On Split-up Island all were ready for the break-up. Waterways have ever been first highways, and the Yukon was the sole highway in all the land. So those bound up-river pitched their poling-boats and shod their poles with iron, and those bound down caulked their scows and barges and shaped spare sweeps with axe and drawing-knife. Jacob Welse loafed and joyed in the utter cessation from work, and Frona joyed with him in that it was good. But Baron Courbertin was in a fever at the delay. His hot blood grew riotous after the long hibernation, and the warm sunshine dazzled him with warmer fancies.
“Oh! Oh! It will never break! Never!” And he stood gazing at the surly ice and raining politely phrased anathema upon it. “It is a conspiracy, poor La Bijou, a conspiracy!” He caressed La Bijou like it were a horse, for so he had christened the glistening Peterborough canoe.
Frona and St. Vincent laughed and preached him the gospel of patience, which he proceeded to tuck away into the deepest abysses of perdition till interrupted by Jacob Welse.
“Look, Courbertin! Over there, south of the bluff. Do you make out anything? Moving?”
“Yes; a dog.”
“It moves too slowly for a dog. Frona, get the glasses.”
Courbertin and St. Vincent sprang after them, but the latter knew their abiding-place and returned triumphant. Jacob Welse put the binoculars to his eyes and gazed steadily across the river. It was a sheer mile from the island to the farther bank, and the sunglare on the ice was a sore task to the vision.
“It is a man.” He passed the glasses to the Baron and strained absently with his naked eyes. “And something is up.”
“He creeps!” the baron exclaimed. “The man creeps, he crawls, on hand and knee! Look! See!” He thrust the glasses tremblingly into Frona’s hands.
Looking across the void of shimmering white, it was difficult to discern a dark object of such size when dimly outlined against an equally dark background of brush and earth. But Frona could make the man out with fair distinctness; and as she grew accustomed to the strain she could distinguish each movement, and especially so when he came to a wind-thrown pine. Sue watched painfully. Twice, after tortuous effort, squirming and twisting, he failed in breasting the big trunk, and on the third attempt, after infinite exertion, he cleared it only to topple helplessly forward and fall on his face in the tangled undergrowth.
“It is a man.” She turned the glasses over to St. Vincent. “And he is crawling feebly. He fell just then this side of the log.”
“Does he move?” Jacob Welse asked, and, on a shake of St. Vincent’s head, brought his rifle from the tent.
He fired six shots skyward in rapid succession. “He moves!” The correspondent followed him closely. “He is crawling to the bank. Ah! . . . No; one moment . . . Yes! He lies on the ground and raises his hat, or something, on a stick. He is waving it.” (Jacob Welse fired six more shots.) “He waves again. Now he has dropped it and lies quite still.”