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Flower Of The North - Chapter 13 Post by :ben.g Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :2408

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Flower Of The North - Chapter 13

Chapter XIII

Philip knew that Jeanne was watching him as he lifted the coffee from the fire and placed the pot on the ground to cool. His mind was in a hopeless tangle--a riot of things he would like to say, throbbing with a hundred questions he would like to ask, one after another. And yet Jeanne seemed bewitchingly unconscious of his uneasiness. Not one of his references to names and events so vital to himself had in any way produced a change in her. Was she, after all, innocent of all knowledge in the things he wished to know? Was it possible that she was entirely ignorant as to the identity of the men who had attacked Pierre and herself on the cliff? Was it true that she did not know Eileen Brokaw, that she had never heard of Lord Fitzhugh Lee, and that she had always lived among the wild people of the north? By what miracle performed here in the heart of a savage world could this girl talk to him in German and Latin? Was she making fun of him? He turned to look at her and found her dark, clear eyes upon him. She smiled at him in a tired little way, and he saw nothing but sweetness and truth in her face. In an instant every suspicion was swept away. He felt like a criminal for having doubted her; and for a moment he was on the point of confessing to her what had been in his thoughts. He restrained himself, and went to the river to wash the pot-black from his hands. Jeanne was a mystery to him, a mystery that delighted him and filled him each moment with a deeper love. He saw the life and freedom of the forests in her every movement--in the gesture of her hands, the bird-like poise of her pretty head, the lithe grace of her slender body. She breathed the forests. It glowed in her eyes, in the rich red of her lips, and revealed its beauty and strength in the unconfined wealth of her gold-brown hair. In a dozen ways he could see her primitiveness, her kinship to the wilderness. She had told him the truth. Her eyes smiled truth at him as he came up the bank. No other woman's eyes had ever looked at him like hers; none had he seen so beautiful. And yet in them he saw nothing that she would not have expressed in words--companionship, trust, thankfulness that he was there to care for her. Such eyes as those belonged only to the wilderness, brimming with the flawless beauty of an undefiled nature. He had seen them, but not so beautiful, in Cree women. He thought of Eileen Brokaw's eyes as he looked at Jeanne's. They were very beautiful, but they were DIFFERENT. Jeanne's could not lie.

On a white napkin Jeanne had spread out cold meat, bread, pickles, and cheese, and Philip brought her the coffee. He noticed that she was resting a little of her weight upon her injured ankle.

"Better?" he asked, indicating the bandaged ankle with a nod of his head.

"Much," replied Jeanne, as tersely. "I'm going to try standing upon it in a few minutes. But not now. I'm starved."

She gave him his coffee and began eating with a relish that made him want to sit back and watch her. Instead, he joined her; and they ate like two hungry children. It was when she turned him out a second cup of coffee that Philip noticed her hand tremble a little.

"If Pierre was here we would be quite happy, M'sieur Philip," she said, uneasily. "I can't understand why he asked you to run away with me to Fort o' God. If he is not badly hurt, as you have told me, why do we not hide and wait for him? He would overtake us to-morrow."

"There--there was no time to talk over plans," answered Philip, inwardly embarrassed for a moment by the unexpectedness of Jeanne's question. A vision of Pierre, bleeding and unconscious on the cliff, leaped into his mind, and the thought that he had lied to Jeanne and must still make her believe what was half false sickened him. There was, after all, a chance that Pierre would never again come up the Churchill. "Perhaps Pierre thought we would be hotly pursued," he went on, seeing no escape from the demand in the girl's eyes. "In that event it would be best for me to get you to Fort o' God as quickly as possible. You must remember that Pierre was thinking of you. He can care for himself. It may take him two or three days to get back the strength of--of his arm," he finished, blindly.

"He was wounded in the arm?"

"And on the head," said Philip. "It was only a scalp wound, however--nothing at all, except that it dazed him a little at the time."

Jeanne pointed to the reflection of the fire on the river.

"If we should be pursued?" she suggested.

