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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Golden Snare - Chapter 21
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The Golden Snare - Chapter 21 Post by :Truman Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :1677

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The Golden Snare - Chapter 21


As 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 stunned with the club was moving. Her call brought Philip, and placing her in the open door to keep watch he set swiftly to work to make sure of their prisoner. With the babiche thong he had taken from his enemies he bound him hand and foot. A shaft of light fell full on the giant's face and naked chest where it had been laid bare in the struggle and Philip was about to rise when a purplish patch, of tattooing caught his eyes. He made out first the crude picture of a shark with huge gaping jaws struggling under the weight of a ship's anchor, and then, directly under this pigment colored tatu, the almost invisible letters of a name. He made them out one by one--B-l-a-k-e. Before the surname was the letter G.

"Blake," he repeated, rising to his feet. "GEORGE Blake--a sailor --and a white man!"

Blake, returning to consciousness, mumbled incoherently. In the same instant Celie cried out excitedly at the door.

"Oo-ee, Philip--Philip! Se det! Se! Se!"

She drew back with, a sudden movement and pointed out the door. Concealing himself as much as possible from outside observation Philip peered forth. Not more than a hundred and fifty yards away a dog team was approaching. There were eight dogs and instantly he recognized them as the small fox-faced Eskimo breed from the coast. They were dragging a heavily laden sledge and behind them came the driver, a furred and hooded figure squat of stature and with a voice that came now in the sharp clacking commands that Philip had heard in the company of Bram Johnson. From the floor came a groan, and for an instant Philip turned to find Blake's bloodshot eyes wide open and staring at him. The giant's bleeding lips were gathered in a snarl and he was straining at the babiche thongs that bound him. In that same moment Philip caught a glimpse of Celie. She, too, was staring--and at Blake. Her lips were parted, her eyes were big with amazement and as she looked she clutched her hands convulsively at her breast and uttered a low, strange cry. For the first time she saw Blake's face with the light full upon it. At the sound of her cry Blake's eyes went to her, and for the space of a second the imprisoned beast on the floor and the girl looking down on him made up a tableau that held Philip spellbound. Between them was recognition--an amazed and stone like horror on the girl's part, a sudden and growing glare of bestial exultation in the eyes of the man.

Suddenly there came the Eskimo's voice and the yapping of dogs. It was the first Blake had heard. He swung his head toward the door with a great gasp and the babiche cut like whipcord under the strain of his muscles. Swift as a flash Philip thrust the muzzle of the big Colt against his prisoner's head.

"Make a sound and you're a dead man, Blake!" he warned. "We need that team, and if you so much as whisper during the next ten seconds I'll scatter your brains over the floor!"

They could hear the cold creak of the sledge-runners now, and a moment later the patter of many feet outside the door. In a single leap Philip was at the door. Another and he was outside, and an amazed Eskimo was looking into the round black eye of his revolver. It required no common language to make him understand what was required of him. He backed into the cabin with the revolver within two feet of his breast. Celie had caught up the rifle and was standing guard over Blake as though fearful that he might snap his bonds. Philip laughed joyously when he saw how quickly she understood that she was to level the rifle at the Kogmollock's breast and hold it there until he had made him a prisoner. She was wonderful. She was panting in her excitement. From the floor Blake had noticed that her little white finger was pressing gently against the trigger of the rifle. It had made him shudder. It made the Eskimo cringe a bit now as Philip tied his hands behind him. And Philip saw it, and his heart thumped. Celie was gloriously careless.

It was over inside of two minutes, and with an audible sigh of relief she lowered her rifle. Then she leaned it against the wall and ran to Blake. She was tremendously excited as she pointed down into the bloodstained face and tried to explain to Philip the reason for that strange and thrilling recognition he had seen between them. From her he looked at Blake. The look in the prisoner's face sent a cold shiver through him. There was no fear in it. It was filled with a deep and undisguised exultation. Then Blake looked at Philip, and laughed outright.

"Can't understand her, eh?" he chuckled. "Well, neither can I. But I know what she's trying to tell you. Damned funny, ain't it?"

It was impossible for him to keep his eyes from shifting to the door. There was expectancy in that glance. Then his glance shot almost fiercely at Philip.

"So you're Philip Raine, of the R. N. M. P., eh? Well, you've got me guessed out. My name is Blake, but the G don't stand for George. If you'll cut the cord off'n my legs so I can stand up or sit down I'll tell you something. I can't do very much damage with my hands hitched the way they are, and I can't talk layin' down cause of my Adam's apple chokin' me."

Philip seized the rifle and placed it again in Celie's hands, stationing her once more at the door.

