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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Golden Snare - Chapter 22
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The Golden Snare - Chapter 22 Post by :runtonk Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :1757

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The Golden Snare - Chapter 22

CHAPTER XXII

In Philip's eyes Blake saw his match now. And more. For three- quarters of a minute he talked swiftly to the Eskimo. Philip knew that he was giving the Kogmollock definite instructions as to the manner in which his rescue must be accomplished. But he knew also that Blake would emphasize the fact that it must not be in open attack, no matter how numerous his followers might be.

He hurried Blake through the door to the sledge and team. The sledge was heavily laden with the meat of a fresh caribou kill and from the quantity of flesh he dragged off into the snow Philip surmised that the cabin would very soon be the rendezvous of a small army of Eskimo. There was probably a thousand pounds of it, Retaining only a single quarter of this he made Celie comfortable and turned his attention to Blake. With babiche cord he re-secured his prisoner with the "manacle-hitch," which gave him free play of one hand and arm--his left. Then he secured the Eskimo's whip and gave it to Blake.

"Now--drive!" he commanded. "Straight for the Coppermine, and by the shortest cut. This is as much your race as mine now, Blake. The moment I see a sign of anything wrong you're a dead man!"

"And you--are a fool!" gritted Blake. "Good God, what a fool!"

"Drive--and shut up!"

Blake snapped his whip and gave a short, angry command in Eskimo. The dogs sprang from their bellies to their feet and at another command were off over the trail. From the door of the cabin the Eskimo's little eyes shone with a watery eagerness as he watched them go. Celie caught a last glimpse of him as she looked back and her hands gripped more firmly the rifle which lay across her lap. Philip had given her the rifle and it had piled upon her a mighty responsibility. He had meant that she should use it if the emergency called for action, and that she was to especially watch Blake. Her eyes did not leave the outlaw's broad back as he ran on a dozen paces ahead of the dogs. She was ready for him if he tried to escape, and she would surely fire. Running close to her side Philip observed the tight grip of her hands on the weapon, and saw one little thumb pinched up against the safety ready for instant action. He laughed, and for a moment she looked up at him, flushing suddenly when she saw the adoration in his face.

"Blake's right--I'm a fool," he cried down at her in a low voice that thrilled with his worship of her. "I'm a fool for risking you, sweetheart. By going the other way I'd have you forever. They wouldn't follow far into the south, if at all. Mebby you don't realize what we're doing by hitting back to that father of yours. Do you?"

She smiled.

"And mebby when we get there we'll find him dead," he added. "Dead or alive, everything is up to Blake now and you must help me watch him."

He pantomimed this caution by pointing to Blake and the rifle. Then he dropped behind. Over the length of sledge and team he was thirty paces from Blake. At that distance he could drop him with a single shot from the Colt.

They were following the trail already made by the meat-laden sledge, and the direction was northwest. It was evident that Blake was heading at least in the right direction and Philip believed that it would be but a short time before they would strike the Coppermine. Once on the frozen surface of the big stream that flowed into the Arctic and their immediate peril of an ambuscade would be over. Blake was surely aware of that. If he had in mind a plan for escaping it must of necessity take form before they reached the river.

"Where the forest thinned out and the edge of the Barren crept in Philip ran at Celie's side, but when the timber thickened and possible hiding places for their enemies appeared in the trail ahead he was always close to Blake, with the big Colt held openly in his hand. At these times Celie watched the back trail. From her vantage on the sledge her alert eyes took in every bush and thicket to right and left of them, and when Philip was near or behind her she was looking at least a rifle-shot ahead of Blake. For three-quarters of an hour they had followed the single sledge trail when Blake suddenly gave a command that stopped the dogs. They had reached a crest which overlooked a narrow finger of the treeless Barren on the far side of which, possibly a third of a mile distant, was a dark fringe of spruce timber. Blake pointed toward this timber. Out of it was rising a dark column of resinous smoke.

"It's up to you," he said coolly to Philip. "Our trail crosses through that timber--and you see the smoke. I imagine there are about twenty of Upi's men there feeding on caribou. The herd was close beyond when they made the kill. Now if we go on they're most likely to see us, or their dogs get wind of us--and Upi is a bloodthirsty old cutthroat. I don't want that bullet through my gizzard, so I'm tellin' you."

Far back in Blake's eyes there lurked a gleam which Philip did not like. Blake was not a man easily frightened, and yet he had given what appeared to be fair warning to his enemy.

He came a step nearer, and said in a lower voice:

"Raine, that's just ONE of Upi's crowds. If you go on to the cabin we're heading for there'll be two hundred fighting men after you before the day is over, and they'll get you whether you kill me or not. You've still got the chance I gave you back there. Take it-- if you ain't tired of life. Give me the girl--an' you hit out across the Barren with the team."

"We're going on," replied Philip, meeting the other's gaze steadily. "You know your little murderers, Blake. If any one can get past them without being seen it's you. And you've got to do it. I'll kill you if you don't. The Eskimos may get us after that, but they won't harm HER in your way. Understand? We're going the limit in this game. And I figure you're putting up the biggest stake. I've got a funny sort of feeling that you're going to cash in before we reach the cabin."

For barely an instant the mysterious gleam far back in Blake's eyes died out. There was the hard, low note in Philip's voice which carried conviction and Blake knew he was ready to play the hand which he held. With a grunt and a shrug of his shoulders he stirred up the dogs with a crack of his whip and struck out at their head due west. During the next half hour Philip's eyes and ears were ceaselessly on the alert. He traveled close to Blake, with the big Colt in his hand, watching every hummock and bit of cover as they came to it. He also watched Blake and in the end was convinced that in the back of the outlaw's head was a sinister scheme in which he had the utmost confidence in spite of his threats and the fact that they had successfully got around Upi's camp. Once or twice when their eyes happened to meet he caught in Blake's face a contemptuous coolness, almost a sneering exultation which the other could not quite conceal. It filled him with a scarcely definable uneasiness. He was positive that Blake realized he would carry out his threat at the least sign of treachery or the appearance of an enemy, and yet he could not free himself from the uncomfortable oppression that was beginning to take hold of him. He concealed it from Blake. He tried to fight it out of himself. Yet it persisted. It was something which seemed to hover in the air about him--the FEEL of a danger which he could not see.

And then Blake suddenly pointed ahead over an open plain and said:

"There is the Coppermine."

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CHAPTER XXIIIA cry from Celie turned his gaze from the broad white trail of ice that was the Coppermine, and as he looked she pointed eagerly toward a huge pinnacle of rock that rose like an oddly placed cenotaph out of the unbroken surface of the plain.Blake grunted out a laugh in his beard and his eyes lit up with an unpleasant fire as they rested on her flushed face."She's tellin' you that Bram Johnson brought her this way," he chuckled. "Bram was a fool--like you!"He seemed not to expect a reply from Philip, but urged the dogs down the slope
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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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