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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFlower Of The North - Chapter 7
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Flower Of The North - Chapter 7 Post by :mrtwist Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :872

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Flower Of The North - Chapter 7

Chapter VII

Philip stood undecided, his ears strained to catch the slightest sound. Ten minutes had not elapsed since he had dropped the handkerchief. Pierre could not have gone far among the rocks. It was possible that he was concealed somewhere near him now. Softly he called his name.

"Pierre--ho, Pierre Couchee!"

There was no answer, and in the next breath he was sorry that he had called. He went silently down the trail. He had come to the edge of Churchill when once more he heard the howl of the dog far back in the forest. He stopped to locate as nearly as he could the point whence the sound came, for he was certain now that the dog had not returned with Pierre, but had remained with Jeanne, and was howling from their camp.

Gregson was awake and sitting on the edge of his bunk when Philip entered the cabin.

"Where the deuce have you been?" he demanded. "I was just trying to make up my mind to go out and hunt for you. Stolen--lost--or something like that?"

"I've been thinking," said Philip, truthfully.

"So have I," said Gregson. "Ever since you came back, wrote that letter, and went out again--"

"You were asleep," corrected Philip. "I looked at you."

"Perhaps I was--when you looked. But I have a hazy recollection of you sitting there at the table, writing like a fiend. Anyway, I've been thinking ever since you went out of the door, and--I'd like to read that Lord Fitzhugh letter again."

Philip handed him the letter. He was quite sure from his friend's manner of speaking that he had seen nothing of the handkerchief and the lace.

Gregson seized the paper lazily, yawned, and slipped it under the blanket which he had doubled up for a pillow.

"Do you mind if I keep it for a few days. Phil?" he asked.

"Not in the least, if you'll tell me why you want it," said Philip.

"I will--when I discover a reason myself," replied his friend, coolly, stretching himself out again in the bunk. "Remember when I dreamed that Carabobo planter was sticking a knife into you, Phil?--and the next day he tried it? Well, I've had a funny dream, I want to sleep on this letter. I may want to sleep on it for a week. Better turn in if you expect to get a wink between now and morning."

For half an hour after he had undressed and extinguished the light Philip lay awake reviewing the incidents of his night's adventure. He was certain that his letter was in the hands of Pierre and Jeanne, but he was not so sure that they would respond to it. He half expected that they would not, and yet he felt a deep sense of satisfaction in what he had done. If he met them again he would not be quite a stranger. And that he would meet them he was not only confident, but determined. If they did not appear in Fort Churchill he would hunt out their camp.

He found himself asking a dozen questions, none of which he could answer. Who was this girl who had come like a queen from out of the wilderness, and this man who bore with him the manner of a courtier? Was it possible, after all, that they were of the forests? And where was Fort o' God? He had never heard of it before, and as he thought of Jeanne's strange, rich dress, of the heliotrope-scented handkerchief, of the old-fashioned rapier at Pierre's side, and of the exquisite grace with which the girl had left him he wondered if such a place as this Fort o' God must be could exist in the heart of the desolate northland. Pierre had said that they had come from Fort o' God. But were they a part of it?

He fell asleep, the resolution formed in his mind to investigate as soon as he found the opportunity. There would surely be those at Churchill who would know these people; if not, they would know of Fort o' God.

Philip found Gregson awake and dressed when he rolled out of his bunk a few hours later. Gregson had breakfast ready.

"You're a good one to have company," growled the artist. "When you go out mooning again please take me along, will you? Chuck your head in that pail of water and let's eat. I'm starved."

Philip noticed that his companion had tacked the sketch against one of the logs above the table.

"Pretty good for imagination, Greggy," he said, nodding. "Burke will jump at that if you do it in colors."

"Burke won't get it," replied Gregson, soberly, seating himself at the table. "It won't be for sale."

"Why?"

Gregson waited until Philip had seated himself before he answered.

"Look here, old man--get ready to laugh. Split your sides, if you want to. But it's God's truth that the girl I saw yesterday is the only girl I've ever seen that I'd be willing to die for!"

"To be sure," agreed Philip. "I understand."

Gregson stared at him in surprise. "Why don't you laugh?" he asked.

"It is not a laughing matter," said Philip. "I say that I understand. And I do."

Gregson looked from Philip's face to the picture.

"Does it--does it hit you that way, Phil?"

"She is very beautiful."

"She is more than that," declared Gregson, warmly. "If I ever looked into an angel's face it was yesterday, Phil. For just a moment I met her eyes--"

"And they were--"

"Wonderful!"

"I mean--the color," said Philip, engaging himself with the food.

"They were blue or gray. It is the first time I ever looked into a woman's eyes without being sure of the color of them. It was her hair, Phil--not this tinsel sort of gold that makes you wonder if it's real, but the kind you dream about. You may think me a loon, but I'm going to find out who she is and where she is as soon as I have done with this breakfast."

