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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGod's Country And The Woman - Chapter 5
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God's Country And The Woman - Chapter 5 Post by :Truman Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :1952

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God's Country And The Woman - Chapter 5

CHAPTER FIVE

Close to the tent Philip sat down, smoked his pipe, and waited. Not only had the developments of the last few minutes been disappointing to him, but they had added still more to his bewilderment. He had expected and hoped for immediate physical action, something that would at least partially clear away the cloud of mystery. And at this moment, when he was expecting things to happen, there had appeared this new factor, Jean, to change the current of excitement under which Josephine was fighting. Who could Jean be? he asked himself. And why should his appearance at this time stir Josephine to a pitch of emotion only a little less tense than that roused by her fears of a short time before? She had told him that Jean was part Indian, part French, and that he "belonged to her." And his coming, he felt sure, was of tremendous significance to her.

He waited impatiently. It seemed a long time before he heard voices and the sound of footsteps over the edge of the coulee. He rose to his feet, and a moment later Josephine and her companion appeared not more than a dozen paces from him. His first glance was at the man. In that same instant Jean Croisset stopped in his tracks and looked at Philip. Steadily, and apparently oblivious of Josephine's presence, they measured each other, the half-breed bent a little forward, the lithe alertness of a cat in his posture, his eyes burning darkly. He was a man whose age Philip could not guess. It might have been forty. Probably it was close to that. He was bareheaded, and his long coarse hair, black as an Indian's, was shot with gray. At first it would have been difficult to name the blood that ran strongest in his veins. His hair, the thinness of his face and body, his eyes, and the tense position in which he had paused, were all Indian. Then, above these things, Philip saw the French. Swiftly it became the dominant part of the man before him, and he was not surprised when Jean advanced with outstretched hand, and said:

"M'sieur Philip, I am Jean--Jean Jacques Croisset--and I am glad you have come."

The words were spoken for Philip alone, and where she stood Josephine did not catch the strange flash of fire in the half- breed's eyes, nor did she hear his still more swiftly spoken words: "I am glad it is YOU that chance has sent to us, M'sieur Weyman!"

The two men gripped hands. There was something about Jean that inspired Philip's confidence, and as he returned the half-breed's greeting his eyes looked for a moment over the other's shoulder and rested on Josephine. He was astonished at the change in her. Evidently Jean had not brought her bad news. She held the pages of an open letter in her hand, and as she caught Philip's look she smiled at him with a gladness which he had not seen in her face before. She came forward quickly, and placed a hand on his arm.

"Jean's coming was a surprise," she explained. "I did not expect him for a number of days, and I dreaded what he might have to tell me. But this letter has brought me fresh cause for thankfulness, though it may enslave you a little longer to your vows of knighthood. We start for home this afternoon. Are you ready?"

"I have a little packing to do," he said, looking after Jean, who was moving toward the tent. "Twenty-seven prunes and--"

"Me," laughed Josephine. "Is it not necessary that you make room in your canoe for me?"

Philip's face flushed with pleasure.

"Of course it is," he cried. "Everything has seemed so wonderfully unreal to me that for a moment I forgot that you were my--my wife. But how about Jean? He called me M'sieur Weyman."

"He is the one other person in the world who knows what you and I know," she explained. "That, too, was necessary. Will you go and arrange your canoe now? Jean will bring down my things and exchange them for some of your dunnage." She left him to run into the tent, reappearing quickly with a thick rabbit-skin blanket and two canoe pillows.

"These make my nest--when I'm not working," she said, thrusting them into Philip's arms. "I have a paddle, too. Jean says that I am as good as an Indian woman with it."

"Better, M'sieur," exclaimed Jean, who had come out of the tent. "It makes you work harder to see her. She is--what you call it-- gwan-auch-ewin--so splendid! Out of the Cree you cannot speak it."

A tender glow filled Josephine's eyes as Jean began pulling up the pegs of the tent.

"A little later I will tell you about Jean," she whispered. "But now, go to your canoe. We will follow you in a few minutes."

