BOY SCOUTS ON HUDSON BAY OR THE DISAPPEARING FLEET
By G. HARVEY RALPHSON
Author of Boy Scouts in the Canal Zone Boy Scouts in the Northwest Boy Scouts in a Motor Boat Boy Scouts in a Submarine
Chicago M. A. DONOHUE & COMPANY
Copyright 1914 M. A. Donohue & Company Chicago
CHAPTER PAGE I. The Five Chums in Camp 7 II. A Wild Charge 18 III. Was It a Spy? 30 IV. Down the Swift Rapids 42 V. Woodcraft 53 VI. On the Shore of the Salty Sea 65 VII. The Mysterious Blur on the Horizon 77 VIII. Two Kinds of Woodcraft 89 IX. "Salting" the Mine 101 X. Scout Tactics 113 XI. A Successful Sortie 125 XII. The Talking Smoke 136 XIII. A Dreadful Calamity 148 XIV. Blinding the Trail 159 XV. The Brush Shelter 171 XVI. The Sea Fog 182 XVII. On Board the Wreck 193 XVIII. After the Storm 204 XIX. The Battle of the Hulk 216 XX. Besieged 227 XXI. Unexpected Help 237 XXII. The Mystery Solved—Conclusion 247
BOY SCOUTS ON HUDSON BAY; or, The Disappearing Fleet. By G. HARVEY RALPHSON
THE FIVE CHUMS IN CAMP.
"Sure it's me that hopes we've seen the last tough old carry on this same wild-goose chase up to the Frozen North!"
"Hello! there, is that you, Jimmy, letting out that yawp? I thought you had more sporting blood in you than to throw up your hands like that!"
"Oh! well I sometimes say things that don't come from the heart, you know, Jack. Wait, me boy, till I get good and rested up, and mebbe I'll sing a different tune. Ask Ned here if it's me that often shows the white flag when trouble comes."
"Well, I should say not, Jimmy McGraw. There never was a more stubborn nature in all New York than you, once you'd set your mind on anything. That talk of being discouraged is all on the surface. A thousand cataracts wouldn't keep you from getting to Hudson Bay in the end, if you'd said you meant to reach open water. And Jack Bosworth knows that as well as I do."
"That's right; I do," laughed the party mentioned as Jack, as he slapped Jimmy on the back. "I've seen him tested and tried out many the time, and never once did he squeal. I was only joking, Jimmy; you understand?"
"And sure that's what I was doing when I grunted about the carry. It was next door to a picnic down Coney Island way, and I don't care how many more times the lot of us have to pack canoes and duffle from one creek to another. But Francois here is after saying we're getting near the end of our long voyage, and Tamasjo, the red Injun, backs him up. So let's try and forget our troubles, and settle down for a decent night's rest."
"First of all, we'll get the tent up, because it looks a little like it might rain before morning," remarked the boy who had been designated as Ned, and whom the other four seemed to look upon in the light of leader.
All of them were garbed in the familiar khaki of the Boy Scouts, and from their actions it would seem as though long familiarity with outdoor life had made this thing of pitching camp second nature with every one of the five well-grown lads.
These boys with their guides were a long way from home. Hundreds upon hundreds of miles separated them from the great metropolis of New York City, where the troop to which they belonged had its headquarters.
Those readers who have had the pleasure of meeting the five husky scouts in the pages of previous volumes of this series will not need any introduction to them. But for the sake of those who are not as yet acquainted with the chums, a few words of explanation may not come in amiss.
They all belonged to the same lively troop, but Ned Nestor and his shadow, Jimmy McGraw, were members of the Wolf Patrol, while Jack Bosworth, Frank Shaw and Teddy Green belonged to the patrol that proudly pointed to the head of an American black bear as its totem.
Ned Nestor had long been secretly in the employ of the United States Government, and had won considerable renown in carrying to a successful conclusion several difficult cases entrusted to his charge by the authorities in command of the Secret Service.
Jimmy, who had once been a typical Bowery newsboy, but now "reformed," fairly worshiped Jack, and had been his faithful henchman for a long time past. He was witty, brave, and as as true as the needle to the pole.
Then there was Frank Shaw, whose father owned and edited one of the great daily papers in New York; he had long ago shown a desire to be a correspondent, and was always on the lookout for chances to visit far-off corners of the world which did not happen to be well known, and about which he might write interesting accounts for the columns of his father's paper. He was a great admirer of the celebrated Frank Carpenter, whom he had met many times in his father's office.
Jack Bosworth's father was a wealthy corporation lawyer and a capitalist as well, always ready to invest in promising schemes of a legitimate character. And it was really because of this venturesome nature of Mr. Bosworth that these five lads had undertaken this tremendous journey, away above the outskirts of Canadian civilization, many weary leagues beyond the northern limits of Lake Superior, and with the almost unknown shores of the great Hudson Bay as their objective point.
The last boy was Teddy Green. He had a well-known Harvard professor as his father, and some day no doubt the lad anticipated following in the footsteps of his parent. Just now his greatest ambition was to be an explorer and endure some of the privations which such men as Stanley, Livingstone, Dr. Kane and other renowned characters in history were said to have met with in carrying out their tasks.
From the desolate character of their present surroundings it would seem that Teddy was in a fair way to realize his boyish dream. For days now they had not met with a living human being, even an Indian trapper far away from his tepee in search of game. Mountains and valleys, plains covered with scrub trees and seemingly endless bogs, and stretches of moss-covered land surrounded them day after day.
They had ascended one river until they could paddle their three canoes no further. At this point had come the first carry to another stream, and from that day on it had been the hardest kind of work as time passed on.
Already Jimmy had lost all track of direction, and often declared that it would not surprise him if they finally turned up somewhere over in Siberia, for to his mind it seemed as though they had come far enough to have passed the North Pole, even though they had seen no ice packs.
The taciturn Indian guide, who went under the name of Tamasjo, and the dusky voyageur, a French Canadian named Francois, assured them that all was well, whenever one of the boys ventured to voice a suspicion that they might have lost their way and wandered far past their objective point.
Both guides claimed to have hunted all over this country in times past, and the voyageur had even accompanied a noted explorer on a summer wandering up here. Hence their confidence reassured Ned, who often consulted a rude chart which had been placed in his hands before starting out on this journey, and thus verified the statements made by Francois.
Much paddling through rushing rapids and against the current of boisterous rivers had made the muscles of the boys' arms seem like iron. Every one of them appeared to be the picture of good health; because there is absolutely nothing equal to this outdoor life to build up sturdy constitutions.
Already all of them were at work. The tents went up so rapidly that it was plain to be seen these lads would easily take the prize offered for perfection in camp making, in a contest between rival patrols.
The canoes had been safely drawn up on the shelving beach, and doubly secured; because it would be nothing short of a calamity to lose one of the handy vessels while so far from civilization, and with no suitable birch trees around from which another light boat might be fashioned by the craft of the guides.
The day was nearly done, and when presently the smoke of their campfire began to ascend in the still air, night crept slowly about them. As it was the summer season and the days were very long up here in the Far North, the hour was later than they had ever started in to make camp before.
Plenty of supplies had apparently been carried along, to judge from the fragrant odors that soon began to steal forth. All of these lads belonged to families of wealth, so that at no time were they reduced to limiting their outfit. Anything that money could buy, and which prudence would allow to carry with them, was always at their service.
So the guns owned by Ned and his chums were of the latest pattern, and capable of doing good service when properly handled. The boys, who had been through campaigns in many parts of their own country, as well as over the southern border, and in foreign lands as well, and for young fellows who had not yet attained their majority, all of the scouts had experienced thrills calculated to make men of mature age proud.
And yet in spite of all this they were genuine boys, with warm hearts, and fond of practical joking. Seated around the jolly fire after disposing of supper, while the two guides attended to cleaning up, Jimmy entertained his mates with a series of rollicking songs, accompanied by Teddy on his mandolin, which he had somehow managed to smuggle along, in spite of a careful watch on the part of Ned, who did not wish to take a single article that was not indispensable, for he knew the gigantic task that lay ahead of them.
Jimmy has as usual been overboard during the late afternoon. It was not a voluntary swim the comical chum had been enjoying, either; these plunges never were, but it seemed as though Jimmy must lose his balance once in so often just while the canoes were negotiating through some wild rapids, and in consequence he had to make the passage clinging to the gunwale.
His red sweater was hanging on a bush to dry in the heat of the fire. It looked unusually brilliant as seen in the glow of the leaping flames. Jimmy was very proud of that same old sweater, which had been with him through so many campaigns that it showed signs of wear and tear. But though he had another nice navy-blue one in his waterproof clothes bag, Jimmy persisted in donning the ancient article every blessed day, in spite of the appeals of his chums.
Ned as usual was poring over his well-thumbed chart. Every day he marked the new ground they had covered, and very seldom had he found cause to doubt the correctness of the two guides. And whenever this had happened it turned out that they were right, and the map wrong.
