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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Golden Snare - Chapter 19
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The Golden Snare - Chapter 19 Post by :simkl Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :1895

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The Golden Snare - Chapter 19

CHAPTER XIX

Before the last of the cries had died away Philip flung far to one side of the trail the javelin he carried, and followed it up with Celie's, impressing on her that every ounce of additional weight meant a handicap for them now. After the javelins went his club.

"It's going to be the biggest race I've ever run," he smiled at her. "And we've got to win. If we don't--"

Celie's eyes were aglow as she looked at him, He was splendidly calm. There was no longer a trace of excitement in his face, and he was smiling at her even as he picked her up suddenly in his arms. The movement was so unexpected that she gave a little gasp. Then she found herself borne swiftly over the trail. For a distance of a hundred yards Philip ran with her before he placed her on her feet again. In no better way could he have impressed on her that they were partners in a race against death and that every energy must be expended in that race. Scarcely had her feet touched the snow than she was running at his side, her hand clasped in his. Barely a second was lost.

With the swift directness of the trained man-hunter Philip had measured his chances of winning. The Eskimos, first of all, would gather about their dead. After one or two formalities they would join in a chattering council, all of which meant precious time for them. The pursuit would be more or less cautious because of the bullet hole in the Kogmollock's forehead.

If it had been possible for Celie to ask him just what he expected to gain by following the strange snowshoe trail he would have had difficulty in answering. It was, like his single shot with Celie's little revolver, a chance gamble against big odds. A number of possibilities had suggested themselves to him. It even occurred to him that the man who was hurrying toward the east might be a member of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police. Of one thing, however, he was confident. The maker of the tracks would not be armed with javelins. He would have a rifle. Friend or foe, he was after that rifle. The trick was to catch sight of him at the earliest possible moment.

How much of a lead the stranger had was a matter at which he could guess with considerable accuracy. The freshness of the trail was only slightly dimmed by snow, which was ample proof that it had been made at the very tail-end of the storm. He believed that it was not more than an hour old.

For a good two hundred yards Philip set a dog-trot pace for Celie, who ran courageously at his side. At the end of that distance he stopped. Celie was panting for breath. Her hood had slipped back and her face was flushed like a wildflower by her exertion. Her eyes shone like stars, and her lips were parted a little. She was temptingly lovely, but again Philip lost not a second of unnecessary time. He picked her up in his arms again and continued the race. By using every ounce of his own strength and endurance in this way he figured that their progress would be at least a third faster than the Eskimos would follow. The important question was how long he could keep up the pace.

Against his breast Celie was beginning to understand his scheme as plainly as if he had explained it to her in words. At the end of the fourth hundred yards she let him know that she was ready to run another lap. He carried her on fifty yards more before he placed her on her feet. In this way they had gone three-quarters of a mile when the trail turned abruptly from its easterly course to a point of the compass due north. So sharp was the turn that Philip paused to investigate the sudden change in direction. The stranger had evidently stood for several minutes at this point, which was close to the blasted stub of a dead spruce. In the snow Philip observed for the first time a number of dark brown spots.

"Here is where he took a new bearing--and a chew of tobacco," said Philip, more to himself than to Celie. "And there's no snow in his tracks. By George, I don't believe he's got more than half an hour's start of us this minute!"

It was his turn to carry Celie again, and in spite of her protest that she was still good for another run he resumed their pursuit of the stranger with her in his arms. By her quick breathing and the bit of tenseness that had gathered about her mouth he knew that the exertion she had already been put to was having its effect on her. For her little feet and slender body the big moccasins and cumbersome fur garments she wore were a burden in themselves, even at a walk. He found that by holding her higher in his arms, with her own arms encircling his shoulders, it was easier to run with her at the pace he had set for himself. And when he held her in this way her hair covered his breast and shoulders so that now and then his face was smothered in the velvety sweetness of it. The caress of it and the thrill of her arms about him spurred him on. Once he made three hundred yards. But he was gulping for breath when he stopped. That time Celie compelled him to let her run a little farther, and when they paused she was swaying on her feet, and panting. He carried her only a hundred and fifty yards in the interval after that. Both realized what it meant. The pace was telling on them. The strain of it was in Celie's eyes. The flower-like flush of her first exertion was gone from her face. It was pale and a little haggard, and in Philip's face she saw the beginning of the things which she did not realize was betraying itself so plainly in her own. She put her hands up to his cheeks, and smiled. It was tremendous-- that moment;--her courage, her splendid pride in him, her manner of telling him that she was not afraid as her little hands lay against his face. For the first time he gave way to his desire to hold her close to him, and kiss the sweet mouth she held up to his as her head nestled on his breast.

