her brown eyes were level and clear, waiting. They were not warm or nervous, but so coolly and calmly beautiful that they disturbed Carrigan. She raised her hands, her slim fingers crumpling for a moment in the soft, thick coils of her hair. That little movement, the unconscious feminism of it, the way she folded her hands in her lap afterward, disturbed Carrigan even more. What a glory on earth it must be to possess a woman like that! The thought made him uneasy. And she sat waiting, a vivid, softly-breathing question-mark against the warm coloring of the upholstered chair.

"When you shot me," he began, "I saw you, first, standing over me. I thought you had come to finish me. It was then that I saw something in your face—horror, amazement, as though you had done something you did not know you were doing. You see, I want to be charitable. I want to understand. I want to excuse you if I can. Won't you tell me why you shot me, and why that change came over you when you saw me lying there?"

"No, M'sieu David, I shall not tell." She was not antagonistic or defiant. Her voice was not raised, nor did it betray an unusual emotion. It was simply decisive, and the unflinching steadiness of her eyes and the way in which she sat with her hands folded gave to it an unqualified definiteness.

"You mean that I must make my own guess?"

She nodded.

"Or get it out of St. Pierre?"

"If St. Pierre wishes to tell you, yes."

"Well—" He leaned a little toward her. "After that you dragged me up into the shade, dressed my wound and made me comfortable. In a hazy sort of way I knew what was going on. And a curious thing happened. At times—" he leaned still a little nearer to her—"at times—there seemed to be two of you!"

He was not looking at her hands, or he would have seen her fingers slowly tighten in her lap.

"You were badly hurt," she said. "It is not strange that you should have imagined things, M'sieu David."

"And I seemed to hear two voices," he went on.

She made no answer, but continued to look at him steadily.

"And the other had hair that was like copper and gold fire in the sun. I would see your face and then hers, again and again—and—since then—I have thought I was a heavy load for your hands to drag up through that sand to the shade alone."

She held up her two hands, looking at them. "They are strong," she said.

"They are small," he insisted, "and I doubt if they could drag me across this floor."

For the first time the quiet of her eyes gave way to a warm fire. "It was hard work," she said, and the note in her voice gave him warning that he was approaching the dead-line again. "Bateese says I was a fool for doing it. And if you saw two of me, or three or four, it doesn't matter. Are you through questioning me, M'sieu David? If so, I have a number of things to do."

He made a gesture of despair. "No, I am not through. But why ask you questions if you won't answer them?"

"I simply can not. You must wait."

"For your husband?"

"Yes, for St. Pierre."

He was silent for a moment, then said, "I raved about a number of things when I was sick, didn't I?"

"You did, and especially about what you thought happened in the sand. You called this—this other person—the Fire Goddess. You were so near dying that of course it wasn't amusing. Otherwise it would have been. You see MY hair is black, almost!" Again, in a quick movement, her fingers were crumpling the lustrous coils on the crown of her head.

"Why do you say 'almost'?" he asked.

"Because St. Pierre has often told me that when I am in the sun there are red fires in it. And the sun was very bright that afternoon in the sand, M'sieu David."

"I think I understand," he nodded. "And I'm rather glad, too. I like to know that it was you who dragged me up into the shade after trying to kill me. It proves you aren't quite so savage as—"

"Carmin Fanchet," she interrupted him softly. "You talked about her in your sickness, M'sieu David. It made me terribly afraid of you—so much so that at times I almost wondered if Bateese wasn't right. It made me understand what would happen to me if I should let you go. What terrible thing did she do to you? What could she have done more terrible than I have done?"

"Is that why you have given your men orders to kill me if I try to escape?" he asked. "Because I talked about this woman, Carmin Fanchet?"

"Yes, it is because of Carmin Fanchet that I am keeping you for St. Pierre," she acknowledged. "If you had no mercy for her, you could have none for me. What terrible thing did she do to you, M'sieu?"

"Nothing—to me," he said, feeling that she was putting him where the earth was unsteady under his feet again. "But her brother was a criminal of the worst sort. And I was convinced then, and am convinced now, that his sister was a partner in his crimes. She was very beautiful. And that, I think, was what saved her."

He was fingering his unlighted cigar as he spoke. When he looked up, he was surprised at the swift change that had come into the face of St. Pierre's wife. Her cheeks were flaming, and there were burning fires screened behind the long lashes of her eyes. But her voice was unchanged. It was without a quiver that betrayed the emotion which had sent the hot flush into her face.

"Then—you judged her without absolute knowledge of fact? You judged her—as you hinted in your fever—because she fought so desperately to save a brother who had gone wrong?"

"I believe she was bad."

The long lashes fell lower, like fringes of velvet closing over the fires in her eyes. "But you didn't know!"

"Not absolutely," he conceded. "But investigations—"

"Might have shown her to be one of the most wonderful women that ever lived, M'sieu David. It is not hard to fight for a good brother—but if he is bad, it may take an angel to do it!"

He stared, thoughts tangling themselves in his head. A slow shame crept over him. She had cornered him. She had convicted him of unfairness to the one creature on earth his strength and his manhood were bound to protect—a woman. She had convicted him of judging without fact. And in his head a voice seemed to cry out to him, "What did Carmin Fanchet ever do to you?"

