“Tell McPherson to be ready for a call,” Jacob Welse shouted after him. And then to Frona, “Now’s the time for St. Vincent to cross the back-channel.”
The baron, shivering barefooted, pulled out his watch. “Ten minutes to three,” he chattered.
“Hadn’t you better go back and get your moccasins?” Frona asked. “There will be time.”
“And miss the magnificence? Hark!”
From nowhere in particular a brisk crackling arose, then died away. The ice was in motion. Slowly, very slowly, it proceeded down stream. There was no commotion, no ear-splitting thunder, no splendid display of force; simply a silent flood of white, an orderly procession of tight-packed ice—packed so closely that not a drop of water was in evidence. It was there, somewhere, down underneath; but it had to be taken on faith. There was a dull hum or muffled grating, but so low in pitch that the ear strained to catch it.
“Ah! Where is the magnificence? It is a fake!”
The baron shook his fists angrily at the river, and Jacob Welse’s thick brows seemed to draw down in order to hide the grim smile in his eyes.
“Ha! ha! I laugh! I snap my fingers! See! I defy!”
As the challenge left his lips. Baron Courbertin stepped upon a cake which rubbed lightly past at his feet. So unexpected was it, that when Jacob Welse reached after him he was gone.
The ice was picking up in momentum, and the hum growing louder and more threatening. Balancing gracefully, like a circus-rider, the Frenchman whirled away along the rim of the bank. Fifty precarious feet he rode, his mount becoming more unstable every instant, and he leaped neatly to the shore. He came back laughing, and received for his pains two or three of the choicest phrases Jacob Welse could select from the essentially masculine portion of his vocabulary.
“And for why?” Courbertin demanded, stung to the quick.
“For why?” Jacob Welse mimicked wrathfully, pointing into the sleek stream sliding by.
A great cake had driven its nose into the bed of the river thirty feet below and was struggling to up-end. All the frigid flood behind crinkled and bent back like so much paper. Then the stalled cake turned completely over and thrust its muddy nose skyward. But the squeeze caught it, while cake mounted cake at its back, and its fifty feet of muck and gouge were hurled into the air. It crashed upon the moving mass beneath, and flying fragments landed at the feet of those that watched. Caught broadside in a chaos of pressures, it crumbled into scattered pieces and disappeared.
“God!” The baron spoke the word reverently and with awe.
Frona caught his hand on the one side and her father’s on the other. The ice was now leaping past in feverish haste. Somewhere below a heavy cake butted into the bank, and the ground swayed under their feet. Another followed it, nearer the surface, and as they sprang back, upreared mightily, and, with a ton or so of soil on its broad back, bowled insolently onward. And yet another, reaching inshore like a huge hand, ripped three careless pines out by the roots and bore them away.