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   Chapter 15 THE RIFT IN THE ROCK

The Radio Detectives By A. Hyatt Verrill Characters: 14246

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The brothers were in the habit of waking early, but it had been nearly dawn when they lay down, and, in the shadow of the trees, they slept until the sun was well started on his day's journey. When they did wake, Hugh's first glance was towards the land across the water.

There was no mistaking that high towering shore, steep rocks at the base, richly forest clad above. It was the same shore he had seen weeks before, the first time dimly through fog and snow, again clear cut and distinct, when he and Baptiste had rowed Captain Bennett out of the bay, and yet a third time from the deck of the Otter as she sailed away towards Thunder Cape.

"We have come aright, Blaise," said Hugh with satisfaction. "That is the place we seek, and it can't be more than a mile away. Do you see that spot where the trees come to the water, that tiny break in the rocks? It is a little cove with a bit of beach, and in that stretch of rocks to the left is the crack where the old boat lies. I'm sure of the spot, because from the Otter, when we were leaving, I noticed the bare rock pillars of that highest ridge away up there, like the wall of a fort among the trees. It doesn't show quite so plainly now the birches are in leaf, but I'm sure it is the same. There are two little coves almost directly below that pillared rock wall, and the cliff is a little farther to the left. Oh, but I am hungry," he added. "We must have a good breakfast before we start across."

Over the short stretch of water that separated the low point from the high shore, the bateau sailed before the brisk wind. The stretch of gray, pillared rock, like the wall of a fortress, high up among the greenery, served as a guide. As the boat drew nearer, the twin coves, shallow depressions in the shore line separated by a projecting mass of rock, came clear to view.

"Steer for the cliff just beyond the left hand cove," Hugh ordered. "We'll run in close and then turn."

Blaise obediently steered straight for the mass of rock with the vertical fissures, as if his purpose were to dash the boat against the cliff. As they drew close, Hugh gave a shout.

The crack had come into view, a black rift running at an angle into the cliff. As the boat swung about to avoid going on the rocks, the younger boy's quick eye caught a glimpse, in that dark fissure, of the end of a bateau. To give him that glimpse, Hugh had taken a chance of wrecking their own boat. Now he was obliged to act quickly, lowering the sail and seizing a paddle.

In the trough of the waves, they skirted, close in, the steep, rugged rocks. Almost hidden by a short point was the bit of beach at the end of the first of the twin coves. With a dexterous twist of the paddles, the boys turned their boat and ran up on the beach. Landing with so much force would have ground the bottom out of a birch canoe, but the heavy planks of the bateau would stand far worse battering.

The appearance of the cove had changed greatly since that day when Hugh and Baptiste had rowed past. Then the bushes, birches and mountain ash trees that ringed the pebbles had been bare limbed. Now, with June more than two-thirds gone, they were all in full leaf. Big clusters of buds among the graceful foliage of the mountain ashes were almost ready to open into handsome flowers. The high-bush cranberries bore white blossoms here and there, and the ninebark bushes were covered with masses of pinkish buds. Though Hugh's mind was on the wreck, his eyes took note of the almost incredible difference a few weeks had made. His nose sniffed with appreciation the spicy smell of the fresh, growing tips of the balsams, mingled with the heliotrope-like odor of the tiny twin-flowers blooming in the woods. He did not let enjoyment of these things delay him, however.

"Now," he cried, when he and Blaise had pulled up the boat, "we must get into that crack. We can't reach it from the water in this wind. Perhaps we can climb down from the top."

Up a steep rock slope, dotted with fresh green moss, shiny leaved bearberry, spreading masses of juniper and a few evergreen trees growing in the depressions, he hastened with Blaise close behind. Along the top of the cliff they made their way until they reached the rift. Though the sides of the crack were almost vertical, trees and bushes grew wherever they could anchor a root. Through branches and foliage, the boys could get no view of the old boat at the bottom.

"We must climb down," said Hugh.

"It will be difficult," Blaise replied doubtfully. "To do it we must cling to the roots and branches. Those trees have little soil to grow in. Our weight may pull them over."