"Well," Frank finally broke out with, "so far we haven't run across anything in the shape of a rival expedition, though Ned seemed to think in the start that was what would happen to us."
"I haven't changed my mind yet," observed the party mentioned, looking up from examining his chart. "We understood that the syndicate that is trying to unload this wonderful new mining tract they claim will be richer than Mesauba on Jack's father as a speculation, knew about our being sent up here on some secret mission. They could easily guess that we meant to find out if half of the big claim they made was true, and that on our report Mr. Bosworth would base any action he might take. Now it was to be such a tremendously big deal that under the conditions, if so be there was something crooked about the claims they made, you can understand that it would pay them handsomely to shunt us off the track, or else salt the mine, and make us think it would be as rich a proposition as their prospectus set out."
"But," interrupted Jack, "who could they get to do their crooked work away up here in this forlorn country, where we haven't run across a living being since we met that trapper going south with his winter's catch of pelts?"
"Oh! money will do lots of things," answered Ned. "Given a soft berth, with good pay, and plenty to eat, and scores of Indian half-breeds, timber cruisers, guides out of employment along the salmon fishing streams of the Dominion, and trappers loafing through an off season, would jump at the bait. There'd be plenty to enlist under the lead of a bold man hired by the syndicate; if, as we more than half believe, their claim is a great swindle which they mean to hang about Jack's father's neck."
"Francois says we will always have to be prepared, and as that is the motto of Boy Scouts all over the known world, it isn't likely to seem new to us," Frank Shaw remarked, a little boastfully it must be confessed, for having passed through so many strange happenings in times past had given him a touch of what Jimmy was inclined to call the "swelled head," though any one would have been justified for feeling proud of such a record of wonderful things accomplished.
The scouts having started on the subject of their mission continued to discuss it from various angles. In this way they often hit upon suggestions, because one remark would bring out another until some fellow chanced to open up a new field of conjecture.
They were deep in the matter, and all taking a hand in the discussion, when Francois, the dark-faced voyageur, suddenly started to his knees with a cry of warning. At the same time the boys became aware of the fact that a strange rushing and pounding noise was rapidly bearing down upon the little camp on the river bank.
Jimmy happened to be sitting cross-legged like a Turk, a favorite attitude of his, and becoming excited he could not get up as rapidly as his chums.
In consequence of this he seemed to be in the way of some huge body that rushed the camp, scattering the fire, and rending the branches of the tree under which the exploring party had settled for the night.
It was all over in a few seconds. The camp was in an uproar, one of the tents down flat, the fire in danger of communicating to the brush, and Jimmy squealing on his back, where the sudden rush of the mysterious monster had thrown him.
A WILD CHARGE.
"Help! Help!" Jimmy was shouting, kicking wildly as he roared. "Keep off me, you wild elephant! Somebody shoot him, quick, before he steps on me!"
"Here, stop that kicking, if you want to be helped up, do you hear, Jimmy!" exclaimed Frank, who had hastened to the assistance of the comrade in distress. "Are you much hurt; and did the beast trample on you any?"
Jimmy began to feel of his legs and arms, and upon discovering himself apparently as sound as a dollar, grinned sheepishly. Meanwhile the two guides had hastened, with the help of Ned and Jack, to gather the fire together again. Teddy had snatched up the nearest rifle and was down on one knee, peering out through the semi-darkness as though anticipating a return rush on the part of the unknown monster that had created such confusion in the camp.
"No great damage done, after all, seems like, if Jimmy says he's all right," remarked Ned, now beginning to let a broad smile creep over his face, for seeing Jimmy doubled up and had been a ludicrous spectacle not soon to be forgotten.
"But what in creation was it that put the kibosh all over me like that?" demanded the one who had been knocked over by the mad rush of the invader.
Ned glanced toward Francois, and the voyageur simply said:
"Bull moose—him very much mad, charge camp like that!"
"Well, I should think he must have been," Frank Shaw declared. "Why, if we'd had a little more warning we might have met him with a volley of hot lead that'd have laid him out dead. Now that Francois says so, I do believe he looked pretty much on the order of a monstrous moose bull. I certainly saw his horns, and they were full grown, because the rutting season is long since past."
"But what makes a moose get his mad up?" Jack asked. "We didn't do a single thing to rile him, that I know of, but were sitting here as easy as you please, when all at once he charges through the camp. Why, say, he nearly carried off some of our property, when he knocked down that tent. Look at the rip his horns made in the tanned canvas, would you? Some more sewing for Teddy here, to mend the rip."
"Francois, do bull moose often act in that way?" asked Teddy, still gripping the repeating rifle, as though not fully convinced that their would be no repetition of the savage onslaught.
The guide shook his head.
"Know only few times when it happen, and then there be reason. He carry off on horns what makes him rush our camp. I saw the same with my own eyes. Bull moose much like farm bull, and hate ze red color ver' mooch."
At hearing this several of the boys gave a shout.
"There, see what you get, Jimmy, for keeping that silly red sweater around. The old bull saw it hanging there in the light of our fire, and it made him so furious, as it has us lots of times, that he lowered his head and just charged us."
"But he took it away with him, as sure as you live, fellows!" gasped Jimmy, as a sense of his deep affliction came over him. "My dear sweater that I loved so much."
"Bully for the moose!" cried Jack.
"He'd done us all a mighty good turn, even if he never meant to," added Frank, "now we've seen the last of that terrible old garment, and Jimmy'll just have to get out the nice new one he's been carrying in his bag."
"Just think of the old fool, would you, a-tearin' around the woods with that red flag hanging from his horns," Jimmy wailed. "Don't I hope it keeps him wild right along, so that he'll smash into a tree, and break his blessed neck! But I'm glad he didn't take a notion to carry me off along with my sweater, and that's no lie!"
The little excitement soon died away. Not much damage had been done after all by that mad charge of the infuriated bull moose. The rent in the canvas could be readily mended, and as for Jimmy's loss it was his companions' gain, so that there would be no lament made save by the late owner.
"I didn't know moose ever roamed as far north as this," remarked Ned.
"How about that, Francois?" asked Frank, who, it might be noticed, kept his gun close beside him now, as though meaning to be ready in case another cause for excitement arose.
"It is not often zat ze bull moose come up here," replied the French Canadian, in his queer patois; "but sometimes in summer zey wander far afield. I haf seen ze same so mooch as three hundred mile north from here."
"One thing sure, there are plenty of caribou around," Teddy went on to say; "and when the meat's tender, it suits me all right. I'm running across new things every day up here, and don't feel sorry I came, so far."
"New things seem to be running across us also," chuckled Frank; "for instance, the monster that just invaded our camp. But as our supply of red sweaters has given out now, we'll hope not to have a repeat of that charge in a hurry."
"Me for a tree if ever I hear anything on four legs heading this way again!" Jimmy told them. "Why, what would have happened to me if the old four flusher had set his hoofs square on my stomach? I'd be feeling pretty punk right now, believe me."
"I think I'll take to the tall timber myself if this thing gets common," was what Jack observed. "My stars! but he was a whopper. Looked like the side of a house to me when he sizzled past, scattering the fire, leveling our best tent, and kicking up a whole circus with a band wagon attached."
"What was it we were talking about when we had that unexpected call?" asked Teddy.
"Ned was telling us something more that trapper we met said to him about the queer things that happen away up here in this uninhabited country, which is so different from any other known land. Didn't he say something about a phantom fleet of vessels that kept bobbing up every now and then, only to speed away like ghosts. What did you make of that silly rot, Ned?"
"I've been puzzling my head over it ever since," Ned replied, "but for the life of me can't make head or tail of the story. I've almost come to the conclusion that the trapper was a little dippy, and just imagined he saw those vessels."
"Sounds like it to me, Ned," Jack declared. "Whatever would vessels of any kind want up in Hudson Bay, if not to fish, or hunt whales, or seals, or walrus? And why should they flit around like ghosts, as he said? Chances are the old chap was using up his surplus stock of strong drink, and saw things where they didn't exist."
"Well, anyway," Jimmy ventured, reflectively, "it's me that hopes we'll run foul of this same queer disappearing fleet, because if we do it's a pipe cinch we'll scrape all the mystery off the story. We always manage that when we start into anything. It seems to be the scout way of doing things."
"For my part," declared Frank, "I take little stock in that yarn of the trapper. I imagine it's in a line with the big story of the mine syndicate that wants to unload on Mr. Bosworth. This is the country for whopping lies. Everything is on so big a scale up here, you know, stories have to keep along with them."
"And moose are as big as houses," added Jimmy.
"How is it we don't see you busy with your fish lines to-night, Jimmy?" asked Ned.
"Yes, it's been three mornings now since we had fresh fish for breakfast, and as that job was handed over to you, we all want to know what's gone wrong?" Jack added.
