Darkness and the coming of the storm did not drive Pierre Radisson into camp. “We must reach the river,” he said to himself over and over again. “We must reach the river—we must reach the river—” And he steadily urged Kazan on to greater effort, while his own strength at the end of the traces grew less.
It had begun to storm when Pierre stopped to build a fire at noon. The snow fell straight down in a white deluge so thick that it hid the tree trunks fifty yards away. Pierre laughed when Joan shivered and snuggled close up to him with the baby in her arms. He waited only an hour, and then fastened Kazan in the traces again, and buckled the straps once more about his own waist. In the silent gloom that was almost night Pierre carried his compass in his hand, and at last, late in the afternoon, they came to a break in the timber-line, and ahead of them lay a plain, across which Radisson pointed an exultant hand.
“There’s the river, Joan,” he said, his voice faint and husky. “We can camp here now and wait for the storm to pass.”
Under a thick clump of spruce he put up the tent, and then began gathering fire-wood. Joan helped him. As soon as they had boiled coffee and eaten a supper of meat and toasted biscuits, Joan went into the tent and dropped exhausted on her thick bed of balsam boughs, wrapping herself and the baby up close in the skins and blankets. To-night she had no word for Kazan. And Pierre was glad that she was too tired to sit beside the fire and talk. And yet—
Kazan’s alert eyes saw Pierre start suddenly. He rose from his seat on the sledge and went to the tent. He drew back the flap and thrust in his head and shoulders.
“Asleep, Joan?” he asked.
“Almost, father. Won’t you please come—soon?”
“After I smoke,” he said. “Are you comfortable?”
“Yes, I’m so tired—and—sleepy—”
Pierre laughed softly. In the darkness he was gripping at his throat.
“We’re almost home, Joan. That is our river out there—the Little Beaver. If I should run away and leave you to-night you could follow it right to our cabin. It’s only forty miles. Do you hear?”
“Forty miles—straight down the river. You couldn’t lose yourself, Joan. Only you’d have to be careful of air-holes in the ice.”
“Won’t you come to bed, father? You’re tired—and almost sick.”
“Yes—after I smoke,” he repeated. “Joan, will you keep reminding me to-morrow of the air-holes? I might forget. You can always tell them, for the snow and the crust over them are whiter than that on the rest of the ice, and like a sponge. Will you remember—the airholes—”
Pierre dropped the tent-flap and returned to the fire. He staggered as he walked.
“Good night, boy,” he said. “Guess I’d better go in with the kids. Two days more—forty miles—two days—”