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   Chapter 6 THE TRACKS IN THE SAND

Troop One of the Labrador By Dillon Wallace Characters: 15344

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


A smart south-west breeze had sprung up. White caps were dotting the Bay, and with all sails set the boat bowled along at a good speed.

David held the tiller, while Andy and Jamie busied themselves with their handbooks. They were an hour out of Horn's Bight when David sighted the Horn boat beating up against the wind. Drawing within hailing distance he told them of the accident.

Mrs. Horn, greatly excited, asked many questions. David assured her that her husband's injuries were not serious, nevertheless she was quite certain Lem lay at death's door.

"'Tis the first time I leaves home in most a year," she lamented. "I were feelin' inside me 'twere wrong to go and leave Lem alone. And now he's gone and been shot and liker'n not most killed."

"'Tis too bad to make Mrs. Horn worry so. I'm wonderfully sorry," David sympathized, as the boats passed beyond speaking distance. "She'll worry now till they gets home, and the way Lem ate goose I'm thinkin' he ain't hurt bad enough to worry much about he."

"They'll get there to-night whatever," said Andy. "'Tis the way of Mrs. Horn to worry, even when we tells she Lem's doin' fine."

"I'm wonderin' and wonderin' who 'twere shot Lem," said David. "Whoever 'twere had un in his heart to do murder."

"Whoever 'twere looked in through the window and saw Lem with the fine silver fox on the table and sets out to get the fox," reasoned Andy. "The shootin' were done through the window where there's a pane of glass broke out."

"I sees where there's a pane of glass out," said David. "'Twas not fresh broke though."

"No, 'twere an old break," Andy agreed. "I goes to look at un, and I sees fresh tracks under the window where the man stands when he shoots."

"Tracks!" exclaimed David. "I never thought to look for tracks now! I weren't thinkin' of that! You thinks of more things than I ever does, Andy."

"I weren't thinkin' of tracks either," said Andy, disclaiming credit for their discovery. "Whilst you bakes the bread I just goes to look where the window is broke, and when I'm there I sees the strange-lookin' tracks."

"Strange, now! How was they strange?" asked Jamie excitedly, scenting a deepening mystery.

"They was made with boots with nails in the bottom of un," explained Andy. "They was nails all over the bottom of them boots, and they was big boots, them was. They made big tracks-wonderful big tracks."

"'Tis strange, now! Did you trace un, Andy? Did you see what way the tracks goes?" asked David.

"'Twere only under the window where the ground were soft and bare of moss that the tracks showed the nails. I tracks un down though to where they comes in a boat and the boat goes again," Andy explained. "The tracks were a day old, and down by the water the tide's been in and washed un away. Whoever 'twere makes un were beyond findin' whatever. They were goin' away, I'm thinkin', right after they shoots Lem and takes his silver."

"Did you tell Doctor Joe about the tracks?" asked David.

"No, I weren't thinkin' to tell he when we goes in to eat, and he weren't wantin' us in before that fearin' we'd wake Lem. The tracks weren't of much account whatever. The folk that shot Lem were leavin' in a boat and we couldn't track the boat to find out who 'twere."

A drizzling rain began to fall before they made camp that night. It was too wet and dreary under the dripping trees for an open camp fire. The stove was therefore brought into service and set up in the tent, and there they cooked and ate their supper by candle-light.

On a cold and stormy night there is no article in the camp equipment more useful than a little sheet-iron stove. With its magic touch it transforms a wet and dismal tent into the snuggest and cosiest and most comfortable retreat in the whole world. Outside the wind was now dashing the rain in angry gusts against the canvas, and moaning drearily through the tree tops. Within the fire crackled cheerily. The tent was dry and snug and warm. The bed of fragrant balsam and spruce boughs, the smell of the fire and the soft candle-light combined to give it an indescribable atmosphere of luxury.

In the morning the weather had not improved. The wind had risen during the night, and was driving the rain in sheets over the Bay. David went outside to make a survey, and when he returned he reported:

"'Twill be a nasty day abroad."

"Let's bide here till the rain stops," suggested Jamie.

"The wind's fair, and if she keeps up and don't turn too strong we'll make Fort Pelican by evenin' whatever, if we goes," David objected.

"'Twon't be so bad, once we're out and gets used to un," said Andy.

"No, 'twon't be so bad," urged David. "The wind may shift and fall calm, when the rain's over, and if we bides here we'll lose time in gettin' to Fort Pelican. I'm for goin' and makin' the best of un."

"I won't mind un," agreed Jamie, stoutly.

"I got grit to travel in the rain, and we wants to make a fast cruise of un."

