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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Golden Snare - Chapter 17
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The Golden Snare - Chapter 17 Post by :JuvioSuccess Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :1231

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The Golden Snare - Chapter 17


It seemed to Philip, as he stood with the club ready in his hand, that the world had ceased to breathe in its anticipation of the thing for which he was waiting--and listening. The wind had dropped dead. There was not a rustle in the tree-tops, not a sound to break the stillness. The silence, so close after storm, was an Arctic phenomenon which did not astonish him, and yet the effect of it was almost painfully gripping. Minor sounds began to impress themselves on his senses--the soft murmur of the falling snow, his own breath, the pounding of his heart. He tried to throw off the strange feeling that oppressed him, but it was impossible. Out there in the darkness he would have sworn that there were eyes and ears strained as his own were strained. And the darkness was lifting. Shadows began to disentangle themselves from the gray chaos. Trees and bushes took form, and over his head the last heavy windrows of clouds shouldered their way out of the sky.

Still, as the twilight of dawn took the place of night, he did not move, except to draw himself a little closer into the shelter of the scrub spruce behind which he had hidden himself. He wondered if Celie would be frightened at his absence. But he could not compel himself to go on--or back. SOMETHING WAS COMING! He was as positive of it as he was of the fact that night was giving place to day. Yet he could see nothing--hear nothing. It was light enough now for him to see movement fifty yards away, and he kept his eyes fastened on the little open across which their trail had come. If Olaf Anderson the Swede had been there he might have told him of another night like this, and another vigil. For Olaf had learned that the Eskimos, like the wolves, trail two by two and four by four, and that--again like the wolves--they pursue not ON the trail but with the trail between them.

But it was the trail that Philip watched; and as he kept his vigil--that inexplicable mental undercurrent telling him that his enemies were coming--his mind went back sharply to the girl a hundred yards behind him. The acuteness of the situation sent question after question rushing through his mind, even as he gripped his club, For her he was about to fight. For her he was ready to kill, and not afraid to die. He loved her. And yet--she was a mystery. He had held her in his arms, had felt her heart beating against his breast, had kissed her lips and her eyes and her hair, and her response had been to place herself utterly within the shelter of his arms. She had given herself to him and he was possessed of the strength of one about to fight for his own. And with that strength the questions pounded again in his head. Who was she? And for what reason were mysterious enemies coming after her through the gray dawn?

In that moment he heard a sound. His heart stood suddenly still. He held his breath. It was a sound almost indistinguishable from the whisper of the air and the trees and yet it smote upon his senses like the detonation of a thunder-clap. It was more of a PRESENCE than a sound. The trail was clear. He could see to the far side of the open now, and there was no movement. He turned his head--slowly and without movement of his body, and in that instant a gasp rose to his lips, and died there. Scarcely a dozen paces from him stood a poised and hooded figure, a squat, fire-eyed apparition that looked more like monster than man in that first glance. Something acted within him that was swifter than reason--a sub-conscious instinct that works for self-preservation like the flash of powder in a pan. It was this sub-conscious self that received the first photographic impression--the strange poise of the hooded creature, the uplifted arm, the cold, streaky gleam of something in the dawn-light, and in response to that impression Philip's physical self crumpled down in the snow as a javelin hissed through the space where his head and shoulders had been.

So infinitesimal was the space of time between the throwing of the javelin and Philip's movement that the Eskimo believed he had transfixed his victim. A scream of triumph rose in his throat. It was the Kogmollock sakootwow--the blood-cry, a single shriek that split the air for a mile. It died in another sort of cry. From where he had dropped Philip was up like a shot. His club swung through the air and before the amazed hooded creature could dart either to one side or the other it had fallen with crushing force. That one blow must have smashed his shoulder to a pulp. As the body lurched downward another blow caught the hooded head squarely and the beginning of a second cry ended in a sickening grunt. The force of the blow carried Philip half off his feet, and before he could recover himself two other figures had rushed upon him from out of the gloom. Their cries as they came at him were like the cries of beasts. Philip had no time to use his club. From his unbalanced position he flung himself upward and at the nearest of his enemies, saving himself from the upraised javelin by clinching. His fist shot out and caught the Eskimo squarely in the mouth. He struck again--and the javelin dropped from the Kogmollock's hand. In that moment, every vein in his body pounding with the rage and excitement of battle, Philip let out a yell. The end of it was stifled by a pair of furry arms. His head snapped back--and he was down.

A thrill of horror shot through him. It was the one unconquerable fighting trick of the Eskimos--that neck hold. Caught from behind there was no escape from it. It was the age-old sasaki-wechikun, or sacrifice-hold, an inheritance that came down from father to son--the Arctic jiu-jitsu by which one Kogmollock holds the victim helpless while a second cuts out his heart. Flat on his back, with his head and shoulders bent under him, Philip lay still for a single instant. He heard the shrill command of the Eskimo over him--an exhortation for the other to hurry up with the knife. And then, even as he heard a grunting reply, his hand came in contact with the pocket which held Celie's little revolver. He drew it quickly, cocked it under his back, and twisting his arm until the elbow-joint cracked, he fired. It was a chance shot. The powder- flash burned the murderous, thick-lipped face in the sealskin hood. There was no cry, no sound that Philip heard. But the arms relaxed about his neck. He rolled over and sprang to his feet. Three or four paces from him was the Eskimo he had struck, crawling toward him on his hands and knees, still dazed by the blows he had received. In the snow Philip saw his club. He picked it up and replaced the revolver in his pocket. A single blow as the groggy Eskimo staggered to his feet and the fight was over.

It had taken perhaps three or four minutes--no longer than that. His enemies lay in three dark and motionless heaps in the snow. Fate had played a strong hand with him. Almost by a miracle he had escaped and at least two of the Eskimos were dead.

He was still watchful, still guarding against a further attack, and suddenly he whirled to face a figure that brought from him a cry of astonishment and alarm. It was Celie. She was standing ten paces from him, and in the wild terror that had brought her to him she had left the bearskin behind. Her naked feet were buried in the snow. Her arms, partly bared, were reaching out to him in the gray Arctic dawn, and then wildly and moaningly there came to him--


He sprang to her, a choking cry on his own lips. This, after all, was the last proof--when she had thought that their enemies were killing him SHE HAD COME TO HIM. He was sobbing her name like a boy as he ran back with her in his arms. Almost fiercely he wrapped the bearskin about her again, and then crushed her so closely in his arms that he could hear her gasping faintly for breath. In that wild and glorious moment he listened. A cold and leaden day was breaking over the world and as they listened their hearts throbbing against each other, the same sound came to them both.

It was the sakootwow--the savage, shrieking blood-cry of the Kogmollocks, a scream that demanded an answer of the three hooded creatures who, a few minutes before, had attacked Philip in the edge of the open. The cry came from perhaps a mile away. And then, faintly, it was answered far to the west. For a moment Philip pressed his face down to Celie's. In his heart was a prayer, for he knew that the fight had only begun.

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CHAPTER XVIHis first impulse, after those few appalling seconds following their escape from the fire, was to save something from the cabin. Still talking to Celie he dropped on his knees and tucked her up warmly in the bearskin, with her back to a tree. He thanked God that it was a big skin and that it enveloped her completely. Leaving her there he ran back through the gate. He no longer feared the wolves. If they had not already escaped into the forest he knew they would not attack him in that hot glare of the one thing above all