Jimmy shrugged his shoulders, and made a wry face.
"I've soured on me job, if that's what you want to know," he replied. "I've pulled in so many fish since we started that me arm is sore with the work. Besides, I've lost me taste for fresh fish. Them that feel an itching for the diet c'n do the business. Here's me lines and hooks with pleasure."
No one, however, seemed anxious to undertake the task on this particular occasion. Truth to tell they were one and all pretty tired. It had been an unusually arduous day, so that shoulders and legs ached more or less, from packing all their possessions across country to the bank of the river on which they now found themselves, and which Francois, yes, and Tamasjo ditto, affirmed would carry them all the rest of the way to the great inland sea known on the maps as Hudson Bay, in honor of the famous explorer.
It felt good to lie there at their ease on blankets and enjoy the warmth of the cheery campfire. There was more or less of a tang in the air most of the time on account of being so far north; and this became more evident when the sun had set, and the short night commenced, so that the young explorers were glad to have tents and warm blankets along.
Once while they were talking Jack lifted his head and appeared to be listening.
"A wolf pack hunting through the muskegs!" remarked Ned.
"Just what it must be," declared Jack. "And wherever we go it seems as if there was no end to the hungry beasts. We ran up against them away out in California, you remember; and they've given us no end of trouble on this present trip."
"I only hope that swift bunch is hustling along on the trail of Mr. Bull Moose, and that they overhaul the beggar right soon," grumbled Jimmy viciously.
"What ails the little rascal now to make him feel so savage about that moose?" laughed Frank.
"Huh! if you had something you thought the world of carried away on the horns of a rotten old bull moose, mebbe it's you that would be feeling sore on him too, me boy," growled Jimmy.
"Well, they say that one man's food is another's poison," observed Frank; "and all of us feel that your loss is our gain. Red sweaters may be all very well on a baseball field, but in the woods they don't cut such a wide swath."
"Forget it," added Jack.
The two guides were looking after the canoes. It was their customary habit to attend to the craft every night before lying down, because they realized the great value that lay in the only means of making progress that the expedition possessed; while no one dreamed of robbery, still, the motto of a scout is to shut the door before the horse is stolen, and not afterwards. An ounce of prevention is always much better than a pound of cure, so Ned was accustomed to saying, and he was an experienced patrol leader.
While they left some things to the guides, still, the boys were pleased to keep constantly in touch with whatever was transpiring around them. Long ago they had learned to enjoy making fresh discoveries in the field and forest whenever abroad. And in this new and to them unexplored country they were running across numerous interesting things every day.
They had just two tents along, and as neither of the guides would consent to be under cover save in a rain storm, it allowed the five scouts a chance to sleep comfortably, three in one shelter and a couple in the other. Ned and Jack occupied the smaller tent, while Jimmy bunked with Teddy and Frank in the second one.
Presently the guides came into camp again, though they had been within sight all the time, as the canoes lay well inside the circle of light coming from the fire.
"All well with the boats, Francois?" asked Ned, who was hugging his knees now, and had been joking Frank over several weird pictures the photographer of the expedition had lately developed.
"Everything O. K.," replied the voyageur, as though satisfied with his labor. "No danger we lose same this night, zat is sure. Still, Francois, me, and ze ozzer guide we expect to sleep wiz ze one eye open."
"If you should happen to see some stranger meddling with our boats, Francois—what would you do?" asked Frank.
The voyageur shrugged his broad shoulders in a very Frenchy fashion as he replied.
"I sall call out and ask ze same what he do, sare; and if so be he try to run away, pouf; I ze gun will fire, taking aim to vound ze rascal in ze leg, and not kill."
"Sounds rather war-like, don't it, Ned?" remarked Jack.
"Well, you must remember that this is a wild country up here," the leader of the expedition went on to say, soberly; "and that men are accustomed to looking on all others as enemies until they prove to be friends. A man who would sneak up and hover over our boats, on being addressed, if he were honest would throw up his hand at once and come into camp. Only a sneak thief would try and cut for it. And from my way of looking at it Francois would be justified in giving him a bullet in the leg, or a charge of Number Sevens in the last place he could see as the man galloped away."
As several of the scouts were yawning at a prodigious rate it was now concluded that the time had come to crawl under their blankets and get some sleep. This going to bed was never a very long-drawn-out operation with the scouts when in the open. Each boy would remove his shoes, after taking off his leggings, then follow with his outer garments, and after that just snuggle down under his warm covering, and forgetting all his troubles until the summons came that breakfast was almost ready.
On this especial occasion they vanished inside the tents, leaving the guides at the fire smoking their last pipe of tobacco, which both of them had to indulge in before they could think of sleeping.
After that none of the boys knew a single thing until they were rudely awakened by hearing some one call out roughly.
Immediately afterwards there came a peremptory hail, and then a loud report that must have come from a gun.
Of course there was a hustle in both tents, and it was astonishing how quickly each scout managed to get some of his clothes on. A professional fireman could hardly have shown more expedition about dressing than Ned and Jack did, though hampered more or less in the operation by the darkness.
They had been very careful to remember just where their guns had been placed, so that as soon as they donned clothes it was easy to snatch up these weapons, after which they burst out of the tent.
The fire was beginning to revive, showing that some one must have tossed fresh fuel upon the smouldering logs. One glance that way told Ned several hours must have elapsed since he lay down, and that it was even now long after midnight. He would have been able to tell within an hour what time of night it was, had he been given a few seconds to look up at the heavens to note the position of the new stars in sight.
WAS IT A SPY?
The other fellows were coming crawling out from the larger tent when Ned and Jack reached the open air. All of them were carrying guns, as though laboring under an impression that the camp must be assailed by a rival force.
They found the two guides standing there, and peering out toward a certain quarter. Both were too old hands at this sort of thing to show the least sign of excitement, but Jimmy made up for any lack on their part.
"For the love of Mike where's the invader now? Did he trample all over you, Francois, and is that the brand of his cloven hoof on your hunting shirt now? Was it the same old bull moose, or a new kind of muskeg giant, as big as a church? Show him to me, and see how quick I'll bowl the critter over!"
"Keep still, will you, Jimmy, and let Ned do the talking," advised Jack.
"What did you fire at, Francois?" asked Ned, turning to the guide, for somehow he seemed to naturally guess that it was the French Canadian who had done the shooting, possibly because his voice had been heard raised in a challenge.
"Man, at all I know, sare," replied the other, still looking out into the semi-gloom wistfully.
"I heard you call out loud enough, just as you said you would do," Ned continued; "and instead of answering, did he turn and run away?"
"Zat is just what happen," replied the guide. "He act mooch like ze spy, and so I give heem ze shot."
"Do you think you hit him, Francois?" demanded Frank.
The other rolled up his shoulders, and made the usual "face" as he answered:
"I do not know for sure, sare. Ze light it was mos' uncertain like. I aim down low as I pull ze trigger. Zen he disappear, and I am unable to say if so be he drop down just to sneak avay, or because he wounded."
"Well, we can soon find out," impulsive Jimmy exclaimed; "me to grab up a fine torch, and lead the way. Some of the rest of you form a bodyguard around me, and be ready to give 'em a volley if they so much as peep."
It was just what Ned had been about to propose, so as Jimmy thought of the plan first he was allowed to have his way.
The fagot which Jimmy picked out of the fire was burning briskly by now, at one end, and could be made to serve very well as a torch, if only one knew how to handle it. Jimmy had taken lessons in this art, and first of all he swung the brand swiftly around his head several times, so as to make it burn more briskly.
"There, that will do, Jimmy," Jack told him; "and now lead us out, you ferocious little monster. Hold the torch so it won't blind us, remember. And if they open fire you be sure to duck, so we won't be shooting you in the back."
"Oh! I'll side-step all right, if only you give me the tip," Jimmy went on to say.
He was already starting out with Francois to show him the way to the spot where the latter had his last glimpse of the supposed spy. All of the scouts were fairly quivering with eagerness; and at the same time a cold feeling began to creep over them at the thought of what they might discover the next minute.
Francois had shot low, and only meant to wound, but then his bullet might have glanced upward, and inflicted a fatal injury.
A dozen and more paces they went. Everyone was excited, and looking this way and that, for who could say what the adventure might not mean? If there was one prowler around there might be a dozen or a score. They remembered what Ned had said concerning the possibility of the reckless plotters composing the mining syndicate gathering together a lawless crowd, and meaning to chase the explorers out of that section of country, should they threaten to discover that a fraud was in the act of being perpetrated.
"Was it about here, Francois, that you saw him vanish?" asked Ned, who had been keeping an eye on the guide, and judged from his actions that they must have arrived close to the suspected spot.
"I am think so, ver' mooch," admitted Francois, eagerly, and then after taking a backward look toward the campfire, he added: "Yes, it ees so, sare. I gif you ze word of a man zat ought to know, zat he was here when I fire ze shot."
