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   Chapter 29 THE CEDAR BARRIER

The Radio Detectives By A. Hyatt Verrill Characters: 11652

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The corn, in its bark wrapping, was found untouched, hanging from the birch where Blaise had left it. Not daring to kindle a fire for fear the smoke might betray them, Hugh put the dry, hulled kernels in the kettle with cold water to soften them. Then he spoke again of his plan to block the entrance to the pond.

"That cedar that leans far down over the water," he explained, "looks as if it was almost ready to fall of its own weight. If we could pull or push it down, it would go clear across that narrow channel."

"But then we could not take our bateau through."

"Oh, we can easily chop out a section when we are ready to go."

"If anyone is near he will hear the sound of the axe."

"It is better to risk that, Blaise, than to leave the entrance open. We will go look at the tree and see what we can do."

The leaning, top-heavy cedar had tipped so far that several of its roots had pulled loose from their anchorage, bringing with them a section of the shallow soil and exposing the rock below. On one side the roots still held, supplying enough nourishment to the limbs to keep part of them alive. Some of the thick sprays of foliage were brown and dead, but many were still green and flourishing. The tree certainly looked as if the slightest additional strain would tip it the rest of the way. Before testing it, the boys noted where it would fall. It stood a few feet above the water and slanted out at an angle across the passageway.

"It will not catch in any tree when it goes down," Hugh observed. "Fresh breaks in other trees or bushes would betray how recently it had fallen. Of course the fact that it is partly green will prove it hasn't been down very long."

"An uprooted tree lying in the water will stay green for many days," Blaise replied.

"I think we had better try to push it over," Hugh decided. "To make a way out to-night we shall not need to chop through the trunk. This end will be high enough from the water so, by cutting off a few of the lower limbs, we can take the boat underneath."

"If the water is deep enough at this side," added Blaise.

First attempts to bring down the slanting tree failed, however. It was not so insecure as it appeared. The tough roots that still held were stronger anchors than the boys had suspected. Pushing and pulling with all their might had little effect.

"We must cut away some of the roots that are holding," Hugh said at last. "Lend me your hatchet, Blaise. Ohrante has mine."

The roots were tough, but the little axe was sharp and Hugh's blows vigorous. He cut every root he could reach, and the tree trembled, swayed and tipped, pulling up more rootlets and chunks of soil.

"It will come now. It needs just a little more weight. Here, Blaise."

Hugh returned the hatchet, jumped upon the leaning trunk and made his way along it. The tree swayed with the added weight. As he went farther up and out, the strain on the few roots was too great. With a rending sound they tore up the shallow soil, and the cedar crashed down across the channel.

Hugh had expected the tree to go suddenly, and he kept a firm hold, but he was jarred and drenched in the splash. The trunk, where he was clinging, did not go under water, and he scrambled quickly back to shore. All the roots were in the air now, and the tree slanted down from the butt, instead of up. The crown rested in the shallow water and against the opposite shore. The entrance to the little pond was both well closed and effectually concealed.

Hugh uttered a little exclamation of satisfaction. "It must look from out there," he said, nodding towards the water beyond, "like a perfectly natural accident. This old cedar is the best of screens. I don't believe anyone coming around that little island and seeing this fallen tree would guess there was a lake or bay in here. Of course if he came so close he could peep through the branches, he might be able to see water beyond, but he would never guess that a boat could go in. If anyone came up here, though, he would see the freshly upturned earth and the cut ends of the tree roots. But the bushes hide this spot from the water and there is nothing to bring anyone ashore here. We shall be better hidden than we could have hoped."

"Yes, it was a good thought, my brother. We will go back now and bring the bateau around to this side of the little lake. Then if anyone looks through the branches and sees the water beyond, he cannot see the bateau or us. If he tries to cut a way through, we shall hear him and be warned. The sun climbs high. We must make haste."

Without pausing to reply, Hugh led off at once, back to the beach and around to the spot where the boat lay. Quickly and carefully, the brothers erased all signs of their camp that might be seen from across the pond. Hugh gathered up the remains of the fire and was about to throw them into the water, when Blaise stopped him. The charred sticks might float across, and betray that someone had camped there. So Hugh carried the blackened bits back into the woods, and then washed every trace of ashes from the pebbles and sand. The mast and sail, which had been left on shore, were laid in the boat, and the lads paddled around to a spot less than a hundred feet from the end of the blockaded passageway. With the poplar rollers they had used before, they drew the bateau up on shore, where it could not be seen by anyone peeping through the barrier.

The sun would soon be directly overhead. Ohrante had had several hours to find Hugh's trail. The boy did not believe that the Iroquois would let him escape without some effort to trace and recapture him. Even now the Chief of Minong or some of his followers might be near at hand. It would be wise to lie low and keep very quiet, restricting conversation to necessary whispers. After

chewing, as well as he could, some of the partly softened corn, Hugh stretched himself out on the narrow beach to let the sun dry his clothes.

