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   Chapter 17 No.17

The Golden Snare By James Oliver Curwood Characters: 11411

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


That the Eskimos both to the east and the west were more than likely to come their way, converging toward the central cry that was now silent, Philip was sure. In the brief interval in which he had to act he determined to make use of his fallen enemies. This he impressed on Celie's alert mind before he ran back to the scene of the fight. He made no more than a swift observation of the field in these first moments-did not even look for weapons. His thought was entirely of Celie. The smallest of the three forms on the snow was the Kogmollock he had struck down with his club. He dropped on his knees and took off first the sealskin bashlyk, or hood. Then he began stripping the dead man of his other garments. From the fur coat to the caribou-skin moccasins they were comparatively new. With them in his arms he hurried back to the girl.

It was not a time for fine distinctions. The clothes were a godsend, though they had come from a dead man's back, and an Eskimo's at that. Celie's eyes shone with joy. It amazed him more than ever to see how unafraid she was in this hour of great danger. She was busy with the clothes almost before his back was turned.

He returned to the Eskimos. The three were dead. It made him shudder-one with a tiny bullet hole squarely between the eyes, and the others crushed by the blows of the club. His hand fondled Celie's little revolver-the pea-shooter he had laughed at. After all it had saved his life. And the club-

He did not examine too closely there. From the man he had struck with his naked fist he outfitted himself with a hood and temiak, or coat. In the temiak there were no pockets, but at the waist of each of the dead men a narwhal skin pouch which answered for all pockets. He tossed the three pouches in a little heap on the snow before he searched for weapons. He found two knives and half a dozen of the murderous little javelins. One of the knives was still clutched in the hand of the Eskimo who was creeping up to disembowel him when Celie's revolver saved him. He took this knife because it was longer and sharper than the other.

On his knees he began to examine the contents of the three pouches. In each was the inevitable roll of babiche, or caribou-skin cord, and a second and smaller waterproof narwhal bag in which were the Kogmollock fire materials. There was no food. This fact was evident proof that the Eskimos were in camp somewhere in the vicinity. He had finished his investigation of the pouches when, looking up from his kneeling posture, he saw Celie approaching.

In spite of the grimness of the situation he could not repress a smile as he rose to greet her. At fifty paces, even with her face toward him, one would easily make the error of mistaking her for an Eskimo, as the sealskin bashlyk was so large that it almost entirely concealed her face except when one was very close to her. Philip's first assistance was to roll back the front of the hood. Then he pulled her thick braid out from under the coat and loosed the shining glory of her hair until it enveloped her in a wonderful shimmering mantle. Their enemies could not mistake her for a man NOW, even at a hundred yards. If they ran into an ambuscade she would at least be saved from the javelins.

Celie scarcely realized what he was doing. She was staring at the dead men-silent proof of the deadly menace that had threatened them and of the terrific fight Philip must have made. A strange note rose in her throat, and turning toward him suddenly she flung herself into his arms. Her own arms encircled his neck, and for a space she lay shudderingly against his breast, as if sobbing. How many times he kissed her in those moments Philip could not have told. It must have been a great many. He knew only that her arms were clinging tighter and tighter about his neck, and that she was whispering his name, and that his hands were buried in her soft hair. He forgot time, forgot the possible cost of precious seconds lost. It was a small thing that recalled him to his senses. From out of a spruce top a handful of snow fell on his shoulder. It startled him like the touch of a strange hand, and in another moment he was explaining swiftly to Celie that there were other enemies near and that they must lose no time in flight.

He fastened one of the pouches at his waist, picked up his club, and-on second thought-one of the Kogmollock javelins. He had no very definite idea of how he might use the latter weapon, as it was too slender to be of much avail as a spear at close quarters. At a dozen paces he might possibly throw it with some degree of accuracy. In a Kogmollock's hand it was a deadly weapon at a hundred paces. With the determination to be at his side when the next fight came Celie possessed herself of a second javelin. With her hand in his Philip set out then due north through the forest.

It was in that direction he knew the cabin must lay. After striking the edge of the timber after crossing the Barren Bram Johnson had turned almost directly south, and as he remembered the last lap of the journey Philip was confident that not more than eight or ten miles had separated the two cabins. He regretted now his carelessness in not watching Brain's trail more closely in that last hour or two. His chief hope of finding the cabin was in the discovery of some landmark at the edge of the Barren. He recalled distinctly where they had turned into the forest, and in less than half an hour after that they had come upon the first cabin.