"Well, it looks as though you didn't knock him over, Francois," observed Frank, "because there was nobody lying amidst the brush."
Without replying, the French Canadian and the Indian guide fell on their knees, and seemed to be closely examining the ground upon which none of the party had as yet set afoot.
"Tamasjo has found something," observed Teddy quickly, as he saw the Indian lower his head closer to the ground, and evidently examine some object with eagerness.
Ned was down beside him almost instantly.
"It's a plain footprint, all right," he announced as soon as he had been able to take a quick observation.
"That proves Francois did see a skulker then, and wasn't dreaming," Jack was heard to say, as though he may have been entertaining some doubt on the subject up to that moment.
"He scared him off, even if his lead was thrown away," Jimmy ventured, with a slight touch of scorn in his manner, as though he fancied he could have given a better account of himself, had the chance come his way.
"Hold on, don't be in such a rushing big hurry to say he wasted his lead," Ned warned him.
"What's that, Ned; did he hit the sneak after all?" Jack demanded.
"Well, spots of fresh blood don't grow on the bushes up here, even if we do seem to run across lots of queer things," Ned went on to say, as he pointed to where they could all see that it was so.
This fact added to the excitement. If the unknown whom they looked on as some species of spy, had been wounded, it looked like a serious piece of business for the little party of explorers. He must have friends not far away, and after the gantlet of defiance had been thrown down by this shot, these men might lose all restraint and show that they were disposed to act in an ugly way.
It meant that the former sense of security and indifference was a thing of the past. From this time on the scouts must keep constantly on the alert to guard against a sudden surprise. They must learn to watch for danger in every quarter, and not allow themselves to sleep on post.
All this change was caused by the discovery of that one small spot of shed blood. Even the usually talkative Jimmy seemed to have become dumb for the time being, as though realizing the gravity of the situation.
"Do we try to track the fellow, Ned?" asked Teddy.
"I don't think that would be a wise thing to attempt," came the reply. "In the first place we couldn't make any headway without a light; and that would expose the lot of us to his fire, if he found himself being overtaken, and was still smarting under the pain of his wound. Then again, we don't know who he may be, or what friends he may have close by. No, the best thing for us to do is to go back to our camp, and try to get a little more sleep. We'll put out the fire, and one of the guides will sit up for two hours with me. Then we'll wake another couple, and in that way pass the rest of the night."
"Sounds like business at the old stand," remarked Jimmy, "Many's the time the lot of us have done that same thing. And, Ned, I'm in hopes you'll be after lettin' me sit up with you. Never a bit of sleep is there in me eyes at this minute. I'm staring like any old hoot owl in a Virginia swamp. Don't tell me to beat it if you love me the least bit. My lamps won't go shut, that's flat, and I might as well sit up with you as lie down, and just stare and stare."
"Oh! suit yourself, Jimmy," Ned told the urgent one; "though of course I'll be only too glad to have your company, if, only you'll remember to keep still. When we have to serve as guards to the camp it's a still tongue that counts for the most."
"I'll promise to be as dumb as an oyster, Ned," pleaded the other; and so it was settled that he could help to stand the first watch.
The balance of the expedition once more settled down. Jack crawled alone into the smaller tent, while Frank and Teddy occupied the other. Francois and the Indian consulted with Ned, and then the fire was wholly extinguished. Tamasjo went over to sleep in one of the canoes, for if there should be any attack on the camp it was believed that it would begin in this quarter, as the frail craft might be reckoned their weakest and most vulnerable point.
Ned Nestor had often sat out a watch, and in the midst of a wilderness, too; but somehow the conditions seemed vastly different now from anything he had ever known before. In most other cases he could listen to the various well-known voices of the night—from katydids and crickets, to frogs in the marsh, night birds seeking their prey, or it might be the small animals of the forest barking or giving tongue.
Away up here in the vast Northern solitudes a dreadful silence seemed to hang upon all Nature. Insects there were none, of a species to cause a humming sound, and save for croaking of frogs some distance away the stillness remained unbroken for a long time.
The wolf pack broke loose again, doubtless hot on the track of a fleeing caribou, perhaps the unfortunate one that had been wounded by Jimmy on the preceding day when Frank knocked over the fine animal from which their late supper had come. Ned listened to the chorus, and allowed his thoughts to roam to other and more distant scenes, where he had had exciting experiences with the hungry animals himself, calculated to cause a shudder just to remember.
The time passed slowly. Several louder bursts of wolfish tongues told when the hunting pack chanced to draw nearer the camp, but only to grow fainter again in the distance, as the chase led the animals over barrens where the caribou herd fed, and across wild cranberry bogs, such as the boys could remember seeing up in Northern New York State when camping in the Adirondacks.
When Ned reckoned that his time was up he woke Jimmy, who had long ago gone to sleep as sweetly as you please, with his head leaning against the butt of a tree. Ned told him he might just as well crawl under the tent and get the benefit of a warm blanket; and after giving that advice called Frank and Jack out.
Teddy never so much as moved when Jimmy crept in to warm up under his woolen cover, for Teddy was a very good sleeper on any and all occasions, it seemed. Since there was no especial need of more sentries than the two, with the Indian and Francois to back them, Ned did not have the heart to arouse Teddy, even though he knew very well the other would reproach him for neglecting to do so.
There was no further alarm on that night, for which doubtless all of the boys were thankful, though Jimmy later on loudly bewailed the fact that he had been given no chance to make use of his faithful gun. Jimmy was not at all bloodthirsty, though any one hearing him talk, and not knowing his humorous nature, might be inclined to think so. But after a most venomous harangue he would very likely wink his eye drolly at the fellow scout he was addressing, and softly remark:
"But it isn't in my heart, and you know that!"
Jack declared that once during his watch he fancied he caught some sound out on the bosom of the dark river that might have been a big fish leaping, but which he was inclined to believe was made by a carelessly used paddle.
Of course there was no way of verifying this suspicion, because water unfortunately leaves no trail. Frank advanced the idea that it might have been the same spy who had been prowling around their camp.
"Suppose he had a canoe handy," he went on to suggest. "I can't imagine any living soul being away up in this country without some kind of a boat so as to get around. Now which way would he be likely to go, do you think, Ned?"
"If what Jack heard, and you didn't, was the sound of a working paddle," Ned told him, "I should say that the party went up the river. If moving with the current, you understand, there would be no need to swing his paddle at all, but simply let his boat float along till past our camp."
Francois, who had been listening to all this talk while cooking breakfast, nodded his head approvingly.
"Zat it so, sare," he ventured to observe. "Eef you ask me I haf to say ze same t'ing. Mebbe it was canoe, mebbe it was some seal zat come all ze way up zis rifer from zat big ocean zey call Hudson Bay, and which zey tell me ees six hundred mile from one shore to ze other."
"A real genuine seal, does he mean, Ned?" exclaimed Jimmy; "now I would like to set eyes on one of the glossy little chaps like those I've fed in the museum down at the Battery in little old New York."
"Made enough noise to have been a hippopotamus, if only such warm-blooded Nile amphibious animals lived in these Arctic rivers," Jack declared; "but after all it doesn't matter, only if the spy went up the stream we're better be off, because that would show his crowd would be found there, and not below."
"And I suppose that after this, while we sail on through cataracts, and along the smoother stretches we've got to keep our eyes peeled for signs of an ambuscade," Teddy observed. "Well, luckily we've got some pretty sharp-eyed fellows along with us; and then there are the experienced guides. Who cares for expenses? As long as I can poke into unknown sections where few white men have ever set foot, and Frank can write stunning letters to his paper about the strange things we run across, it doesn't matter a cookey. We'll get to our destination, and we're bound to find out all we came to see, because the scouts always do succeed."
It was in this same confident spirit that the little party embarked shortly afterwards. Not one of them felt faint-hearted as the unknown future loomed up before them. Nevertheless, could they have known just then of the astonishing experiences through which they were shortly fated to pass, possibly their pulses must have quickened under the strain.
The sun was well above the far-eastern horizon when they entered the three canoes, having carefully loaded the same with an eye to rough rapids ahead, and pushing out, trolling a Canadian boat song Francois had taught them, started on the day's voyage.
DOWN THE SWIFT RAPIDS.
"Sounds pretty wild ahead there!" bawled Jimmy, a couple of hours later.
He happened to be in the leading canoe at the time, along with the Cree Indian guide, Tamasjo, and also Frank Shaw. Ned and Jack paddled the second boat, and did it splendidly, too, for they had had considerable practice at this sort of thing, so that as Ned expressed it, both had "caught the hang of it." In the rear were the other two, Francois, and Teddy Green, the ambitious explorer of unknown lands.
