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THOMAS CHARLES BRIDGES
(WRITING AS CHRISTOPHER BECK)

THE CLUE IN THE CABIN

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A COMPLETE STORY OF ADVENTURE


Ex Libris

First published in The Children's Newspaper, 24 February 1940

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-08-27
Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.

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TWO boys stood before a small cabin in a lonely valley among the wild mountains of British Columbia. Great gloomy cliffs walled the gorge and a creek roared hoarsely down the centre. Around the cabin grew bushes and grass, but, farther up, the valley floor was littered with enormous boulders.

Leslie Strahan, younger of the two brothers, a slim, dark, keen-eyed lad, looked round and shivered slightly.

"Did you ever see such a gloomy place, Ralph?" he asked.

"Never mind what it looks like," replied stocky Ralph impatiently. "It's what's inside that counts." As he spoke he was fitting a key into the lock. The rusty hinges creaked as he pushed the door open. Both boys stepped in and pulled up short.

"They've got ahead of us," growled Ralph in dismay, as he looked round the wrecked room. The bunk had been torn from the wall, the stove was upset, the pots and pans lay on the floor, everything was topsy-turvy.

"It's Abe Crundall," Leslie said briefly. "As you say, he's got ahead of us. I wonder if he's found the clue and got the gold?"

"Hush!" said Ralph, who had ears as quick as those of a hare. "Someone's coming!"

THE STRANGER

A MAN was walking up the creek towards the cabin. He was fat, yet stepped as lightly as a cat. As he came nearer the boys saw that he had a large white face, small sharp eyes, and a wide mouth with thin lips.

"I see you coming," he said in an oddly high-pitched voice. "You're John Strahan's boys, I reckon."

"We are," replied Leslie politely. "May I ask your name?"

"Sure! Sanders I'm called. Harry's the first name. You going to work Bill Burrit's claim?"

"My brother and I are going to fix up the place so that my father can work it. My father is laid up with a bad ankle. That's why we came alone."

"Right brave of you," said Sanders. "Well, if I can help you any way just call on me. I lives a little way down the creek."

"You are very kind," said Leslie.

Sanders waved his fat hand. "So long then," he said, and went off.

Ralph frowned as he watched him go. "I don't like him," he muttered.

"No more do I," Leslie agreed. "Did you notice he didn't say a word about the cabin being wrecked? I shouldn't wonder if he is a friend of Abe Crundall."

"And Crundall's got the gold," groaned Ralph. He clenched his fists. "We must get it back. We must have the money for Dad's operation."

"We must," Leslie said firmly. "But our first job is to clear up this mess."

Leslie had said that his father was laid up with a bad ankle. The truth was that his leg had been horribly smashed by a falling tree. John Strahan had been checker for a lumber company and had earned a fair salary; but he had a wife and three children, so had not been able to save much. Now all his savings were spent, and the doctor said he would have to go to Vancouver for an operation or be a cripple for life.

This is where the boys came in. During the previous summer they had chanced on an old chap caught by the leg in the cruel jaws of a hidden bear trap and half dead with pain and starvation. They had got him out of the trap, put him on a horse, and taken him to their home, where he quickly recovered. His name was Bill Burrit, and he and the boys became great friends.

Bill was English and had been well educated. He had become prospector, and now, he told them, had a paying claim on Sapphire Creek.

"And when I die," he said to the boys, "I'm going to leave it to you fellows."

They of course had never thought twice of his promise, and it was a shock when they got a letter from him to say he was dying from pneumonia and that they were to have his claim.

"I have a packet of dust hidden away," he wrote, "and that's for you two. The trouble is I've had to hide it. There's a man here called Abe Crundall. He's a bad hat. He's tried to rob me more than once but hasn't succeeded so far. But I dare not tell you where I've hidden the dust for it's on the cards Crundall will sneak in and see this letter after I'm gone. All I can say is that the clue is in the cabin. You'll find it, Leslie, and I hope it will do you both good. You were always good to me. Give my love to your mother."

The brothers set to work cleaning up the mess and making the place fit to live in. And while they worked they hunted for the clue.

