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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Golden Snare - Chapter 25
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The Golden Snare - Chapter 25 Post by :rlscott Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :2103

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The Golden Snare - Chapter 25

CHAPTER XXV

Following that first wild stare of uncertainty and disbelief in the big Swede's eyes came a look of sudden and joyous recognition. He was clutching at Philip's hand like a drowning man before he made an effort to speak, still with his eyes on the other's face as if he was not quite sure they had not betrayed him. Then he grinned. There was only one man in the world who could grin like Olaf Anderson. In spite of blood and swollen features it transformed him. Men loved the red-headed Swede because of that grin. Not a man in the service who knew him but swore that Olaf would die with the grin on his face, because the tighter the hole he was in the more surely would the grin be there. It was the grin that answered Philip's question.

"Just in time--to the dot," said Olaf, still pumping Philip's hand, and grinning hard. "All dead but me--Calkins, Harris, and that little Dutchman, O'Flynn, Cold and stiff, Phil, every one of them. I knew an investigating patrol would be coming up pretty soon. Been looking for it every day. How many men you got?"

He looked beyond Philip to the cabin and the sledge. The grin slowly went out of his face, and Philip heard the sudden catch in his breath. A swift glance revealed the amazing truth to Olaf. He dropped Philip's hand and stepped back, taking him in suddenly from head to foot.

"Alone!"

"Yes, alone," nodded Philip. "With the exception of Celie Armin. I brought her back to her father. A fellow named Blake is back there a little way with Upi's tribe. We beat them out, but I'm figuring it won't be long before they show up."

The grin was fixed in Olaf's face again.

"Lord bless us, but it's funny," he grunted. "They're coming on the next train, so to speak, and right over in that neck of woods is the other half of Upi's tribe chasing their short legs off to get me. And the comical part of it is you're ALONE!" His eyes were fixed suddenly on the revolver. "Ammunition?" he demanded eagerly. "And--grub?"

"Thirty or forty rounds of rifle, a dozen Colt, and plenty of meat--"

"Then into the cabin, and the dogs with us," almost shouted the Swede.

From the edge of the forest came the report of a rifle and over their heads went the humming drone of a bullet.

They were back at the cabin in a dozen seconds, tugging at the dogs. It cost an effort to get them through the door, with the sledge after them. Half a dozen shots came from the forest. A bullet spattered against the log wall, found a crevice, and something metallic jingled inside. As Olaf swung the door shut and dropped the wooden bar in place Philip turned for a moment toward Celie. She went to him, her eyes shining in the semi-gloom of the cabin, and put her arms up about his shoulders. The Swede, looking on, stood transfixed, and the white-bearded Armin stared incredulously. On her tip-toes Celie kissed Philip, and then turning with her arms still about him said something to the older man that brought an audible gasp from Olaf. In another moment she had slipped away from Philip and back to her father. The Swede was flattening his face against a two inch crevice between the logs when Philip went to his side.

"What did she say, Olaf?" he entreated.

"That she's going to marry you if we ever get out of this hell of a fix we're in," grunted Olaf. "Pretty lucky dog, I say, if it's true. Imagine Celie Armin marrying a dub like you! But it will never happen. If you don't believe it fill your eyes with that out there!"

Philip glued his eyes to the long crevice between the logs and found the forest and the little finger of plain between straight in his vision. The edge of the timber was alive with men. There must have been half a hundred of them, and they were making no effort to conceal themselves. For the first time Olaf began to give him an understanding of the situation.

"This is the fortieth day we've held them off," he said, in the quick-cut, business-like voice he might have used in rendering a report to a superior. "Eighty cartridges to begin with and a month's ration of grub for two. All but the three last cartridges went day before yesterday. Yesterday everything quiet. On the edge of starvation this morning when I went out on scout duty and to take a chance at game. Surprised a couple of them carrying meat and had a tall fight. Others hove into action and I had to use two of my cartridges. One left--and they're showing themselves because they know we don't dare to use ammunition at long range. My caliber is thirty-five. What's yours?"

"The same," replied Philip quickly, his blood beginning to thrill with the anticipation of battle. "I'll give you half. I'm on duty from Fort Churchill, off on a tangent of my own." He did not take his eyes from the slit in the wall as he told Anderson in a hundred words what had happened since his meeting with Bram Johnson. "And with forty cartridges we'll give 'em a taste of hell," he added.

He caught his breath, and the last word half choked itself from his lips. He knew that Anderson was staring as hard as he. Up from the river and over the level sweep of plain between it and the timber came a sledge, followed by a second, a third, and a fourth. In the trail behind the sledges trotted a score and a half of fur- clad figures.

"It's Blake!" exclaimed Philip.

Anderson drew himself away from the wall. In his eyes burned a curious greenish flame, and his face was set with the hardness of iron. In that iron was molded indistinctly the terrible smile with which he always went into battle or fronted "his man." Slowly he turned, pointing a long arm at each of the four walls of the cabin.

"That's the lay of the fight," he said, making his words short and to the point. "They can come at us on all sides, and so I've made a six-foot gun-crevice in each wall. We can't count on Armin for anything but the use of a club if it comes to close quarters. The walls are built of saplings and they've got guns out there that get through. Outside of that we've got one big advantage. The little devils are superstitious about fighting at night, and even Blake can't force them into it. Blake is the man I was after when I ran across Armin and his people. GAD!"

