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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Golden Snare - Chapter 20
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The Golden Snare - Chapter 20 Post by :gabby Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :2333

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The Golden Snare - Chapter 20

CHAPTER XX

Philip 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. There was in him an intense desire to have it over with quickly. His pulse quickened as the thought grew in him that the maker of the strange snowshoe trail might be a friend after all. But how was he to discover that fact? He had decided to take no chances in the matter. Ten seconds of misplaced faith in the stranger might prove fatal. Once he held a gun in his hands he would be in a position to wait for introductions and explanations. But until then, with their Eskimo enemies close at their heels--

His mind did not finish that final argument. The end of it smashed upon him in another way. The door came within his vision. As it swung inward he could not at first see whether it was open or closed. Leaning against the logs close to the door was a pair of long snowshoes and a bundle of javelins. A sickening disappointment swept over him as he stared at the javelins. A giant Eskimo and not a white man had made the trail they had followed. Their race against time had brought them straight to the rendezvous of their foes--and there would be no guns. In that moment when all the hopes he had built up seemed slipping away from under him he could see no other possible significance in the presence of the javelins. Then, for an instant, he held his breath and sniffed the air like a dog getting the wind. The cabin door was open. And out through that door came the mingling aroma of coffee and tobacco! An Eskimo might have tobacco, or even tea. But coffee--never!

Every drop of blood in his body pounded like tiny beating fists as he crossed silently and swiftly the short space between the corner of the cabin and the open door. For perhaps half a dozen seconds he closed his eyes to give his snow-strained vision an even chance with the man in the cabin. Then he looked in.

It was a small cabin. It was possibly not more than ten feet square inside, and at the far end of it was a fireplace from which rose the chimney through the roof. At first Philip saw nothing except the dim outlines of things. It was a moment or two before he made out the figure of a man stooping over the fire. He stepped over the threshold, making no sound. The occupant of the cabin straightened himself slowly, lifting with, extreme care a pot of coffee from the embers. A glance at his broad back and his giant stature told Philip that he was not an Eskimo. He turned. Even then for an infinitesimal space he did not see Philip as he stood fronting the door with the light in his face. It was a white man's face--a face almost hidden in a thick growth of beard and a tangle of hair that fell to the shoulders. Another instant and he had seen the intruder and stood like one turned suddenly into stone.

Philip had leveled Celie's little revolver.

"I am Philip Raine of His Majesty's service, the Royal Mounted," he said. "Throw, up your hands!"

The moment's tableau was one of rigid amazement on one side, of waiting tenseness on the other. Philip believed that the shadow of his body concealed the size of the tiny revolver in his hand. Anyway it would be effective at that distance, and he expected to see the mysterious stranger's hands go over his head the moment he recovered from the shock that had apparently gone with the command. What did happen he expected least of all. The arm holding the pot of steaming coffee shot out and the boiling deluge hissed straight at Philip's face. He ducked to escape it, and fired. Before he could throw back the hammer of the little single-action weapon for a second shot the stranger was at him. The force of the attack sent them both crashing back against the wall of the cabin, and in the few moments that followed Philip blessed the providential forethought that had made him throw off his fur coat and strip for action. His antagonist was not an ordinary man. A growl like that of a beast rose in his throat as they went to the floor, and in that death-grip Philip thought of Bram.

More than once in watching the wolf-man he had planned how he would pit himself against the giant if it came to a fight, and how he would evade the close arm-to-arm grapple that would mean defeat for him. And this man was Bram's equal in size and strength. He realized with the swift judgment of the trained boxer that open fighting and the evasion of the other's crushing brute strength was his one hope. On his knees he flung himself backward, and struck out. The blow caught his antagonist squarely in the face before he had succeeded in getting a firm clinch, and as he bent backward under the force of the blow Philip exerted every ounce of his strength, broke the other's hold, and sprang to his feet.

