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another, and ever and anon flashing towers and rainbow minarets
crumbled thunderously into the flood. By one of the gaps so made lay
La Bijou, and about it, saving _chechaquos_ and sick men, were grouped
the denizens of Split-up.

"Na, na, lad; twa men'll be a plenty." Tommy McPherson sought about
him with his eyes for corroboration. "Gin ye gat three i' the canoe
'twill be ower comfortable."

"It must be a dash or nothing," Corliss spoke up. "We need three men,
Tommy, and you know it."

"Na, na; twa's a plenty, I'm tellin' ye."

"But I'm afraid we'll have to do with two."

The Scotch-Canadian evinced his satisfaction openly. "Mair'd be a
bother; an' I doot not ye'll mak' it all richt, lad."

"And you'll make one of those two, Tommy," Corliss went on, inexorably.

"Na; there's ithers a plenty wi'oot coontin' me."

"No, there's not. Courbertin doesn't know the first thing. St.
Vincent evidently cannot cross the slough. Mr. Welse's arm puts him
out of it. So it's only you and I, Tommy."

"I'll not be inqueesitive, but yon son of Anak's a likely mon. He maun
pit oop a guid stroke." While the Scot did not lose much love for the
truculent pocket-miner, he was well aware of his grit, and seized the
chance to save himself by shoving the other into the breach.

Del Bishop stepped into the centre of the little circle, paused, and
looked every man in the eyes before he spoke.

"Is there a man here'll say I'm a coward?" he demanded without preface.
Again he looked each one in the eyes. "Or is there a man who'll even
hint that I ever did a curlike act?" And yet again he searched the
circle. "Well and good. I hate the water, but I've never been afraid
of it. I don't know how to swim, yet I've been over the side more
times than it's good to remember. I can't pull an oar without batting
my back on the bottom of the boat. As for steering - well, authorities
say there's thirty-two points to the compass, but there's at least
thirty more when I get started. And as sure as God made little apples,
I don't know my elbow from my knee about a paddle. I've capsized damn
near every canoe I ever set foot in. I've gone right through the
bottom of two. I've turned turtle in the Canyon and been pulled out
below the White Horse. I can only keep stroke with one man, and that
man's yours truly. But, gentlemen, if the call comes, I'll take my
place in La Bijou and take her to hell if she don't turn over on the
way."

Baron Courbertin threw his arms about him, crying, "As sure as God made
little apples, thou art a man!"

Tommy's face was white, and he sought refuge in speech from the silence
which settled down. "I'll deny I lift a guid paddle, nor that my wind
is fair; but gin ye gang a tithe the way the next jam'll be on us. For
my pairt I conseeder it ay rash. Bide a wee till the river's clear,
say I."

"It's no go, Tommy," Jacob Welse admonished. "You can't cash excuses
here."

"But, mon! It doesna need discreemeenation - "

"That'll do!" from Corliss. "You're coming."

"I'll naething o' the sort. I'll - "

"Shut up!" Del had come into the world with lungs of leather and
larynx of brass, and when he thus jerked out the stops the Scotsman
quailed and shrank down.

"Oyez! Oyez!" In contrast to Del's siren tones, Frona's were purest
silver as they rippled down-island through the trees. "Oyez! Oyez!
Open water! Open water! And wait a minute. I'll be with you."

Three miles up-stream, where the Yukon curved grandly in from the west,
a bit of water appeared. It seemed too marvellous for belief, after
the granite winter; but McPherson, untouched of imagination, began a
crafty retreat.

"Bide a wee, bide a wee," he protested, when collared by the
pocket-miner. "A've forgot my pipe."

"Then you'll bide with us, Tommy," Del sneered. "And I'd let you have
a draw of mine if your own wasn't sticking out of your pocket."

"'Twas the baccy I'd in mind."

"Then dig into this." He shoved his pouch into McPherson's shaking
hands. "You'd better shed your coat. Here! I'll help you. And
private, Tommy, if you don't act the man, I won't do a thing to you.
Sure."

Corliss had stripped his heavy flannel shirt for freedom; and it was
plain, when Frona joined them, that she also had been shedding. Jacket
and skirt were gone, and her underskirt of dark cloth ceased midway
below the knee.

"You'll do," Del commended.

Jacob Welse looked at her anxiously, and went over to where she was
testing the grips of the several paddles. "You're not - ?" he began.

She nodded.

"You're a guid girl," McPherson broke in. "Now, a've a wumman to home,
to say naething o' three bairns - "

"All ready!" Corliss lifted the bow of La Bijou and looked back.

The turbid water lashed by on the heels of the ice-run. Courbertin
took the stern in the steep descent, and Del marshalled Tommy's
reluctant rear. A flat floe, dipping into the water at a slight
incline, served as the embarking-stage.

"Into the bow with you, Tommy!"

The Scotsman groaned, felt Bishop breathe heavily at his back, and
obeyed; Frona meeting his weight by slipping into the stern.

"I can steer," she assured Corliss, who for the first time was aware
that she was coming.

He glanced up to Jacob Welse, as though for consent, and received it.

"Hit 'er up! Hit 'er up!" Del urged impatiently. "You're burnin'
daylight!"




CHAPTER XXV

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."

"I'll no."

"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.


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