“Th’ wind might stiffen up a bit an’ we better keep an eye to it.”
They were well back in the hills before the predicted stiffening came to such an extent that they decided it was wise to return to the shack.
Skipper Sam and his mate were not accustomed to land travelling and the hurried retreat soon winded them and they were held down to so slow a walk that the afternoon was half spent and the wind had grown to a gale when they finally came in view of the harbour. Skipper Sam was ahead, and when he looked towards the place where the Maid of the North had been snugly held in the ice in the morning he rubbed his eyes. Then he looked again, and exclaimed:
The harbour was clear of ice and nowhere on the horizon was the Maid of the North to be seen. The gale had swept the ice to sea and carried with it the Maid of the North and all her valuable cargo. The cook, asleep in his bunk in the shack, was quite unconscious of the calamity when the skipper roused him to demand explanations.
But there were no explanations to be given. The schooner was gone, that was all, and Captain Sam Hanks and his crew were stranded upon the coast of Labrador.
THE HAND OF PROVIDENCE
Bob and his companions were indeed in a most desperate situation, and even they, accustomed and inured as they were to the vicissitudes and rigours of the North, could see no possible way of escape. Men of less courage or experience would probably have resigned themselves to their fate at once, without one further effort to preserve their lives, and in an hour or two have succumbed to the bitter cold of the storm. But these men had learned to take events as they came largely as a matter of course, and they did not for a moment lose heart or self-control.
The dogs were driven a little farther towards the interior of the ice, for if the pack were to break up the outer edge would be the first to go. Here immediate preparations were made to camp.
There was no bank from which snow blocks could be cut for an igloo, and the blinding snow so obscured their surroundings that they could not so much as find a friendly ice hummock to take refuge behind. The gale, in fact, was so fierce that they could scarce hold their feet against it, and had they released their hold of the komatik even for an instant, it is doubtful if they could have found it again.
The deerskin sleeping bags were unlashed and the sledge turned upon its side. In the lee of this the bags were stretched upon the ice and with their skin clothes on they crawled into them. Each called “Oksunae”—be strong—have courage—to the others, and then drew his head within the folds of his skin covering.
Bob wore the long, warm coat that Manikawan had made for him, and as he snuggled close into the bag he thought of her kindness to him, and he dreamed that night that he had gone back and found her waiting for him and looking just as she did the morning she waved him farewell, as she stood in the light of the cold winter moon—tall and graceful and comely, with the tears glistening in her eyes.