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   Chapter 28 CONFUSING THE TRAIL

The Radio Detectives By A. Hyatt Verrill Characters: 15600

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Looking around for a tall tree, Blaise found a tapering spruce, growing in a pocket of deeper soil and towering above its fellows. The stubs of the lower branches, that, deprived of light by adjacent trees, had died and fallen off, formed a ladder, up which he climbed, Hugh not far behind. Reaching the live limbs, they pushed their way among the thick masses of dark green needles. The smaller lad went on until the slender spire bent threateningly under his weight.

The moon had come out from behind the clouds, and the paling sky foretold the dawn. From his perch above the surrounding trees, Blaise could see the water, and, across it, the narrow black line of the low point. On the other side, directly below him, he could make out from the growth that the ground dipped down. Beyond the slight dip, the rising ranks of trees betrayed the steepness of the ascent. A little to his right and far up, his keen eyes detected a bare stretch of rock between the masses of foliage above and below. He took a long look in every direction, then started to climb down.

Hugh, learning from the movement of the branches above him that Blaise was descending, also moved farther down. There, resting on a stout limb, he waited for his brother.

"What did you make out?" he asked eagerly. "I could see that we are part way up the ridges. Have we kept a straight course?"

"Yes, we have come straighter than I feared, but we are scarce more than half-way up, and we must go farther to the left. You remember that bare cliff?"

"The wall, like a fortification, that we saw from across the bay?"

"The same. We cannot climb that place. We must go to the left to avoid it. Come, we must make haste."

Darkness still lay deep in the woods, as the two plunged down the short slope into a narrow and shallow gully. Through the thicker growth at the bottom, they threaded their way to the left a hundred yards or more, then began to ascend again. The rapidly rising ground, interrupted by shallow depressions only, served as a guide. Where the slope was regular and not too steep and there was soil enough to anchor them, trees grew thick, but abrupt bare places, masses of tumbled rocks and almost vertical walls made up much of the way. The northwestern side of the long point was far more abrupt than the southeastern, but the increasing light made it possible for the boys to choose their path. They were no longer compelled to proceed by sense of feeling only. Sound of wind, active of limb, and goaded on by the signs of breaking day, they climbed swiftly and without pause.

Crossing a narrow shelf of broken rock débris, that had crumbled into soil deep enough to bear trees, they came to the last rise. By going farther to the left, they had thought to avoid the bare, pillared, rock ramparts, and had indeed escaped the steepest and highest stretch. Nevertheless the cliff before them was almost vertical, and clothed with only an occasional sturdy, dwarfed mass of cedar or trailing juniper, a little seedling tree, stunted bush or tiny plant, growing in crevice or hollow, and the ever present, tight clinging moss and lichens. Had the ancient rock not been ribbed and blocked and weathered, it would have been unclimbable. The splitting off of blocks and scaling away of flakes, which had crumbled into débris at the foot of the cliff, had left shelves and crannies affording some foothold and finger-hold to the active climber.

It was a bad place to go up but not an impossible one. The fugitives paused only long enough to select what appeared to be a possible route up a sort of flue, caused by the falling out of one of the pillars. Blaise went first, and Hugh would have followed close behind, had not the half-breed boy bade him, somewhat sharply, wait below. If Blaise lost his hold and slipped back, it would not advantage him any to take his elder brother down with him. The lad was nearing the top when he let his weight rest too heavily on an insecure ledge. The rock flaked off, and he was left hanging, one hand thrust into a crack, the other clinging to a cedar stem. Down below, Hugh held his breath in suspense. For the interval of an instant, while the agile climber drew up his left foot and thrust his toes into a cranny, the cedar held. Then its roots pulled loose. But Blaise managed to keep his balance, and quickly hooked his strong fingers around the rim of the hole where the cedar clump had been growing. In a few moments he was over the top, and it was Hugh's turn to make the ascent.

The scaling away of the piece of rock that had formed the narrow ledge made it necessary for Hugh to take a slightly different route up the flue. He was heavier than Blaise and for him the climb was even more perilous. Profiting by his younger brother's experience, Hugh trusted to crannies and cracks into which he could thrust his fingers and toes, rather than to the more treacherous projections. Climbing cautiously, he reached the summit without accident.

