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Troop One of the Labrador By Dillon Wallace Characters: 13733

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

"Twenty paces to a hackmatack tree, north," read Jamie. He drew from his pocket the little compass Doctor Joe had given him, and took the direction.

"That's the way she goes, the way the needle points," he said to himself. "I'll pace un off. North is the way she goes first."

But an obstacle presented itself. The northern face of the rock was irregular, and from end to end fully thirty feet in length. From what point of the rock was the northerly line to begin? Where should he begin to pace? Finally he selected a middle point as the most probable.

"'Twill be from here," he decided. "They'd never be startin' the line from anywheres but the middle."

Holding the compass in his hand that he might make no mistake, and trembling with the excitement of one about to make a great discovery, he paced to the northward, stretching his short legs to the longest possible stride, until he counted twenty paces. It brought him not to a hackmatack tree, but to the middle of several spruce trees. He returned to the rock and tried again. This time he was led to a tangle of brush to the left of the spruce trees into which his former effort had taken him. He was vastly puzzled.

"'Tis something I does wrong," he mused. "Doctor Joe were sayin' the compass points right, and she is right. 'Tis wonderful strange though."

He experimented again and discovered that if he did not hold the compass perfectly level the needle did not swing properly. In his excitement he had doubtless tipped the compass, and with the needle thus bound he had been led astray.

He climbed to the top of the rock, and placing his compass in a level position, permitted the needle to swing to a stationary position. He extracted a match from the tin box in his pocket and laid it upon the compass dial exactly parallel with the needle. Lying on his face, he squinted his eye along the match to a distant tree. Rising, he observed the tree that he might make no mistake, and returning to the face of the rock strode twenty of his best paces in the direction of the tree. Again he was disappointed. There was no hackmatack tree at the end of his line.

"Maybe he was a big man that does the pacin' and takes longer paces," he said to himself. "I'll go a bit farther."

He looked directly ahead, but saw no hackmatack within a reasonable extension of his twenty paces to account for the longer strides the original pacer may have taken. Much discouraged, he was about to return again to the rock when suddenly his eye fell upon a small and scarcely noticeable hackmatack six paces to the right of his north line and a little beyond him.

"That must be he, now!" he exclaimed. "'Tis the only hackmatack I sees hereabouts. 'Tis sure he! I'll pace un back to the rock! If the tree's nuth'ard from the rock, the rock'll be south'ard from the tree. I'll try pacin' that way."

With his compass Jamie sighted from the tree to the rock, and to his satisfaction the rock, lying due south, fell within his line of sight, but at the extreme easterly end of its northerly face instead of at the centre, the point from which he had run his original line. He now paced the distance, which proved to be a little farther than twenty of Jamie's longest strides, which he accounted for again by reasoning that a man could take longer steps than he could stretch with his short legs.

Then for the first time Jamie observed two stones, one on top of the other, at the foot of the rock and at the very place to which his compass had directed him. He lifted the stones and an examination proved that they had not long since been placed in the position in which he found them. Both had marks of earth upon them on the lower side, but the stone which was below rested upon the carpet of caribou moss which covered the ground and prevented it from coming in contact with the earth. It could not, therefore, have been stained with soil in the place where Jamie now found it.

"They was put there as a pilot mark! They shows the true mark of the place to pace from," he soliloquized, replacing them in the position in which he had found them. "I'll take un as a pilot, whatever, and see how she comes out on the next track."

He returned to the little hackmatack tree and again consulted the paper.

"Forty paces west to a round rock," he read, observing, "that won't be so hard now as findin' the hackmatack tree. 'Twill be easier to see, whatever."

Methodically he gathered some stones and erected a small pedestal upon which to rest his compass while he ran his westerly line. Loose stones of proper size were hard to find. The smaller ones were frozen fast to the ground, and the larger ones were too heavy for him to move. But presently he collected a sufficient number of small stones to form a pedestal a foot and a half high.

Upon the top of this he levelled his compass, and turned it until the needle, swinging freely, rested upon the north point on the dial. Then, as before, he placed a match upon the face of the compass to form a line from the "E" to the "W" on the dial. Crouching down upon the ground Jamie sighted, as before, to a distant tree, but as he did so be became suddenly aware that the light was fading. He had been much longer than he had realized, consuming a great deal of time in examining the signs around the big rock and in taking his distances from the rock.

"This line is sure right the first time," he said. "'Twill not take me much longer, and I finds the round rock now. If I finds un I'll be sure I'm goin' the right way, and I'll be right handy to the cache."

Thirty-nine of Jamie's paces brought him to the tree upon which he had taken sight, and looking a little way beyond he saw, to his great joy, a round rock.

Jamie was trembling with excitement as he ran eagerly to the rock. This was the second direction laid down upon the paper! There could be no doubt that he was right! Everything answered the description! He would surely find the cache now! What a surprise it would be to Doctor Joe and the boys if he came walking into camp triumphantly bearing Lem Horn's silver fox skin.

"Sixty paces south," he next read from his directions.

He placed his compass upon the top of the round rock, which rose perhaps three feet above the ground, and repeated his former method, again sighting to a convenient tree. Twilight was perceptibly thickening. At this season darkness falls early in Labrador, and now, because of a heavily clouded sky, it was following twilight quickly.

"I'll keep at un till I finds the cache. I'll find un before I goes back to camp whatever," he determined. "'Twill be easy enough gettin' to camp even if 'tis dark before I gets there. The brook's handy by, and I'll just go to un and follow un down to camp. I hope they'll not be worryin' about me, but if they does 'twill not be for long. I'll

soon be there now."

