Read CHAPTER TWO of God Country-And the Woman, free online book, by James Oliver Curwood, on ReadCentral.com.

A face like that into which Philip looked might have come to him from out of some dream of paradise.  It was a girl’s face.  Eyes of the pure blue of the sky above met his own.  Her lips were a little parted and a little laughing.  Before he had uttered a word, before he could rise out of the stupidity of his wonder, the change came.  A fear that he could not have forgotten if he had lived through a dozen centuries leaped into the lovely eyes.  The half-laughing lips grew tense with terror.  Quick as the flash of powder there had come into her face a look that was not that of one merely startled.  It was fear ­horror ­a great, gripping thing that for an instant seemed to crush the life from her soul.  In another moment it was gone, and she swayed back against the face of the rock, clutching a hand at her breast.

“My God, how I frightened you!” gasped Philip.

“Yes, you frightened me,” she said.

Her white throat was bare, and he could see the throb of it as she made a strong effort to speak steadily.  Her eyes did not leave him.  As he advanced a step he saw that unconsciously she cringed closer to the rock.

“You are not afraid ­now?” he asked.  “I wouldn’t have frightened you for the world.  And sooner than hurt you I’d ­I’d kill myself.  I just stumbled here by accident.  And I haven’t seen a white woman ­for two years.  So I stared ­stared ­and stood there like a fool.”

Relief shot into her eyes at his words.

“Two years?  What do you mean?”

“I’ve been up along the rim of h ­I mean the Arctic, on a government wild-goose chase,” he explained.  “And I’m just coming down.”

“You’re from the North?”

There was an eager emphasis in her question.

“Yes.  Straight from Coronation Gulf.  I ran ashore to cook a mess of prunes.  While the water was boiling I came down here after a bear, and found you!  My name is Philip Weyman; I haven’t even an Indian with me, and there are three things in the world I’d trade that name for just now:  One is pie, another is doughnuts, and the third ­”

She brushed back her hair, and the fear went from her eyes as she looked at him.

“And the third?” she asked.

“Is the answer to a question,” he finished.  “How do you happen to be here, six hundred miles from anywhere?”

She stepped out from the rock.  And now he saw that she was almost as tall as himself, and that she was as slim as a reed and as beautifully poised as the wild narcissus that sways like music to every call of the wind.  She had tucked up her sleeves, baring her round white arms close to the shoulders, and as she looked steadily at him before answering his question she flung back the shining masses of her hair and began to braid it.  Her fear for him was entirely gone.  She was calm.  And there was something in the manner of her quiet and soul-deep study of him that held back other words which he might have spoken.

In those few moments she had taken her place in his life.  She stood before him like a goddess, tall and slender and unafraid, her head a gold-brown aureole, her face filled with a purity, a beauty, and a strength that made him look at her speechless, waiting for the sound of her voice.  In her look there was neither boldness nor suspicion.  Her eyes were clear, deep pools of velvety blue that defied him to lie to her, He felt that under those eyes he could have knelt down upon the sand and emptied his soul of its secrets for their inspection.

“It is not very strange that I should be here” she said at last.  “I have always lived here.  It is my home.”

“Yes, I believe that,” breathed Philip.  “It is the last thing in the world that one would believe ­but I do; I believe it.  Something ­I don’t know what ­told me that you belonged to this world as you stood there beside the rock.  But I don’t understand.  A thousand miles from a city ­and you!  It’s unreal.  It’s almost like the dreams I’ve been dreaming during the past eighteen months, and the visions I’ve seen during that long, maddening night up on the coast, when for five months we didn’t see a glow of the sun.  But ­you understand ­it’s hard to comprehend.”

From her he glanced swiftly over the rocks of the coulee, as if expecting to see some sign of the home she had spoken of, or at least of some other human presence.  She understood his questioning look.  “I am alone,” she said.

The quality of her voice startled him more then her words.  There was a deeper, darker glow in her eyes as she watched their effect upon him.  She swept out a gleaming white arm, still moist with the water of the pool, taking in the wide, autumn-tinted spaces about them.

