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

For a few moments Philip stood without moving.  Jean’s return and the strange things he had said had worked like sharp wine in his blood.  He was breathing quickly.  He was afraid that his appearance just now would betray the mental excitement which he must hide.  He drew back deeper into the shadow of the wall and waited, and while he waited he thought of Jean.  It was not the old Jean that had returned this night, the Jean with his silence, his strange repression, the mysterious something that had seemed to link him with an age-old past.  Out of that spirit had risen a new sort of man ­the fighting man.  He had seen a new fire in Jean’s eyes and face; he had caught new meaning in his words, Jean was no longer the passive Jean ­waiting, watching, guarding.  Out in the forest something had happened to rouse in him what a word from Josephine would set flaming in the savage breasts of her dogs.  And the excitement in Philip’s blood was the thrill of exultation ­the joy of knowing that action was close at hand, for deep in him had grown the belief that only through action could Josephine be freed for him.

Suddenly, softly, there came floating to him the low, sweet tones of the piano, and then, sweeter still, the voice of Josephine.  Another moment and Miriam’s voice had joined her in a song whose melody seemed to float like that of spirit-voices through the thick fog walls of Adare House.  Soundlessly he moved toward the room where they were waiting for him, a deeper flush mounting into his face now.  He opened the door without being heard, and looked in.

Josephine was at the piano.  The great lamp above her head flooded her in a mellow light in which the rich masses of her hair shimmered in a glorious golden glow.  His heart beat with the knowledge that she had again dressed for him to-night.  Her white neck was bare.  In her hair he saw for a second time a red rose.  For a space he saw no one but her.  Then his eyes turned for an instant to Miriam.  She was standing a little back, and it seemed to him that he had never seen her so beautiful.  Against the wall, in a great chair, sat the master of Adare, his bearded chin in the palm of his hand, looking at the two with a steadiness of gaze that was more than adoration.  Philip entered.  Still he was unheard.  He stood silent until the song was finished, and it was Josephine, turning, who saw him first.

“Philip!” she cried.

Adare started, as if awakening from a dream.  Josephine came to Philip, holding out both her hands, her beautiful face smiling with welcome.  Even as their warm touch thrilled him he felt a sudden chill creep over him.  A swift glance showed him that Adare had gone to Miriam.  Instead of words of greeting, he whispered low in Josephine’s ear: 

“I would have come sooner, but I have been with Jean.  He returned a few minutes ago.  Strange things have happened, and he says that he must see you within an hour, and that your father must not know.  He is in my room.  You must get away without rousing suspicion.”

Her fingers gripped his tightly.  The soft glow in her eyes faded away.  A look of fear leapt into them and her face went suddenly white.  He drew her nearer, until her hands were against his breast.

“Don’t look like that,” he whispered.  “Nothing can hurt you.  Nothing in the world.  See ­I must do this to bring your colour back, or they will guess something is wrong!”

He bent and kissed her on the lips.

Adare’s voice burst out happily: 

“Good boy, Philip!  Don’t be bashful when we’re around.  That’s the first time I’ve seen you kiss your wife!”

There was none of the white betrayal in Josephine’s cheeks now.  They were the colour of the rose in her hair.  She had time to look up into Philip’s face, and whisper with a laughing break in her voice: 

“Thank you, Philip.  You have saved me again.”

With Philip’s hand in hers she turned to her father and mother.

“Philip wants to scold me, Mon Pere,” she said.  “And I cannot blame him.  He has seen almost nothing of me to-day.”

“And I have been scolding Miriam because they have given me no chance with the baby,” rumbled Adare.  “I have seen him but twice to-day ­the little beggar!  And both times he was asleep.  But I have forced them to terms, Philip.  From to-morrow I am to have him as much as I please.  When they want him they will find him in the big room.”

Josephine led Philip to her mother, who had seated herself on one of the divans.

“I want you to talk with Philip, Mikawe,” she said.  “I have promised father that he should have a peep at the baby.  I will bring him back very soon.”

Philip seated himself beside Miriam as Adare and Josephine left the room.  He noticed that her hair was dressed like Josephine’s, and that in the soft depths of it was partly buried a rose.

“Do you know ­I sometimes think that I am half dreaming,” he said.  “All this seems too wonderful to be true ­you, and Josephine, almost a thousand miles out of the world.  Even flowers like that which you wear in your hair ­hot-house flowers!”

There was a strange sweetness in Miriam’s smile, a smile softened by something that was almost pathetic, a touch of sadness.

“That is the one thing we keep alive out of the world I used to know ­roses,” she said.  “The first roots came from my babyhood home, and we have grown them here for more than twenty years.  Of course Josephine has shown you our little hot-house?”

