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   Chapter 32 THE FIRE AT THE END OF THE TRAIL

The Radio Detectives By A. Hyatt Verrill Characters: 11510

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


When Hugh woke, the dizziness and sense of swaying up and down were gone. He sat up, feeling strangely weak and hollow, and looked about him. The bateau was drawn up on the beach, but Blaise was nowhere in sight. From the shadows Hugh could tell that the sun was on its downward journey. He had slept several hours. He was just gathering up his courage to get up, when he heard a stone rattling down the rock hill behind him. Turning his head, he saw Blaise descending. The boy was carrying several fish strung on a withe. Hugh eyed those fish with hungry eyes. He could almost eat them raw, he thought. He got to his feet and looked around for fuel. Not until he had a fire kindled, and,-too impatient to let it burn down to coals or to wait for water to heat,-was holding a piece of fish on a crotched stick before the blaze, did he ask his younger brother where he had been.

"I slept for a while," Blaise admitted, "but not for long. My hunger was too great. I took my gun and my line and climbed to the top of the point. I went along the steep cliff, but I found no game and no tracks. Then I came to that rocky bay. The shores are steep there and the water clear. I climbed out upon a rock and caught these fish. They are not big, but they are better than no food."

"They certainly are," Hugh agreed whole-heartedly.

The elder brother's pride in his own strength and endurance was humbled. He had slept, exhausted, for hours, while the half-breed boy, nearly three years younger than himself, had walked two or three miles in search of food.

When no eatable morsel of the fish remained, the brothers' thoughts turned to their next move.

"We are far nearer the Grand Portage than the Kaministikwia," Hugh said thoughtfully. "We had better follow my first plan and go down the shore instead of up. We can surely find others at the Portage willing to go with us against Ohrante."

"It is all we can do," Blaise assented, "unless we wait here for the wind to change. It is almost from the north now. We must go against it if we go up the Bay of Thunder. The other way, the shore will shelter us. But we cannot start yet. We must wait a little for the waves to go down."

"And in the meantime we will seek more food," Hugh added. "Why not try fishing among those little islands?"

The channels among the islets proved good fishing ground. By sunset the lads had plenty of trout to insure against any danger of starvation for another day at least. The waves had gone down enough to permit travel in the shelter of the shore. Sailing was out of the question, and paddling the laden bateau would be slow work, but Hugh was too impatient to delay longer, and Blaise more than willing to go on.

After half an hour of slow progress, the younger brother made a suggestion. "We are not far from the Rivière aux Tourtres now." He used the French name for the Pigeon River, a name which seems to mean "river of turtles." The word tourtres doubtless referred to turtle doves or pigeons. "To paddle this bateau," Blaise went on, "is very slow, and to reach Wauswaugoning by water we must go far out into the waves around that long point below the river mouth. But along the south bank of the river is an Ojibwa trail. At a bend the trail leaves the river and goes on across the point to Wauswaugoning. We shall save time if we go that way, by land."

"What about the boat and the furs?"

"We will leave them behind. There is a little cove near the river mouth where the bateau will be safe. The furs we can hide among the rocks. We shall not be gone many days if all goes well. No white man I think and few Ojibwas go that way. An Ojibwa will not disturb a cache," Blaise added confidently.

"Yet I don't like the idea of leaving the furs," Hugh protested.

"They will be safer there than at the Grand Portage, where the men of the Old Company might find them."

"Why not turn them over to the X Y clerk at the Portage?" Hugh questioned.

"No, no. If our father had wanted them taken there he would have said so. Again and again he said to take them to the New Company at the Kaministikwia. He had a debt there, a small one, and he did not like the man in charge at the Grand Portage. There was some trouble between them, I know not what."

Blaise was usually willing to yield to his elder brother's judgment, but this time he proved obstinate. Jean Beaupré's commands must be carried out to the letter. His younger son would not consent to the slightest modification.

Darkness had come when the two reached the mouth of the Pigeon River, but the moon was bright and Blaise had no difficulty steering into the little cove. Alders growing down to the water concealed the boat when it was pulled up among them. Blaise assured Hugh that, even in daylight, it could not be seen from the narrow entrance to the cove. The mast was taken down and the sail spread over the bottom of a hollow in the rocks. On the canvas the bales of furs were piled, and a blanket was thrown over the heap. The boys cut several poles, laid them across the hole, the ends resting on the rock rim, and covered them with sheets of birch bark, stripped from an old, half-dead tree. The crude roof, weighted down with stones, would serve to keep out small animals as well as to shed rain. All this work was done rapidly by the light of the moon.

The cache completed, Blaise led Hugh to the opening of the trail at the river mouth. The trail, the boy said, had been used by the Ojibwas for many years. A narrow, rough, but distinct path had been trodden by the many moccasined feet that had travelled over it. The moonlight filtered through the trees, and Blaise, who had been that way before, followed the track readily. With them the brothers carried t

he remaining blanket, the gun, ammunition, kettle and the rest of their fish. As Blaise had said, the trail ran along the south bank until a bend was reached, then, leaving the river, went on in the same westerly direction across the point of land between the mouth of the Pigeon River and Wauswaugoning Bay. The whole distance was not more than three miles, and the boys made good time.

