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CHAPTER VI
The next morning Scott went back up the river to continue the exploration of the swamp. He had some provisions along this time and was determined to stay out until he had finished the job. He would lose too much time going back to the cabin every night. He also had a compass. He decided to paddle on past the first channel into the swamp to the one where he had come out the night before, or rather early that same morning. It had appeared to him the night before to be about a half a mile farther up the stream. He had certainly covered much more than that distance now, but had not discovered any sign of it. Perhaps it had seemed shorter traveling downstream. He would go on a little farther. For another half mile he poked along the shore examining every break in the brush which might indicate a passage, but none of them proved to be any more than a little bay in the shore.

He knew now that he must have passed it. He considered paddling on up to the channel which the loggers used and starting his search from there, but he thought it might be better to keep his search a secret till he had completed it, and turned back to hunt once more for the hidden channel.

“Seems funny,” Scott muttered to himself, “that I could stumble through that passage in the night and can’t find it now in broad daylight.”

He paddled briskly back to the place where he had started his careful search. From there on he examined every foot of the shore. He had not gone very far when he stumbled on to a clump of tall brush which overhung the water. Ordinarily he would have passed it without a thought, but he was looking for something now, and he pushed the bushes aside with his paddle to make sure. There, sure enough, he looked into a perfectly clear and open channel through the bank into the swamp. It was broad on the inside like the top of a funnel and it was quite easy to see why it had not impressed him as a hidden channel on his outward trip. He wondered whether its existence was known to the loggers. He examined the shores and the approach, but could not find any trace. Of course that was no proof that boats had not used it, but it was hardly possible that any great number of logs had ever been worked through it without leaving some evidence.

He struck out boldly across the swamp, traveling due east, and soon came to the forest shore. A brief examination told him that he had passed there the day before and he paddled rapidly northward till he recognized the beginning of new territory. From there on he took up a minute examination of the shore line. After his experience with the passage into the river he was even more careful than he had been the day before. All day long he poked slowly in and out of the little bays, scrutinizing every trail and not forgetting an occasional glance out into the swamp. Not a single sign did he see to indicate that any one had ever been in the place before.

Night fell on him unexpectedly as on the night before and he determined to land and camp in the pine forest. He landed on a big log which extended out into the water and made the bateau fast. The night was so clear and warm that he decided not to put up a tent. His sleeping bag would give him all the protection that he needed. As he was still bent on keeping his whereabouts secret and did not know how near to the camp he might be, he determined to go without a fire and content himself with a cold supper. Ordinarily he would have picked a location next to a log or tree, but when he thought of the enormous spiders he had seen and the venomous scorpions of which he had heard, he selected an open spot in a little clearing. He could not put the rattlesnakes and cottonmouths entirely out of his mind, but he tried hard to forget them.

His simple supper was soon eaten and he sat in the starlight once more, listening to the small noises of the night. To the uninitiated these small noises often pass unnoticed and seem only to intensify the stillness. With many of them Scott was already familiar, but in this strange country there were others with which he was wholly unfamiliar. While he was trying to identify some of these he heard once more the creaking of a chain. It had been so faint the night before, and turtles and frogs are capable of such strange, creaking noises, that he had not been sure of it, but it was nearer to-night and he caught a distinct metallic ring in it.

Scott was all excitement now. He listened so intently that it almost hurt, but the sound did not come again. Once he thought that he heard the drip of a paddle but he could not be sure of that. It was possible that he was in sound of the camp. Sound travels far over the water on a still night. He had no idea where the camp was. But if he were close enough to the camp to hear the creaking of a chain he would certainly hear other noises unless the camp was very different from any other he had ever seen. It was a great temptation to scout around the edge of the swamp on foot in an attempt to locate the camp, but that would be foolish and possibly dangerous when he was so unfamiliar with the country. The pine had not been cut here as yet. That was a pretty good indication that he was not anywhere near the camp.

He sat long into the night, long after the moon had risen, listening, but in all that time not another suspicious sound came out of the weird tangle of the swamp. It was past midnight when he relaxed his straining nerves and crawled into his sleeping bag with a shiver, for he had not noticed the damp night chill which had crept into his very bones while he was sitting there motionless. Several times he caught himself listening again, wild-eyed, and even after he finally went to sleep he continued to dream of that creaking chain so vividly that in the morning he could not tell whether he had really heard it again or not.