He left her, knowing that she had other things to say to Jean which she did not wish him to hear. As he turned toward the coulee he noticed that she still held the opened letter in her hand.

There was not much for him to do when he reached his canoe. He threw out his sleeping bag and tent, and arranged Josephine's robe and pillows so that she would sit facing him. The knowledge that she was to be with him, that they were joined in a pact which would make her his constant companion, filled him with joyous visions and anticipations. He did not stop to ask himself how long this mysterious association might last, how soon it might come to the tragic end to which she had foredoomed it. With the spirit of the adventurer who had more than once faced death with a smile, he did not believe in burning bridges ahead of him. He loved Josephine. To him this love had come as it had come to Tristan and Isolde, to Paola and Francesca--sudden and irresistible, but, unlike theirs, as pure as the air of the world which he breathed. That he knew nothing of her, that she had not even revealed her full name to him, did not affect the depth or sincerity of his emotion. Nor had her frank avowal that he could expect no reward destroyed his hope. The one big thought that ran through his brain now, as he arranged the canoe, was that there was room for hope, and that she had been free to accept the words he had spoken to her without dishonour to herself. If she belonged to some other man she would not have asked him to play the part of a husband. Her freedom and his right to fight for her was the one consuming fact of significance to him just now. Beside that all others were trivial and unimportant, and every drop of blood in his veins was stirred by a strange exultation.

He found himself whistling again as he refolded his blankets and straightened out his tent. When he had finished this last task he turned to find Jean standing close behind him, his dark eyes watching him closely. As he greeted the half-breed, Philip looked for Josephine.

"I am alone, M'sieur," said Jean, coming close to Philip. "I tricked her into staying behind until I could see you for a moment as we are, alone, man to man. Why is it that our Josephine has come to trust you as she does?"

His voice was low--it was almost soft as a woman's, but deep in his eyes Philip saw the glow of a strange, slumbering fire.

"Why is it?" he persisted.

"God only knows," exclaimed Philip, the significance of the question bursting upon him for the first time. "I hadn't thought of it, Jean. Everything has happened so quickly, so strangely, that there are many things I haven't thought of. It must be because--she thinks I'm a MAN!"

"That is it, M'sieur," replied Jean, as quietly as before. "That, and because you have come from two years in the North. I have been there. I know that it breeds men. And our Josephine knows. I could swear that there is not one man in a million she would trust as she has put faith in you. Into your hands she has given herself, and what you do means for her life or death. And for you--"

The fires in his eyes were nearer the surface now.

"What?" asked Philip tensely.

"Death--unless you play your part as a man," answered Jean. There was neither threat nor excitement in his voice, but in his eyes was the thing that Philip understood. Silently he reached out and gripped the half-breed's hand, For an instant they stood, their faces close, looking into each other's eyes. And as men see men where the fires of the earth burn low, so they read each other's souls, and their fingers tightened in a clasp of understanding.

"What that part is to be I cannot guess," said Philip, then. "But I will play it, and it is not fear that will hold me to my promise to her. If I fail, why--kill me!"

"That is the North," breathed Jean, and in his voice was the thankfulness of prayer.

Without another word he stooped and picked up the tent and blankets. Philip was about to stop him, to speak further with him, when he saw Josephine climbing over the bulwark of rocks between them and the trail. He hurried to meet her. Her arms were full, and she allowed him to take a part of her load. With what Jean had brought this was all that was to go in Philip's canoe, and the half-breed remained to help them off.

"You will go straight across the lake," he said to Philip. "If you paddle slowly, I will catch up with you."

Philip seated himself near the stern, facing Josephine, and Jean gave the canoe a shove that sent it skimming like a swallow on the smooth surface of the lake. For a moment Philip did not dip his paddle. He looked at the girl who sat so near to him, her head bent over in pretence of seeing that all was right, the sun melting away into rich colours in the thick coils of her hair. There filled him an overwhelming desire to reach over and touch the shining braids, to feel the thrill of their warmth and sweetness, and something of this desire was in his face when she looked up at him, a look of gentle thankfulness disturbed a little by anxiety in her eyes. He had not noticed fully how wonderfully blue her eyes were until now, and soft and tender they were when free of the excitement of fear and mental strain. They were more than ever like the wild wood violets, flecked with those same little brown spots which had made him think sometimes that the flowers were full of laughter. There was something of wistfulness, of thought for him in her eyes now, and in pure joy he laughed.

