LA BIJOU was a perfect expression of all that was dainty and delicate in the boat-builder’s soul. Light as an egg-shell, and as fragile, her three-eighths-inch skin offered no protection from a driving chunk of ice as small as a man’s head. Nor, though the water was open, did she find a clear way, for the river was full of scattered floes which had crumbled down from the rim-ice. And here, at once, through skilful handling, Corliss took to himself confidence in Frona.
It was a great picture: the river rushing blackly between its crystalline walls; beyond, the green woods stretching upward to touch the cloud-flecked summer sky; and over all, like a furnace blast, the hot sun beating down. A great picture, but somehow Corliss’s mind turned to his mother and her perennial tea, the soft carpets, the prim New England maid-servants, the canaries singing in the wide windows, and he wondered if she could understand. And when he thought of the woman behind him, and felt the dip and lift, dip and lift, of her paddle, his mother’s women came back to him, one by one, and passed in long review,—pale, glimmering ghosts, he thought, caricatures of the stock which had replenished the earth, and which would continue to replenish the earth.
La Bijou skirted a pivoting floe, darted into a nipping channel, and shot out into the open with the walls grinding together behind. Tommy groaned.
“Well done!” Corliss encouraged.
“The fule wumman!” came the backward snarl. “Why couldna she bide a bit?”
Frona caught his words and flung a laugh defiantly. Vance darted a glance over his shoulder to her, and her smile was witchery. Her cap, perched precariously, was sliding off, while her flying hair, aglint in the sunshine, framed her face as he had seen it framed on the Dyea Trail.
“How I should like to sing, if it weren’t for saving one’s breath. Say the ‘Song of the Sword,’ or the ‘Anchor Chanty.’”
“Or the ‘First Chanty,’” Corliss answered. ‘‘Mine was the woman, darkling I found her,’” he hummed, significantly.
She flashed her paddle into the water on the opposite side in order to go wide of a jagged cake, and seemed not to hear. “I could go on this way forever.”
“And I,” Corliss affirmed, warmly.
But she refused to take notice, saying, instead, “Vance, do you know I’m glad we’re friends?”
“No fault of mine we’re not more.”
“You’re losing your stroke, sir,” she reprimanded; and he bent silently to the work.
La Bijou was driving against the current at an angle of forty-five degrees, and her resultant course was a line at right angles to the river. Thus, she would tap the western bank directly opposite the starting-point, where she could work up-stream in the slacker flood. But a mile of indented shore, and then a hundred yards of bluffs rising precipitously from out a stiff current would still lie between them and the man to be rescued.
“Now let us ease up,” Corliss advised, as they slipped into an eddy and drifted with the back-tide under the great wall of rim-ice.
“Who would think it mid-May?” She glanced up at the carelessly poised cakes. “Does it seem real to you, Vance?”
He shook his head.
“Nor to me. I know that I, Frona, in the flesh, am here, in a Peterborough, paddling for dear life with two men; year of our Lord eighteen hundred and ninety-eight, Alaska, Yukon River; this is water, that is ice; my arms are tired, my heart up a few beats, and I am sweating,—and yet it seems all a dream. Just think! A year ago I was in Paris!” She drew a deep breath and looked out over the water to the further shore, where Jacob Welse’s tent, like a snowy handkerchief, sprawled against the deep green of the forest. “I do not believe there is such a place,” she added. “There is no Paris.”
“And I was in London a twelvemonth past,” Corliss meditated. “But I have undergone a new incarnation. London? There is no London now. It is impossible. How could there be so many people in the world? This is the world, and we know of fact that there are very few people in it, else there could not be so much ice and sea and sky. Tommy, here, I know, thinks fondly of a place he calls Toronto. He mistakes. It exists only in his mind,—a memory of a former life he knew. Of course, he does not think so. That is but natural; for he is no philosopher, nor does he bother——”
“Wheest, will ye!” Tommy fiercely whispered. “Your gabble’ll bring it doon aboot oor heads.”
