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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFlower Of The North - Chapter 24
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Flower Of The North - Chapter 24 Post by :ben.g Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :2533

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Flower Of The North - Chapter 24

Chapter XXIV

Both Philip and Jeanne were silent for some moments after Gregson had gone; their only movement was the gentle stroking of Philip's hand over the girl's soft hair. Their hearts were full, too full for speech. And yet he knew that upon his strength depended everything now. The revelations of Gregson, which virtually ended the fight against him personally, were but trivial in his thoughts compared with the ordeal which was ahead of Jeanne. Both Pierre and her father were dead, and, with the exception of Jeanne, no one but he knew of the secret that had died with them. He could feel against him the throbbing of the storm that was passing in the girl's heart, and in answer to it he said nothing in words, but held her to him with a gentleness that lifted her face, quiet and beautiful, so that her eyes looked steadily and questioningly into his own.

"You love me," she said, simply, and yet with a calmness that sent a curious thrill through him.

"Beyond all else in the world," he replied.

She still looked at him, without speaking, as though through his eyes she was searching to the bottom of his soul.

"And you know," she whispered, after a moment.

He drew her so close she could not move, and crushed his face down against her own.

"Jeanne--Jeanne--everything is as it should be," he said. "I am glad that you were found out in the snows. I am glad that the woman in the picture was your mother. I would have nothing different than it is, for if things were different you would not be the Jeanne that I know, and I would not love you so. You have suffered, sweetheart. And I, too, have had my share of sorrow. God has brought us together, and all is right in the end. Jeanne--my sweet Jeanne--"

Gregson had left the outer door slightly ajar. A gust of wind opened it wider. Through it there came now a sound that interrupted the words on Philip's lips, and sent a sudden quiver through Jeanne. In an instant both recognized the sound. It was the firing of rifles, the shots coming to them faintly from far beyond the mountain at the end of the lake. Moved by the same impulse, they ran to the door, hand in hand.

"It is Sachigo!" panted Jeanne. She could hardly speak. She seemed to struggle to get breath, "I had forgotten. They are fighting--"

MacDougall strode up from his post beside the door, where he had been waiting for the appearance of Jeanne.

"Firing--off there," he said. "What does it mean?"

"We must wait and see," replied Philip. "Send two of your men to investigate, Mac. I will rejoin you after I have taken Miss d'Arcambal over to Cassidy's wife."

He moved away quickly with Jeanne. On a sudden rise of the wind from the south the firing came to them more distinctly. Then it died away, and ended in three or four intermittent shots. For the space of a dozen seconds a strange stillness followed, and then over the mountain top, where there was still a faint glow in the sky, there came the low, quavering, triumphal cry of the Crees: a cry born of the forest itself, mournful even in its joy, only half human--almost like a far-away burst of tongue from a wolf pack on the hunt trail. And after that there was an unbroken silence.

"It is over," breathed Philip.

He felt Jeanne's fingers tighten about his own.

"No one will ever know," he continued. "Even MacDougall will not guess what has happened out there--to-night."

He stopped a dozen paces from Cassidy's cabin. The windows were aglow, and they could hear the laughter and play of Cassidy's two children within. Gently he drew Jeanne to him.

"You will stay here to-night, dear," he said. "To-morrow we will go to Fort o' God."

"You must take me home to-night," whispered Jeanne, looking up into his face. "I must go, Philip. Send some one with me, and you can come--in the morning--with Pierre--"

She put her hand to his face again, in the sweet touch that told more of her love than a thousand words.

"You understand, dear," she went on, seeing the anxiety in his eyes. "I have the strength--to-night. I must return to father, and he will know everything--when you come to Fort o' God."

"I will send MacDougall with you," said Philip, after a moment. "And then I will follow--"

"With Pierre."

"Yes, with Pierre."

For a brief space longer they stood outside of Cassidy's cabin, and then Philip, lifting her face, said gently:

"Will you kiss me, dear? It is the first time."

He bent down, and Jeanne's lips reached his own.

