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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Golden Snare - Chapter 12
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The Golden Snare - Chapter 12 Post by :runtonk Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :2477

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The Golden Snare - Chapter 12

CHAPTER XII

For a few minutes after the wolf-man and his hunters had gone from the corral Philip did not move from the window. He almost forgot that the girl was standing behind him. At no time since Pierre Breault had revealed the golden snare had the situation been more of an enigma to him than now. Was Bram Johnson actually mad--or was he playing a colossal sham? The question had unleashed itself in his brain with a suddenness that had startled him. Out of the past a voice came to him distinctly, and it said, "A madman never forgets!" It was the voice of a great alienist, a good friend of his, with whom he had discussed the sanity of a man whose crime had shocked the country. He knew that the words were true. Once possessed by an idea the madman will not forget it. It becomes an obsession with him--a part of his existence. In his warped brain a suspicion never dies. A fear will smolder everlastingly. A hatred lives steadily on.

If Bram Johnson was mad would he play the game as he was playing it now! He had almost killed Philip for possession of the food, that the girl might have the last crumb of it. Now, without a sign of the madman's caution, he had left it all within his reach again. A dozen times the flaming suspicion in his eyes had been replaced by a calm and stupid indifference. Was the suspicion real and the stupidity a clever dissimulation? And if dissimulation-- why?

He was positive now that Bram had not harmed the girl in the way he had dreaded. Physical desire had played no part in the wolf- man's possession of her. Celie had made him understand that;--and yet in Bram's eyes he had caught a look now and then that was like the dumb worship of a beast. Only once had that look been anything different--and that was when Celie had given him a tress of her hair. Even the suspicion roused in him then was gone now, for if passion and desire were smoldering in the wolf-man's breast he would not have brought a possible rival to the cabin, nor would he have left them alone together.

His mind worked swiftly as he stared unseeing out into the corral. He would no longer play the part of a pawn. Thus far Bram had held the whip hand. Now he would take it from him no matter what mysterious protestation the girl might make! The wolf-man had given him a dozen opportunities to deliver the blow that would make him a prisoner. He would not miss the next.

He faced Celie with the gleam of this determination in his eyes. She had been watching him intently and he believed that she had guessed a part of his thoughts. His first business was to take advantage of Brain's absence to search the cabin. He tried to make Celie understand what his intentions were as he began.

"You may have done this yourself," he told her. "No doubt you have. There probably isn't a corner you haven't looked into. But I have a hunch I may find something you missed--something interesting."

She followed him closely. He began at each wall and went over it carefully, looking for possible hiding places. Then he examined the floor for a loose sapling. At the end of half an hour his discoveries amounted to nothing. He gave an exclamation of satisfaction when under an old blanket in a dusty corner he found a Colt army revolver. But it was empty, and he found no cartridges. At last there was nothing left to search but the wolf- man's bunk. At the bottom of this he found what gave him his first real thrill--three of the silken snares made from Celie Armin's hair.

"We won't touch them," he said after a moment, replacing the bear skin that had covered them. "It's good etiquette up here not to disturb another man's cache and that's Bram's. I can't imagine any one but a madman doing that. And yet--"

He looked suddenly at Celie.

"Do you suppose he was afraid of YOU?" he asked her. "Is that why he doesn't leave even the butcher-knife in this shack? Was he afraid you might shoot him in his sleep if he left the temptation in your way?"

A commotion among the wolves drew him to the window. Two of the beasts were fighting. While his back was turned Celie entered her room and returned a moment or two later with a handful of loose bits of paper. The pack held Philip's attention. He wondered what chance he would have in an encounter with the beasts which Bram had left behind as a guard. Even if he killed Bram or made him a prisoner he would still have that horde of murderous brutes to deal with. If he could in some way induce the wolf-man to bring his rifle into the cabin the matter would be easy. With Bram out of the way he could shoot the wolves one by one from the window. Without a weapon their situation would be hopeless. The pack--with the exception of one huge, gaunt beast directly under the window-- had swung around the end of the cabin out of his vision. The remaining wolf in spite of the excitement of battle was gnawing hungrily at a bone. Philip could hear the savage grind of its powerful jaws, and all at once the thought of how they might work out their salvation flashed upon him. They could starve the wolves! It would take a week, perhaps ten days, but with Bram out of the way and the pack helplessly imprisoned within the corral it could be done. His first impulse now was to impress on Celie the necessity of taking physical action against Bram.

The sound of his own name turned him from the window with a sudden thrill.

If the last few minutes had inspired an eagerness for action in his own mind he saw at a glance that something equally exciting had possessed Celie Armin. Spread out on the table were the bits of paper she had brought from her room, and, pointing to them, she again called him by name. That she was laboring under a new and unusual emotion impressed him immediately. He could see that she was fighting to restrain an impulse to pour out in words what would have been meaningless to him, and that she was telling him the bits of paper were to take the place of voice. For one swift moment as he advanced to the table the papers meant less to him than the fact that she had twice spoken his name. Her soft lips seemed to whisper it again as she pointed, and the look in her eyes and the poise of her body recalled to him vividly the picture of her as he had first seen her in the cabin. He looked at the bits of paper. There were fifteen or twenty pieces, and on each was sketched a picture.

