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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Courage Of Marge O'doone - Chapter 25
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The Courage Of Marge O'doone - Chapter 25 Post by :add2it Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :2499

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The Courage Of Marge O'doone - Chapter 25

CHAPTER XXV

In that chaotic night in which he was drifting, David experienced neither pain nor very much of the sense of life. And yet, without seeing or feeling, he seemed to be living. All was dead within him but that last consciousness, which is almost the spirit; he might have been dreaming, and minutes, hours, or even years might have passed in that dream. For a long time he seemed to be sinking through the blackness; and then something stopped him, without jar or shock, and he was rising. He could hear nothing at first. There was a vast silence about him, a silence as deep and unbroken as the abysmal pit in which he seemed to be floating. After that he felt himself swaying and rocking, as though tossed gently on the billows of a sea. This was the first thought that took shape in his struggling brain--he was at sea; he was on a ship in the heart of a black night, and he was alone. He tried to call out, but his tongue seemed gone. It seemed a long time before day broke, and then it was strange day. Little needles of light pricked his eyes; silver strings shot like flashes of wave-like lightning through the darkness, and he began to feel, and to hear. A dozen hands seemed holding him down until he could move neither arms nor feet. He heard voices. There appeared to be many of them at first, an unintelligible rumble of voices, and then very swiftly they became two.

He opened his eyes. The first thing that he observed was a bar of sunlight against the eastern wall of his room. That bit of sunlight was like a magnet thrown there to reassemble the faculties that had drifted away from him in the dark night of his unconsciousness. It tried to tell him, first of all, that it was afternoon--quite late in the afternoon. He would have sensed that fact in another moment or two, but something came between him and the radiance flung by the westward slant of the sun. It was a face, two faces--first Hauck's and then Brokaw's! Yes, Brokaw was there! Staring down at him. A fiend still. And almost unrecognizable. He was no longer stripped, and he was no longer bloody. His countenance was swollen; his lips were raw, one eye was closed--but the other gleamed like a devil's. David tried to sit up. He managed with an effort, and balanced himself on the edge of his cot. His head was dizzy, and he felt clumsy and helpless as a stuffed bag. His hands were tied behind him, and his feet were bound. He thought Hauck looked like an exultant gargoyle as he stood there with a horrible grin on his face, and Brokaw....

It was Brokaw who bent over him, his thick fingers knotting, his open eyes fairly livid.

"I'm glad you ain't dead, Raine."

His voice was husky, muffled by the swollen thickness of his battered lips.

"Thanks," said David. The dizziness was leaving him, but there was a steady pain in his head. He tried to smile. "Thanks!" It was rather idiotic of him to say that. Brokaw's hands were moving slowly toward his throat when Hauck drew him back.

"I won't touch him--not now," he growled. "But to-night--oh, God!"

His knuckles snapped.

"You--liar! You--spy! You--sneak!" he cursed through his broken teeth. David saw where they _had been--a cavity in that cruel, battered mouth. "And you think, after that...."

Again Hauck tried to draw him away. Brokaw flung off his hands angrily.

"I won't touch him--but I'll _tell him, Hauck! The devil take me body and soul if I don't! I want him to know...."

"You're a fool!" cried Hauck. "Stop, or by Heaven!..."

Brokaw opened his mouth and laughed, and David saw the havoc of his blows.

"You'll do _what_, Hauck? Nothing--that's what you'll do! Ain't I told him you killed that _napo from MacPherson? Ain't I told him enough to set us both swinging?" He bent over David until his breath struck his face. "I'm glad you didn't die, Raine," he repeated, "because I want to see you when you shuffle off. We're only waiting for the Indians to go. Old Wapi starts with his tribe at sunset. I'm sorry, but we can't get the heathen away any earlier because he says it's good luck to start a journey at sunset in the moulting moon. You'll start yours a little later--as soon as they're out of sound of a rifle shot. You can't trust Indians, eh? You made a hit with old Wapi, and it wouldn't do to let him know we're going to send you where you sent my bear. Eh--would it?"

"You mean--you're going to murder me?" said David

"If standing you up against a tree and putting a bullet through your heart is murder--yes," gloated Brokaw.

"Murder--" repeated David.

