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   Chapter 3 No.3

The Golden Snare By James Oliver Curwood Characters: 9582

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


The next morning the tail of the storm was still sweeping bitterly over the edge of the Barren, but Philip set out, with Pierre Breault as his guide, for the place where the half-breed had seen Bram Johnson and his wolves in camp. Three days had passed since that exciting night, and when they arrived at the spot where Bram had slept the spruce shelter was half buried in a windrow of the hard, shot like snow that the blizzard had rolled in off the open spaces.

From this point Pierre marked off accurately the direction Bram had taken the morning after the hunt, and Philip drew the point of his compass to the now invisible trail. Almost instantly he drew his conclusion.

"Bram is keeping to the scrub timber along the edge of the Barren," he said to Pierre. "That is where I shall follow. You might add that much to what I have written to MacVeigh. But about the snare, Pierre Breault, say not a word. Do you understand? If he is a loup-garou man, and weaves golden hairs out of the winds-"

"I will say nothing, M'sieu," shuddered Pierre.

They shook hands, and parted in silence. Philip set his face to the west, and a few moments later, looking back, he could no longer see Pierre. For an hour after that he was oppressed by the feeling that he was voluntarily taking a desperate chance. For reasons which he had arrived at during the night he had left his dogs and sledge with Pierre, and was traveling light. In his forty-pound pack, fitted snugly to his shoulders, were a three pound silk service-tent that was impervious to the fiercest wind, and an equal weight of cooking utensils. The rest of his burden, outside of his rifle, his Colt's revolver and his ammunition, was made up of rations, so much of which was scientifically compressed into dehydrated and powder form that he carried on his back, in a matter of thirty pounds, food sufficient for a month if he provided his meat on the trail. The chief article in this provision was fifteen pounds of flour; four dozen eggs he carried in one pound of egg powder; twenty-eight pounds of potatoes in four pounds of the dehydrated article; four pounds of onions in a quarter of a pound of the concentration, and so on through the list.

He laughed a little grimly as he thought of this concentrated efficiency in the pack on his shoulders. In a curious sort of way it reminded him of other days, and he wondered what some of his old-time friends would say if he could, by some magic endowment, assemble them here for a feast on the trail. He wondered especially what Mignon Davenport would say-and do. P-f-f-f! He could see the blue-blooded horror in her aristocratic face! That wind from over the Barren would curdle the life in her veins. She would shrivel up and die. He considered himself a fairly good judge in the matter, for once upon a time he thought that he was going to marry her. Strange why he should think of her now, he told himself; but for all that he could not get rid of her for a time. And thinking of her, his mind traveled back into the old days, even as he followed over the hidden trail of Bram. Undoubtedly a great many of his old friends had forgotten him. Five years was a long time, and friendship in the set to which he belonged was not famous for its longevity. Nor love, for that matter. Mignon had convinced him of that. He grimaced, and in the teeth of the wind he chuckled. Fate was a playful old chap. It was a good joke he had played on him-first a bit of pneumonia, then a set of bad lungs afflicted with that "galloping" something-or-other that hollows one's cheeks and takes the blood out of one's veins. It was then that the horror had grown larger and larger each day in Mignon's big baby-blue eyes, until she came out with childish frankness and said that it was terribly embarrassing to have one's friends know that one was engaged to a consumptive.

Philip laughed as he thought of that. The laugh came so suddenly and so explosively that Bram could have heard it a hundred yards away, even with the wind blowing as it was. A consumptive! Philip doubled up his arm until the hard muscles in it snapped. He drew in a deep lungful of air, and forced it out again with a sound like steam escaping from a valve. The NORTH had done that for him; the north with its wonderful forests, its vast skies, its rivers, and its lakes, and its deep snows-the north that makes a man out of the husk of a man if given half a chance. He loved it. And because he loved it, and the adventure of it, he had joined the Police two years ago. Some day he would go back, just for the fun of it; meet his old friends in his old clubs, and shock baby-eyed Mignon to death with his good health.