"Why do you laugh?" she asked.

"Because I am happy," he replied, and sent the canoe ahead with a first deep stroke. "I have never been happier in my life. I did not know that it was possible to feel as I do."

"And I am just beginning to feel my selfishness," she said. "You have thought only of me. You are making a wonderful sacrifice for me. You have nothing to gain, nothing to expect but the things that make me shudder. And I have thought of myself alone, selfishly, unreasonably. It is not fair, and yet this is the only way that it can be."

"I am satisfied," he said. "I have nothing much to sacrifice, except myself."

She leaned forward, with her chin in the cup of her hands, and looked at him steadily.

"You have people?"

"None who cares for me. My mother was the last. She died before I came North."

"And you have no sisters--or brothers?"

"None living."

For a moment she was silent. Then she said gently, looking into his eyes:

"I wish I had known--that I had guessed--before I let you come this far. I am sorry now--sorry that I didn't send you away. You are different from other men I have known--and you have had your suffering. And now--I must hurt you again. It wouldn't be so bad if you didn't care for me. I don't want to hurt you--because--I believe in you."

"And is that all--because you believe me?"

She did not answer. Her hands clasped at her breast. She looked beyond him to the shore they were leaving.

"You must leave me," she said then, and her voice was as lifeless as his had been. "I am beginning to see now. It all happened so suddenly that I could not think. But if you love me you must not go on. It is impossible. I would rather suffer my own fate than have you do that. When we reach the other shore you must leave me."

She was struggling to keep back her emotion, fighting to hold it within her own breast.

"You must go back," she repeated, staring into his set face. "If you don't, you will be hurt terribly, terribly!"

And then, suddenly, she slipped lower among the cushions he had placed for her, and buried her face in one of them with a moaning grief that cut to his soul. She was sobbing now, like a child. In this moment Philip forgot all restraint. He leaned forward and put a hand on her shining head, and bent his face close down to hers. His free hand touched one of her hands, and he held it tightly.

"Listen, my Josephine," he whispered. "I am not going to turn back, I am going on with you. That is our pact. At the end I know what to expect. You have told me; and I, too, believe. But whatever happens, in spite of all that may happen, I will still have received more than all else in the world could give me. For I will have known you, and you will be my salvation. I am going on."

For an instant he felt the fluttering pressure of her fingers on his. It was an answer a thousand times more precious to him than words, and he knew that he had won. Still lower he bent his head, until for an instant his lips touched the soft, living warmth of her hair. And then he leaned back, freeing her hand, and into his face had leaped soul and life and fighting strength; and under his breath he gave new thanks to God, and to the sun, and the blue sky above, while from behind them came skimming over the water the slim birchbark canoe of Jean Jacques Croisset.

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CHAPTER SIXAt the touch of Weyman's lips to her hair Josephine lay very still, and Philip wondered if she had felt that swift, stolen caress. Almost he hoped that she had. The silken tress where for an instant his lips had rested seemed to him now like some precious communion cup in whose sacredness he had pledged himself. Yet had he believed that she was conscious of his act he would have begged her forgiveness. He waited, breathing softly, putting greater sweep into his paddle to keep Jean well behind them.Slowly the tremulous unrest of Josephine's shoulders ceased. She raised her
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CHAPTER FOURThus they stood for many seconds. Never for an instant did her eyes leave his face, and Philip looked straight over her head into that distant radiance of the forest mountains. It was she whose emotions revealed themselves now. The blood came and went in her cheeks. The soft lace at her throat rose and fell swiftly. In her eyes and face there was a thing which she had not dared to reveal to him before--a prayerful, pleading anxiety that was almost ready to break into tears.At last she had come to see and believe in the strength and wonder
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