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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFlower Of The North - Chapter 8
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Flower Of The North - Chapter 8 Post by :mrtwist Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :1104

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Flower Of The North - Chapter 8

Chapter VIII

Philip 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 more hopelessly entangled them, were forgotten for the moment in the desire to intercept Jeanne and Pierre before they could leave Churchill. Miss Brokaw herself unconsciously gave him the opportunity for which he was seeking.

"You don't look very happy, Philip," she exclaimed, in a chiding voice, meant only for his ears. "I thought--perhaps--my coming would make you glad."

Philip caught eagerly at the half question in her voice.

"I feared you would notice it," he said, quickly. "I was afraid you would think me indifferent because I did not go out to meet you in the boat, and because I stood hidden at the end of the pier when you landed. But I was looking for a man. I have been hunting for him for a long time. And I saw his face just as we came through the crowd. That is why I am--am rattled," he laughed. "Will you excuse me if I go back? Can you find some excuse for the others? I will return in a few minutes, and then you will not say that I am unhappy."

Miss Brokaw drew her hand from his arm.

"Surely I will excuse you," she cried. "Hurry, or you may lose him. I would like to go with you if it is going to be exciting."

Philip turned to Brokaw and the factor, who were close behind them.

"I am compelled to leave you here," he explained. "I have excused myself to Miss Brokaw, and will rejoin you almost immediately."

He lost no time in hurrying back to the shore of the Bay. As he had expected, Jeanne and her companion were no longer in sight. There was only one direction in which they could have disappeared so quickly, and this was toward the cliff. Once hidden by the fringe of forest, he hastened his steps until he was almost running. He had reached the base of the huge mass of rock that rose up from the sea, when down the narrow trail that led to the cliff there came a figure to meet him. It was an Indian boy, and he advanced to question him. If Jeanne and Pierre had passed that way the boy must surely have seen them.

Before he had spoken the lad ran toward him, holding out something in his hand. The question on Philip's lips changed to an exclamation of joy when he recognized the handkerchief which he had dropped upon the rock a few nights before, or one so near like it that he could not have told them apart. It was tied into a knot, and he felt the crumpling of paper under the pressure of his fingers. He almost tore the bit of lace and linen in his eagerness to rescue the paper, which a moment later he held in his fingers. Three short lines, written in a fine, old-fashioned hand, were all that it held for him. But they were sufficient to set his heart, beating wildly.

Will Monsieur come to the top of the rock to-night, some time between the hours of nine and ten.

There was no signature to the note, but Philip knew that only Jeanne could have written it, for the letters were almost of miscroscopic smallness, as delicate as the bit of lace in which they had been delivered, and of a quaintness of style which added still more to the bewildering mystery which already surrounded these people. He read the lines half a dozen times, and then turned to find that the Indian boy was slipping sway through the rocks.

"Here--you," he commanded, in English. "Come back!"

The boy's white teeth gleamed in a laugh as he waved his hand and leaped farther away. From Philip his eyes shifted in a quick, searching glance to the top of the cliff. In a flash Philip followed its direction. He understood the meaning of the look. From the cliff Jeanne and Pierre had seen his approach, and their meeting with the Indian boy had made it possible for them to intercept him in this manner. They were probably looking down upon him now, and in the gladness of the moment Philip laughed up at the bare rocks and waved his cap above his head as a signal of his acceptance of the strange invitation he had received.

Vaguely he wondered why they had set the meeting for that night, when in three or four minutes he could have joined them up there in broad day. But the central tangle of the mystery that had grown up about him during the past few days was too perplexing to embroider with such a minor detail as this, and he turned back toward Churchill with the feeling that everything was working in his favor. During the next few hours he would clear up the tangle, and in addition to that he would meet Jeanne and Pierre. It was the thought of Jeanne, and not of the surprises which he was about to explain, that stirred his blood as he hurried back to the Fort.

It was his intention to return to Eileen and her father. But he changed this. He would first hunt up Gregson and begin his work there. He knew that the artist would be expecting him, and he went directly to the cabin, escaping notice by following along the fringe of the forest.

