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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFlower Of The North - Chapter 17
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Flower Of The North - Chapter 17 Post by :rlscott Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :2418

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Flower Of The North - Chapter 17

Chapter XVII

He was an old man. Beard and hair were white. He was as tall as Philip; his shoulders were broader; his chest massive; and as he stood under the light of one of the hanging lamps, his face shining with a pale glow, one hand upon his breast, the other extended, it seemed to Philip that all of the greatness and past glory of Fort o' God, whatever they may have been, were personified in the man he beheld. He was dressed in soft buckskin, like Pierre. His hair and beard grew in wild disorder, and from under shaggy eyebrows there burned a pair of deep-set eyes of the color of blue steel. He was a man to inspire awe; old, and yet young; white-haired, gray-faced, and yet a giant. One might have expected from between his bearded lips a voice as thrilling as his appearance; a rumbling voice, deep-chested, sonorous--and it would have caused no surprise. It was the voice that surprised Philip more than the man. It was low, and trembling with an agitation which even strength and pride could not control.

"Philip Whittemore, I am Henry d'Arcambal. May God bless you for what you have done!"

A hand of iron gripped his own. And then, before Philip had found words to say, the master of Fort o' God suddenly placed his arms about his shoulders and embraced him. Their shoulders touched. Their faces were close. The two men who loved Jeanne d'Arcambal above all else on earth gazed for a silent moment into each other's eyes.

"They have told me," said D'Arcambal, softly. "You have brought my Jeanne home through death. Accept a father's blessing, and with it--this!"

He stepped back, and swept his arms about the great room.

"Everything--everything--would have gone with her," he said. "If you had let her die, I should have died. My God, what peril she was in! In saving her you saved me. So you are welcome here, as a son. For the first time since my Jeanne was a babe Fort o' God offers itself to a man who is a stranger and its hospitality is yours so long as its walls hang together. And as they have done this for upward of two hundred years, M'sieur Philip, we may conclude that our friendship is to be without end."

He clasped Philip's hands again, and two tears coursed down his gray cheeks. It was difficult for Philip to restrain the joy his words produced, which, coming from the lips of Jeanne's father, lifted him suddenly into a paradise of hope. For many reasons he had come to expect a none too warm reception at Fort o' God; he had looked ahead to the place with a grim sort of fear, scarcely definable; and here Jeanne's father was opening his arms to him. Pierre was unapproachable; Jeanne herself was a mystery, filling him alternately with hope and despair; D'Arcambal had accepted him as a son. He could find no words adequate to his emotion; none that could describe his own happiness, unless it was in a bold avowal of his love for the girl he had saved. And this his good sense told him not to make, at the present moment.

"Any man would have done as much for your daughter," he said at last, "and I am happy that I was the fortunate one to render her assistance."

"You are wrong," said D'Arcambal, taking him by the arm. "You are one out of a thousand. It takes a MAN to go through the Big Thunder and come out at the other end alive. I know of only one other who has done that in the last twenty years, and that other is Henry d'Arcambal himself. We three, you, Jeanne, and I, have alone triumphed over those monsters of death. All others have died. It seems like a strange pointing of the hand of God."

Philip trembled.

"We three!" he exclaimed.

"We three," said the old man, "and for that reason you are a part of Fort o' God."

He led Philip deeper into the great room, and Philip saw that almost all the space along the walls of the huge room was occupied by shelves upon shelves of books, masses of papers, piles of magazines shoulder-high, scores of maps and paintings. The massive table was covered with books; there were piles on smaller tables; chairs, and the floor itself, covered with the skins of a score of wild beasts, were littered with them. At the far end of the room he saw deeper and darker shelves, where gleamed faintly in the lamplight row upon row of vials and bottles and strange instruments of steel and glass. A scientist in the wilderness--a student exiled in a desolation! These were the thoughts that leaped into his mind, and he knew that in this room Jeanne had been created; that here, between these centuries-old walls, amid an environment of strange silence, of whispering age, her visions of the world had come. Here, separated from all her kind, God, Nature, and a father had made her of their handiwork.

