“Yes . . . No . . . Yes! They’re turning back,” she announced. “But listen! What is that?”
A hoarse rumble, like distant thunder, rose from the midst of the ice. She sprang to her feet. “Gregory, the river can’t be breaking!”
“No, no; surely not. See, it is gone.” The noise which had come from above had died away downstream.
“But there! There!”
Another rumble, hoarser and more ominous than before, lifted itself and hushed the robins and the squirrels. When abreast of them, it sounded like a railroad train on a distant trestle. A third rumble, which approached a roar and was of greater duration, began from above and passed by.
“Oh, why don’t they hurry!”
The two specks had stopped, evidently in conversation. She ran the glasses hastily up and down the river. Though another roar had risen, she could make out no commotion. The ice lay still and motionless. The robins resumed their singing, and the squirrels were chattering with spiteful glee.
“Don’t fear, Frona.” St. Vincent put his arm about her protectingly. “If there is any danger, they know it better than we, and they are taking their time.”
“I never saw a big river break up,” she confessed, and resigned herself to the waiting.
The roars rose and fell sporadically, but there were no other signs of disruption, and gradually the two men, with frequent duckings, worked inshore. The water was streaming from them and they were shivering severely as they came up the bank.
“At last!” Frona had both her father’s hands in hers. “I thought you would never come back.”
“There, there. Run and get dinner,” Jacob Welse laughed. “There was no danger.”
“But what was it?”
“Stewart River’s broken and sending its ice down under the Yukon ice. We could hear the grinding plainly out there.”
“Ah! And it was terrible! terrible!” cried the baron. “And that poor, poor man, we cannot save him!”
“Yes, we can. We’ll have a try with the dogs after dinner. Hurry, Frona.”
But the dogs were a failure. Jacob Welse picked out the leaders as the more intelligent, and with grub-packs on them drove them out from the bank. They could not grasp what was demanded of them. Whenever they tried to return they were driven back with sticks and clods and imprecations. This only bewildered them, and they retreated out of range, whence they raised their wet, cold paws and whined pitifully to the shore.
“If they could only make it once, they would understand, and then it would go like clock-work. Ah! Would you? Go on! Chook, Miriam! Chook! The thing is to get the first one across.”
Jacob Welse finally succeeded in getting Miriam, lead-dog to Frona’s team, to take the trail left by him and the baron. The dog went on bravely, scrambling over, floundering through, and sometimes swimming; but when she had gained the farthest point reached by them, she sat down helplessly. Later on, she cut back to the shore at a tangent, landing on the deserted island above; and an hour afterwards trotted into camp minus the grub-pack. Then the two dogs, hovering just out of range, compromised matters by devouring each other’s burdens; after which the attempt was given over and they were called in.