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   Chapter 12 THE HIDDEN CACHE

Troop One of the Labrador By Dillon Wallace Characters: 15111

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


When camp was made snug and dinner disposed of, Doctor Joe followed the boys down to the cairn. A careful examination was made of the soil surrounding the rock upon which the cairn was built, and in loose gravel close to the shore were found the imprints of feet. It was evident, however, that rain had fallen since the tracks were made, for they were so nearly washed away that there could be no certainty whether they were made by moccasins or nailed boots.

"'Twere a week ago they were here whatever," observed David, rising upon his feet after a close scrutiny upon hands and knees. "I'm thinkin' we'll see no sign of un now to help us trail un to the rock the writin' tells about."

"The ground was hard froze a week ago just as 'tis now," said Lige. "They'd be leavin' no tracks on froze ground."

"They makes the tracks that shows here whether the ground were froze or not," observed Seth.

"The gravel were loose and dry so 'tweren't froze," explained Lige, "but away from the dry gravel 'twere all froze, and they'd make no tracks to show. Leastways that's how I thinks about un."

"That's good logic," said Doctor Joe. "I'm afraid we'll have to find the rock without the assistance of any tracks to guide us. There will surely be other signs, however, and we'll look for them while we look for the rock."

"Suppose now we scatters and looks up along the brook and along the ridge for the rock the pacin' were done from," suggested Andy. "'Tis like to be a different lookin' rock from most of un around here or they wouldn't have picked un."

"And 'tis like to be a big un too," volunteered Micah. "They'd be pickin' no little rock for that, whatever. I'm thinkin' 'twill be easy to know un if we sees un."

"Yes," agreed Doctor Joe, "the rock is probably larger or in some other way noticeably different from the others. It may be along the brook, or it may not. They were hunting. It may be a rock where they camped, or where they agreed to meet after their hunt, and probably where they boiled their kettle."

"They weren't Bay folk, whatever," asserted David. "The writin' ain't like any of the Bay folkses writin'. None of un here could write so fine."

"None of the Bay folk would be hidin' things that way either," said Andy. "If 'twere anything small enough to hide in a tree they'd been takin' un with un and not leavin' un behind. If 'twere too big to carry, they'd just left un in a cache and come back for un when they gets ready and not do any writin' about un."

"I think you are right, Andy," agreed Doctor Joe. "For the reasons you give and for still other reasons I feel very certain strangers to the Bay left the cache."

"What were they meanin' by 'swag,' Doctor Joe?" asked Andy. "I never hears that word before. 'Tis a wonderful strange word."

"It usually means," explained Doctor Joe, "something that has been stolen. The use of that word is one of the reasons that leads me to conclude that it was not written by any of our people of the Bay. I am quite sure none of them knows what the word means, and like you I doubt if any of them ever heard it. There seems no doubt, indeed, that strangers to these parts wrote it, and as there are no other strangers in the Bay than the lumbermen, we are safe in concluding that the cairn was built and the note written by someone from the lumber camp at Grampus River."

"'Swag' is a wonderful strange soundin' word, now," said David. "I never hears un before."

"I'm thinkin' I knows what 'tis they hid now!" exclaimed Andy suddenly. "'Tis Lem Horn's silver! 'Tis the men hid un that shot Lem and stole the silver! 'Tweren't Indian Jake shot Lem at all! 'Twere men from the lumber camp! What they calls 'swag' is Lem's silver!"

"That's what 'tis, now! 'Tis sure Lem Horn's silver!" David exploded excitedly. "I never would have thought of un bein' that! Andy's wonderful spry thinkin' things out, and he's mostly always right, too!"

"And Indian Jake never stole un! He never stole un!" Jamie burst out joyfully. "I were knowin' all the time he wouldn't steal un! Indian Jake wouldn't go shootin' folk and stealin' from un!"

"It may be," said Doctor Joe. "At any rate it seems extremely probable the 'swag' as they call it is stolen property that has been hidden. That word and the threat together with the other circumstances make it quite certain, indeed, that whatever it is they refer to was stolen. That's a safe conclusion to begin with. We have decided that we may be quite sure, also, that the men that hid the cache so carefully were none of our own Bay people, but men from the lumber camp. We have heard of nothing else than Lem Horn's silver fox having been stolen in the Bay. We have some ground, therefore, to suppose that the 'swag' is Lem Horn's silver fox. It will be a fine piece of work to search out the cache, and if it proves to contain Lem's silver fox, recover it for him. We will be doing a good turn to Lem and at the same time will lift suspicion from Indian Jake. If we find the cache and there is nothing in it that should not be there, we will not interfere with it. Now how shall we go about it to trace it? Let's hear what you chaps think is the best plan."

