Billy's voice answered; and the fires were left behind and Smoke was again flying through the wall of blackness. In the jams of that relay, where the way led across a chaos of up- ended ice-cakes, and where Smoke slipped off the forward end of the sled and with a haul-rope toiled behind the wheel-dog, he passed three sleds.
The flood was thick, indeed, with crunching ice-cakes and wallowing logs and slowly turning islets of uprooted trees and the débris of the winter forest. But fortune so favoured the wolf that he fell in a space of clear water, instead of being dashed to a pulp on ice-cake or tree trunk.
"Say, boys!" a ring as near excitement as was possible to one of his temperament was in his voice. "Ain't that an island, that brown patch out there, pretty well over to the other side? I believe it is." The others followed his glance. Near the farther bank was a long low-lying object, like a jam of broken ice-cakes, between which and them the open water was flowing.
What he did not take into account was the way the ice-cakes would grind and batter each other as soon as the tide was deep enough to float them. Now, submerged till his furry back and spiky tail were just even with the surface, his little, dark eyes glanced up with mingled defiance and appeal at the savage, yellow glare of the wide orbs staring down upon him.
Mile on mile of tumbled, mud-stained ice-cakes, strewn thickly over the Tantramar flats, waited motionless under the moon for the incoming tide.
The most experienced seized the oars; three or four Marblehead fishermen armed with long poles took their stations forward and aft along the upper side of the boat, with one to steer and one to command; and then, seizing a favorable opportunity, the boat was pushed off from the shore, and threading its way in and out between the enormous ice-cakes grinding down upon her, the difficult and dangerous passage began.
"He's a moose!" whispered Bruce, as they crept close to the rather broad waters-hole and eyed the creature through a crack between upended ice-cakes. "Tusks two feet and a half long! Must weigh a ton and a half!" Already Barney felt his muscles ache from the strain. "Well, here's for it!" He exclaimed, coiling his skin-rope.
And now they reached a spot where the water was deeper, where ice-cakes, some small as a kitchen floor, some large as a town lot, jostled and ground one upon another. "Wo-oo, I don't like it!" exclaimed Lucile, as she leaped a narrow chasm of dark water. "We'll soon be there," trilled her companion. "Just watch your step, that's all." They pushed on, leaping from cake to cake.
During the second day the current of the Ohio became less violent. I fought a passage among the ice-cakes, and whenever openings appeared rowed briskly along the sides of the chilly raft, with the intent of getting below the frosty zone as soon as possible.
On either side of the two ice-cakes which had given the muskrat refuge, was a space of open mud which he knew it would be death to cross. Each time those deadly black talons clutched at him, he flattened himself to the ground in panic; but there were several inches to spare between his throat and death. The owl glared down with fixed and flaming eyes, then gave up his useless efforts.