He shouted affrightedly in his blindness, but the mocking voice of Big George answered him and he cowered at the malevolence in the words.
“Here I am, Orloff. It’s help ye want, is it? I’ll shoot the man that tries to reach ye. Ha, ha! You’re freezin’ eh? Georgie will talk to keep ye awake. A dirty trick of the river to cheat me so. I’ve fattened for years on the hope of stampin’ your life out and now it’s robbed me. But I’ll stick till ye’re safe in Hell.”
The man cried piteously, turning his bleared eyes toward the sound.
“Shoot, why don’t you, and end it? Can’t you see we’re freezing?” He stood up in his carapace of stiffened clothes, shivering palsiedly.
“The truest thing ye ever said,” cried George, and he swung his colts into view. “It’ll favour you and I’ll keep my vow.” He raised the gun. The splashing of the distant dogs broke the silence. A native knelt stiffly.
“George! George!” Captain had stumbled down among them and plucked at his arm, peering dimly into his distorted face. “Great God, are you a murderer? They’ll be dead before we can save them.”
“Save ’em ?” said George, while reason fought with his mania. “Whose goin’ to save ’em? He needs killin’. I’m hungry for his life.”
“He’s a man, George. They’re both human, and they’re dying in sight of us. Give him a chance. Fight like a man.”
As he spoke the fury fell away from the whaler and he became the alert, strong man of the frontier, knowing the quick danger and meeting it.
He bellowed at the natives and they fled backward before his voice, storming the cache where lay the big skin canoes. They slid one down and seizing paddles crushed the ice around it till it floated, then supported by the prow, George stamped the ice into fragments ahead, and they forced their way slowly along the channel he made. Soaked to the armpits he smashed a trail through which they reached the hummock where the others lay, too listless for action.
At the shore they bore the priest to their shelter while the guide was snatched into a near-by hut. They hacked off his brittle clothes and supported him to the bed. As he walked his feet clattered on the board floor like the sound of wooden shoes. They were white and solid, as were his hands.
“He’s badly frozen,” whispered Captain, “can we save him?” They rubbed and thawed for hours, but the sluggish blood refused to flow into the extremities and Captain felt that this man would die for lack of amputation.
Through all the Russian was silent, gazing strangely at George.
“’Tis no use,” finally said the big man, despairingly, “I’ve seen too many of ’em; we’ve done our best.”
He disappeared, and there sounded the jingle of harness as the dogs were hitched. As he entered for the camp outfit Orloff spoke:
“George Brace, I’ve harmed you bitterly these many years, and you’re a good man to help me so. It’s no use. We have both fought the Cold Death, and know when to quit. I came here to kill you, but you will go out across the mountains free, while I rave in madness and the medicine men make charms over me. When you come into Bethel Mission I’ll be dead. Good-bye.”