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   Chapter 23 A CAPTIVE

The Radio Detectives By A. Hyatt Verrill Characters: 11504

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Hugh's fall stunned him for a moment, and that moment was his undoing. When he came to himself, he was propped against the tree, his knife and hatchet gone. Two Indians were binding his wrists with a rawhide rope. Dizzy, his head spinning, he fought to free himself, but to no avail. The knots were tied, and he struggled to his feet to confront the malicious grin of the young Indian whom he had first encountered, and the ugly, lowering face of another, older savage of short, squat figure. It must have been this fellow's long, strong arms that had seized and thrown the boy. Recovering himself a little, Hugh looked desperately about for a way of escape. His captors understood that glance. The squat man seized his arm in a grip that almost made the boy cry out, while the young fellow, who had picked up his long gun, raised it threateningly.

In spite of his aching head, the sickness at his stomach and a general feeling of misery and despair, physical and mental, the boy made an heroic effort to stand erect and, with calm and impassive face, look his enemies in the eye. He knew that to show weakness or fear would only make matters worse. He must assume an indifference and unconcern he was far from feeling, at the same time keeping alert for any chance of gaining an advantage.

He was not left long in doubt of his captors' immediate intentions. With a guttural grunt, the man who held his arm turned him about and led him around the jackpine, the other following, musket ready. They went through the woods, and came out into an open rock lane bordered with trees and bushes. There they turned to the right. It was of no use to struggle. Hugh had no chance to get away. Even if he had been able to break loose from the iron grip of the squat man, or, by thrusting out a foot, trip him and twist himself from the Indian's grasp, he could not hope to escape the fellow with the gun. The latter would most certainly have shot him or clubbed him into unconsciousness.

Hugh went in silence, until they entered a trail leading from the open lane. Then he attempted a question. "Where do you take me, to whom?" he asked.

Receiving no answer but the young fellow's singsong "Ne compr'ney" and a sullen grunt from the older savage, the boy made another attempt. Loudly and vigorously, to make his anger clear by his voice and manner, he uttered an indignant protest. What did they mean by such treatment of a white man of peaceable and friendly intentions, who had never done wrong to them or to any other Ojibwa? He voiced his indignation in both English and French, apparently without effect, except to cause the squat Indian to tighten his grip and the grinning one to prod the captive in the back with his musket.

Curiously enough, that prod, instead of frightening the lad, made him blaze with anger. The blood surged to his face. With difficulty he restrained himself from turning to give battle. But one cool spot in his brain told him that such an act would be suicide. He must keep his wrath under control and use guile instead of force, if he was ever to see Blaise again and escape with their joint inheritance. So he controlled himself and went quietly where his captors led him. Questions and protests were worse than useless.

It was not a path they were following, merely a trail trodden down more or less by use. As Indians and woodsmen always go single file, the way was narrow. The squat Indian went ahead, the end of the rawhide that bound Hugh's wrists wrapped about his hand. He went rapidly, and Hugh, his arms extended in front of him, had to step quickly to keep from being dragged. Behind him the other man gave him an occasional reminder by touching him between the shoulders with the gun barrel. Every time he felt that touch, wrath surged up in Hugh. The boy would have been less than human if he had not been afraid of the fate in store for him, but he was proving himself the true son of his father. Every threat or insult produced in him a hot anger that, for the moment, completely blotted out fear. Yet he strove to hold himself in check, to keep calm and silent and to appear unconscious of the fellow behind him.

Had Hugh not been active and light-footed, he could not have kept pace with his guards on the rough and winding trail. The squat Indian showed not the slightest consideration for his captive. Hugh knew that if he lagged, tripped or fell, he would be dragged along regardless of his comfort. In addition he would probably be kicked or prodded by the man behind. So he exerted himself to keep up the swift pace with truly Indian agility.

The trail turned to the right and led to the edge of an abrupt decline. The older Indian let go his hold of the boy, to climb down, but the other man kept the muzzle of his gun between Hugh's shoulders. The lad wondered if the two expected him to go down that almost vertical descent with bound arms. He was still wondering when the Indian in front reached the bottom. The man in the rear, without warning, suddenly seized the boy about the waist, swung him off his feet, and literally dropped him over the edge.

Hugh went sliding down, trying to save himself from too rapid a descent by gripping the rock with his moccasined feet. In a flash he saw that he would land right in the arms of the man at the bottom. If he could only strike the Indian in the stomach with enough force to knock him down, and then dodge aside swiftly before the other fellow could pick up his gun again-- Far more quickly than it can be told the plan was born in the boy's mind. The squat Indian's long arms were stretched out and up. His powerful hands gripped Hugh. The lad tried to throw himself forward, but the sturdy figure stood firm. The Indian swung H

ugh around, and in an instant had him flat on his back in a tangle of prickly juniper. The captive's one attempt to escape had failed.