He seemed powerless to say more than that. An overwhelming dizziness was creeping over him, the pain was splitting his head, and he swayed backward. He fought to recover himself, to hold himself up, but that returning sickness reached from his brain to the pit of his stomach, and with a groan he sank face downward on the cot. Brokaw was still talking, but he could no longer understand his words. He heard Hauck's sharp voice, their retreating footsteps, the opening and closing of the door--fighting all the time to keep himself from falling off into that black and bottomless pit again. It was many minutes before he drew himself to a sitting posture on the edge of his cot, this time slowly and guardedly, so that he would not rouse the pain in his head. It was there. He could feel it burning steadily and deeply, like one of his old-time headaches.

The bar of sunlight was gone from the wall, and through the one small window in the west end of his room he saw the fading light of day outside. It was morning when he had fought Brokaw; it was now almost night. The wash-basin was where it had fallen when Henry struck him. He saw a red stain on the floor where he must have dropped. Then again he looked at the window. It was rather oddly out of place, so high up that one could not look in from the outside--a rectangular slit to let in light, and so narrow that a man could not have wormed his way through it. He had seen nothing particularly significant in its location last night, or this morning, but now its meaning struck him as forcibly as that of the pieces of _babiche thong that bound his wrists and ankles. A guest might be housed in this room without suspicion and at the turn of a key be made a prisoner. There was no way of escape unless one broke down the heavy door or cut through the log walls.

Gradually he was overcoming his sensation of sickness. His head was clearing, and he began to breathe more deeply. He tried to move his cramped arms. They were without feeling, lifeless weights hung to his shoulders. With an effort he thrust out his feet. And then--through the window--there came to him a low, thrilling sound.

It was the muffled _boom_, _boom_, _boom of a tom-tom.

Wapi and his Indians were going, and he heard now a weird and growing chant, a savage paean to the wild gods of the Moulting Moon. A gasp rose in his throat. It was almost a cry. His last hope was going--with Wapi and his tribe! Would they help him if they knew? If he shouted? If he shrieked for them through that open window? It was a mad thought, an impossible thought, but it set his heart throbbing for a moment. And then--suddenly--it seemed to stand still. A key rattled, turned; the door opened--and Marge O'Doone stood before him!

She was panting--sobbing, as if she had been running a long distance. She made no effort to speak, but dropped at his feet and began sawing at the caribou _babiche with a knife. She had come prepared with that knife! He felt the bonds snap, and before either had spoken she was at his back, and his hands were free. They were like lead. She dropped the knife then, and her hands were at his face--dark with dry stain of blood, and over and over again she was calling him by the name she had given him--_Sakewawin_. And then the tribal chant of Wapi and his people grew nearer and louder as they passed into the forest, and with a choking cry the Girl drew back from David and stood facing him.

"I--must hurry," she said, swiftly. "Listen! They are going! Hauck or Brokaw will go as far as the lake with Wapi, and the one who does not go will return _here_. See, _Sakewawin_--I have brought you a knife! When he comes--you must kill him!"

The chanting voices had passed. The paean was dying away in the direction of the forest.

He did not interrupt her. With hand clutched at her breast she went on.

"I waited--until all were out there. They kept me in my room and left Marcee--the old Indian woman--to watch me. When they were all out to see Wapi off, I struck her over the head with the end of Nisikoos' rifle. Maybe she is dead. Tara is out there. I know where to find him when it is dark. I will make up a pack and within an hour we must go. If Hauck comes to your room before then, or Brokaw, kill him with the knife, _Sakewawin_! If you don't--they will kill you!"

Her voice broke in a gasp that was like a sob. He struggled to rise; stood swaying before her, his legs unsteady as stilts under him.

"My gun, Marge--my pistol!" he demanded, trying to reach out his arms. "If I had them now...."

"They must have taken them," she interrupted. "But I have Nisikoos' rifle, _Sakewawin_! Oh--I must hurry! They won't come to my room, and Marcee is perhaps dead. As soon as it is dark I will unlock your door. And if one of them comes before then, you must kill him! You must! You must!"

She backed to the door, and now she opened it, and was gone. A key clicked in the lock again, he heard her swift footsteps in the hall, and a second door opened and closed.

For a few minutes he stood without moving, a little dazed by the suddenness with which she had left him. She had not been in his room more than a minute or two. She had been terribly frightened, terribly afraid of discovery before her work was done. On the floor at his feet lay the knife. _That was why she had come, _that was what she had brought him! His blood began to tingle. He could feel it resuming its course through his numbed legs and arms, and he leaned over slowly, half afraid that he would lose his balance, and picked up the weapon. The chanting of Wapi and his people was only a distant murmur; through the high window came the sound of returning voices--voices of white men.

