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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Golden Snare - Chapter 15
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The Golden Snare - Chapter 15 Post by :Truman Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :1663

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The Golden Snare - Chapter 15

CHAPTER XV

For a space Philip thought that the cry must have come from Bram Johnson himself--that the wolf-man had returned in the pit of the storm. Against his breast Celie had apparently ceased to breathe. Both listened for a repetition of the sound, or for a signal at the barred door. It was strange that in that moment the wind should die down until they could hear the throbbing of their own hearts. Celie's was pounding like a little hammer, and all at once he pressed his face down against hers and laughed with sudden and joyous understanding.

"It was only the wind, dear," he said. "I never heard anything like it before--never! It even fooled the wolves. Bless your dear little heart how it frightened you! And it was enough, too. Shall we light some of Bram's candles?"

He held her hand as he groped his way to where he had seen Bram's supply of bear-dips. She held two of the candles while he lighted them and their yellow flare illumined her face while his own was still in shadow. What he saw in its soft glow and the shine of her eyes made him almost take her in his arms again, candles and all. And then she turned with them and went to the table. He continued to light candles until the sputtering glow of half a dozen of them filled the room. It was a wretched wastefulness, but it was also a moment in which he felt himself fighting to get hold of himself properly. And he felt also the desire to be prodigal about something. When he had lighted his sixth candle, and then faced Celie, she was standing near the table looking at him so quietly and so calmly and with such a wonderful faith in her eyes that he thanked God devoutly he had kissed her only once--just that once! It was a thrilling thought to know that SHE knew he loved her. There was no doubt of it now. And the thought of what he might have done in that darkness and in the moment of her helplessness sickened him. He could look her straight in the eyes now-- unashamed and glad. And she was unashamed, even if a little flushed at what had happened. The same thought was in their minds --and he knew that she was not sorry. Her eyes and the quivering tremble of a smile on her lips told him that. She had braided her hair in that interval when she had gone to her room, and the braid had fallen over her breast and lay there shimmering softly in the candle-glow. He wanted to take her in his arms again. He wanted to kiss her on the mouth and eyes. But instead of that he took the silken braid gently in his two hands and crushed it against his lips.

"I love you," he cried softly. "I love you."

He stood for a moment or two with his head bowed, the thrill of her hair against his face. It was as if he was receiving some kind of a wonderful benediction. And then in a voice that trembled a little she spoke to him. Before he could see fully what was in her eyes she turned suddenly to the wall, took down his coat, and hung it over the window. When he saw her face again it was gloriously flushed. She pointed to the candles.

"No danger of that," he said, comprehending her. "They won't throw any javelins in this storm. Listen!"

It was the wolves again. In a moment their cry was drowned in a crash of the storm that smote the cabin like a huge hand. Again it was wailing over them in a wild orgy of almost human tumult. He could see its swift effect on Celie in spite of her splendid courage. It was not like the surge of mere wind or the roll of thunder. Again he was inspired by thought of his pocket atlas, and opened it at the large insert map of Canada.

"I'll show you why the wind does that," he explained to her, drawing her to the table and. spreading out the map. "See, here is the cabin." He made a little black dot with her pencil, and turning to the four walls of Bram's stronghold made her understand what it meant. "And there's the big Barren," he went on, tracing it out with the pencil-point. "Up here, you see, is the Arctic Ocean, and away over there the Roes Welcome and Hudson's Bay. That's where the storm starts, and when it gets out on the Barren, without a tree or a rock to break its way for five hundred miles-- "

He told of the twisting air-currents there and how the storm- clouds sometimes swept so low that they almost smothered one. For a few moments he did not look at Celie or he would have seen something in her face which could not have been because of what he was telling her, and which she could at best only partly understand. She had fixed her eyes on the little black dot. THAT was the cabin. For the first time the map told her where she was, and possibly how she had arrived there. Straight down to that dot from the blue space of the ocean far to the north the map-makers had trailed the course of the Coppermine River. Celie gave an excited little cry and caught Philip's arm, stopping him short in his explanation of the human wailings in the storm. Then she placed a forefinger on the river.

"There--there it is!" she told him, as plainly as though her voice was speaking to him in his own language. "We came down that river. The Skunnert landed us THERE," and she pointed to the mouth of the Coppermine where it emptied into Coronation Gulf. "And then we came down, down, down--"

He repeated the name of the river.

"THE COPPERMINE."

