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   Chapter 19 SEARCHING THE WHITE WILDERNESS

Troop One of the Labrador By Dillon Wallace Characters: 11235

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Nearly three hours passed before Doctor Joe and David returned to camp, disheartened and thoroughly alarmed, to report that they had found no trace of Jamie. In the thick-falling snow and darkness they had been forced to relinquish the search until daylight should come to their assistance.

Andy and the boys were dazed. It could hardly be comprehended or credited that Jamie was, indeed, lost. They ate their belated supper in silence, half expecting that he would, after all, come walking in upon them. Doctor Joe was grave and preoccupied. Several times, now he, now David, went out into the night to stand and listen in the storm, but all they heard was the wail of wind in the tree tops.

At last, with heavy hearts, they went to bed, upon Doctor Joe's advice. Andy asked that he might pass the night in the tent with Doctor Joe and David, and so it was arranged. Neither Andy nor David, more worried than they had ever been in all their lives before, felt in the least like sleep. Doctor Joe did not lie down with them. For a long while the two lads lay awake and watched him crouching before the stove smoking his pipe, his face grave and thoughtful. He had spoken no word of encouragement, and the lads knew that he was troubled beyond expression.

The wind was rising. In sudden gusts of anger it dashed the snow against the tent in swirling blasts, and moaned dismally through the tree tops. The crackling fire in the stove, usually so cheerful, only served now to increase their sorrow. It offered warmth and comfort and protection from the night and cold and drifting snow, which Jamie, if he had not perished, was denied. They could only think of him as wandering and suffering in the cold and darkness, hungry and miserable, and they condemned themselves.

When sleep finally carried the lads into unconsciousness, Doctor Joe's tall figure was still crouching before the stove, and when they awoke he was already up and had kindled a fresh fire in the stove, though it was not yet day, and the tent was lighted by the flickering flame of a candle.

"'Twill be daylight by the time we've finished breakfast," said Doctor Joe as the lads sat up. "It's snowing harder than ever, but I think we had better go out as soon as we can see and have a look up the brook. Jamie may not be so far away. We may find him bivouacked quite close to camp. The snow is getting deep and we shall not find travelling easy."

"We'll be lookin' the best we can, whatever," agreed David. "I couldn't bide in the tent with Jamie gone. I'm wakin' with a wonderful heavy heart. I'm findin' it hard to believe he's not about camp, and I were just dreamin' about he bein' lost."

"That's the way I feels too," said Andy. "I wakes feelin' most like I'd have to cry. Can't I be goin' with you and Davy? I never can bide here whilst you're away, Doctor Joe."

"Yes, we three will go and we'll take some of the other lads with us, though we'll have to leave somebody in camp to keep the fire going," agreed Doctor Joe. "We'll need warm tents when we come back, if we bring Jamie with us, and I hope we'll find him none the worse for his night out."

"'Tisn't like 'twere winter," suggested David hopefully. "'Tisn't so cold, if he were havin' matches to put on a fire, but I'm doubtin' he has matches."

"Let us hope he had. Andy, suppose you call the others," suggested Doctor Joe. "Breakfast is nearly ready."

Andy was already dressed, and hurrying out he presently returned with the other lads. Breakfast of venison and bread with hot tea was hurriedly eaten, while they put forth all sorts of theories as to the cause of Jamie's disappearance and the possibilities of finding him.

"I'm thinkin' now," said David with a more hopeful view as daylight began to filter through the tent, "that Jamie'll be knowin' how to fix a shelter, and that we'll be findin' he safe and that he'll be just losin' his way a bit in the storm. If he has matches he'll sure be puttin' a fire on."

"I'm doubtin' he has the matches," suggested Andy discouragingly. "He weren't thinkin' to be away from camp and he weren't takin' any. He were never on the trails, and he'd sure be forgettin' to take un."

"Let us hope he has them," Doctor Joe encouraged. "If he has matches I'm sure he'll be safe enough."

"'Twere my fault he were gettin' lost," said Seth. "He'd never been gettin' lost if I'd only kept he in sight the way you said to do."

"No," objected Doctor Joe, "we'll not say it was anybody's fault."

Presently they were ready. Seth and Micah were detailed to remain in camp, and the others set forth, David and Doctor Joe carrying their rifles.

In much the same manner as that adopted in the search for the rock the previous day, Doctor Joe and the boys spread out on the left, or westward, side of the brook. Now, however, they were much closer together, because they could see so short a distance through the snow. Walking was much harder, and their progress correspondingly slower.

Thus they continued to the farthest point reached before turning back the previous day, David or Doctor Joe now and again firing shots from their rifles. Then they turned back, making the return just to the westward of the trail made by Doctor Joe, who was on the left flank as they passed up the brook.

"There's a rock! There's a big rock!" shouted David, as the rock where Jamie had begun his search for the cache loomed high through the snow.

