It was the woman in her that had taken alarm. Her hands were pressed together as she held them over the stove. The man understood. She moved away to the window, over which the curtains had not been drawn, and Bull watched her.
“Every respect will be paid you,” he said. “You’ve nothing to fear. When Gouter returns he’ll get food, and we’ll make the best preparations we can. I’ve to consider others with more at stake than even I.”
The girl had turned. Her eyes were wide with terror. She was pointing at the window, and Bull hurried to her side.
A great fire was raging on the north shore of the Cove. It was the recreation room, that room which Bat had so bitterly come to hate. It was ablaze from end to end, and lit up its neighbourhood so that the scene was of daylight clearness. A horde of human figures were gathered about it, in a struggling, seething mass, and the man realised that a battle was raging, a human battle, whilst the demon of fire was left to work its will.
He stood there, held speechless by the thing he beheld.
“What is it? What does it mean?”
Panic drove the questions to the girl’s lips. And she turned in an agony of appeal to the man beside her.
“It means the work of the Skandinavia has been well and truly done.”
The hush of dawn was unbroken. The shadows of night receded slowly, reluctantly renouncing their long reign in favour of the brief winter daylight. The shores of the Cove lay hidden under a haze of fog.
There were no sounds of life. The world was desperately still. No cry of wild fowl rose to greet the day. There was not even the doleful cry of belated wolf, or the snapping bark of foraging coyote to indicate those conditions of life which never change in the northern wilderness. It was as if the world of snow and ice were waking to a day of complete mourning, a day of bitter reckoning for the tumult of furious human passions, which, under the cloak of night, had been loosed to work the evil of men’s will.
With the first gleam of the rising sun a breeze leapt out of the east. It came with an edge like the keenest knife, and ripped the fog to ribbons. It churned and tangled it. Then it flung it clear of its path, leaving bare the scene of wreckage which the rage of battle had produced.
It was a scene for pity and regret. Gone was the building which had been set up for the workers’ recreation. Only a smoking ruin remained in its place. A dozen other buildings in the neighbourhood bore the scars of fire, which they would doubtless carry for all time of their service. The mill, however, was safe. The work of more than fifteen years remaining intact. But it had been so near, so very near to complete destruction.
With the passing of the fog further disaster was revealed. It was the wreck of human life which the night had produced. Daylight had made it possible to deal with the injured and those beyond all human aid. And the work was going forward in the almost voiceless fashion which the presence of death ever imposes on the living.