All this time they had seen nothing in any quarter to indicate that there was a living human being in all that far-off country. Now and then they had glimpsed herds of caribou peacefully feeding where the grass grew most luxuriantly, or else like the reindeer of Lapland browsing off the Arctic moss that clung to the rocks in myriads of places, and contained the nourishment required. Birds were scarce, though in some places they had come upon countless numbers of ducks, geese and swan that seek these distant regions in summer to breed.
The others had possibly noticed that increasing murmur in the near distance, indicating the presence of a roaring cataract, even if they had not called attention to the same.
The Indian, seeing that the scouts would very likely want to hold a conference, dallied with his paddle, and Frank, who sat in the bow of the boat, followed suit. He did not altogether like the sound of that as yet unseen rough place in the river that flowed northward toward Hudson Bay; and felt that before trusting themselves in its clutch they should talk it over, getting what pointers they could from the two guides.
Accordingly the three canoes drifted along on the rather swift current, while those in them talked. From time to time the paddlers would delay their progress by well known means, so that they might not be carried on at too fast a pace, and find themselves in the surge of the rapids before their plans were fully matured.
"I bet you that one beats any we've struck yet, if sound goes for much!" Jimmy gave as his opinion.
"No question about that," added Jack.
"It sure makes a heap of noise," Teddy declared.
"And I can imagine the whitecaps jumping like crazy things as the current hits up against the sharp-pointed snags and rocks that stick up like horns all over!" Frank went on to say.
"Still, there are few rapids that don't have a safe channel through the worst places," Ned told them; "anyway, I've never seen one that didn't. How about that, Francois; you've been through here, you say, and in a canoe?"
"Twice, sare," came the answer.
"And didn't meet with an accident either time, I warrant," Jack avowed, confidently.
"Nevaire!" replied the guide, positively.
"And like as not, when you took the first plunge you had never seen the rapids before, Francois?" continued Ned, striving to reach a point he wanted to make.
"It was the first time I haf ever set eyes on ze same, as you say, sare."
"You just used your gumption, and tackled the job as you would any other rapids, depending on your quick eye, a firm wrist with the paddle, and general good sense, wasn't that it, Francois?" Ned asked him.
"I get through easy, but zere was a warm time of it," the other answered, shaking his head at the remembrance of difficulties overcome.
"Well, if you could pass through safely without ever having seen the rapids before it was much easier the second time, eh?" ventured the patrol leader.
"Oh! mooch easier, that time," the guide assured him.
"And now it's likely to become a habit with you," Ned remarked, smilingly. "Guess we needn't bother any great shakes, boys. Francois will take the lead, and Jack and myself bring up the rear."
"That leaves me in the middle, don't it?" asked Jimmy.
"Just what it does," Ned told him.
"You wouldn't think for a minute we'd allow you to lead, or much less come trailing along as the wind-up of the crowd," jeered Jack. "Chances are you'll be up to your old tricks again, and tumbling overboard. I've got the boathook ready to lay hold of you if that happens."
"For goodness sake, Jimmy, make up your mind to sit still and get through one of these husky rapids with a dry jacket," pleaded Teddy.
"Yes," added Frank, who, it may be remembered, was in the same boat with Jimmy; "you might upset us all if you get to wiggling around, or trying any of your silly pranks while we're in the middle of the push. And think of what we'd lose if an accident like that happened."
"You've got all the self-raising flour in your tub, Jimmy," Teddy continued, as a clinching argument; "and if that goes, good-bye to any more flapjacks while we're up around the Hudson Bay country."
"Hadn't you better transfer that stuff to one of the other boats, and give us something that won't spoil if it gets wet?" Jimmy had the impudence to suggest; at which Ned shook his finger at him, and, looking as severe as he could, went on to lay down the law, as he had a perfect right to do, being Jimmy's superior in the patrol; and besides, using the other as an assistant in his work for the Government.
"Unless you give me your solemn promise to reform, and sit as still as anything in that canoe, I'm going to have a halt called, and tie you in so you can't move. The only trouble is that if the boat does go over after all, you'd surely drown like a musk rat in a trap. Do you get that straight, Jimmy?"
Apparently the lively scout realized that his chums would not put up with any further pranks, especially when danger menaced them, as it always did at times when cataracts had to be negotiated. He threw up both hands in token of absolute surrender.
"I promise you on my word of honor as a true scout, Ned, not to budge an inch as long as the bally old boat stays on its keel. 'Course if Tamasjo pitches me out you'll let me swim for it, and get hold of your gunnel, won't you?"
"That's what we would expect you to do," Ned told him. "On the whole, as this rapid is much worse than anything we've tackled up to now, I reckon we'd better run into shore for a short stay, while we overhaul our cargoes, and make sure everything is tied fast to the supports of the canoes."
"Good idea," grunted Frank. "I believe in locking the door while you've still got the horse. Lots of folks wait till the animal has been stolen, and then wake up to the necessity of putting up the bars."
Accordingly, they landed near by on a promising point. Here they busied themselves for some time minutely examining the way in which guns, provisions, blankets, tents, cooking utensils, and all other things going to make up the cargo of the three canoes was secured.
Of course they hardly anticipated an upset, but did this only as a sort of insurance, just as a man takes out a fire risk on his house, though never fancying for a single minute that it is going to go up in flames and smoke.
After that the start was made. Francois paddled along in the lead, with Teddy holding a position in the bow, for Teddy had learned to swing a paddle fairly well on this trip. Of course, the one who sat in the stern manipulated things as he wished, being the controlling power. Teddy's duties would for the most part be to fend off from threatening rocks.
It was intended that the other boats should follow close enough to give their pilots a chance to profit by the knowledge Francois had of the currents and most dangerous places. At the same time, they must not come within a certain distance lest they foul each other.
Faster and faster did the swift current bear them on its bosom. They could now see it surging on toward the abrupt bend, around which the dangerous rapid lay.
Every fellow shut his teeth hard together. Sleeves had been rolled up, so that nothing might interfere with the heavy work ahead of them.
Jimmy was the soul watcher, he alone having no part in making that perilous passage of the cataract. Gripping the two sides of the canoe, as he squatted amidships, Jimmy stared with bulging eyes as the bend was turned, and he could see that foamy track ahead. All of the way across the river the ugly jagged rocks thrust their sharp points above the surface of the swift water, and for a distance of nearly a quarter of a mile it seemed as though only by a miracle could a frail canoe safely pass among these evil genii of the rapids.
But a careful and practiced eye could pick out an avenue of comparatively smooth water that ran from top to bottom of the rapid. It often curved sharply, so that it made a very irregular line. Quick action would be necessary in many instances, so as to avoid contact with some snag that lay in wait for a victim.
Francois went boldly in. He sat there like a carved statue, only that the upper part of his body was in constant action, as he drove his magical blade deeply into the water, and caused the canoe to obey his dominant will as he pleased.
After him came the bronzed Cree Indian guide, copying every movement of the other, much as Japanese workman would a design given into his hands to duplicate even to the minutest detail.
It was a glorious dash, and one the scouts would certainly never forget. Their blood leaped madly in their veins as they saw the tumbling, boiling water all about them, acting as though fairly wild to get them in its power.
Several times Ned and Jack found themselves put to their best efforts in order to stem the tide, and keep from meeting with shipwreck. Fortunately, their muscles were sound, and their heads clear, so that in every instance they recovered the advantage almost lost. When the foot of the cataract was reached nothing of a serious nature had happened, though all of the boys who had taken part in the labor of fighting the erratic current of the river were breathing heavily.
"Hurrah! that's the time we did it!" shouted Jimmy, apparently as proud as if he had handled a paddle himself; nor did any of the others begrudge him that slight satisfaction, since the glory was big enough to go around.
Ned gave the signal for a halt here.
"We want to rest up a bit," he explained; "and besides, didn't you hear Francois say that there were some dandy trout and grayling hanging about here at the foot of the rapids? Seems to me I'd like a mess for dinner to-day. Any objections?"
Not a single contrary word was heard, and apparently all of them were of the same mind. So they put in toward the shore again, Francois leading the way, since he had been here before, and "knew the ropes."
Tackle was soon made ready. Ned had even fetched a jointed rod along, for he liked to fish in a thoroughly sportsmanlike way, when the game was as royal in its nature as these big trout of the Canadian rivers. Grayling he had never caught, though told that they even exceed trout in desperate fighting tactics.
The fun soon became fast and furious, for there were plenty of fish, and the conditions seemed just right for them to jump at every sort of lure, from an artificial fly to a copy of an insect, or a phantom minnow such as Jimmy usually patronized, he not being equal to handling a fly rod with dexterity.
They soon had all the fish they could use. Ned continued the sport, because he was using his fly rod, and really did not injure the captures he made, so that he could toss them back after having had the fun of playing them, and seeing the desperate efforts the captives made to break away.