He felt like uttering a shout of triumph. Never had the thrill of mastery and of confidence surged through him more hotly than it did now. On his feet in open fighting he had the agility of a cat. The stranger was scarcely on his feet before he was at him with a straight shoulder blow that landed on the giant's jaw with crushing force. It would have put an ordinary man down in a limp heap. The other's weight saved him. A second blow sent him reeling against the log wall like a sack of grain. And then in the half- gloom of the cabin Philip missed. He put all his effort in that third blow and as his clenched fist shot over the other's shoulder he was carried off his balance and found himself again in the clutch of his enemy's arms. This time a huge hand found his throat. The other he blocked with his left arm, while with his right he drove in short-arm jabs against neck and jaw. Their ineffectiveness amazed him. His guard-arm was broken upward, and to escape the certain result of two hands gripping at his throat he took a sudden foot-lock on his adversary, flung all his weight forward, and again they went to the floor of the cabin.

Neither caught a glimpse of the girl standing wide-eyed and terrified in the door. They rolled almost to her feet. Full in the light she saw the battered, bleeding face of the strange giant, and Philip's fist striking it again and again. Then she saw the giant's two hands, and why he was suffering that punishment. They were at Philip's throat--huge hairy hands stained with his own blood. A cry rose to her lips and the blue in her eyes darkened with the fighting fire of her ancestors. She darted across the room to the fire. In an instant she was back with a stick of wood in her hands. Philip saw her then--her streaming hair and white face above them, and the club fell. The hands at his throat relaxed. He swayed to his feet and with dazed eyes and a weird sort of laugh opened his arms. Celie ran into them. He felt her sobbing and panting against him. Then, looking down, he saw that for the present the man who had made the strange snowshoe trail was as good as dead.

The air he was taking into his half strangled lungs cleared his head and he drew away from Celie to begin the search of the room. His eyes were more accustomed to the gloom, and suddenly he gave a cry of exultation. Against the end of the mud and stone fireplace stood a rifle and over the muzzle of this hung a belt and holster. In the holster was a revolver. In his excitement and joy his breath was almost a sob as he snatched it from the holster and broke it in the light of the door. It was a big Colt Forty-five-- and loaded to the brim. He showed it to Celie, and thrust her to the door.

"Watch!" he cried, sweeping his arm to the open. "Just two minutes more. That's all I want--two minutes--and then--"

He was counting the cartridges in the belt as he fastened it about his waist. There were at least forty, two-thirds of them soft- nosed rifle. The caliber was .303 and the gun was a Savage. It was modern up to the minute, and as he threw down the lever enough to let him glimpse inside the breech he caught the glisten of cartridges ready for action. He wanted nothing more. The cabin might have held his weight in gold and he would not have turned toward it.

With the rifle in his hands he ran past Celie out into the day. For the moment the excitement pounding in his body had got beyond his power of control. His brain was running riot with the joyous knowledge of the might that lay in his hands now and he felt an overmastering desire to shout his triumph in the face of their enemies.

"Come on, you devils! Come on, come on," he cried. And then, powerless to restrain what was in him, he let out a yell.

From the door Celie was staring at him. A few moments before her face had been dead white. Now a blaze of color was surging back into her cheeks and lips and her eyes shone with the glory of one who was looking on more than triumph. From her own heart welled up a cry, a revelation of that wonderful thing throbbing in her breast which must have reached Philip's ears had there not in that same instant come another sound to startle them both into listening silence.

It was not far distant. And it was unmistakably an answer to Philip's challenge.

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CHAPTER XXIAs they listened the cry came again. This time Philip caught in it a note that he had not detected before. It was not a challenge but the long-drawn ma-too-ee of an Eskimo who answers the inquiring hail of a comrade."He thinks it is the man in the cabin," exclaimed Philip, turning to survey the fringe of forest through which their trail had come. "If the others don't warn him there's going to be one less Eskimo on earth in less than three minutes!"Another sound had drawn Celie back to the door. "When she looked in the man she had
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CHAPTER XIXBefore 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
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