Waiting quietly for Ohrante to come and find him proved nerve wracking. After what seemed a long period of inaction, he raised himself on his elbow and hitched nearer his younger brother. The latter was sitting close to the bateau, his eyes closed, apparently asleep.

"Blaise, I'm going up through the woods to find some spot where I can see out. Then if anyone comes near our barrier I shall know it."

The half-breed boy had opened his eyes at the first word. "We must take great care," he replied in the softest of whispers. "The cracking of a twig, the moving of a bush may betray us. Yet I am ready to take the risk if you are."

"We'll both go then, and we'll not take more risk than we can help."

Blaise nodded and rose. Slipping into the woods just beyond where the boat lay, he threaded his way among trees and bushes. Hugh followed quite as cautiously. It was but a short distance, and after a few steps Blaise dropped to his hands and knees. Hugh followed his example, and remained motionless while the other crept ahead and disappeared behind a clump of balsams.

The older boy waited several minutes, then ventured forward. Beyond the balsams he paused, but could catch no glimpse of Blaise among the dense growth. The sunlight between the trees ahead showed him that he must be close to the margin of the woods. Lying almost flat, he wriggled along until he could see a patch of water. For a moment he lay still, looking and listening. Then he crept forward again and took his station behind a thick mass of cedar needles. In its youth this cedar had been bent almost double by some weight, a fallen tree probably, and had grown in that misshapen form, branching and leafing out in dense sprays clear to the ground. Peeping around the green screen, Hugh found he was but a few feet from the edge of the water. The sheltered bay was without a ripple, the sun hot, the woods still, the silence unbroken by even the twitter of a bird or the hum of an insect.

The boy was about to raise himself for a better view, when, from the water, a sound came to his ears. The very slightest of sounds it was, but he lowered his head instantly. He wriggled a little farther back behind the cedar masses and lay motionless. The sound came again, the slightest suggestion of rippling water. But the bay was smooth and still. What he heard was the dipping of a paddle blade, the ripple of water against the side of a boat.

For a few moments Hugh dared not try to look. Then curiosity got the better of fear. Raising his head ever so little, he found a peep-hole between the cedar sprays and put his eye to it. He could see a bit of the round, wooded islet, a section of the shore opposite and, on the water between, a birch canoe. It held three men. The bow-man was the tall young Iroquois who had first taken Hugh prisoner. The man in the middle wore a red band about his long black hair. As the canoe came nearer, Hugh could see that the steersman was the squat Ojibwa from whose custody he had escaped. Ohrante had not killed the guard then, but no doubt some heavy punishment hung over Monga's head if he did not find Hugh and bring him back. He was desperate enough to dare return to the dreaded Bay of Manitos.

The canoe came slowly, the man in the bow watching the water. It was shallow between the round islet and the blocked entrance to the little pond. Would the fallen cedar deceive the Indians or not? Hugh held his breath.

The bow-man straightened a little, glanced towards the cedar, then looked back at the water again. Red Band's eyes were on his paddle. Monga's head turned from side to side, as he scanned the shore and the woods for any sign that the fugitive had been there. His glance swept the barrier. He twisted his paddle. The canoe swerved nearer to the blocked passage.

The man in the bow uttered a sharp hiss of warning. For an instant Hugh feared that the fellow had caught sight of him through the leafy screen. But the warning was of shallows ahead. The steersman dipped his paddle and swerved the canoe again, this time away from the fallen cedar. He did not cast another glance in that direction, as the canoe came on past the barrier. The "tide," as Hugh had called it, was out. The water was at its lowest point of fluctuation. No one could suspect a navigable channel where the uprooted tree lay.

It was plain that the Indians intended to round the little islet. To do so they must pass close to the shore where Hugh was. He lowered his head cautiously and lay prone and motionless. He could hear the gentle ripple of the water as the canoe slipped through it. Then a harsh voice spoke. So close it seemed that the lad almost jumped, and a shudder of fear passed through him. In an instant he realized that the voice was Monga's and that it came from the water, not from the land. The tall fellow answered briefly, and Monga grunted an abrupt rejoinder. What they said Hugh could not guess, for they spoke in Ojibwa.

The slight sounds of dipping paddles and rippling water grew fainter and fainter, then ceased. Hugh drew a long breath, raised his head a little and looked through the peep-hole. The canoe was no longer in sight. It could not be far away, though, so he lay still. He was just wondering whether it would be safe now to try for another and wider view of the bay and strait, and had raised his head to reconnoiter, when he caught sight of a crouching figure slipping swiftly between the trees towards him. For an instant his heart seemed to stop beating, then he saw that it was Blaise approaching.

The younger brother dropped down beside the elder. "They are gone," he whispered. "Let us go back."

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