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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesIsobel: A Romance Of The Northern Trail - Chapter 2. Billy Meets The Woman
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Isobel: A Romance Of The Northern Trail - Chapter 2. Billy Meets The Woman Post by :runtonk Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :2320

Click below to download : Isobel: A Romance Of The Northern Trail - Chapter 2. Billy Meets The Woman (Format : PDF)

Isobel: A Romance Of The Northern Trail - Chapter 2. Billy Meets The Woman

CHAPTER II. BILLY MEETS THE WOMAN

Out of the gloom a sledge approached slowly. It took form at last in a dim shadow, and MacVeigh saw that it would pass very near to him. He made out, one after another, a human figure, three dogs, and the toboggan. There was something appalling in the quiet of this specter of life looming up out of the night. He could no longer hear the sledge, though it was within fifty paces of him. The figure in advance walked slowly and with bowed head, and the dogs and the sledge followed in a ghostly line. Human leader and animals were oblivious to MacVeigh, silent and staring in the white night. They were opposite him before he moved.

Then he strode out quickly, with a loud holloa. At the sound of his voice there followed a low cry, the dogs stopped in their traces, and the figure ran back to the sledge. MacVeigh drew his revolver. Half a dozen long strides and he had reached the sledge. From the opposite side a white face stared at him, and with one hand resting on the heavily laden sledge, and his revolver at level with his waist, MacVeigh stared back in speechless astonishment.

For the great, dark, frightened eyes that looked across at him, and the white, staring face he recognized as the eyes and the face of a woman. For a moment he was unable to move or speak, and the woman raised her hands and pushed back her fur hood so that he saw her hair shimmering in the starlight. She was a white woman. Suddenly he saw something in her face that struck him with a chill, and he looked down at the thing under his hand. It was a long, rough box. He drew back a step.

"Good God!" he said. "Are you alone?"

She bowed her head, and he heard her voice in a half sob.

"Yes-- alone."

He passed quickly around to her side. "I am Sergeant MacVeigh, of the Royal Mounted," he said, gently. "Tell me, where are you going, and how does it happen that you are out here in the Barren-- alone."

Her hood had fallen upon her shoulder, and she lifted her face full to MacVeigh. The stars shone in her eyes. They were wonderful eyes, and now they were filled with pain. And it was a wonderful face to MacVeigh, who had not seen a white woman's face for nearly a year. She was young, so young that in the pale glow of the night she looked almost like a girl, and in her eyes and mouth and the upturn of her chin there was something so like that other face of which he had dreamed that he reached out and took her two hesitating hands in his own, and asked again:

"Where are you going, and why are you out here-- alone?"

"I am going-- down there," she said, turning her head toward the timber-line. "I am going with him-- my husband--"

Her voice choked her, and, drawing her hands suddenly from him, she went to the sledge and stood facing him. For a moment there was a glow of defiance in her eyes, as though she feared him and was ready to fight for herself and her dead. The dogs slunk in at her feet, and MacVeigh saw the gleam of their naked fangs in the starlight.

"He died three days ago," she finished, quietly, "and I am taking him back to my people, down on the Little Seul."

"It is two hundred miles," said MacVeigh, looking at her as if she were mad. "You will die."

"I have traveled two days," replied the woman. "I am going on."

"Two days-- across the Barren!"

MacVeigh looked at the box, grim and terrible in the ghostly radiance that fell upon it. Then he looked at the woman. She had bowed her head upon her breast, and her shining hair fell loose and disheveled. He saw the pathetic droop of her tired shoulders, and knew that she was crying. In that moment a thrilling warmth flooded every fiber of his body, and the glory of this that had come to him from out of the Barren held him mute. To him woman was all that was glorious and good. The pitiless loneliness of his life had placed them next to angels in his code of things, and before him now he saw all that he had ever dreamed of in the love and loyalty of womanhood and of wifehood.

The bowed little figure before him was facing death for the man she had loved, and who was dead. In a way he knew that she was mad. And yet her madness was the madness of a devotion that was beyond fear, of a faithfulness that made no measure of storm and cold and starvation; and he was filled with a desire to go up to her as she stood crumpled and exhausted against the box, to take her close in his arms and tell her that of such a love he had built for himself the visions which had kept him alive in his loneliness. She looked pathetically like a child.

"Come, little girl," he said. "We'll go on. I'll see you safely on your way to the Little Seul. You mustn't go alone. You'd never reach your people alive. My God, if I were he--"

He stopped at the frightened look in the white face she lifted to him.

"What?" she asked.

"Nothing-- only it's hard for a man to die and lose a woman like you," said MacVeigh. "There-- let me lift you up on the box."

"The dogs cannot pull the load," she objected. "I have helped them--"

"If they can't, I can," he laughed, softly; and with a quick movement he picked her up and seated her on the sledge. He stripped off his pack and placed it behind her, and then he gave her his rifle. The woman looked straight at him with a tense, white face as she placed the weapon across her lap.

"You can shoot me if I don't do my duty," said MacVeigh. He tried to hide the happiness that came to him in this companionship of woman, but it trembled in his voice. He stopped suddenly, listening.

"What was that?"

"I heard nothing," said the woman. Her face was deadly white. Her eyes had grown black.

MacVeigh turned, with a word to the dogs. He picked up the end of the babiche rope with which the woman had assisted them to drag their load, and set off across the Barren. The presence of the dead had always been oppressive to him, but to-night it was otherwise. His fatigue of the day was gone, and in spite of the thing he was helping to drag behind him he was filled with a strange elation. He was in the presence of a woman. Now and then he turned his head to look at her. He could feel her behind him, and the sound of her low voice when she spoke to the dogs was like music to him. He wanted to burst forth in the wild song with which he and Pelliter had kept up their courage in the little cabin, but he throttled his desire and whistled instead. He wondered how the woman and the dogs had dragged the sledge. It sank deep in the soft drift-snow, and taxed his strength. Now and then he paused to rest, and at last the woman jumped from the sledge and came to his side.

"I am going to walk," she said. "The load is too heavy."

"The snow is soft," replied MacVeigh. "Come."

He held out his hand to her; and, with the same strange, white look in her face, the woman gave him her own. She glanced back uneasily toward the box, and MacVeigh understood. He pressed her fingers a little tighter and drew her nearer to him. Hand in hand, they resumed their way across the Barren. MacVeigh said nothing, but his blood was running like fire through his body. The little hand he held trembled and started uneasily. Once or twice it tried to draw itself away, and he held it closer. After that it remained submissively in his own, warm and thrilling. Looking down, he could see the profile of the woman's face.

A long, shining tress of her hair had freed itself from under her hood, and the light wind lifted it so that it fell across his arm. Like a thief he raised it to his lips, while the woman looked straight ahead to where the timber-line began to show in a thin, black streak. His cheeks burned, half with shame, half with tumultuous joy. Then he straightened his shoulders and shook the floating tress from his arm.

Three-quarters of an hour later they came to the first of the timber. He still held her hand. He was still holding it, with the brilliant starlight falling upon them, when his chin shot suddenly into the air again, alert and fighting, and he cried, softly:

"What was that?"

"Nothing," said the woman. "I heard nothing-- unless it was the wind in the trees."

She drew away from him. The dogs whined and slunk close to the box. Across the Barren came a low, wailing wind.

"The storm is coming back," said MacVeigh. "It must have been the wind that I heard."

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