Only when a scow became unmanageable, or hit the Dragon’s Tooth, or made the right-hand channel instead of the left, was there tragedy. There was that delightful little note of laughter in Marette’s throat when Kent told her that.
“You mean, Jeems, that if one of three possible things doesn’t happen, we’ll get through safely?”
“None of them is possible—with us,” he corrected himself quickly. “We’ve a tight little scow, we’re not going to hit the rock, and we’ll make the left-hand channel so smoothly you won’t know when it happens.” He smiled at her with splendid confidence. “I’ve been through it a hundred times,” he said.
He listened. Then, suddenly, he drew out his watch. It was a quarter of four. Marette’s ears caught what he heard. In the air was a low, trembling murmur. It was growing slowly but steadily. He nodded when she looked at him, the question in her eyes.
“The rapids at the head of the Chute!” he cried, his voice vibrant with joy. “We’ve beat them out. We’re safe!”
They swung around a bend, and the white spume of the rapids lay half a mile ahead of them. The current began to race with them now. Kent put his whole weight on the sweep to keep the scow in mid-channel.
“We’re safe,” he repeated. “Do you understand, Marette? We’re safe!”
He was speaking the words for which she had waited, was telling her that at last the hour had come when she could keep her promise to him. The words, as he gave them voice, thrilled him. He felt like shouting them. And then all at once he saw the change that had come into her face. Her wide, startled eyes were not looking at him, but beyond. She was looking back in the direction from which they had come, and even as he stared her face grew white.
She was tense, rigid. He turned his head. And in that moment it came to him above the growing murmur of the river—the putt, putt, putt of the Police patrol boat from Athabasca Landing!
A deep breath came from between his lips. When Marette took her eyes from the river and looked at him, his face was like carven rock. He was staring dead ahead.
“We can’t make the Chute,” he said, his voice sounding hard and unreal to her. “If we do, they’ll be up with us before we can land at the other end. We must let this current drive us ashore—now.”
As he made his decision, he put the strength of his body into action. He knew there was not the hundredth part of a second to lose. The outreaching suction of the rapids was already gripping the scow, and with mighty strokes he fought to work the head of his craft toward the westward shore. With swift understanding Marette saw the priceless value of a few seconds of time. If they were caught in the stronger swirl of the rapids before the shore was reached, they would be forced to run the Chute, and in that event the