In the end, Ned had the luck to strike a good-sized grayling, that, making for a smaller rapid just below, gave the young sportsman all the excitement he could hope for before allowing itself to be netted. They all admired its build, and, as it was the only one of its kind taken just then, they decided to keep it, so as to say they had eaten grayling.
The interrupted voyage was thereupon resumed, and a while later they landed once more to cook a meal; for somehow all declared themselves hungry for trout, and Francois had admitted that one of the best camping places along the lower river invited them.
Jimmy, having had nothing else to do while they navigated the stream had amused himself preparing the catch for the frying pan. Nobody objected in the least; for although every scout dearly loved to eat trout, none of them ever seemed particularly anxious to clean the fish. Consequently that duty generally devolved upon good-natured Jimmy, who could be easily duped into believing that it was a high honor they were according him in allowing this privilege.
Ned, after halting by his canoe to attend to some little thing that happened to catch his attention, and which needed fixing, sauntered up the bank to find a fire had already been started by the guides.
"How is this, Francois, that you chose a place to make your fire that looks as if it might be second-best? According to my notion, over yonder is an ideal site for cooking fire."
When Ned said this the French-Canadian voyageur looked up and nodded.
"Eet is surely as you say heem be, but when I deescover zat zere haf been a pig party stop here mebbe last night, I tink you might vant me to look closer, and see vat ze signs say."
From his manner Ned understood that somehow Francois scented danger because of the presence of these men in this region. They might of course only prove to be miners sent up here by the syndicate that had obtained the right to the new mining region said to exceed in richness the famous Mesauba country. On the other hand, it was possible that they were minions of unscrupulous capitalists, sent here to block any effort on the part of the scouts to learn the truth with regard to the nature of the great fraud, if the claim put up to Mr. Bosworth proved to be such.
And Ned knew that the guide had acted wisely in leaving the cold ashes alone.
Nothing more was said about the ashes of the dead fire left behind by some party that had recently been there, until the trout had been deliciously cooked and eaten. All of them declared that they had never tasted finer flavored fish than those big gamey fellows of that Far North river. It really seemed that the further they journeyed toward the Arctic Circle the sweeter the trout became.
"They were pretty big fellows, too," Frank Shaw said, as they sat there filling up with dinner.
"Never saw larger ones, only in the Lake Superior region," Ned confessed; "and eight-pounders are common along the northern shore where several small rivers empty into the lake. I saw a bunch of that size at the Government fish hatchery at the Soo when I passed through there on a steamboat, and shot the rapids with the Indian guides. They were dandies, I tell you, boys. Think of it, genuine speckled trout weighing eight pounds, and every ounce of them fighting weight too."
Finally, when they were all ready to cry quits, having had a glorious meal, Ned thought of what the veteran guide had said about that dead fire.
"Now suppose you and Tamasjo take a good look at the ashes, and the lay of the land around, so as to tell us what you can read there," he told the voyageur.
At that some of the other boys began to stare, for they had heard nothing up to then about the late presence of others on the spot. But they knew Ned well enough to be sure that he had some good object in saying what he did; and accordingly all of them flocked after the two guides when they made for the nearby spot where even Jimmy had noticed the remains of a fire.
The scouts remained quiet while Francois and the Cree got down on hands and knees the better to examine into the signs. Ned and some of his chums would themselves have been easily able to read certain things in connection with these ashes. For instance, remembering that it had rained most of the second day before, and there was no sign of water about the ashes, they would have set it down as positive that the fire had been made afterwards. That was an easy thing to make out; and perhaps there were others they could figure; but when in the presence of veterans Ned was only too willing to observe all that was done, and profit by it.
The two men did not confine themselves to sifting the ashes through their fingers, and comparing notes in a jargon which the boys could not understand, but which they imagined must be Cree talk.
They moved further away, and looked the ground over.
"I noticed that there were plenty of hoof tracks around here," Jimmy up and declared; "but say, it never flagged me that a fellow could learn a heap from just stickin' his nose down close to such. 'Tis a safe bet we'll know everything but the names of the gossoons before Francois and his red pal quit."
Some of the others were feeling the same way. They too had noticed that there were plenty of footprints around, but being more interested in the feast then being prepared, they had not thought fit to bother about giving the same more than a casual glance.
On Ned's part, he would have devoted some of his time to this business only for the promise of the voyageur to read the signs after they had eaten.
After some little time had passed Francois came and stood before them. His face was almost as inscrutable as that of the Sphinx, or a Cree Indian. Whatever the character of his finding, it did not show outwardly.
"Well, how about these men, Francois; they must have been here last night, you think, don't you?" Ned started to ask him.
"Eet is so, sare. Zey leave zis place just same time we be saying bon jour to our own camp up ze rivaire."
"How many were they?" was Ned's next question; for Francois could not tell his story at length, but seemed to wait to have it drawn from him piece-meal as though he might be a willing witness in the box.
"Thirteen, all men at zat."
"Hunters, trappers, miners, or prospectors?" demanded Ned.
That caused the other to give one of his suggestive shrugs.
"Nozzing like zat right now, sare," he went on to declare, so positively that it was evident he had found the Indian also agreed with him. "Some of zat crowd zey wear ze moccasin ze same as Tamasjo here. Ozzers have boots wiz ze heel. But zey carry no traps along wiz zem, I tell you zat, sare."
"And if they were miners intending to work in the holdings of the syndicate they would have carried tools along, picks, shovels and the like?" remarked Jack.
Francois shook his head in the negative.
"Nozzing like zat, pelieve me, sare," he urged.
"Well, go on and tell us what you think they may be," Ned pursued.
"I zink they pe a pad crowd," answered the guide. "Zis tells ze tale," and he held up some greasy cards which he must have gathered in the bushes behind the rocks near which the dead ashes lay.
Tamasjo also stooped and lifted something that glittered in the sunlight. When the scouts saw that it was a suspicious looking black bottle, they could guess as to what the nature of its recent contents had been. Nevertheless, it was passed around and every fellow had a chance to take a sniff at it.
"Deadly stuff, sure as you're born!" Jimmy pronounced, making a wry face.
"Whisky or old rye or something like that," Frank declared; and it spoke well for those five boys that no one was positively able to identify the odor, though well knowing its general character as an aid to drunkenness.
"That seems to settle it, so far as the tough kind of men they were," Ned continued; "and now we want to try and find out if they were looking for us to come down the river; and also, try and guess where they've gone to. They had boats, of course, Francois?"
The guide held up two fingers.
"Batteau, plenty room in same for all. Tamasjo and me, we tink zey haf gone down stream. Pig bay lie only half-day's journey zat way. Eef we go on, mebbe so we arrive zere by night. Better hold up, and make ze last part of ze trip in ze dark, so zat zey no see us."
"I understand what you mean, Francois," the patrol leader hastened to say; "and it sounds good to me, I admit. When we do go down to the salt water we will take advantage of your advice."
"What's that, Ned," broke in Jack; "you don't mean to say there's any doubt about our going down, sooner or later, do you?"
"Oh! no, we're bound to see the famous Hudson Bay before we leave this section," the other assured him; "but I've been thinking things over, and come to a certain conclusion."
"Let's hear what it is, won't you, Ned?" Jimmy besought him.
"Yes, that is if Francois is through telling us about these parties."
"How about that, Francois?" Ned asked, turning to the voyageur.
"Eet is about all zat is worth knowing, sare. Of course, we haf learn zat zis man who is captaine to ze bunch, he is mooch pig, a giant, and zere is sooch a man I know whose name eet is Sol. Greggs; heem it might be who is conducting zis gang. He is a pad man, a thief who robbed traps many times, and so he gif me zis scar on ze cheek when we fight eet out."
"That sounds just like the kind of a rascal the syndicate would send up here to run things, if they were trying to work a tremendous swindle and expected to keep curious people from investigating," Jack boldly declared.
"But how about you telling what your plans are, Ned?" queried Frank.
"It's only fair you should know," replied the other; "so listen to what my idea is. In the first place, according to the map we have of the country up here, we believe that this supposed-to-be-wonderful mine must lie somewhere to the left of the mouth of this very river. Now it struck me that perhaps we might carry out our plans better if we hid our boats somewhere near by, and took a scout off in that direction."
"That does sound mighty sensible, Ned!" admitted Jack Bosworth, after considering the suggestion for a brief time.
"Suppose we try it," Frank added.
"One thing I like about the plan," Jimmy spoke up, "is that it will give us a chance to stretch our legs some. To tell you the truth, I'm getting tired of squatting there like a squaw in the tepee, with little or nothing to do. I like to carry out my share of the work; but you somehow seem afraid to let me paddle, just as if a reformed joker like me would be careless, or actually try to upset the old canoe. So I put my vote in as wanting to look for the mine over land."
Each of the other scouts quickly let it be known that they were in full sympathy with Ned's suddenly sprung plan. Of course, this would make some changes in their arrangements; but the more they looked it over, the better they all liked the idea.
