Baron Courbertin threw his arms about him, crying, “As sure as God made little apples, thou art a man!”
Tommy’s face was white, and he sought refuge in speech from the silence which settled down. “I’ll deny I lift a guid paddle, nor that my wind is fair; but gin ye gang a tithe the way the next jam’ll be on us. For my pairt I conseeder it ay rash. Bide a wee till the river’s clear, say I.”
“It’s no go, Tommy,” Jacob Welse admonished. “You can’t cash excuses here.”
“But, mon! It doesna need discreemeenation—”
“That’ll do!” from Corliss. “You’re coming.”
“I’ll naething o’ the sort. I’ll—”
“Shut up!” Del had come into the world with lungs of leather and larynx of brass, and when he thus jerked out the stops the Scotsman quailed and shrank down.
“Oyez! Oyez!” In contrast to Del’s siren tones, Frona’s were purest silver as they rippled down-island through the trees. “Oyez! Oyez! Open water! Open water! And wait a minute. I’ll be with you.”
Three miles up-stream, where the Yukon curved grandly in from the west, a bit of water appeared. It seemed too marvellous for belief, after the granite winter; but McPherson, untouched of imagination, began a crafty retreat.
“Bide a wee, bide a wee,” he protested, when collared by the pocket-miner. “A’ve forgot my pipe.”
“Then you’ll bide with us, Tommy,” Del sneered. “And I’d let you have a draw of mine if your own wasn’t sticking out of your pocket.”
“’Twas the baccy I’d in mind.”
“Then dig into this.” He shoved his pouch into McPherson’s shaking hands. “You’d better shed your coat. Here! I’ll help you. And private, Tommy, if you don’t act the man, I won’t do a thing to you. Sure.”
Corliss had stripped his heavy flannel shirt for freedom; and it was plain, when Frona joined them, that she also had been shedding. Jacket and skirt were gone, and her underskirt of dark cloth ceased midway below the knee.
“You’ll do,” Del commended.
Jacob Welse looked at her anxiously, and went over to where she was testing the grips of the several paddles. “You’re not—?” he began.
“You’re a guid girl,” McPherson broke in. “Now, a’ve a wumman to home, to say naething o’ three bairns—”
“All ready!” Corliss lifted the bow of La Bijou and looked back.
The turbid water lashed by on the heels of the ice-run. Courbertin took the stern in the steep descent, and Del marshalled Tommy’s reluctant rear. A flat floe, dipping into the water at a slight incline, served as the embarking-stage.
“Into the bow with you, Tommy!”
The Scotsman groaned, felt Bishop breathe heavily at his back, and obeyed; Frona meeting his weight by slipping into the stern.
“I can steer,” she assured Corliss, who for the first time was aware that she was coming.