Life is brief in the Northland, and fulfilment ever clutters the heels of prophecy. A premonitory tremor sighed down the air, and the rainbow wall swayed above them. The three paddles gripped the water with common accord. La Bijou leaped out from under. Broadside after broadside flared and crashed, and a thousand frigid tons thundered down behind them. The displaced water surged outward in a foamy, upstanding circle, and La Bijou, striving wildly to rise, ducked through the stiff overhang of the crest and wallowed, half-full, in the trough.
“Dinna I tell ye, ye gabbling fules!”
“Sit still, and bail!” Corliss checked him sharply. “Or you’ll not have the comfort of telling us anything.”
He shook his head at Frona, and she winked back; then they both chuckled, much like children over an escapade which looks disastrous but turns out well.
Creeping timidly under the shadow of the impending avalanches, La Bijou slipped noiselessly up the last eddy. A corner of the bluff rose savagely from the river—a monstrous mass of naked rock, scarred and battered of the centuries; hating the river that gnawed it ever; hating the rain that graved its grim face with unsightly seams; hating the sun that refused to mate with it, whereof green life might come forth and hide its hideousness. The whole force of the river hurled in against it, waged furious war along its battlements, and caromed off into mid-stream again. Down all its length the stiff waves stood in serried rows, and its crevices and water-worn caverns were a-bellow with unseen strife.
“Now! Bend to it! Your best!”
It was the last order Corliss could give, for in the din they were about to enter a man’s voice were like a cricket’s chirp amid the growling of an earthquake. La Bijou sprang forward, cleared the eddy with a bound, and plunged into the thick. Dip and lift, dip and lift, the paddles worked with rhythmic strength. The water rippled and tore, and pulled all ways at once; and the fragile shell, unable to go all ways at once, shook and quivered with the shock of resistance. It veered nervously to the right and left, but Frona held it with a hand of steel. A yard away a fissure in the rock grinned at them. La Bijou leaped and shot ahead, and the water, slipping away underneath, kept her always in one place. Now they surged out from the fissure, now in; ahead for half a yard, then back again; and the fissure mocked their toil.
Five minutes, each of which sounded a separate eternity, and the fissure was past. Ten minutes, and it was a hundred feet astern. Dip and lift, dip and lift, till sky and earth and river were blotted out, and consciousness dwindled to a thin line,—a streak of foam, fringed on the one hand with sneering rock, on the other with snarling water. That thin line summed up all. Somewhere below was the beginning of things; somewhere above, beyond the roar and traffic, was the end of things; and for that end they strove.
And still Frona held the egg-shell with a hand of steel. What they gained they held, and fought for more, inch by inch, dip and lift; and all would have been well but for the flutter of Tommy’s soul. A cake of ice, sucked beneath by the current, rose under his paddle with a flurry of foam, turned over its toothed edge, and was dragged back into the depths. And in that sight he saw himself, hair streaming upward and drowned hands clutching emptiness, going feet first, down and down. He stared, wide-eyed, at the portent, and his poised paddle refused to strike. On the instant the fissure grinned in their faces, and the next they were below the bluffs, drifting gently in the eddy.
Frona lay, head thrown back, sobbing at the sun; amidships Corliss sprawled panting; and forward, choking and gasping and nerveless, the Scotsman drooped his head upon his knees. La Bijou rubbed softly against the rim-ice and came to rest. The rainbow-wall hung above like a fairy pile; the sun, flung backward from innumerable facets, clothed it in jewelled splendor. Silvery streams tinkled down its crystal slopes; and in its clear depths seemed to unfold, veil on veil, the secrets of life and death and mortal striving,—vistas of pale-shimmering azure opening like dream-visions, and promising, down there in the great cool heart, infinite rest, infinite cessation and rest.