So eager was he to investigate that curious sound that he could hardly wait to eat breakfast. All his stuff was soon loaded in the old bateau and he set off excitedly on his search. The question was, should he continue to follow the shore line as he had been doing or should he take the direction from which the sound had seemed to come? He decided to follow the shore line. It would be better to complete the shore line and then examine the open swamp. Scott always liked to know what was behind him. He soon found that he had not slept very close to the camp. The shore line was bare of trails here and he traveled at a lively pace. Yet, at the end of an hour, he had not seen anything of the pond or the logging camp.

“This blamed old swamp must connect with the Lake of the Woods,” Scott growled as he paddled on. “It does not seem as though we could have ridden this far the other day.”

When he rounded a point a half mile farther on, where an arm of the swamp ran off to the eastward, he suddenly saw the camp and the log pond before him. He sat motionless in the bateau and looked the place over in detail. It was much as it had been when he saw it before except that there were more logs in the pond. Only one man was in sight. He was working up at the other end of the pond building a section of a raft.

Scott watched this man thoughtfully for some time. He bored a hole through the end of a four-inch pole with a large augur and also bored another hole near the end of one of the logs. Then he drove a wooden peg through the hole in the pole and into the hole in the log. He repeated this operation at the other end of the pole with another log. Then he fastened the other ends of these two logs together in the same way. That made the framework for his raft. With a long pike pole he herded some other logs over to this frame. By pressing down on the pole he made the logs one by one duck under the crosspole and take their places between the two outer logs. When the space was filled this section of the raft was completed. He then proceeded to build another just like it. A number of these sections would be chained together end to end and the long, snakelike raft would be ready for its trip down the river.

“Where in thunder did you spend the night?”

The voice was so close to him and so unexpected that Scott almost upset the cranky little bateau. Then he recognized a face staring at him out of a clump of bushes close beside the boat and realized that he was near the stump where he had seen Murphy perched on their former trip.

“Hello,” Scott answered somewhat uncertainly when he had sufficiently recovered from his surprise. He was chagrined to think that he had not seen Murphy before. “Been there ever since we left?”

The man at the other end of the pond was too far off to hear their voices, but Murphy was afraid their conversation might reveal his hiding place. “Back up out of sight,” he said, “and I’ll join you.”

Scott retreated out of sight of the pond and Murphy soon joined him in a tiny bateau.

“No,” Murphy said in answer to Scott’s question, “I have not been there ever since you left, but I spent the night there. Where were you last night?” he repeated. He seemed to be excited.

“How do you know that I was not at home?” Scott asked suspiciously.

“You’d be some paddler if you got up here this time of morning,” Murphy laughed.

Scott had not thought of that. “I camped down there in the woods a couple of miles, near the edge of the swamp.”

“Did you hear the creaking of a chain about nine o’clock?” Murphy asked with suppressed excitement.

“I thought I did,” Scott replied cautiously.

“So did I,” Murphy exclaimed emphatically. “It was rather faint but it could not have been anything else. There was something doing out there in that swamp somewhere. I took a sneak out that way, but could not find anything.”

There was no doubting Murphy’s sincerity. He was fairly quivering with excitement. His knowledge of the country and his familiarity with the ways of the loggers would be of great help and Scott threw his suspicions to the winds. Moreover, he wanted somebody with whom he could talk. “I heard it the night before, too,” he confided.

“Did you?” Murphy exclaimed eagerly. “I was not here that night. What are you going to do now?”

Scott explained what he had already done and suggested that Murphy join him in completing the examination of the rest of the shore line. Murphy was more than willing.

“They seem to be getting a raft ready to send out now,” Scott said. “Do you know when they will start with it?”

“Usually start about the time the tide turns out. That will mean about five o’clock this afternoon.”

“Have you any grub?” Scott asked.

“No, but I can get some pretty quick. Ought to go to the cabin before I go off anywhere anyway.”

“All right. I’ll go up with you. Then we’ll make the rounds of the river bank and wait down there to see that raft go by.”

They landed well out of sight of the logging camp and struck off through the woods for Murphy’s ranger cabin.


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