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   Chapter 16 BOUND AND HELPLESS

Troop One of the Labrador By Dillon Wallace Characters: 13981

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"See here," said the man in front, stopping and turning about after what had seemed hours to the exhausted and bruised Jamie, "I for one ain't goin' to try to cross the Bay to-night in this here snow. It's thicker'n mud, and there's a sea runnin' I won't take chances with, not while I'm sober. We may's well bunk."

"Guess you're right, pardner, we better bunk. But pull farther away to the west'ard before we put on a fire," agreed Jamie's captor with evident relief. "That bunch'll be out huntin' this here kid, and they may run on to us if we camp too close to 'em."

"We're a good two mile from 'em now. They'll never run on to us," argued the other.

"Go on a piece farther," insisted the man called Bill, who was gripping Jamie's arm so hard that it ached.

"Let the kid go! What's the use of draggin' him along? He'll just be in our way, and we've got troubles enough of our own," suggested the other.

"He ain't goin' back and have a chance to give us away to that bunch, not if I knows it. I've about made up my mind to croak him. He knows too much. Go on and find a place to bunk. I'm follerin'."

"You won't croak anybody while I'm hangin' around! I'm tellin' you I've got troubles enough on my hands already without chasin' a noose. I'm goin' to save my neck anyhow, and I ain't goin' to be mixed up in any croakin'," muttered the one called Hank, as he turned and plunged forward again through the darkness.

What "croaking" meant Jamie did not in the least know, but he suspected that it referred to something not in the least pleasant for himself. He was too tired, however, to think or care a great deal as he was dragged on, stumbling in the darkness over fallen logs, and bumping into trees.

It seemed an interminable time to Jamie before the man ahead again stopped, and said decisively:

"We'll camp here. We've gone far enough, and I ain't goin' another rod. We're a good five mile from them fellers you're afraid of."

"All right, I'm satisfied. You've got the axe, go ahead and make a cover," said Bill. "Kid, you come with me and help break branches for the bed. Don't you loaf neither. Do you hear me?"

"Yes, sir," answered Jamie timidly.

It was a relief to stop walking and to feel the man relax the relentless grip upon his arm, and Jamie, meekly enough, began breaking boughs with the man always within striking distance, as though afraid that he might run away and make his escape, though Jamie was quite too tired for that.

The man with the axe cut a stiff pole and trimmed it. Then he lopped off the lower branches of two spruce trees that stood a convenient distance apart, and laid the pole on a supporting limb of each tree, about four feet from the ground. This was to form the ridge of a lean-to shelter. Poles were now cut and formed into a sloping roof by resting one end upon the ridge pole, the other upon the ground, and the poles covered with a thick thatch of branches to exclude the snow.

When this was completed a quantity of dry wood was cut, and in front of the lean-to a fire was lighted.

While the man with the axe was engaged in thatching the roof and lighting the fire and gathering wood, the other turned his attention to the preparation of the bed.

"Don't you try to break away, now!" he growled at Jamie. "I'll shoot you like I would a rat if you do. Just stand there and hand me them branches, and shake the snow off'n 'em first, too."

Running was the last thing that Jamie contemplated doing, even though there had been no danger of the man executing his threat. He was so tired he could scarcely stand upon his feet, and he had eaten nothing since the hurried meal at midday.

At length the bed was laid, and the men sat down within the shelter of the lean-to, and Bill ordered:

"Git down here, you kid, and set still too. Don't you try to leave here. You know what's comin' to you if you do."

As Jamie meekly and thankfully complied, Bill ran his arm into the bag that had been cached in the tree, and which had been the cause of all of Jamie's trouble, and drawing forth a bottle removed the cork and took a long pull from its contents. Making a face as though it did not taste good, he handed it over to Hank, remarking:

"Have a nip, Hank. It'll warm you up and make you feel good. I don't like this cruisin' in the dark."

Hank accepted the bottle and after drinking from it returned it to the bag. Then each drew a pipe and a plug of black tobacco from his pocket, and cutting some of the tobacco with the knife rolled it between the palms of his hands, stuffed it into his pipe and lighted it with a brand from the fire. For several minutes they sat and smoked in silence.