Gregson was pacing back and forth across the cabin floor when Philip arrived. His steps were quick and excited. His hands were thrust deep in his trousers pockets. The butts of innumerable half-smoked cigarettes lay scattered under his feet. He ceased his restless movement upon his companion's interruption, and for a moment or two gazed at Philip in blank silence.

"Well," he said, at last, "have you got anything to say?"

"Nothing," said Philip. "It's beyond me, Greggy. For Heaven's sake give me an explanation!"

There was nothing womanish in the hard lines of Gregson's face now. He spoke with the suggestion of a sneer.

"You knew--all the time," he said, coldly. "You knew that Miss Brokaw and the girl whom I drew were one and the same person. What was the object of your little sensation?"

Philip ignored his question. He stepped quickly up to Gregson and seized him by the arm.

"It is impossible!" he cried, in a low voice. "They cannot be the same person. That ship out there has not touched land since she left Halifax. Until she hove in sight off Churchill she hasn't been within two hundred miles of a coast this side of Hudson's Strait. Miss Brokaw is as new to this country as you. It is beyond all reason to suppose anything else."

"Nevertheless," said Gregson, quietly, "it was Miss Brokaw whom I saw the other day, and that is Miss Brokaw's picture."

He pointed to the sketch, and freed his arm to light another cigarette. There was a peculiar tone of finality in his voice which warned Philip that no amount of logic or arguing on his part would change his friend's belief. Gregson looked at him over his lighted match.

"It was Miss Brokaw," he said again. "Perhaps it is within reason to suppose that she came to Churchill in a balloon, dropped into town for luncheon, and departed in a balloon, descending by some miraculous chance aboard the ship that was bringing her father. However it may have happened, she was in Churchill a few days ago. On that hypothesis I am going to work, and as a consequence I am going to ask you for the indefinite loan of the Lord Fitzhugh letter. Will you give me your word to say nothing of that letter-- for a few days?"

"It is almost necessary to show it to Brokaw," hesitated Philip.

"Almost--but not quite," Gregson caught him up. "Brokaw knows the seriousness of the situation without that letter. See here, Phil-- you go out and fight, and let me handle this end of the business. Don't reveal me to the Brokaws. I don't want to meet--her--yet, though God knows if it wasn't for my confounded friendship for you I'd go over there with you this minute. She was even more beautiful than when I saw her--before."

"Then there is a difference," laughed Philip, meaningly.

"Not a difference, but a little better view," corrected the artist.

"Now, if we could only find the other girl, what a mess you'd be in, Greggy! By George, but this is beginning to have its humorous as well as its tragic side. I'd give a thousand dollars to have this other golden-haired beauty appear upon the scene!"

"I'll give a thousand if you produce her," retorted Gregson.

"Good!" laughed Philip, holding out a hand. "I'll report again this afternoon or to-night."

Inwardly he felt himself in no humorous mood as he retraced his steps to Churchill. He had thought to begin his work of clearing up the puzzling situation with Gregson, and Gregson had failed him completely by his persistence in the belief that Miss Brokaw was the girl whose face he had seen more than a week before. Was it possible, after all, that the ship had touched at some point up the coast? The supposition was preposterous. Yet before rejoining the Brokaws he sought out the captain and found that the company's vessel had come directly from Halifax without a change or stop in her regular course. The word of the company's captain cleared up his doubts in one direction; it mystified him more than ever in another. He was convinced that Gregson had not seen Miss Brokaw until that morning. But who was Eileen's double? Where was she at this moment? What peculiar combination of circumstance had drawn them both to Churchill at this particularly significant time? It was impossible for him not to associate the girl whom Gregson had encountered, and who so closely resembled Eileen, with Lord Fitzhugh and the plot against his company. And it struck him with a certain feeling of dread that, if his suspicions were true, Jeanne and Pierre must also be mixed up in the affair. For had not Jeanne, in her error, greeted Eileen as though she were a dear friend?

He went directly to the factor's house, and knocked at the door opening into the rooms occupied by Brokaw and his daughter. Brokaw admitted him, and at Philip's searching glance about the room he nodded toward a closed inner door and said:

"Eileen is resting. It's been a hard trip on her, Phil, and she hasn't slept for two consecutive nights since we left Halifax."

