But by May, spring was so far advanced that travel on the creeks became perilous, and on the last of the thawing ice the miners travelled down to the bunch of islands below the mouth of the Stewart, where they went into temporary quarters or crowded the hospitality of those who possessed cabins. Corliss and Bishop located on Split-up Island (so called through the habit parties from the Outside had of dividing there and going several ways), where Tommy McPherson was comfortably situated. A couple of days later, Jacob Welse and Frona arrived from a hazardous trip out of White River, and pitched tent on the high ground at the upper end of Split-up. A few chechaquos, the first of the spring rush, strung in exhausted and went into camp against the breaking of the river. Also, there were still men going out who, barred by the rotten ice, came ashore to build poling-boats and await the break-up or to negotiate with the residents for canoes. Notably among these was the Baron Courbertin.
“Ah! Excruciating! Magnificent! Is it not?”
So Frona first ran across him on the following day. “What?” she asked, giving him her hand.
“You! You!” doffing his cap. “It is a delight!”
“I am sure—” she began.
“No! No!” He shook his curly mop warmly. “It is not you. See!” He turned to a Peterborough, for which McPherson had just mulcted him of thrice its value. “The canoe! Is it not—not—what you Yankees call—a bute?”
“Oh, the canoe,” she repeated, with a falling inflection of chagrin.
“No! No! Pardon!” He stamped angrily upon the ground. “It is not so. It is not you. It is not the canoe. It is—ah! I have it now! It is your promise. One day, do you not remember, at Madame Schoville’s, we talked of the canoe, and of my ignorance, which was sad, and you promised, you said—”
“I would give you your first lesson?”
“And is it not delightful? Listen! Do you not hear? The rippling—ah! the rippling!—deep down at the heart of things! Soon will the water run free. Here is the canoe! Here we meet! The first lesson! Delightful! Delightful!”
The next island below Split-up was known as Roubeau’s Island, and was separated from the former by a narrow back-channel. Here, when the bottom had about dropped out of the trail, and with the dogs swimming as often as not, arrived St. Vincent—the last man to travel the winter trail. He went into the cabin of John Borg, a taciturn, gloomy individual, prone to segregate himself from his kind. It was the mischance of St. Vincent’s life that of all cabins he chose Borg’s for an abiding-place against the break-up.
“All right,” the man said, when questioned by him. “Throw your blankets into the corner. Bella’ll clear the litter out of the spare bunk.”
Not till evening did he speak again, and then, “You’re big enough to do your own cooking. When the woman’s done with the stove you can fire away.”