In the meantime Jamie sat timidly upon the boughs next the man Bill. As the fire blazed, the chill of the storm and night was driven out, and a cozy, comfortable warmth filled the lean-to. Jamie's eyes became heavy, and in spite of his unhappy position he dozed.

"See here," said the man, "you may's well sleep, but I ain't goin' to take any chances on you. I'm goin' to tie you so's you won't be givin' us the slip."

"Oh, leave the kid be, Bill! He's all right!" the other man objected.

"I ain't takin' chances," growled Bill. "I'm goin' to have some say about it, too."

He fumbled in his pocket, and drawing forth some stout twine proceeded to tie Jamie's hands securely behind his back. Then he tied Jamie's feet, and gave him a push to the rear.

"Now I guess you'll stay with us all right," he grinned.

"Aw, leave the kid be! What you want to tie him for?" Hank protested. "He can't get away. Better let him go anyhow."

"You leave me be to do what I wants to do and I'll leave you be to do what you wants to," growled Bill. "I'm goin' to keep this kid fast. This is my business."

"I don't know as it's all your business," snapped Hank. "I'm mixed up in it too, seems to me."

"Well, I caught the kid, and I'm goin' to have my say about what I do with him," Bill retorted. "I ain't goin' to let him make trouble for us, not if I knows what I'm about."

Hank made no reply, but puffed silently at his pipe.

Jamie was wide awake again. This man Bill meant some evil, and the little lad wondered vaguely what it could be that was to be done to himself, and what his fate was to be. He was vastly uncomfortable, too, with his hands tied behind his back, though he was glad enough to be permitted to lie down. He could scarcely keep the tears back, as he thought of the happy time in camp that had been planned, of the snug tent where he was to have slept with Doctor Joe, and of his own warm bed at home, and he wondered whether he would ever see The Jug again.

"The boss'll be sore at us, Hank, if we ain't back to camp to-morrow," remarked Bill presently, breaking the silence. "He can be sore though if he wants to. He can't fire us fellers for bein' away even if he does get sore and cuss us out. He needs us bad, and he can't get any more men now. I don't m

ind his cussin'. Cussin' don't hurt a feller."

"If the wind don't get worse and the snow lets up some so we can make out our way we better go back though as soon as it's light enough in the mornin'," answered Hank. "I wish I was out'n this business anyhow."

"We can get across the Bay even if it does snow some in the mornin', long's there ain't too much sea," said Bill. "I'm for gettin' away from here too. We've got the swag all right and nobody'll know about it, if we don't let this kid loose to blab. It was lucky we caught this feller before he found it, but he heard too much."

"What you goin' to do with him, Bill?"

"Croak him. I ain't goin' to take chances with him. It ain't my way to take chances I don't have to take."

"You better not do any croakin', Bill. I won't stand for that. I'm tough, and I've done plenty of tough things in my day, but I never croaked a little kid like him, and I won't stand for it."

"Don't you go and get soft now. 'Tain't any worse to croak a kid than a man. You'd croak a man if you had to, and this is a time when we've got to do it to save ourselves."

"Well, I won't stand for it while I'm sober, and I'm sober now even if I have had a drink or two." Hank reached for a firebrand with which to relight his pipe.

"Well, you've got to stand for this. I'm mixed up in it just as much as you be, and I'm goin' to have some say. I ain't goin' to take chances on him goin' back to his gang and givin' us away."

"How you goin' to do it?"

"Take him along in the boat and drop him overboard. That's the easiest way. There ain't much chance of anybody findin' him, and if they do they'll just think he got drowned some way hisself. Dead folks don't talk."

"That's somethin' I won't stand for! You can't go droppin' anybody overboard while I'm in the boat! Not if I know it!"

"What you goin' to do, play the sucker?" Bill turned angrily toward his companion. "Maybe you'll go and peach!"

"Don't you call me a sucker! Don't you say I'm a peacher!" Hank rose to his feet and faced Bill menacingly.

For a moment Jamie thought the men were going to fight, but Bill remained seated and his manner suddenly changed. Jamie thought he acted as though he were afraid.