Every one ran to the rock, and as they gathered by its side, Andy exclaimed:

"I knows now what Jamie does! He were near enough to see the rock! He were the last

one beyond Seth, and he finds un and he goes huntin' the cache by himself, and it gets dark and he gets lost when the snow comes!"

"That sounds reasonable," admitted Doctor Joe. "I shouldn't be the least surprised if you were right! It's more than probable that's just what happened! The thing now is to find the direction Jamie probably took from here, and the snow has covered all trace of him."

"With his trail all covered, there'll be no trackin' he. What'll we do about un?" asked David. "'Tis hard to think out what way Jamie'd be like to go from here."

"Let's try goin' the way the paper said the cache was," suggested Andy. "Maybe Jamie finds un in the tree and climbs the tree and falls and hurts himself."

"Andy is right," agreed Doctor Joe. "It is quite likely he used his copy of the directions to find the cache, and that he went in the direction specified. We'll do the same."

It did not take them long to find the hackmatack tree, and in doing so they stumbled upon the pile of rocks Jamie had built up for a compass rest. It was covered with snow, but was high enough to be discernible, and a careful clearing of the snow discovered the fact that the stones had been recently piled.

"They may have been piled by the man who made the cache," suggested Doctor Joe.

"He'd never been doin' that!" objected David. "'Twould make the tree too easy to find. I'm thinkin' 'twere Jamie piles un."

"What would Jamie be pilin' the stones for now?" asked Lige sceptically. "He'd not be takin' time to go pilin' up stones that way."

"He piles un to pilot us when we comes huntin' he," suggested David.

They took the next direction, and in due time discovered the round rock, the top of which they likewise cleared of snow that they might make quite certain it was the rock for which they were searching. Then, in due time, Jamie's second pile of rocks and finally the birch tree were located.

At the birch tree all clues were lost. Vainly they circled the surrounding country, firing rifles occasionally until they came to the edge of the marsh.

"We'd never be findin' he on the mesh, if he gets out there," suggested David.

"No," agreed Doctor Joe, "and there's no reason to suppose that he crossed it to the other side."

"That's what I thinks," said David. "He's somewheres this side of the mesh. He'd never cross un. He'd be knowin' there's no mesh between here and camp."

"He'd know 'twere not the way to camp," declared Andy. "Jamie'd never be forgettin' that he crosses no mesh comin' from camp however turned about he is. He'd never be so turned about as that."

"We'll search all the country, then, between this marsh and the brook," suggested Doctor Joe.

They could not know that Jamie, on the opposite side of the marsh, was at that moment in a snug shelter, and had been listening to their rifle shots, and supposing them to be the breaking of dead branches in the wind. Jamie was too small and too inexperienced to face and weather the storm on the marsh, unassisted, but Doctor Joe or David or even Andy might have crossed it. How often it happens that an obstacle that might be surmounted turns us back at the very door of success!

Wearily they trailed back through the woods, and up and down until darkness finally forced them to return to camp unsuccessful and heavy hearted. The younger lads were almost too weary to drag their feet behind them. They had eaten nothing since their early breakfast, but Seth and Micah, anxiously watching and hoping, had a hot supper of fried venison and bread and tea ready, and as soon as they had finished their meal, Doctor Joe directed that they go to bed and rest.

Long before daybreak Doctor Joe was stirring. He lighted the fire, and when the kettle boiled roused David. Breakfast was ready when Andy awoke.

"Is you startin' so early?" he asked, rubbing his eyes. "'Tis wonderful early. We can't see to travel till light with snow fallin'."

"Clear and fine outside!" said Doctor Joe, "I'm not satisfied that Jamie didn't cross the marsh. It's likely to be a long hard tramp and David and I are going alone this morning because we can travel faster. If we don't find Jamie by noon we'll come back after you and the other lads. You'll be fresh and rested then for the afternoon's search. We can't give it up till we find Jamie."

"I'd be keepin' up with you," protested Andy.

"If you go we'll have to take some of the others," objected Doctor Joe. "The snow is deep and they'll not be able to travel as fast as we shall. Let us go alone and if we need you we'll come for you."

And so it was arranged.

Presently David and Doctor Joe set forth in the frosty starlit morning. They turned their steps toward the marsh, and were near its eastern border when David stopped and sniffed the air.

"I smell smoke!" he exclaimed eagerly.

"Are you sure?" asked Doctor Joe, also sniffing. "I don't smell it."

"There's a smell o' smoke!" insisted David. "The wind's from the west'ard, and the smoke comes from over the mesh. There's a fire somewheres over there."

"Your nose is keener than mine," said Doctor Joe hopefully. "Go ahead, Davy. We'll see if you really smell smoke."

David led the way out upon the marsh, and they had gone but a short distance when Doctor Joe was quite sure that he, also, smelled smoke. David hurried on with Doctor Joe at his heels.

"There's somebody movin'!" exclaimed David presently. "See un? See un? 'Tis sure Jamie!"

Then he ran and Doctor Joe ran, and thus they came upon the frightened Jamie, standing uncertainly before his lean-to.

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