MoboReader > Literature > Philip Steele of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police

   Chapter 4 The Silken Scarf

Philip Steele of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police By James Oliver Curwood Characters: 12088

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

A loneliness deeper than he had ever known-a yearning that was almost pain, oppressed Philip as he left Lac Bain behind him. Half a mile from the post he stopped under a shelter of dense spruce, and stood listening as there came to him faintly the distant howling of a dog. After all, had he done right? He laughed harshly and his hands clenched as he thought of Bucky Nome. He had done right by him. But the skull-Mrs. Becker-was that right? Like a flash there came to him out of the darkness a picture of the scene beside the fire-of Mrs. Becker and the colonel, of the woman's golden head resting on her husband's shoulder, her sweet blue eyes filled with all the truth and glory of womanhood as she had looked up into his grizzled face. And then there took its place the scene beside the fire in the factor's room. He saw the woman's flushed cheeks as she listened to the low voice of Bucky Nome, he saw again what looked like yielding softness in her eyes-the grayish pallor in the colonel's face as he had looked upon the flirtation. Yes, he had done right. She had recovered herself in time, but she had taken a little bit of life from the colonel, and from him. She had broken his ideal-the ideal he had always hoped for, and had sought for, but had never found, and he told himself that now she was no better than the girl of the hyacinth letter, whose golden beauty and eyes as clear as an angel's had concealed this same deceit that wrecked men's lives. M'sieur Janette's clean, white skull and the story of how and why M'sieur Janette had died would not be too great a punishment for her.

He resumed his journey, striving to concentrate his mind on other things. Seven or eight miles to the south and west was the cabin of Jacques Pierrot, a half-breed, who had a sledge and dogs. He would hire Jacques to accompany him on his patrol in place of Bucky Nome. Then he would return to Nelson House and send in his report of Bucky Nome's desertion, since he knew well enough after the final remarks of that gentleman that he did not intend to sever his connection with the Northwest Mounted in the regular way. After that-He shrugged his shoulders as he thought of the fourteen months' of service still ahead of him. Until now his adventure as a member of the Royal Mounted had not grown monotonous for an hour. Excitement, action, fighting against odds, had been the spice of life to him, and he struggled to throw off the change that had taken hold of him the moment he had opened the hyacinth-scented letter of Mrs. Becker. "You're a fool," he argued. "You're as big a fool as Bucky Nome. My God-you-Phil Steele-letting a married woman upset you like this!"

It was near midnight when he came to Pierrot's cabin, but a light was still burning in the half-breed's log home. Philip kicked off his snow shoes and knocked at the door. In a moment Pierrot opened it, stepped back, and stared at the white figure that came in out of the storm.

"Mon Dieu-it ees you-Mee-sair Philip!"

Philip held out his hand to Jacques, and shot a quick glance about him. There had been a change in the cabin since he had visited it last. One of Pierrot's hands was done up in a sling, his face was thin and pale, and his dark eyes were sunken and lusterless. In the little wilderness home there was an air of desertion and neglect, and Philip wondered where Pierrot's rosy-cheeked, black-haired wife and his half dozen children had gone.

"Mon Dieu-it ees you, Mee-sair Philip," cried Pierrot again, his face lighting up with pleasure. "You come late. You are hongree?"

"I've had supper," replied Philip. "I've just come from Lac Bain. But what's up, old man-?" He pointed to Pierrot's hand, and looked questionably about the cabin again.

"Eh-Iowla-my wife-she is at Churchill, over on the bay," groaned Jacques. "And so are the children. What! You did not hear at Lac Bain? Iowla is taken seek-ver' seek-with a strange thing which-ugh!-has to be fixed with a knife, Mee-sair Philip. An' so I take her to the doctor over at Churchill, an' he fix her-an' she is growing well now, an' will soon come home. She keep the children with her. She say they mak' her think of Jacques, on his trap-line. Eh-it ees lonely-dam'-dam' lonely, and I have been gone from my Iowla but two weeks to-morrow."

"You have been with her at Fort Churchill?" asked Philip, taking off his pack and coat.

"Oui, M'sieur," said Jacques, falling into his French. "I have been there since November. What! They did not tell you at Lac Bain?"

"No-they did not tell me. But I was there but a few hours, Jacques. Listen-" He pulled out his pipe and began filling it, with his back to the stove. "You saw people-strangers-at Fort Churchill, Jacques? They came over on the London ship, and among them there was a woman-"

Pierrot's pale face flashed up with sudden animation.

"Ah-zee angel!" he cried. "That is what my Iowla called her, M'sieur. See!" He pointed to his bandaged hand. "Wan day that bete-the Indian dog of mine-did that, an' w'en I jumped up from the snow in front of the company's store, the blood running from me, I see her standing there, white an' scared. An' then she run to me with a little scream, an' tear something from her neck, an' tie it round my hand. Then she go with me to my cabin, and every day after that she come to see my Iowla an' the children. She wash little Pierre, an' cut his hair. She wash Jean an' Mabelle. She laugh an' sing an' hol' the baby, an' my Iowla laugh an' sing; an' she takes down my Iowla's hair, which is so long that it falls to her knees, an' does it up in a wonderful way an' says she would give everything she got if she could have that hair. An' my Iowla laugh at her, because her hair is like an angel's-like fire w'en the sun is on it; an' my Iowla tak' hers down, all red an' gold, an' do it up in the Cree way. And w'en she brings the man with her-he laughs an' plays with the kids, an' says he knows the doctor and that there will be nothing to pay for all that he is done. Ah-she ees wan be

-e-eautiful-l-l angel! An' this-this is w'at she tied around my hand."