The old man pointed Philip to a chair near the large table, and sat down close to him. At his feet was a stool covered with silvery lynx-skin, and D'Arcambal looked at this, his strong, grim face relaxing into a gentle smile of happiness.

"There is where Jeanne sits--at my feet," he said. "It has been her place for many years. When she is not there I am lost. Life ceases. This room has been our world. To-night you are in Fort o' God; to-morrow you will see D'Arcambal House. You have heard of that, perhaps, but never of Fort o' God. That belongs to Jeanne and me, to Pierre--and you. Fort o' God is the heart, the soul, the life's blood of D'Arcambal House. It is this room and two or three others. D'Arcambal House is our barrier. When strangers come, they see D'Arcambal House; plain rooms, of rough wood; quarters such as you have seen at posts and stations; the mask which gives no hint of what is hidden within. It is there that we live to the world; it is here that we live to ourselves. Jeanne has my permission to tell you whatever she wishes, a little later. But I am curious, and being an old man must be humored first. I am still trembling. You must tell me what happened to Jeanne."

For an hour they talked, and Philip went over one by one the events as they had occurred since the fight on the cliff, omitting only such things as he thought that Jeanne and Pierre might wish to keep secret to themselves. At the end of that hour he was certain that D'Arcambal was unaware of the dark cloud that had suddenly come into Jeanne's life. The old man's brow was knitted with deep lines, and his powerful jaws were set hard, as Philip told of the ambush, of the wounding of Pierre, and the flight of his assailants with his daughter. It was to get money, the old man thought. The half-breed had suggested that, and Jeanne herself had given it as her opinion. Why else should they have been attacked at Churchill? Such things had occurred before, he told Philip. The little daughter of the factor at Nelson House had been stolen, and held for ransom. With a hundred questions he wrung from Philip every detail of the second fight and of the struggle for life in the rapids. He betrayed no physical excitement, even in those moments of Philip's description when Jeanne hung between life and death; but in his eyes there was the glow of red-hot fires. At last there came to interrupt them the low, musical tinkling of a bell under the table.

D'Arcambal's face lighted up suddenly.

"Ah, I had forgotten," he exclaimed. "Pardon me, Philip. Dinner has been awaiting us this last half-hour; and besides--"

He reached out and touched a tiny button, which Philip had not observed before.

"I am selfish."

He had hardly ceased speaking when footsteps sounded in the hall, and in spite of every resolution he had made to guard himself against any betrayal of the emotions burning in his breast, Philip sprang to his feet. Jeanne had come in under the glow of the lamps and stood now a dozen feet from him, a vision so exquisitely lovely that he saw nothing of those who entered behind her, nor heard D'Arcambal's low, happy laugh at his side. It seemed to him for a moment as if there had suddenly appeared before him the face of the picture that was turned against the wall, only more beautiful now, radiant with the glow of living flesh and blood. But there was something even more startling than this resemblance. In this moment Jeanne was the fulfilment of his dream; she had come to him from out of another world. She was dressed in an old- fashioned gown of pure white, a fabric so delicate that it seemed to float about her slender form, responsive to every breath she drew. Her white shoulders revealed themselves above masses of filmy lace that fell upon her bosom; her slender arms, girlish rather than womanly in their beauty, were bare. Her hair was bound up in shining coils about her head, with a single flower nestling amid a little cluster of curls that fell upon her neck. After his first movement, Philip recovered himself by a strong effort. He bowed low to conceal the flush in his face. Jeanne swept him a little courtesy, and then ran past him, with the eagerness of any modern child, into the outstretched arms of her father.

Laughter and joy rumbled in the beard of the master of Fort o' God as he looked over Jeanne's head at Philip.

"And this is what you have saved for me," he said.

