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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGod's Country And The Woman - Chapter 13
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God's Country And The Woman - Chapter 13 Post by :JuvioSuccess Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :691

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God's Country And The Woman - Chapter 13

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Alone and with the deadening depression that had come with Jean's last words, Philip returned to his room. He had made no effort to follow the half-breed who had shamed him to the quick beside the grave of his wife. He felt no pleasure, no sense of exultation, that his suspicions of Croisset's feelings toward Josephine had been dispelled. Since the hour MacTavish had died up in the madness of Arctic night, deep and hopeless gloom had not laid its hand more heavily upon him,

He bolted his door, drew the curtain to the window, and added a bit of wood to the few embers that still remained alive in the grate. Then he sat down, with his face to the fire. The dry birch burst into flame, and for half an hour he sat staring into it with almost unseeing eyes. He knew that Jean would keep his word--that even now he was possibly on the fresh trail that led through the forest. For him there was something about the half-breed now that was almost omniscient. In him Philip had seen incarnated the things which made him feel like a dwarf in manhood. In those few moments close to the graves, Jean had risen above the world. And Philip believed in him. Yet with his belief, his optimism did not quite die.

In the same breath Jean had told him that he could never possess Josephine, and that Josephine loved him. This in itself, Jean's assurance of her love, was sufficient to arouse a spirit like his with new hope. At last he went to bed, and in spite of his mental and physical excitement of the night, he fell asleep.

John Adare did not fail in his promise to rouse Philip early in the day. When Philip jumped out of bed in response to Adare's heavy knock at the door, he judged that it was not later than seven o'clock, and the room was still dark. Adare's voice came booming through the thick panels in reply to Philip's assurance that he was getting up.

"This is the third time," he cried. "I've cracked the door trying to rouse you. And we've got a caribou porterhouse two inches thick waiting for us."

The giant was walking back and forth in the big living-room when Philip joined him a few minutes later. He wore an Indian-made jacket and was smoking a big pipe. That he had been up for some time was evident from the logs fully ablaze in the fireplace. He rubbed his hands briskly as Philip entered. Every atom of him disseminated good cheer.

"You don't know how good it seems to get back home," he exclaimed, as they shook hands. "I feel like a boy--actually like a boy, Philip! Didn't sleep two winks after I went to bed, and Miriam scolded me for keeping her awake. Bless my soul, I wouldn't live in Montreal if they'd make me a present of the whole Hudson's Bay Company."

"Nor I," said Philip. "I love the North."

"How long?"

"Four years--without a break."

"One can live a long time in the North in four years," mused the master of Adare. "But Josephine said she met you in Montreal?"

"True," laughed Philip, catching himself. "That was a break--and I thank God for it. Outside of that I spent all of the four years north of the Hight of Land. For eighteen months I lived along the edges of the Arctic trying to take an impossible census of the Eskimo for the government."

"I knew something of the sort when I first looked at you," said Adare. "I can tell an Arctic man, just as I can pick a Herschel dog or an Athabasca country malemute from a pack of fifty. We have much to talk about, my boy. We will be great friends. Just now we are going to that caribou steak."

Out into the hall, through another door, and down a short corridor, he led Philip. Here a third door was open, and Adare stood aside while Philip entered.

"This is my private sanctuary," he said proudly. "What do you think of it?"

Philip looked about him. He was in a room almost as large as the one from which they had come. In a huge fireplace a pile of logs were blazing. One end of the room was given up almost entirely to shelves and weighted down with books. Philip was amazed at their number. The other end was still partially hidden in glooms but he could make out that it was fitted up as a laboratory, and on shelves he caught the white gleam of scores of wild beast skulls. Comfortably near to the fire was a large table scattered with books, papers, and piles of manuscript, and behind this was a small iron safe. Here, Philip thought, was the adytum of no ordinary man; it was the study of a scholar and a scientist. He marked the absence of mounted heads from the walls, but in spite of that the very atmosphere of the room breathed of the forests and the beast. Here and there he saw the articulated skeletons of wild animals. From among the books themselves the jaws and ivory fangs of skulls gleamed out at him. Before he had finished his wondering survey of the strange room, John Adare stepped to the table and picked up a skull.

"This is my latest specimen," he said, his voice eager with enthusiasim. "It is perfect. Jean secured it for me while I was away. It is the skull of a beaver, and shows in three distinct and remarkable gradations how nature replaces the soft enamel as it is worn from the beaver's teeth. You see, I am a hobbyist. For twenty years I have been studying wild animals. And there--"

He replaced the skull on the table to point to an isolated shelf filled with books and magazines.

"--there is my most remarkable collection," he added, a gleam of humour in his eyes. "They are the books and magazine stories of nature fakirs, the 'works' of naturalists who have never heard the howl of a wolf or the cry of a loon; the wild dreams of fictionists, the rot of writers who spend two weeks or a month each year on some blazed trail and return to the cities to call themselves students of nature. When I feel in bad humour I read some of that stuff and laugh."

He leaned over to press a button under the table,

"One of my little electrical arrangements," he explained. "That will bring our breakfast. To use a popular expression of the uninformed, I'm as hungry as a bear. As a matter of fact, you know, a bear is the lightest eater of all brute creation for his size, strength, and fat supply. That row of naturalists over there have made him out a pig. The beast's a genius, for it takes a genius to grow fat on poplar buds!"

Then he laughed good humouredly.

"I suppose you are tired of this already. Josephine has probably been filling you with a lot of my foolishness. She says I must be silly or I would have my stuff published in books. But I am waiting, waiting until I have come down to the last facts. I am experimenting now with the black and the silver fox. And there are many other experiments to come, many of them. But you are tired of this."

"Tired!"

Philip had listened to him without speaking. In this room John Adare had changed. In him he saw now the living, breathing soul of the wild. His own face was flushed with a new enthusiasm as he replied:

"Such things could never tire me. I only ask that I may be your companion in your researches, and learn something of the wonders which you must already have discovered. You have studied wild animals--for twenty years?"

"Twenty and four, day and night; it has been my hobby."

"And you have written about them?"

"A score of volumes, if they were in print."

Philip drew a deep breath.

"The world would give a great deal for what you know," he said. "It would give a great deal for those books, more than I dare to estimate, undoubtedly it would be a vast sum in dollars."

Adare laughed softly in his beard.

"And what would I do with dollars?" he asked. "I have sufficient with which to live this life here. What more could money bring me? I am the happiest man in the world!"

For a moment a cloud overshadowed his face.

"And yet of late I have had a worry," he added thoughtfully. "It is because of Miriam, my wife. She is not well. I had hoped that the doctors in Montreal would help her. But they have failed. They say she possesses no malady, no sickness that they can discover. And yet she is not the old Miriam. God knows I hope the tonic of the snows will bring her back to health this winter!"

"It will," declared Philip. "The signs point to a glorious winter, crisp and dry--the sledge and dog kind, when you can hear the crack of a whiplash half a mile away."

"You will hear that frequently enough if you follow Josephine," chuckled Adare. "Not a trail in these forests for a hundred miles she does not know. She trains all of the dogs, and they are wonderful."

It was on the point of Philip's tongue to ask a reason for the silence of the fierce pack he had seen the night before, when he caught himself. At the same moment the Indian woman appeared through the door with a laden tray. Adare helped her arrange their breakfast on a small table near the fire.

"I thought we would be more congenial here than alone in the dining-room, Philip," he explained. "Unless I am mistaken the ladies won't be up until dinner time. Did you ever see a steak done to a finer turn than this? Marie, you are a treasure." He motioned Philip to a seat, and began serving. "Nothing in the world is better than a caribou porterhouse cut well back," he went on. "Don't fry or roast it, but broil it. An inch and a half is the proper thickness, just enough to hold the heart of it ripe with juice. See it ooze from that cut! Can you beat it?"

"Not with anything I have had along the Arctic," confessed Philip. "A steak from the cheek of a cow walrus is about the best thing you find up in the 'Big Icebox'--that is, at first. Later, when the aurora borealis has got into your marrow, you gorge on seal blubber and narwhal fat and call it good. As for me, I'd prefer pickles to anything else in the world, so with your permission I'll help myself. Just now I'd eat pickles with ice cream."

It was a pleasant meal. Philip could not remember when he had known a more agreeable host. Not until they had finished, and Adare had produced cigars of a curious length and slimness, did the older man ask the question for which Philip had been carefully preparing himself.

"Now I want to hear about you," he said. "Josephine told me very little--said that she wanted me to get my impressions first hand. We'll smoke and talk. These cigars are clear Havanas. I have the tobacco imported by the bale and we make the cigars ourselves. Reduces the cost to a minimum, and we always have a supply. Go on, Philip, I'm listening."

Philip remembered Josephine's words telling him to narrate the events of his own life to her father--except that he was to leave open, as it were, the interval in which he was supposed to have known her in Montreal. It was not difficult for him to slip over this. He described his first coming into the North, and Adare's eyes glowed sympathetically when Philip quoted Hill's words down at Prince Albert and Jasper's up at Fond du Lac. He listened with tense interest to his experiences along the Arctic, his descriptions of the death of MacTavish and the passing of Pierre Radisson. But what struck deepest with him was Philip's physical and mental fight for new life, and the splendid way in which the wilderness had responded.

"And you couldn't go back now," he said, a tone of triumph in his voice. "When the forests once claim you--they hold."

"Not alone the forests, Mon Pere."

"Ah, Mignonne. No, there is neither man nor beast in the world that would leave her. Even the dogs are chained out in the deep spruce that they may not tear down her doors in the night to come near her. The whole world loves my Josephine. The Indians make the Big Medicine for her in a hundred tepees when they learn she is ill. They have trimmed five hundred lob-stick trees in her memory. Mon Dieu, in the Company's books there are written down more than thirty babes and children grown who bear her name of Josephine! She is different than her mother. Miriam has been always like a flower--a timid wood violet, loving this big world, yet playing no part in it away from my side. Sometimes Josephine frightens me. She will travel a hundred miles by sledge to nurse a sick child, and only last winter she buried herself in a shack filled with smallpox and brought six souls out of it alive! For two weeks she was buried in that hell. That is Mignonne, whom Indian, breed, and white man call L'Ange. Miriam they call La Fleurette. We are two fortunate men, my son!"

A dozen questions burned on Philip's lips, but he held them back, fearing that some accidental slip of the tongue might betray him. He was convinced that Josephine's father knew absolutely nothing of the trouble that was wrecking the happiness of Adare House, and he was equally positive that all, even Miriam herself, were fighting to keep the secret from him.

That Josephine's motherhood was not the sole cause of the mysterious and tragic undercurrent that he had been made to feel he was more than suspicious. A few hours would tell him if he was right, for he would ask Josephine to become his wife. And he already knew what John Adare did not know.

Miriam was not sick with a physical illness. The doctors whom Adare had not believed were right. And he wondered, as he sat facing her husband, if it was fear for his life that was breaking her down. Were they shielding him from some great and ever- menacing peril--a danger with which, for some inconceivable reason, they dared not acquaint him?

In the short time he had known him, a strange feeling for John Adare had found a place in Philip's heart. It was more than friendship, more than the feeling which his supposed relationship might have roused. This big-hearted, tender, rumbling voiced giant of a man he had grown to love. And he found himself struggling blindly now to keep from him what the others were trying to conceal, for he knew that John Adare's heart would crumble down like a pile of dust if he knew the truth. He was thinking of the baby, and it seemed as if his thoughts flashed like fire to the other.

Adare was laughing softly in his beard.

"You should have seen the kid last night, Philip. When they woke 'im he stared at me for a time as though I was an ogre, then he grinned, kicked me, and grabbed my whiskers, I've just one fault to find. I wish he was a dozen instead of me. The little rascal! I wonder if he is awake?"

He half rose, as if about to investigate, then reseated himself.

"Guess I'd better not take a chance of waking him," he reflected. "If Jean should catch me rousing Josephine or the baby he'd throttle me."

"Jean is--a sort of guardian," ventured Philip.

"More than that. Sometimes I think he is a spirit," said Adare impressively. "I have known him for twenty years. Since the day Josephine was born he has been her watch-dog. He came in the heart of a great storm, years and years ago, nearly dead from cold and hunger. He never went away, and he has talked but little about himself. See--"

Adare went to a shelf and returned with a bundle of manuscript.

"Jean gave me the idea for this," he went on.

There are two hundred and eighty pages here. I call it 'The Aristocracy of the North.' It is true--and it is wonderful!

"You have seen a spring or New Year's gathering of the forest people at a Company's post--the crowd of Indians, half-breeds, and whites who follow the trap-lines? And would you guess that in that average foregathering of the wilderness people there is better blood than you could find in a crowded ballroom of New York's millionaires? It is true. I have given fish to hungry half-breeds in whose veins flows the blood of royalty. I have eaten with Indian women whose lineage reaches back to names that were mighty before the first Astors and the first Vanderbilts were born. The descendant of a king has hunted me caribou meat at two cents a pound. In a smoke-blackened tepee, over beyond the Gray Loon waterway, there lives a girl with hair and eyes as black as a raven's wing who could go to Paris to-morrow and say: 'I am the descendant of a queen,' and prove it. And so it is all over the Northland.

"I have hunted down many curious facts, and I have them here in my manuscript. The world cannot sneer at me, for records have been kept almost since the day away back in the seventeenth century when Prince Rupert landed with his first shipload of gentlemen adventurers. They intermarried with our splendid Crees--those first wanderers from the best families of Europe. They formed the English-Cree half-breed. Prince Rupert himself had five children that can be traced to him. Le Chevalier Grosselier had nine. And so it went on for a hundred years, the best blood in England giving birth to a new race among the Crees, and the best of France sowing new generations among the Chippewyans on their way up from Quebec.

"And for another hundred years and more the English-Cree half- breed and the French-Chippewyan half-breed have been meeting and intermarrying, forming the 'blood,' until in all this Northland scarce a man or a woman cannot call back to names that have long become dust in history.

"From the blood of some mighty king of France--of some splendid queen--has come Jean Croisset. I have always felt that, and yet I can trace him no farther than a hundred years back, to the quarter-strain wife of the white factor at Monsoon. Jean has lost interest in himself now--since his wife died three years ago. Has Josephine told you of her?"

"Very little," said Philip.

The flush of enthusiasm faded from Adare's eyes. It was replaced by a look that was grief deep and sincere.

"Iowaka's death was the first great blow that came to Adare House," he said gently. "For nine years they were man and wife lovers. God's pity they had no children. She was French--with a velvety touch of the Cree, lovable as the wild flowers from which she took her name. Since she went Jean has lived in a dream. He says that she is constantly with him, and that often he hears her voice. I am glad of that. It is wonderful to possess that kind of a love, Philip!--the love that lives like a fresh flower after death and darkness. And we have it--you and I."

Philip murmured softly that it was so. He felt that it was dangerous to tread upon the ground which Adare was following. In these moments, when this great bent-shouldered giant's heart lay like an open book before him, he was not sure of himself. The other's unbounded faith, his happiness, the idyllic fulness of his world as he found it, were things which added to the heaviness and fear at Philip's heart instead of filling him with similar emotions. Of these things he was not a part. A voice kept whispering to him with maddening insistence that he was a fraud. One by one John Adare was unlocking for him hallowed pictures in which Jean had told him he could never share possession. His desire to see Josephine again was almost feverish, and filled him with a restlessness which he knew he must hide from Adare. So when Adare's eyes rested upon him in a moment's silence, he said:

"Last night Jean and I were standing beside her grave. It seemed then as though he would have been happier if he had lain near her --under the cross."