"And Lord Fitzhugh?"

A shadow passed over Gregson's face. For a few moments he ate in silence. Then he said:

"That's what kept me awake after you had gone--thinking of Lord Fitzhugh and this girl. See here, Phil. She isn't one of the kind up here. There was breeding and blood in every inch of her, and what I am wondering is if these two could be associated in any way. I don't want it to be so. But--it's possible. Beautiful young women like her don't come, traveling up to this knob-end of the earth alone, do they?"

Philip did not pursue the subject. A quarter of an hour later the two young men left the cabin, crossed the ridge, and walked together down into Churchill. Gregson went to the Company's store, while Philip entered the building occupied by Pearce. Pearce was at his desk. He looked up with tired, puffy eyes, and his fat hands lay limply before him. Philip knew that he had not been to bed. His oily face strove to put on an appearance of animation and business as Philip entered.

Philip produced a couple of cigars and took a chair opposite him.

"You look bushed, Pearce," he began. "Business must be rushing. I saw a light in your window after midnight, and I came within an ace of calling. Thought you wouldn't like to be interrupted, so I put off my business until this morning."

"Insomnia," said Pearce, huskily. "I can't sleep. Suppose you saw me at work through the window?" There was almost an eager haste in his question.

"Saw nothing but the light," replied Philip, carelessly. "You know this country pretty well, don't you, Pearce?"

"Been 'squatting' on prospects for eight years, waiting for this damned railroad," said Pearce, interlacing his thick fingers. "I guess I know it!"

"Then you can undoubtedly tell me the location of Fort o' God?"

"Fort o' What?"

"Fort o' God."

Pearce looked blank.

"It's a new one on me," he said, finally. "Never heard of it." He rose from his chair and went over to a big map hanging against the wall. Studiously he went over it with the point of his stubby forefinger. "This is the latest from the government," he continued, with his back to Philip, "but it ain't here. There's a God's Lake down south of Nelson House, but that's the only thing with a God about it north of fifty-three."

"It's not so far south as that," said Philip, rising.

Pearce's little eyes were fixed on him shrewdly.

"Never heard of it," he repeated. "What sort of a place is it, a post--"

"I have no idea," replied Philip. "I came for information more out of curiosity than anything else. Perhaps I misunderstood the name. I'm much obliged."

He left Pearce in his chair and went directly to the factor's quarters. Bludsoe, chief factor of the Hudson's Bay Company in the far north, could give him no more information than had Pearce. He had never heard of Fort o' God. He could not remember the name of Couchee. During the next two hours Philip talked with French, Indian, and half-breed trappers, and questioned the mail runner, who had come in that morning from the south. No one could tell him of Fort o' God.

Had Pierre lied to him? His face flushed with anger as this thought came to him. In the next breath he assured himself that Pierre was not a man who would lie. He had measured him as a man who would fight, and not one who would lie. Besides, he had voluntarily given the information that he and Jeanne were from Fort o' God. There had been no excuse for falsehood.

He purposely directed his movements so that he would not come into contact with Gregson, little dreaming that his artist friend was working under the same formula. He lunched with the factor, and a little later went boldly back to the cliff where he had met Jeanne and Pierre the preceding night. Although he had now come to expect no response to what he had written, he carefully examined the rocks about him. Then he set out through the forest in the direction from which had come the howling of the wolf-dog.

He searched until late in the afternoon, but found no signs of a recent camp. For several miles he followed the main trail that led northward from Fort Churchill. He crossed three times through the country between this trail and the edge of the Bay, searching for smoke from the top of every ridge that he climbed, listening for any sound that might give him a clue. He visited the shack of an old half-breed deep in the forest beyond the cliff, but its aged tenant could give him no information. He had not seen Pierre and Jeanne, nor had he heard the howling of their dog.

Tired and disappointed, Philip returned to Churchill. He went directly to his cabin and found Gregson waiting for him. There was a curious look in the artist's face as he gazed questioningly at his friend. His immaculate appearance was gone. He looked like one who had passed through an uncomfortable hour or two. Perspiration had dried in dirty streaks on his face, and his hands were buried dejectedly in his trousers pockets. He rose to his feet and stood before his companion.

"Look at me, Phil--take a good long look," he urged.

Philip stared.

"Am I awake?" demanded the artist. "Do I look like a man in his right senses? Eh, tell me!"

He turned and pointed to the sketch hanging against the wall.

"Did I see that girl, or didn't I?" he went on, not waiting for Philip to answer. "Did I dream of seeing her? Eh? By thunder, Phil--" He whirled upon his companion, a glow of excitement taking the place of the fatigue in his eyes. "I couldn't find her to-day. I've hunted in every shack and brush heap in and around Churchill. I've hunted until I'm so tired I can hardly stand up. And the devil of it is, I can find no one else who got more than a glimpse of her, and then they did not see her as I did. She had nothing on her head when I saw her, but I remember now that something like a heavy veil fell about her shoulders, and that she was lifting it when she passed. Anyway, no one saw her like--that." He pointed to the sketch. "And she's gone--gone as completely as though she came in a flying-machine and went away in one. She's gone--unless--"

"What?"

