We continue our serialisation of Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson
“four propellers could be seen floundering in the loosened ice”
“He would not if he had seen you this evening,” replied her companion.
A deep flush, visible even in the moonlight, came into the girl’s face. “Do not ask me to recite again,” she pleaded; “I can not. You must let me do what I feel is right.”
“What is there wrong in reciting Shakespeare?”
“I do not know. But something comes over me at times, and I am almost swept away. I
cannot bear to think of the feeling.” “Then don’t,” said Rast.
“You do not understand me.”
“I don’t believe you understand yourself; girls seldom do.”
“Let me beg you not to fall into the power of that uncomfortable word, Annet. Walters says women of the world never use it. They never ask a single question.”
“But how can they learn, then?”
“By observation,” replied young Pronando, oracularly.
On this Northern border spring came late—came late, but in splendor. She sent forward no couriers, no hints in the forest, no premonitions on the winds. All at once she was there herself. Not a shy maid, timid, pallid, hesitating, and turning back, but a full- blooming goddess and woman. One might almost say that she was not Spring at all, but Summer. The weeks called spring farther southward showed here but the shrinking and fading of winter. First the snow crumbled to fine dry greyish powder; then the ice grew porous and became honeycombed, and it was no longer safe to cross the Straits; then the first birds came; then the far-off smoke of a steamer could be seen above the point, and the village wakened. In the same day the winter went and the summer came.
On the highest point of the island were the remains of an old earthwork, crowned by a little surveyor’s station, like an arbor on stilts, which was reached by the aid of a ladder. Anne liked to go up there on the first spring day, climb the ice-coated rounds, and, standing on the dry old snow that covered the floor, gaze off toward the south and east, where people and cities were, and the spring; then toward the north, where there was still only fast-bound ice and snow stretching away over thousands of miles of almost unknown country, the great wild northland called British America, traversed by the hunters and trappers of the Hudson Bay Company—vast empire ruled by private hands, a government within a government, its line of forts and posts extending from James Bay to the Little Slave, from the Saskatchewan northward to the Polar Sea. In the early afternoon she stood there now, having made her way up to the height with some difficulty, for the ice-crust was broken, and she was obliged to wade knee-deep through some of the drifts, and go round others that were over her head, leaving a trail behind her as crooked as a child’s through a clover field. Reaching the plateau on the summit at last, and avoiding the hidden pits of the old earthwork, she climbed the icy ladder, and stood on the white floor again with delight, brushing from her woolen skirt and leggings the dry snow, which still clung to them. The sun was so bright and the air so exhilarating that she pushed back her little fur cap, and drew a long breath of enjoyment. Everything below was still white-covered—the island and village, the Straits and the mainland; but coming round the eastern point four propellers could be seen floundering in the loosened ice, heaving the porous cakes aside, butting with their sharp high bows, and then backing briskly to get headway to start forward again, thus breaking slowly a passageway for themselves, and churning the black water behind until it boiled white as soap-suds as the floating ice closed over it. Now one boat, finding by chance a weakened spot, floundered through it without pause, and came out triumphantly some distance in advance of the rest; then another, wakened to new exertions by this sight, put on all steam, and went pounding along with a crashing sound until her bows were on a line with the first. The two boats left behind now started together with much splashing and sputtering, and veering toward the shore, with the hope of finding a new weak place in the floe, ran against hard ice with a thud, and stopped short; then there was much backing out and floundering round, the engines panting and the little bells ringing wildly, until the old channel was reached, where they rested awhile, and then made another beginning. These manœuvres were repeated over and over again, the passengers and crew of each boat laughing and chaffing each other as they passed and re-passed in the slow pounding race. It had happened more than once that these first steamers had been frozen in after reaching the Straits, and had been obliged to spend several days in company fast bound in the ice. Then the passengers and crews visited each other, climbing down the sides of the steamers and walking across.