The topmost tower, delicately massive, a score of feet above them, swayed to and fro, gently, like the ripple of wheat in light summer airs. But Corliss gazed at it unheeding. Just to lie there, on the marge of the mystery, just to lie there and drink the air in great gulps, and do nothing!—he asked no more. A dervish, whirling on heel till all things blur, may grasp the essence of the universe and prove the Godhead indivisible; and so a man, plying a paddle, and plying and plying, may shake off his limitations and rise above time and space. And so Corliss.
But gradually his blood ceased its mad pounding, and the air was no longer nectar-sweet, and a sense of things real and pressing came back to him.
“We’ve got to get out of this,” he said. His voice sounded like a man’s whose throat has been scorched by many and long potations. It frightened him, but he limply lifted a shaking paddle and shoved off.
“Yes; let us start, by all means,” Frona said in a dim voice, which seemed to come to him from a far distance.
Tommy lifted his head and gazed about. “A doot we’ll juist hae to gie it oop.”
“Bend to it!”
“Ye’ll no try it anither?”
“Bend to it!” Corliss repeated.
“Till your heart bursts, Tommy,” Frona added.
Once again they fought up the thin line, and all the world vanished, save the streak of foam, and the snarling water, and the grinning fissure. But they passed it, inch by inch, and the broad bend welcomed them from above, and only a rocky buttress of implacable hate, around whose base howled the tides of an equal hate, stood between. Then La Bijou leaped and throbbed and shook again, and the current slid out from under, and they remained ever in one place. Dip and lift, dip and lift, through an infinity of time and torture and travail, till even the line dimmed and faded and the struggle lost its meaning. Their souls became merged in the rhythm of the toil. Ever lifting, ever falling, they seemed to have become great pendulums of time. And before and behind glimmered the eternities, and between the eternities, ever lifting, ever falling, they pulsed in vast rhythmical movement. They were no longer humans, but rhythms. They surged in till their paddles touched the bitter rock, but they did not know; surged out, where chance piloted them unscathed through the lashing ice, but they did not see. Nor did they feel the shock of the smitten waves, nor the driving spray that cooled their faces. . .
La Bijou veered out into the stream, and their paddles, flashing mechanically in the sunshine, held her to the return angle across the river. As time and matter came back to them, and Split-up Island dawned upon their eyes like the foreshore of a new world, they settled down to the long easy stroke wherein breath and strength may be recovered.
“A third attempt would have been useless,” Corliss said, in a dry, cracked whisper.
And Frona answered, “Yes; our hearts would have surely broken.”
Life, and the pleasant camp-fire, and the quiet rest in the noonday shade, came back to Tommy as the shore drew near, and more than all, blessed Toronto, its houses that never moved, and its jostling streets. Each time his head sank forward and he reached out and clutched the water with his paddle, the streets enlarged, as though gazing through a telescope and adjusting to a nearer focus. And each time the paddle drove clear and his head was raised, the island bounded forward. His head sank, and the streets were of the size of life; it raised, and Jacob Welse and the two men stood on the bank three lengths away.
“Dinna I tell ye!” he shouted to them, triumphantly.
But Frona jerked the canoe parallel with the bank, and he found himself gazing at the long up-stream stretch. He arrested a stroke midway, and his paddle clattered in the bottom.
“Pick it up!” Corliss’s voice was sharp and relentless.
“I’ll do naething o’ the kind.” He turned a rebellious face on his tormentor, and ground his teeth in anger and disappointment.
The canoe was drifting down with the current, and Frona merely held it in place. Corliss crawled forward on his knees.
“I don’t want to hurt you, Tommy,” he said in a low, tense voice, “so . . . well, just pick it up, that’s a good fellow.”
“Then I shall kill you,” Corliss went on, in the same calm, passionless way, at the same time drawing his hunting-knife from its sheath.
“And if I dinna?” the Scotsman queried stoutly, though cowering away.