He dropped these meditations as he thought of the mysterious man he was following. During the cour

se of his two years in the Service he had picked up a great many odds and ends in the history of Bram's life, and in the lives of the Johnsons who had preceded him. He had never told any one how deeply interested he was. He had, at times, made efforts to discuss the quality of Bram's intelligence, but always he had failed to make others see and understand his point of view. By the Indians and half-breeds of the country in which he had lived, Bram was regarded as a monster of the first order possessed of the conjuring powers of the devil himself. By the police he was earnestly desired as the most dangerous murderer at large in all the north, and the lucky man who captured him, dead or alive, was sure of a sergeantcy. Ambition and hope had run high in many valiant hearts until it was generally conceded that Bram was dead.

Philip was not thinking of the sergeantcy as he kept steadily along the edge of the Barren. His service would shortly be up, and he had other plans for the future. From the moment his fingers had touched the golden strand of hair he had been filled with a new and curious emotion. It possessed him even more strongly to-day than it had last night. He had not given voice to that emotion, or to the thoughts it had roused, even to Pierre. Perhaps he was ridiculous. But he possessed imagination, and along with that a great deal of sympathy for animals-and some human beings. He had, for the time, ceased to be the cool and calculating man-hunter intent on the possession of another's life. He knew that his duty was to get Bram and take him back to headquarters, and he also knew that he would perform his duty when the opportunity came-unless he had guessed correctly the significance of the golden snare.

And had he guessed correctly? There was a tremendous doubt in his mind, and yet he was strangely thrilled. He tried to argue that there were many ways in which Bram might have secured the golden hairs that had gone into the making of his snare; and that the snare itself might long have been carried as a charm against the evils of disease and the devil by the strange creature whose mind and life were undoubtedly directed to a large extent by superstition. In that event it was quite logical that Bram had come into possession of his golden talisman years ago.

In spite of himself, Philip could not believe that this was so. At noon, when he built a small fire to make tea and warm his bannock, he took the golden tress from his wallet and examined it even more closely than last night. It might have come from a woman's head only yesterday, so bright and shimmery was it in the pale light of the midday sun. He was amazed at the length and fineness of it, and the splendid texture of each hair. Possibly there were half a hundred hairs, each of an equal and unbroken length.

He ate his dinner, and went on. Three days of storm had covered utterly every trace of the trail made by Bram and his wolves. He was convinced, however, that Bram would travel in the scrub timber close to the Barren. He had already made up his mind that this Barren-the Great Barren of the unmapped north-was the great snow sea in which Bram had so long found safety from the law. Beaching five hundred miles east and west, and almost from the Sixtieth degree to the Arctic Ocean, its un-peopled and treeless wastes formed a tramping ground for him as safe as the broad Pacific to the pirates of old. He could not repress a shivering exclamation as his mind dwelt on this world of Bram's. It was worse than the edge of the Arctic, where one might at least have the Eskimo for company.

He realized the difficulty of his own quest. His one chance lay in fair weather, and the discovery of an old trail made by Bram and his pack. An old trail would lead to fresher ones. Also he was determined to stick to the edge of the scrub timber, for if the Barren was Bram's retreat he would sooner or later strike a trail-unless Bram had gone straight out into the vast white plain shortly after he had made his camp in the forest near Pierre Breault's cabin. In that event it might be weeks before Bram would return to the scrub timber again.

That night the last of the blizzard that had raged for days exhausted itself. For a week clear weather followed. It was intensely cold, but no snow fell. In that week Philip traveled a hundred and twenty miles westward.

It was on the eighth night, as he sat near his fire in a thick clump of dwarf spruce, that the thing happened which Pierre Breault, with a fatalism born of superstition, knew would come to pass. And it is curious that on this night, and in the very hour of the strange happening, Philip had with infinite care and a great deal of trouble rewoven the fifty hairs back into the form of the golden snare.

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