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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Golden Snare - Chapter 7
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The Golden Snare - Chapter 7 Post by :cclittle Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :1316

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The Golden Snare - Chapter 7

CHAPTER VII

Philip was not unaccustomed to the occasional mental and physical shock which is an inevitable accompaniment of the business of Law in the northland. But never had he felt quite the same stir in his blood as now--when he found himself looking down the short tunnel into the face of the man he was hunting.

There come now and then moments in which a curious understanding is impinged upon one without loss of time in reason and surmise-- and this was one of those moments for Philip. His first thought as he saw the great wild face in the door of his tunnel was that Bram had been looking at him for some time--while he was asleep; and that if the desire to kill had been in the outlaw's breast he might have achieved his purpose with very little trouble. Equally swift was his observance of the fact that the tent with which he had covered the aperture was gone, and that his rifle, with the weight of which he had held the tent in place, had disappeared. Bram had secured possession of them before he had roused himself.

It was not the loss of these things, or entirely Bram's sudden and unexpected appearance, that sent through him the odd thrill, which he experienced. It was Bram's face, his eyes, the tense and mysterious earnestness that was in his gaze. It was not the watchfulness of a victor looking at his victim. In it there was no sign of hatred or of exultation. There was not even unfriendliness there. Rather it was the study of one filled with doubt and uneasiness, and confronted by a question which he could not answer. There was not a line of the face which Philip could not see now--its high cheek-bones, its wide cheeks, the low forehead, the flat nose, the thick lips. Only the eyes kept it from being a terrible face. Straight down through the generations Bram must have inherited those eyes from some woman of the past. They were strange things in that wild and hunted creature's face--gray eyes, large, beautiful. With the face taken away they would have been wonderful.

For a full minute not a sound passed between the two men. Philip's hand had slipped to the butt of his revolver, but he had no intention of using it. Then he found his voice. It seemed the most natural thing in the world that he should say what he did.

"Hello, Bram!"

"Boo-joo, m'sieu!"

Only Bram's thick lips moved. His voice was low and guttural. Almost instantly his head disappeared from the opening.

Philip dug himself quickly from his sleeping-bag. Through the aperture there came to him now another sound, the yearning whine of beasts. He could not hear Bram. In spite of the confidence which his first look at Bram had given him he felt a sudden shiver run up his spine as he faced the end of the tunnel on his hands and knees, his revolver in his hand. What a rat in a trap he would be if Bram loosed his wolves! What sport for the pack--and perhaps for the master himself! He could kill two or three--and that would be all. They would be in on him like a whirlwind, diving through his snow walls as easily as a swimmer might cut through water. Had he twice made a fool of himself? Should he have winged Bram Johnson, three times a murderer, in place of offering him a greeting?

He began crawling toward the opening, and again he heard the snarl and whine of the beasts. The sound seemed some distance away. He reached the end of the tunnel and peered out through the "door" he had made in the crust.

From his position he could see nothing--nothing but the endless sweep of the Barren and his old trail leading up to the snow dune. The muzzle of his revolver was at the aperture when he heard Bram's voice.

"M'sieu--ze revolv'--ze knife--or I mus' keel yon. Ze wolve plent' hungr'--"

Bram was standing just outside of his line of vision. He had not spoken loudly or threateningly, but Philip felt in the words a cold and unexcited deadliness of purpose against which he knew that it would be madness for him to fight. Bram had more than the bad man's ordinary drop on him. In his wolves he possessed not only an advantage but a certainty. If Philip had doubted this, as he waited for another moment with the muzzle of his revolver close to the opening, his uncertainty was swept away by the appearance thirty feet in front of his tunnel of three of Bram's wolves. They were giants of their kind, and as the three faced his refuge he could see the snarling gleam of their long fangs. A fourth and a fifth joined them, and after that they came within his vision in twos and threes until a score of them were huddled straight in front of him. They were restless and whining, and the snap of their jaws was like the clicking of castanets. He caught the glare of twenty pairs of eyes fastened on his retreat and involuntarily he shrank back that they might not see him. He knew that it was Bram who was holding them back, and yet he had heard no word, no command. Even as he stared a long snakelike shadow uncurled itself swiftly in the air and the twenty foot lash of Bram's caribou-gut whip cracked viciously over the heads of the pack. At the warning of the whip the horde of beasts scattered, and Bram's voice came again.