He rose suddenly to his feet and stood at the back of his chair, his hands gripping the top of it. "Maybe you are right," he said. "Maybe I was wrong. I remember now that when I got Fanchet I manacled him, and she sat beside him all through that first night. I didn't intend to sleep, but I was tired—and did. I must have slept for an hour, and SHE roused me—trying to get the key to the handcuffs. She had the opportunity then—to kill me."

Triumph swept over the face that was looking up at him. "Yes, she could have killed you—while you slept. But she didn't. WHY?"

"I don't know. Perhaps she had the idea of getting the key and letting her brother do the job. Two or three days later I am convinced she would not have hesitated. I caught her twice trying to steal my gun. And a third time, late at night, when we were within a day or two of Athabasca Landing, she almost got me with a club. So I concede that she never did anything very terrible to me. But I am sure that she tried, especially toward the last."

"And because she failed, she hated you; and because she hated you, something was warped inside you, and you made up your mind she should be punished along with her brother. You didn't look at it from a woman's viewpoint. A woman will fight, and kill, to save one she loves. She tried, perhaps, and failed. The result was that her brother was killed by the Law. Was not that enough? Was it fair or honest to destroy her simply because you thought she might be a partner in her brother's crimes?"

"It is rather strange," he replied, a moment of indecision in his voice. "McVane, the superintendent, asked me that same question. I thought he was touched by her beauty. And I'm sorry—very sorry—that I talked about her when I was sick. I don't want you to think I am a bad sort—that way. I'm going to think about it. I'm going over the whole thing again, from the time I manacled Fanchet, and if I find that I was wrong—and I ever meet Carmin Fanchet again—I shall not be ashamed to get down on my knees and ask her pardon, Marie-Anne!"

For the first time he spoke the name which she had given him permission to use. And she noticed it. He could not help seeing that—a flashing instant in which the indefinable confession of it was in her face, as though his use of it had surprised her, or pleased her, or both. Then it was gone.

She did not answer, but rose from the big chair, and went to the window, and stood with her back toward him, looking out over the river. And then, suddenly, they heard a voice. It was the voice he had heard twice in his sickness, the voice that had roused him from his sleep last night, crying out in his room for Black Roger Audemard. It came to him distinctly through the open door in a low and moaning monotone. He had not taken his eyes from the slim figure of St. Pierre's wife, and he saw a little tremor pass through her now.

"I heard that voice—again—last night," said David. "It was in this cabin, asking for Black Roger Audemard."

She did not seem to hear him, and he also turned so that he was looking at the open door of the cabin.

The sun, pouring through in a golden flood, was all at once darkened, and in the doorway—framed vividly against the day—was the figure of a man. A tense breath came to Carrigan's lips. At first he felt a shock, then an overwhelming sense of curiosity and of pity. The man was terribly deformed. His back and massive shoulders were so twisted and bent that he stood no higher than a twelve-year-old boy; yet standing straight, he would have been six feet tall if an inch, and splendidly proportioned. And in that same breath with which shock and pity came to him, David knew that it was accident and not birth that had malformed the great body that stood like a crouching animal in the open door. At first he saw only the grotesqueness of it—the long arms that almost touched the floor, the broken back, the twisted shoulders—and then, with a deeper thrill, he saw nothing of these things but only the face and the head of the man. There was something god-like about them, fastened there between the crippled shoulders. It was not beauty, but strength—the strength of rock, of carven granite, as if each feature had been chiseled out of something imperishable and everlasting, yet lacking strangely and mysteriously the warm illumination that comes from a living soul. The man was not old, nor was he young. And he did not seem to see Carrigan, who stood nearest to him. He was looking at St. Pierre's wife.

The look which David saw in her face was infinitely tender. She was smiling at the misshapen hulk in the door as she might have smiled at a little child. And David, looking back at the wide, deep-set eyes of the man, saw the slumbering fire of a dog-like worship in them. They shifted slowly, taking in the cabin, questing, seeking, searching for something which they could not find. The lips moved, and again he heard that weird and mysterious monotone, as if the plaintive voice of a child were coming out of the huge frame of the man, crying out as it had cried last night, "HAS-ANY-ONE-SEEN-BLACK-ROGER-AUDEMARD?"

In another moment St. Pierre's wife was at the deformed giant's side. She seemed tall beside him. She put her hands to his head and brushed back the grizzled black hair, laughing softly into his upturned face, her eyes shining and a strange glow in her cheeks. Carrigan, looking at them, felt his heart stand still. WAS THIS MAN ST. PIERRE? The thought came like a lightning flash—and went as quickly; it was impossible and inconceivable. And yet there was something more than pity in the voice of the woman who was speaking now.

"No, no, we have not seen him, Andre—we have not seen Black Roger Audemard. If he comes, I will call you. I promise, Michiwan. I will call you!"

She was stroking his bearded cheek, and then she put an arm about his twisted shoulders, and slowly she turned so that in a moment or two they were facing the sun—and it seemed to Carrigan that she was talking and sobbing and laughing in the same breath, as that great, broken hulk of a man moved out slowly from under the caress of her arm and went on his way. For a space she looked after him. Then in a swift movement she closed the door and faced Carrigan. She did not speak, but waited. Her head was high. She was breathing quickly. The tenderness that a moment before had filled her face was gone, and in her eyes was the blaze of fighting fires as she waited for him to speak—to give voice to what she knew was passing in his mind.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook