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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGod's Country And The Woman - Chapter 15
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God's Country And The Woman - Chapter 15 Post by :mrtwist Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :1146

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God's Country And The Woman - Chapter 15

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

After a little the trail through the thick spruce grew narrow and dark, and Josephine went ahead of Philip. He followed so close that he could reach out a hand and touch her. She had not replaced her hood. Her face was flushed and her lips parted and red when she turned to him now and then. His heart beat with a tumultuous joy as he followed. A few moments before he had not spoken to her boastfully, or to keep up a falling spirit. He had given voice to what was in his heart, what was there now, telling him that she belonged to him, that she loved him, that there could be nothing in the world that would long stand between them.

The voice of the pack came to them stronger each moment, yet for a space it was unheard by him. His mind--all the senses he possessed--travelled no farther than the lithesome red and gold figure ahead of him. The thick strands of her braid had become partly undone, covering her waist and hips in a shimmering veil of gold. He wanted to touch that rare treasure with his hands. He was filled with the desire to stop her, and hold her close in his arms. And yet he knew that this was a thing which he must not do. For him she had risen above a thing merely physical. The touching of her hair, her lips, her face, were no longer the first passions of love with him. And because Josephine knew these things rose the joyous flush in her face and the wonder-light in her eyes. The still, deep forests had long ago brought her dreams of this man. And these same forests seemed to whisper to Philip that her beauty was a part of her soul, and that it was not to be desecrated in such moments of desire as he was fighting back in himself now.

Suddenly she ran a little ahead of him, and then stopped. A moment later he stood at her side. They were peering into what looked like a great, dimly lighted and carpeted hall. For the space of a hundred feet in diameter the spruce had been thinned out. The trees that remained were lopped of their lower branches, leaving their upper parts crowding in a dense shelter that shut out cold and storm. No snow had filtered through their tops, and on the ground lay cedar and balsam needles two inches deep, a brown and velvety carpet that shone with the deep lustre of a Persian rug.

The place was filled with moving shapes and with gleaming eyes that were half fire in the gloom. Here were leashed the forty fierce and wolfish beasts of the pack. The dogs had ceased their loud clamour, and at sight of Josephine and sound of her voice, as she cried out greeting to them, there ran through the whole space a whining and a clinking of chains, and with that a snapping of jaws that sent a momentary shiver up Philip's back.

Josephine took him by the hand now. With him she ran in among them, calling out their names, laughing with them, caressing the shaggy heads that were thrust against her--until it seemed to Philip that every beast in the pit was straining at the end of his chain to get at them and rend them into pieces. And yet, above this thought, the nervousness that he could not fight it out of himself, rose the wonder of it all.

Philip had seen a husky snap off a man's hand at a single lunge; he knew it was a creature of the whip and the club, with the hatred of men inborn in it from the wolf. What he looked on now filled him with a sort of awe--and a fear for Josephine. He gave a warning cry and half drew his pistol when she dropped on her knees and flung her arms about the shaggy head of a huge beast that could have torn the life from her in an instant. She looked up at him, laughing, the inch-long fangs of Captain, the lead-dog, gleaming in brute happiness close to her soft, flushed face.

"Don't be afraid, Philip!" she cried. "They are my pets--all of them. This is Captain, who leads my sledge team. Isn't he magnificent?"

"Good God!" breathed Philip, looking about him. "I know something of sledge-dogs, Josephine. These are not from mongrel breeds. There are no hounds, no malemutes, none of the soft-footed breeds here. They are WOLF!"

She rose and stood beside him, panting, triumphant, glorious.

"Yes--they've all got the strain of wolf," she said. "That is why I love them, Philip. They are of the forests. AND I HAVE MADE THEM LOVE ME!"

A yellow beast, with small, dangerous eyes, was leaping fiercely at the end of his chain close to them. Philip pointed to him.

"And you would trust yourself THERE?" he exclaimed, catching her by the arm.

"That is Hero," she said. "Once his name was Soldier. Three years ago a man from Thoreau's Place offered me an insult in the woods, and Soldier almost killed him. He would have killed him if I had not dragged him off. From that day I called him Hero. He is a quarter-strain wolf."

She went to the husky, and the yellow giant leaped up against her, so that her arms were about him, with his wolfish muzzle reaching for her face. Under the cedars Philip's face was as white as the snow out in the open. Josephine saw this, and came and put her arm through his fondly.

"You are afraid for me, Philip?" she asked, with a little laugh of pleasure at his anxiety. "You mustn't be, for you must love them-- for my sake. I have brought them all up from puppyhood. And they would fight for me--just as you would fight for me, Philip. Once I was lost in a storm. Father turned the dogs loose. And they found me--miles and miles away. When you hear the wonderful stories I have to tell about them you will love them. They will not harm you. They will harm nothing that I have touched. I have taught them that. I am going to unleash them now. Metoosin is coming along the trail with their frozen fish."

Before she had moved, Philip went straight up to the yellow creature that she had told him was a quarter wolf.

"Hero," he spoke softly. "Hero--"

He held out his hands. The giant husky's eyes burned a deeper glow; for an instant his upper lip drew back, baring his stiletto- like fangs, and the hair along his neck and back stood up like a brush. Then, inch by inch, his muzzle drew nearer to Philip's steady hands, and a low whine rose in his throat. His crest drooped, his ears shot forward a little, and Philip's hand rested on the wolfish head.

"That is proof," he laughed, turning to Josephine. "If he had snapped off my hand I would say that you were wrong."

She passed quickly from one dog to another now, with Philip close at her side, and from the collar of each dog she snapped the chain. After she had freed a dozen, Philip began to help her. A few of the huskies snarled at him. Others accepted him already as a part of her. Yet in their eyes he saw the smouldering menace, the fire that wanted only a word from her to turn them into a horde of tearing demons.

At first he was startled by Josephine's confidence in them. Then he was only amazed. She was not only unafraid herself; she was unafraid for him. She knew that they would not touch him. When they were all free the pack gathered in close about them, and then Josephine came and stood at Philip's side, and put her hands to his shoulders. Thus she stood for a few moments, half facing the dogs, calling their names again; and they crowded up still closer about them, until Philip fancied he could feel their warm breath.

"They have all seen me with you now," she cried after that. "They have seen me touch you. Not one of them will snap at you after this."

The dogs swept on ahead of them in a great wave as they left the spruce shelter. Out in the clear light Philip drew a deep breath. He had never seen anything like this pack. They crowded shoulder to shoulder, body to body, in the open trail. Most of them were the tawny dun and gray and yellow of the wolf. There were a few blacks, and a few pure whites, but none that wore the mongrel spots of the soft-footed and softer-throated dogs from the south.

He shivered as he measured the pent-up power, the destructive possibilites of the whining, snapping, living sea of sinew and fang ahead of them. And they were Josephine's! They were her slaves! What need had she of his protection? What account would be the insignificant automatic at his side in the face of this wild horde that awaited only a word from her? What could there be in these forests that she feared, with them at her command? Ten men with rifles could not have stood in the face of their first mad rush--and yet she had told him that everything depended upon his protection. He had thought that meant physical protection. But it could not be. He spoke his thoughts aloud, pointing to the dogs:

"What danger can there be in this world that you need fear--with them?" he asked. "I don't understand. I can't guess."

She knew what he meant. The hand on his arm pressed a little closer to him.

"Please don't try to understand," she answered in a low voice. "They would fight for me. I have seen them tear a wolf-pack into shreds. And I have called them back from the throat of a wind-run deer, so that not a hair of her was harmed. But, Philip, I guess that sometimes mistakes were made in the creation of things. They have a brain. But it isn't REASON!"

"You mean--" he cried.

"That you, a man, unarmed, alone, are still their master," she interrupted him. "In the face of reason they are powerless. See, there comes Metoosin with the frozen fish! What if he were a stranger and the fish were poisoned?"

"I understand," he replied. "But others drive them besides you?"

"Only those very near to the family. Twenty of them are used in the traces. The others are my companions--my bodyguard, I call them."

Metoosin approached them now, weighted down under a heavy load in a gunny-sack, and Philip believed that he recognized in the silent Indian the man whom he had first seen at the door of Adare House with a rifle in his hands. At a few commands from Josephine the dogs gathered about them, and Metoosin opened the bag.

"I want you to throw them the fish, Philip," said Josephine. "Their brains comprehend the hand that feeds them. It is a sort of pledge of friendship between you and them."

With Metoosin she drew a dozen steps back, and Philip found that he had become the centre of interest for the pack. One by one he pulled out the fish. Snapping jaws met the frozen feast in midair. There was no fighting--no vengeful jealousy of fang. Once when a gray and yellow husky snapped at a fish already in the jaws of another, Josephine reprimanded him sharply, and at the sound of his name he slunk back. One by one Philip threw out the fish until they were all gone. Then he stood and looked down upon the flat- bellied pack, listening to the crunching of bones and frozen flesh, and Josephine came and stood beside him again.

Suddenly he felt her start. He looked up, and saw that her face was turned down the trail. He had caught the quick change in her eyes, the swift tenseness that flashed for an instant in her mouth. The vivid colour in her face had paled. She looked again as he had seen her for that short space at the door in Miriam's room. He followed the direction of her eyes.

A hundred yards away two figures were advancing toward them. One was her father, the master of Adare. And on his arm was Miriam his wife.

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CHAPTER SIXTEENThe strange effect upon Josephine of the unexpected appearance of Adare and his wife passed as quickly as it had come. When Philip looked at her again she was waving a hand and smiling. Adare's voice came booming up the trail. He saw Miriam laughing. Yet in spite of himself--even as he returned Adare's greeting--he could not keep himself from looking at the two women with curious emotions."This is rank mutiny!" cried Adare, as they came up. "I told them they must sleep until noon. I have already punished Miriam. And you, Mignonne? Does Philip let you off too easily?"Adare's
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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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