MoboReader> Literature > Troop One of the Labrador

   Chapter 5 LEM HORN'S SILVER FOX

Troop One of the Labrador By Dillon Wallace Characters: 23776

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"He's alive, and this doesn't look like a bad wound," said Doctor Joe after a brief examination. "David, put a fire in the stove and heat some water! Andy, find some clean cloths! Jamie, bring up my medicine kit from the boat!"

The boys hurried to carry out the directions, while Doctor Joe made a more careful examination and discovered a second wound in Lem's back, just below the right shoulder.

"Both shots from the back," he mused. "This wound explains his condition. The one in the head only scraped the skull, and couldn't have more than stunned him for a short time. The other has caused a good deal of bleeding and may be serious."

With David's help Doctor Joe carried Lem to his bunk and removed his outer clothing.

The water in the kettle on the stove was now warm enough for Doctor Joe's purpose. He poured some of it into a dish, and after dissolving in it some antiseptic tablets, cleansed and temporarily dressed the wounds.

Restoratives were now applied. Lem responded promptly. His breathing became perceptible, and at length he opened his eyes and stared at Doctor Joe. There was no recognition in the stare and in a moment the eyes closed. Presently they again opened, and this time Lem's lips moved.

"Where's Jane?" he asked feebly.

"Your wife seems to be away and the boys, too," said Doctor Joe. "We found you alone."

"Gone to Fort Pelican," Lem murmured after a moment's thought. He stared at Doctor Joe for several minutes, now with the look of one trying to recall something, and at length asked:

"What's-been-happenin' to me?"

"You've been shot," said Doctor Joe. "We found you on the floor. Some one has shot you."

"The silver! The silver fox skin!" Lem displayed excitement. "Be it on the table? I had un there!"

"There was no fur on the table when we came," said Doctor Joe.

Lem made a feeble attempt to rise, but Doctor Joe pressed him gently back upon the pillow, saying as he did so:

"You must lie quiet, Lem. Don't try to move. You're not strong enough."

Lem, like a weary child, closed his eyes in compliance. Several minutes elapsed before he opened them again, and then he looked steadfastly at Doctor Joe.

"Do you know who I am?" Doctor Joe asked.

"Yes," answered Lem in a feeble voice; "you're Doctor Joe. I knows you. I'm-glad you-came-Doctor Joe."

"Lem, you've been shot, but we'll pull you through. It isn't so bad, but you've lost some blood, and that's left you weak for a little while. Don't talk now. Rest, and you'll soon be on your feet again."

While Lem lay with closed eyes, Doctor Joe turned to consideration of the crime. If it were true that a silver fox skin had been taken, robbery was undoubtedly the motive for the shooting. But who could have known of the existence of the skin? And who could have come to this out-of-the-way place unobserved by the old trapper and shot him without warning?

Instinctively Indian Jake rose before his eyes. The half-breed's unsavoury reputation forced itself forward. And there was the circumstance of Indian Jake's visit to Flat Point camp the previous evening, his hurried departure in the morning, and his evident desire to hurry into the interior wilderness where he would be swallowed up for several months, and from which there would be innumerable opportunities to escape. Suddenly Doctor Joe was startled by Lem's voice, quite strong and natural now:

"I'm thinkin' 'twere that thief Injun Jake that shoots me."

"What makes you think so?" asked Doctor Joe.

"He were huntin' geese just below here, and he comes in and sits for a bit. I had a silver fox skin I were holdin' for a better price than they offers at Fort Pelican. 'Twere worth five hundred dollars whatever, and they only offers three hundred. I were busy mendin' my fishin' gear before I stows un away when Injun Jake comes. We talks about fur and I brings the silver out t' show he. Then I lays un on the table and keeps on mendin' the gear after he goes, thinkin' to put the fur up after I gets through mendin'."

"What time did Indian Jake come?" asked Doctor Joe.

"A bit after noon. Handy to one o'clock 'twere, for I were just boilin' the kettle. He eats a snack with me."

"How long did he stay? What time did he go?"

