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   Chapter 10 THE END OF ELI'S HUNT

Troop One of the Labrador By Dillon Wallace Characters: 12190

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Indian Jake, quick as a cat, had thrown himself upon the ground with Eli's last count. Like the loon that dives at the flash of the hunter's gun, he was a fraction of a second quicker than Eli. Now, lying prone, his rifle at his shoulder, he had Eli covered, and the chamber of Eli's rifle was empty.

"Drop that gun!" he commanded.

Eli, believing in the first instant that Indian Jake had fallen as the result of the shot, was taken wholly by surprise. He stood dazed and dumb with the smoking rifle in his hand. He did not at once realize that the half-breed had him covered. His brain did not work as rapidly as Indian Jake's. His immediate sensation as he heard Indian Jake's voice was one of thankfulness that, after all, there was no stain of murder on his soul. Even yet he had no doubt Indian Jake was wounded. He had taken deadly aim, and he could not understand how any escape could have been possible.

"Drop that gun!" Indian Jake repeated. "I won't count. I'll shoot."

Eli's brain at last grasped the situation. Indian Jake was grinning broadly, and it seemed to Eli the most malicious grin he had ever beheld. He did not question Indian Jake's determination to shoot. It was too evident that the half-breed, grinning like a demon, was in a desperate mood. Eli dropped his rifle as though it were red hot and burned his hands.

"Step out here!" Indian Jake, rising to his feet, indicated an open space near the tent.

Eli did as he was told.

"Shake the ca'tridges out of your bag on the ground!"

Eli turned his cartridge bag over, and the cartridges which it contained rattled to the ground.

"Turn your pockets out!"

A turning of the pockets disclosed no further ammunition.

Indian Jake took Eli's rifle from the ground, emptied the magazine, and placed the rifle in the tent.

"Where's your boat?" he asked.

"Just down here."

"You go ahead. Show me."

Eli guided Indian Jake to the boat, and while he remained on the bank under threat of the rifle, the half-breed went through his belongings in the boat in a further search for ammunition. Satisfied that there was none, he replaced the things as he had found them, and was grinning amiably when he rejoined Eli upon the bank.

"Come 'long up to camp," he invited, quite as though Eli were a most welcome guest.

"Give me that silver fox!" Eli's anger had mastered his surprise.

"I won't give un to you, but don't be mad, Eli," Indian Jake grinned in vast enjoyment.

"You stole un!" Eli burst out. "And you were thinkin' to do murder!"

"Did I now?"

"You did!"

Indian Jake did not deign to deny or confess. Eli, at his command, returned to camp. Indian Jake handed him the tea-kettle.

"Fill un at the river," he directed.

While Eli obeyed silently and sullenly, Indian Jake lighted a fire, and when Eli returned put the kettle on. Then he brought forth his frying-pan, filled it with sliced venison, and as he placed it over the fire, remarked:

"Knocked a buck down this mornin'."

Eli said nothing. The odour of frying venison was pleasant. Eli was hungry, and when the venison was fried and tea made, he swallowed his pride and silently accepted Indian Jake's invitation to eat.

When they had finished, Indian Jake cut a large joint of venison, and presented it to Eli with his empty rifle, remarking as he did so:

"The deer's meat's a surprise. I like to surprise folks. Taste good goin' home. I'll keep the ca'tridges. You might hurt somebody if you had un. You'll get quite a piece down before you camp to-night."

"Were you takin' that silver?" asked Eli, changing his accusation to a question.

"Maybe I were and maybe I weren't," Indian Jake grinned. "'Twouldn't do me any good to tell you if I had un, and if I told you I didn't have un you wouldn't believe me. Maybe I've got un. You better be goin'. I'd ask you to stay, Eli, and I'd like to have you, but you don't like me and you'd better go on."

"I don't want the deer's meat," said Eli in sullen resentment.

"You ain't got any ca'tridges, and you can't shoot any fresh meat," insisted Indian Jake, adding with a grin: "She'll go good. Take un along, I got plenty. It's just a little surprise present for you bein' so kind as not to shoot me."

Eli, doubtless deciding that he had better take what he could get, though a bit of venison was small compensation for a silver fox, accepted the meat. Indian Jake accompanied him to the boat, and as he dropped down the river he could see Indian Jake still on the bank watching him until he turned a bend.

Without cartridges for his rifle, Eli felt himself as helpless as a wolf without teeth or a cat without claws. He was subdued and humbled. He had had Indian Jake completely in his power, and through delay in taking prompt advantage of his position, had permitted the half-breed to capture and disarm him.

The thought increased his anger toward Indian Jake. He had no doubt the man had the silver fox in his possession. If there had been any doubt in the first instance that Indian Jake was guilty, and Eli had never admitted that there was doubt, he was now entirely satisfied of the half-breed's guilt. Indian Jake, indeed, had quite boldly stated that he "might" have it, and Eli accepted this as an admission that he did have it.

"There'll be no use getting more ca'tridges and goin' back," Eli mused. "He's had a warnin' and he'll not bide in that camp another day. He'll flee the country."

Then Eli's thoughts turned to his old father and mother.

"The silver's gone, and it leaves Pop and Mother in a bad way," he mused. "They've been fondlin' that skin half the winter. Pop's had un out a hundred times to see how fine and black 'twere, and shook un out to see how thick and deep the fur is. And they been countin' and countin' on the things they'd be gettin' and needs, and can't get now she's gone. And they been countin' on the money they'd have to lay by for their feeble days when they needs un. They'll never get over mournin' the loss of un. 'Twere worth a fortune, and Pop'll never cotch another. He we

re hopin' and hopin' every year as long as I remembers to cotch a silver, and none ever comes to his traps till this un comes. And now she's gone!"

