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   Chapter 26 ESCAPE

The Radio Detectives By A. Hyatt Verrill Characters: 11975

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Taking the lead again, Blaise crawled cautiously and silently away from the vicinity of the fire and the wigwams. Hugh, his legs and feet once more under control, followed close behind, Blaise still guiding him by the cord attached to his wrist. The half-breed boy seemed able to glide like a snake without a sound, but Hugh was less experienced in stealth. In spite of all his care, the bushes he brushed rustled now and then. The noises were very slight, but each rustle or creak brought the lad's heart into his mouth. Yet the Indian by the fire lay still, and no sound came from the wigwams.

At last the fugitives were far enough from the camp, and well screened by trees and bushes, so they dared go upright. Blaise had kept his sense of direction in the darkness and knew where he wanted to go. Turning to the right, he led Hugh across level ground and through open growth of birches and poplars. Then he turned again. A little farther on he paused among some alders, handed Hugh the cord, uttered a low whisper of caution, and slipped between the bushes.

Hugh carefully pushed his way through, and stopped still. Before him lay the lake, the ripples lit by the stars and moon. Glancing along the narrow strip of sand that separated him from the water, he could make out a dark shape lying above the reach of the waves. It was an overturned canoe. Blaise had circled about in the woods and had come back to the shore. A little way beyond the canoe, back from the beach and hidden from where Hugh stood by trees and bushes, was the Indian camp. This was a dangerous man?uvre of his younger brother's and at first Hugh could see no reason for it. Why had not Blaise led straight back through the woods and up the ridge? The bateau, to which they must trust to get clear away, was on the other side of those ridges. Was the bateau still there or had the Indians found it?

Blaise was moving swiftly along the beach, and, after hesitating a moment, Hugh followed. He was relieved to find that the alder bushes still screened them from the camp. They could launch the canoe without being visible from the wigwams or from the spot where the fire burned. The canoe was not one of those he had seen Ohrante's band using, but a small craft, barely large enough to hold two men. Silently the boys turned it over, carried it down the beach and placed it in the lake. Blaise, standing in the water to his knees, held the boat while Hugh stepped into the stern. The younger boy took his place in the bow, the paddles dipped.

Hugh had expected to steer around the inner beach and on up the long bay. He was astonished when Blaise signalled him to go the other way. This was indeed a risk. The older boy would have protested, had he dared speak loud enough to make his brother hear. But they were too near the camp to chance conversation, whatever foolhardy venture Blaise might be planning. Moreover Hugh knew that the half-breed lad was far from foolhardy and must have good reason for what he was doing. The elder brother obeyed the signal and said nothing.

Crouched as far down in the canoe as they could kneel and still wield their paddles, the two dipped the blades noiselessly. A few strokes and they were out of the shelter of the fringe of bushes. They were passing the camp, where the ground was open from lodges to beach. Fearfully Hugh glanced in that direction. He could make out the dark bulk of one of the wigwams and near it the dull glow of the dying fire. His guard lay beside that fire. If the man should wake and raise his head, he could scarcely fail to see the passing canoe, a dark, moving shape on the moonlit water. A vigorous but careful stroke, and both lads held their paddles motionless while the canoe slipped by of its own momentum. It made no sound audible above the rippling of the water on the pebbles. The squat Indian slept on.

A clump of mountain ash, leafy almost to the ground, came between the canoe and the fire. The paddles dipped again. In a few moments the slight projection, scarce long enough to be called a point, had been rounded. The wigwams and the fire were hidden by trees and bushes.

Hugh drew a long breath and put more speed into his strokes. The brothers were moving down the bay, and he realized now the reason for their man?uvre. Had they struck through the woods to the ridge, they would inevitably, in spite of the greatest care and caution, have left a trail. The canoe left no tracks. When they passed out from the narrowest part of the channel, they were obliged to put strength and vigor into their paddling, for they were going almost directly against the fresh wind. They kept as close to the right hand shore as they dared, and so had some protection. Vigorous and careful handling were necessary, however, to make headway in the roughening water.

As they went by one of the shallow curves that could scarcely be called coves, Blaise uttered a little exclamation and pointed with his paddle to a black object moving on the water. As Hugh looked, the thing turned a little, and he could make out, in silhouette, great branching antlers. A moose was swimming from one shore of the little indentation to the other.

"There is meat to last us a long time," he muttered regretfully, "if only we dared risk a shot."

Blaise laughed softly. "We could not shoot if we wished. Neither has a gun."

"True. When you set out to find me, Blaise, why didn't you bring yours?"

The lad in the bow shrugged slightly. "I could not use it without a noise, and I wished not to be burdened with it. Let us not talk now. Voices carry far in the night."

Hugh heeded the warning. As the bay widened, the force of wind and waves increased. The lads were paddling northeast, almost in the teeth of the wind. Hugh began to doubt whether they would be able to round the long point, or even keep on along it much farther. Blaise had no intention of rounding the point, however. He had another plan. As they passed the twin c

oves, where they had camped while they sought for the cache of furs, he turned his head ever so slightly and spoke.

