He glanced up to Jacob Welse, as though for consent, and received it.
“Hit ’er up! Hit ‘er up!” Del urged impatiently. “You’re burnin’ daylight!”
La Bijou was a perfect expression of all that was dainty and delicate in the boat-builder’s soul. Light as an egg-shell, and as fragile, her three-eighths-inch skin offered no protection from a driving chunk of ice as small as a man’s head. Nor, though the water was open, did she find a clear way, for the river was full of scattered floes which had crumbled down from the rim-ice. And here, at once, through skilful handling, Corliss took to himself confidence in Frona.
It was a great picture: the river rushing blackly between its crystalline walls; beyond, the green woods stretching upward to touch the cloud-flecked summer sky; and over all, like a furnace blast, the hot sun beating down. A great picture, but somehow Corliss’s mind turned to his mother and her perennial tea, the soft carpets, the prim New England maid-servants, the canaries singing in the wide windows, and he wondered if she could understand. And when he thought of the woman behind him, and felt the dip and lift, dip and lift, of her paddle, his mother’s women came back to him, one by one, and passed in long review,—pale, glimmering ghosts, he thought, caricatures of the stock which had replenished the earth, and which would continue to replenish the earth.
La Bijou skirted a pivoting floe, darted into a nipping channel, and shot out into the open with the walls grinding together behind. Tommy groaned.
“Well done!” Corliss encouraged.
“The fule wumman!” came the backward snarl. “Why couldna she bide a bit?”
Frona caught his words and flung a laugh defiantly. Vance darted a glance over his shoulder to her, and her smile was witchery. Her cap, perched precariously, was sliding off, while her flying hair, aglint in the sunshine, framed her face as he had seen it framed on the Dyea Trail.
“How I should like to sing, if it weren’t for saving one’s breath. Say the ‘Song of the Sword,’ or the ‘Anchor Chanty.’”
“Or the ‘First Chanty,’” Corliss answered. “’Mine was the woman, darkling I found her,’” he hummed, significantly.
She flashed her paddle into the water on the opposite side in order to go wide of a jagged cake, and seemed not to hear. “I could go on this way forever.”
“And I,” Corliss affirmed, warmly.
But she refused to take notice, saying, instead, “Vance, do you know I’m glad we’re friends?”
“No fault of mine we’re not more.”
“You’re losing your stroke, sir,” she reprimanded; and he bent silently to the work.
La Bijou was driving against the current at an angle of forty-five degrees, and her resultant course was a line at right angles to the river. Thus, she would tap the western bank directly opposite the starting-point, where she could work up-stream in the slacker flood. But a mile of indented shore, and then a hundred yards of bluffs rising precipitously from out a stiff current would still lie between them and the man to be rescued.