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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Golden Snare - Chapter 10
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The Golden Snare - Chapter 10 Post by :andrewteg Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :2507

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The Golden Snare - Chapter 10

CHAPTER X

Until he felt the warm thrill of the girl's arm under his hand Philip did not realize the hazard he had taken. He turned suddenly to confront Bram. He would not have known then that the wolf-man was mad, and impulsively he reached out a hand.

"Bram, she's starving," he cried. "I know now why you wanted that stuff! But why didn't you tell me! Why don't you talk, and let me know who she is, and why she is here, and what you want me to do?"

He waited, and Bram stared at him without a sound.

"I tell you I'm a friend," he went on. "I--"

He got no farther than that, for suddenly the cabin was filled with the madness of Bram's laugh. It was more terrible than out on the open Barren, or in the forest, and he felt the shudder of the girl at his side. Her face was close to his shoulder, and looking down he saw that it was white as death, but that even then she was trying to smile at Bram. And Bram continued to laugh--and as he laughed, his eyes blazing a greenish fire, he turned to the stove and began putting fuel into the fire. It was horrible. Bram's laugh--the girl's dead white face, AND HER SMILE! He no longer asked himself who she was, and why she was there. He was overwhelmed by the one appalling fact that she WAS here, and that the stricken soul crying out to him from the depths of those eyes that were like wonderful blue amethysts told him that Bram had made her pay the price. His muscles hardened as he looked at the huge form bending over the stove. It was a splendid opportunity. A single leap and he would be at the outlaw's throat. With that advantage, in open combat, the struggle would at least be equal.

The girl must have guessed what was in his mind, for suddenly her fingers were clutching at his arm and she was pulling him away from the wolf-man, speaking to him in the language which he could not understand. And then Bram turned from the stove, picked up a pail, and without looking at them left the cabin. They could hear his laugh as he joined the wolves.

Again Philip's conclusions toppled down about him like a thing made of blocks. During the next few moments he knew that the girl was telling him that Bram had not harmed her. She seemed almost hysterically anxious to make him understand this, and at last, seizing him by the hand, she drew him into the room beyond the curtained door. Her meaning was quite as plain as words. She was showing him what Bram had done for her. He had made her this separate room by running a partition across the cabin, and in addition to this he had built a small lean-to outside the main wall entered through a narrow door made of saplings that were still green. He noticed that the partition was also made of fresh timber. Except for the bunk built against the wall, a crude chair, a sapling table and half a dozen bear skins that carpeted the floor the room was empty. A few garments hung on the wall--a hood made of fur, a thick mackinaw coat belted at the waist with a red scarf, and something done up in a small bundle.

"I guess--I begin to get your meaning," he said, looking straight into her shining blue eyes. "You want to impress on me that I'm not to wring Bram Johnson's neck when his back is turned, or at any other time, and you want me to believe that he hasn't done you any harm. And yet you're afraid to the bottom of your soul. I know it. A little while ago your face was as white as chalk, and now-- now--it's the prettiest face I've ever seen. Now, see here, little girl--"

It gave him a pleasant thrill to see the glow in her eyes and the eager poise of her slim, beautiful body as she listened to him.

"I'm licked," he went on, smiling frankly at her. "At least for the present. Maybe I've gone loony, like Bram, and don't realize it yet. I set out for a couple of Indians, and find a madman; and at the madman's cabin I find YOU, looking at first as though you were facing straight up against the door of-of-well, seeing that you can't understand I might as well say it--OF HELL! Now, if you weren't afraid of Bram, and if he hasn't hurt you, why did you look like that? I'm stumped. I repeat it--dead stumped. I'd give a million dollars if I could make Bram talk. I saw what was in his eyes. YOU saw it--and that pretty pink went out of your face so quick it seemed as though your heart must have stopped beating. And yet you're trying to tell me he hasn't harmed you. My God--I wish I could believe it!"

In her face he saw the reflection of the change that must have come suddenly into his own.

"You're a good fifteen hundred miles from any other human being with hair and eyes and color like yours," he continued, as though in speaking his thoughts aloud to her some ray of light might throw itself on the situation. "If you had something black about you. But you haven't. You're all gold--pink and white and gold. If Bram has another fit of talking he may tell me you came from the moon--that a chasse-galere crew brought you down out of space to keep house for him. Great Scott, can't you give me some sort of an idea of who you are and where you same from?"

He paused for an answer--and she smiled at him. There was something pathetically sweet in that smile. It brought a queer lump into his throat, and for a space he forgot Bram.

"You don't understand a cussed word of it, do you?" he said, taking her hand in both his own and holding it closely for a moment. "Not a word. But we're getting the drift of things-- slowly. I know you've been here quite a while, and that morning, noon and night since the chasse-galere brought you down from the moon you've had nothing to put your little teeth into but meat. Probably without salt, too. I saw how you wanted to throw yourself down on that pile of stuff on the floor. Let's have breakfast!"

He led her into the outer room, and eagerly she set to work helping him gather the things from the floor. He felt that an overwhelming load had been lifted from his heart, and he continued to tell her about it while he hurried the preparation of the breakfast for which he knew she was hungering. He did not look at her too closely. All at once it had dawned upon him that her situation must be tremendously more embarrassing than his own. He felt, too, the tingle of a new excitement in his veins. It was a pleasurable sensation, something which he did not pause to analyze just at present. Only he knew that it was because she had told him as plainly as she could that Bram had not harmed her.