Then he looked beyond, and for the first time Philip realized there were others in the room. One was Pierre; the other a pretty, dark-faced girl, with hair that glistened like a raven's wing in the lamp-glow.

Jeanne left her father's arms and gave her hand to Philip.

"M'sieur Philip, this is my sister, Mademoiselle Couchee," she cried.

Pierre's sister gave Philip her hand, and behind them D'Arcambal laughed softly in his beard again, and said:

"To-morrow, in D'Arcambal House, you may call her Otille, Philip. But to-night we are in Fort o' God. Oh, Jeanne, Jeanne, what a witch you are!"

"An angel!" breathed Philip, but no one heard him.

"And this witch," added the old man, "you are to take in to supper, M'sieur Philip. To night I suppose that I must call you m'sieur, but to-morrow, when I have on my leather leggings and my skin cap, I will call you Phil, or Tom, Dick, or Harry, just as I please. This is the first time, sir, that my Jeanne has ever gone in to dinner on another arm than mine or Pierre's. And so I may be a little jealous. Proceed."

As Jeanne's hand rested in his arm, and they went into the hall, Philip could not restrain himself from whispering:

"I am glad--of that."

"And the dress, M'sieur Philip!" exclaimed D'Arcambal behind them, in the voice of a happy boy. "It is an honor to escort that, to say nothing of the silly girl that's in it. That dress, sir, belonged to a beautiful lady who was called Camille, and who died over a century ago."

"Father, please do be good!" protested Jeanne. "Remember!"

"Ah, so I will," said her father. "I had forgotten that you were to tell M'sieur Philip these things."

They entered another room illuminated by a single huge lamp suspended above a table spread with silver and fine linen. The room was as great a surprise as the other two had been. It contained no chairs. What Philip mentally designated as benches, with deep cushion seats of greenish leather, were arranged about the table. These same curious seats furnished other parts of the room. From the pictures on the walls to the ancient helmet and cuirass that stood up like a legless sentinel in one corner, this room, like the others, breathed of extreme age. Over a big open fireplace, in which half a dozen birch logs were burning, hung a number of old-fashioned weapons; a flintlock, a pair of obsolete French dueling pistols, a short rapier similar to that which Pierre wore, and two long swords. Philip noticed that about each of the dueling pistols was tied a bow of ribbon, dull and faded, as though the passing of generations had robbed them of beauty and color, to be replaced by the somberness of age.

During the meal Philip could not but observe that Jeanne was laboring under some mysterious strain. Her cheeks were brilliantly flushed, and her eyes were filled with a lustrous brightness that he had never seen in them before. Their beauty was almost feverish. Several times he caught a strange little tremor of her white shoulders, as though a sudden chill had passed through her. He discovered, too, that Pierre was observing these things, and that there was something forced in the half-breed's cheerfulness. But D'Arcambal and Otille seemed completely oblivious of any change. Their happiness overflowed. Philip thought of his last supper at Churchill, with Eileen Brokaw and her father. Miss Brokaw had acted strangely then, and had struggled to hide some secret grief or excitement, as Jeanne was struggling now.

He was glad when the meal was finished, and the master of Fort o' God rose from his seat. At D'Arcambal's movement his eyes caught Jeanne's, and then he saw that Pierre was looking sharply at him.

"Jeanne owes you an apology--and an explanation, M'sieur Philip," said D'Arcambal, resting a hand upon Jeanne's head. "We are going to retire, and she will initiate you into the fold of Fort o' God."

Pierre and Otille followed him from the room. For the first time in an hour Jeanne laughed frankly at Philip.

"There isn't much to explain, M'sieur Philip," she said, rising from her seat. "You know pretty nearly all there is to know about Fort o' God now. Only I am sure that I did not appear to value your confidence very much--a little while ago. It must have seemed ungrateful in me, indeed, to have told you so little about myself and my home, after what you did for Pierre and me. But I have father's permission now. It is the second time that he has ever given it to me."