"No, it is not the first time," she confessed, in a whisper. "Not since that day--when I thought you were dying--after we came through the rapids--"

Five minutes later Philip returned to MacDougall. Roberts, Henshaw, Cassidy, and Lecault were with the engineer.

"I've sent the St. Pierres to find out about the firing," he said. "Look at the crowd over at the store. Every one heard it, and they've seen the fire on the mountain. They think the Indians have cornered a moose or two and are shooting them by the blaze."

"They're probably right," said Philip. "I want a word with you, Mac."

He walked a little aside with the engineer, leaving the others in a group, and in a low voice told him as much as he cared to reveal about the identity of Thorpe and Gregson's mission in camp. Then he spoke of Jeanne.

"I believe that the death of Thorpe practically ends all danger to us," he concluded. "I'm going to offer you a pleasanter job than fighting, Mac. It is imperative that Miss d'Arcambal should return to D'Arcambal House before morning, and I want you to take her, if you will. I'm choosing the best man I've got because--well, because she's going to be my wife, Mac. I'm the happiest man on earth to-night!"

MacDougall did not show surprise.

"Guessed it," he said, shortly, thrusting out a hand and grinning broadly into Philip's face "Couldn't help from seeing, Phil. And the firing, and Thorpe, and that half-breed in there--"

Understanding was slowly illuminating his face.

"You'll know all about them a little later, Mac," said Philip softly. "To-night we must investigate nothing--very far. Miss d'Arcambal must be taken home immediately. Will you go?"

"With pleasure."

"She can ride one of the horses as far as the Little Churchill," continued Philip. "And there she will show you a canoe. I will follow in the morning with the body of Pierre, the half-breed."

A quarter of an hour later MacDougall and Jeanne set out over the river trail, leaving Philip standing behind, watching them until they were hidden in the night. It was fully an hour later before the St. Pierres returned. Philip was uneasy until the two dark- faced hunters came into the little office and leaned their rifles against the wall. He had feared that Sachigo might have left some trace of his ambush behind. But the St. Pierres had discovered nothing, and could give only one reason for the burning pine on the summit of the mountain. They agreed that Indians had fired it to frighten moose from a thick cover to the south and west, and that their hunt had been a failure.

It was midnight before Philip relaxed his caution, which he maintained until then in spite of his belief that Thorpe's men, under Blake, had met a quick finish at the hands of Sachigo and his ambushed braves. His men left for their cabins, with the exception of Cassidy, whom he asked to spend the remainder of the night in one of the office bunks. Alone he went in to prepare Pierre for his last journey to Fort o' God.

A lamp was burning low beside the bunk in which Pierre lay. Philip approached and turned the wick higher, and then he gazed in wonder upon the transfiguration in the half-breed's face. Pierre had died with a smile on his lips; and with a curious thickening in his throat Philip thought that those lips, even in death, were craved in the act of whispering Jeanne's name. It seemed to him, as he stood in silence for many moments, that Pierre was not dead, but that he was sleeping a quiet, unbreathing sleep, in which there came to him visions of the great love for which he had offered up his life and his soul. Jeanne's hands, in his last moments, had stilled all pain. Peace slumbered in the pale shadows of his closed eyes. The Great God of his faith had come to him in his hour of greatest need on earth, and he had passed away into the Valley of Silent Men on the sweet breath of Jeanne's prayers. The girl had crossed his hands upon his breast. She had brushed back his long hair. Philip knew that she had imprinted a kiss upon the silent lips before the soul had fled, and in the warmth and knowledge of that kiss Pierre had died happy.

And Philip, brokenly, said aloud:

"God bless you, Pierre, old man!"

He lifted the cold hands back, and gently drew the covers which had hidden the telltale stains of death from Jeanne's eyes. He turned down Pierre's shirt, and in the lamp-glow there glistened the golden locket. For the first time he noticed it closely. It was half as large as the palm of his hand, and very thin, and he saw that it was bent and twisted. A shudder ran through him when he understood what had happened. The bullet that had killed Pierre had first struck the locket, and had burst it partly open. He took it in his hand. And then he saw that through the broken side there protruded the end of a bit of paper. For a brief space the discovery made him almost forget the presence of death. Pierre had never opened the locket, because it was of the old-fashioned kind that locked with a key, and the key was gone. And the locket had been about Jeanne's neck when he found her out in the snows! Was it possible that this bit of paper had something to do with the girl he loved?