"Watch--and listen," he said.

He cut the thongs that bound his prisoner's ankles and Blake struggled to his feet. When he fronted Philip the big Colt was covering his heart.

"Now--talk!" commanded Philip. "I'm going to give you half a minute to begin telling me what I want to know, Blake. You've brought the Eskimos down. There's no doubt of that. What do you want of this girl, and what have you done with her people?"

He had never looked into the eyes of a cooler man than Blake, whose blood-stained lips curled in a sneering smile even as he finished.

"I ain't built to be frightened," he said, taking his time about it. "I know your little games an' I've throwed a good many bluffs of my own in my time. You're lyin' when you say you'll shoot, an' you know you are. I may talk and I may not. Before I make up my mind I'm going to give you a bit of brotherly advice. Take that team out there and hit across the Barren--ALONE. Understand? ALONE. Leave the girl here. It's your one chance of missing what happened to--"

He grinned and shrugged his huge shoulders.

"You mean Anderson--Olaf Anderson--and the others up at Bathurst Inlet?" questioned Philip chokingly.

Blake nodded.

Philip wondered if the other could hear the pounding of his heart. He had discovered in this moment what the Department had been trying to learn for two years. It was this man--Blake--who was the mysterious white leader of the Kogmollocks, and responsible for the growing criminal record of the natives along Coronation Gulf. And he had just confessed himself the murderer of Olaf Anderson! His finger trembled for an instant against the trigger of his revolver. Then, staring into Blake's face, he slowly lowered the weapon until it hung at his side. Blake's eyes gleamed as he saw what he thought was his triumph.

"IT'S your one chance," he urged. "And there ain't no time to lose."

Philip had judged his man, and now he prayed for the precious minutes in which to play out his game. The Kogmollocks who had taken up their trail could not be far from the cabin now.

"Maybe you're right, Blake," he said hesitatingly. "I think, after her experience with Bram Johnson that she is about willing to return to her father. Where is he?"

Blake made no effort to disguise his eagerness. In the droop of Philip's shoulder, the laxness of the hand that held the revolver and the change in his voice Blake saw in his captor an apparent desire to get out of the mess he was in. A glimpse of Celie's frightened face turned for an instant from the door gave weight to his conviction.

"He's down the Coppermine--about a hundred miles. So, Bram Johnson--"

His eyes were a sudden blaze of fire.

"Took care of her until your little rats waylaid him on the trail and murdered him," interrupted Philip. "See here, Blake. You be square with me and I'll be square with you. I haven't been able to understand a word of her lingo and I'm curious to know a thing or two before I go. Tell me who she is, and why you haven't killed her father, and what you're going to do with her and I won't waste another minute."

Blake leaned forward until Philip felt the heat of his breath.

"What do I WANT of her?" he demanded slowly. "Why, if you'd been five years without sight of a white woman, an' then you woke up one morning to meet an angel like HER on the trail two thousand miles up in nowhere what would you want of her? I was stunned, plumb stunned, or I'd had her then. And after that, if it hadn't been for that devil with his wolves--"

"Bram ran away with her just as you were about to get her into your hands," supplied Philip, fighting to save time. "She didn't even know that you wanted her, Blake, so far as I can find out. It's all a mystery to her. I don't believe she's guessed the truth even now. How the devil did you do it? Playing the friend stunt, eh! And keeping yourself in the background while your Kogmollocks did the work? Was that it?"

Blake nodded. His face was darkening as he looked at Philip and the light in his eyes was changing to a deep and steady glare. In that moment Philip had failed to keep the exultation out of his voice. It shone in his face. And Blake saw it. A throaty sound rose out of his thick chest and his lips parted in a snarl as there surged through him a realization that he had been tricked.

In that interval Philip spoke.

"If I never sent up a real prayer to God before I'm sending it now, Blake," he said. "I'm thanking Him that you didn't have time to harm Celie Armin, an' I'm thanking Him that Bram Johnson had a soul in his body in spite of his warped brain and his misshapen carcass. And now I'm going to keep my word. I'm not going to lose another minute. Come!"

"You--you mean--"

"No, you haven't guessed it. We're not going over the Barren. We're going back to that cabin on the Coppermine, and you're going with us. And listen to this, Blake--listen hard! There may be fighting. If there is I want you to sort of harden yourself to the fact that the first shot fired is going straight through your gizzard. Do I make myself clear? I'll shoot you deader than a salt mackerel the instant one of your little murderers shows up on the trail. So tell this owl-faced heathen here to spread the glad tidings when his brothers come in--and spread it good. Quick about it! I'm not bluffing now."

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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.