Their immediate necessity was not so much the finding of the cabin as escape from the Eskimos. Within half an hour, perhaps even less, he believed that other eyes would know of the figh

t at the edge of the open. It was inevitable. If the Kogmollocks on either side of them struck the trail before it reached the open they would very soon run upon the dead, and if they came upon footprints in the snow this side of the open they would back-trail swiftly to learn the source and meaning of the cry of triumph that had not repeated itself. Celie's little feet, clad in moccasins twice too big for her, dragged in the snow in a way that would leave no doubt in the Eskimo mind. As Philip saw the situation there was one chance for them, and only one. They could not escape by means of strategy. They could not hide from their pursuers. Hope depended entirely upon the number of their enemies. If there were only three or four of them left they would not attack in the open. In that event he must watch for ambuscade, and dread the night. He looked down at Celie, buried in her furry coat and hood and plodding along courageously at his side with her hand in his. This was not a time in which to question him, and she was obeying his guidance with the faith of a child. It was tremendous, he thought-the most wonderful moment that had ever entered into his life. It is this dependence, this sublime faith and confidence in him of the woman he loves that gives to a man the strength of a giant in the face of a great crisis and makes him put up a tiger's fight for her. For such a woman a man must win. And then Philip noticed how tightly Celie's other hand was gripping the javelin with which she had armed herself. She was ready to fight, too. The thrill of it all made him laugh, and her eyes shot up to him suddenly, filled with a moment's wonder that he should be laughing now. She must have understood, for the big hood hid her face again almost instantly, and her fingers tightened the smallest bit about his.

For a matter of a quarter of an hour they traveled as swiftly as Celie could walk. Philip was confident that the Eskimo whose cries they had heard would strike directly for the point whence the first cry had come, and it was his purpose to cover as much distance as possible in the first few minutes that their enemies might be behind them. It was easier to watch the back trail than to guard against ambuscades ahead. Twice in that time he stopped where they would be unseen and looked back, and in advancing he picked out the thinnest timber and evaded whatever might have afforded a hiding place to a javelin-thrower. They had progressed another half mile when suddenly they came upon a snowshoe trail in the snow.

It had crossed at right angles to their own course, and as Philip bent over it a sudden lump rose into his throat. The other Eskimos had not worn snowshoes. That in itself had not surprised him, for the snow was hard and easily traveled in moccasins. The fact that amazed him now was that the trail under his eyes had not been made by Eskimo usamuks. The tracks were long and narrow. The web imprint in the snow was not that of the broad narwhal strip, but the finer mesh of babiche. It was possible that an Eskimo was wearing them, but they were A WHITE MAN'S SHOES!

And then he made another discovery. For a dozen paces he followed in the trail, allowing six inches with each step he took as the snowshoe handicap. Even at that he could not easily cover the tracks. The man who had made them had taken a longer snowshoe stride than his own by at least nine inches. He could no longer keep the excitement of his discovery from Celie.

"The Eskimo never lived who could make that track," he exclaimed. "They can travel fast enough but they're a bunch of runts when it comes to leg-swing. It's a white man-or Bram!"

The announcement of the wolf-man's name and Philip's gesture toward the trail drew a quick little cry of understanding from Celie. In a flash she had darted to the snowshoe tracks and was examining them with eager intensity. Then she looked up and shook her head. It wasn't Bram! She pointed to the tail of the shoe and catching up a twig broke it under Philip's eyes. He remembered now. The end of Bram's shoes was snubbed short off. There was no evidence of that defect in the snow. It was not Bram who had passed that way.

For a space he stood undecided. He knew that Celie was watching him-that she was trying to learn something of the tremendous significance of that moment from his face. The same unseen force that had compelled him to wait and watch for his foes a short time before seemed urging him now to follow the strange snowshoe trail. Enemy or friend the maker of those tracks would at least be armed. The thought of what a rifle and a few cartridges would mean to him and Celie now brought a low cry of decision from him. He turned quickly to Celie.

"He's going east-and we ought to go north to find the cabin," he told her, pointing to the trail. "But we'll follow him. I want his rifle. I want it more than anything else in this world, now that I've got you. We'll follow-"

If there had been a shadow of hesitation in his mind it was ended in that moment. From behind them there came a strange hooting cry. It was not a yell such as they had heard before. It was a booming far-reaching note that had in it the intonation of a drum-a sound that made one shiver because of its very strangeness. And then, from farther west, it came-

"Hoom-Hoom-Ho-o-o-o-o-m-m-m-m-"

In the next half minute it seemed to Philip that the cry was answered from half a dozen different quarters. Then again it came from directly behind them.

Celie uttered a little gasp as she clung to his hand again. She understood as well as he. One of the Eskimos had discovered the dead and their foes were gathering in behind them.

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