Hugh thought they must be nearing the end of the path, when Blaise stopped suddenly with a low exclamation. The elder brother looked over the younger's shoulder. Among the trees ahead glowed the yellow light of a small fire.

"Wait here a moment," Blaise whispered. And he slipped forward among the trees.

In a few minutes he was back again. "There are three men," he said, "sleeping by a fire, a white man and two Ojibwas. One of the Ojibwas I know and he knew our father. We need not fear, but because of the white man, we will say nothing of the furs."

The two went forward almost noiselessly, but, in spite of their quiet approach, when they came out of the woods by the fire, one of the Indians woke and sat up.

"Bo-jou," remarked Blaise.

The second Indian was awake now. "Bo-jou, bo-jou," both replied, gazing at the newcomers.

The white man rolled over, but before he could speak, Hugh sprang towards him with a cry of pleasure. "Baptiste, it is good to see you! How come you here?"

"Eh lá, Hugh Beaupré, and I might ask that of you yourself," returned the astonished Frenchman. "I inquired for you at the Grand Portage, but the men at the fort knew nothing of you. When I said you were with your brother Attekonse, one man remembered seeing him with a white man. That was all I could learn. I was sore afraid some evil had befallen you. You are long in returning to the Sault."

"Yes," Hugh replied with some hesitation. "I have stayed longer than I intended. Is the Otter at the Grand Portage, Baptiste?"

"No, she has returned to the New Fort. I came on her to the Grand Portage. We brought supplies for the post and for the northmen going inland to winter. There was a man at the Portage, a Canadian like myself, who wanted sorely to go to the Kaministikwia. He has wife and child there, and the mate of the sloop brought him word that the child was very sick. So as I have neither wife nor child and am in no haste, I let him have my place. Now I am returning by canoe, with Manihik and Keneu here."

At the mention of their names, the two Indians nodded gravely towards Hugh and repeated their "Bo-jou, bo-jou."

"We camp here until the wind goes down," Baptiste concluded.

During the Frenchman's explanation, Hugh had been doing some rapid thinking and had come to a decision. He knew Baptiste for a simple, honest, true-hearted fellow. In one of his Indian companions Blaise had already expressed confidence.

"Baptiste," Hugh asked abruptly, "have you ever heard of Ohrante, the Iroquois hunter?"

There was a fierce grunt from one of the Indians. The black eyes of both were fixed on Hugh.

"Truly I have," Baptiste replied promptly. "As great a villain as ever went unhanged."

"Would you like to help get him hanged?"

Keneu sprang to his feet. It was evident he had understood something of what Hugh had said. "I go," he cried fiercely in bad French. "Where is the Iroquois wolf?"

"There is an island down the shore," Hugh went on, "the Island of Torture, Ohrante calls it, where he and his band take their prisoners and torture them to death. Sometime soon he is to hold a sort of council there."

"How know you that?" Baptiste interrupted.

"I shall have to tell you the whole story." Hugh turned to his half-brother. "Blaise, shall we tell them all? Baptiste I can trust, I know."

"As you think best, my brother."

Sitting on a log by the fire at the edge of the woods, while the moonlight flooded the bay beyond, Hugh related his strange tale to the amazed and excited Canadian and the intent, fierce-eyed Keneu, the "War Eagle." The other Indian also watched and listened, but it was evident from his face that he understood little or nothing of what was said. Hugh made few concealments. Frankly he told the story of the search for the hidden furs, the encounters with Ohrante and his band, the capture and escape, and what Blaise had learned from overhearing the conversations between Monga and the Indian with the red head band. Hugh did not mention, however, the packet he carried under his shirt, nor did he say definitely where he and Blaise had left the bateau and the furs. Those details were not essential to the story, and might as well be omitted.

"We know now it was through Ohrante father was killed," the boy concluded, "and we, Blaise and I, intend that the Iroquois shall pay the penalty for his crime. He has other evil deeds to pay for as well, and that isn't all. As long as he is at liberty, he is a menace to white man and peaceable Indian alike. He calls himself Chief of Minong, and he has an ambition to be a sort of savage king. He is swollen with vanity and belief in his own greatness, and he seems to be a natural leader of men, with a sort of uncanny influence over those he draws about him. One moment you think him ridiculous, but the next you are not sure he is not a great man. If he succeeds in gathering a really strong band he can do serious harm."

Keneu gave a grunt of assent, and Baptiste nodded emphatically. "He must be taken," the latter said.

"Taken or destroyed, like the wolf he is," Hugh replied grimly. "We have a plan, Blaise and I."

For nearly an hour longer, the five sat by the fire discussing, in English, French and Ojibwa, Hugh's plan. Then, a decision reached, each rolled himself in his blanket for a few hours' sleep.

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