"There is no danger," assured Philip, though he had left the flap of his revolver holster unbuttoned. "They will search for us between their camp and Churchill."

"Citius venit periculum cum contemnitur," remonstrated Jeanne, half smiling.

She was pale, but Philip saw that she was making a tremendous effort to appear brave and cheerful.

"Perhaps you are right," laughed Philip, "but I swear that I don't know what you mean. I suppose you picked that lingo up among the Indians."

He caught the faintest gleam of Jeanne's white teeth again as she bent her head.

"I have a tutor at home," she explained, softly. "You shall meet him when we reach Fort o' God. He is the most wonderful man in the world."

Her words sent a strange chill through Philip. They were filled with an exquisite tenderness, a pride that sent her eyes back to his, glowing. The questions that he had meant to ask died and faded away. He thought of her words of a few minutes before, when he had asked about Fort o' God. She had said, "My father, Pierre, and I, WITH ONE OTHER, live there alone." The OTHER was the tutor, the man who had come from civilization to teach this beautiful girl those things which had amazed him, and this man was THE MOST WONDERFUL MAN IN THE WORLD. He had no excuse for the feelings which were aroused in him. Only he knew, as he rose to his feet, that a part of his old burden seemed suddenly to have returned to his shoulders, and the old loneliness was beating at the door of his heart. He rearranged the pack in silence, and the strength and joy of life were gone from his arms when he helped Jeanne back to her place among the bear-skins. He did not notice that her eyes were watching him curiously, or that her lips trembled once or twice, as if about to speak words which never came. Jeanne, as well as he, seemed to have discovered something which neither dared to reveal in that last five minutes on the shore.

"There is one thing that I must know," said Philip, when they were about to start, "and that is where to find Fort o' God? Is it on the Churchill?"

"It is on the Little Churchill, M'sieur, near Waskiaowaka Lake."

Darkness concealed the effect of her words upon Philip. For a moment he stared like one struck dumb. He stifled the exclamation that rose to his lips. He felt himself trembling. He knew that if he spoke his voice would betray him.

NEAR WASKIAOWAKA LAKE! And Waskiaowaka was within thirty miles of his own camp on the Blind Indian! If a bomb had burst under his feet he could not have been more amazed than at this information, given to him in Jeanne's quiet voice. Fort o' God--within thirty miles of the scene where very soon he was to fight the great battle of his life! He dug his paddle into the water and sent the canoe hissing up the river. His blood pounded like that of a racehorse on the home-stretch. Of all the things that had happened, of all he had learned, this was the most significant. Every thought ran like a separate powder-flash to a single idea, to one great, overpowering question. Were Fort o' God and its people the key to the plot against himself and his company? Was it the rendezvous of those who were striving to work his ruin? Doubt, suspicion, almost belief came to him in those few moments, in spite of himself.

He looked at Jeanne. The gray dawn was breaking, and now light followed swiftly and dissolved the last mist. In the chill of early morning, when with the approach of the sun a cold, uncomfortable sweat rises heavily from the earth and water, Jeanne had drawn one of the bearskins closely about her. Her head was bare. Her hair, glistening with damp, clung in heavy masses about her face. There was a bewitching childishness about her, a pathetic appeal to him in the forlorn little picture she made--so helpless, and yet so confident in him. Every energy in him leaped up in defiance of the revolution which for a few moments had stirred within him. And Jeanne, as though she had read the working of his mind, looked straight at him and smiled, with a little purring note in her throat that took the place of a thousand words. It was such a smile, and yet not one of love, which puts the strength of ten men in one man's arms; and Philip laughed back at her, every chord in his body responding in joyous vibration to the delicate note that had come with it. No matter what events might find their birth at Fort o' God, Jeanne was innocent of all knowledge of plot or wrong-doing. Once for all Philip convinced himself of this.

The thought that came to him, as he looked at Jeanne, found voice through his lips.

