Her clenched little fist struck the table. “He won’t die, I tell you! Why do you say that?”
“Because–Rydal says he is going to die.”
“Rydal–lies. Peter had a fall, and it hurt his spine so that his legs are paralyzed. But I know what it is. If he could get away from that ship and could have a doctor, he would be well again in two or three months.”
“But Rydal says he is going to die.”
There was no mistaking the significance of Blake’s words this time. Her eyes filled with sudden horror. Then they flashed with the blue fire again. “So–he has told you? Well, he told me the same thing today. He didn’t intend to, of course. But he was half mad, and he had been drinking. He has given me twenty-four hours.”
“In which to–surrender?”
There was no need to reply.
For the first time Blake smiled. There was something in that smile that made her flesh creep. “Twenty-four hours is a short time,” he said, “and in this matter, Mrs. Keith, I think that you will find Captain Rydal a man of his word. No need to ask you why you don’t appeal to the crew! Useless! But you have hope that I can help you? Is that it?”
Her heart throbbed. “That is why I have come to you, Mr. Blake. You told me today that Fort Confidence is only a hundred and fifty miles away and that a Northwest Mounted Police garrison is there this winter–with a doctor. Will you help me?”
“A hundred and fifty miles, in this country, at this time of the year, is a long distance, Mrs. Keith,” reflected Blake, looking into her eyes with a steadiness that at any other time would have been embarrassing. “It means the McFarlane, the Lacs Delesse, and the Arctic Barren. For a hundred miles there isn’t a stick of timber. If a storm came–no man or dog could live. It is different from the coast. Here there is shelter everywhere.” He spoke slowly, and he was thinking swiftly. “It would take five days at thirty miles a day. And the chances are that your husband would not stand it. One hundred and twenty hours at fifty degrees below zero, and no fire until the fourth day. He would die.”
“It would be better–for if we stay–” she stopped, unclenching her hands slowly.
“What?” he asked.
“I shall kill Captain Rydal,” she declared. “It is the only thing I can do. Will you force me to do that, or will you help me? You have sledges and many dogs, and we will pay. And I have judged you to be–a man.”
He rose from the table, and for a moment his face was turned from her. “You probably do not understand my position, Mrs. Keith,” he said, pacing slowly back and forth and chuckling inwardly at the shock he was about to give her. “You see, my livelihood depends on such men as Captain Rydal. I have already done a big business with him in bone, oil, pelts–and Eskimo women.”
Without looking at her he heard the horrified intake of her breath. It gave him a pleasing sort of thrill, and he turned, smiling, to look into her dead-white face. Her eyes had changed. There was no longer hope or entreaty in them. They were simply pools of blue flame. And she, too, rose to her feet.
“Then–I can expect–no help–from you.”
“I didn’t say that, Mrs. Keith. It shocks you to know that I am responsible. But up here, you must understand the code of ethics is a great deal different from yours. We figure that what I have done for Rydal and his crew keeps sane men from going mad during the long months of darkness. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to help you–and Peter. I think I shall. But you must give me a little time in which to consider the matter–say an hour or so. I understand that whatever is to be done must be done quickly. If I make up my mind to take you to Fort Confidence, we shall start within two or three hours. I shall bring you word aboard ship. So you might return and prepare yourself and Peter for a probable emergency.”
She went out dumbly into the night, Blake seeing her to the door and closing it after her. He was courteous in his icy way but did not offer to escort her back to the ship. She was glad. Her heart was choking her with hope and fear. She had measured him differently this time. And she was afraid. She had caught a glimpse that had taken her beyond the man, to the monster. It made her shudder. And yet what did it matter, if Blake helped them?
She had forgotten Wapi. Now she found him again close at her side, and she dropped a hand to his big head as she hurried back through the pallid gloom. She spoke to him, crying out with sobbing breath what she had not dared to reveal to Blake. For Wapi the long night had ceased to be a hell of ghastly emptiness, and to her voice and the touch of her hand he responded with a whine that was the whine of a white man’s dog. They had traveled two-thirds of the distance to the ship when he stopped in his tracks and sniffed the wind that was coming from shore. A second time he did this, and a third, and the third time Dolores turned with him and faced the direction from which they had come. A low growl rose in Wapi’s throat, a snarl of menace with a note of warning in it.