With new life Pierrot went to a covered box nailed against one of the log walls and a moment later placed in Philip's hands a long, white, silken neck-scarf. Once more there rose to his nostrils the sweet, faint scent of hyacinth, and with a sudden low cry Philip crushed the dainty fabric in a mass to his face. In that moment it seemed as though the sweetness of the woman herself was with him, stirring him at last to confess the truth-the thing which he had fought against so fiercely in those few hours at Lac Bain; and the knowledge that he had surrendered to himself, that in going from Lac Bain he was leaving all that the world held for him in the way of woman and love, drew his breath from him in another broken, stifled cry.

When he lowered the scarf his face was white. Pierrot was staring at him.

"It makes me think-of home," he explained lamely. "Sometimes I get lonely, too. There's a girl-down there-who wears a scarf like this, and what she wears smells like a flower, just as this does-"

"Oui, I understand," said Pierrot softly. "It is the way I feel when my Iowla is gone."

He replaced the scarf in the box, and when he returned to the stove Philip explained why he had come to his cabin. With Pierrot's promise to accompany him with dogs and sledge on his patrol the next day he prepared to go to bed. Pierrot also was undressing, and Philip said to him casually,

"This woman-at Churchill-Jacques-what if some one should tell you that she is not so much of an angel after all-that she is, perhaps, something like-like the woman over at Lac la Biche, who ran away with the Englishman?"

Pierrot straightened as though Philip had thrust a knife-point into his back. He broke forth suddenly into French.

"I would call him a liar, M'sieur," he cried fiercely. "I would call him a liar, once-twice-three times, and then if he said it again I would fight him. Mon Dieu, but it would be no sin to kill one with a mouth like that!"

Philip was conscious of the hot blood rushing to his face as he bent over his bunk. The depths of Pierrot's faith shamed him, and he crawled silently between the blankets and turned his face to the wall. Pierrot extinguished the light, and a little later Philip could hear his deep breathing. But sleep refused to close his own eyes, and he lay on his back, painfully awake. In spite of the resolution he had made to think no more of the woman at Lac Bain, his mind swept him back to her irresistibly. He recalled every incident that had occurred, every word that she had spoken, since he had first looked upon her beautiful face out on the Churchill trail. He could find nothing but purity and sweetness until he came with her for that fatal hour or two into the company of Bucky Nome. And then, again, his blood grew hot. But-after all-was there not some little excuse for her? He thought of the hundreds of women he had known, and wondered if there was one among them all who had not at some time fallen into this same little error as Mrs. Becker. For the first time he began to look at himself. Mrs. Becker had laughed with Bucky Nome, her cheeks had grown a little flushed, her eyes had shone radiantly-but were those things a sin? Had those same eyes not looked up into his own, filled with a sweetness that thrilled him, when he bent over her beside the fire out on the Churchill trail? Was there not that same lovely flush in her face when his lips had almost touched her hair? And had not the colonel's sudden return brought a flush into both their faces? He smiled to himself, and for a moment he thrilled ecstatically. The reaction came like a shock. In an instant other scenes-other faces-flashed upon him, and again he saw the luring, beautiful face of Eileen Hawkins, who smiled on men as Mrs. Becker had smiled on Bucky Nome and on him.

He closed his eyes and tried to force himself into sleep, but failed. At last he rose silently from his bunk, filled his pipe, and sat down in the darkness beside the stove. The storm had increased to a gale, wailing and moaning over the cabin outside, and the sound carried him back to the last night in the cabin far to the south, when he had destroyed the hyacinth-scented letter. The thought of the letter moved him restlessly. He listened to Pierrot's breathing, and knew that the half-breed was asleep. Then he rose to his feet and laid his pipe on the table. A curious feeling of guilt came over him as he moved toward the box in which Jacques had placed the silken scarf. His breath came quickly; in the dark his eyes shone; a tingling thrill of strange pleasure shot through him as his fingers touched the thing for which they were searching. He drew the scarf out, and returned to the stove with it, crushing it in both his hands. The sweetness of it came to him again like the woman's breath. It was the sweetness of her hair, of the golden coils massed in the firelight; a part of the woman herself, of her glorious eyes, her lips, her face-and suddenly he crushed the fabric to his own face, and stood there, trembling in the darkness, while Jacques Pierrot slept and the storm wailed and moaned over his head. For he knew-now-that he would do more for this woman than Jacques Pierrot could ever do; more, perhaps, than even the colonel, her husband, would do. His heart seemed bursting with a new and terrible pain, and the truth at last seemed to rise and choke him. He loved her. He loved this woman, the wife of another man. He loved her as he had never dreamed that he could love a woman, and with the scarf still smothering his lips and face he stood for many minutes, silent and motionless, gathering himself slowly from out of the appalling depths into which he had allowed himself to plunge.

Then he folded the scarf, and instead of returning it to the box, put it in one of the pockets of his coat.

"Pierrot won't care," he excused himself. "And it's the only thing, little girl-the only thing-I'll ever have-of you."

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top