Corliss pressed gently with the knife. The point of the steel entered Tommy’s back just where the heart should be, passed slowly through the shirt, and bit into the skin. Nor did it stop there; neither did it quicken, but just as slowly held on its way. He shrank back, quivering.
“There! there! man! Pit it oop!” he shrieked. “I maun gie in!”
Frona’s face was quite pale, but her eyes were hard, brilliantly hard, and she nodded approval.
“We’re going to try this side, and shoot across from above,” she called to her father. “What? I can’t hear. Tommy? Oh, his heart’s weak. Nothing serious.” She saluted with her paddle. “We’ll be back in no time, father mine. In no time.”
Stewart River was wide open, and they ascended it a quarter of a mile before they shot its mouth and continued up the Yukon. But when they were well abreast of the man on the opposite bank a new obstacle faced them. A mile above, a wreck of an island clung desperately to the river bed. Its tail dwindled to a sand-spit which bisected the river as far down as the impassable bluffs. Further, a few hundred thousand tons of ice had grounded upon the spit and upreared a glittering ridge.
“We’ll have to portage,” Corliss said, as Frona turned the canoe from the bank.
La Bijou darted across the narrower channel to the sand-spit and slipped up a little ice ravine, where the walls were less precipitous. They landed on an out-jutting cake, which, without support, overhung the water for sheer thirty feet. How far its other end could be buried in the mass was matter for conjecture. They climbed to the summit, dragging the canoe after them, and looked out over the dazzle. Floe was piled on floe in titanic confusion. Huge blocks topped and overtopped one another, only to serve as pedestals for great white masses, which blazed and scintillated in the sun like monstrous jewels.
“A bonny place for a bit walk,” Tommy sneered, “wi’ the next jam fair to come ony time.” He sat down resolutely. “No, thank ye kindly, I’ll no try it.”
Frona and Corliss clambered on, the canoe between them.
“The Persians lashed their slaves into battle,” she remarked, looking back. “I never understood before. Hadn’t you better go back after him?”
Corliss kicked him up, whimpering, and forced him to go on in advance. The canoe was an affair of little weight, but its bulk, on the steep rises and sharp turns, taxed their strength. The sun burned down upon them. Its white glare hurt their eyes, the sweat oozed out from every pore, and they panted for breath.
“Oh, Vance, do you know . . . ”
“What?” He swept the perspiration from his forehead and flung it from him with a quick flirt of the hand.
“I wish I had eaten more breakfast.”
He grunted sympathetically. They had reached the midmost ridge and could see the open river, and beyond, quite clearly, the man and his signal of distress. Below, pastoral in its green quiet, lay Split-up Island. They looked up to the broad bend of the Yukon, smiling lazily, as though it were not capable at any moment of spewing forth a flood of death. At their feet the ice sloped down into a miniature gorge, across which the sun cast a broad shadow.
“Go on, Tommy,” Frona bade. “We’re half-way over, and there’s water down there.”
“It’s water ye’d be thinkin’ on, is it?” he snarled, “and you a-leadin’ a buddie to his death!”
“I fear you have done some great sin, Tommy,” she said, with a reproving shake of the head, “or else you would not be so afraid of death.” She sighed and picked up her end of the canoe. “Well, I suppose it is natural. You do not know how to die——”
“No more do I want to die,” he broke in fiercely.
“But there come times for all men to die,—times when to die is the only thing to do. Perhaps this is such a time.”
Tommy slid carefully over a glistening ledge and dropped his height to a broad foothold. “It’s a’ vera guid,” he grinned up; “but dinna ye think a’ve suffeecient discreemeenation to judge for mysel’? Why should I no sing my ain sang?”
“Because you do not know how. The strong have ever pitched the key for such as you. It is they that have taught your kind when and how to die, and led you to die, and lashed you to die.”
“Ye pit it fair,” he rejoined. “And ye do it weel. It doesna behoove me to complain, sic a michty fine job ye’re makin’ on it.”
