The Chalice Of Courage: A Romance of Colorado
скачать книгу бесплатно
"For God's sake, Help!"
How dare poor humanity so plead, the doubter cries. What is it to God if one suffers, another bleeds, another dies. What answer could come out of that silent sky?
Sometimes the Lord speaks with the loud voice of men's fashioning, instead of in that still whisper which is His own and the sound of which we fail to catch because of our own ignoble babble!
The answer to her prayer came with a roar in her nervous frightened ear like a clap of thunder. Ere the first echo of it died away, it was succeeded by another and another and another, echoing, rolling, reverberating among the rocks in ever diminishing but long drawn out peals.
On the instant the bear rose to his feet, swayed slightly and struck as at an imaginary enemy with his weighty paws. A hoarse, frightful guttering roar burst from his red slavering jaws, then he lurched sideways and fell forward, fighting the air madly for a moment, and lay still.
With staring eyes that missed no detail, she saw that the brute had been shot in the head and shoulder three times, and that he was apparently dead. The revulsion that came over her was bewildering; she swayed again, this time not from the thrust of the water but with sick faintness. The tension suddenly taken off, unstrung, the loose bow of her spirit quivered helplessly; the arrow of her life almost fell into the stream.
And then a new and more appalling terror swept over her. Some man had fired that shot. Act?on had spied upon Diana. With this sudden revelation of her shame, the red blood beat to the white surface in spite of the chill water. The anguish of that moment was greater than before. She could be killed, torn to pieces, devoured, that was a small thing, but that she should be so outraged in her modesty was unendurable. She wished the hunter had not come. She sunk lower in the water for a moment fain to hide in its crystal clarity and realized as she did how frightfully cold she was. Yet, although she froze where she was and perished with cold she could not go out on the bank to dress, and it would avail her little she saw swiftly, since the huge monster had fallen a dead heap on her clothes.
Now all this, although it takes minutes to tell, had happened in but a few seconds. Seconds sometimes include hours, even a life time, in their brief composition. She thought it would be just as well for her to sink down and die in the water, when a sudden splashing below her caused her to look down the stream.
She was so agitated that she could make out little except that there was a man crossing below her and making directly toward the body of the bear. He was a tall black bearded man, she saw he carried a rifle, he looked neither to the right nor to the left, he did not bestow a glance upon her. She could have cried aloud in thanksgiving for his apparent obliviousness to her as she crouched now neck deep in the benumbing cold. The man stepped on the bank, shook himself like a great dog might have done and marched over to the bear.He up-rooted a small near-by pine, with the ease of a Hercules – and she had time to mark and marvel at it in spite of everything – and then with that as a lever he unconcernedly and easily heaved the body of the monster from off her clothing. She was to learn later what a feat of strength it was to move that inert carcass weighing much more than half a ton.
Thereafter he dropped the pine tree by the side of the dead grizzly and without a backward look tramped swiftly and steadily up the ca?on through the trees, turning at the point of it, and was instantly lost to sight. His gentle and generous purpose was obvious even to the frightened, agitated, excited girl.
The woman watched him until he disappeared, a few seconds longer, and then she hurled herself through the water and stepped out upon the shore. Her sweater, which the bear had dragged forward in its advance, lay on top of the rest of her clothes covered with blood. She threw it aside and with nervous, frantic energy, wet, cold, though she was, she jerked on in some fashion enough clothes to cover her nakedness and then with more leisurely order and with necessary care she got the rest of her apparel in its accustomed place upon her body, and then when it was all over she sank down prone and prostrate upon the grass by the carcass of the now harmless monster which had so nearly caused her undoing, and shivered, cried and sobbed as if her heart would break.
She was chilled to the bone by her motionless sojourn, albeit it had been for scarcely more than a minute, in that icy water, and yet the blood rushed to her brow and face, to every hidden part of her in waves as she thought of it. It was a good thing that she cried, she was not a weeping woman, her tears came slowly as a rule and then came hard. She rather prided herself upon her stoicism, but in this instance the great deeps of her nature had been undermined and the fountains thereof were fain to break forth.
How long she lay there, warmth coming gradually to her under the direct rays of the sun, she did not know, and it was a strange thing that caused her to arise. It grew suddenly dark over her head. She looked up and a rim of frightful, black, dense clouds had suddenly blotted out the sun. The clouds were lined with gold and silver and the long rays shot from behind the somber blind over the yet uncovered portions of the heaven, but the clouds moved with the irresistible swiftness and steadiness of a great deluge. The wall of them lowered above her head while they extended steadily and rapidly across the sky toward the other side of the ca?on and the mountain wall.