Philip's keen glance told him that Brokaw himself had not slept much. The promoter's eyes were heavy, with little puffy bags under them. But otherwise he betrayed no signs of unrest or lack of rest. He motioned Philip to a chair close to a huge fireplace in which a pile of birch was leaping into flame, offered him a cigar, and plunged immediately into business.

"It's hell, Philip," he said, in a hard, quiet voice, as though he were restraining an outburst of passion with effort. "In another three months we'd have been on a working basis, earning dividends. I've even gone to the point of making contracts that show us five hundred per cent, profit. And now--this!"

He dashed his half-burned cigar into the fire, and viciously bit the end from another.

Philip was lighting his own, and there was a moment's silence, broken sharply by the financier.

"Are your men prepared to fight?"

"If it's necessary," replied Philip. "We can at least depend upon a part of them, especially the men at Blind Indian Lake. But--this fighting--Why do you think it will come to that? If there is fighting we are ruined."

"If the people rise against us in a body--yes, we are ruined. That is what we must not permit. It is our one chance. I have done everything in my power to beat this movement against us down south, and have failed. Our enemies are completely masked. They have won popular sentiment through the newspapers. Their next move is to strike directly at us. Whatever is to happen will happen soon. The plan is to attack us, to destroy our property, and the movement is to be advertised as a retaliation for heinous outrages perpetrated by our men. It is possible that the attack will not be by northerners alone, but by men brought in for the purpose. The result will be the same--if it succeeds. The attack is planned to be a surprise. Our one chance is to meet it, to completely frustrate it--to strike an overwhelming blow, and to capture enough of our assailants to give us the evidence we must have."

Brokaw was excited. He emphasized his words with angry sweeps of his arms. He clenched his fists, and his face grew red. He was not like the old, shrewd, indomitable Brokaw, completely master of himself, never revealing himself beyond the unruffled veil of his self-possession, and Philip was surprised. He had expected that Brokaw's wily brain would bring with it half a dozen schemes for the quiet undoing of their enemies. And now here was Brokaw, the man who always hedged himself in with legal breast-works--who never revealed himself to the shot of his enemies--enlisting himself for a fight in the open! Philip had told Gregson that there would be a fight. He was firmly convinced that there would be a fight. But he had never believed that Brokaw would come to join in it. He leaned toward the financier, his face flushed a little by the warmth of the fire and by the knowledge that Brokaw was relinquishing the situation entirely into his hands. If it came to fighting, he would win. He was confident of himself there. But--

"What will be the result if we win?" he asked.

"If we secure those who will give the evidence we need--evidence that the movement against us is a plot to destroy our company, the government will stand by us," replied Brokaw. "I have sounded the situation there. I have filed a formal declaration to the effect that such a movement is on foot, and have received a promise that the commissioner of police will investigate the matter. But before that happens our enemies will strike. There is no time for red tape or investigations. We must achieve our own salvation. And to achieve that we must fight."

"And if we lose?"

Brokaw lifted his hands and shoulders with a significant gesture.

"The moral effect will be tremendous," he said. "It will be shown that the entire north is inimical to our company, and the government will withdraw our option. We will be ruined. Our stockholders will lose every cent invested."

In moments of mental energy Philip was restless. He rose from his chair now and moved softly back and forth across the carpeted floor of the big room, shrouded in tobacco smoke. Should he break his word to Gregson and tell Brokaw of Lord Fitzhugh? But, on second thought, what good would come of it? Brokaw was already aware of the seriousness of the situation. In some one of his unaccountable ways he had learned that their enemies were to strike almost immediately, and his own revelation of the Fitzhugh letters would but strengthen this evidence. He would keep his faith with Gregson for the promised day or two. For an hour the two men were alone in the room. At the end of that time their plans were settled. The next morning Philip would leave for Blind Indian Lake and prepare for war. Brokaw would follow two or three days later.