“You are doing well,” Corliss chuckled, as Tommy dropped out of sight and landed into the bed of the gorge. “The cantankerous brute! he’d argue on the trail to Judgment.”
“Where did you learn to paddle?” she asked.
“College—exercise,” he answered, shortly. “But isn’t that fine? Look!”
The melting ice had formed a pool in the bottom of the gorge. Frona stretched out full length, and dipped her hot mouth in its coolness. And lying as she did, the soles of her dilapidated moccasins, or rather the soles of her feet (for moccasins and stockings had gone in shreds), were turned upward. They were very white, and from contact with the ice were bruised and cut. Here and there the blood oozed out, and from one of the toes it streamed steadily.
“So wee, and pretty, and salt-like,” Tommy gibed. “One wouldna think they could lead a strong man to hell.”
“By the way you grumble, they’re leading you fast enough,” Corliss answered angrily.
“Forty mile an hour,” Tommy retorted, as he walked away, gloating over having the last word.
“One moment. You’ve two shirts. Lend me one.”
The Scotsman’s face lighted inquisitively, till he comprehended. Then he shook his head and started on again.
Frona scrambled to her feet. “What’s the matter?”
“Nothing. Sit down.”
“But what is the matter?”
Corliss put his hands on her shoulders and pressed her back. “Your feet. You can’t go on in such shape. They’re in ribbons. See!” He brushed the sole of one of them and held up a blood-dripping palm. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Oh, they didn’t bother—much.”
“Give me one of your skirts,” he demanded.
“I . . . ” She faltered. “I only have one.”
He looked about him. Tommy had disappeared among the ice-floes.
“We must be getting on,” Frona said, attempting to rise.
But he held her back. “Not another step till I fix you. Here goes, so shut your eyes.”
She obeyed, and when she opened them he was naked to the waist, and his undershirt, torn in strips, was being bound about her feet.
“You were in the rear, and I did not know——”
“Don’t apologize, pray,” she interrupted. “I could have spoken.”
“I’m not; I’m reproaching you. Now, the other one. Put it up!”
The nearness to her bred a madness, and he touched his lips lightly to the same white little toe that had won the Baron Courbertin a kiss.
Though she did not draw back, her face flushed, and she thrilled as she had thrilled once before in her life. “You take advantage of your own goodness,” she rebuked him.
“Then I will doubly advantage myself.”
“Please don’t,” she begged.
“And why not? It is a custom of the sea to broach the spirits as the ship prepares to sink. And since this is a sort of a forlorn hope, you know, why not?”
“But . . . ”
“But what, Miss Prim?”
“Oh! Of all things, you know I do not deserve that! If there were nobody else to be considered, why, under the circumstances . . . ”
He drew the last knot tight and dropped her foot. “Damn St. Vincent, anyway! Come on!”
“So would I, were I you,” she laughed, taking up her end of the canoe. “But how you have changed, Vance. You are not the same man I met on the Dyea Trail. You hadn’t learned to swear, then, among other things.”
“No, I’m not the same; for which I thank God and you. Only I think I am honester than you. I always live up to my philosophy.”
“Now confess that’s unfair. You ask too much under the circumstances——”
“Only a little toe.”
“Or else, I suppose, you just care for me in a kind, big-brotherly way. In which case, if you really wish it, you may——”
“Do keep quiet,” he broke in, roughly, “or I’ll be making a gorgeous fool of myself.”
“Kiss all my toes,” she finished.
He grunted, but did not deign a reply. The work quickly took their breath, and they went on in silence till they descended the last steep to where McPherson waited by the open river.
“Del hates St. Vincent,” she said boldly. “Why?”
“Yes, it seems that way.” He glanced back at her curiously. “And wherever he goes, Del lugs an old Russian book, which he can’t read but which he nevertheless regards, in some sort of way, as St. Vincent’s Nemesis. And do you know, Frona, he has such faith in it that I can’t help catching a little myself. I don’t know whether you’ll come to me, or whether I’ll go to you, but——”
She dropped her end of the canoe and broke out in laughter. He was annoyed, and a hurt spread of blood ruddied his face.