"And I don't want to hear," exclaimed Philip, bluntly. "I have been more or less of a brute, Miss Jeanne. I know enough about Fort o' God. It is a glorious place. You owe me nothing, and for that reason--"

"But I insist," interrupted the girl. "Do you mean to say that you do not care to listen, when this is the second time in my life that I have had the opportunity of talking about my home? And the first--didn't give me any pleasure. This will."

A shadow came into Jeanne's eyes. She motioned him to a seat beside her in front of the fire. Her nearness, the touch of her dress, the sweet perfume of her presence, thrilled him. He felt that the moment was near when the whole world as he knew it was to slip away from him, leaving him in a paradise, or a chaos of despair. Jeanne looked up at the dueling pistols. The firelight trembled in the soft folds of lace over her bosom; it glistened in her hair, and lighted her face with a gentle glow.

"There isn't much to explain," she said again, in a voice so low that it was hardly more than a whisper. "But what little there is I want you to know, so that when you go away you will understand. More than two hundred years ago a band of gentlemen adventurers were sent over into this country by Prince Rupert to form the Hudson's Bay Company. That is history, and you know more of it, probably, than I. One of these men was Le Chevalier Grosellier. One summer he came up the Churchill, and stopped at the great rock on which we saw the sun setting to-night, and which was called the Sun Rock by the Indians. He was struck by the beauty of the place, and when he went back to France it was with the plan of returning to build himself a chateau in the wilderness. Two or three years later he did this, and called the place Fort o' God. For more than a century, M'sieur, Fort o' God was a place of revel and pleasure in the heart of this desolation. Early in the nineteenth century it passed into the hands of a man by the name of D'Arcy, and it is said that at one time it housed twenty gentlemen and as many ladies of France for one whole season. Its history is obscure, and mostly lost. But for a long time after D'Arcy came it was a place of adventure, of pleasure, and of mystery, very little of which remains to-day. Those are his pistols above the fire. He was killed by one of them out there beside the big rock, in a quarrel with one of his guests over a woman. We think--here--from letters that we have found, that her name was Camille. There is a chest in my room filled with linen that bears her name. This dress came from that chest. I have to be careful of them, as they tear very easily. After D'Arcy the place was almost forgotten and remained so until nearly forty years ago when my father came into possession of it. That, M'sieur, is the very simple story of Fort o' God. Its old name is forgotten. It lives only with us. Others know it as D'Arcambal House."

"Yes, I have heard of that," said Philip.

He waited for Jeanne, and saw that her fingers were nervously twisting a bit of ribbon in her lap.

"Of course, that is uninteresting," she continued. "You can almost guess the rest. We have lived here--alone. Not one of us has ever felt the desire to leave this little world of ours. It is curious --you may scarcely believe what I say--but it is true that we look out upon your big world and laugh at it and dislike it. I guess-- that I have been taught to hate it--since I can remember."

There was a little tremble in Jeanne's voice, an instant's quivering of her chin. Philip looked from her face into the fire, and stared hard, choking back words which were ready to burst from his lips. In place of them he said, with a touch of bitterness in his voice:

"And I have grown to hate my world, Jeanne. It has compelled me to hate it. That is why I spoke to you that night on the cliff at Churchill."

