Let us start immediately , as our brave guide suggests.”
“We are off, then,” cried Norman, letting go the moorings, “to the fort by the shortest route.”
For about an hour the bark made little head. The sail, scarcely filled by the fitful breeze, flapped against the mast. The fog became thicker. The waves began to rise and the boat to rock considerably; for the approaching hurricane affected the water sooner than the atmosphere itself. The two travellers sat still and silent, whilst the old sailor peered into the darkness with bloodshot eyes. Prepared for all contingencies, he awaited the shock of the wind, ready to pay out rapidly should the attack be very violent. The conflict of the elements had not, however, as yet commenced; and all would have been well if they bad been able to advance, but after an hour’s sail they were still only about two hours’ distance from the Indian encampment. A few gusts of wind from the shore drove them out of their course, and the dense fog rendered it impossible for them to make out the coast-line. Should the wind settle in the north it would probably go hard with the light boat, which, unable to hold its own course, would be drifted out into the lake no one knew where.
“We are scarcely advancing at all,” said the Lieutenant to old Norman.
“No, sir,” replied Norman; “the wind is not strong enough to fill the sail, and if it were, I fear it comes from the wrong quarter. If so,” he added, pointing to the south, “we may see Fort Franklin before Fort Confidence.”
“Well,” said Mrs Barnett cheerfully, “our trip will have been all the more complete. This is a magnificent lake, well worth exploring from north to south. I suppose, Norman, one might get back even from Fort Franklin?”
“Yes, madam, if we ever reach it,” replied the old man. “But tempests lasting fifteen days are by no means rare on this lake; and if our bad luck should drive us to the south, it may be a month before Lieutenant Hobson again sees Fort Confidence.”
“Let us be careful, then,” said the Lieutenant; “for such a delay, would hinder our projects very much. Do the best you can under the circumstances, and if you think it would be prudent, go back to the north. I don’t suppose Mrs Barnett would mind a walk of twenty or twenty-five miles.”
I should be glad enough to go back to the north, Lieutenant,” replied Norman, “if it were still possible. But look, the wind seems likely to settle against us. All I can attempt is to get to the cape on the north-east, and if it doesn’t blow too hard, I hope to succeed.”
But at about half-past four the storm broke. The shrill whistling of the wind was heard far above their heads, but the state of the atmosphere prevented it from as yet descending upon the lake; this was, however, only delayed for a brief space of time. The cries of frightened birds flying through the fog mingled with the noise of the wind. Suddenly the mist was torn open, and revealed low jagged masses of rain-cloud chased towards the south. The fears of the old sailor were realised. The wind blew from the north, and it was not long before the travellers learned the meaning of a squall upon the lake.
“Look out!” cried old Norman, tightening sail so as to get his boat ahead of the wind, whilst keeping her under control of the helm.
The squall came. It caught the boat upon the flank, and it was turned over on its side; but recovering itself, it was flung upon the crest of a wave. The billows surged as if upon an open sea. The waters of the lake not being very deep, struck against the bottom and rebounded to an immense height.
“Help! help!” cried old Norman, hurriedly struggling to haul down his sail.
Mrs Barnett and Hobson endeavoured to come to his assistance, but without success, for they knew noticing of the management of a boat. Norman, unable to leave the helm, and the halliards being entangled at the top of the mast, could not take in the sail. Every moment the boat threatened to capsize, and heavy seas broke over its sides. The sky became blacker and blacker, cold rain mingled with snow fell in torrents, whilst the squall redoubled its fury, lashing the crests of the waves into foam.