She nodded, her breath breaking a little in an increasing excitement. She seized the pencil and two-thirds of the distance down the Coppermine made a cross. It was wonderful, he thought, how easily she made him understand. In a low, eager voice she was telling him that where she had put the cross the treacherous Kogmollocks had first attacked them. She described with the pencil their flight away from the river, and after that their return--and a second fight. It was then Bram Johnson had come into the scene. And back there, at the point from which the wolf-man had fled with her, was her FATHER. That was the chief thing she was striving to drive home in his comprehension of the situation. Her FATHER! And she believed he was alive, for it was an excitement instead of hopelessness or grief that possessed her as she talked to him. It gave him a sort of shock. He wanted to tell her, with his arms about her, that it was impossible, and that it was his duty to make her realize the truth. Her father was dead now, even if she had last seen him alive. The little brown men had got him, and had undoubtedly hacked him into small pieces, as was their custom when inspired by war-madness. It was inconceivable to think of him as still being alive even if there had been armed friends with him. There was Olaf Anderson and his five men, for instance. Fighters every one of them. And now they were dead. What chance could this other man have?

Her joy when she saw that he understood her added to the uncertainty which was beginning to grip him in spite of all that the day had meant for him. Her faith in him, since that thrilling moment in the darkness, was more than ever like that of a child. She was unafraid of Bram now. She was unafraid of the wolves and the storm and the mysterious pursuers from out of the north. Into his keeping she had placed herself utterly, and while this knowledge filled him with a great happiness he was now disturbed by the fact that, if they escaped from the cabin and the Eskimos, she believed he would return with her down the Coppermine in an effort to find her father. He had already made the plans for their escape and they were sufficiently hazardous. Their one chance was to strike south across the thin arm of the Barren for Pierre Breault's cabin. To go in the opposite direction--farther north without dogs or sledge--would be deliberate suicide.

Several times during the afternoon he tried to bring himself to the point of urging on her the naked truth--that her father was dead. There was no doubt of that--not the slightest. But each time he fell a little short. Her confidence in the belief that her father was alive, and that he was where she had marked the cross on the map, puzzled him. Was it conceivable, he asked himself, that the Eskimos had some reason for NOT killing Paul Armin, and that Celie was aware of the fact? If so he failed to discover it. Again and again he made Celie understand that he wanted to know why the Eskimos wanted HER, and each time she answered him with a hopeless little gesture, signifying that she did not know. He did learn that there were two other white men with Paul Armin.

Only by looking at his watch did he know when the night closed in. It was seven o'clock when he led Celie to her room and urged her to go to bed. An hour later, listening at her door, he believed that she was asleep. He had waited for that, and quietly he prepared for the hazardous undertaking he had set for himself. He put on his cap and coat and seized the club he had taken from Bram's bed. Then very cautiously he opened the outer door. A moment later he stood outside, the door closed behind him, with the storm pounding in his face.

Fifty yards away he could not have heard the shout of a man. And yet he listened, gripping his club hard, every nerve in his body strained to a snapping tension. Somewhere within that small circle of the corral were Bram Johnson's wolves, and as he hesitated with his back to the door he prayed that there would come no lull in the storm during the next few minutes. It was possible that he might evade them with the crash and thunder of the gale about him. They could not see him, or hear him, or even smell him in that tumult of wind unless on his way to the gate he ran into them. In that moment he would have given a year of life to have known where they were. Still listening, still fighting to hear some sound of them in the shriek of the storm, he took his first step out into the pit of darkness. He did not run, but went as cautiously as though the night was a dead calm, the club half poised in his hands. He had measured the distance and the direction of the gate and when at last he touched the saplings of the stockade he knew that he could not be far off in his reckoning. Ten paces to the right he found the gate and his heart gave a sudden jump of relief. Half a minute more and it was open. He propped it securely against the beat of the storm with the club he had taken from Bram Johnson's bed.

Then he turned back to the cabin, with the little revolver clutched in his hand, and his face was strained and haggard when he found the door and returned again into the glow of the candle- light. In the center of the room, her face as white as his own, stood Celie. A great fear must have gripped her, for she stood there in her sleeping gown with her hands clutched at her breast, her eyes staring at him in speechless questioning. He explained by opening the door a bit and pantomiming to the gate outside the cabin.

"The wolves will be gone in the morning," he said, a ring of triumph in his voice. "I have opened the gate. There is nothing in our way now."