"I have sometimes thought that I have been very wrong," said the girl. "I have never seen this other world. I know nothing of it, except as I have been taught. I have no right to hate it, and yet I do. I have never wanted to see it. I have never cared to know the people who lived in it. I wish that I could understand, but I cannot; except that father has made for us, for Pierre and Otille and me, this little world at Fort o' God, and has taught us to fear the other. I know that there is no other man in the whole world like my father, and that what he has done must be best. It is his pride that we bring your world to our doors, but that we never go to it; he says that we know more about that world than the people who live there, which of course cannot be so. And so we have grown up amid the old memories, the pictures, and the dead romances of Fort o' God. We have taken pleasure in living as we do--in making for ourselves our own little social codes, our childish aristocracy, our make-believe world. It is the spirit of Fort o' God that lives with us, and makes us content; the shadow- faces of men and women who once filled these rooms with life and pleasure, and whose memory seems to have passed into our keeping alone. I know them all; many of their names, all of their faces. I have a daguerreotype of Camille Poitiers, and she must have been very beautiful. There are the tiniest slippers in the world in her chest, and ribbons like those which are tied about the pistols. There is a painting of D'Arcy in your room. It is the picture next to the one that has its face turned to the wall."

She rose to her feet, and Philip stood beside her. There was a mist in her eyes as she held out her hand to him.

"I--I--would like to have you--see that picture," she whispered.

Philip could not speak. He held the hand Jeanne had given him as they passed through the long, dimly lighted halls. At the open door to his room they stopped, and he could feel Jeanne trembling.

"You will tell me--the truth?" she begged, like a child. "You will tell me what you think--of the picture?"

"Yes."

She went in ahead of him and turned the frame so that the face in the picture smiled down upon them in all of its luring loveliness. There was something pathetic in the girl's attitude now. She stood under the picture, facing Philip, and there was a tense eagerness in her eyes, a light that was almost supplication, a crying out of her soul to him in a breathless moment that seemed hovering between pain and joy. It was Jeanne, an older Jeanne, that looked from out of the picture, smiling, inviting admiration, bewildering hi her beauty; it was Jeanne, the child, waiting for him in flesh and blood to speak, her eyes big and dark, her breath coming quickly, her hands buried in the deep lace on her bosom. A low word came to Philip's lips, and then he laughed softly. It was a laugh, almost under his breath, which sweeps up now and then from a soul in a joy--an emotion--which is unutterable in words. But to Jeanne it was different. Her dark eyes grew hurt and wounded, two great tears ran down her paling cheeks, and suddenly she buried her face in her hands and with a sobbing cry turned from him, with her head bowed under the smiling face above.

"And you--you hate it, too!" she sobbed. "They all hate it-- Pierre--father--all--all hate it. It must--it must be bad. They hate her--every one--but me. And--I love her so!"

Her slender form shook with sobs. For a moment Philip stood like one struck dumb. Then he sprang to her and caught her close in his arms.

"Jeanne--Jeanne--listen," he cried. "To-night I looked at that picture before I went to see your father, and I loved it because it is like you. Jeanne, my darling, I love you--I love you--"

She was panting against his breast. He covered her face with kisses. Her sweet lips were not turned from him, and there filled her eyes a sudden light that made him almost sob in his happiness.

"I love you, I love you," he repeated, again and again, and he could find no other words than those.

For an instant her arms clung about his shoulders, and then, suddenly, they strained against him, and she tore herself free, and, with a cry so pathetic that it seemed as though her heart had broken in that moment, she fled from him, and out of the room.

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Chapter XVIIIPhilip stood where Jeanne had left him, his arms half reaching out to the vacant door through which she had fled, his lips parted as if to call her name, and yet motionless, dumb. A moment before he was intoxicated by a joy that was almost madness. He had held Jeanne in his arms; he had looked into her eyes, filled with surrender under his caresses and his avowal of love. For a moment he had possessed her, and now he was alone. The cry that had wrung itself from her lips, breaking in upon his happiness like a blow,
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Chapter XVIThere was a low tremble in Jeanne's voice. The canoe swung broadside to the slow current, and Philip looked in astonishment at the change in Pierre. The tired half-breed had uncovered his head, and knelt with his face turned to that last crimson glow in the sky, like one in prayer. But his eyes were open, there was a smile on his lips, and he was breathing quickly. Pride and joy came where there had been the lines of grief and exhaustion. His shoulders were thrown back, his head erect, and the fire of the distant rock reflected itself in
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