The distance from the round rock to the tree upon which he had sighted proved to be but thirty of his short paces. Here he was compelled to pile stones again upon which to build a resting-place for his compass before taking another sight. Small stones such as he could lift were not easily found, and when at length he was prepared to take the sight the gloom had grown so thick that he had difficulty in locating a tree that he judged was sufficiently far away to cover the remaining distance. Thirty more paces, however, brought him to the tree, and to his unbounded joy a lone white birch stood just beyond.

Within three paces of the birch the mysterious cache was hidden. Here, however, the directions failed to be sufficiently explicit. Either through oversight or purposely the bearings from the birch were omitted.

Jamie paced first to one tree and then to another; any of several trees might be the correct one. They were all thickly branched spruce trees capable of concealing the coveted cache. Jamie was puzzled, and every moment it was growing darker. He looked up into the branches of one and then another, hoping to see a bag suspended from a limb, but if a bag were there it blended so completely with the foliage that even its outlines were not revealed.

"I'll have to climb un all," said Jamie finally, "and I'll have to be spry about un too or 'twill be fair dark before I gets to climb the last of un."

For his first effort he chose a tree three paces beyond the birch and in a line with the rock. He had no difficulty in shinning up the trunk until he reached a lower limb, and then he quite easily drew himself up.

Climbing through the thick screen of branches he looked eagerly for the coveted hidden mystery, not stopping until he was well into the tree top and had made quite certain that no cache was hidden there. Then, as he looked up toward the sky, he felt a snowflake on his face.

"Snowin'!" he exclaimed. "I'll have to be hurryin' now. If it snows hard Doctor Joe sure will be gettin' worried about me."

At that moment Jamie heard the breaking of a twig. He paused and listened. Presently he heard footsteps, and a moment later a man's voice. Through the gathering darkness appeared the figures of two men, and even at that distance Jamie knew they were not Bay folk. They travelled less silently, and the tread of heavy boots is quite unlike that of moccasined feet.

Jamie crouched close to the tree trunk. He scarcely breathed. The approaching figures came directly toward the white birch.

"It's lucky we saw them fellers first," said a gruff voice. "They'd sure suspicioned somethin' if they'd got a glim on us. They never seen us comin' over, and they'll never find our boat where we hid her."

"If they found that there writin' you went and left in the tin can you were tellin' about, they've like as not follered the directions you give and found the swag," growled the other. "That won't be very lucky for us."

"They'd never find her," assured the first speaker. "They'd have to find the rock first, and she's a good two mile from shore. They'd never find her in a dog's age. Here we be. Here's the white birch."

"Well, where's the tree you went and hid the stuff in?"

"Here she is." The man indicated a tree next to that in which Jamie was perched. "Here, take my leg and gimme a boost. I'll go up and get it."

Jamie scarcely dared breathe. He could see one of the men make a stirrup of his hands, and the other man step into it and swing into the tree. Up he climbed to a point directly opposite Jamie, and so near Jamie could hear him breathe.

"Got her, Bill?" asked the man below.

"You bet I got her! She's here all right, just like I said she'd be," answered the man in the tree.

Jamie's heart sank. After all his hopes and efforts he became suddenly aware that he could not return to camp triumphantly bearing Lem Horn's silver fox pelt as he had pictured himself doing. Lem would never get the pelt again. Every one in the Bay would go on believing that Indian Jake had shot Lem and stolen the pelt. And he had been so near setting all this right!

It never entered his head that the cache could contain anything else than the pelt. Because he wished Indian Jake to be innocent of the crime, he had come to believe that he was innocent, even though Indian Jake himself had not denied having the stolen property in his possession, and everybody, save only himself and David and Andy, believed Indian Jake had it.

"Here she be safe and sound and as good as ever," said the man as he dropped from the lower limb of the tree to the ground. "Let's open her up and have a drink, Hank."

"I'll go you, Bill. My throat feels as long as a camel's and as dry as a snake's back."

Jamie could see the man called Bill stooping over the small bag to untie it, and presently draw forth a bottle.

"Here she be, and the other three bottles too," said Bill. "You open her up, Hank, while I see if the roll is there and the other stuff."

Bill ran his arm in the bag.

"Yes, it's all right," he assured. "I guess the Captain didn't miss the money before the ship sailed, and there ain't any way of his gettin' word in to the boss about it now before next spring. We're safe enough to take it back and make our divvy. There won't be any search made for it now."

"Naw, we're safe enough now." Hank tipped the bottle to his lips, and handed it to Bill. "The boss ain't missed his liquor neither, and there won't be any to miss pretty soon the way you're pulin' at it."

"I don't know's I took any more'n you did," said Bill petulantly, corking the bottle and returning it to the bag. "It was a good move to play safe anyhow and hide the swag until we made sure the boss wouldn't go searching through our stuff for it. I don't know's he'd suspicion us any more'n the rest of the crew, but he'd search everybody's stuff if the Captain had give him a tip."

"You bet he would!" agreed Hank. "We just played in luck right through. They won't blame us for that other job, will they? They ain't likely to go makin' a search for that, be they?"

"Naw!" said Bill. "That other feller, whatever his name is, has got 'em on his trail for that. We ain't in it. They'll never suspicion us for that. We made a slick job of that."

"Well, let's beat it back," said Hank. "It's snowin' and it's goin' to snow hard. The sooner we gets back to camp the better we'll be off."

Bill swung the bag over his shoulder, when suddenly he stopped and exclaimed:

"What's that?"

Jimmy had sneezed, and again he sneezed.

"Some sneak in that there tree!" and Bill with an oath dropped his bag and seized his rifle, which he had leaned against the tree in which Jimmy was perched. "I'll put a bullet up there! That'll settle that feller, whoever he is!"

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