"I'm not knowin' just the time. I were a bit late boilin' the kettle. I boiled un around one o'clock. We sets down to the table about ten after and 'twere handy to half-past when we clears the table. Then Injun Jake has a smoke, and I shows he the silver, and I'm thinkin' 'twere a bit after two when he goes. He said he were goin' to stop on Flat P'int last night and get to Tom Angus's to-night whatever."

"A little after two o'clock when he left?"

"Maybe 'twere half-past. He had a down wind to paddle agin', and he were sayin' 'twould be slow travellin', and 'twould take three or four hours whatever to make Flat P'int."

"And then what happened?"

"I were settin' mendin' the gear thinkin' to finish un and stow un away, and I keeps at un till just sundown. I were just gettin' up to put the kettle on for supper. That's all I remembers, exceptin' I wakes up two or three times and tries to move, but when I tries there's a wonderful hurt in my shoulder, and my head feels like she's bustin', and everything goes black in front of my eyes. If the fur's gone, Injun Jake took un."

"It's strange," said Doctor Joe, "very strange. There's a bullet in your shoulder. After you rest a while we'll probe for it and see if we can get it out. Don't talk any more. Just lie quietly and sleep if you can."

The boys were out-of-doors. Doctor Joe was glad they had not heard Lem's accusation against Indian Jake. The half-breed had been good to them, and they held vast faith in his integrity. There was some hope that Lem's suspicions were not well founded; nevertheless Doctor Joe was forced to admit to himself that circumstances pointed to Indian Jake as the culprit. It was highly improbable that any one else should have been in the vicinity without Lem's knowledge. It was quite possible that Lem's statement of the hour when he was shot was incorrect, for his mind could hardly yet be clear enough to be certain, without doubt, of details.

Lem quickly dropped into a refreshing sleep, and Doctor Joe left him for a little while to join the boys out-of-doors. He found them behind the house picking the goose Indian Jake had left in the tree at the Flat Point camp.

"How's Lem, sir? Is he hurt bad?" David asked as Doctor Joe seated himself upon a stump.

"He's sleeping now. After he rests a little we'll see how badly he's hurt," said Doctor Joe. "I fancy you chaps are thinking about dinner. Hungry already, I'll be bound!"

"Aye," grinned David, "wonderful hungry. 'Tis most noon, sir."

Doctor Joe consulted his watch.

"I declare it is. It must have been nearly eleven o'clock when we reached here. I didn't realize it was so late."

"'Twere ten minutes to eleven, sir," said Andy. "I were lookin' to see how long it takes us to come from Flat P'int."

"What time did we leave Flat Point?" asked Doctor Joe.

"'Twere twenty minutes before seven, sir." Andy drew his new watch proudly from his pocket to refer to it again, as he did upon every possible occasion.

"No," corrected David, "'twere only twenty-five minutes before eleven when we leaves Flat P'int, and fifteen minutes before eleven when we gets here. I looks to see."

"Perhaps your watches aren't set alike," suggested Doctor Joe. "Suppose we compare them."

The comparison disclosed a difference, as Doctor Joe predicted, of five minutes. Then each must needs set his watch with Doctor Joe's, which was a little slower than Andy's and a little faster than David's.

Doctor Joe made some mental calculations. Both David and Andy had observed their watches, and there could be no doubt of the length of time it had required them to come from Flat Point to Lem's cabin. They had consumed four hours, but their progress had been exceedingly slow. Indian Jake had doubtless travelled much faster in his light canoe, but, at best, with the wind against him, he could hardly have paddled from Lem's cabin to Flat Point in less than two hours. He had arrived one hour after sunset. If Lem were correct as to the time when the shooting took place, Indian Jake could not be guilty.

But still there was, with but one hour or possibly a little more in excess of the time between sunset and Indian Jake's arrival at camp, an uncertain alibi for Indian Jake. Lem may have been shot much earlier in the afternoon than he supposed. When Lem grew stronger it would be necessary to question him closely that the hour might be fixed with certainty. Whoever had shot and robbed Lem must have known of the existence of the silver fox skin, and been familiar with the surroundings. The shots had doubtless been fired through a broken pane in a window directly behind the chair in which Lem was sitting at the time.

"Why not cook dinner out here over an open fire?" Doctor Joe presently suggested. "You chaps are pretty noisy, and if you come into the house to cook it on the stove, I'm afraid you'll wake Lem up, and I want him to sleep."

