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The Golden Snare By James Oliver Curwood Characters: 6789

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


The other man was Raine-Philip Raine.

To-night he sat in Pierre Breault's cabin, with Pierre at the opposite side of the table between them, and the cabin's sheet iron stove blazing red just beyond. It was a terrible night outside. Pierre, the fox hunter, had built his shack at the end of a long slim forefinger of scrub spruce that reached out into the Barren, and to-night the wind was wailing and moaning over the open spaces in a way that made Raine shiver. Close to the east was Hudson's Bay-so close that a few moments before when Raine had opened the cabin door there came to him the low, never-ceasing thunder of the under-currents fighting their way down through the Roes Welcome from the Arctic Ocean, broken now and then by a growling roar as the giant forces sent a crack, like a great knife, through one of the frozen mountains. Westward from Pierre's cabin there stretched the lifeless Barren, illimitable and void, without rock or bush, and overhung at day by a sky that always made Raine think of a terrible picture he had once seen of Dore's "Inferno"-a low, thick sky, like purple and blue granite, always threatening to pitch itself down in terrific avalanches. And at night, when the white foxes yapped, and the wind moaned-

"As I have hope of paradise I swear that I saw him-alive, M'sieu," Pierre was saying again over the table.

Raine, of the Fort Churchill patrol of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police, no longer smiled in disbelief. He knew that Pierre Breault was a brave man, or he would not have perched himself alone out in the heart of the Barren to catch the white foxes; and he was not superstitious, like most of his kind, or the sobbing cries and strife of the everlasting night-winds would have driven him away.

"I swear it!" repeated Pierre.

Something that was almost eagerness was burning now in Philip's face. He leaned over the table, his hands gripping tightly. He was thirty-five; almost slim as Pierre himself, with eyes as steely blue as Pierre's were black. There was a time, away back, when he wore a dress suit as no other man in the big western city where he lived; now the sleeves of his caribou skin coat were frayed and torn, his hands were knotted, in his face were the lines of storm and wind.

"It is impossible," he said. "Bram Johnson is dead!"

"He is alive, M'sieu."

In Pierre's voice there was a strange tremble.

"If I had only HEARD, if I had not SEEN, you might disbelieve, M'sieu," he cried, his eyes glowing with a dark fire. "Yes, I heard the cry of the pack first, and I went to the door, and opened it, and stood there listening and looking out into the night. UGH! they went near. I could hear the hoofs of the caribou. And then I heard a great cry, a voice that rose above the howl of the wolves like the voice of ten men, and I knew that Bram Johnson was on the trail of meat. MON DIEU-yes-he is alive. And that is not all. No. No. That is not all-"

His fingers were twitching. For the third or fourth time in the last three-quarters of an hour Raine saw him fighting back a strange excitement. His own incredulity was gone. He was beginning to believe Pierre.

"And after that-you saw him?"

"Yes. I would not do again what I did then for all the foxes between the Athabasca and the Bay, M'sieu. It must have been-I don't know what. It dragged me out into the night. I followed. I found the t

rail of the wolves, and I found the snowshoe tracks of a man. Oui. I still followed. I came close to the kill, with the wind in my face, and I could hear the snapping of jaws and the rending of flesh-yes-yes-AND A MAN'S TERRIBLE LAUGH! If the wind had shifted-if that pack of devils' souls had caught the smell of me-tonnerre de dieu!" He shuddered, and the knuckles of his fingers snapped as he clenched and unclenched his hands. "But I stayed there, M'sieu, half buried in a snow dune. They went on after a long time. It was so dark I could not see them. I went to the kill then, and-yes, he had carried away the two hind quarters of the caribou. It was a bull, too, and heavy. I followed-clean across that strip of Barren down to the timber, and it was there that Bram built himself the fire. I could see him then, and I swear by the Blessed Virgin that it was Bram! Long ago, before he killed the man, he came twice to my cabin-and he had not changed. And around him, in the fire-glow, the wolves huddled. It was then that I came to my reason. I could see him fondling them. I could see their gleaming fangs. Yes, I could HEAR their bodies, and he was talking to them and laughing with them through his great beard-and I turned and fled back to the cabin, running so swiftly that even the wolves would have had trouble in catching me. And that-that-WAS NOT ALL!"

Again his fingers were clenching and unclenching as he stared at Raine.

"You believe me, M'sieu?"

Philip nodded.

"It seems impossible. And yet-you could not have been dreaming, Pierre."

Breault drew a deep breath of satisfaction, and half rose to his feet.

"And you will believe me if I tell you the rest?"

"Yes."

Swiftly Pierre went to his bunk and returned with the caribou skin pouch in which he carried his flint and steel and fire material for the trail.

"The next day I went back, M'sieu," he said, seating himself again opposite Philip. "Bram and his wolves were gone. He had slept in a shelter of spruce boughs. And-and-par les mille cornes du diable if he had even brushed the snow out! His great moccasin tracks were all about among the tracks of the wolves, and they were big as the spoor of a monster bear. I searched everywhere for something that he might have left, and I found-at last-a rabbit snare."

Pierre Breault's eyes, and not his words-and the curious twisting and interlocking of his long slim fingers about the caribou-skin bag in his hand stirred Philip with the thrill of a tense and mysterious anticipation, and as he waited, uttering no word, Pierre's fingers opened the sack, and he said:

"A rabbit snare, M'sieu, which had dropped from his pocket into the snow-"

In another moment he had given it into Philip's hands. The oil lamp was hung straight above them. Its light flooded the table between them, and from Philip's lips, as he stared at the snare, there broke a gasp of amazement. Pierre had expected that cry. He had at first been disbelieved; now his face burned with triumph. It seemed, for a space, as if Philip had ceased breathing. He stared-stared-while the light from above him scintillated on the thing he held. It was a snare. There could be no doubt of that. It was almost a yard in length, with the curious Chippewyan loop at one end and the double-knot at the other.

The amazing thing about it was that it was made of a woman's golden hair.

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