A storm was brewing such as she had never seen, such as she had no experience to enable her to realize its malign possibilities. Nay, it was now at hand. She had no clew, however, of what was toward, how terrible a danger overshadowed her. Frightened but unconscious of all the menace of the hour her thoughts flew down the ca?on to the camp. She must hasten there. She looked for her watch which she had picked from the grass and which she had not yet put on; the grizzly had stepped upon it, it was irretrievably ruined. She judged from her last glimpse of the sun that it must now be early afternoon. She rose to her feet and staggered with weakness, she had eaten nothing since morning, and the nervous shock and strain through which she had gone had reduced her to a pitiable condition.
Her luncheon had fortunately escaped unharmed. In a big pocket of her short skirt there was a small flask of whiskey, which her Uncle Robert had required her to take with her. She felt sick and faint, but she knew that she must eat if she was to make the journey, difficult as it might prove, back to the camp. She forced herself to take the first mouthful of bread and meat she had brought with her, but when she had tasted she needed no further incentive, she ate to the last crumb; she thought this was the time she needed stimulants too, and mingling the cold water from the brook with a little of the ardent spirit from the flask she drank. Some of the chill had worn off, some of the fatigue had gone.
She rose to her feet and started down the ca?on; her bloody sweater still lay on the ground with other things of which she was heedless. It had grown colder but she realized that the climb down the ca?on would put her stagnant blood in circulation and all would be well.
Before she began the descent of the pass, she cast one long glance backward whither the man had gone. Whence came he, who was he, what had he seen, where was he now? She thanked God for his interference in one breath and hated him for his presence in the other.
The whole sky was now black with drifting clouds, lightning flashed above her head, muttered peals of thunder, terrifically ominous, rocked through the silent hills. The noise was low and subdued but almost continuous. With a singular and uneasy feeling that she was being observed, she started down the ca?on, plunging desperately through the trees, leaping the brook from side to side where it narrowed, seeking ever the easiest way. She struggled on, panting with sudden inexplicable terror almost as bad as that which had overwhelmed her an hour before – and growing more intense every moment, to such a tragic pass had the day and its happenings brought her.
Poor girl, awful experience really was to be hers that day. The Fates sported with her – bodily fear, outraged modesty, mental anguish and now the terror of the storm.
The clouds seemed to sink lower, until they almost closed about her. Long gray ghostly arms reached out toward her. It grew darker and darker in the depths of the ca?on. She screamed aloud – in vain.
Suddenly the rolling thunder peals concentrated, balls of fire leaped out of the heavens and struck the mountains where she could actually see them. There are not words to describe the tremendous crashings which seemed to splinter the hills, to be succeeded by brief periods of silence, to be followed by louder and more terrific detonations.
In one of those appalling alternations from sound to silence she heard a human cry – an answering cry to her own! It came from the hills behind her. It must proceed, she thought, from the man. She could not meet that man; although she craved human companionship as never before, she did not want his. She could not bear it. Better the wrath of God, the fury of the tempest.
Heedless of the sharp note of warning, of appeal, in the voice ere it was drowned by another roll of thunder, she plunged on in the darkness. The ca?on narrowed here, she made her way down the ledges, leaping recklessly from rock to rock, slipping, falling, grazing now one side, now the other, hurling herself forward with white face and bruised body and torn hands and throbbing heart that would fain burst its bonds. There was once an ancient legend of a human creature, menaced by all the furies, pitilessly pursued by every malefic spirit of earth and air; like him this sweet young girl, innocent, lovely, erstwhile happy, fled before the storm.
And then the heavens opened, the fountains of the great deeps were broken down, and with absolute literalness the floods descended. The bursting clouds, torn asunder by the wild winds, riven by the pent up lightning within their black and turgid breasts, disburdened themselves. The water came down, as it did of old when God washed the face of the world, in a flood. The narrow of the ca?on was filled ten, twenty, thirty feet in a moment by the cloud burst. The black water rolled and foamed, surging like the rapids at Niagara.
The body of the girl, utterly unprepared, was caught up in a moment and flung like a bolt from a catapult down the seething sea filled with the trunks of the trees and the d?bris of the mountains, tossing almost humanly in the wild confusion. She struck out strongly, swimming more because of the instinct of life than for any other reason. A helpless atom in the boiling flood. Growing every minute greater and greater as the angry skies disgorged themselves of their pent up torrents upon her devoted head.