“If I have—” he began.
“Stupid!” she laughed. “Don’t be silly! And above all don’t be dignified. It doesn’t exactly become you at the present moment,—your hair all tangled, a murderous knife in your belt, and naked to the waist like a pirate stripped for battle. Be fierce, frown, swear, anything, but please don’t be dignified. I do wish I had my camera. In after years I could say: ‘This, my friends, is Corliss, the great Arctic explorer, just as he looked at the conclusion of his world-famous trip Through Darkest Alaska.’”
He pointed an ominous finger at her and said sternly, “Where is your skirt?”
She involuntarily looked down. But its tatterdemalion presence relieved her, and her face jerked up scarlet.
“You should be ashamed!”
“Please, please do not be dignified,” he laughed. “Very true, it doesn’t exactly become you at the present moment. Now, if I had my camera——”
“Do be quiet and go on,” she said. “Tommy is waiting. I hope the sun takes the skin all off your back,” she panted vindictively, as they slid the canoe down the last shelf and dropped it into the water.
Ten minutes later they climbed the ice-wall, and on and up the bank, which was partly a hillside, to where the signal of distress still fluttered. Beneath it, on the ground, lay stretched the man. He lay very quietly, and the fear that they were too late was upon them, when he moved his head slightly and moaned. His rough clothes were in rags, and the black, bruised flesh of his feet showed through the remnants of his moccasins. His body was thin and gaunt, without flesh-pads or muscles, while the bones seemed ready to break through the tight-stretched skin. As Corliss felt his pulse, his eyes fluttered open and stared glassily. Frona shuddered.
“Man, it’s fair gruesome,” McPherson muttered, running his hand up a shrunken arm.
“You go on to the canoe, Frona,” Corliss said. “Tommy and I will carry him down.”
But her lips set firmly. Though the descent was made easier by her aid, the man was well shaken by the time they laid him in the bottom of the canoe,—so well shaken that some last shreds of consciousness were aroused. He opened his eyes and whispered hoarsely, “Jacob Welse . . . despatches . . . from the Outside.” He plucked feebly at his open shirt, and across his emaciated chest they saw the leather strap, to which, doubtless, the despatch-pouch was slung.
At either end of the canoe there was room to spare, but amidships Corliss was forced to paddle with the man between his knees. La Bijou swung out blithely from the bank. It was down-stream at last, and there was little need for exertion.
Vance’s arms and shoulders and back, a bright scarlet, caught Frona’s attention. “My hopes are realized,” she exulted, reaching out and softly stroking a burning arm. “We shall have to put cold cream on it when we get back.”
“Go ahead,” he encouraged. “That feels awfully good.”
She splashed his hot back with a handful of the ice-cold water from over-side. He caught his breath with a gasp, and shivered. Tommy turned about to look at them.
“It’s a guid deed we’ll ’a doon this day,” he remarked, pleasantly. “To gie a hand in distress is guid i’ the sight of God.”
“Who’s afeared?” Frona laughed.
“Weel,” he deliberated, “I was a bit fashed, no doot, but——”
His utterance ceased, and he seemed suddenly to petrify. His eyes fixed themselves in a terrible stare over Frona’s shoulder. And then, slowly and dreamily, with the solemnity fitting an invocation of Deity, murmured, “Guid Gawd Almichty!”
They whirled their heads about. A wall of ice was sweeping round the bend, and even as they looked the right-hand flank, unable to compass the curve, struck the further shore and flung up a ridge of heaving mountains.
“Guid Gawd! Guid Gawd! Like rats i’ the trap!” Tommy jabbed his paddle futilely in the water.
“Get the stroke!” Corliss hissed in his ear, and La Bijou sprang away.
