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   Chapter 18 THE FLEEING CANOE

The Radio Detectives By A. Hyatt Verrill Characters: 11764

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


As the morning advanced, the sun grew hot, beating down on the water and radiating heat from the rocks. Scarcely a ripple wrinkled the blue surface of the lake, and the distance was hazy and shimmering. An island with steep, straight sides, four or five miles northeast of the point, was plainly visible, but Thunder Cape to the west was so dim it could barely be discerned. The day was much like the one on which the lads had come across from the mainland.

Hugh grew more and more restless. Several times he climbed the only climbable place on the overhanging rock and peeped between the branches of a dwarfed cedar bush. He could see across to the edge of the woods, but he discovered nothing to either interest or alarm him. By the time the sun had passed the zenith, he could stand inaction no longer. He was not merely restless. He had become vaguely uneasy. The boat was hidden from his view by the rocks between. In such a lonely place he would have had no fear for the furs, had it not been for the shot and the call he and Blaise had heard.

"Someone might slip out of the woods and down to the boat without our catching a glimpse of him," Hugh remarked at last. "I'm going over there to see if everything is all right."

To reach the boat, he was obliged to climb to his peeping place and pull himself up the rest of the way, or else go around and across the top of the steep rocks. He chose the latter route. The boat and furs he found unharmed. The only trespasser was a gull that had alighted on one of the bales and was trying with its strong, sharp beak to pick a hole in the wrapping. He frightened the bird away, then stopped to drink from his cupped palm.

A low cry from Blaise startled him. He glanced up just in time to see his brother, who had followed him to the top of the rocks, drop flat. Curiosity getting the better of caution, Hugh sprang up the slope. One glance towards the west, and he followed the younger lad's example and dropped on his face.

"A canoe! They must have seen us."

Cautiously Hugh raised his head for another look. The canoe was some distance away. When he had first glimpsed it, it had been headed towards the point. Now, to his surprise, it was going in the opposite direction, going swiftly, paddles flashing in the sun.

"They have turned about, Blaise. Is it possible they didn't see us?"

"Truly they saw us. My back was that way. I turned my head and there they were. My whole body was in clear view. Then you came, and they must have seen you also. They are running away from us."

"It would seem so indeed, but what do they fear? There are four men in that canoe, and we are but two."

"They know not how many we are. They may have enemies on Minong, though I never heard that any man lived here."

"Something has certainly frightened them away. They are making good speed to the west, towards the mainland."

The boys remained stretched out upon the rock, only their heads raised as they watched the departing canoe.

"They turn to the southwest now," Blaise commented after a time. "They go not to the mainland, but are bound for some other part of Minong."

"They were bound for this point when we first saw them," was Hugh's reply. "We don't know what made them change their minds, but we have cause to be grateful to it whatever--What was that?"

He sprang to his feet and turned quickly.

"Lie down," commanded Blaise. "They will see you."

Hugh, unheeding, plunged down to the bateau. It was undisturbed. Not a living creature was in sight. Yet something rattling down and falling with a splash into the water had startled him. He looked about for an explanation. A fresh scar at the top of the slope showed where a piece of rock had chipped off. Undoubtedly that was what he had heard. His own foot, as he lay outstretched, had dislodged the loose, crumbling flake.

Reminded of caution, Hugh crawled back up the slope instead of going upright. The canoe was still in sight going southwest. Both boys remained lying flat until it had disappeared beyond the low point. Then they returned to the low shore beneath the overhanging rock. For the present at least there seemed to be nothing to be feared from that canoe, but would it return, and where was the man who had fired the shot and later sent that call ringing through the woods? Did he belong with the canoe party? Had he gone away with them, or was he, with companions perhaps, somewhere on the wooded ridges? The boys did not know whether to remain where they were or go somewhere else.

The weather finally brought them to a decision. All day they had hoped for a breeze, but when it came it brought with it threatening gray and white clouds. Rough, dark green patches on the water, that had been so calm all day, denoted the passing of squalls. Thunder began to rumble threateningly, and the gray, streaked sky to the north and west indicated that rain was falling there. The island to the northeast shrank to about half its former height and changed its shape. It grew dimmer and grayer, as the horizon line crept gradually nearer.

"Fog," remarked Blaise briefly.

"It is coming in," Hugh agreed, "and this is not a good place to be caught in a thick fog. Shall we go back into the woods?"

"I think we had best take the bateau and go along the other side of this point. We cannot start for the mainland to-night, and we shall need a sheltered place for our camp."

The fog did not seem to be coming in very rapidly, but by the time the bateau had been shoved off, the island across the water had disappeared. The breeze came in gusts only and was not available for sailing. So the lads were obliged to take up their paddles again.