"Unless she is in concealment right here in Churchill. She's gone --or hiding."

"You have reason to suspect that she would be hiding," said Philip, concealing the effect of the other's words upon him.

Gregson was uneasy. He lighted a cigarette, puffed at it once or twice, and tossed it through the open door. Suddenly he reached in his coat pocket and pulled out an envelope.

"Deuce take it, if I know whether I have or not!" he cried. "But-- look here, Phil. I saw the mail come in to-day, and I walked up as bold as you please and asked if there was anything for Lord Fitzhugh. I showed the other letter, and said I was Fitzhugh's agent. It went. And I got--this!"

Philip snatched at the letter which Gregson held out to him. His fingers trembled as he unfolded the single sheet of paper which he drew forth. Across it was written a single line:

Don't lose an hour. Strike now.

There was nothing more, except a large ink blot under the words. The envelope was addressed in the same hand as the one he had previously received. The men stared into each other's face.

"It's singular, that's all," pursued Gregson. "Those words are important. The writer expects that they will reach Lord Fitzhugh immediately, and as soon as he gets them you can look for war. Isn't that their significance? I repeat that it is singular this girl should come here so mysteriously, and disappear still more so, just at this psychological moment; and it is still more puzzling when you take into consideration the fact that two hours before the runner came in from the south another person inquired for Lord Fitzhugh's mail!"

Philip started.

"And they told you this?"

"Yes. It was a man who asked--a stranger. He gave no name and left no word. Now, if it should happen to be the man who was with the girl when I saw her--and we can find him--we've as good as got this Lord Fitzhugh. If we don't find him--and mighty soon--it's up to us to start for your camps and put them into fighting shape. See the point?"

"But we've got the letter," said Philip. "Fitzhugh won't receive the final word, and that will delay whatever plot he has ready to spring."

"My dear Phil," said Gregson, softly. "I always said that you were the fighter and I the diplomat, yours the brawn and mine the brain. Don't you see what this means? I'll gamble my right hand that these very words have been sent to Lord Fitzhugh at two or three different points, so that they would be sure of reaching him. I'm just as positive that he has already received a copy of the letter which we have. Mark my words, it's catch Lord Fitzhugh within the next few days--or fight!"

Philip sat down, breathing heavily.

"I'll send word to MacDougall," he said. "But I--I must wait for the ship!"

"Why not leave word for Brokaw and join MacDougall?"

"Because when the ship comes in I believe that a large part of this mystery will be cleared up," replied Philip. "It is necessary that I remain here. That will give us a few days in which to make a further search for these people."

Gregson did not urge the point, but replaced the second letter in his pocket with the first. During the evening he remained at the cabin. Philip returned to Churchill. For an hour he sat among the ruins of the old fort, striving to bring some sort of order out of the chaos of events that had occurred during the past few days. He was almost convinced that he ought to reveal all that he knew to Gregson, and yet several reasons kept him from doing so. If Miss Brokaw was on the London ship when it arrived at Churchill, there would be no necessity of disclosing that part of his own history which he was keeping secret within himself. If Eileen was not on the ship her absence would be sufficient proof to him that she was in or near Churchill, and in this event he knew that it would be impossible for him to keep from associating with her movements not only those of Lord Fitzhugh, but also those of Jeanne and Pierre and of Brokaw himself. He could see but two things to do at present, wait and watch. If Miss Brokaw was not with her father, he would take Gregson fully into his confidence.

The next morning he despatched a messenger with a letter for MacDougall, at Blind Indian Lake, warning him to be on his guard and to prepare the long line of sub-stations for possible attack. All this day Gregson remained in the cabin.

"It won't do for me to make myself too evident," he explained. "I've called for Lord Fitzhugh's mail, and I'd better lie as low as possible until the corn begins to pop."

Philip again searched the forests to the north and west with the hope of finding some trace of Pierre and Jeanne. The forest people were beginning to come into Churchill from all directions to be present at the big event of the year--the arrival of the London ship--and Philip made inquiries on every trail. No one had seen those whom he described. The fourth and fifth days passed without any developments. So far as he could discover there was no Fort o' God, no Jeanne and Pierre Couchee. He was completely baffled. The sixth day he spent in the cabin with Gregson. On the morning of the seventh there came from far out over the Bay the hollow booming of a cannon.

It was the signal which for two hundred years the ships from over the sea had given to the people of Churchill.