“Yes.” lied Philip.  Then he added, finding her dear eyes resting on him steadily.  “And you have never grown lonesome up here?”

“Never.  I am sorry that we ever went back into that other world, even for a day.  This has been paradise.  We have always been happy.  And you?” she asked suddenly.  “Do you sometimes wish for that other world?”

“I have been out of it four years ­with the exception of a short break.  I never want to go back.  Josephine has made my paradise, as you have made another man’s.”

He fancied, as she turned her face from him, that he heard a little catch in her breath.  But she faced him again quickly.

“We have been happy.  No woman in the world has been happier than I. And you ­four years?  In that time you have not heard much music.  Shall I play for you?”

She rose and went to the piano without waiting for him to reply.  Philip leaned back and partly closed his eyes as she began to play.  The spell of music held him silent, and neither spoke until Josephine and her father returned.  Philip did not catch the laughing words Adare turned to his wife.  In the door Josephine had stopped.  To his surprise she was dressed in her red coat and hood, and her feet were moccasined.  She made a quick little signal to him.

“I am ready, Philip,” she said.

He arose, fearing that his tongue might betray him if he replied to her in words.  Adare came unwittingly to his assistance.

“You’ll get used to this before the winter is over, Philip,” he exclaimed banteringly.  “Metoosin once called Josephine ’Wapikunoo’ ­the White Owl, and the name has stuck ever since.  I haven’t known Mignonne to miss a walk on a moonlit winter night since I can remember.  But I prefer my airings in the day.  Eh, Miriam?”

“And there is no moon to-night,” laughed his wife.

“Hush ­but there is Philip!” whispered Adare loudly.  “It may be that our Josephine will prefer the darker nights after this.  Can you remember ­”

Josephine was pulling Philip through the door, laughing back over her shoulder.  As soon as they were in the hall she caught his arm excitedly.

“Let us hurry to your room,” she urged.  “You can dress and slip out unseen, leaving Jean and me alone.  You are sure ­he wants to see me ­alone?”

There was a tremble in her voice now.

“Yes.”  They came to his door and he tapped on it lightly.  Instantly it was opened.  Josephine stared at Jean as she darted in.

“Jean ­you have something to tell me?” she whispered, no longer hiding the fear in her face.  “You must see me ­alone?”

“Oui, M’selle,” murmured Jean, turning to Philip.  “If M’sieur Philip can arrange for us to be alone.”

“I will be gone in a moment,” said Philip, hastily beginning to put on heavier garments.  “Lock the door, Jean.  It will not do to be interrupted now.”

When he was ready Josephine went to him, her eyes shining softly.  Jean turned to the window.

“You ­your faith in me is beautiful,” she said gratefully, so low that only he could hear her.  “I don’t deserve it, Philip.”

For a moment he pressed her hand, his face telling her more than he could trust his lips to speak.  Jean heard him turn the key in the lock, and he turned quickly.

“I have thought it would be better for you to go out by the window, M’sieur.”

“You are right,” agreed Philip, relocking the door.

Jean raised the window.  As Philip dropped himself outside the half-breed said: 

“Go no farther than the edge of the forest, M’sieur.  We will turn the light low and draw the curtain.  When the curtain is raised again return to us as quickly as you can.  Remember, M’sieur ­and go no farther than the edge of the forest.”

The window dropped behind him, and he turned toward the dark wall of spruce.  There were six inches of fresh snow on the ground, and the clouds were again drifting out of the sky.  Here and there a star shone through, but the moon was only a pallid haze beyond the gray-black thickness above.  In the first shelter of the spruce and balsam Philip paused.  He found himself a seat by brushing the snow from a log, and lighted his pipe.  Steadily he kept his eyes on the curtained window.  What was happening there now?  To what was Josephine listening in these tense minutes of waiting?

Even as he stared through the darkness to that one lighter spot in the gloom he knew that the world was changing for the woman he loved.  He believed Jean, and he knew Jean was now telling her the story of that day and the preceding night ­the story which he had said would destroy the hopes she had built up, throw their plans into ruin, perhaps even disclose to him the secret which they had been fighting to hide.  What could that story be?  And what effect was it having on Josephine?  The minutes passed slowly ­with an oppressive slowness.  Three times he lighted matches to look at his watch.  Five minutes passed ­ten, fifteen.  He rose from the log and paced back and forth, making a beaten path in the snow.  It was taking Jean a long time to tell the story!

And then, suddenly, a flood of light shot out into the night.  The curtain was raised!  It was Jean’s signal to him, and with a wildly beating heart he responded to it.