Perhaps had the silver fox skin been Eli's own, and perhaps had his father and mother not built so many hopes and laid so many plans upon the little fortune it was to have brought them, Eli would never have ventured to the verge of murder to recover it. Even now, with all his regrets, he thanked God from the bottom of his heart that he had not killed Indian Jake and stained his hands with blood.

"'Twere the mercy of God sent the bullet abroad," said he reverently. "Indian Jake's a thief and he deserves to be killed, but if I'd killed he I'd never rested an easy hour again while I lives. But I might o' clipped his trigger hand, whatever," he thought with regret. "I can clip off the head of a pa'tridge every time, and I might have clipped his hand, and got the skin and took he back for Doctor Joe to fix up."

Three days later Eli pulled his boat wearily into The Jug. The boys had returned, and with Thomas they met him on the jetty.

"Did you find Injun Jake?" Thomas asked anxiously.

"Aye," said Eli, "he were there."

Eli volunteered no further details for a moment. Then he added:

"I didn't kill he, thank the Lord, but he's got the silver. He said he had un, and he took my ca'tridges away from me."

"Said he had un? Now, that's strange-wonderful strange. Come in, Eli, supper's ready," Thomas invited, manifestly relieved that Eli had not succeeded in accomplishing his rash purpose. "You'll bide the night with us, and while you eats tell us about un, and the lads'll tell what were happenin' to they."

Margaret was setting the table. She greeted Eli cordially, and arranged a plate for him while he washed at the basin behind the stove.

"Come," invited Thomas, "set in. We've got a wonderful treat."

"What be that, now?" asked Eli as Margaret placed a dish of steaming, mealy boiled potatoes upon the table.

"Potaters," Thomas announced grandly. "Doctor Joe brings un on the mail boat from where he's been, and onions too. Margaret, peel some onions and set un on for Eli. They's fine just as they is without cookin'."

The onions came, and when thanks had been offered Eli tasted his first potato.

"They is fine, now! Wonderful fine eatin'," he declared.

"Try an onion, now. They's fine, too," Thomas urged.

Eli took an onion.

"She has a strange smell," he observed before biting into it.

Eli took a liberal mouthful of the onion. He began to chew it. A strained look spread over his face. Tears filled his eyes. But Eli was brave, and he never flinched.

"'Tis fine, I like un wonderful fine," Eli volunteered presently, adding, "if she didn't burn so bad."

"Take just a bit at a time," advised Thomas, laughing heartily, "and eat un with bread or potaters and you won't notice the burn of un."

Presently Eli told of his experiences with Indian Jake, and Andy told of the tracks he had seen under the window, and all of the boys told of what had happened on the island, the theft of the boat, the tracks of the nailed boots and the discovery of the boat at Fort Pelican.

Then Eli made an announcement that again laid the burden of suspicion more strongly than ever upon Indian Jake.

"I were workin' at the lumber camps a week this summer helpin' they out," said Eli. "Whilst I were there Indian Jake comes and trades a pair of skin boots with one of the lumber men for a pair of their boots, the kind with nails in un. He the same as says he has the fur, and 'twere he took un."

"Injun Jake wears skin boots when he come to our camp on Flat P'int," said David.

"Aye, 'tis likely," admitted Eli. "He'd be wearin' skin boots in the canoe, whatever. The nailed boots would be hard on the canoe. He uses the nailed boots trampin' about, but he'd change un when he travels in his canoe."

The whole question was canvassed pro and con, and due consideration given to the length of time that Indian Jake must have consumed in passing from Horn's Bight to Flat Point. This was alone sufficient in the mind of Thomas and the boys to lift all suspicion from Indian Jake, but Eli still held stubbornly to the opposite view.

Two days later, and on the eve of Thomas's departure for the trails, Doctor Joe returned. Lem had so far recovered that a further stay at Horn's Bight was unnecessary.

Thomas and Doctor Joe quietly discussed the shooting incident. Lem, it appeared, had later decided that he may have been shot much earlier in the afternoon than sundown. What had occurred had fallen into the hazy uncertainty of a dream.

"What kind of a rifle does Indian Jake use?" asked Doctor Joe.

"A thirty-eight fifty-five," said Thomas.

Doctor Joe drew from his pocket the bullet extracted from Lem's wound. Thomas examined it critically.

"There's no doubtin' 'tis a thirty-eight fifty-five," he admitted. "'Tis true Injun Jake gets a pair of nailed boots like the lumber folk wears. But Injun Jake'll tell me whether 'twere he shot Lem. Injun Jake'll be fair about un with me whatever. 'Tis hard for me to believe he did un. If he did, he'll be gone from the Nascaupee when I gets there. If he didn't, I'll find he waitin'!"

"Let us hope he'll be there, and let us hope he's innocent," said Doctor Joe.

Some day and in some way every sin is punished and every criminal is discovered. It is an immutable law of God that he who does wrong must atone for the wrong. We do not always know how the punishment is brought about, but the guilty one knows. And so with the shooting and robbery of Lem Horn. Many months were to pass before the mystery was to be solved, and then the revelation was to come in a startling manner in the course of an adventure amid the deep snows of winter.

Thomas sailed away the following morning. They watched his boat pass down through The Jug and out into the Bay, and then the silence of the wilderness closed upon him, and no word came as to whether or no Indian Jake met him at the Nascaupee River camp.

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