"We must get down some way," Hugh insisted. "We shall have to take our chances."

"The wind and waves will calm. We have but to wait and enter from the water."

Hugh had not the Indian patience. "The wind is not going down, it is coming up," he protested. "It may blow for a week. I didn't come here to wait for calm weather. I'm going down some way."

He wriggled between the lower branches of a spruce growing on the very verge of the crack and let himself down a vertical wall, feeling with his toes for a support. Carefully he rested his weight on the slanting stem of a stunted cedar growing in a niche. It held him. Clinging with fingers and moccasined feet to every projection of rock and each branch, stem or root that promised to hold him, he worked his way down. He heeded his younger brother's warning in so far as to test every support before trusting himself to it. But in spite of his care, a bit of projecting rock crumbled under his feet. His weight was thrown upon a root he had laid hold of. The root seemed to be firmly anchored, but it pulled loose, and Hugh went sliding down right into the old boat. The ice, which had filled the wreck when he first saw it, had melted. The bateau was more than half full of water, into which he plumped, splashing it all over him. He was not hurt, however, only wet and shaken up a bit.

Blaise had already begun to follow his elder brother into the cleft, when he heard Hugh crash down. Halfway over the edge, the younger boy paused for a moment. Then Hugh's shout came up to him. "All right, but be careful," the elder brother cautioned.

Light and very agile, the younger lad had better luck, landing nimbly on his feet on the cross plank of the old boat. It was the vermilion painted thwart that had held the mast. Eagerly both lads bent over it to make out, in the dim light, the black figures on the red ground.

"It is our father's sign," Blaise said quietly, "our father's sign, just as I have seen it many times. This was his bateau, but whether it was wrecked here or elsewhere we cannot tell."

"I believe it was wrecked here," Hugh asserted. "See how the end is splintered. This boat was driven upon these very rocks where it now lies, the prow smashed and rents ripped in the bottom and one side. But it is empty. We must seek some sign to guide us to the furs. We need more light."

"I will make a torch. Wait but a moment."

Blaise straightened up, hooked his fingers ov

er the edge of a narrow, rock shelf, swung himself up, and ascended the rest of the way as nimbly as a squirrel. In a few minutes he came scrambling down again, holding in one hand a roughly made torch, resinous twigs bound together with a bit of bearberry vine. With sparks from his flint and steel, he lighted the balsam torch. It did not give a very bright light, but it enabled the boys to examine the old bateau closely. The only mark they could find that might have been intended as a guide was a groove across the fore thwart. At one end of the groove short lines had been cut diagonally to form an arrow point.

"The cache, if it is on the island, must be sought that way," said Blaise.

"The arrow surely points up the crack. We'll follow it."

The smashed bow of the boat was firmly lodged among the fragments of rock upon which it had been driven. Over those fragments, up a steep slope, the boys picked their way for a few yards, until the walls drew together, the fissure narrowing to a mere slit. By throwing the light of the torch into the slit and reaching in arm's length, Hugh satisfied himself that there were no furs there. Nevertheless the arrow pointed in that direction. He looked about him. The left hand wall was almost perpendicular, solid rock apparently, with only an occasional vertical crack or shallow niche where some hardy bit of greenery clung. But from the right wall several blocks had fallen out. On one of those blocks Hugh was standing. He held the torch up at arm's length.

"There's a hole up there. Such a place would make a good cache."

"Let me up on your shoulders," Blaise proposed, "and I will look in."

Sitting on Hugh's shoulders, Blaise threw the light of the torch into the hole. Then he reached in his arm. "There are no furs here," he said.

Hugh had been almost certain he had found the cache. He was keenly disappointed. "Are you sure?" he cried.

"Yes. It is a small place, just a hole in the rock. Let me down."

"There are no furs there," Blaise repeated, when he had jumped down from Hugh's shoulders. "But something I found." He held out a short piece of rawhide cord.

Hugh stared at the cord, then at his half-brother. "You were not the first to visit that hole then. What is the meaning of this?" He took the bit of rawhide in his fingers.