"We'll separate and look for the rock they tells about," suggested David. "There's like to be some signs so we'll know un when we sees un. If we finds the rock 'twill not be hard to pace off the way they says in the paper."

"And we'll be lookin' out for other signs," added Peter. "'Tis likely they've been cuttin' wood or breakin' twigs or makin' a fire."

"The brook ain't froze, and I'm thinkin' now they been walkin' there and leavin' tracks, if they were going' for water, and 'tis likely they were gettin' water to boil the kettle," reasoned Seth.

"Suppose," suggested Doctor Joe, "two of you follow up the brook, one on each side, and the rest of us will spread out on each side of the two following the brook, and look for the rock and other signs that will guide us."

"We better make a writin' for each of us just like the writin' in the can with what it says about how to find the cache if we finds the rock," suggested Andy. "I for one'll never be rememberin' all of un without a writin' to look at whatever."

"That's true, Andy," agreed Doctor Joe, "and none of us would."

"Andy always thinks of things like that!" exclaimed David admiringly.

"Get the paper from the can and bring it up to camp," directed Doctor Joe. "We'll make several copies of the directions. I have paper and pencil there in the tent."

David lifted the flat stone from the top of the cairn, and removing the paper he and the others followed Doctor Joe to his tent, where Doctor Joe made nine copies of the explicit directions, one for himself and one for each of the lads.

"You had better return this now to the can," said Doctor Joe, handing the paper back to David, "for if it should prove after all that we have been mistaken, and that the cache does not contain Lem's silver fox or other stolen property, it would be wrong, and we would not wish, to interfere with the man for whom this paper was left here finding the cache."

"'Twould be fair wicked to do that," agreed David. "I'll put un back."

When the paper had again been returned to its hiding-place Doctor Joe detailed the boys to their different positions. David and Peter were to follow the brook, David on the left side and Peter on the right side as they ascended. Seth Muggs, Obadiah Button, Andy and Jamie were to spread out at intervals on the left from David, and

Lige Sparks, Micah Dunk and Doctor Joe on the right side of the brook from Peter. All were to ascend through the woods at the same time, keeping a sharp look-out to right and to left for any unusual rock or other possible signs that might lead to a clue.

"Now we had better keep close enough together to keep in sight the man nearest us on the side toward the brook," directed Doctor Joe. "If we spread farther apart than that we shall be too far apart to see any rock that may be between us."

"Aye, and we'll keep lookin' both ways," said Andy. "That way we can't miss un."

"It's now," Doctor Joe consulted his watch, "one-thirty o'clock. It's cloudy and it will be dark by half-past four. I'll call to Micah at half-past three and he will pass the word along to the next man and he to the next and so on until all have been notified. Then we will immediately come together and return to camp, that is, of course, if we have not already found the cache. If before that time anyone finds what he thinks may be the rock he will pass the word to his neighbour, and we'll close in and make our search together. If it begins to snow, and the snow is too thick for us to see our next neighbour, we'll close in, for in that case we would miss the rock anyway. Do you all understand?"

Every one understood, as the chorus of "Yes, sir," testified.

"Jamie," said Doctor Joe, "you're the youngest one, and you haven't had much experience tramping through the woods. If you get tired, or find it hard, just come over to the brook and follow it down to camp. If you get there ahead of us you might start a fire in our tent stove and put the kettle over."

"I've got plenty o' grit, sir," Jamie boasted. "I can stand un."

"I think you can," agreed Doctor Joe, "but your legs are short. If you get tired don't keep going. Perhaps you had better take the outside place, and if you do get tired and fall out it won't break the line."

Full of eagerness and excitement, the boys took their positions. On the left bank of the brook was David, next him to the left Obadiah Button, then Andy, beyond him Seth Muggs, and finally Jamie. This placed Jamie on the extreme left flank, in accordance with Doctor Joe's suggestion, and the farthest from David and the brook.

On the right bank of the brook were Peter Sparks, Doctor Joe, Lige Sparks and Micah Dunk in the order named, with Micah on the extreme right flank.

