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   Chapter 7 THE MYSTERY OF THE BOAT

Troop One of the Labrador By Dillon Wallace Characters: 11390

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The boys looked at each other in consternation. They were marooned on a desolate, rocky, sparsely wooded island. Boats passed only at rare intervals, and a fortnight, or even a month, might elapse before an opportunity for rescue offered. Their provisions would scarcely last a week, and the island was destitute of game.

"Whoever 'twere took the boat," Andy suggested presently, "were on the island when we comes."

"Aye," David agreed, "and makin' for Fort Pelican. They been up as far as Lem's and they's gettin' away with Lem's silver to sell un."

"'Tis strange boots they wears," said Jamie. "Strange boots them is with nails in un."

"'Twere no man of The Labrador made them tracks," David declared.

"I never sees boots with nails in un," said Andy, "except the boots the lumber folks wears over at the new camp at Grampus River."

"Aye," agreed David, "they wears un. When we goes over with Pop last month when the big steamer comes I sees un. Plenty of un wears boots with nails in."

"That's who 'twere took our boat!" said Andy. "'Twere men from the Grampus River lumber camp."

"Let's track un and see where they were camped," suggested David.

The trail was easily followed. Here and there a footprint appeared where soil had drifted in among the rocks above the shore. The trail led them three hundred yards to the eastward, and then down into a sheltered hollow just above the water's edge, where a small boat was drawn up upon the shore.

"Here's a boat!" exclaimed Jamie, who had run ahead.

"A boat!" shouted David. "They left un and took our boat."

"And good reason!" said Jamie, who had reached the skiff. "The bottom's half knocked out of un."

It was evident that the boat had been driven upon the rocks in making a landing, and a jagged hole a foot square appeared in the bottom, rendering it in that condition quite useless. Near by a tent had been pitched, and there was no doubt that the men who had abandoned the boat had been in camp for a day at least in the sheltered hollow.

The boys turned the boat over and examined the break.

"'Tis a bad place to mend," observed David.

"But we can mend un," declared Andy. "We can mend un by noon whatever, and get to Fort Pelican this evenin'."

"I'm doubtin'," David shook his head. "'Twill take a day to mend un whatever, and she'll be none too safe. 'Twill be hard to make un water-tight."

"We can mend un," Andy insisted.

A close examination of the tracks disclosed the fact that there had undoubtedly been two men in the party. They had reached the island before the rain of two days before. This was disclosed by the fact that some of the tracks were partly washed away by the rain, and the earth was caked where the wind and sun had dried it afterwards.

Natives of the coast, as was the case with David and Jamie and Andy, wore home-made sealskin boots in summer and buckskin moccasins in winter. The sealskin boots had moccasin feet with one thickness of skin, and were soft and pliable. None of them ever wore soled boots that would admit of hobnails. It was plain to the boys, therefore, that the men who made the tracks were not natives of the country.

Early in the summer a lumber company had begun the erection of a camp at Grampus River, which lay twenty miles to the southward from The Jug, and on the opposite side of Eskimo Bay. A steamship had brought in men and supplies, and all summer men had been building camps and preparing for lumbering operations during the coming winter.

It was the first steamer to enter the Bay, and its advent had been an occasion of much curiosity on the part of the people. Many of them made excursions to Grampus River to see the strangers at work. Thomas had made such an excursion with David and Andy. Strange, rough, blasphemous men they seemed to the God-fearing folk of the country. These were the men wearing hobnailed boots of which David spoke, and there was small doubt in the mind of the boys that the men who had camped on the island and had stolen the boat were from the Grampus River lumber camp.

It proved a tedious undertaking to repair and make seaworthy the damaged boat. The trees on the island were, for the most part, small gnarled spruce, twisted and stunted by the northern blasts which swept the Bay. After some search, however, they discovered a white spruce tree suitable for their purpose, with a trunk ten inches in diameter. David felled it and cut from its butt a two-foot length. This he proceeded to split into as thin slabs as possible. Then with their jack-knives the boys began the tedious task of whittling the surfaces of the slabs into smooth boards, first trimming them down to an inch and a half in thickness with the axes.

"How'll we make un fast when we gets un done?" asked Jamie. "We has no nails."

"I'm thinkin' of that," said David. "I'm not knowin' yet, but we'll find some way."

"I've got a way," Andy announced. "I been thinkin' and thinkin' and I found a way to make un fast."

"How'll you make un fast now without nails?" David asked expectantly.

"We'll tie un with spruce roots, like the Injuns puts their canoes together," explained Andy. "We'll cut holes in each end of un in the right place to tie un fast to the braces of the boat. We'll have to make holes in the bottom of the boat each side of the braces for the roots to come through so we can make un fast. That'll hold un. Then when we've made un fast we'll caulk un up with spruce gum."