"Do you know," he said, "if I never saw you again I would always have three pictures of you in my memory. I would never forget how you looked when I first saw you on the cliff--or as I see you now, wrapped in your bearskins. Only--I would think of you--as you smiled."

"And the third picture?" questioned Jeanne, little guessing what was in his mind. "Would that be at the fire, when I burned the bad man's neck--or--or when--"

She stopped herself, and pouted her mouth in sudden vexation, while a flush which Philip could easily see rose in her cheeks.

"When I doctored your foot?" he finished, rather unchivalrously, chuckling in his delight at her pretty discomfiture. "No, that wouldn't be the third, Miss Jeanne. The other scene which I shall never forget was that on the stone pier at Churchill, when you met a beautiful girl who was coming off the ship."

The blood leaped to Jeanne's face. Her soft lips tightened. A sudden movement, and the bearskin slipped from her shoulders, leaving her leaning a little forward, her eyes blazing. A dozen words had transformed her from the child he had fancied her to a woman quivering with some powerful emotion, her beautiful head proud and erect, her nostrils dilating with the quickness of her breath.

"That was a mistake," she said. There was no sign of passion in her voice. It trembled a little, but that was all. "It was a mistake, M'sieur Philip. I thought that I knew her, and--and I was wrong. You--you must not remember THAT!"

"I am no better than a wild beast," groaned Philip, hating himself. "I'm the biggest idiot in the world when it comes to saying the wrong thing, I never miss a chance. I didn't mean to say anything--that would hurt--"

"You haven't," interrupted the girl, quickly, seeing the distress in his face. "You haven't said a thing that's wrong. Only I don't want you to remember THAT picture. I want you to think of me as-- as--I burned the bad man's neck."

She was laughing now, though her breast was rising and falling a little excitedly and the deep color was still in her cheeks.

"Will you?" she entreated.

"Until I die," he exclaimed.

She was fumbling under the luggage, and dragged forth a second paddle.

"I've had an easy time with you, M'sieur Philip," she said, turning so that she was kneeling with her back to him. "Pierre makes me work. Always I kneel here, in the bow, and paddle. I am ashamed of myself. You have worked all night."

"And I feel as fresh as though I had slept for a week," declared Philip, his eyes devouring the slim figure a paddle's length in front of him.

For an hour they continued up the river, with scarcely a word between them to break the silence. Their paddles rose and fell with a rhythmic motion; the water rippled like low music under their canoe; the spell of the silent shores, of voiceless beauty, of the wilderness awakening into day appealed to them both and held them quiet. The sun broke faintly through the drawn mists behind. Its first rays lighted up Jeanne's rumpled hair, so that her heavy braid, partly undone and falling upon the luggage behind her, shone in rich and changing colors that fascinated Philip. He had thought that Jeanne's hair was very dark, but he saw now that it was filled with the rare life of a Titian head, running from red to gold and dark brown, with changing shadows and flashes of light. It was beautiful. And Jeanne, as he looked at her, he thought to be the most beautiful thing on earth. The movement of her arms, the graceful, sinuous twists of her slender body as she put her strength upon the paddle, the poise of her head, the piquant tilt to her chin whenever she turned so that he caught a half profile of her flushed, eager face all filled his cup of admiration to overflowing. And he found himself wondering, suddenly, how this girl could be a sister to Pierre Couchee. He saw in her no sign of French or half-breed blood. Her hair was fine and soft, and waved about her ears and where it fell loose upon the back. The color in her cheeks was as delicate as the tints of the bakneesh flower. She had rolled up her broad cuffs to give her greater freedom in paddling, and her arms shone white and firm, glistening with the wet drip of the paddle. He was marveling at her relationship to Pierre when she looked back at him, her face aglow with exercise and the spice of the morning, and he saw the sunlight as blue as the sky above him in her eyes. If he had not known, he would have sworn that there was not a drop of Pierre's blood in her veins.

"We are coming to the first rapids, M'sieur Philip," she announced. "It is just beyond that ugly mountain of rock ahead of us, and we will have a quarter-mile portage. It is filled with great stones and so swift that Pierre and I nearly wrecked ourselves coming down."

