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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Golden Snare - Chapter 9
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The Golden Snare - Chapter 9 Post by :Truman Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :1017

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The Golden Snare - Chapter 9

CHAPTER IX

Philip had entered Bram Johnson's cabin from the west. Out of the east the pale fire of the winter sun seemed to concentrate itself on the one window of Bram's habitation, and flooded the opposite partition. In this partition there was a doorway, and in the doorway stood a girl.

She was standing full in the light that came through the window when Philip saw her. His first impression was that she was clouded in the same wonderful hair that had gone into the making of the golden snare. It billowed over her arms and breast to her hips, aflame with the living fires of the reflected sun. His second impression was that his entrance had interrupted her while she was dressing and that she was benumbed with astonishment as she stared at him. He caught the white gleam of her bare shoulders under her hair. And then, with a shock, he saw what was in her face.

It turned his blood cold. It was the look of a soul that had been tortured. Agony and doubt burned in the eyes that were looking at him. He had never seen such eyes. They were like violet amethysts. Her face was dead white. It was beautiful. And she was young. She was not over twenty, it flashed upon him--but she had gone through a hell.

"Don't let me alarm you," he said, speaking gently. "I am Philip Raine of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police."

It did not surprise him that she made no answer. As plainly as if she had spoken it he had in those few swift moments read the story in her face. His heart choked him as he waited for her lips to move. It was a mystery to him afterward why he accepted the situation so utterly as he stood there. He had no question to ask, and there was no doubt in his mind. He knew that he would kill Bram Johnson when the moment arrived.

The girl had not seemed to breathe, but now she drew in her breath in a great gasp. He could see the sudden throb of her breast under her hair, but the frightened light did not leave her eyes even when he repeated the words he had spoken. Suddenly she ran to the window, and Philip saw the grip of her hands at the sill as she looked out. Through the gate Bram was driving his wolves. When she faced him again, her eyes had in them the look of a creature threatened by a whip. It amazed and startled him. As he advanced a step she cringed back from him. It struck him then that her face was like the face of an angel--filled with a mad horror. She reached out her bare arms to hold him back, and a strange pleading cry came from her lips.

The cry stopped him like a shot. He knew that she had spoken to him. And yet he had not understood! He tore open his coat and the sunlight fell on his bronze insignia of the Service. Its effect on her amazed him even more than had her sudden fear of him. It occurred to him suddenly that with a two weeks' ragged growth of beard on his face he must look something like a beast himself. She had feared him, as she feared Bram, until she saw the badge.

"I am Philip Raine, of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police," he repeated again. "I have come up here especially to help you, if you need help. I could have got Bram farther back, but there was a reason why I didn't want him until I found his cabin. That reason was you. Why are you here with a madman and a murderer?"

She was watching him intently. Her eyes were on his lips, and into her face--white a few moments before--had risen swiftly a flush of color. He saw the dread die out of her eyes in a new and dazzling excitement. Outside they could hear Bram. The girl turned again and looked through the window. Then she began talking, swiftly and eagerly, in a language that was as strange to Philip as the mystery of her presence in Bram Johnson's cabin. She knew that he could not understand, and suddenly she came up close to him and put a finger to his lips, and then to her own, and shook her head. He could fairly feel the throb of her excitement. The astounding truth held him dumb. She was trying to make him comprehend something--in a language which he had never heard before in all his life. He stared at her--like an idiot he told himself afterward.

And then the shuffle of Bram's heavy feet sounded just outside the door. Instantly the old light leapt into the girl's eyes. Before the door could open she had darted into the room from which she had first appeared, her hair floating about her in a golden cloud as she ran.

The door opened, and Bram entered. At his heels, beyond the threshold, Philip caught a glimpse of the pack glaring hungrily into the cabin. Bram was burdened under the load he had brought from the sledge. He dropped it to the floor, and without looking at Philip his eyes fastened themselves on the door to the inner room.

They stood there for a full minute, Bram as if hypnotized by the door, and Philip with his eyes on Bram. Neither moved, and neither made a sound. A curtain had dropped over the entrance to the inner room, and beyond that they could hear the girl moving about. A dozen emotions were fighting in Philip. If he had possessed a weapon he would have ended the matter with Bram then, for the light that was burning like a strange flame in the wolf-man's eyes convinced him that he had guessed the truth. Bare-handed he was no match for the giant madman. For the first time he let his glance travel cautiously about the room. Near the stove was a pile of firewood. A stick of this would do--when the opportunity came.