"I'm chuckling to think how that bunch will keep on waiting for us to come down-stream," Frank observed, as they prepared to again enter the boats, since Ned did not mean to abandon the river craft until they had gone some distance further.
"There's only thing I hope won't happen," remarked Jack.
"And what might it be, if you don't mind telling?" Jimmy asked.
"We must be sure to hide our boats, so that there will be small chance of their being discovered by anybody," Jack continued, seriously. "Think what a dickens of a scrape we'd be in if we had to go back all the way afoot. It would take us many weeks, and chances are we'd be overtaken by winter before we got to civilization."
"Our ammunition wouldn't hold out that long," broke in Jimmy, visibly disturbed at the thought "and glory be, whatever would we do for grub to eat? It may be true that the rivers are full of fine trout, but me stomach would go back on me if so be I had to eat them every solitary day, week in and out."
"Oh! what would be the use of our being scouts if we didn't know how to trap animals and birds," Ned told him, reprovingly. "In fact, while, of course, I wouldn't say I'd like to have the experience, there's no doubt in my mind but that it would be a great education to the lot of us. And if we pulled through we'd feel as if we were fitted to go anywhere, under any conditions."
"Huh! after all we've experienced on our little trips," said Frank, "seems to me as if that would be only a walkover. For one, it doesn't faze me a whit. If Ned gave the word I'd start out with him to walk around the world, and with never a single cent in our pockets to begin with. Chances are we'd land back in New York inside of two years millionaires. That would be just like it. All the same I think we ought to cover our canoes, and keep them from falling into the hands of enemies. It is a pretty husky tramp from here to Montreal, and over tough country at that, with rivers to cross, and bogs miles around to avoid."
"Excuse me, if you please," muttered Jimmy, whose desire for a chance to stretch his legs did not contemplate such an extended trip as walking all the way to the metropolis on the St. Lawrence.
They were soon speeding down-stream again. Other small rapids they came upon, but none of the same dimensions as the cataract lately passed.
Jimmy was presently observed making gestures, and having drawn the attention of those in the nearby canoes to himself, he called out:
"Sure it's a connecting link with home!"
"What is?" demanded Jack.
"Be after dipping your hand over the side, and tastin' the water!" replied the scout who was in the boat with Tamasjo and Frank.
Upon doing so, Ned, who had quickly guessed what Jimmy meant, found that there was indeed a brackish taste to the water, as though the influence of the great tides of Hudson Bay might be felt this far up the stream; it would have gone much further only for the numerous rifts that told of a descent of several feet in the drop of the river.
Ned concluded that they had gone quite far enough for the present. Upon asking the voyageur, he learned that they could reach the mouth of the river inside of a couple of hours, if they chose to use their paddles in addition to the set of the now sluggish current of the widening stream.
"Keep on the watch for a suitable hiding place for the boats," he told the others, "and remember, it must be on the larboard side, because that's the way we expect to tramp in search of the wonderful copper mine."
Every one after that kept on the alert for such a place as would be suitable for the purpose to which they intended to put it. Of all the five scouts, it seemed the irony of fate that Jimmy should actually be the one to first make a discovery.
"I'm only a dub at this business, I know," he said after a while, with a grin on his freckled face, that was almost as red as his hair, thanks to the action of the summer sun and the winds they had encountered; "yes, only a tyro, so to speak; but d'ye know it strikes me that over yonder amongst the canes the canoes would lie so snug and unbeknown that nothin'd bring harm to the same, while we chanct to be awanderin' around."
Ned being close by gave one look and then laughed.
"Jimmy, I want to tell you right now," he remarked, "that if you'd only devote more of your time to scout lore you'd be a wonder. That growth of thick reeds is just a dandy place to do the business, and on the proper side of the river at that. We can push in, each following exactly in the wake of the preceding boat. Jack and myself will bring up the rear, and carefully fix the reeds again, so that no one on the river ten feet away would dream that boats had made a passage there. Head in, fellows, and pick out your way carefully, making only one track or channel."
This, those in the foremost canoe did, and close behind them came the second boat, the paddler using his blade with extreme caution, so as not to disturb the reeds more than was absolutely necessary. Finally, Jack and Ned wound up the procession, the latter kneeling in the stern of the canoe, where he could use his hands dextrously and swiftly cause the bent-over canes to resume their former position. In this fashion then they finally came to the land, still surrounded by the little wilderness of reeds, out of which they could emerge as soon as the boats were securely fastened.
ON THE SHORE OF THE SALTY SEA.
"Tell me about that, will you?" remarked Jimmy, as he carefully stepped ashore; "according to my mind it was cleverly done, if I do say it that oughtn't."
You would certainly have thought the little chap had covered himself with glory, and that the success of the whole undertaking depended on him. But then the other scouts knew Jimmy from the ground up, and seldom took offense at anything he said, because they realized that much of his bragging and "joshing" did not "spring from the heart," as he naively confessed many a time.
Ned was wise enough to see that each canoe, before being abandoned there amidst the friendly rushes, was securely staked, so that it could not drift away, through the action of wind or current.
"Seems to me that is about all we have to do here," Jack remarked, after these matters had been carefully attended to.
"And the next thing on the programme is to hike out in search of a wonderful old copper mine that, chances are, doesn't exist at all outside the minds of that lot of fakirs," Frank observed; for he had never taken much stock in the alleged "proofs" shown to Jack's father by the parties who were exploiting this new and sensational discovery of amazingly rich ore.
Ned gave a last look around. He was careful at all times to make doubly sure; and, since they intended cutting loose from their boats for a while at least, he wanted to make no mistake that would cost them dearly.
"It's all right," he told his mates, "and we seem to have everything necessary. Of course we're going as light as we can, and no blankets are allowed, or tents either; but we've looked after the eating part of the game; and besides, we've got our guns, in case we have to knock over a caribou or other game to help out."
"Then say the word, governor, and we'll be beating it," Jimmy advised.
So Ned raised his hand, and made a sign that the others easily understood. In the scout language it meant "go ahead!" Even Francois and the Cree chief so interpreted the sign, for they immediately started forth.
They left the reed patch in a sinuous line, each stepping directly into the tracks of the one preceding him. In this fashion their passage caused very little disturbance amongst the "bullrushes," as Jimmy persisted in calling the thick growth. And Tamasjo, coming now in the rear, did much to smooth over the trail, so that it would take a pair of unusually keen eyes to have guessed that one or more persons had issued forth at this point.
Having left the tall reeds behind them, the little party now found the woods in front. The ground rose abruptly, and they were standing where they could have a fair view of the river.
Ned gave a last look up and down the stream. As far as he could see there was not a sign of human life in either direction, only the calm peaceful flow of water moving majestically toward the great bay that undoubtedly lay not a great distance away.
Thus they started off, Ned having arranged his plan of campaign so as to confuse the enemy, possibly awaiting their coming further down the stream.
It was no idle saunter through the Northern woods. The leader of the Wolf Patrol had conferred with Francois, and arranged matters so that they would be able to return this way when ready.
Under ordinary conditions this might be easily accomplished by using a camp hatchet, and "blazing" a tree occasionally. In this manner the pilgrim would be able to always sight a white mark ahead, and pick his way without difficulty. But for numerous reasons they did not wish to attempt this well-known method now; since it might excite the curiosity of any one chancing to run across a freshly blazed tree, causing him to start in and follow the cuts all the way to the concealed canoes.
Consequently, Francois picked out certain features of the landscape which he occasionally pointed out to Ned, who in turn impressed them on the attention of his chums.
An odd looking bunch of birches that could not be easily mistaken told them in the first place that the reed bed was only a few hundred feet away. Then, shortly afterwards, it was a rock that had the appearance of "round table," which Jimmy insisted on calling it. They jotted this down on the tablets of their memories, as the second striking feature of the trail.
So it went on. Scouts as a rule have good memories, because they have been shown early in their career when joining the organization how useful it is to be able to recollect a host of things without confusion. Indeed, one of the requisites to gaining advance marks in the patrol is the possession of this faculty. A tenderfoot will be given a chance to stand in front of a window containing hundreds of small objects, possibly connected with a hardware establishment in town. After impressing the picture on his mind, after a certain fashion for a full minute or so, he must walk away, and later on write out a list of every object he can remember.
Practicing after this manner boys have learned to widen the scope of their memories so that they become able to describe an array of things never seen before to an extent that is astonishing.
This was the practice that became valuable to Ned and his chums as soon as they started through that Canadian "bush." Each fellow began in a systematic way to make a list of the various "signs," so that when called upon to give his opinion he would be able to repeat the entire assortment, just as a sailor, forward or backward, is able to rattle off the thirty-two points of the mariner's compass.