There swept through him the wild thrill of the thought that once more the fight was up to him. Marge O'Doone had done her part. She had struck down the Indian woman Hauck had placed over her as a guard--had escaped from her room, unbound him, and put a knife into his hands. The rest was _his fight. How long before Brokaw or Hauck would come? Would they give him time to get the blood running through his body again? Time to gain strength to use his freedom--and the knife? He began walking slowly across the room, pumping his arms up and down. His strength returned quickly. He went to the pail of water and drank deeply with a consuming thirst. The water refreshed him, and he paced back and forth more and more swiftly, until he was breathing steadily and he could harden his muscles and knot his fists. He looked at the knife. It was a horrible necessity--the burying of that steel in a man's back, or his heart! Was there no other way, he wondered? He began searching the room. Why hadn't Marge brought him a club instead of a knife, or at least a club along with the knife? To club a man down, even when he was intent on murder, wasn't like letting out his life in a gush of blood.

His eyes rested on the table, and in a moment he had turned it over and was wrenching at one of the wooden legs. It broke off with a sharp snap, and he held in his hand a weapon possessing many advantages over the knife. The latter he thrust into his belt with the handle just back of his hip. Then he waited.

It was not for long. The western mountains had shut out the last reflections of the sun. Gloom was beginning to fill his room, and he numbered the minutes as he stood, with his ear close to the door, listening for a step, hopeful that it would be the Girl's and not Hauck's or Brokaw's. At last the step came, advancing from the end of the hall. It was a heavy step, and he drew a deep breath and gripped the club. His heart gave a sudden, mighty throb as the step stopped at his door. It was not pleasant to think of what he was about to do, and yet he realized, as he heard the key in the lock, that it was a grim and terrible necessity. He was thankful there was only one. He would not strike too hard--not in this cowardly way--from ambush. Just enough to do the business sufficiently well. It would be easy--quite. He raised his club in the thickening dusk, and held his breath.

The door opened, and Hauck entered, and stood with his back to David. Horrible! Strike a man like that--and with a club! If he could use his hands, choke him, give him at least a quarter chance. But it had to be done. It was a sickening thing. Hauck went down without a groan--so silently, so lifelessly that David thought he had killed him. He knelt beside him for a few seconds and made sure that his heart was beating before he rose to his feet. He looked out into the hall. The lamps had not been lighted--probably that was one of the old Indian woman's duties. From the big room came a sound of voices--and then, close to him, from the door across the way, there came a small trembling voice:

"Hurry, _Sakewawin_! Lock the door--and come!"

For another instant he dropped on his knees at Hauck's side. Yes it was there--in his pocket--a revolver! He possessed himself of the weapon with an exclamation of joy, locked the door, and ran across the hall. The Girl opened her door for him, and closed it behind him as he sprang into her room. The first object he noticed was the Indian woman. She was lying on a cot, and her black eyes were levelled at them like the eyes of a snake. She was trussed up so securely, and was gagged so thoroughly that he could not restrain a laugh as he bent over her.

"Splendid!" he cried softly. "You're a little brick, Marge--you surely are! And now--what?"

With his revolver in his hand, and the Girl trembling under his arm, he felt a ridiculous desire to shout out at the top of his voice to his enemies letting them know that he was again ready to fight. In the gloom the Girl's eyes shone like stars.

"Who--was it?" she whispered.

"Hauck."

"Then it was Brokaw who went with Wapi. Langdon and Henry went with him. It is less than two miles to the lake, and they will be returning soon. We must hurry! Look--it is growing dark!"

She ran from his arms to the window and he followed her.

"In--fifteen minutes--we will go, Sakewawin. Tara is out there in the edge of the spruce." Her hand pinched his arm. "Did you--kill him?" she breathed.

"No. I broke off a leg from the table and stunned him."

"I'm glad," she said, and snuggled close to him shiveringly. "I'm glad, _Sakewawin_."

In the darkness that was gathering about them it was impossible for him not to take her in his arms. He held her close, bowing his head so that for an instant her warm face touched his own; and in those moments while they waited for the gloom to thicken he told her in a low voice what he had learned from Brokaw. She grew tense against him as he continued, and when he assured her he no longer had a doubt her mother was alive, and that she was the woman he had met on the coach, a cry rose out of her breast. She was about to speak when loud footsteps in the hall made her catch her breath, and her fingers clung more tightly at his shoulders.

"It is time," she whispered. "We must go!"

She ran from him quickly and from under the cot where the Indian lay dragged forth a pack. He could not see plainly what she was doing now. In a moment she had put a rifle in his hands.