“I am alone,” she repeated, still keeping her eyes on his face.  “Entirely alone.  That is why you startled me ­why I was afraid.  This is my hiding-place, and I thought ­”

He saw that she had spoken words that she would have recalled.  She hesitated.  Her lips trembled.  In that moment of suspense a little gray ermine dislodged a stone from the rock ridge above them, and at the sound of it as it struck behind her the girl gave a start, and a quick flash of the old fear leaped for an instant into her face.  And now Philip beheld something in her which he had been too bewildered and wonder-struck to observe before.  Her first terror had been so acute that he had failed to see what remained after her fright had passed.  But it was clear to him now, and the look that came into his own face told her that he had made the discovery.

The beauty of her face, her eyes, her hair ­the wonder of her presence six hundred miles from civilization ­had held him spellbound.  He had seen only the deep lustre and the wonderful blue of her eyes.  Now he saw that those eyes, exquisite in their loveliness, were haunted by something which she was struggling to fight back ­a questing, hunted look that burned there steadily, and of which he was not the cause.  A deep-seated grief, a terror far back, shone through the forced calmness with which she was speaking to him.  He knew that she was fighting with herself, that the nervously twitching fingers at her breast told more than her lips had confessed.  He stepped nearer to her and held out a hand, and when he spoke his voice was vibrant with the thing that made men respect him and women have faith in him.

“Tell me ­what you started to say,” he entreated quietly.  “This is your hiding-place, and you thought ­what?  I think that I can guess.  You thought that I was some one else, whom you have reason to fear.”

She did not answer.  It was as if she had not yet completely measured him.  Her eyes told him that.  They were not looking at him, but into him.  And they were softly beautiful as wood violets.  He found himself looking steadily into them ­close, so close that he could have reached out and touched her.  Slowly there came over them a filmy softness.  And then, marvellously, he saw the tears gathering, as dew might gather over the sweet petals of a flower.  And still for a moment she did not speak.  There came a little quiver at her throat, and she caught herself with a quick, soft breath.

“Yes, I thought you were some one else ­whom I fear,” she said then.  “But why should I tell you?  You are from down there, from what you please to call civilization.  I should distrust you because of that.  So why ­why should I tell you?”

In an instant Philip was at her side.  In his rough, storm-beaten hand he caught the white fingers that trembled at her breast.  And there was something about him now that made her completely unafraid.

“Why?” he asked.  “Listen, and I will tell you.  Four years ago I came up into this country from down there ­the world they call Civilization.  I came up with every ideal and every dream I ever had broken and crushed.  And up here I found God’s Country.  I found new ideals and new dreams.  I am going back with them.  But they can never be broken as the others were ­because ­now ­I have found something that will make them live.  And that something is you!  Don’t let my words startle you.  I mean them to be as pure as the sun that shines over our heads.  If I leave you now ­if I never see you again ­you will have filled this wonderful world for me.  And if I could do something to prove this ­to make you happier ­why, I’d thank God for having sent me ashore to cook a mess of prunes.”

He released her hand, and stepped back from her.

“That is why you should tell me,” he finished.

A swift change had come into her eyes and face.  She was breathing quickly.  He saw the sudden throbbing of her throat.  A flush of colour had mounted into her cheeks.  Her lips were parted, her eyes shone like stars.

“You would do a great deal for me?” she questioned breathlessly.  “A great deal ­and like ­A man?”

“Yes.”

“A man ­one of God’s men?” she repeated.

He bowed his head.

Slowly, so slowly that she scarcely seemed to move, she drew nearer to him.

“And when you had done this you would be willing to go away, to promise never to see me again, to ask no reward?  You would swear that?”

Her hand touched his arm.  Her breath came tense and fast as she waited for him to answer.  “If you wished it, yes,” he said.

“I almost believe,” he heard, as if she were speaking the words to herself.  She turned to him again, and something of faith, of hope transfigured her face.

“Return to your fire and your prunes,” she said quickly, and the sunlight of a smile passed over her lips.  “Then, half an hour from now, come up the coulee to the turn in the rocks.  You will find me there.”

She bent quickly and picked up the little bag and the brush from the sand.  Without looking at him again she sped swiftly beyond the big rock, and Philip’s last vision of her was the radiant glory of her hair as it rippled cloudlike behind her in the sunlight.