"I think it means that the furs have been there, but have been taken away," was the younger lad's slow reply. "It is a piece from the thong that bound a bale of furs. That is what I think."

"Someone has found the cache and taken away the pelts."

"I fear it," agreed Blaise. Though he spoke quietly, his disappointment was as strong as Hugh's.

"That someone is probably one of the Old Company's men. Then the furs are lost to us indeed. Yet we do not know. How did anyone learn of the cache? It may have been Black Thunder of course, but then what was the meaning of the blood-stained shirt? No, we don't know, Blaise. Our furs may be gone for good, but we can't be sure. Father may have put them in there out of reach of the storm and later moved them to some other place, or they may never have been in that hole at all. Some animal may have carried that bit of rawhide there."

Blaise shook his head. "What animal could go up there?"

"A squirrel perhaps, or a bird, a gull. Anyway we can't give up the search yet, just because we have found a bit of rawhide in a hole in the rocks. That would be folly. Perhaps the arrow points up the rift to some spot above. We can't climb up here. We must go back."

The two returned to the wreck and climbed up the way they had come down. Hugh again in the lead, they followed along the top of the rift to its head. There they sought earnestly for some sign that might lead them to the cache, but found none. When at sunset they gave up the search for that day, their fear that the furs had been stolen from the hole in the rock had grown near to a certainty. Well-nigh discouraged, they went back to the beach in the shallow cove where they had left their boat.

"Why is it, Blaise," Hugh asked, as they sat by the fire waiting for the kettle to boil, "that no Indians dwell on this big island? It is a beautiful place and there must be game and furs for the hunting."

Blaise gave his characteristic French shrug. "I know not if there is much game, and Minong is far from the mainland. I have heard that there is great store of copper in the rocks. The Ojibwas say that the island was made by the giant Kepoochikan. Once upon a time the fish quarrelled with Kepoochikan and tried to drown him by making a great flood. But he built a big floating island and made it rich with copper and there he took his family and all the kinds of birds and beasts there are. When the water, which had spread over the whole earth, stopped rising, he told a gull to dive down to the bottom and bring up some mud. The gull could not dive so far, but drowned before he reached the bottom. Then Kepoochikan sent a beaver. The beaver came up almost drowned, but with a ball of mud clutched tight in his hands. Kepoochikan took the mud and made a new earth, but he kept the island Minong for his home. After many years there was another giant, the great Nanibozho, who was chief of all the Indians on the new land Kepoochikan had made. Nanibozho is a good manito and Kepoochikan a bad one. They went to war, and Nanibozho threw a great boulder from the mainland across at Kepoochikan and conquered him. The boulder is here on Minong yet they say. Since then Nanibozho has guarded the copper of Minong, though some say his real dwelling place is on Thunder Cape. Off the shore and in the channels of Minong he has set sharp rocks to destroy the canoes that approach the island, and he has many spirits to help him guard the treasure."

"That is only a tale, of course," said Hugh somewhat disdainfully. "We of the ship Otter camped here several days and we saw or heard no spirits. We found nothing to fear."

"You sought no copper," was the retort. "It is said that sometimes Kepoochikan and Nanibozho fight together on the rocks and hurl great boulders about. Strange tales there are too of the thick forest, of the little lakes and bays. There is one place called the Bay of Manitos, where, so I have heard, dwell giant Windigos and great serpents and huge birds and spirits that mock the lonely traveller with shouts and threats and laughter."

"Surely you do not believe such tales, Blaise," Hugh protested, "or fear such spirits."

"I know that neither Kepoochikan nor Nanibozho made the world," the younger boy replied seriously. "My father and the priests taught me that the good God made the world. But whether the tales of giants and spirits are true, I know not. That I do not fear them I have proved by coming here with you."

To that remark Hugh had no answer. To believe or be inclined to believe such tales and yet to come to the enchanted island, to come with only one companion, surely proved his half-brother's courage. Indeed the older boy had no thought of questioning the younger's bravery. He had come to know Blaise too well.

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