The growth on the ridge top prevented the boys from seeing to the east, but the sky was now so light they knew sunrise could not be far away. Hurrying across the summit, they came out upon the southeastern slope. From there they could see the rose pink flush of day.

The southeastern side of the high ridge was far less abrupt than the northwestern. Except for occasional open rock stretches, it was, however, thickly forested. In spite of the rough going, the fugitives made good speed on the down grade. Nimbly the light-footed Blaise threaded his way among trees and undergrowth, and sprang down the open slopes. Hugh, to whose feet the very thought of the cruel Iroquois seemed to give wings, kept close behind. In a shorter time than they would have believed possible, they were at the edge of the water.

Blaise glanced towards the woods across the channel. "That is not the island where the little lake is," he said. "We are too far down. The bateau is over that way." Without waiting for Hugh to reply, the lad turned to the right and began to make his way along shore.

A moment later, Hugh, following closely, said anxiously, "We are leaving a plain trail here. The ground is damp and there is much undergrowth."

"We cannot help that. If we must leave a trail, we will use it to lead our enemies astray, Step as lightly as you can, and in a little while I will show you a trick." Hugh had been possessed with the fear that some of Ohrante's men might have discovered the boat and taken it away. He was greatly relieved to find it tied to the overhanging tree where he had left it.

"Take the bateau," the younger boy ordered, "and paddle down to the place where we came out of the woods. I will join you there."

"What are you going to do?"

"Lead our enemies astray. If they find my tracks near their camp and follow them, they may also find the trail down to this place. They must not think that we crossed the water from here. I shall make tracks, plain tracks, from here down towards the mouth of the bay, beyond the place where you and I came out of the woods a little while ago."

"But in our old trail from here to the ridge top the footprints point up, not down."

"Yes, and we have not time to go back and make new. I hope they will think we travelled both ways on that trail. I will go back a little way and make a few prints leading down."

While Hugh was untying and pushing off the bateau, Blaise, going carefully and lightly, followed for a little way the route he had taken when he went in search of his white brother. Then, turning, he came back, leaving here and there clear impressions to show direction. Twenty or thirty feet from the shore, he branched off to the left, making tracks leading to the alongshore trail, but avoiding the spot where the bat

eau lay. He then went on towards the mouth of the bay, carefully obliterating all toe marks that pointed up the channel, and making sure to leave some pointing down.

In the meantime Hugh had pushed off the bateau. He noticed that the boat had left no clear traces, except where the rope had rubbed the bark from the limb around which it had been tied. That scar might easily have been made by the claws of some animal climbing out over the water. To make such an origin seem more likely, he scratched the scar lengthwise several times with his thumb nail. As he paddled along close to shore, he came upon the tree Blaise had crossed on, and pushed it out into mid channel.

About a hundred feet below the place where they had come out of the woods, Hugh joined Blaise. Here they took pains to leave distinct signs that a boat had been pulled up on shore. They wished their pursuers to see that they had taken to the water at this spot. Their intention was to lead Ohrante, should he find their trail, away from the island where the furs were hidden.

"Wouldn't it be possible, Blaise," Hugh questioned, "to load the furs and start across the lake at once? If the wind is right, I am willing to risk Ohrante's seeing us and giving chase. With a good breeze we can outdistance his canoes."

Blaise shook his head. "We could not run away from him in this wind. Last night it was nearly northeast, but now it is northwest. Surely you noticed that when we were on the ridge top. We cannot make speed with this heavy bateau against the wind. Yet it is not too strong for canoes to go against it, if the men at the paddles have skill. No, we must wait till the wind changes or till darkness comes again. Now we will carry our false trail farther."

Blaise steered the boat straight across the channel to the outer end of the opposite island. Between steep, high, bare masses of detached rock and the small island itself, a reef extended, the inner end rising out of the water to form a beach of boulders and pebbles. The boys ran the bateau on the pebbles and jumped out. They could see off across the open water to the east, where the sun was already above the horizon.

"Here," said Blaise, "we will leave the ashes of a fire, as if we had stopped to cook a meal. Make haste and get wood."

