There was not a white person in those canoes who did not conceive that their party was lost, when this clamor was heard. With Peter it was different. Instead of admitting of alarm, he turned all his faculties to use. While le Bourdon himself was nearly in despair, Peter was listening with his nice ears, to catch the points on the river whence the yells arose. For the banks he cared nothing. The danger was from the canoes. By the keenness of his faculties, the chief ascertained that there were four canoes out, and that they would have to run the gauntlet between them, or escape would be hopeless. By the sounds he also became certain that these four canoes were in the rice, two on each side of the river, and there they would probably remain, in expectation that the fugitives would be most likely to come down in the cover.
The decision of Peter was made in a moment. It was now quite dark, and those who were in canoes within the rice could not well see the middle of the stream, even by daylight. He determined, therefore, to take the very centre of the river, giving his directions to that effect with precision and clearness. The females he ordered to lie down, each in her own canoe, while their husbands alone were to remain visible. Peter hoped that, in the darkness, le Bourdon and Gershom might pass for Indians, on the lookout, and under his own immediate command.
One very important fact was ascertained by le Bourdon, as soon as these arrangements were explained and completed. The wind on the lake was blowing from the south, and of course was favorable to those who desired to proceed in the opposite direction. This he communicated to Margery in a low tone, endeavoring to encourage her by all the means in his power. In return, the young wife muttered a few encouraging words to her husband. Every measure was understood between the parties. In the event of a discovery, the canoes were to bury themselves in the rice, taking different directions, each man acting for himself. A place of rendezvous was appointed outside, at a headland known to Gershom and le Bourdon, and signals were agreed on, by which the latest arrival might know that all was safe there. These points were settled as the canoes floated slowly down the stream.
Peter took and kept the lead. The night was star-lit and clear, but there was no moon. On the water, this made but little difference, objects not being visible at any material distance. The chief governed the speed, which was moderate, but regular. At the rate he was now going, it would require about an hour to carry the canoes into the lake. But nearly all of that hour must pass in the midst of enemies!
Half of the period just mentioned elapsed, positively without an alarm of any sort. By this time, the party was abreast of the spot where Gershom and le Bourdon had secreted the canoes in the former adventure at the mouth of the river. On the shores, however, a very different scene now offered. Then, the fire burned brightly in the hut, and the savages could be seen by its light. Now, all was not only dark, but still as death. There was no longer any cry, sound, alarm, or foot-fall, audible. The very air seemed charged with uncertainty, and its offspring, apprehension.