It was a great and thrilling adventure for all the boys, but particularly for Jamie. There was a mystery to be solved, and in the attempt to solve it there was not merely curiosity but a worthy object in view. If the cache proved to contain Lem Horn's silver fox skin Lem and his whole family would be made happy.

Jamie, in his unwavering loyalty, was anxious to lift from Indian Jake all suspicion of the crime. At present every one in the Bay, save only the Angus boys, believed Indian Jake guilty of it. Even Doctor Joe was not satisfied of his innocence, and, indeed, everything pointed to Indian Jake's guilt. Doctor Joe believed that the Angus boys were prejudiced in their loyalty to Indian Jake because of the fact that he had done them kindnesses.

Jamie was sure that if they found this cache there would be proof that he and David and Andy were right and everybody else wrong. Not only did this feature of the adventure appeal to him, but also the fact that he was for the first time in his life trailing in the wilderness and taking part in an undertaking that seemed to him one of vast importance.

Jamie had never slept in a tent. His only acquaintance with the great wilderness had been confined to the woods surrounding The Jug, and always when in company with David or Andy or his father or Doctor Joe. Now he was determined to do as well as any of them, and, no matter how tired he became, to stick to the trail until Doctor Joe gave the signal to return to camp.

As they ascended the slope Jamie kept a sharp look-out to right and left. Now and again Seth Muggs on his right was hidden by a clump of thick spruce trees or would disappear behind a wooded rise, presently to appear again through the trees.

Jamie was happy. He was keeping pace with the others without the least difficulty. Doctor Joe had hinted that his short legs might not permit him to do this. He would prove that he was as able as Seth Muggs or any of them!

Nothing happened for nearly an hour, and Jamie was beginning to think that the search was to end in disappointment, when suddenly his heart gave a leap of joy. Far to the left and just visible through the trees rose the outlines of a great grey rock.

"That's the rock!" exclaimed Jamie. "That's sure he! I'll look at un for signs, and then if there's any signs to be seen about un I'll call Seth!"

Jamie ran through the trees and brush to the rock, which proved, indeed, to be a landmark. It stood alone, and was twice as high as Jamie's head.

Here he was treated to another thrill. On the west side of the rock was the charred wood of a recent camp fire. A tent had been pitched near at hand, as was evidenced by the still unwithered boughs that had formed a bed, and discarded tent pegs, and there were many axe cuttings.

"'Twere white men and not Injuns that camped here," reasoned Jamie. "All the Injun fires I ever heard tell about were made smaller than this un. And these folk were pilin' up stones on the side. No Injuns or Bay folk does that, whatever!"

Jamie continued to investigate.

"'Twere not Bay folk did the axe cuttin' either," he decided. "All the Bay folk and Injuns uses small axes when they travels, and this cuttin' were done with big uns!"

Looking about the rock he found other evidences that the campers had been strangers to the country. There was a piece of a Halifax newspaper, an empty bottle, and a small tin can containing matches. The box of matches he put into his pocket. They had been lost or overlooked, and no hunter of the Bay or Indian would ever have been guilty of such carelessness. Of this Jamie had no question.

"'Tis sure the rock the writin' tells about," he commented.

Jamie looked a little farther, and then suddenly realizing that he should not wait too long before calling, shouted lustily:

"Seth, I finds un! Seth! Seth! I finds the rock!"

He waited a moment for Seth's answering call, but there was no response. A much longer time had elapsed during Jamie's examination of the rock and the surroundings than he realized, and in the meantime Seth and the others had passed on, and Seth was now in a deeply wooded gully where Jamie's shouts failed to reach him.

"Seth! Seth! I finds un! I finds the place!" he shouted again, but still there was no response from Seth.

"I'm thinkin' now Seth has gone too far to hear," said Jamie to himself. "'Twould be fine to find Lem's silver all alone and take un back to camp. I'll just do what the writin' says. I'll pace up the places. I can do un all by myself, and 'twill be a fine surprise to un all to take the silver back to camp."

Jamie had no doubt that the mysterious cache contained the stolen fox pelt. No thought of disappointment in this or of danger to himself entered his head. His whole mind was centred upon one point. He would be the hero of the Bay if, quite alone, he succeeded in recovering Lem's property and at the same time in clearing Indian Jake of suspicion.

Without further delay he drew from his pocket the carefully folded copy of directions that Doctor Joe had given him and sat down to study it.

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