"It belonged to Nisikoos," she said. "There are six shots in it, and here are all the cartridges I have."

He took them in his hand and counted them as he dropped them into his pocket. There were eleven in all, including the six in the chamber. "Thirty-twos," he thought, as he seized them up with his fingers. "Good for partridges--and short range at men!" He said, aloud: "If we could get my rifle, Marge...."

"They have taken it," she told him again. "But we shall not need it. _Sakewawin_," she added, as if his voice had revealed to her the thought in his mind; "I know of a mountain that is all rock--not so far off as the one Tara and I climbed--and if we can reach that they will not be able to trail us. If they should find us...."

She was opening the window.

"What then?" he asked.

"Nisikoos once killed a bear with that gun," she replied.

The window was open, and she was waiting. They thrust out their heads and listened, and when he had assured himself that all was clear he dropped out the pack. He lifted Marge down then and followed her. As his feet struck the ground the slight shock sent a pain through his head that wrung a low cry from him, and for a moment he leaned with his back against the wall, almost overcome again by the sickening dizziness. It was not so dark that the Girl did not see the sudden change in him. Her eyes filled with alarm.

"A little dizzy," he explained, trying to smile at her. "They gave me a pretty hard crack on the head, Marge. This air will set me right--soon."

He picked up the pack and followed her. In the edge of the spruce a hundred yards from the Nest, Tara had been lying all the afternoon, nursing his wounds.

"I could see him from my window," whispered Marge.

She went straight to him and began talking to him in a low voice. Out of the darkness behind Tara came a growl.

"Baree, by thunder!" muttered David in amazement.

"He's made up with the bear, Marge! What do you think of that?"

At the sound of his voice Baree came to him and flattened himself at his feet. David laid a hand on his head.

"Boy!" he whispered softly. "And they said you were an outlaw, and would join the wolves...."

He saw the dark bulk of Tara rising out of the gloom, and the Girl was at his side.

"We are ready, _Sakewawin_."

He spoke to her the thought that had been shaping itself in his mind.

"Why wouldn't it be better to join Wapi and his Indians?" he asked, remembering Brokaw's words.

"Because--they are afraid of Hauck," she replied quickly. "There is but one way, _Sakewawin_--to follow a narrow trail Tara and I have made, close to the foot of the range, until we come to the rock mountain. Shall we risk the bundle on Tara's back?"

"It is light. I will carry it."

"Then give me your hand, _Sakewawin_."

There was again in her voice the joyous thrill of freedom and of confidence; he could hear for a moment the wild throb of her heart in its exultation at their escape, and with her warm little hand she gripped his fingers firmly and guided him into a sea of darkness. The forest shut them in. Not a ray fell upon them from out of the pale sky where the stars were beginning to glimmer faintly. Behind them he could hear the heavy, padded footfall of the big grizzly, and he knew that Baree was very near. After a little the Girl said, still in a whisper:

"Does your head hurt you now, _Sakewawin_?"

"A bit."

The trail was widening. It was quite smooth for a space, but black.

She pressed his fingers.

"I believe all you have told me," she said, as if making a confession. "After you came to me in the cage--and the fight--I believed. You must have loved me a great deal to risk all that for me."

"Yes, a great deal, my child," he answered.

Why did that dizziness persist in his head, he wondered? For a moment he felt as if he were falling.

"A very great deal," he added, trying to walk steadily at her side, his own voice sounding unreal and at a great distance from him. "You see--my child--I didn't have anything to love but your picture...."

What a fool he was to try and make himself heard above the roaring in his head! His words seemed to him whispers coming across a great space. And the bundle on his shoulders was like a crushing weight bearing him down! The voice at his side was growing fainter. It was saying things which afterward he could not remember, but he knew that it was talking about the woman he had said was her mother, and that he was answering it while weights of lead were dragging at his feet. Then suddenly, he had stepped over the edge of the world and was floating in that vast, black chaos again. The voice did not leave him. He could hear it sobbing, entreating him, urging him to do something which he could not understand; and when at last he did begin to comprehend it he knew also that he was no longer walking with weights at his feet and a burden on his shoulders, but was on the ground. His head was on her breast, and she was no longer speaking to him, but was crying like a child with a heart utterly broken. The deathly sickness was gone as quickly as it had stricken him, and he struggled upward, with her arms helping him.