It was "nasty" indeed when after breakfast they broke camp and set sail. In a little while they were wet to the skin, and it was miserably cold; but they were used enough to the beat of wind and rain in their faces, and all declared that it was not "so bad" after all. To these hardy lads of The Labrador rain and cold was no great hardship. It was all in a day's work, and scudding along before a good breeze, and looking forward to a good dinner in the kitchen at Fort Pelican, and to a snug bed at night, they quite forgot the cold and rain.

During the morning the wind shifted to the westward, and before noon it drew around to the north-west. With the shift of wind the rain ceased, and the clouds broke. Then Andy lighted a fire in the stove, boiled the kettle and fried a pan of salt pork. Hot tea, with bread dipped in the warm pork grease, warmed them and put them in high spirits.

"'Tis fine we didn't bide in camp," remarked David as he swallowed a third cup of tea. "With this fine breeze we'll make Fort Pelican to-night, whatever."

"I'm fine and warm now," declared Jamie, "but 'twas a bit hard to face the rain when we starts this marnin'."

"'Tis always the thinkin' about un that makes things hard to do," observed David.

"Things we has to do seems wonderful hard before we gets at un, but mostly they're easy enough after we tackles un. The thinkin' beforehand's the hardest part of any hard job."

The sun broke out between black clouds scudding across the sky. The wind was gradually increasing in force. By mid-afternoon half a gale was blowing, a heavy sea; was running, and the old boat, heeling to the gale, was in a smother of white water.

"We're makin' fine time!" shouted David, shaking the spray from his hair.

"We'll sure make Fort Pelican this evenin' early," Andy shouted back.

"We'll not make un!" Jamie protested. "The wind's gettin' too strong! We'll have to go ashore and make camp!"

"The boat'll stand un," laughed David. "She's a sturdy craft in a breeze."

"I'm afeared," said Jamie.

"'A scout is brave,'" quoted Andy.

"'Tisn't meant for a scout to be foolish," Jamie insisted. "I'm afeared of bein' foolish."

"You was braggin' of havin' grit," Andy taunted.

"I has grit and a stout heart," Jamie proudly asserted, "but there's no such need of haste as to tempt a gale. 'Tis time to lie to and camp."

David's answer was lost in the smother of a great roller that chased them, and breaking astern nearly swept him from the tiller. When the lads caught their breath there was a foot of sea in the bottom of the boat.

"Bail her out!" bellowed David, shaking the water from his eyes.

"Jamie's righ

t! 'Tis blowin' too high for comfort!" shouted Andy, as he and Jamie, each with a kettle, bailed. "We'd better not risk goin' on! Find a lee to make a landin', Davy."

"'Tis against reason not to take shelter!" piped Jamie.

"Fort Pelican's only ten miles away!" David shouted back in protest. "We'll soon make un in this fine breeze!"

The boat was riding on her beam ends. White horses breaking over her bow sent showers of foam her whole length. A sudden squall that nearly capsized her roused David suddenly to their danger.

"Reef the mains'l!" he shouted.

"Make for the lee of Comfort Island!" sputtered Andy through the spray, as he and Jamie sprang for the mainsail to reef it.

"Make for un!" echoed Jamie. "'Tis against reason to keep goin'."

The wind shrieked through the rigging. Another great roller all but swamped them. The sudden fury of the wind, the ever higher-piling seas, and the rollers that had so nearly overwhelmed the boat brought to David a full sense of their peril. He had been foolhardy and headstrong in his determination to continue to Fort Pelican. He realized this now even more fully than Andy and Jamie.

David was a good seaman and fearless, with a full measure of faith in his skill. Now that his eyes were open to the peril in which he had placed them, he knew that all the skill he possessed and perhaps more would be required to take them safely into shelter.

Comfort Island with its offer of snug harbour lay a half mile to leeward. David brought the boat before the wind, and headed directly for the island.

Great breakers, pounding the high, rockbound shores of Comfort Island, and booming like cannon, threw their spray a hundred feet in the air, enveloping the island in a cloud of mist.

Stretching away from the island for a mile to the westward was a rocky shoal known as the Devil's Arm. At high tide, in calm weather, it might be crossed, but now it was a great white barrier of roaring breakers rising in mighty geysers above the sea.

To the eastward of the island was a mass of black reefs known as the Devil's Tea Kettle. The Devil's Tea Kettle was always an evil place. Now it was a great boiling cauldron whose waters rose and fell in a seething white mass.

It was quite out of the question to round the Devil's Arm and beat back against the wind to the lee of the island. There was a narrow passage between the Devil's Tea Kettle and the island. If they could make this passage it would be a simple matter to fall in behind the island to shelter and safety.