Carefully, so that it would not tear, he drew it forth. There was writing on the paper, as he had expected, and he read it, bent low beside the lamp. The date was nearly eighteen years old. The lines were faint. The words were these:

MY HUSBAND,--God can never undo what I have done. I have dragged myself back, repentant, loving you more than I have ever loved you in my life, to leave our little girl with you. She is your daughter, and mine. She was born on the eighth day of September, the seventh month after I left Fort o' God, She is yours, and so I bring her back to you, with the prayer that she will help to fill the true and noble heart that I have broken. I cannot ask your forgiveness, for I do not deserve it. I cannot let you see me, for I should kill myself at your feet. I have lived this long only for the baby. I will leave her where you cannot fail to find her, and by the time you have read this I will have answered for my sin-- my madness, if you can have charity regard it so. And if God is kind I will hover about you always, and you will know that in death the old sweetheart, and the mother, has found what she could never again hope for in life.

YOUR WIFE.

Philip rose slowly erect and gazed down into the still, tranquil face of Pierre, the half-breed.

"Why didn't you open it?" he whispered. "Why didn't you open it? My God, what it would have saved--"

For a full minute he looked down at Pierre, as though he expected that the white lips would move and answer him. And then he thought of Jeanne hurrying to Fort o' God, and of the terrible things which she was to reveal to her father that night. She was D'Arcambal's own daughter. What pain--what agony of father and child he might have saved if he had examined the locket a little sooner! He looked at his watch and found that Jeanne had been gone three hours. It would be impossible to overtake MacDougall and the girl unless something had occurred to delay them somewhere along the trail. He hurried back into the little room, where he had left Cassidy. In a few words he explained that it was necessary for him to follow Jeanne and the engineer to D'Arcambal House without a moment's delay, and he directed Cassidy to take charge of camp affairs, and to send Pierre's body with a suitable escort the next day.

"It isn't necessary for me to tell you what to do," he finished, "You understand."

Cassidy nodded. Six months before he had buried his youngest child under a big spruce back of his cabin.

Philip hastened to the stables, and, choosing one of the lighter animals, was soon galloping over the trail toward the Little Churchill. In his face there blew a cold wind from Hudson's Bay, and now and then he felt the sting of fine particles in his eyes. They were the presage of storm. A shifting of the wind a little to the east and south, and the fine particles would thicken, and turn into snow. By morning the world would be white. He came into the forests beyond the plain, and in the spruce and the cedar tops the wind was half a gale, filling the night with wailing and moaning sounds that sent strange shivers through him as he thought of Pierre in the cabin. In such a way, he imagined, had the north wind swept across the cold barrens on the night that Pierre had found the woman and the babe; and now it seemed, in his fancies, as though above and about him the great hand that had guided the half-breed then was bringing back the old night, as if Pierre, in dying, had wished it so. For the wind changed. The fine particles thickened, and changed to snow. And then there was no longer the wailing and the moaning in the tree-tops, but the soft murmur of a white deluge that smothered him in a strange gloom and hid the trail. There were two canoes concealed at the end of the trail on the Little Churchill, and Philip chose the smallest. He followed swiftly after MacDougall and Jeanne. He could no longer see either side of the stream, and he was filled with a fear that he might pass the little creek that led to Fort o' God. He timed himself by his watch, and when he had paddled for two hours he ran in close to the west shore, traveling so slowly that he did not progress a mile in half an hour. And then suddenly, from close ahead, there rose through the snow-gloom the dismal howl of a dog, which told him that he was near to Fort o' God. He found the black opening that marked the entrance to the creek, and when he ran upon the sand-bar a hundred yards beyond he saw lights burning in the great room where he had first seen D'Arcambal. He went now where Pierre had led him that night, and found the door unlocked. He entered silently, and passed down the dark hall until, on the left, he saw a glow of light that came from the big room. Something in the silence that was ahead of him made his own approach without sound, and softly he entered through the door.