A heavy weight seemed lifted from Philip's shoulders when he left Brokaw. After months of worry and weeks of physical inaction he saw his way clear for the first time. And for the first time, too, something seemed to have come into his life that filled him with a strange exhilaration, and made him forgetful of the gloom that had settled over him during these last months. That night he would see Jeanne. His body thrilled at the thought, until for a time he forgot that he would also see and talk with Eileen. A few days before he had told Gregson that it would be suicidal to fight the northerners; now he was eager for action, eager to begin and end the affair--to win or lose. If he had stopped to analyze the change in himself he would have found that the beautiful girl whom he had first seen on the moonlit rock was at the bottom of it. And yet Jeanne was a northerner, one of those against whom his actions must be directed. But he had confidence in himself, confidence in what that night would bring forth. He was like one freed from a bondage that had oppressed him for a long time, and the fact that he might be compelled to fight Jeanne's own people did not destroy his hopefulness, the new joy and excitement that he had found in life. As he hurried back to his cabin he told himself that both Jeanne and Pierre had read what he had sent to them in the handkerchief; their response was a proof that they understood him, and deep down a voice kept telling him that if it came to fighting they three, Pierre, Jeanne, and himself, would rise or fall together. A few hours had transformed him into Gregson's old appreciation of the fighting man. Long and tedious months of diplomacy, of political intrigue, of bribery and dishonest financiering, in which he had played but the part of a helpless machine, were gone. Now he held the whip-hand; Brokaw had acknowledged his own surrender. He was to fight--a clean, fair fight on his part, and his blood leaped in every vein like marshaling armies. That nights on the rock, he would reveal himself frankly to Pierre and Jeanne. He would tell them of the plot to disrupt the company, and of the work ahead of him. And after that--

He thrust open the door of his cabin, eager to enlist Gregson in his enthusiasm. The artist was not in. Philip noticed that the cartridge-belt and the revolver which usually hung over Gregson's bunk were gone. He never entered the cabin without looking at the sketch of Eileen Brokaw. Something about it seemed to fascinate him, to challenge his presence. Now it was missing from the wall.

He threw off his coat and hat, filled his pipe, and began gathering up his few possessions, ready for packing. It was noon before he was through, and Gregson had not returned. He boiled himself some coffee and sat down to wait. At five o'clock he was to eat supper with the Brokaws and the factor; Eileen, through her father, had asked him to join her an hour or two earlier in the big room. He waited until four, and then left a brief note for Gregson upon the table.

It was growing dusk in the forest. From the top of the ridge Philip caught the last red glow of the sun, sinking far to the south and west. A faint radiance of it still swept over his head and mingled with the thickening gray gloom of the northern sea. Across the dip in the Bay the huge, white-capped cliff seemed to loom nearer and more gigantic in the whimsical light. For a few moments a red bar shot across it, and as the golden fire faded and died away Philip could not but think it was like a torch beckoning to him. A few hours more, and where that light had been he would see Jeanne. And now, down there, Eileen was waiting for him.

His pulse quickened as he passed beyond the ancient fort, over the burial-place of the dead, and into Churchill. He met no one at the factor's, and the door leading into Miss Brokaw's room was partly ajar. A great fire was burning in the fireplace, and he saw Eileen seated in the rich glow of it, smiling at him as he entered. He closed the door, and when he turned she had risen and was holding out her hands to him. She had dressed for him, almost as on that night of the Brokaw ball. In the flashing play of the fire her exquisite arms and shoulders shone with dazzling beauty; her eyes laughed at him; her hair rippled in a golden flood. Faintly there came to him, filling the room slowly, tingling his nerves, the sweet scent of heliotrope--the perfume that had filled his nostrils on that other night, a long time ago, the sweet scent that had come to him in the handkerchief dropped on the rock, the breath of the bit of lace that had bound Jeanne's hair!

Eileen moved toward him. "Philip," she said, "now are you glad to see me?"

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Chapter IXHer voice broke the spell that had held him for a moment."I am glad to see you," he cried, quickly, seizing both her hands. "Only I haven't quite yet awakened from my dream. It seems too wonderful, almost unreal. Are you the old Eileen who used to shudder when I told you of a bit of jungle and wild beasts, and who laughed at me because I loved to sleep out-of-doors and tramp mountains, instead of decently behaving myself at home? I demand an explanation. It must be a wonderful change--""There has been a change," she interrupted him. "Sit down,
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Chapter VIIPhilip 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
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