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The Radio Detectives By A. Hyatt Verrill Characters: 13991

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Hastily Hugh thrust the unopened packet into the breast of his deerskin tunic, and looked up apprehensively at the border of green about the rim of the pit. The man who had shouted could not be far away. There might be others even nearer. If anyone should push through that protecting fringe of growth, he would be looking directly down on the two lads. The bales would be in plain view.

Hugh thought quickly. "We must conceal the furs again, Blaise," he whispered, "until we can find some way to get them to the boat."

Blaise nodded. "We will take them away at night."

Rapidly and with many an apprehensive glance upward, the two replaced the bales on the platform of poles, covered the heap with the cedar boughs and built up the stones around and over the whole. They were in too great haste to do as careful a piece of work as Jean Beaupré had done. Their rock pile would scarcely have stood close scrutiny without betraying something suspicious. From above, however, its appearance was innocent enough, and no chance comer would be likely to descend into the hole.

Squeezing through the narrow slit, the brothers examined the cleft that ran down in a steep incline of rock fragments to the water. The simplest plan would be to bring the boat in there. With strangers likely to appear at any moment, it would be best to wait until nightfall. The two decided to return to the cove where they had camped, and wait for darkness.

Back through the fissure and over the low ground behind the shore ridge, they made their way cautiously, silently. They went slowly, taking pains to efface any noticeable tracks or signs of their passage, and watching and listening alertly for any sight or sound of human beings. A rustling in the bushes caused both to stand motionless until they caught sight of the cause, a little, bright-eyed squirrel or a gray-brown snowshoe rabbit with long ears and big hind feet. Both boys would have liked that fresh meat for the dinner pot, but they had no wish to attract attention by a shot.

When they reached the top of the cliff, they found that the fog had entirely disappeared, driven away by a light breeze. As they went down the steep, open slope to the little beach, they knew themselves to be exposed to the view of anyone who might happen to be looking out from the woods bordering the cove. Anxiously they scanned woods, rocks and lake, but saw no sign of any human being. Not a living creature but a fish duck peacefully riding the water was to be seen. The boat and supplies were undisturbed.

The boys stayed quietly in the cove during the remaining hours of daylight. The beach was partially hidden from the water by the end of the shore ridge, and screened on the land side by the dense growth of trees and bushes bordering the pebbles. Beyond the beach was a vertical rock cliff sheer to the water from its forested summit. Then came another short stretch of pebbles bounded by a low rock wall and protected by the jutting mass of rock, only scantily wooded, that formed the dividing line between the twin coves. To anyone standing over there or among the trees at the edge of the high central cliff, the boys and their boat would have been in plain sight. The shot Blaise had heard in the early dawn had come from somewhere above that cliff, but it was not likely that the man who had fired that shot was still there. Doubtless he had been hunting. At any rate the lads had no better place to wait for darkness to come. They were at least far enough from the pit so their discovery by wandering Indians or white hunters need not lead to the finding of the furs. As the day wore on, the brothers cast many an anxious glance around the shores of the cove. They were startled whenever a squirrel chattered, a woodpecker tapped loudly on a branch, or two tree trunks rubbed against one another, swayed by a stronger gust of wind.

As their food was ill adapted to being eaten raw, they permitted themselves a small cooking fire, taking care to use only thoroughly dry wood and to keep a clear flame with as little smoke as possible. After the kettle had been swung over the fire, Hugh drew from his breast the packet and examined the outside carefully. The wrapping was of oiled fish-skin tied securely.

"Shall we open it, Blaise?" he asked again.

The younger boy cast a quick glance about him, at the rock slope they had descended, the dense bushes beyond the pebbles, the forest rim along the summit of the high central cliff, the rough, wave-eaten rock mass across the cove. Then his eyes returned to his companion's face and he nodded silently.

Curious though he was, Hugh was deliberate in opening the mysterious packet. He untied the cord and removed the outer cover carefully not to tear it. Within the oiled skin wrapper was still another of the finest, whitest, softest doeskin, tied with the same sort of bark cord. The cord had been passed through holes in a square of paper-thin birch bark. On the bark label was written in the same faint, muddy brown ink Blaise had used:

"To be delivered to M. René Dubois, At Montreal.

Of great importance."

Hugh turned over the packet. It was sealed, like the outer wrapper, with drops of pitch upon which Jean Beaupré's seal had been pressed. For several minutes the boy sat considering what he ought to do. Then he looked up at his half-brother's equally grave face.

"I don't like to open this," Hugh said. "It is addressed to M. René Dubois of Montreal and it is sealed. I think father intended me to take it to Monsieur Dubois with the seals unbroken. Doubtless he will open it in my presence and tell me what it contains."

Blaise nodded understandingly. He had lived long enough in civilization to realize the seriousness of breaking the seals of a packet addressed to someone else. "That Monsieur Dubois, do you know him?" he inquired.

"No, I didn't know my father had any friends in Montreal. He never lived there, you know. His old home was in Quebec, where I was born. I don't remember that I ever heard of Monsieur René Dubois, but my relatives in Montreal may know him. Probably I can find him. If I can't, then I think it would be right to open this packet, but not until I have tried. Shall I take charge of this, Blaise?"

"You are the elder and our father said you must take the packet to Montreal."

To the impatient Hugh the wait until the sun descended beyond the woods of the low point across the water seemed long indeed. He found it hard to realize that only two nights before he and Blaise had reached the point and had tied up there. They had surely been lucky to find the cache of furs so soon.

