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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Golden Snare - Chapter 14
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The Golden Snare - Chapter 14 Post by :ow24160 Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :1283

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The Golden Snare - Chapter 14

CHAPTER XIV

He tried to hide his jubilation as he talked of more cartridges. He forgot Bram, and the Eskimos waiting outside the corral, and the apparent hopelessness of their situation. HER FATHER! He wanted to shout, or dance around the cabin with Celie in his arms. But the change that he had seen come over her made him understand that he must keep hold of himself. He dreaded to see another light come into those glorious blue eyes that had looked at him with such a strange and questioning earnestness a few moments before-- the fire of suspicion, perhaps even of fear if he went too far. He realized that he had betrayed his joy when she had said that the man in the picture was her father. She could not have missed that. And he was not sorry. For him. there was an unspeakable thrill in the thought that to a woman, no matter under what sun she is born, there is at least one emotion whose understanding needs no words of speech. And as he had talked to her, sublimely confident that she could not understand him, she had read the betrayal in his face. He was sure of it. And so he talked about cartridges. He talked, he told himself afterwards, like an excited imbecile.

There were no more cartridges. Celie made him understand that. All they possessed were the four that remained in the revolver. As a matter of fact this discovery did not disturb him greatly. At close quarters he would prefer a good club to the pop-gun. Such a club, in the event of a rush attack by the Eskimos, was an important necessity, and he began looking about the cabin to see what he could lay his hands on. He thought of the sapling cross- pieces in Bram's bunk against the wall and tore one out. It was four feet in length and as big around as his fist at one end while at the other it tapered down so that he could grip it easily with his hands.

"Now we're ready for them," he said, testing the poise and swing of the club as he stood in the center of the room. "Unless they burn us out they'll never get through that door. I'm promising you that--s'elp me God I am, Celie!"

As she looked at him a flush burned in her cheeks. He was eager to fight--it seemed to her that he was almost hoping for the attack at the door. It made her splendidly unafraid, and suddenly she laughed softly--a nervous, unexpected little laugh which she could not hold back, and he turned quickly to catch the warm glow in her eyes. Something went up into his throat as she stood there looking at him like that. He had never seen any one quite so beautiful. He dropped his club, and held out his hand.

"Let's shake, Celie," he said. "I'm mighty glad you understand-- we're pals."

Unhesitatingly she gave him her hand, and in spite of the fact that death lurked outside they smiled into each other's eyes. After that she went into her room. For half an hour Philip did not see her again.

During that half hour he measured up the situation more calmly. He realized that the exigency was tremendously serious, and that until now he had not viewed it with the dispassionate coolness that characterized the service of the uniform he wore. Celie was accountable for that. He confessed the fact to himself, not without a certain pleasurable satisfaction. He had allowed her presence, and his thoughts of her, to fill the adventure completely for him, and as a result they were now facing an appalling danger. If he had followed his own judgment, and had made Bram Johnson a prisoner, as he should have done in his line of duty, matters would have stood differently.

For several minutes after Celie had disappeared into her room he studied the actions of the wolves in the corral. A short time before he had considered a method of ridding himself of Bram's watchful beasts. Now he regarded them as the one greatest protection they possessed. There were seven left. He was confident they would give warning the moment the Eskimos approached the stockade again. But would their enemies return? The fact that only one man had attacked the wolves at a time was almost convincing evidence that they were very few in number--perhaps only a scouting party of three or four. Otherwise, if they had come in force, they would have made short work of the pack. The thought became a positive conviction as he looked through the window. Bram had fallen a victim to a single javelin, and the scouting party of Kogmollocks had attempted to complete their triumph by carrying Celie back with them to the main body. Foiled in this attempt, and with the knowledge that a new and armed enemy opposed them, they were possibly already on their way for re-enforcements.

If this were so there could be but one hope--and that was an immediate escape from the cabin. And between the cabin door and the freedom of the forest were Bram's seven wolves!

A feeling of disgust, almost of anger, swept over him as he drew Celie's little revolver from his pocket and held it in the palm of his hand. There were four cartridges left. But what would they avail against that horde of beasts! They would stop them no more than so many pin-pricks. And what even would the club avail? Against two or three he might put up a fight. But against seven--

He cursed Bram under his breath. It was curious that in that same instant the thought flashed upon him that the wolf-man might not have fallen a victim to the Eskimos. Was it not possible that the spying Kogmollocks had seen him go away on the hunt, and had taken advantage of the opportunity to attack the cabin? They had evidently thought their task would be an easy one. What Philip saw through the window set his pulse beating quickly with the belief that this last conjecture was the true one. The world outside was turning dark. The sky was growing thick and low. In half an hour a storm would break. The Eskimos had foreseen that storm. They knew that the trail taken in their flight, after they had possessed themselves of the girl, would very soon be hidden from the eyes of Bram and the keen scent of his wolves. So they had taken the chance--the chance to make Celie their prisoner before Bram returned.