Bruised and battered by his slide down the rocks, Hugh was jerked to his feet. The younger savage was beside him now, ready to take up his position in the rear. The two wasted no time. The older man gripped the rawhide again and the march was resumed. Speed was not slackened even in the steep places, and Hugh was put to it to keep up and not lose his footing. The general course was downward, until they reached almost level ground, thickly wooded with evergreens, where the trail led over many fallen tree trunks, decayed and moss covered. Then they went up a few feet of rise, like a low and ruinous rock wall. To his left among the trees, Hugh could see the gleam of water.

The squat Indian sprang down from the natural wall, and Hugh leaped with him, to avoid being dragged down. He found himself almost on a level with the water, among scattering broad-leaved trees and bushes. A few steps farther and, rounding a clump of mountain ash, he came in sight of a small birch bark lodge, of the conical wigwam form sometimes used by the Ojibwas for temporary dwellings to be occupied a few days or a week or two. The more permanent lodges were commonly of a different shape with rounded roofs. In a moment another, slightly larger wigwam came in view. A thin curl of smoke rose from the remains of a fire, and a canoe lay on the sand beach. No human beings were to be seen.

The two Indians marched their captive to the cleared spot where the fire smouldered. Then, before the boy realized his intention, the squat man turned quickly, put his arm about Hugh's waist, tripping him cleverly at the same time, threw him backwards to the ground and sat upon him. Without a word spoken, the grinning savage dropped his musket, seized a strip of rawhide and set to work to tie the prisoner's ankles together. Hugh attempted to kick, but the squat man prodded him unmercifully in the stomach. The boy realized that he could not help matters by struggling. The younger Indian completed his work, rose to his feet and grinned down at him derisively. The older man tested the cord on Hugh's wrists, pulled it a little tighter and got to his feet, to the great relief of the sore and suffering captive. The squat Indian was heavily built, and Hugh felt that a few moments more of that weight on his middle would crush him flat. He strove to control his features, however, and not to let his misery, indignation and despair show in his face.

Evidently the pair considered their work completed, or perhaps they had tired of tormenting the prisoner. At any rate they left him to himself. For a time Hugh lay perfectly still, too miserable for effort of body or mind. His head still pained him from the fall against the tree, he had several sore bruises on his body, his arms and shoulders ached from being held so long in one position, the thongs cut into his wrists and ankles, and he was sick at the stomach from the treatment he had just received. As he lay on his back, his captors were no longer within his range of vision, but he did not flatter himself that he was unwatched. That the two were not far away he knew from the sound of their voices that came to him at intervals from somewhere down by the water. There was no need for them to watch him closely, he thought bitterly. Bound as he was and unable to even raise himself to his feet, he had not the slightest chance of escape.

After a while he began to feel better, and his hopes rose a little. Turning his head from side to side, he looked about for some way to help himself. He could no longer hear the voices of the Indians nor could he catch any glimpse of them. Everything about him was quiet, except for the ripple of the water on the sand and gravel of the beach, and the occasional cries of a small flock of gulls.

There was something familiar about this spot, this stretch of sandy ground, with its sparse growth of trees and bushes, and its curving beach. Beyond and above, the tree-covered ridges towered. Hugh managed to roll over on his side, and looked across a narrow blue channel to another thickly wooded shore, where the trees ran down to the water. He knew the place now. On that stretch of sand and pebbles, Captain Bennett had beached the Otter. Hugh himself had helped to clear the very spot where the wigwams now stood. The place looked somewhat different, to be sure, with all the ice and snow gone and the trees and bushes in full summer green.

Hugh's thoughts turned from the memory of that other camp to the present situation. He pulled at the thongs that bound him and tried to loosen them by wriggling his hands and feet, but it was of no use. The cords, instead of loosening, only cut into his wrists and ankles more painfully. He was just about to attempt to sit up, when the gruff voice of the older of his captors sounded close by, just beyond his head. Hugh composed himself to lie still. The Indian came near and looked down frowningly on the lad, then seated himself at a little distance and went to work on a piece of deerskin he was fashioning into moccasins. Hugh was familiar enough with Indian ways to grasp the significance of the fact that the man was making his own moccasins. That was women's work, if there were women about. It was evident that in this camp there were no squaws, or the braves would not be doing squaws' work.

Growing tired of watching his guard at his task, Hugh closed his eyes. The sun was warm and in this sheltered place there was little breeze. He felt very tired and all things around him conspired to make him drowsy. In a few minutes the captive had fallen fast asleep.

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