"We'll cook un out here, sir," David agreed.

"'Tis more fun to cook here," Jamie suggested.

"Very well. When it's ready you may bring it in and we'll eat on the table. Lem will probably be awake by that time and he'll want something too. Stew the goose so that there'll be broth, and we'll give some of it to Lem to drink. You'll have to go to Fort Pelican without me. I'll have to stay here and take care of Lem. If the wind comes up, and I think it will, you may get a start after dinner," and Doctor Joe returned to the cabin to watch over his patient.

The goose was plucked. David split a stick of wood, and with his jack-knife whittled shavings for the fire. The knife had a keen edge, for David was a born woodsman and every woodsman keeps his tools always in good condition, and the shavings he cut were long and thin. He did not cut each shaving separately, but stopped his knife just short of the end of the stick, and when several shavings were cut, with a twist of the blade he broke them from the main stick in a bunch. Thus they were held together by the butt to which they were attached. He whittled four or five of these bunches of shavings, and then cut some fine splints with his axe.

David was now ready to light his fire. He placed two sticks of wood upon the ground, end to end, in the form of a right angle, with the opening between the sticks in the direction from which the wind came. Taking the butt of one of the bunches of shavings in his left hand, he scratched a match with his right hand and lighted the thin end of the shavings. When they were blazing freely he carefully placed the thick end upon the two sticks where they came together, on the inside of the angle, with the burning end resting upon the ground. Thus the thick end of the shavings was elevated. Fire always climbs upward, and in an instant the whole bunch of shavings was ablaze. Upon this he placed the other shavings, the thin ends on the fire, the butts resting upon the two sticks at the angle. With the splints which he had previously prepared arranged upon this they quickly ignited, and upon them larger sticks were laid, and in less than five minutes an excellent cooking fire was ready for the pot.

Before disjointing the goose, David held it over the blaze until it was thoroughly singed and the surface of the skin clear. Then he proceeded to draw and cut the goose into pieces of suitable size for stewing, placed them in the kettle, and covered them with water from Lem's spring.

In the meantime Andy cut a stiff green pole about five feet in length. The thick end he sharpened, and near the other end cut a small notch. Using the thick, sharpened end like

a crowbar, he drove it firmly into the ground with the small end directly above the fire. Placing a stone between the ground and sloping pole, that the pole might not sag too low with the weight of the kettle, he slipped the handle of the kettle into the notch at the small end of the pole, where it hung suspended over the blaze.

Preparing a similar pole, and placing it in like manner, Andy filled the tea-kettle and put it over the fire to heat for tea.

"I'm thinkin'," suggested David as he dropped four or five thick slices of pork into the kettle of goose, "'twould be fine to have hot bread with the goose."

"Oh, make un! Make un!" exclaimed Jamie.

"Aye," seconded Andy, "hot bread would go fine with the goose."

Andy fetched the flour up from the boat and David dipped about a quart of it into the mixing pan. To this he added four heaping teaspoonfuls of baking-powder and two level teaspoonfuls of salt. After stirring the baking-powder and salt well into the flour, he added to it a heaping cooking-spoonful of lard-a quantity equal to two heaping tablespoonfuls. This he rubbed into the flour with the back of the large cooking spoon until it was thoroughly mixed. He now added water while he mixed it with the flour, a little at a time, until the dough was of the consistency of stiff biscuit dough.

The bread was now ready to bake. There was no oven, and the frying-pan must needs serve instead. The interior of the frying-pan he sprinkled liberally with flour that the dough might not stick to it. Then cutting a piece of dough from the mass he pulled it into a cake just large enough to fit into the frying-pan and about half an inch in thickness, and laid the cake carefully in the pan.

With a stick he raked from the fire some hot coals. With the coals directly behind the pan, and with the bread in the pan facing the fire, and exposed to the direct heat, he placed it at an angle of forty-five degrees, supporting it in that position with a sharpened stick, one end forced into the earth and the tip of the handle resting upon the other end. The bread thus derived heat at the bottom from the coals and at the top from the main fire.

"She's risin' fine!" Jamie presently announced.

"She'll rise fast enough," David declared confidently. "There's no fear of that."