"You are hurt--hurt--" he heard her moaning. "If I can only get you on Tara, _Sakewawin_, on Tara's back--there--a step...." and he knew that was what she had been saying over and over again, urging him to help himself if he could, so that she could get him to Tara. He reached out his hand and buried it in the thick hair of the grizzly, and he tried to speak laughingly so that she would not know his fears.

"One is often dizzy--like that--after a blow," he said, "I guess--I can walk now."

"No, no, you must ride Tara," she insisted. "You are hurt--and you must ride Tara, _Sakewawin_. You must!"

She was lifting at his arms with all her strength, her breath hot and panting in his face, and Tara stood without moving a muscle of his giant body, as if he, too, were urging upon him in this dumb manner the necessity of obeying his mistress. Even then David would have remonstrated but he felt once more that appalling sickness creeping over him, and he raised himself slowly astride the grizzly's broad back. The Girl picked up the bundle and rifle and Tara followed her through the darkness. To David the beast's great back seemed a wonderfully safe and comfortable place, and he leaned forward with his fingers clutched deeply in the long hair of the ruff about the bear's bulking shoulders.

The Girl called back to him softly:

"You are all right, _Sakewawin_?"

"Yes, it is so comfortable that I feel I may fall asleep," he replied.

Out in the starlight she would have seen his drooping head, and his words would have had a different meaning for her. He was fighting with himself desperately, and in his heart was a great fear. He must be badly hurt, he thought. There came to him a distorted but vivid vision of an Indian hurt in the head, whom he and Father Roland had tried to save. Without a surgeon it had been impossible. The Indian had died, and he had had those same spells of sickness, the sickness that was creeping over him again in spite of his efforts to fight it off. He had no very clear notion of the movement of Tara's body under him, but he knew that he was holding on grimly, and that every little while the Girl called back to him, and he replied. Then came the time when he failed to answer, and for a space the rocking motion under him ceased and the Girl's voice was very near to him. Afterward motion resumed. It seemed to him that he was travelling a great distance. Altogether too far without a halt for sleep, or at least a rest. He was conscious of a desire to voice protest--and all the time his fingers were clasped in Tara'a mane in a sort of death grip.

In her breast Marge's heart was beating like a hunted thing, and over and over again she sobbed out a broken prayer as she guided Tara and his burden through the night. From the forest into the starlit open; from the open into the thick gloom of forest again--into and out of starlight and darkness, following that trail down the valley. She was no longer thinking of the rock mountain, for it would be impossible now to climb over the range into the other valley. She was heading for a cabin. An old and abandoned cabin, where they could hide. She tried to tell David about it, many days after they had begun that journey it seemed to him.

"Only a little longer, _Sakewawin_," she cried, with her arm about him and her lips close to his bent head. "Only a little longer! They will not think to search for us there, and you can sleep--sleep...."

Her voice drifted away from him like a low murmur in the tree tops--and his fingers still clung in that death-grip in the mane at Tara's neck.

And still many other days later they came to the cabin. It was amazing to him that the Girl should say:

"We are only five miles from the Nest, _Sakewawin_, but they will not hunt for us here. They will think we have gone farther--or over the mountains!"

She was putting cold water to his face, and now that there was no longer the rolling motion under him he was not quite so dizzy. She had unrolled the bundle and had spread out a blanket, and when he stretched himself out on this a sense of vast relief came over him. In his confused consciousness two or three things stood out with rather odd clearness before he closed his eyes, and the last was a vision of the Girl's face bending over him, and of her starry eyes looking down at him, and of her voice urging him gently:

"Try to sleep, _Sakewawin_--try to sleep...."

It was many hours later when he awoke. Hands seemed to be dragging him forcibly out of a place in which he was very comfortable, and which he did not want to leave, and a voice was accompanying the hands with an annoying insistency--a voice which was growing more and more familiar to him as his sleeping senses were roused. He opened his eyes. It was day, and Marge was on her knees at his side, tugging at his breast with her hands and staring wildly into his face.

"Wake, _Sakewawin_--wake, wake!" he heard her crying. "Oh, my God, you must wake! _Sakewawin--Sakewawin_--they have found our trail--and I can see them coming up the valley!"

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CHAPTER XXIVDavid no longer saw the horde of faces beyond the thick bars of the cage. His last glance, shot past the lowered head and hulking shoulders of his giant adversary, went to the Girl. He noticed that she had ceased her struggling and was looking toward him. After that his eyes never left Brokaw's face. Until now it had not seemed that Brokaw was so big and so powerful, and, sizing up his enemy in that moment before the first rush, he realized that his one hope was to keep him from using his enormous strength at close quarters. A
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