It was the most that had been said since the beginning of that wonderful hour that had come before the first gleam of sunrise, and Philip, laying his paddle athwart the canoe, stretched himself and yawned, as though he had just awakened.

"Poor boy," said Jeanne; and it struck him that her words were strangely like those which Eileen might have spoken had she been there, only an artless comradeship replaced what would have been Miss Brokaw's tone of intimacy. She added, with genuine sympathy in her face and voice: "You must be exhausted, M'sieur Philip. If you were Pierre I should insist upon going ashore for a number of hours. Pierre obeys me when we are together. He calls me his captain. Won't you let me command you?"

"If you will let me call you--my captain," replied Philip. "Only there is one thing--one reservation. We must go on. Command me in everything else, but we must go on--for a time. To-night I will sleep. I will sleep like the dead. So, My Captain," he laughed, "may I have your permission to work to-day?"

Jeanne was turning the bow shoreward. Her back was turned to him again.

"You have no pity on me," she pouted. "Pierre would be good to me, and we would fish all day in that pretty pool over there. I'll bet it's full of trout."

Her words, her manner of speaking them, was a new revelation to Philip. She was delightful. He laughed, and his voice rang out in the clear morning like a school-boy's. Jeanne pretended that she saw nothing to laugh at, and no sooner had the canoe touched shore than she sprang lightly out, not waiting for his assistance. With a laughing cry, she stumbled and fell. Philip was at her side in an instant.

"You shouldn't have done that," he objected. "I am your doctor, and I insist that your foot is not well."

"But it is!" cried Jeanne, and he saw that there was laughter instead of pain in her eyes. "It's the bandage. My right foot feels like that of a Chinese debutante. Ugh! I'm going to undo it."

"You've been to China, too," mused Philip, half to himself.

"I know that it's filled with yellow girls, and that they squeeze their feet like this," said Jeanne, unlacing her moccasin. "My tutor and I have just finished a delightful trip along the Great Wall. We'd go to Peking, in an automobile, if I wasn't afraid."

Philip's groan was audible. He went to the canoe, and Jeanne's red lips curled in a merriment which it was hard for her too suppress. Philip did not see. When he had unloaded the canoe and turned, Jeanne was walking slowly back and forth, limping a little.

"It's all right," she said, answering the question on his lips. "I don't feel any pain at all, but my foot's asleep. Won't you please unstrap the small pack? I'm going to make my toilet while you are gone with the canoe."

Half an hour later Philip unshouldered the canoe at the upper end of the rapids. His own toilet articles were back in the cabin with Gregson, but he took a wash in the river and combed his hair with his fingers. When he returned, there was a transformation in Jeanne. Her beautiful hair was done up in shining coils. She had changed her bedraggled skirt for another of soft, yellow buckskin. At her throat she wore a fluffy mass of crimson stuff which seemed to reflect a richer rose-flush in her cheeks. A curious thought came to Philip as he looked at her. Like a flash the memory of a certain night came to him--when it had taken Miss Brokaw and her maid two hours to make a toilet for a ball. And Jeanne, in the heart of a wilderness, had made herself more beautiful than Eileen. He imagined, as she stood before him, a little embarrassed by the admiration in his eyes, the sensation Jeanne would create in a ballroom at home. And then he laughed--laughed joyously at thoughts which he could not reveal to Jeanne, and which she, by some quick intuition, knew that she should not ask him to express.

Twice again Philip made the portage, accompanied the second time by Jeanne, who insisted on carrying a small pack and two paddles. In spite of his determination and splendid physique, Philip began to feel the effects of the tremendous strain which he had been under for so long. He counted back and found that he had slept but six hours in the last forty-eight. There was a warning ache in his shoulders and a gnawing pain in the bones of his forearms. But he knew that he had not yet made sufficient headway up the Churchill. It would not be difficult for him to make a camp far enough back in the bush to avoid discovery; but, at the same time, if he and Jeanne were pursued, the stop would give their enemies a chance to get ahead of them. This danger he wished to escape.

