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- The Golden Snare - 1/29 -
THE GOLDEN SNARE
BY JAMES OLIVER CURWOOD
AUTHOR OF KAZAN, THE DANGER TRAIL, THE COURAGE OF MARGE O'DOONE, THE GRIZZLY KING, ETC.
THE GOLDEN SNARE
Bram Johnson was an unusual man, even for the northland. He was, above all other things, a creature of environment--and necessity, and of that something else which made of him at times a man with a soul, and at others a brute with the heart of a devil. In this story of Bram, and the girl, and the other man, Bram himself should not be blamed too much. He was pathetic, and yet he was terrible. It is doubtful if he really had what is generally regarded as a soul. If he did, it was hidden--hidden to the forests and the wild things that had made him.
Bram's story started long before he was born, at least three generations before. That was before the Johnsons had gone north of Sixty. But they were wandering, and steadily upward. If one puts a canoe in the Lower Athabasca and travels northward to the Great Slave and thence up the Mackenzie to the Arctic he will note a number of remarkable ethnological changes. The racial characteristics of the world he is entering change swiftly. The thin-faced Chippewa with his alert movements and high-bowed canoe turns into the slower moving Cree, with his broader cheeks, his more slanting eyes, and his racier birchbark. And even the Cree changes as he lives farther north; each new tribe is a little different from its southernmost neighbor, until at last the Cree looks like a Jap, and the Chippewyan takes his place. And the Chippewyan takes up the story of life where the Cree left off. Nearer the Arctic his canoe becomes a skin kaiak, his face is still broader, Ms eyes like a Chinaman's, and writers of human history call him Eskimo.
The Johnsons, once they started, did not stop at any particular point. There was probably only one Johnson in the beginning of that hundred year story which was to have its finality in Bram. But there were more in time. The Johnson blood mixed itself first with the Chippewa, and then with the Cree--and the Cree-Chippewa Johnson blood, when at last it reached the Eskimo, had in it also a strain of Chippewyan. It is curious how the name itself lived. Johnson! One entered a tepee or a cabin expecting to find there a white man, and was startled when he discovered the truth.
Bram, after nearly a century of this intermixing of bloods, was a throwback--a white man, so far as his skin and his hair and his eyes went. In other physical ways he held to the type of his half- strain Eskimo mother, except in size. He was six feet, and a giant in strength. His face was broad, his cheek-bones high, his lips thick, his nose flat. And he was WHITE. That was the shocking thing about it all. Even his hair was a reddish blonde, wild and coarse and ragged like a lion's mane, and his eyes were sometimes of a curious blue, and at others--when he was angered--green like a cat's at night-time.
No man knew Bram for a friend. He was a mystery. He never remained at a post longer than was necessary to exchange his furs for supplies, and it might be months or even years before he returned to that particular post again. He was ceaselessly wandering. More or less the Royal Northwest Mounted Police kept track of him, and in many reports of faraway patrols filed at Headquarters there are the laconic words, "We saw Bram and his wolves traveling northward" or "Bram and his wolves passed us"--always Bram AND HIS WOLVES. For two years the Police lost track of him. That was when Bram was buried in the heart of the Sulphur Country east of the Great Bear. After that the Police kept an even closer watch on him, waiting, and expecting something to happen. And then--the something came. Bram killed a man. He did it so neatly and so easily, breaking him as he might have broken a stick, that he was well off in flight before it was discovered that his victim was dead. The next tragedy followed quickly--a fortnight later, when Corporal Lee and a private from the Fort Churchill barracks closed in on him out on the edge of the Barren. Bram didn't fire a shot. They could hear his great, strange laugh when they were still a quarter of a mile away from him. Bram merely set loose his wolves. By a miracle Corporal Lee lived to drag himself to a half-breed's cabin, where he died a little later, and the half-breed brought the story to Fort Churchill.
After this, Bram disappeared from the eyes of the world. What he lived in those four or five years that followed would well be worth his pardon if his experiences could be made to appear between the covers of a book. Bram--AND HIS WOLVES! Think of it. Alone. In all that time without a voice to talk to him. Not once appearing at a post for food. A loup-garou. An animal-man. A companion of wolves. By the end of the third year there was not a drop of dog-blood in his pack. It was wolf, all wolf. From whelps he brought the wolves up, until he had twenty in his pack. They were monsters, for the under-grown ones he killed. Perhaps he would have given them freedom in place of death, but these wolf- beasts of Bram's would not accept freedom. In him they recognized instinctively the super-beast, and they were his slaves. And Bram, monstrous and half animal himself, loved them. To him they were brother, sister, wife--all creation. He slept with them, and ate with them, and starved with them when food was scarce. They were comradeship and protection. When Bram wanted meat, and there was meat in the country, he would set his wolf-horde on the trail of a caribou or a moose, and if they drove half a dozen miles ahead of Bram himself there would always be plenty of meat left on the bones when he arrived. Four years of that! The Police would not believe it. They laughed at the occasional rumors that drifted in from the far places; rumors that Bram had been seen, and that his great voice had been heard rising above the howl of his pack on still winter nights, and that half-breeds and Indians had come upon his trails, here and there--at widely divergent places. It was the French half-breed superstition of the chasse-galere that chiefly made them disbelieve, and the chasse-galere is a thing not to be laughed at in the northland. It is composed of creatures who have sold their souls to the devil for the power of navigating the air, and there were those who swore with their hands on the crucifix of the Virgin that they had with their own eyes seen Bram and his wolves pursuing the shadowy forms of great beasts through the skies.
So the Police believed that Bram was dead; and Bram, meanwhile, keeping himself from all human eyes, was becoming more and more each day like the wolves who were his brothers. But the white blood in a man dies hard, and always there flickered in the heart of Bram's huge chest a great yearning. It must at times have been worse than death--that yearning to hear a human voice, to have a human creature to speak to, though never had he loved man or woman. Which brings us at last to the final tremendous climax in Bram's life--to the girl, and the other man.
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
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