During the afternoon the noise increased in frequency, and by nightfall was continuous, but by morning it had ceased utterly. The river had risen eight feet, and in many places was running over its crust. Much crackling and splitting were going on, and fissures leaping into life and multiplying in all directions.
“The under-tow ice has jammed below among the islands,” Jacob Welse explained. “That’s what caused the rise. Then, again, it has jammed at the mouth of the Stewart and is backing up. When that breaks through, it will go down underneath and stick on the lower jam.”
“And then? and then?” The baron exulted.
“La Bijou will swim again.”
As the light grew stronger, they searched for the man across the river. He had not moved, but in response to their rifle-shots waved feebly.
“Nothing for it till the river breaks, baron, and then a dash with La Bijou. St. Vincent, you had better bring your blankets up and sleep here to-night. We’ll need three paddles, and I think we can get McPherson.”
“No need,” the correspondent hastened to reply. “The back-channel is like adamant, and I’ll be up by daybreak.”
“But I? Why not?” Baron Courbertin demanded. Frona laughed. “Remember, we haven’t given you your first lessons yet.”
“And there’ll hardly be time to-morrow,” Jacob Welse added. “When she goes, she goes with a rush. St. Vincent, McPherson, and I will have to make the crew, I’m afraid. Sorry, baron. Stay with us another year and you’ll be fit.”
But Baron Courbertin was inconsolable, and sulked for a full half-hour.
“Awake! You dreamers, wake!”
Frona was out of her sleeping-furs at Del Bishop’s first call; but ere she had slipped a skirt on and bare feet into moccasins, her father, beyond the blanket-curtain, had thrown back the flaps of the tent and stumbled out.
The river was up. In the chill gray light she could see the ice rubbing softly against the very crest of the bank; it even topped it in places, and the huge cakes worked inshore many feet. A hundred yards out the white field merged into the dim dawn and the gray sky. Subdued splits and splutters whispered from out the obscureness, and a gentle grinding could be heard.
“When will it go?” she asked of Del.
“Not a bit too lively for us. See there!” He pointed with his toe to the water lapping out from under the ice and creeping greedily towards them. “A foot rise every ten minutes.”
“Danger?” he scoffed. “Not on your life. It’s got to go. Them islands”—waving his hand indefinitely down river—“can’t hold up under more pressure. If they don’t let go the ice, the ice’ll scour them clean out of the bed of the Yukon. Sure! But I’ve got to be chasin’ back. Lower ground down our way. Fifteen inches on the cabin floor, and McPherson and Corliss hustlin’ perishables into the bunks.”