After a moment or two he looked at his watch. Since striking the strange trail they had traveled forty minutes. In that tine they had covered at least three miles, and were a good four miles from the scene of the fight. It was a big start. The Eskimos were undoubtedly a half that distance behind them, and the stranger whom they were following could not be far ahead.

They went on at a walk. For the third time they came to a point in the trail where the stranger had stopped to make observations. It was apparent to Philip that the man he was after was not quite sure of himself. Yet he did not hesitate in the course due north.

For half an hour they continued in that direction. Not for an instant now did Philip allow; his caution to lag. Eyes and ears were alert for sound or movement either behind or ahead of them, and more and more frequently he turned to scan the back trail. They were at least five miles from the edge of the open where the fight had occurred when they came to the foot of a ridge, and Philip's heart gave a sudden thump of hope. He remembered that ridge. It was a curiously formed "hog-back"--like a great windrow of snow piled up and frozen. Probably it was miles in length. Somewhere he and Bram had crossed it soon after passing the first cabin. He had not tried to tell Celie of this cabin. Time had been too precious. But now, in the short interval of rest he allowed themselves, he drew a picture of it in the snow and made her understand that it was somewhere close to the ridge and that it looked as though the stranger was making for it. He half carried Celie up the ridge after that. She could not hide from him that her feet were dragging even at a walk. Exhaustion showed in her face, and once when she tried to speak to him her voice broke in a little gasping sob. On the far side of the ridge he took her in his arms and carried her again.

"It can't be much farther," he encouraged her. "We've got to overtake him pretty soon, dear. Mighty soon." Her hand pressed gently against his cheek, and he swallowed a thickness that in spite of his effort gathered in his throat. During that last half hour a different look had come into her eyes. It was there now as she lay limply with her head on his breast--a look of unutterable tenderness, and of something else. It was that which brought the thickness into his throat. It was not fear. It was the soft glow of a great love--and of understanding. She knew that even he was almost at the end of his fight. His endurance was giving out. One of two things must happen very soon. She continued to stroke his cheek gently until he placed her on her feet again, and then she held one of his hands close to her breast as they looked behind them, and listened. He could feel the soft throbbing of her heart. If he needed greater courage then it was given to him.

They went on. And then, so suddenly that it brought a stifled cry from the girl's lips, they came upon the cabin. It was not a hundred yards from them when they first saw it. It was no longer abandoned. A thin spiral of smoke was rising from the chimney. There was no sign of life other than that.

For half a minute Philip stared at it. Here, at last, was the final hope. Life or death, all that the world might hold for him and the girl at his side, was in that cabin. Gently he drew her so that she would be unseen. And then, still looking at the cabin, he drew off his coat and dropped it in the snow. It was the preparation of a man about to fight. The look of it was in his face and the stiffening of his muscles, and when he turned to his little companion she was as white as the snow under her feet.

"We're in time," he breathed. "You--you stay here."

She understood. Her hands clutched at him as he left her. A gulp rose in her throat. She wanted to call out. She wanted to hold him back--or go with him. Yet she obeyed. She stood with a heart that choked her and watched him go. For she knew, after all, that it was the thing to do. Sobbingly she breathed his name. It was a prayer. For she knew what would happen in the cabin.

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CHAPTER XXPhilip came up behind the windowless end of the cabin. He noticed in passing with Bram that on the opposite side was a trap-window of saplings, and toward this he moved swiftly but with caution. It was still closed when he came where he could see. But with his ear close to the chinks he heard a sound--the movement of some one inside. For an instant he looked over his shoulder. Celia was standing where he had left her. He could almost feel the terrible suspense that was in her eyes as she watched him.He moved around toward the door.
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CHAPTER XVIIIThat the Eskimos both to the east and the west were more than likely to come their way, converging toward the central cry that was now silent, Philip was sure. In the brief interval in which he had to act he determined to make use of his fallen enemies. This he impressed on Celie's alert mind before he ran back to the scene of the fight. He made no more than a swift observation of the field in these first moments--did not even look for weapons. His thought was entirely of Celie. The smallest of the three forms on the
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