Who could be his midnight visitor? Softly Howland went back to his heavy coat and slipped his small revolver into his hip pocket. The knock came again. Then he walked to the door, shot back the bolt, and, with his right hand gripping the butt of his pistol, flung it wide open.
For a moment he stood transfixed, staring speechlessly at a white, startled face lighted up by the glow of the oil lamp. Bewildered to the point of dumbness, he backed slowly, holding the door open, and there entered the one person in all the world whom he wished most to see—she who had become so strangely a part of his life since that first night at Prince Albert, and whose sweet face was holding a deeper meaning for him with every hour that he lived. He closed the door and turned, still without speaking; and, impelled by a sudden spirit that sent the blood thrilling through his veins, he held out both hands to the girl for whom he now knew that he was willing to face all of the perils that might await him between civilization and the bay.
THE LOVE OF A MAN
For a moment the girl hesitated, her ungloved hands clenched on her breast, her bloodless face tense with a strange grief, as she saw the outstretched arms of the man whom her treachery had almost lured to his death. Then, slowly, she approached, and once more Howland held her hands clasped to him and gazed questioningly down into the wild eyes that stared into his own.
“Why did you run away from me?” were the first words that he spoke. They came from him gently, as if he had known her for a long time. In them there was no tone of bitterness; in the warmth of his gray eyes there was none of the denunciation which she might have expected. He repeated the question, bending his head until he felt the soft touch of her hair on his lips. “Why did you run away from me?”
She drew away from him, her eyes searching his face.
“I lied to you,” she breathed, her words coming to him in a whisper. “I lied—”
The words caught in her throat. He saw her struggling to control herself, to stop the quivering of her lip, the tremble in her voice. In another moment she had broken down, and with a low, sobbing cry sank in a chair beside the table and buried her head in her arms. As Howland saw the convulsive trembling of her shoulders, his soul was flooded with a strange joy—not at this sight of her grief, but at the knowledge that she was sorry for what she had done. Softly he approached. The girl’s fur cap had fallen off. Her long, shining braid was half undone and its silken strands fell over her shoulder and glistened in the lamp-glow on the table. His hand hesitated, and then fell gently on the bowed head.
“Sometimes the friend who lies is the only friend who’s true,” he said. “I believe that it was necessary for you to—lie.”
Just once his hand stroked her soft hair, then, catching himself, he went to the opposite side of the narrow table and sat down. When the girl raised her head there was a bright flush in her cheeks. He could see the damp stain of tears on her face, but there was no sign of them now in the eyes that seemed seeking in his own the truth of his words, spoken a few moments before.