"M'sieu--ze revolv'--ze knife--or I loose ze wolve--"

The words were scarcely out of his mouth when Philip's revolver flew through the opening and dropped in the snow.

"There it is, old man," announced Philip. "And here comes the knife."

His sheath-knife followed the revolver.

"Shall I throw out my bed?" he asked.

He was making a tremendous effort to appear cheerful. But he could not forget that last night he had shot at Bram, and that it was not at all unreasonable to suppose that Bram might knock his brains out when he stuck his head out of the hole. The fact that Bram made no answer to his question about the bed did not add to his assurance. He repeated the question, louder than before, and still there was no answer. In the face of his perplexity he could not repress a grim chuckle as he rolled up his blankets. What a report he would have for the Department--if he lived to make it! On paper there would be a good deal of comedy about it--this burrowing oneself up like a hibernating woodchuck, and then being invited out to breakfast by a man with a club and a pack of brutes with fangs that had gleamed at him like ivory stilettos. He had guessed at the club, and a moment later as he thrust his sleeping- bag out through the opening he saw that it was quite obviously a correct one. Bram was possessing himself of the revolver and the knife. In the same hand he held his whip and a club.

Seizing the opportunity, Philip followed his bed quickly, and when Bram faced him he was standing on his feet outside the drift.

"Morning, Bram!"

His greeting was drowned in a chorus of fierce snarls that made his blood curdle even as he tried to hide from Bram any visible betrayal of the fact that every nerve up and down his spine was pricking him. like a pin. From Bram's throat there shot forth at the pack a sudden sharp clack of Eskimo, and with it the long whip snapped in their faces again.

Then he looked steadily at his prisoner. For the first time Philip saw the look which he dreaded darkening his face. A greenish fire burned in the strange eyes. The thick lips were set tightly, the flat nose seemed flatter, and with a shiver Philip noticed Bram's huge, naked hand gripping his club until the cords stood out like babiche thongs under the skin. In that moment he was ready to kill. A wrong word, a wrong act, and Philip knew that the end was inevitable.

In the same thick guttural voice which he used in his half-breed patois he demanded,

"Why you shoot--las' night!"

"Because I wanted to talk with you, Bram," replied Philip calmly. "I didn't shoot to hit you. I fired over your head."

"You want--talk," said Bram, speaking as if each word cost him a certain amount of effort. "Why--talk?"

"I wanted to ask you why it was that you killed a man down in the God's Lake country."

The words were out before Philip could stop them. A growl rose in Bram's chest. It was like the growl of a beast. The greenish fire in his eyes grew brighter.

"Ze poleece," he said. "KA, ze poleece--like kam from Churchill an' ze wolve keel!"

Philip's hand was fumbling in his pocket. The wolves were behind him and he dared not turn to look. It was their ominous silence that filled him with dread. They were waiting--watching--their animal instinct telling them that the command for which they yearned was already trembling on the thick lips of their master. The revolver and the knife dropped from Bram's hand. He held only the whip and the club.

Philip drew forth the wallet.

"You lost something--when you camped that night near Pierre Breault's cabin," he said, and his own voice seemed strange and thick to him. "I've followed you--to give it back. I could have killed you if I had wanted to--when I fired over your head. But I wanted to stop you. I wanted to give you--this."

He held out to Bram the golden snare.

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CHAPTER VIAn hour later Philip looked at his watch. It was close to midnight. In that hour his nerves had been keyed to a tension that was almost at the breaking point. Not a sound came from off the Barren or from out of the scrub timber that did not hold a mental and physical shock for him. He believed that Bram and his pack would come up quietly; that he would not hear the man's footsteps or the soft pads of his beasts until they were very near. Twice a great snow owl fluttered over his head. A third time
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