"And if he HAD I guess you'd have let me smash his brains out when he was bending over the stove, wouldn't you?" he said, stirring the mess of desiccated potato he was warming in one of his kit- pans. He looked up to see her eyes shining at him, and her lips parted. She was delightfully pretty. He knew that every nerve in her body was straining to understand him. Her braid had slipped over her shoulder. It was as thick as his wrist, and partly undone. He had never dreamed that a woman's hair could hold such soft warm fires of velvety gold. Suddenly he straightened himself and tapped his chest, an inspiring thought leaping into his head.

"I am Philip Raine," he said. "Philip Raine--Philip Raine--Philip Raine--"

He repeated the name over and over again, pointing each time to himself. Instantly light flashed into her face. It was as if all at once they had broken through the barrier that had separated them. She repeated his name, slowly, clearly, smiling at him, and then with both hands at her breast, she said:

"Celie Armin."

He wanted to jump over the stove and shake hands with her, but the potatoes were sizzling. Celie Armin! He repeated the name as he stirred the potatoes, and each time he spoke it she nodded. It was decidedly a French name--but half a minute's experiment with a few simple sentences of Pierre Breault's language convinced him that the girl understood no word of it.

Then he said again:

"Celie!"

Almost in the same breath she answered:

"Philip!"

Sounds outside the cabin announced the return of Bram. Following the snarl and whine of the pack came heavy footsteps, and the wolf-man entered. Philip did not turn his head toward the door. He did not look at first to see what effect Bram's return had on Celie Armin. He went on casually with his work. He even began to whistle; and then, after a final stir or two at the potatoes, he pointed to the pail in which the coffee was bubbling, and said:

"Turn the coffee, Celie. We're ready!"

He caught a glimpse of her face then. The excitement and color had partly died out of it. She took the pail of coffee and went with it to the table.

Then Philip faced Bram.

The wolf-man was standing with his back to the door. He had not moved since entering, and he was staring at the scene before him in a dull, stupid sort of way. In one hand he carried a pail filled with water; in the other a frozen fish.

"Too late with the fish, Bram," said Philip. "We couldn't make the little lady wait. Besides, I think you've fed her on fish and meat until she is just about ready to die. Come to breakfast!"

He loaded a tin plate with hot potatoes, bannock-bread and rice that he had cooked before setting out on the Barren, and placed it before the girl. A second plate he prepared for Bram, and a third for himself. Bram had not moved. He still held the pail and the fish in his hands. Suddenly he lowered both to the floor with a growl that seemed to come from the bottom of his great chest, and came to the table. With one huge hand he seized Philip's arm. It was not a man's grip. There was apparently no effort in it, and yet it was a vise-like clutch that threatened to snap the bone. And all the time Bram's eyes were on the girl. He drew Philip back, released the terrible grip on his arm, and shoved the two extra plates of food to the girl. Then he faced Philip.

"We eat ze meat, m'sieu!"

Quietly and sanely he uttered the words. In his eyes and face there was no trace of madness. And then, even as Philip stared, the change came. The giant flung back his head and his wild, mad laugh rocked the cabin. Out in the corral the snarl and cry of the wolves gave a savage response to it.

It took a tremendous effort for Philip to keep a grip on himself. In that momentary flash of sanity Bram had shown a chivalry which must have struck deep home in the heart of the girl. There was a sort of triumph in her eyes when he looked at her. She knew now that he must understand fully what she had been trying to tell him. Bram, in his madness, had been good to her. Philip did not hesitate in the impulse of the moment. He caught Bram's hand and shook it. And Bram, his laugh dying away in a mumbling sound, seemed not to notice it. As Philip began preparing the fish the wolf-man took up a position against the farther wall, squatted Indian-fashion on his heels. He did not take his eyes from the girl until she had finished, and Philip brought him a half of the fried fish. He might as well have offered the fish to a wooden sphinx. Bram rose to his feet, mumbling softly, and taking what was left of one of the two caribou quarters he again left the cabin.

His mad laugh and the snarling outcry of the wolves came to them a moment later.

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CHAPTER XIScarcely had the door closed when Celie Armin ran to Philip and pulled him to the table. In the tense half hour of Bram's watchfulness she had eaten her own breakfast as if nothing unusual had happened; now she insisted on adding potatoes and bannock to Philip's fish, and turned him a cup of coffee."Bless your heart, you don't want to see me beat out of a breakfast, do you?" he smiled up at her, feeling all at once an immense desire to pull her head down to him and kiss her. "But you don't understand the situation, little girl.
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CHAPTER IXPhilip had entered Bram Johnson's cabin from the west. Out of the east the pale fire of the winter sun seemed to concentrate itself on the one window of Bram's habitation, and flooded the opposite partition. In this partition there was a doorway, and in the doorway stood a girl.She was standing full in the light that came through the window when Philip saw her. His first impression was that she was clouded in the same wonderful hair that had gone into the making of the golden snare. It billowed over her arms and breast to her hips, aflame with
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