And then, in a way that made him almost cry out, every nerve in his body was startled. The girl appeared in the doorway, a smile on her lips and her eyes shining radiantly--straight at Bram! She partly held out her arms, and began talking. She seemed utterly oblivious of Philip's presence. Not a word that she uttered could he understand. It was not Cree or Chippewyan or Eskimo. It was not French or German or any tongue that he had ever heard. Her voice was pure and soft. It trembled a little, and she was breathing quickly. But the look in her face that had at first horrified him was no longer there. She had braided her hair and had coiled the shining strands on the crown of her head, and the coloring in her face was like that of a rare painting. In these astounding moments he knew that such color and such hair did not go with any race that had ever bred in the northland. From her face, even as her lips spoke, he looked at Bram. The wolf-man was transfigured. His strange eyes were shining, his heavy face was filled with a dog- like joy, and his thick lips moved as if he was repeating to himself what the girl was saying.

Was it possible that he understood her? Was the strange language in which she was speaking common between them! At first Philip thought that it must be so--and all the horrors of the situation that he had built up for himself fell about him in confusing disorder. The girl, as she stood there now, seemed glad that Bram had returned; and with a heart choking him with its suspense he waited for Bram to speak, and act.

When the girl ceased speaking the wolf-man's response came in a guttural cry that was like a paean of triumph. He dropped on his knees beside the dunnage bag and mumbling thickly as he worked he began emptying its contents upon the floor.

Philip looked at the girl. She was looking at him now. Her hands were clutched at her breast, and in her face and attitude there was a wordless entreaty for him to understand. The truth came to him like a flash. For some reason she had forced herself to appear that way to the wolf-man. She had forced herself to smile, forced the look of gladness into her face, and the words from her lips. And now she was trying to tell him what it meant, and pointing to Bram as he knelt with his huge head and shoulders bent over the dunnage bag on the floor she exclaimed in a low, tense voice:

"Tossi--tossi--han er tossi!"

It was useless. He could not understand, and it was impossible for him to hide the bewilderment in his face. All at once an inspiration came to him. Bram's back was toward him, and he pointed to the sticks of firewood. His pantomime was clear. Should he knock the wolf-man's brains out as he knelt there?

He could see that his question sent a thrill of alarm through her. She shook her head. Her lips formed strange words, and looking again at Bram she repeated, "Tossi--tossi--han er tossi!" She clasped her hands suddenly to her head then. Her slim fingers buried themselves in the thick braids of her hair. Her eyes dilated--and suddenly understanding flashed upon him. She was telling him what he already knew--that Bram Johnson was mad, and he repeated after her the "Tossi-tossi," tapping his forehead suggestively, and nodding at Bram. Yes, that was it. He could see it in the quick intake of her breath and the sudden expression of relief that swept over her face. She had been afraid he would attack the wolf-man. And now she was glad that he understood he was not to harm him.

If the situation had seemed fairly clear to him a few minutes before it had become more deeply mysterious than ever now. Even as the wolf-man rose from his knees, still mumbling to himself in incoherent exultation, the great and unanswerable question pounded in Philip's brain: "Who was this girl, and what was she to Bram Johnson--the crazed outlaw whom she feared and yet whom she did not wish him to harm?"

And then he saw her staring at the things which Bram had sorted out on the floor. In her eyes was hunger. It was a living, palpitant part of her now as she stared at the things which Bram had taken from the dunnage bag--as surely as Bram's madness was a part of him. As Philip watched her he knew that slowly the curtain was rising on the tragedy of the golden snare. In a way the look that he saw in her face shocked him more than anything that he had seen in Bram's. It was as if, in fact, a curtain had lifted before his eyes revealing to him an unbelievable truth, and something of the hell through which she had gone. She was hungry--FOR SOMETHING THAT WAS NOT FLESH! Swiftly the thought flashed upon him why the wolf-man had traveled so far to the south, and why he had attacked him for possession of his food supply. It was that he might bring these things to the girl. He knew that it was sex-pride that restrained the impulse that was pounding in every vein of her body. She wanted to fling herself down on her knees beside that pile of stuff--but she remembered HIM! Her eyes met his, and the shame of her confession swept in a crimson flood into her face. The feminine instinct told her that she had betrayed herself--like an animal, and that he must have seen in her for a moment something that was almost like Bram's own madness.

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CHAPTER XUntil he felt the warm thrill of the girl's arm under his hand Philip did not realize the hazard he had taken. He turned suddenly to confront Bram. He would not have known then that the wolf-man was mad, and impulsively he reached out a hand."Bram, she's starving," he cried. "I know now why you wanted that stuff! But why didn't you tell me! Why don't you talk, and let me know who she is, and why she is here, and what you want me to do?"He waited, and Bram stared at him without a sound."I tell you I'm a
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CHAPTER VIIIIt must have been fully half a minute that Bram stood like a living creature turned suddenly into dead stone. His eyes had left Philip's face and were fixed on the woven tress of shining hair. For the first time his thick lips had fallen agape. He did not seem to breathe. At the end of the thirty seconds his hand unclenched from about the whip and the club and they fell into the snow. Slowly, his eyes still fixed on the snare as if it held for him an overpowering fascination, he advanced a step, and then another, until
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