All of these things David saw at a glance. It was a desperate undertaking, but it was the only chance, and he held straight for the passage. If he could keep the boat to her course, he would make it. If a sudden squall of wind overtook them the leeway would throw them upon the island breakers and they would be swallowed up in an instant and pounded to pieces upon the rocks.

Over and over again David breathed the prayer: "Lord, take us through safe! Lord, take us through safe!" His face was set, but his nerves were iron. Andy and Jamie, tense with the peril and excitement of the adventure, crouched in the bottom of the boat. As they drew near the island, Jamie shouted encouragingly:

"Keep your grit, and a stout heart like a man, Davy!" but the roar of breakers drowned his voice, and David did not hear.

"Is you afraid, Jamie?" Andy yelled in Jamie's ear.

"Aye," answered Jamie, "but I has plenty of grit."

He who knows danger and meets it manfully though he fears it, is brave, and Jamie and all of them were brave.

The boat was in the passage at last. David, every nerve tense, held her down to it. On the right seethed the Devil's Tea Kettle, sending forth a continuous deafening roar. On the left was Comfort Island with a boom! boom! of thundering breakers smashing against its high, sullen bulwarks of black rocks. The boat was so near that spray from the breakers fell over it in a shower.

* * *

ON THE RIGHT SEETHED THE DEVIL'S TEA KETTLE

* * *

It was over in a moment. The Devil's Tea Kettle, with all its loud threats, was behind them. The boat shot down along the shore, David swung to port, and they were safe in the quiet waters to the lee of the island.

"Thank the Lord!" said David reverently, as he brought the little craft to and the sail flapped idly.

"'Twere a close shave," breathed Jamie.

"A wonderful close shave," echoed Andy.

"You had grit," said Jamie. "You has plenty o' grit, Davy-and a stout heart, like a man. 'Twere wonderful how you cracked her through! There's nary a man on the coast could have done better'n that!"

"'Twere easy enough," David boasted with a laugh as he wiped the spray from his face, and unshipping the rudder proceeded to scull the boat into a natural berth between the rocks.

Hardly a breath of the gale raging outside reached them in their snug little harbour. The boat was made fast with the painter to a ledge, and the boys climed to the high rocky shore.

An excellent camping place was discovered a hundred yards back in a grove of stunted spruce trees that had rooted themselves in the scant soil that covered the rocks, and held fast, despite the Arctic blasts that swept across the Bay to rake the island during the long winters. Here the tent was pitched, and everything carried up from the boat and stowed within to dry. Fifteen minutes later the tent stove was crackling cheerily and sending forth comfort to the drenched young mariners. "There'll be no hurry in the marnin'," said David when they had eaten supper and lighted a candle. "We'll stay up to-night till we gets the outfit all dried, and if we're late about un we'll sleep a bit later in the marnin', to make up. We'll make Fort Pelican in an hour, or two hours whatever, if we has a civil breeze in the marnin'."

"We'll not be gettin' away from Fort Pelican to-morrow, will we?" asked Andy.

"We'll take the day for visitin' the folk and hearin' the news, and start back the marnin' after," suggested David.

It was near midnight when they crawled into their beds to drop into a ten-knot sleep, and they slept so soundly than none of them awoke until they were aroused by the sun shining upon the tent the next morning.

Breakfast was prepared and eaten leisurely. There was no hurry. The wind had fallen to a moderate stiff breeze, and Fort Pelican, through the narrows connecting Eskimo Bay with the sea outside, was almost in sight.

When the dishes were washed Andy and Jamie took down the tent, while David shouldered a pack and preceded them to the place where they had moored the boat the previous evening. A few minutes later he came running back, and in breathless excitement startled them with the announcement:

"The boat's gone!"

"Gone where?" asked Andy incredulously.

"Gone! I'm not knowin' where!" exclaimed David.

"Has she been took?" asked Jamie, excitedly.

"Took!" said David. "The painter were untied and she were took! There's tracks about of big boots with nails in un!"

Andy and Jamie ran down with David. No trace of the boat was to be found.

In the earth above the shore were plainly to be seen the tracks of two men wearing hobnailed boots.

"They's fresh tracks," declared David.

"Made this marnin'," Andy agreed. "They's the same kind of tracks as the ones I see under Lem's window. Whoever 'twere made these tracks shot Lem and took his silver."

"And now we're left here on the island with no way of gettin' off," said David.

"What'll we be doin'? How'll we ever get away?" asked Jamie in consternation.

But that was a question none of them could answer.

* * *

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