Frona steered straight across the current, at almost right angles, for Split-up; but when the sandspit, over which they had portaged, crashed at the impact of a million tons, Corliss glanced at her anxiously. She smiled and shook her head, at the same time slacking off the course.
“We can’t make it,” she whispered, looking back at the ice a couple of hundred feet away. “Our only chance is to run before it and work in slowly.”
She cherished every inward inch jealously, holding the canoe up as sharply as she dared and at the same time maintaining a constant distance ahead of the ice-rim.
“I canna stand the pace,” Tommy whimpered once; but the silence of Corliss and Frona seemed ominous, and he kept his paddle going.
At the very fore of the ice was a floe five or six feet thick and a couple of acres in extent. Reaching out in advance of the pack, it clove through the water till on either side there formed a bore like that of a quick flood-tide in an inland passage. Tommy caught sight of it, and would have collapsed had not Corliss prodded him, between strokes, with the point of his paddle.
“We can keep ahead,” Frona panted; “but we must get time to make the landing?”
“When the chance comes, drive her in, bow on,” Corliss counselled; “and when she strikes, jump and run for it.”
“Climb, rather. I’m glad my skirt is short.”
Repulsed by the bluffs of the left bank, the ice was forced towards the right. The big floe, in advance, drove in upon the precise point of Split-up Island.
“If you look back, I’ll brain you with the paddle,” Corliss threatened.
“Ay,” Tommy groaned.
But Corliss looked back, and so did Frona. The great berg struck the land with an earthquake shock. For fifty feet the soft island was demolished. A score of pines swayed frantically and went down, and where they went down rose up a mountain of ice, which rose, and fell, and rose again. Below, and but a few feet away, Del Bishop ran out to the bank, and above the roar they could hear faintly his “Hit ’er up! Hit ’er up!” Then the ice-rim wrinkled up and he sprang back to escape it.
“The first opening,” Corliss gasped.
Frona’s lips spread apart; she tried to speak but failed, then nodded her head that she had heard. They swung along in rapid rhythm under the rainbow-wall, looking for a place where it might be quickly cleared. And down all the length of Split-up Island they raced vainly, the shore crashing behind them as they fled.
As they darted across the mouth of the back-channel to Roubeau Island they found themselves heading directly for an opening in the rim-ice. La Bijou drove into it full tilt, and went half her length out of water on a shelving cake. The three leaped together, but while the two of them gripped the canoe to run it up, Tommy, in the lead, strove only to save himself. And he would have succeeded had he not slipped and fallen midway in the climb. He half arose, slipped, and fell again. Corliss, hauling on the bow of the canoe, trampled over him. He reached up and clutched the gunwale. They did not have the strength, and this clog brought them at once to a standstill. Corliss looked back and yelled for him to leave go, but he only turned upward a piteous face, like that of a drowning man, and clutched more tightly. Behind them the ice was thundering. The first flurry of coming destruction was upon them. They endeavored desperately to drag up the canoe, but the added burden was too much, and they fell on their knees. The sick man sat up suddenly and laughed wildly. “Blood of my soul!” he ejaculated, and laughed again.
Roubeau Island swayed to the first shock, and the ice was rocking under their feet. Frona seized a paddle and smashed the Scotsman’s knuckles; and the instant he loosed his grip, Corliss carried the canoe up in a mad rush, Frona clinging on and helping from behind. The rainbow-wall curled up like a scroll, and in the convolutions of the scroll, like a bee in the many folds of a magnificent orchid, Tommy disappeared.
They fell, breathless, on the earth. But a monstrous cake shoved up from the jam and balanced above them. Frona tried to struggle to her feet, but sank on her knees; and it remained for Corliss to snatch her and the canoe out from underneath. Again they fell, this time under the trees, the sun sifting down upon them through the green pine needles, the robins singing overhead, and a colony of crickets chirping in the warmth.