There was an unpleasant snap in his voice as he peered through the gun-hole again. Philip looked across the room to Celie and her father as he divided the cartridges. They were both listening, yet he knew they did not understand what he and Olaf were saying. He dropped a half of the cartridges into the right hand pocket of the Swede's service coat, and advanced then toward Armin with both his hands held out in greeting. Even in that tense moment he saw the sudden flash of pleasure in Celie's eyes. Her lips trembled, and she spoke softly and swiftly to her father, looking at Philip. Armin advanced a step, and their hands met. At first Philip had taken him for an old man. Hair and beard were white, his shoulders were bent, his hands were long and thin. But his eyes, sunken deep in their sockets, had not aged with the rest of him. They were filled with the piercing scrutiny of a hawk's as they looked into his own, measuring him in that moment so far as man can measure man. Then he spoke, and it was the light in Celie's eyes, her parted lips, and the flush that came swiftly into her face that gave him an understanding of what Armin was saying.

From the end of the cabin Olaf's voice broke in. With it came the metallic working of his rifle as he filled the chamber with cartridges. He spoke first to Celie and Armin in their own language, then to Philip.

"It's a pretty safe gamble we'd better get ready for them," he said. "They'll soon begin. Did you split even on the cartridges?"

"Seventeen apiece."

Philip examined his rifle, and looked through the gun-crevice toward the forest. He heard Olaf tugging at the dogs as he tied them to the bunk posts; he heard Armin say something in a strained voice, and the Swede's unintelligible reply, followed by a quick, low-voiced interrogation from Celie. In the same moment his heart gave a sudden jump. In the fringe of the forest he saw a long, thin line of moving figures--ADVANCING. He did not call out a warning instantly. For a space in which he might have taken a long breath or two his eyes and brain were centered on the moving figures and the significance of their drawn-out formation. Like a camera-flash his eyes ran over the battleground. Half way between the cabin and that fringe of forest four hundred yards away was a "hogback" in the snow, running a curving parallel with the plain. It formed scarcely more than a three or four foot rise in the surface, and he had given it no special significance until now. His lips formed words as the thrill of understanding leapt upon him.

"They're moving!" he called to Olaf. "They're going to make a rush for the little ridge between us and the timber. Good God, Anderson, there's an army of them!"

"Not more'n a hundred," replied the Swede calmly, taking his place at the gun-crevice. "Take it easy, Phil. This will be good target practice. We've got to make an eighty percent kill as they come across the open. This is mighty comfortable compared with the trick they turned on us when they got Calkins, Harris and O'Flynn. I got away in the night."

The moving line had paused just within the last straggling growth of trees, as if inviting the fire of the defenders.

Olaf grunted as he looked along the barrel of his rifle.

"Strategy," he mumbled. "They know we're shy of ammunition."

In the moments of tense waiting Philip found his first opportunity to question the man at his side. First, he said:

"I guess mebby you. understand, Olaf. We've gone through a hell together, and I love her. If we get out of this she's going to be my wife. She's promised me that, and yet I swear to Heaven I don't know more than a dozen words of her language. What has happened? Who is she? Why was she with Bram Johnson? You know their language, and have been with them--"

"They're taking final orders," interrupted Olaf, as if he had not heard. "There's something more on foot than a rush to the ridge. It's Blake's scheming. See those little groups forming? They're going to bring battering-rams, and make a second rush from the ridge." He drew in a deep breath, and without a change in the even tone of his voice, went on: "Calkins, Harris and O'Flynn went down in a good fight. Tell you about that later. Hit seven days' west, and run on the camp of Armin, his girl, and two white men-- Russians--guided by two Kogmollocks from Coronation Gulf. You can guess some of the rest. The little devils had Blake and his gang about us two days after I struck them. Bram Johnson and his wolves came along then--from nowhere--going nowhere. The Kogmollocks think Bram is a great Devil, and that each of his wolves is a Devil. If it hadn't been for that they would have murdered us in a hurry, and Blake would have taken the girl. They were queered by the way Bram would squat on his haunches, and stare at her. The second day I saw him mumbling over something, and looked sharp. He had one of Celie's long hairs, and when he saw me he snarled like an animal, as though he feared I would take it from him. I knew what was coming. I knew Blake was only waiting for Bram to get away from his Kogmollocks--so I told Celie to give Bram a strand of her hair. She did--with her own hands, and from that minute the madman watched her like a dog. I tried to talk with him, but couldn't. I didn't seem to be able to make him understand. And then--"

The Swede cut himself short.

"They're moving, Phil! Take the men with the battering rams--and let them get half way before you fire! ... You see, Bram and his wolves had to have meat. Blake attacked while he was gone. Russians killed--Armin and I cornered, fighting for the girl behind us, when Bram came back like a burst of thunder. He didn't fight. He grabbed the girl, and was off with her like the wind with his wolf-team. Armin and I got into this cabin, and here-- forty days and nights--"

His voice stopped ominously. A fraction of a second later it was followed by the roar of his rifle, and at the first shot one of Blake's Kogmollocks crumpled up with a grunt half way between the snow-ridge and the forest.

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