"Steer into the crack where we carried out the furs."

Hugh replied with a word of assent and steered close under the riven rock wall. The water was slightly sheltered, and the waves were running past the fissures, not into them. The canoe slipped by the stern of the wrecked bateau, projecting from the crack into which it had been driven. The narrow rift was passed. At the wider black gap, Hugh made the turn. In response to his brother's quick "Take care," he held his paddle steady.

The canoe glided into the gap, slowed down. Before the bottom could grate on the pebbles, Blaise had warned Hugh to step over the side. The latter found himself in the water above his knees.

"We must take the canoe well up the crack and hide it," he said.

"And risk its discovery, which would put Ohrante on our trail? No, lay your paddle in the bottom. Turn around, but do not let go."

Hugh did not at first grasp the half-breed lad's intention, but he obeyed. When Hugh had turned, Blaise spoke again.

"Push out with all your strength. Now."

Together they gave the light craft a strong shove and let go. It slid over the water, out from the mouth of the rift. The wind caught it and it was borne away in the moonlight.

"The wind will take it up the bay," the younger boy explained. "It may stay right side up, it may not. It may be shattered on the rocks or washed on some beach. Wherever Ohrante finds it, it will be a long way from here."

"It will not help him to pick up our trail certainly," Hugh exclaimed. "That was a clever thought, Blaise."

Blaise turned to lead the way up the crack. It was black dark in the fissure. Patches of moonlit sky could be seen overhead, between the branches and spreading sprays of the cedars, but no light penetrated to the bottom. Guiding themselves by their outstretched hands, and feeling for each step, as they had done on that other night when they had entered this cleft, the two made their way up. As he thought of that other night, Hugh put his hand to his breast to feel if the precious packet was still there, attached to a piece of fish line around his neck. It was luck that the Indians had merely taken his weapons and had not searched him.

Feeling along the left wall of the gap, Blaise found the slit that led into the pit where the furs had been concealed, but he did not squeeze through. He led on up the wider rift. Where the walls were less sheer and trees grew on the gully bottom, pushing through in the darkness became increasingly difficult. When the brothers had come that way in daylight, they had found it troublesome enough. Now exposed roots and undergrowth snared Hugh's toes, rocks and tree trunks bruised his shoulders, prickly evergreen branches scratched his face and caught his clothes. These were small troubles, however, not to be heeded by a fugitive flying from such a cruel fate as Ohrante had in mind for him. The boy's only desire was to put as great a distance as possible between himself and the giant Mohawk. Indeed he had to hold himself in restraint to keep from panic flight.

After a few hundred feet of stumbling, groping progress, the two came to the broken birch, ghostly in the moonlight which shone down into the open space where the guide tree stood. They paused for a moment. On either hand and ahead the growth was thick.

"Which way now?" Hugh whispered the words as if he still feared an enemy lurking near.

"Straight ahead to the top of the high ridge. It will be difficult. I know not if we can do it in the darkness."

"We must do it," said Hugh emphatically.

Blaise nodded. "We will try," he agreed.

The ground was low here, protected from the lake by the rock ridge with its rifts and cracks. A few steps beyond the little birch, the lads found themselves in a veritable tangle of growth, through which but little light penetrated from the sky. They struggled forward among close standing, moss-draped, half dead evergreens and old rotten birches, their feet sinking deep into the soft leaf mould and decayed wood that formed the soil. Where fallen trees had made an opening that let in a little light, thickets of bushes and tangles of ground yew had grown up, more difficult to penetrate than the black woods. Compelled to make their way, for the most part, by feeling instead of sight, they could go but slowly. Hugh soon lost all sense of direction, and he wondered whether Blaise knew where he was going.

Rising ground and a thinning of the woods reassured the white boy. They must be going up the ridges, not back towards the Indian camp. He marvelled that Blaise had managed to find the way. Blaise was far from infallible though, and there soon came a time when he did not think it wise to go farther. They had climbed a steeper slope, treading firmer soil and outcroppings of rock, but still in thick woods, and had reached a small rock opening overgrown with moss and low plants. The sweet perfume of the carpet of twin flowers he could not see came to Hugh's nostrils. Blaise stopped and peered about him. Clouds must have covered the moon, for the open space was very dark.

"We had best wait here," he said after a few moments. "If the moon shines again, or after dawn comes, I will climb a tree and see where we are."

"Don't you know where you are?" Hugh asked.

"I am not certain. How can I be certain in the darkness, when I have never come this way before? I think our way lies over there." He pointed across the opening. "We are on the top of a low ridge, but if we go down where the trees stand thick, we may lose our way and much time also. We are well hidden here. When Ohrante wakes, he will not know which way to seek. It will be long before he finds our trail."

"I hate to stop as long as we can go on."

"I too, my brother, but I think we shall gain time, not lose it if we wait for light."

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