He flattered himself that Jeanne saw no signs of his weakening. He did not know that Jeanne put more and more effort into her paddle, until her arms and body ached, because she saw the truth.

The Churchill narrowed and its current became swifter as they progressed. Five portages were made between sunrise and eleven o'clock. They ate dinner at the fifth, and rested for two hours. Then the journey was resumed. It was three o'clock when Jeanne dropped her paddle and turned to Philip. There were deep lines in his face. He smiled, but there was more of haggard misery than cheer in the smile. There was an unnatural flush in his cheeks, and he began to feel a burning pain where the blow had fallen upon his head before. For a full half-minute Jeanne looked at him without speaking. "Philip," she said--and it was the first time she had spoken his name in this way, "I insist upon going ashore immediately. If you do not land--now--in that opening ahead, I shall jump out, and you can go on alone."

"As you say--my Captain Jeanne," surrendered Philip, a little dizzily.

Jeanne guided the canoe to the shore, and was the first to spring out, while Philip steadied the light craft with his paddle. She pointed to the luggage.

"We will want the tent--everything," she said, "because we are going to camp here until to-morrow."

Once on shore, Philip's dizziness left him. He pulled the canoe high up on the bank, and then Jeanne and he set off, side by side, to explore the high, wooded ground back from the river. They followed a well-worn moose trail, and two or three hundred yards from the stream came upon a small opening cluttered by great rocks and surrounded by clumps of birch, spruce, and banskian pine. The moose trail crossed this rough open space; and, following it to the opposite side, Philip and Jeanne came upon a clear, rippling little stream, scarcely two yards in width, hidden in places under thick caribou moss and jungles of seedling pines. It was an ideal camping spot, and Jeanne gave a little cry of delight when they found the cold water of the creek.

Philip then returned to the river, concealed the canoe, covered up all traces of their landing, and began to carry the camping outfit back to the open. The small silk tent for Jeanne's use he set up in a little grassy corner of the clearing, and built their fire a dozen paces from it. With a sort of thrilling pleasure he began cutting balsam boughs for Jeanne's bed. He cut armful after armful, and it was growing dusk in the forest by the time he was done. In the glow and the heat of the fire Jeanne's cheeks were as pink as an apple. She had turned a big flat rock into a table, and as she busied herself about this she burst suddenly into a soft ripple of song; then, remembering that it was not Pierre who was near her, she stopped. Philip, with his last armful of bedding, was directly behind her, and he laughed happily at her over the green mass of balsam when she turned and saw him looking at her.

"You like this?" he asked.

"It is glorious!" cried Jeanne, her eyes flashing. She seemed to grow taller before him, and stood with her head thrown back, lips parted, gazing upon the wilderness about her. "It is glorious!" she repeated, breathing deeply. "There is nothing in the whole world that could make me give this up, M'sieur Philip. I was born in it. I want to die in it. Only--"

Her face clouded for a moment as her eyes rested upon his.

"Your civilization is coming north to spoil it all," she added, and turned to the rock table.

Philip dropped his load.

"Supper is ready," she said, and the cloud had passed.

It was Jeanne's first reference to his own people, to the invasion of civilization into the north, and there recurred to Philip the words in which she had cried out her hatred against Churchill. But Jeanne did not betray herself again. She was quiet while they were eating, and Philip saw that she was very tired. When they had finished, they sat for a few minutes watching the lowering flames of the fire. Darkness had gathered about them. Their faces and the rock were illumined more and more faintly as the embers died down. A silence fell upon them. In the banskians close behind them an owl hooted softly, a cautious, drumming note, as though the night- bird possessed still a fear of the newly dead day. The brush gave out sound--voices infinitesimally small, strange quiverings, rustlings that might have been made by wind, by breath, by shadows, almost. Overhead the tips of the spruce and tall pines whispered among themselves, as they never commune by day. Spirits seemed to move among them, sending down to Jeanne's and Philip's listening ears a restful, sleepy murmur. Farther back there sounded a deep sniff, where a moose, traveling the well-worn trail, stopped in sudden fear and wonder at the strange man-scent which came to its nostrils. And still farther, from some little lake nameless and undiscovered in the black depths of the forest to the south, a great northern loon sent out its cowardly cry of defiance to all night things, and then plunged deep under water, as though frightened into the depths by its own mad jargon. The fire died lower. Philip moved a little nearer to the girl, whose breathing he could hear.