There was no fear indeed. In ten minutes the loaf had increased to three times its original thickness and the side nearer the ground took on a delicate brown, for the greater heat of a fire is always reflected toward the ground. David removed the pan from its support, and without lifting the loaf from the pan, moved it round until the brown side was opposite the handle. Then he returned the pan to its former position. Now the browned half was on the upper or handle side, while the unbrowned half was on the side near the ground, and in a few minutes the whole loaf was deliciously browned.

While the bread was baking David drove a stick into the ground at one side and a little farther from the fire than the pan. When the loaf had browned on top to his satisfaction he removed it from the pan and leaned it against the stick with the bottom exposed to the fire, and proceeded to bake a second loaf.

"Let me have the dough that's left," Jamie begged.

"Aye, take un if you likes," David consented. "There'll be too little for another loaf, whatever."

Jamie secured a dry stick three or four feet long and about two inches in diameter. This he scraped clean of bark, and pulling the dough into a rope as thick as his finger wound it in a spiral upon the centre of the stick. Then he flattened the dough until it was not above a quarter of an inch in thickness.

On the opposite side of the fire from David, that he might not interfere with David's cooking, he arranged two stones near enough together for an end of the stick to rest on each. Here he placed it with the dough in the centre exposed to the heat. As the dough on the side of the stick near the fire browned he turned the stick a little to expose a new surface, until his twist was brown on all sides.

"Have some of un," Jamie invited. "We'll eat un to stave off the hunger before dinner. I'm fair starved."

David and Andy were not slow to accept, and Jamie's crisp hot twist was quickly devoured.

The kettle of stewing goose was sending forth a most delicious appetizing odour. David lifted the lid to season it, and stir it with the cooking spoon. Jamie and Andy sniffed.

"U-m-m!" from Jamie.

"Oh, she smells fine!" Andy breathed.

"Seems like I can't wait for un!" Jamie declared.

"She's done!" David at length announced.

"Make the tea, Andy."

Using a stick as a lifter David removed the kettle of goose from the fire, while Andy put tea in the other kettle, which was boiling, removing it also from the fire.

"You bring the bread along, Jamie, and you the tea, Andy," David directed, turning into the cabin with the kettle of goose.

Lem had just awakened from a most refreshing sleep, and when he smelled the goose he declared:

"I'm hungrier'n a whale."

Doctor Joe laid claim also to no small appetite, an appetite, indeed, quite superior to that described by Lem.

"A whale!" he sniffed. "Why, I'm as hungry as seven whales! Seven, now! Big whales, too! No small whales about my appetite!"

The three boys laughed heartily, and David warned:

"We'll all have to be lookin' out or there won't be a bite o' goose left for anybody if Doctor Joe gets at un first!"

Doctor Joe arranged a plate for Lem, upon which he placed a choice piece of breast and a section of one of David's loaves, which proved, when broken, to be light and short and delicious. Then he poured Lem a cup of rich broth from the kettle, and while Lem ate waited upon him before himself joining the boys at the table.

"How are you feeling, Lem?" asked Doctor Joe when everyone had finished and the boys were washing dishes.

"My head's a bit soggy and I'm a bit weak, and there's a wonderful pain in my right shoulder when I moves un," said Lem. "If 'tweren't for my head and the weakness and the pain I'd feel as well as ever I did, and I'd be achin' to get after that thief Indian Jake. As 'tis I'll bide my time till I feels nimbler."

"Do you think you could let me fuss around that shoulder a little while?" Doctor Joe asked. "Does it hurt too badly for you to bear it?"

"Oh, I can stand un," said Lem. "Fuss around un all you wants to, Doctor Joe. You knows how to mend un and patch un up, and I wants un mended."

Doctor Joe called Andy to his assistance with another basin of warm water, in which, as previously, he dissolved antiseptic tablets, explaining to the boys the reason, and adding:

"If a wound is kept clean Nature will heal it. Nothing you can apply to a wound will assist in the healing. All that is necessary is to keep it clean and keep it properly bandaged to protect it from infection."

"Wouldn't a bit of wet t'baccer draw the soreness out?" Lem suggested.