By the time the two young men had finished their breakfasts and climbed to the top of the ridge overlooking the Bay, the vessel had dropped anchor half a mile off shore, where she rode safe from the rocks at low tide. Along the shore below them, where Churchill lay, the forest people were gathered in silent, waiting groups. Philip pointed to the factor's big York boat, already two-thirds of the way to the ship.

"We should have gone with Bludsoe," he said. "Brokaw will think this a shabby reception on our part, and Miss Brokaw won't be half flattered. We'll go down and get a good position on the pier."

Fifteen minutes later they were thrusting themselves through the crowd of men, women, children, and dogs congregated at the foot of the long stone pier alongside which the ship would lie for two or three hours at each high tide. Philip stopped among a number of Crees and half-breeds, and laid a detaining hand upon Gregson's arm.

"This is near enough, if you don't want to make yourself conspicuous," he said.

The York boat was returning. Philip pulled a cigar from his pocket and lighted it. He felt his heart throbbing excitedly as the boat drew nearer. He looked at Gregson. The artist was taking short, quick puffs on his cigarette, and Philip wondered at the evident eagerness with which he was watching the approaching craft.

Until the boat ran close up under the pier its sail hid the occupants. While the canvas still fluttered in the light wind Bludsoe sprang from the bow out upon the rocks with a rope. Three or four of his men followed. With a rattle of blocks and rings the sheet dropped like a huge white curtain, and Philip took a step forward, scarce restraining the exclamation that forced itself to his lips at the picture which it revealed. Standing on the broad rail, her slender form poised for the quick upward step, one hand extended to Bludsoe, was Eileen Brokaw! In another instant she was upon the pier, facing the strange people before her, while her father clambered out of the boat behind. There was a smile of expectancy on her lips as she scanned the dark, silent faces of the forest people. Philip knew that she was looking for him. His pulse quickened. He turned for a moment to see the effect of the girl's appearance upon Gregson.

The artist's two hands had gripped his arm. They closed now until his fingers were like cords of steel. His face was white, his lips set into thin lines. For a breath he stood thus, while Miss Brokaw's scrutiny traveled nearer to them. Then, suddenly, he released his hold and darted back among the half-breeds and Indians, his face turning to Philip's in one quick, warning appeal.

He was not a moment too soon, for scarce had he gone when Miss Brokaw caught sight of Philip's tall form at the foot of the pier. Philip did not see the signal which she gave him. He was staring at the line of faces ahead of him. Two people had worked their way through that line, and suddenly every muscle in his body became tense with excitement and joy. They were Pierre and Jeanne!

He caught his breath at what happened then. He saw Jeanne falter for a moment. He noticed that she was now dressed like the others about her, and that Pierre, who stood at her shoulder, was no longer the fine gentleman of the rock. The half-breed bent over her, as if whispering to her, and then Jeanne ran out from those about her to Eileen, her beautiful face flushed with joy and welcome as she reached out her arms to the other woman. Philip saw a sudden startled look leap into Miss Brokaw's face, but it was gone as quickly as it appeared. She stared at the forest girl, drew herself haughtily erect, and, with a word which he could not hear, turned to Bludsoe and her father. For an instant Jeanne stood as if some one had struck her a blow. Then, slowly, she turned. The flush was gone from her face. Her beautiful mouth was quivering, and Philip fancied that he could hear the low sobbing of her breath. With a cry in which he uttered no name, but which was meant for her, he sprang forward into the clear space of the pier. She saw him, and darted back among her people. He would have followed, but Miss Brokaw was coming to him now, her hand held out to him, and a step behind were Brokaw and the factor.

"Philip!" she cried.

He spoke no word as he crushed her hand. The hot grip of his fingers, the deep flush in his face, was interpreted by her as a welcome which it did not require speech to strengthen. He shook hands with Brokaw, and as the three followed after the factor his eyes sought vainly for Pierre and Jeanne.

They were gone, and he felt suddenly a thrill of repugnance at the gentle pressure of Eileen Brokaw's hand upon his arm.

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Chapter VIIIPhilip did not see the hundred staring eyes that followed in wonderment the tall, beautiful girl who walked at his side. He knew that Miss Brokaw was talking and laughing, and that he was nodding his head and answering her, while his brain raged for an idea that would give him an excuse for leaving her to follow Jeanne and Pierre. The facts that Gregson had left him so strangely, that Eileen had come with her father, and that, instead of clearing up the mystery in which they were so deeply involved, the arrival of the London ship had even
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Chapter VIScarce had he spoken when he would have given much to have recalled his words, wrung from his lips by that sobbing note of loneliness, of defiance, of half pain in the girl's voice. It was the same note, the same spirit crying out against his world that he had listened to in the moaning of the surf as it labored to carry away the dead, and in the wind that sighed in the spruce- tops below the mountain, only now it was the spirit speaking through a human voice. Every fiber in his body vibrated in response to it,
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