He heard a low catch in Celie's breath as he bent over them, and his own pulse quickened. A glance was sufficient to show him that with the pictures Celie was trying to tell him what he wanted to know. They told her own story--who she was, why she was at Bram Johnson's cabin, and how she had come. This, at least, was the first thought that impressed him. He observed then that the bits of paper were soiled and worn as though they had been handled a great deal. He made no effort to restrain the exclamation that followed this discovery.

"You drew these pictures for Bram," he scanning them more carefully. "That settles one thing. Bram doesn't know much more about you than, I do. Ships, and dogs, and men--and fighting--a lot of fighting--and--"

His eyes stopped at one of the pictures and his heart gave a sudden excited thump. He picked up the bit of paper which had evidently been part of a small sack. Slowly he turned to the girl and met her eyes. She was trembling in her eagerness for him to understand.

"That is YOU," he said, tapping the central figure in the sketch, and nodding at her. "You--with your hair down, and fighting a bunch of men who look as though they were about to beat your brains out with clubs! Now--what in God's name does it mean? And here's a ship up in the corner. That evidently came first. You landed from that ship, didn't you? From the ship--the ship--the ship--"

"Skunnert!" she cried softly, touching the ship with her finger. "Skunnert--Sibirien!"

"Schooner-Siberia," translated Philip. "It sounds mightily like that, Celie. Look here--" He opened his pocket atlas again at the map of the world. "Where did you start from, and where did you come ashore? If we can get at the beginning of the thing--"

She had bent her head over the crook of his arm, so that in her eager scrutiny of the map his lips for a moment or two touched the velvety softness of her hair. Again he felt the exquisite thrill of her touch, the throb of her body against him, the desire to take her in his arms and hold her there. And then she drew back a little, and her finger was once more tracing out its story on the map. The ship had started from the mouth of the Lena River, in Siberia, and had followed the coast to the blue space that marked the ocean above Alaska. And there the little finger paused, and with a hopeless gesture Celie intimated that was all she knew. From somewhere out of that blue patch the ship had touched the American shore. One after another she took up from the table the pieces of paper that carried on the picture-story from that point. It was, of course, a broken and disjointed story. But as it progressed every drop of blood in Philip's body was stirred by the thrill and mystery of it. Celie Armin had traveled from Denmark through Russia to the Lena River in Siberia, and from there a ship had brought her to the coast of North America. There had been a lot of fighting, the significance of which he could only guess at; and now, at the end, the girl drew for Philip another sketch in which a giant and a horde of beasts appeared. It was a picture of Bram and his wolves, and at last Philip understood why she did not want him to harm the wolf-man. Bram had saved her from the fate which the pictures only partly portrayed for him. He had brought her far south to his hidden stronghold, and for some reason which the pictures failed to disclose was keeping her a prisoner there.

Beyond these things Celie Armin was still a mystery.

Why had she gone to Siberia? What had brought her to the barren Arctic coast of America? Who were the mysterious enemies from whom Bram the madman had saved her? And who--who--

He looked again at one of the pictures which he had partly crumpled in his hand. On it were sketched two people. One was a figure with her hair streaming down--Celie herself. The other was a man. The girl had pictured herself close in the embrace of this man's arms. Her own arms encircled the man's neck. From the picture Philip had looked at Celie, and the look he had seen in her eyes and face filled his heart with a leaden chill. It was more than hope that had flared up in his breast since he had entered Brara Johnson's cabin. And now that hope went suddenly out, and with its extinguishment he was oppressed by a deep and gloomy foreboding.

He went slowly to the window and looked out.

The next moment Celie was startled by the sudden sharp cry that burst from his lips. Swiftly she ran to his side. He had dropped the paper. His hands were gripping the edge of the sill, and he was staring like one who could not believe his own eyes.

"Good God--look! Look at that!"

They had heard no sound outside the cabin during the last few minutes. Yet under their eyes, stretched out in the soiled and trampled snow, lay the wolf that a short time before had been gnawing a bone. The animal was stark dead. Not a muscle of its body moved. Its lips were drawn back, its jaws agape, and under the head was a growing smear of blood. It was not these things-- not the fact but the INSTRUMENT of death that held Philip's eyes. The huge wolf had been completely transfixed by a spear.

Instantly Philip recognized it--the long, slender, javelin-like narwhal harpoon used by only one people in the world, the murderous little black-visaged Kogmollocks of Coronation Gulf and Wollaston Land.

He sprang suddenly back from the window, dragging Celie with him.

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CHAPTER XIII"Kogmollocks--the blackest-hearted little devils alive when it comes to trading wives and fighting," said Philip, a little ashamed of the suddenness with which he had jumped back from the window. "Excuse my abruptness, dear. But I'd recognize that death- thing on the other side of the earth. I've seen them throw it like an arrow for a hundred yards--and I have a notion they're watching that window!"At sight of the dead wolf and the protruding javelin Celie's face had gone as white as ash. Snatching up one of the pictures from the table, she thrust it into Philip's hand. It
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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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