"See here, Hank," Bill's voice was modified and conciliatory. "I ain't callin' you a sucker, and I ain't sayin' you'll peach. What's the use of us fellers fightin' about it? We're in this together and we're pardners. We've got to hang together. What's the use of us fallin' out?"

"I'm willin' to hang together but I won't be called a sucker or peacher by anybody, and I ain't goin' to stand for any croakin' neither while I've got a gun! Hear me?"

"What we goin' to do about this here kid then? We can't let him go. He'll up and run back and blab. He's heard too much about our business. We don't want to go huntin' trouble, do we? Well, we'll be huntin' trouble if we let him go. He knows too much and he knows all about who we be too."

"What does he know, now? He don't know anything except what you've gone and blabbed yourself. We just caught him tryin' to swipe our cache. The stuff is our'n. 'Tain't his'n. Our stuff is our'n, ain't it? What can he blab about? That's what I want to know!"

"He'll go and tell folks we've got this here swag from the ship, and it'll go to the boss. That's what he knows, and that's what he'll blab."

"Well, what we've got is our'n. He can't prove we've got that there swag, and we'll hide it where the boss can't find it. He hain't seen any swag around, has he? He can't say he has neither, and he won't. He just thought maybe we had that there fox skin. What's that got to do with us? We don't care what he thinks, and what he thinks won't hurt us as I knows of. What we've got and what we ain't got don't make any difference to these fellers. What they don't know won't hurt 'em. It ain't theirs, and nobody better go meddlin' in what I has and does. Let that there kid go now, Bill, and get him off'n our hands."

"You just leave him to me, Hank. I ain't goin' to let him go and blab, I say, and get both of us in a hole. I've got some say, hain't I, Hank?"

"Well, don't do any croakin' when I'm around to see, that's all I've got to say. He's your'n to do the way you want to with. I won't have any finger in it. It's your job, it ain't mine."

"Well, I'll do the croakin' some other way. You needn't have anything to do about it if you're afraid. I'll do it all by myself."

"Afraid or no afraid I ain't goin' to be mixed up in any croakin', and that ends it as far as I go."

Hank knocked the ashes from his pipe, refilled it from the black plug, and lifting a red hot coal from the fire placed it upon the bowl, and puffed for a moment. When the tobacco was glowing to his satisfaction, he flicked the coal back into the fire, and sat silently smoking.

Jamie, lying quiet, had listened to the conversation of the two men. He was wide awake now. He did not understand the significance of "croaking," but the word had an ominous sound. It referred to something the man called Bill wished to do to him and something to which the man called Hank objected. He understood, however, the threat to throw him into the Bay. The fellow Bill wished to do this while Hank was determined to prevent it.

Instinctively Jamie felt that Hank was only defending him in order to protect himself. He had no personal interest in him, but did not propose to be involved in any trouble that might arise through some action that Bill wished to take. He was glad when, finally, it appeared settled that he was not to be thrown into the sea.

Bill arose and replenished the fire, and following Hank's example refilled and lighted his pipe, then reseated himself.

Neither of the men spoke. Beyond their great hulking figures the fire gleamed and sent a circle of radiance. Beyond the circle the forest lay as black as a tomb. The snow fell steadily, and the wind sighed and moaned ominously through the tree tops.

What were Doctor Joe and the lads doing? Were they searching for him through the blackness of the night and the storm? If he had only followed Doctor Joe's instructions and returned to camp in season! Would these men kill him? Would he ever see the dear old home at The Jug again?

With these thoughts flashing through his mind Jamie prayed a silent little prayer:

"Dear Lord, don't let un kill me! Take me back to The Jug again!"

Many times he repeated this to himself. Then there came to him something Thomas had once said when the mist was clouding his eyes:

"Have plenty o' grit, lad, and a stout heart like a man."

This comforted and strengthened him, and, like the prayer, he repeated it over and over again to himself as he lay watching the silent men. For a long time he watched them and the fire beyond, and the falling snow and the black wall of the forest. Finally tired nature came to his relief. His eyes closed and he fell into a troubled sleep.

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