“Yes, Fay Larkin, I want you,” replied Shefford, steadily, with his grip on her arms.
“Then take me away. I don’t want to live here another hour.”
“Fay, I’ll take you. But it can’t be done at once. We must plan. I need help. There are Lassiter and Jane to get out of Surprise Valley. Give me time, dear—give me time. It’ll be a hard job. And we must plan so we can positively get away. Give me time, Fay.”
“Suppose he comes back?” she queried, with a singular depth of voice.
“We’ll have to risk that,” replied Shefford, miserably. “But—he won’t come soon.”
“He said he would,” she flashed.
Shefford seemed to freeze inwardly with her words. Love had made her a woman and now the woman in her was speaking. She saw the truth as he could not see it. And the truth was nature. She had been hidden all her life from the world, from knowledge as he had it, yet when love betrayed her womanhood to her she acquired all its subtlety.
“If I wait and he does come will you keep me from him?” she asked.
“How can I? I’m staking all on the chance of his not coming soon. . . . But, Fay, if he does come and I don’t give up our secret—how on earth can I keep you from him?” demanded Shefford.
“If you love me you will do it,” she said, as simply as if she were fate.
“But how?” cried Shefford, almost beside himself.
“You are a man. Any man would save the woman who loves him from—from —Oh, from a beast! . . . How would Lassiter do it?”
“You can kill him!”
It was there, deep and full in her voice, the strength of the elemental forces that had surrounded her, primitive passion and hate and love, as they were in woman in the beginning.
“My God!” Shefford cried aloud with his spirit when all that was red in him sprang again into a flame of hell. That was what had been wrong with him last night. He could kill this stealthy night-rider, and now, face to face with Fay, who had never been so beautiful and wonderful as in this hour when she made love the only and the sacred thing of life, now he had it in him to kill. Yet, murder—even to kill a brute —that was not for John Shefford, not the way for him to save a woman. Reason and wisdom still fought the passion in him. If he could but cling to them—have them with him in the dark and contending hour!
She leaned against him now, exhausted, her soul in her eyes, and they saw only him. Shefford was all but powerless to resist the longing to take her into his arms, to hold her to his heart, to let himself go. Did not her love give her to him? Shefford gazed helplessly at the stricken Joe Lake, at the somber Indian, as if from them he expected help.
“I know him now,” said Fay, breaking the silence with startling suddenness.