Not until the shadows of the shore lay deep upon the water did the lads push off the bateau. They paddled silently out of the little cove and close under the abrupt, riven rocks, taking care not to let a blade splash as it dipped and was withdrawn. The water was rippled by the lightest of breezes, and the moon was bright. The deep

cleft where Jean Beaupré's wrecked boat lay was in black darkness, though. Hugh could not even make out the stern. His mind was busy with thoughts of the father he had known so slightly, with speculations about his coming to the island, about the way he had left it. Through what treachery had he received his death blow?

Another rift in the rock was passed before the boys reached a wider, shallower cleft they felt sure was the one leading to the cache. Cautiously they turned into the dark mouth of the fissure and grounded the boat on the pebbles, water-worn and rounded here where the waves reached them. Overhead the moonlight filtered down among the thick sprays of the stunted cedars that grew along the rim and even down into the crack. But the darkness at the bottom was so deep the brothers could proceed only by feeling their way with both hands and feet. In this manner they went up over pebbles and angular rock fragments to the narrow slit in the wall, and squeezed through in pitch blackness to the circular hollow.

There was moonlight in the pit, but the cache, close under the rock wall, was in the shadow. So difficult did the boys find it to remove the stones in the darkness, that they decided to risk lighting a torch. During the afternoon Blaise had made a couple of torches of spruce and balsam. He lighted one now and stuck it in a cranny of the rock just above the heap of stones. By the feeble, flickering and smoky light, the cache was uncovered. Pushing and hauling the bales through the narrow crack was difficult and troublesome. The larger ones would not go through, and had to be unwrapped and reduced to smaller parcels. Even by the dim light of the torch, the boys could see that the furs were of excellent quality. Before loading, the bateau had to be pushed out a little way, Blaise standing in the water to hold it while Hugh piled in the bales. Then both climbed in and paddled quietly out of the crack.

There was not breeze enough for sailing. Hugh and Blaise were anxious to get away from the spot where they had found the furs and had heard the shout, but paddling the heavily laden bateau was slow work. Without a breeze to fill the sail, they were loth to start across the open lake, so they kept on along shore to the northeast. When they had put a mile or more between themselves and the place where they had found the furs, they would camp and wait for sunrise and a breeze.

Slowly and laboriously they paddled on, close to the high shore. The calm, moonlit water stretched away on their left. The dark, forest-crowned rocks, huge, worn and seamed pillars, towered forbiddingly on the other side. At last the wider view of the water ahead and the barrenness of the tumbled rocks to the right indicated that they were reaching the end of the shore along which they had been travelling.

"We'll land now," said Hugh, "as soon as we can find a place."

The abrupt, truncated pillars of rock were not so high here, but were bordered at the water's edge with broken blocks and great boulders, affording little chance of a landing place. By paddling close in, however, slowly and cautiously to avoid disaster, the boys discovered a niche between two blocks of rock, with water deep enough to permit running the boat in. There they climbed out on the rock and secured the bateau by a couple of turns of the rope around a smaller block. In rough weather such a landing would have been impossible, but on this still night there was no danger of the bateau bumping upon the rocks. Farther along Blaise found a spot where the solid rock shelved down gradually. Rolling themselves in their blankets, the brothers stretched out on the hard bed.

The plaintive crying of gulls waked Hugh just as the sun was coming up from the water, a great red ball in the morning mist. "I don't like this place," he said as he sat up. "We can be seen plainly from the lake."

"Yes," Blaise agreed, "but we can see far across the lake. If a boat comes, we shall see it while it is yet a long way off. I think we need not fear anything from that direction. No, the only way an enemy can draw near unseen is from the land, from the woods farther back there."

"The water is absolutely still," Hugh went on. "There isn't a capful of wind to fill our sail, and we can't paddle this loaded boat clear across to the mainland. We must find a better place than this, though, to wait for a breeze. I am going to look around a bit."

The lads soon found that they were near the end of a point, a worn, wave-eaten, rock point, bare except for a few scraggly bushes, clumps of dwarfed white cedar and such mosses and lichens as could cling to the surface. Farther back were woods, mostly evergreen. The two felt that they must find a spot where they could wait for a wind without being visible from the woods. Yet they wanted to remain where they could watch the weather and get away at the first opportunity. At the very tip of the point, the slate-gray rocks were abrupt, slightly overhanging indeed, but in one spot there lay exposed at the base a few feet of low, shelving, wave-smoothed shore, which must be under water in rough weather. On this calm day the lower rock shore was dry. There, in the shelter of the overhanging masses, the boys would be entirely concealed from the land side. A little farther along on the end of the point, rose an abrupt, rounded tower of rock. Between the rock tower and the place they had selected for themselves was a narrow inlet where the bateau would be fairly well hidden. They shoved the boat out from between the boulders, where it had lain safe while they slept, and paddled around to the little inlet. On the wave-smoothed, low rock shore, they kindled a tiny fire of dry sticks gathered at the edge of the woods, and hung the kettle from a pole slanted over the flames from a cranny in the steep rock at the rear.

The wind did not come up as the sun rose higher, as the lads had hoped it would. The delay was trying, especially to the impetuous Hugh. They had found the cache, secured the furs and the packet, and had got safely away with them, only to be stuck here on the end of this point for hours of idle waiting. Yet even Hugh did not want to start across the lake under the present conditions. Paddling the bateau had been laborious enough when it was empty, but now, laden almost to the water-line, the boat was far worse to handle. Propelling it was not merely hard work, but progress would be so slow that the journey across to the mainland would be a long one, with always the chance that the wind, when it did come, might blow from the wrong quarter. The bateau would not sail against the wind. To attempt to paddle it against wind and waves would invite disaster. Sailing the clumsy craft, heavy laden as it was, across the open water with a fair wind would be quite perilous enough. There was nothing to do but wait, and this seemed as good a place in which to wait as any they were likely to find.

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