"Jeanne," he said, softly, fighting to keep himself from touching her hand, "I know what you mean--I understand. Two years ago I gave up civilization for this. I am glad that I wrote to you as I did, for now you will believe me and know that I understand. I love this world up here as you love it. I am never going back again."

Jeanne was silent.

"But there is one thing, at least one--which I cannot understand in you," he went on, nerving himself for what might come a moment later. "You are of this world--you hate civilization--and yet you have brought a man into the north to teach you its ways. I mean this man who you say is the most wonderful man in the world."

He waited, trembling. It seemed an eternity before Jeanne answered. And then she said:

"He is my father, M'sieur Philip."

Philip could not speak. Darkness hid him from Jeanne. She did not see that which leaped into his face, and that for a moment he was on the point of flinging himself at her feet.

"You spoke of yourself, of Pierre, of your father, and of one other at Fort o' God," said Philip. "I thought that he--the other --was your tutor."

"No, it is Pierre's sister," replied Jeanne.

"Your sister! You have a sister?"

He could hear Jeanne catch her breath.

"Listen, M'sieur,'" she said, after a moment. "I must tell you a little about Pierre, a story of something that happened a long, long time ago. It was in the middle of a terrible winter, and Pierre was then a boy. One day he was out hunting and he came upon a trail--the trail of a woman who had dragged herself through the snow in her moccasined feet. It was far out upon a barren, where there was no life, and he followed. He found her, M'sieur, and she was dead. She had died from cold and starvation. An hour sooner he might have saved her, for, wrapped up close against her breast, he found a little child--a baby girl, and she was alive. He brought her to Fort o' God, M'sieur--to a noble man who lived there almost alone; and there, through all these years, she has lived and grown up. And no one knows who her mother was, or who her father was, and so it happens that Pierre, who found her, is her brother, and the man who has loved her and cared for her is her father."

"And she is the other at Fort o' God--Pierre's sister," said Philip.

Jeanne rose from the rock and moved toward the tent, glimmering indistinctly in the night. Her voice came back chokingly.

"No, M'sieur. Pierre's real sister is at Fort o' God. I am the one whom he found out on the barren."

To the night sounds there was added a heart-broken sob, and Jeanne disappeared in the tent.

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Flower Of The North - Chapter 14 Flower Of The North - Chapter 14

Flower Of The North - Chapter 14
Chapter XIVPhilip sat where Jeanne had left him. He was powerless to move or to say a word that might have recalled her. Her own grief, quivering in that one piteous sob, overwhelmed him. It held him mute and listening, with the hope that each instant the tent-flap might open and Jeanne reappear. And yet if she came he had no words to say. Unwittingly he had probed deep into one of those wounds that never heal, and he realized that to ask forgiveness would be but another blunder. He almost groaned as he thought of what he had done. In

Flower Of The North - Chapter 12 Flower Of The North - Chapter 12

Flower Of The North - Chapter 12
Chapter XIIThe canoe ran among the reeds, with its bow to the shore. Philip's astonishment still held him motionless."A little while ago you asked me if I would tell you anything but --but--the truth," he stammered, trying to find words to express himself, "and this--""Is the truth," interrupted Jeanne, a little coolly. "Why should I tell you an untruth, M'sieur?"Philip had asked himself that same question shortly after their first meeting on the cliff. And now in the girl's question there was sounded a warning for him to be more discreet."I did not mean that," he cried, quickly. "Please forgive me.