She was right. There was a time when London and New York would have given much to lay their hands on the man who now called himself Blake.
Dolores, excited by the conviction that Blake would help her when he heard her story, still did not lose her caution. Rydal had given her another twenty-four hours, and that was all. In those twenty-four hours she must fight out their salvation, her own and Peter’s. If Blake should fail–
Fifty paces from his cabin she stopped, slipped the big fur mitten from her right hand and unbuttoned her coat so that she could quickly and easily reach an inside pocket in which was Peter’s revolver. She smiled just a bit grimly, as her fingers touched the cold steel. It was to be her last resort. And she was thinking in that flash of the days “back home” when she was counted the best revolver shot at the Piping Rock. She could beat Peter, and Peter was good. Her fingers twined a bit fondly about the pearl-handled thing in her pocket. The last resort–and from the first it had given her courage to keep the truth from Peter!
She knocked at the heavy door of the igloo cabin. Blake was still up, and when he opened it, he stared at her in wide-eyed amazement. Wapi hung outside when Dolores entered, and the door closed. “I know you think it strange for me to come at this hour,” she apologized, “but in this terrible gloom I’ve lost all count of hours. They have no significance for me any more. And I wanted to see you–alone.”
She emphasized the word. And as she spoke, she loosened her coat and threw back her hood, so that the glow of the lamp lit up the ruffled mass of gold the hood had covered. She sat down without waiting for an invitation, and Blake sat down opposite her with a narrow table between them. Her face was flushed with cold and wind as she looked at him. Her eyes were blue with the blue of a steady flame, and they met his own squarely. She was not nervous. Nor was she afraid.
“Perhaps you can guess–why I have come?” she asked.
He was appraising her almost startling beauty with the lamp glow flooding down on her. For a moment he hesitated; then he nodded, looking at her steadily. “Yes, I think I know,” he said quietly. “It’s Captain Rydal. In fact, I’m quite positive. It’s an unusual situation, you know. Have I guessed correctly?”
She nodded, drawing in her breath quickly and leaning a little toward him, wondering how much he knew and how he had come by it.
“A very unusual situation,” he repeated. “There’s nothing in the world that makes beasts out of men–most men–more quickly than an arctic night, Mrs. Keith. And they’re all beasts out there–now–all except your husband, and he is contented because he possesses the one white woman aboard ship. It’s putting it brutally plain, but it’s the truth, isn’t it? For the time being they’re beasts, every man of the twenty, and you–pardon me!–are very beautiful. Rydal wants you, and the fact that your husband is dying–”
“He is not dying,” she interrupted him fiercely. “He shall not die! If he did–”
“Do you love him?” There was no insult in Blake’s quiet voice. He asked the question as if much depended on the answer, as if he must assure himself of that fact.
“Love him–my Peter? Yes!”
She leaned forward eagerly, gripping her hands in front of him on the table. She spoke swiftly, as if she must convince him before he asked her another question. Blake’s eyes did not change. They had not changed for an instant. They were hard, and cold, and searching, unwarmed by her beauty, by the luster of her shining hair, by the touch of her breath as it came to him over the table.
“I have gone everywhere with him–everywhere,” she began. “Peter writes books, you know, and we have gone into all sorts of places. We love it–both of us–this adventuring. We have been all through the country down there,” she swept a hand to the south, “on dog sledges, in canoes, with snowshoes, and pack-trains. Then we hit on the idea of coming north on a whaler. You know, of course, Captain Rydal planned to return this autumn. The crew was rough, but we expected that. We expected to put up with a lot. But even before the ice shut us in, before this terrible night came, Rydal insulted me. I didn’t dare tell Peter. I thought I could handle Rydal, that I could keep him in his place, and I knew that if I told Peter, he would kill the beast. And then the ice–and this night–” She choked.
Blake’s eyes, gimleting to her soul, were shot with a sudden fire as he, too, leaned a little over the table. But his voice was unemotional as rock. It merely stated a fact. “That’s why Captain Rydal allowed himself to be frozen in,” he said. “He had plenty of time to get into the open channels, Mrs. Keith. But he wanted you. And to get you he knew he would have to lay over. And if he laid over, he knew that he would get you, for many things may happen in an arctic night. It shows the depth of the man’s feelings, doesn’t it? He is sacrificing a great deal to possess you, losing a great deal of time, and money, and all that. And when your husband dies–“