Beyond the tower-like rock there was a short stretch of shelving shore, followed by abrupt, dark rocks of roughly pillared formation. Then came a gradual slope, rough, seam

ed and uneven of surface. It looked indeed as if composed of pillars, the tops of which had been sliced off with a downward sweep of the giant Kepoochikan's knife. The shore ahead was of a yellowish gray color, as if bleached by the sun, slanting to the water, with trees growing as far down as they could find anchorage and sustenance. These sloping rocks were in marked contrast to those of the opposite side of the point, along which the boys had come the night before, where the cliffs and ridges rose so abruptly from the lake.

After a few minutes of paddling, the brothers found themselves passing along a channel thickly wooded to the water-line. The land on the right was a part of the same long point, but on the left were islands with short stretches of water between, across which still other islands beyond could be seen. The fog, though not so dense in this protected channel as on the open lake, was thickening, and the boys kept a lookout for a camping place.

When an opening on the left revealed what appeared to be a sheltered bay, they turned in. Between two points lay two tiny islets, one so small it could hold but five or six little trees. Paddling between the nearer point and islet, the boys found themselves in another much narrower channel, open to the northeast, but apparently closed in the other direction. Going on between the thickly forested shores,-a dense mass of spruce, balsam, white cedar, birch and mountain ash,-they saw that what they had taken for the end of the bay was in reality an almost round islet so thickly wooded that the shaggy-barked trunks of its big white cedars leaned far out over the water. The explorers rounded the islet to find that the shores beyond did not quite come together, leaving a very narrow opening. Paddling slowly and taking care to avoid the rocks that rose nearly to the surface and left a channel barely wide enough for the bateau to pass through, they entered a little landlocked bay, as secluded and peaceful as an inland pond.

"We couldn't find a better place," said Hugh, looking around the wooded shores with satisfaction, "to wait for the weather to clear. We are well hidden from any canoe that might chance to come along that outer channel."

The little pond was shallow. The boat had to be paddled cautiously to avoid grounding. Below the thick fringe of trees and alders, the prow was run up on the pebbles.

"We might as well leave the furs in the boat," Hugh remarked.

"No." Blaise shook his head emphatically. "We cannot be sure no one will come in here. The furs we can hide. We ourselves can take to the woods, but this heavy bateau we cannot hide."

"I'm not afraid anyone will find us here."

"We thought there was no one on Minong at all. Yet we have heard a shot and a call and have seen a canoe."

"You're right. We can't be too cautious."

While Hugh unloaded the bales, Blaise went in search of a hiding place. Returning in a few minutes, he was surprised to find the boat, the prow of which had just touched the beach, now high and dry on the pebbles for half its length. Hugh had not pulled the boat up. The water had receded.

"There is a big old birch tree there in the woods and it is hollow," Blaise reported. "It has been struck by lightning and is broken. We can hide the furs there."

"Won't squirrels or wood-mice get at them?"

"We will put bark beneath and over them, and we shall not leave them there long."

"I hope not surely."

Blaise lifted a bale and started into the woods. Hugh, with another bale, was about to follow, when Blaise halted him.

"Walk not too close to me. Go farther over there. If we go the same way, we shall make a beaten trail that no one could overlook. We must keep apart and go and come different ways."

Hugh grasped the wisdom of this plan at once. He kept considerably to the left of Blaise until he neared the old birch, and on his return followed still another route. He was surprised to find that the water had come up again. The pebbles that had been exposed so short a time before were now under water once more. The bow of the bateau was afloat and he had to pull it farther up.

"There is a sort of tide in here," he remarked as Blaise came out of the woods. "It isn't a real tide, for it comes and goes too frequently. Do you know what causes it?"

"No, though I have seen the water come and go that way in some of the bays of the mainland."

"It isn't a true tide, of course," Hugh repeated, "but a sort of current."

Going lightly in their soft moccasins, the two made the trips necessary to transport the furs. They left scarcely any traces of their passage that might not have been made by some wild animal. Hugh climbed the big, hollow tree which still stood firm enough to bear his weight. Down into the great hole in the trunk he lowered a sheet of birch bark that Blaise had stripped from a fallen tree some distance away. Then Hugh dropped down the bales, and put another piece of bark on top. The furs were well hidden. From the ground no one could see anything unusual about the old tree.

Returning to the shore, the two pushed off the boat and paddled to another spot several hundred yards away. There Hugh felled a small poplar and cut the slender trunk into rollers which he used to pull the heavy bateau well up on shore where it would be almost hidden by the alders.

Night was approaching and the wooded shores of the little lake were still veiled in fog. The water was calm and the damp air spicy with the scent of balsam and sweet with the odor of the dainty pink twin-flowers. On the whole of the big island the boys could scarcely have found a more peaceful spot. The woods were so thick there seemed to be no open spaces convenient for camping, so the brothers kindled their supper fire on the pebbles above the water-line, and lay down to sleep in the boat.

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