"No! No! No!" protested Doctor Joe, properly horrified. "Never put tobacco or anything else on a wound. If you do you will run the risk of infection which might result in blood poisoning, which might kill you."

"I puts t'baccer on cuts sometimes and she always helps un," insisted Lem.

"It's simply through the mercy of God, then, and your good clean blood, that it hasn't killed you," declared Doctor Joe.

From his kit Doctor Joe brought forth bandages and gauze and some strange-looking instruments, and turned his attention to the shoulder. Lem gritted his teeth and, though Doctor Joe knew he was suffering, never uttered a whimper or complaint.

An examination disclosed the fact that the bullet had coursed to the right, and Doctor Joe located it just under the skin directly forward of the arm pit. Though it was necessarily a painful wound, he was relieved to find that no vital organ had been injured, and he was able to assure Lem that he would soon be around again and be as well as ever.

When the bullet was extracted Doctor Joe examined it critically, washed it and placed it carefully in his pocket. It proved to be a thirty-eight calibre, black powder rifle bullet. Doctor Joe had no doubt of that. He had made a study of firearms and had the eye of an expert.

"It's half-past two, boys. A westerly breeze is springing up, and I think you'd better go on to Fort Pelican," Doctor Joe suggested. "I'll give you a note to the factor instructing him to deliver all the things to you. You'll be able to make a good run before camping time. Stop in here on your way back."

The boys made ready and said good-bye, spread the sails, and were soon running before a good breeze. Doctor Joe watched them disappear round the island, and returning to Lem's bedside asked:

"Lem, do you know what kind of a rifle Indian Jake carried?"

"I'm not knowin' rightly," said Lem. "'Twere either a forty-four or a thirty-eight. 'Twere he did the shootin'. Nobody else has been comin' about here the whole summer. I'm not doubtin' he's got my silver fox, and I'm goin' to get un back whatever. He'd never stop at shootin' to rob, but he'll have to be quicker'n I be at shootin', to keep the fur!"

"When are you expecting Mrs. Horn and the boys back?" asked Doctor Joe.

"This evenin' or to-morrow whatever," said Lem. "They've been away these five days gettin' the winter outfit at Fort Pelican."

If Indian Jake were guilty, it was highly probable that he would take prompt steps to flee the country. He could not dispose of the silver fox skin in the Bay, for all the local traders had already seen and appraised it, and they would undoubtedly recognize it if it were offered them. Indian Jake would probably plunge into the interior, spend the winter hunting, and in the spring make his way to the St. Lawrence, where he would be safe from detection.

Doctor Joe made these calculations while he sat by the bedside, and his patient dozed. He was sorry now that he had not sent the boys back to The Jug with a letter to Thomas explaining what had occurred. All the evidence pointed to Indian Jake's guilt, and there could be little doubt of it if it should prove that the half-breed carried a thirty-eight fifty-five rifle. Thomas would know, and he would take prompt action to prevent Indian Jake's escape with the silver fox skin. Should it prove, however, that Indian Jake's rifle was of different calibre, he should be freed from suspicion.

It was dusk that evening when the boat bearing Eli and Mark and Mrs. Horn rounded the island. Doctor Joe met them. They had seen the boys and had received from them a detailed account of what had happened, and Mrs. Horn was greatly excited. Her first thought was for Lem, and she was vastly relieved when she saw him, as he declared he did not feel "so bad," and Doctor Joe assured her he would soon be around again and as well as ever.

Then there fell upon the family a full realization of their loss. The silver fox skin that had been stolen was their whole fortune. The proceeds of its sale was to have been their bulwark against need. It was to have given them a degree of independence, and above all else the little hoard that its sale would have brought them was to have lightened Lem's burden of labour during his declining years.

Eli Horn was a big, broad-shouldered, swarthy young man of few words. For an hour after he heard his father's detailed story of Indian Jake's visit to the cabin, he sat in sullen silence by the stove. Suddenly he arose, lifted his rifle from the pegs upon which it rested against the wall, dropped some ammunition into his cartridge bag, and swinging it over his shoulder strode toward the door.

"Where you goin', Eli?" asked Lem from his bunk.

"To hunt Indian Jake," said Eli as he closed the door behind him and passed out into the night.

* * *

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