Hugh did not need to be warned to make haste. A small fire was soon kindled on the pebbles where it could not spread, then partly stamped out and left smouldering. As the boys embarked again, Hugh glanced back to satisfy himself that the wind was not carrying any sparks towards the woods. Heretofore he had always drenched his cooking fire before leaving camp, but to have poured water on this one would have defeated his younger brother's purpose. Blaise wanted the recent kindling of the fire to be in plain evidence.

"Where we have gone from here our enemies cannot tell," he explained. "They will find no tracks or signs on this little island except around the fire. Then they will be sure we have gone by boat, but which way they will not know."

"Which way shall we go?" Hugh questioned.

"Back to our camp in the little inland lake, but not down the channel next the point. We will steer around these big rocks and up the other side of this island."

The two paddled the bateau around the rocks and up along the southeastern side of the small island. High in the center and heavily wooded, it hid them completely. Their route led them into the open end of the narrow strait that cut into the other island where the furs were hidden. They passed the gap with its two tiny islets, where heretofore they had gone in and out, and were soon back in the little pond.

"I don't know whether we are wise to stay here," Hugh said thoughtfully, as they drew the boat up on the narrow beach. "We have tried to confuse our trail, yet if Ohrante tracks us across the high ridge and down to the water, he will surely search all these islands. This is almost too perfect a hiding place. If those Indians are familiar with this 'Bay of Spirits' they will think of this place at once. Then we shall be caught like rats in a trap."

"You are right to call this the 'Bay of Spirits,'" Blaise replied. "By that name Monga and Red Band spoke of it. But I think they have never been here but that one time. From what they said I think they have always made their camps on the part of Minong that lies the other side of the high ridge. And now both Monga and Red Band have great fear of this bay."

Hugh chuckled. "So has the mighty chief Ohrante. I saw his fear in his face when I spoke of hearing strange noises. I am wondering, though, if he should track us here, if he will not suspect a trick."

"Something more than the voices has frightened them," Blaise went on. "The second time I listened to those two, Monga told Red Band of huge giants at the end of the point."

"Giants? Did he mean those pillars of rock?"

"No, the giants were alive and moved."

"Some old superstition, Blaise."

"Monga said he saw the giants, Hugh, he and others of the band."

"We spent nearly a day on that point and we saw no giants. If Monga saw anything there it must have been you and me. I don't understand how those fellows in that canoe could have missed seeing us. Blaise,"-a sudden light of understanding dawned in Hugh's face,-"Blaise, do you remember how hot and still it was, and how the haze shimmered on the water? And do you recall the day we crossed to the Isle Royale, the very same sort of day? We saw the mirage, high mountains towering up where later we found there were no real mountains. Do you remember too when we left the Bay of the Beaver, how we saw coming towards us through the morning mist, what we thought was a ship, so tall it looked, but when it drew nearer it shrank to a mere sailboat?"

"I remember those things." Blaise was staring at Hugh's excited face.

"Don't you understand then? Don't you see how it was that Monga and those others in that canoe saw giants on the end of the point? On that hot, still day, as they came across the water and looked through the shimmer of the heat haze, they saw us there on the open rocks. We ourselves saw that island far out greater than it really was and distorted. Do you remember how it shrank afterwards? To those men in that canoe we too were distorted and loomed up huge and tall like giants. That was what frightened them. That explains their hasty flight. We were the giants on the end of the point!"

Blaise was still staring, but his look of puzzlement had given way to one almost of awe. "It may be as you say," he replied slowly. "Monga thought it was Kepoochikan and Nanibozho. I cannot understand it at all, that enchantment you call mirage that makes men see mountains that are not there and turns bateaus into ships and men into giants."

"I don't understand it either," Hugh admitted, "and neither did the captain of the Athabasca. He said it was just one of the secrets of nature that we don't understand yet. Surely the mirage is nothing to fear. It has stood us in good stead by frightening away Ohrante's men and causing them to stand in terror of this bay. No wonder we scared them away with the echoes. They must have been frightened when they came in here. If only their fear is strong enough to keep them away now, we are safe. But we dare not trust too much to that. We must hide ourselves as well as we can. The entrance to this little lake is narrow and I think I see a way to block it so it will look as if no boat could have gone through. First, though, let us eat something if there is anything left."

"There is a little corn, if no animal has stolen it," Blaise replied. "I too am sore hungry, for I have eaten nothing but a few green bearberries since I set out in search of you."

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