"Why can't we cut strips of sealskin off our sleepin' bags for strings to tie un with?" suggested David. "'Twould be easier than makin' spruce root strings, and quicker too, and the sealskin would be str

ong and hold un tight."

"Yes, and soon's the sealskin gets wet she'll stretch," Andy objected. "Then the boards would loosen up and let the water in."

"I never thought of the sealskin stretchin', but she sure would. You're fine at thinkin' things out, Andy!" said David admiringly. "The spruce roots won't stretch though. 'Tis a fine way to fix un now, and she'll work. There's no doubtin' she'll work."

"'Twill take all day," Andy calculated, adding with pride, "but once we gets un on they'll hold. I'll get the roots now and put un to soak."

Andy dug around the white spruce tree and in a little while gathered a sufficient quantity of long string-like roots. He scraped them and then split them carefully with his knife. When they were split he filled the big kettle with water from a spring, placed the roots in it and put them over the fire to boil.

They all worked as hard as they could on the boards, and when dinner time came David announced that the boards were smooth enough for their purpose.

"Now all we'll have to do," said he as he sliced pork for dinner, "is to make the holes in un and fasten un on."

"What were that now?" Jamie interrupted as a hoarse blast broke upon the air.

"'Tis the steamer whistle!" David dropped the knife with which he was slicing pork, and with Jamie and Andy at his heels ran to the top of the highest rock on the island, where a wide view of the Bay lay before them.

A mile away the lumber company's big steamer was feeling its way cautiously toward the west, bound inward to the Grampus River camps. The boys waved their caps and shouted at the top of their lungs, but no one on the steamer appeared to see them. It was not until the great strange vessel had become a mere speck in the distance that they turned back to the preparation of dinner.

"They didn't see us," said David in disappointment.

"We're not wantin' to go to Grampus River, whatever," Andy cheered. "We're goin' to Fort Pelican when we has the boat fixed up, and she's 'most done."

After dinner they settled to the task. Two of the narrow boards which they had prepared were required to cover the break, which occurred between two braces. The edges of the boards where they were to join were whittled straight, that the joint might be made as tight as possible. Then David held them in place while Andy marked the position for the holes through which the spruce root thongs were to pass.

Four holes were to be cut in each end of both boards, and holes to match in the bottom of the boat, and in an hour they were neatly reamed out. When Andy removed his thongs from the water they were quite soft and pliable, and proved to be strong and tough.

Andy lashed the boards into place, threading the thongs through the holes and drawing them round the brace several times at each place where provision had been made for them. Thus a dozen thicknesses of fibre bound the boards to the brace at each set of holes.

It was now necessary to collect the spruce gum and prepare it. Gum was plentiful enough, and in half an hour they had collected enough to half fill the frying-pan. To this was added a little lard, and the gum and grease melted over the fire and thoroughly mixed.

"What you puttin' the grease in for?" asked Jamie curiously.

"So when we pours un in the cracks and she hardens she won't be brittle and crack," David explained.

The hot mixture was now poured into the joints between the boards and at all points where the new boards came into contact with the boat, and into the holes where the lashings occurred. In a few minutes it hardened, and the boys surveyed their work with pride and satisfaction.

"Now we'll try un," said David, "and see if she leaks."

"She'll never leak where she's mended," asserted Andy.

They slipped the boat into the water and Andy's prediction proved true. Not a drop of water oozed through the joints, and the boat was as snug and tight and seaworthy as any boat that ever floated.

"'Tis too late to start to-night," said David, "but we'll be away at crack o' dawn in the marnin', whatever. 'Tis fine they left the sail and oars."

And at crack of dawn in the morning the boys were away. The day was misty and disagreeable, but David and Andy knew the way as well as you and I know our city streets. They rounded the Devil's Arm, a friendly tide helped them through the narrows, and in mid-forenoon the low white buildings of Fort Pelican appeared in misty outline through the fog. A few minutes later they swung alongside the Fort Pelican jetty, and there, to their amazement, firmly tied to the jetty, lay their own big boat.

No one about the Post could explain whence the boat had come or how it reached the jetty. The Post servants stated that they had not noticed it until after the departure of the lumber steamer. They had recognized it as Thomas Angus's boat, for in that country men know each other's boats as our country folk know their neighbours' horses.

The lumber ship had arrived on the morning of the gale, and had anchored in the harbour awaiting the arrival of one of the company's officers on the mail boat. The mail boat had arrived the previous morning, and both the mail boat and lumber ship had steamed away shortly after the mail boat's arrival. Many lumbermen had been ashore. If any of them had come in the boat they had mingled among the others and had departed either on the lumber ship, which had gone up the Bay to Grampus River, or on the mail boat to Newfoundland.

"I'm thinkin'," said David, "whoever 'twere took Lem's silver fox and our boat went to Newfoundland to sell the fur."

"There's no doubtin' that," agreed Andy.

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