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   Chapter 4 SHOT FROM BEHIND

Troop One of the Labrador By Dillon Wallace Characters: 8190

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The canoe was coming directly toward them. In a moment it touched the shore, and as its occupant stepped lightly out the boys with one accord exclaimed:

"Injun Jake! 'Tis Injun Jake!"

And so it proved. The greeting he received was hearty enough to leave no doubt in his mind that he was a welcome visitor. Perhaps it was the heartier because of the relief the boys experienced in the discovery that the lone canoeman was not, after all, the wraith of Long John, but was their friend Indian Jake in flesh and blood.

When his packs had been removed, Indian Jake lifted his canoe from the water, turned it upon its side and followed the boys to the fire, where Doctor Joe awaited him.

"Just in time!" welcomed Doctor Joe, as he shook Indian Jake's hand. "We've finished eating, but there's plenty of stew in the kettle. Andy, pour Jake some tea."

Indian Jake, grunting his thanks, silently picked up David's empty plate and heaped it with stew and dumpling from the kettle without the ceremony of waiting to be served.

He was a tall, lithe, muscular half-breed, with small, restless, hawk-like eyes and a beaked nose that was not unlike the beak of a hawk. He had the copper-hued skin and straight black hair of the Indian, but otherwise his features might have been those of a white man. Indian Jake had been the trapping companion of David and Andy the previous winter, and, as previously stated, was this year to be Thomas Angus's trapping partner on the fur trails.

The boys were vastly fond of Indian Jake, and Thomas and Doctor Joe shared their confidence, but the Bay folk generally looked upon him with distrust and suspicion. Several years before, he had come to the Bay a penniless stranger. He soon earned the reputation of being one of the best trappers in the region. Then, suddenly, he disappeared owing the Hudson's Bay Company a considerable sum for equipment and provisions sold him on credit. It was well known that in the winter preceding his disappearance Indian Jake had had a most successful hunting season and was in possession of ample means to pay his debts. His failure to apply his means to this purpose was looked upon as highly dishonest-akin, indeed, to theft.

Two years later he reappeared, again penniless. The Company refused him further credit, and he had no means of purchasing the supplies necessary for his support during the trapping season in the interior. It was at this time that Thomas Angus broke his leg, and it became necessary for David and Andy to take his place on the trails. They were too young to endure the long months of isolation without an older and more experienced companion. There was none but Indian Jake to go with them, and he was engaged to hunt on shares a trail adjacent to theirs.

With his share of the furs captured by the end of the trapping season, Indian Jake discharged his old debt with the Company. This was not sufficient, however, to re-establish confidence in him. There was a lurking suspicion among them, fostered by Uncle Ben Rudder of Tuggle Bight, the wiseacre and oracle of the Bay, that Indian Jake's payment of the debt was not prompted by honesty but by some ulterior motive.

Indian Jake emptied his plate. He refilled it with the last of the stew and again emptied it, in the interim swallowing several cups of hot tea.

"Good stew," he remarked in appreciation and praise when his meal was finished. "When were you gettin' back?"

"I reached The Jug day before yesterday," said Doctor Joe.

"Huh!" Indian Jake grunted approval, as he puffed industriously at his pipe. "Where you goin' now? To see Lem Horn?"

"No," Doctor Joe answered, "we're going to Fort Pelican to get some things I brought in on the mail boat."

"I been goose huntin'," Indian Jake explained. "Not much goose yet. Too early. Got four. Goin' to The Jug now to give Thomas a hand. Want to start for Seal Lake soon. Don't want to be late."

"Pop's thinkin' to start in a fortnight," said David.

"Good!" acknowledged Indian Jake. "Maybe we start sooner. Start when we're ready. I want to go quick. Ha

ve plenty time get there before freeze-up."

Indian Jake had apparently finished talking. Doctor Joe and the boys made several attempts to continue the conversation, but only receiving responsive grunts, turned to a discussion of the flag and other scout problems, while Indian Jake was absorbed in his own thoughts. Presently he rose and proceeded to unroll his bed.

"Plenty of room in the tent," Doctor Joe invited. "Better come in with us, Jake."

"Goin' early. Sleep here," he declined, as he spread a caribou skin upon the ground to protect himself from the damp earth. Then he produced a Hudson's Bay Company blanket, once white but now of uncertain shade, and rolling himself in the blanket, with his feet toward the fire, was soon snoring peacefully.

"We won't trouble to douse the fire," Doctor Joe suggested presently. "He wants to sleep by it, and he'll look after it. Let's turn in."

And with the front of the tent open that they might enjoy the air and profit by the firelight, they were soon snug in their sleeping-bags and as sound asleep as Indian Jake.

"High-o!"

The three boys sat up. It was broad daylight, and Doctor Joe, on his hands and knees, was looking out of the tent.

"Our visitor has gone, and there's little wonder, for we've been sleeping like bears and it's broad daylight. Hurry, lads, or the sun'll be well up before we get away."

The boys sprang up and were soon dressed. The fire had burned low, indicating that Indian Jake had been gone for a considerable time. A fat goose was hanging from the limb of a tree. Fastened to it was a piece of birch bark, and scribbled upon the birch bark with a piece of charcoal from the fire, these words:

"cerprize fur the lads bekos they likes Goos."

Another surprise awaited them. When they lifted the lid of the large cooking kettle they found it nearly full of boiled goose.

"That's the way o' Indian Jake!" Andy exclaimed. "He's always plannin' fine surprises for folks."

"It's surely a fine surprise," said Doctor Joe. "Breakfast all ready but the tea, and a goose for to-night."

Every one hurried, but the sun was well up when they put out the fire and hoisted sail. There was little wind, however, and the light breeze soon dropped to a dead calm. Doctor Joe unshipped the rudder and began sculling, while the boys laboured at the long oars. At length the tide began running in, and progress was so slow that it was decided to go ashore and await a turn of the tide or a breeze.

"Lem Horn lives just back o' that island," said David, indicating a small wooded island. "We might stop and bide there till a breeze comes, and see un."

In accordance with the suggestion Doctor Joe turned the boat inside the island, and there, on the mainland in the edge of a little clearing and not a hundred yards distant, stood Lem Horn's cabin. It was a secluded and peculiarly lonely spot, hidden by the island from the few boats that plied the Bay. Here lived Lem Horn and his wife and two sons, Eli, a young man of twenty-one years, and Mark, nineteen years of age.

"There's no smoke," observed Jamie.

"Maybe they're all down to Fort Pelican getting their winter outfit," suggested David.

"There seems to be no one about but the dogs," said Doctor Joe, as he stepped ashore with the painter and made it fast, while Lem's big sledge dogs, lolling in the sun, watched them curiously.

Visitors do not knock in Labrador. The cabins are always open to travellers whether or not the host is at home. Andy was in advance, and opening the door he stopped on the threshold with an exclamation of horror.

Stretched upon the floor lay Lem Horn, his face and hair smeared with blood, and on the floor near him was a small pool of blood. A chair was overturned, and Lem's legs were tangled in a fish-net.

Doctor Joe leaned over the prostrate figure.

"Shot," said he, "and from behind!"

"Does you mean somebody shot he?" asked David, quite horrified.

"Yes, and it must have happened yesterday," said Doctor Joe.

* * *

STRETCHED UPON THE FLOOR LAY LEM HORN

* * *

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