And why, Philip asked himself, did these savage little barbarians of the north want HER? The fighting she had pictured for him had not startled him. For a long time the Kogmollocks had been making trouble. In the last year they had killed a dozen white men along the upper coast, including two American explorers and a missionary. Three patrols had been sent to Coronation Gulf and Bathurst Inlet since August. With the first of those patrols, headed by Olaf Anderson, the Swede, he had come within an ace of going himself. A rumor had come down to Churchill just before he left for the Barrens that Olaf's party of five men had been wiped out. It was not difficult to understand why the Eskimos had attacked Celie Armin's father and those who had come ashore with him from the ship. It was merely a question of lust for white men's blood and white men's plunder, and strangers in their country would naturally be regarded as easy victims. The mysterious and inexplicable part of the affair was their pursuit of the girl. In this pursuit the Kogmollocks had come far beyond the southernmost boundary of their hunting grounds. Philip was sufficiently acquainted with the Eskimos to know that in their veins ran very little of the red-blooded passion of the white man. Matehood was more of a necessity imposed by nature than a joy in their existence, and it was impossible for him to believe that even Celie Armin's beauty had roused the desire for possession among them.

His attention turned to the gathering of the storm. The amazing swiftness with which the gray day was turning into the dark gloom of night fascinated him and he almost called to Celie that she might look upon the phenomenon with him. It was piling in from the vast Barrens to the north and east and for a time it was accompanied by a stillness that was oppressive. He could no longer distinguish a movement in the tops of the cedars and banskian pine beyond the corral. In the corral itself he caught now and then the shadowy, flitting movement of the wolves. He did not hear Celie when she came out of her room. So intently was he straining his eyes to penetrate the thickening pall of gloom that he was unconscious of her presence until she stood close at his side. There was something in the awesome darkening of the world that brought them closer in that moment, and without speaking Philip found her hand and held it in his own. They heard then a low whispering sound--a sound that came creeping up out of the end of the world like a living thing; a whisper so vast that, after a little, it seemed to fill the universe, growing louder and louder until it was no longer a whisper but a moaning, shrieking wail. It was appalling as the first blast of it swept over the cabin. No other place in the world is there storm like the storm that sweeps over the Great Barren; no other place in the world where storm is filled with such a moaning, shrieking tumult of VOICE. It was not new to Philip. He had heard it when it seemed to him that ten thousand little children were crying under the rolling and twisting onrush of the clouds; he had heard it when it seemed to him the darkness was filled with an army of laughing, shrieking madmen--storm out of which rose piercing human shrieks and the sobbing grief of women's voices. It had driven people mad. Through the long dark night of winter, when for five months they caught no glimpse of the sun, even the little brown Eskimos went keskwao and destroyed themselves because of the madness that was in that storm.

And now it swept over the cabin, and in Celie's throat there rose a little sob. So swiftly had darkness gathered that Philip could no longer see her, except where her face made a pale shadow in the gloom, but he could feel the tremble of her body against him. Was it only this morning that he had first seen her, he asked himself? Was it not a long, long time ago, and had she not in that time become, flesh and soul, a part of him? He put out his arms. Warm and trembling and unresisting in that thick gloom she lay within them. His soul rose in a wild ecstasy and rode on the wings of the storm. Closer he held her against his breast, and he said:

"Nothing can hurt you, dear. Nothing--nothing--"

It was a simple and meaningless thing to say--that, and only that. And yet he repeated it over and over again, holding her closer and closer until her heart was throbbing against his own. "Nothing can hurt you. Nothing--nothing--"

He bent his head. Her face was turned up to him, and suddenly he was thrilled by the warm sweet touch of her lips. He kissed her. She did not strain away from him. He felt--in that darkness--the wild fire in her face.

"Nothing can hurt you, nothing--nothing--" he cried almost sobbingly in his happiness.

Suddenly there came a blast of the storm that rocked the cabin like the butt of a battering-ram, and in that same moment there came from just outside the window a shrieking cry such as Philip had never heard in all his life before. And following the cry there rose above the tumult of the storm the howling of Bram Johnson's wolves.

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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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