In the great chair sat the master of Fort o' God, his gray head bent; at his feet knelt Jeanne, and so close were they that D'Arcambal's face was hidden in Jeanne's shining, disheveled hair. No sooner had Philip entered the room than his presence seemed to arouse the older man. He lifted his head slowly, looking toward the door, and when he saw who stood there he raised one of his arms from about the girl and held it out to Philip.

"My son!" he said.

In a moment Philip was upon his knees beside Jeanne, and one of D'Arcambal's heavy hands fell upon his shoulder in a touch that told him he had come too late to keep back any part of the terrible story which Jeanne had bared to him. The girl did not speak when she saw him beside her. It was as if she had expected him to come, and her hand found his and nestled in it, as cold as ice.

"I have hurried from the camp," he said. "I tried to overtake Jeanne. About Pierre's neck I found a locket, and in the locket-- was this--"

He looked into D'Arcambal's haggard face as he gave him the blood- stained note, and he knew that in the moment that was to come the master of Fort o' God and his daughter should be alone.

"I will wait in the portrait-room," he said, in a low voice, and as he rose to his feet he pressed Jeanne's hand to his lips.

The old room was as he had left it weeks before. The picture of Jeanne's mother still hung with its face to the wall. There was the same elusive movement of the portrait over the volume of warm air that rose from the floor. In this room he seemed to breathe again the presence of a warm spirit of life, as he had felt it on the first night--a spirit that seemed to him to be a part of Jeanne herself, and he thought of the last words of the wife and mother--of her promise to remain always near those whom she loved, to regain after death the companionship which she could never hope for in life. And then there came to him a thought of the vast and wonderful mystery of death, and he wondered if it was her spirit that had been with him more than one lonely night, when his camp- fire was low; if it was her presence that had filled him with transcendent dreams of hope and love, coming to him that night beside the rock at Churchill, and leading him at last to Jeanne, for whom she had given up her life. He heard again the rising of the wind outside and the beating of the storm against the window, and he went softly to see if his vision could penetrate into the white, twisting gloom beyond the glass. For many minutes he stood, seeing nothing. And then he heard a sound, and turned to see Jeanne and her father standing in the door. Glory was in the face of the master of Fort o' God. He seemed not to see Philip--he seemed to see nothing but the picture that was turned against the wall. He strode across the room, his great shoulders straightened, his shaggy head erect, and with the pride of one revealing first to human eyes the masterpiece of his soul and life he turned the picture so that the radiant face of the wife and mother looked down upon him. And was it fancy that for a fleeting moment the smile left the beautiful lips, and a light, soft and luminous, pleading for love and forgiveness, filled the eyes of Jeanne's mother? Philip trembled. Jeanne came across to him silently, and crept into his arms. And then, slowly, the master of Fort o' God turned toward them and stretched out both of his great arms.

"My children!" he said.

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Chapter XXVAll that night the storm came out of the north and east. Hours after Jeanne and her father had left him Philip went quietly from his room, passed down the hall, and opened the outer door. He could hear the gale whistling over the top of the great rock, and moaning in the spruce and cedar forest, and he closed the door after him, and buried himself in the darkness and wind. He bowed his head to the stinging snow, which came like blasts of steeled shot, and hurried into the shelter of the Sun Rock, and stood there after
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Chapter XXIIIFor a moment Philip bowed his head, and then he turned and went noiselessly from the room, without speaking. As he closed the door softly behind him he looked back, and from her attitude beside Pierre he knew that Jeanne was whispering a prayer. A vision flashed before him, so quick that it had come like a ray of light --a vision of another hour, years and years ago, when Pierre had knelt beside HER, and when he had lifted up his wild, half-thought prayer out in the death-chill of the snowy barrens. And this was his reward, to have
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