She understood. Her eyes were a glory to look into then. Her fingers unclenched at her breast, she gave a short, quick breath and a little cry--and her arms almost reached out to him. He was afraid of himself as he went to her and led her again to the door of her room. And there for a moment they paused, and she looked up into his face. Her hand crept from his and went softly to his shoulder. She said something to him, almost in a whisper, and he could no longer fight against the pride and the joy and the faith he saw in her eyes. He bent down, slowly so that she might draw away from him if she desired, and kissed her upturned lips. And then, with a strange little cry that was like the soft note of a bird, she turned from him and disappeared into the darkness of her room.

A great deal of that night's storm passed over his head unheard after that. It was late when he went to bed. He crowded Bram's long box-stove with wood before he extinguished the last candle.

And for an hour after that he lay awake, thinking of Celie and of the great happiness that had come into his life all in one day. During that hour he made the plans of a lifetime. Then he, too, fell into sleep--a restless, uneasy slumber filled with many visions. For a time there had come a lull in the gale, but now it broke over the cabin in increased fury. A hand seemed slapping at the window, threatening to break it, and a volley of wind and snow shot suddenly down the chimney, forcing open the stove door, so that a shaft of ruddy light cut like a red knife through the dense gloom of the cabin. In varying ways the sounds played a part in Philip's dreams. In all those dreams, and segments of dreams, the girl was present. It was strange that in all of them she should be his wife. And it was strange that the big woods and the deep snows played no part in them. He was back home. And Celie was with him. Once they went for wildflowers and were caught in a thunderstorm, and ran to an old and disused barn in the center of a field for shelter. He could feel Celie trembling against him, and he was stroking her hair as the thunder crashed over them and the lightning filled her eyes with fear. After that there came to him a vision of early autumn nights when they went corn-roasting, with other young people. He had always been afflicted with a slight nasal trouble, and smoke irritated him. It set him sneezing, and kept him dodging about the fire, and Celie was laughing as the smoke persisted in following him about, like a young scamp of a boy bent on tormenting him. The smoke was unusually persistent on this particular night, until at last the laughter went out of the girl's face, and she ran into his arms and covered his eyes with her soft hands. Restlessly he tossed in his bunk, and buried his face in the blanket that answered for a pillow. The smoke reached him; even there, and he sneezed chokingly. In that instant Celie's face disappeared. He sneezed again--and awoke.

In that moment his dazed senses adjusted themselves. The cabin was full of smoke. It partly blinded him, but through it he could see tongues of fire shooting toward the ceiling. He heard then the crackling of burning pitch--a dull and consuming roar, and with a stifled cry he leaped from his bunk and stood on his feet. Dazed by the smoke and flame, he saw that there was not the hundredth part of a second to lose. Shouting Celie's name he ran to her door, where the fire was already beginning to shut him out. His first cry had awakened her and she was facing the lurid glow of the flame as he rushed in. Almost before she could comprehend what was happening he had wrapped one of the heavy bear skins about her and had swept her into his arms. With her face crushed against his breast he lowered his head and dashed back into the fiery holocaust of the outer room. The cabin, with its pitch-filled logs, was like a box made of tinder, and a score of men could not have beat out the fire that was raging now. The wind beating from the west had kept it from reaching the door opening into the corral, but the pitch was hissing and smoking at the threshold as Philip plunged through the blinding pall and fumbled for the latch.

Not ten seconds too soon did he stagger with his burden out into the night. As the wind drove in through the open door the flames seemed to burst in a sudden explosion and the cabin was a seething snarl of flame. It burst through the window and out of the chimney and Philip's path to the open gate was illumined by a fiery glow. Not until he had passed beyond the stockade to the edge of the forest did he stop and look back. Over their heads the wind wailed and moaned in the spruce tops, but even above that sound came the roar of the fire. Against his breast Philip heard a sobbing cry, and suddenly he held the girl closer, and crushed his face down against hers, fighting to keep back the horror that was gripping at his heart. Even as he felt her arms creeping up out of the bearskin and clinging about his neck he felt upon him like a weight of lead the hopelessness of a despair as black as the night itself. The cabin was now a pillar of flame, and in it was everything that had made life possible for them. Food, shelter, clothing--all were gone. In this moment he did not think of himself, but of the girl he held in his arms, and he strained her closer and kissed her lips and her eyes and her tumbled hair there in the storm-swept darkness, telling her what he knew was now a lie--that she was safe, that nothing could harm her. Against him he felt the tremble and throb of her soft body, and it was this that filled him with the horror of the thing--the terror of the thought that her one garment was a bearskin. He had felt, a moment before, the chill touch of a naked little foot.

And yet he kept saying, with his face against hers:

"It's all right, little sweetheart. We'll come out all right--we sure will!"

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CHAPTER XIVHe 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
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