"You are wrong," said Adare quickly. "Death is beautiful when there is a perfect love. If my Miriam should die it would mean that she had simply gone from my SIGHT. In return for that loss her hand would reach down to me from Heaven, as Iowaka reaches down to Jean. I love life. My heart would break if she should go. But it would be replaced by something almost like another soul. For it must be wonderful to be over-watched by an angel."

He rose and went to the window, and with a queer thickening in his throat Philip stared at his broad back. He thought he saw a moment's quiver of his shoulders. Then Adare's voice changed.

"Winter brings close to our doors the one unpleasant feature of this country," he said, turning to light a second cigar. "Thirty- five miles to the north and west of us there is what the Indians call 'Muchemunito Nek'--the Devil's Nest. It's a Free Trader's house. A man down in Montreal by the name of Lang owns a string of them, and his agent over at the Devil's Nest is a scoundrel of the first water. His name is Thoreau. There are a score of half-breeds and whites in his crowd, and not a one of them with an honest hair in his head. It's the one criminal rendezvous I know of in all this North country. Bad Indians who have lost credit at the Hudson's Bay Company's posts go to Thoreau's. Whites and half- breeds who have broken the laws are harboured there. A dozen trappers are murdered each winter for their furs, and the assassins are among Thoreau's men. One of these days there is going to be a big clean-up. Meanwhile, they are unpleasant company. There is a deep swamp between our house and Thoreau's, so that during the open water seasons it means we are a hundred miles away from them by canoe. When winter comes we are only thirty-five miles, as the sledge-dogs run. I don't like it. You can snow-shoe the distance in a few hours."

"I know of such a place far to the west," replied Philip. "Both the Hudson's Bay Company and Reveillon Freres have threatened to put it out of business, but it still remains. Perhaps that is owned by Lang, too."

He had joined Adare at the window. The next moment both men were staring at the same object in a mutual surprise. Into the white snow space between the house and the forest there had walked swiftly the slim, red-clad figure of Josephine, her face turned to the forest, her hair falling in a long braid down her back.

The master of Adare chuckled exultantly.

"There goes our little Red Riding Hood!" he rumbled. "She beat us after all, Philip. She is going after the dogs!"

Philip's heart was beating wildly. A better opportunity for seeing Josephine alone could not have come to him. He feared that his voice might betray him as he laid a hand on Adare's arm.

"If you will excuse me I will join her," he said. "I know it doesn't seem just right to tear off in this way, but--you see--"

Adare interrupted him with one of his booming laughs.

"Go, my lad. I understand. If it was Miriam instead of Mignonne running away like that, John Adare wouldn't be waiting this long."

Philip turned and left the room, every pulse in his body throbbing with an excitement roused by the knowledge that the hour had come when Josephine would give herself to him forever, or doom him to that hopelessness for which Jean Croisset had told him to prepare himself.

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CHAPTER FOURTEENIn his eagerness to join Josephine Philip had reached the outer door before it occurred to him that he was without hat or coat and had on only a pair of indoor moccasin slippers. He would still have gone on, regardless of this utter incongruity of dress, had he not known that John Adare would see him through the window. He partly opened the hall door and looked out. Josephine was halfway to the forest. He turned swiftly back to his room, threw on a coat, put his moccasins on over the soft caribou skin slippers, caught up his cap,
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CHAPTER TWELVEUnable to believe that what he saw was not an illusion, Philip stood and stared at the half-breed. No word fell from his lips. He did not move. And Jean met his eyes calmly, without betraying a tremor of excitement or of fear. In another moment Philip's hand went to his pistol. As he half drew it his confused brain saw other things which made him gasp with new wonder.Croisset showed no signs of the fight in the forest which had occurred not more than ten minutes before. He was wearing a pair of laced Hudson's Bay boots. In the
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