There were many other features connected with that hike, which brought out their knowledge of scoutcraft. They noticed everything around them, as they moved along in a steady fashion. Never an arctic hare sprang up and bounded away, but the eye of every scout was instantly fastened on the little animal; and each boy mentally figured out how it must have been peaceful in this section of the woods, or that timid little creature would not have been lying asleep there, to be disturbed by their coming.
"We're heading almost due north, ain't we?" Jimmy asked, when some twenty minutes had elapsed since the start.
"About as near that as we can go," answered Ned.
"I knew it by the lay of the sun, and the way the moss hangs to one side of nearly all the trees, the northwest, where most every storm comes from," was what Jimmy went on to say, as though desirous of letting the leader know he had never forgotten valuable lessons learned long ago.
"You can tell direction from the general slant of the trees, if you notice them close enough," Jack Bosworth ventured; "because in the long run they are bound to show some deviation from a straight perpendicular, on account of these same storms. There's a good example of what I say right before you, Jimmy; that big tree standing high up above all the rest. See what I mean?"
"'Tis an easy mark you'd be taking me for, Jack, if I couldn't grab that idea and pull it down," the other remarked.
"Fact is," put in Frank, "a wide-awake scout need never get lost, if only he keeps his wits about him. I've even told direction by using my watch. And there isn't one of the bunch but who carries some sort of a compass along with him, unless Jimmy here, who forgets so many times, has left his with the duffle in the boats."
"You're off your trolley there if you think that, Frank," chuckled the scout in question, as he tapped his pocket suggestively. "I've experienced the fun of gettin' lost twice in me life, and I don't mean to ever take chances again. Goin' without a bite of grub from one sunset to the next was a lesson to me I'll not soon forget. I thought I was bound to starve to death."
"Well, let's talk less and look more," advised Ned, who knew how easily Jimmy could be drawn into an argument, or be induced to start one of his stories that concerned strange things experienced in the past.
After that they moved along almost in silence. Once in a while, Ned would think it the part of wisdom to call their attention to something that was apt to impress itself on their memories, so as to be easily recalled later on. He did this in a quiet way, for Ned disliked any show of authority. As the leader of the strange expedition into these Northern wilds, he was in complete charge of the little party; but, then, these other young fellows were boon comrades, with whom he had encountered numerous perils in times gone by, so that he hid the iron hand under the velvet glove as much as possible.
All of them could speedily see that the character of the country was gradually changing as they continued to advance. This gave Ned assurance that his theory was founded on correct lines, and that they must be drawing very near the shore of the great bay to which his mission had drawn him.
Up to now they had not discovered the first actual trace of others besides themselves in that region; though twice the Indian had hovered over half-washed-out footprints, showing that at least they were not the first ones to pass along under these trees.
Ned was all this time observing the nature of the land, with the design of making up his mind concerning the chances of rich copper deposits being found there.
It did not seem altogether unlikely, from what he knew of such things. Before he left home he had been shown all sorts of copper ore; and on the way the patrol leader had stored up in his mind many minute descriptions he had read of the famous country north of Superior, where such valuable mines were being worked. Thus, he was pretty well posted on the subject, though, of course, one who had had actual practical experience in copper mines might have put him in possession of many other useful facts.
So far as he could tell the rocks looked very like those around the Mesauba region, and samples of which he carried along with him for comparison when the proper time arrived.
If this affair were indeed a gigantic swindle, then those who were running the game had been smart enough to pick out as the field of their operations a country that at least gave outward evidences of being capable of producing a high grade of copper ore. Ned had at one time fancied the whole thing was a myth, but now he realized that the supposed owners of the new discovery had at least been on the ground. They had carefully selected their site to conform with such conditions as would at least be required, should an expert secretly visit the scene.
Ned was satisfied with the way things were working. If only he could find where the mine was located, and make his investigations secretly, without the others being aware of his presence, he believed he would have no complaint to foster.
An encounter with armed guards who would be hostile to his mission was the last thing he wanted to have happen; though, of course, should this come about he believed he could depend on his chums to give a good account of themselves. They had in the past stuck to him on many occasions through thick and thin. Not one of them but who had done his part manfully, in season and out. The record of their past achievements had been one of almost unbroken successes. He had every reason to expect that this latest enterprise would be along the same order, and that the little party of explorers might return again to the metropolis, bearing with them such a concise and complete report, that Mr. Bosworth, and those interested in the proposed new mine, would have all the information required in order to know just how to act.
Most of the scouts were by this time beginning to look ahead with the idea of being the first to discover the big water that they knew must lie near by. Ned could have undoubtedly made the discovery some time back, because he carried his field glasses slung over his shoulder, by means of a strap; but he preferred to let one of his chums enjoy the sensation.
Jimmy was craning his neck more or less, for being shorter than any of his companions he felt that he labored under a disadvantage. The growth of trees was of a nature to hide what lay beyond, yet all of them could actually feel the presence of salt water. Besides, if other evidences were lacking, their ears told them of waves running up on the shore, to gently break there; though the breeze was from a poor quarter to carry these sounds to them.
All of these lads, living in New York, were accustomed to seeing the ocean, and familiar with the "tang" that usually accompanies the presence of an arm of the sea. For weeks now they had been moving over the interior, and the prospect of sighting this Northern sea, that had ever been the home of mystery to all mariners, thrilled every boyish heart.
In the course of their various travels they had gazed upon strange scenes. Once not so very long before, fortune had been kind enough to take them to the regions of the Polar ice, in carrying out a mission entrusted to their charge; so that this would not be their first introduction to the Northern ocean. But they had heard so much about the unexplained things that took place in Hudson Bay, that one and all grew more anxious, the nearer they drew to their destination.
Ned had already made a discovery that gave him a thrill. He had found that some of the landmarks set down in the description of the wonderful mine were right before his eyes, and this fact gave him renewed confidence in his plan of campaign. The climax must be close at hand. Before many hours had passed by, he would be in a position to know the truth; whether this affair were a gigantic swindle gotten up and engineered by the combine, with the idea of loading a worthless property on Mr. Bosworth; or, actually what it claimed to be—a rich deposit of copper ore that seemed to lie in vast quantities among the rocks above the shore of Hudson Bay, and with shipping facilities at the very door of the proposed mine.
After all it was Teddy, the explorer, who turned out to be the fortunate one fated to be the first to glimpse the water. He happened to see a small opening to one side and ahead, to which he immediately called the attention of his mates.
"There's the sun glinting on something out there, boys," was the way he put it, "that looks mighty like water to me. Yes, you can see it seems to move up and down, just like we've often seen the ocean do over Long Island way. How about it, Ned; do I count first blood?"
"It's the bay, all right, Teddy," remarked the other, quietly, after giving one look in the direction Teddy was pointing.
Five minutes later and they stood on the border of the tree line, staring out over the vast heaving salty sea that they knew must be the far-famed Hudson Bay.
THE MYSTERIOUS BLUR ON THE HORIZON.
"I just thought it'd turn out to be a whopper of a yarn!" said Jimmy, frowning as if grievously disappointed all the same.
"What's that?" asked Frank.
"Why, all that tommyrot about the queer old fleet of boats that vanished right before your eyes, and then bobbed up somewhere else, like a flock of submarines, or a school of blooming porpoises," returned the disgusted one.
At that Jack laughed.
"Why, it sounds like Jimmy really believed the whole thing," he remarked; "and has been expecting the mysterious fleet at anchor the very minute he glimpsed Hudson Bay."
"But I did expect to hit on something different from this," said Jimmy. "Somebody, tell me, would you please, what's so remarkable about this thing? I've seen many a stretch of salt water that looked just like it, shore line and all."
"Why not?" observed Ned; "I never thought we'd find Hudson Bay country any different from other Northern lands. There are the same trees, moss-covered rocks, peculiar sedge grass, and the like. But don't be so quick to jump at conclusions, Jimmy. Give me half a chance to take a look through my field glasses here, and perhaps I can tell you something interesting."
With those words Ned unslung the glasses, and adjusted the same to his eyes. The others of the party, standing there knee-deep in the rank grass that grew along the border of the woods, watched him with renewed interest. They even forgot about the wild fowl that were sporting in flocks out where the waves broke upon a line of rocks, with a subdued roar.
Carefully did Ned train his powerful field-glasses on a certain part of the horizon. Looking in that quarter some of the others began to rub their eyes.
"Seems to me there is something there," remarked Frank, straining his eyes in the endeavor to make sure.
"It may be a low-lying cloud on the water-line of the horizon," Teddy added.
"Anyhow, it's too far away for us to tell with the naked eye," Jack announced; "and so we'll have to depend on Ned to give us the information."
Just then the leader lowered the glasses.
"Take a look for yourself, Jack," he said; and there was a slight smile on his face while speaking, that told of a discovery of some sort.
While Jack was fixing the glasses to suit his needs, for everybody's eyes are not just alike, Jimmy was trying to make use of his doubled-up hands in order to help his vision.