"Why did he say you could find it, Les?" Ralph asked, as he nailed the bunk back into place. Leslie did not answer, and Ralph looked round to see his brother staring fixedly at the wall behind the stove. He came across.

"What's up?" he demanded.

Leslie pointed, and Ralph saw scribbles in pencil on the wall. The top line read, "Bacon, 10 lbs left." The next, "Flour, one barrel." Below were some words which were not English. Ralph read them out. "Lympha pudica Deum vidit. Latin, isn't it? What's it mean, Les?"

"The modest water saw its God," Les translated. His eyes shone. "It's the clue, Ralph."

"The clue. I can't make head or tail of it."

"But I can. It means that the dust is hidden in clear water."

Ralph gazed at his brother. "The spring?" he said.

"You've got it, old chap. What could be a better hiding-place? No one would think twice of Bill going to his spring for water, and what would be easier than to bury his dust in the bottom of the little pool."

Ralph jumped for the door, but Leslie grasped his arm.

"Steady, you ass! Do you want to give the whole show away? You can be sure Abe Crundall is watching us."

"I—I hadn't thought of that," Ralph stammered.

"Just as well that I did," said Leslie drily. "See here. Take a bucket and go and fill it at the spring. As you go and come keep your eyes open."

"Right," said Ralph, and pushed off.

He was back in five minutes, full of excitement.

"I spotted him all right. He was hidden in the bushes close by the creek. He stuck his head up as I dipped the bucket. And, Les—it was that same fat man."

Leslie nodded.

"I thought as much. Then he isn't Sanders at all. He's really Abe Crundall."

"You're right. And"—Ralph gave a short laugh—"he hasn't got the dust."

"No," said Leslie; "but no more have we. And I don't know how we're going to get it."

"At night," Ralph suggested.

"No good. We'd need light to dig it up, and Crundall will be watching."

Ralph looked blue. "We are up against it," he said.

"We'll manage," Leslie declared. "We must think of some way of putting Crundall off the scent. Let's have dinner and talk it over while we eat."

The stove was fit for use again, and the boys fried some bacon and heated up a tin of baked beans. They then made some coffee.

"We've not only got to put him off the scent," said Les presently, "we must put him on a wrong scent."

AN EXPEDITION AFTER DARK

LES finished his bacon before he spoke again.

"I've a notion. As soon as it's getting dark we'll go out. We'll look about very carefully, then sneak off up the valley. As soon as we get to those big stones we'll hide. After a bit you go on alone, and make a little noise as you go. Crundall will be following, of course, and it will be too dark for him to see there is only one ahead of him. As soon as it's safe I'll turn back, go straight to the spring, and get the gold. Meantime you dodge him and hide. When he is well off the track you cross the creek and go to the spot where we got down the cliff. I'll join you there with the gold." Ralph cheered up.

"Good enough, Les. We'll try it."

The sun set in a clear sky, but, luckily for the boys, the moon did not rise until late. By dark all was ready, and the two, carrying some food and a rope, slipped quietly away up the valley. Too quietly, Les thought, but presently Ralph chuckled softly.

"He's after us," he whispered, and Les, who knew that Ralph's ears were sharper than his, was content.

They walked fast until they reached the wilderness of rocks, then turned to the left and stopped behind an immense mass of granite. They climbed to the top and lay quiet as mice.

Presently steps were heard, and Crundall, soft-footed as a cat, came prowling past. The boys waited until the sound died quite away, then Les whispered, "All right," and both slipped down off the rock.

"Go on back, Les," Ralph said. "I'll give the chap something to think of."

"Be careful," Les begged. "He'll be furious when he finds he's been tricked."

"I'll watch out," grinned Ralph, and went off.

Les turned and hurried back towards the cabin. Time and again he looked round, but there was no sign of Crundall. At the cabin he had a shovel ready and a candle lantern. He picked them up and ran to the spring. The spring was in a little hollow with bushes round it, so it was safe to light the lantern. Then Les took a sharp-pointed stake and began probing the soft bottom of the little pool.

THE RACE ON THE CLIFF FACE

THE stick struck something hard. Les dropped it and dug furiously. He got out a large round stone. This gave him a shock, but a second attempt was more fortunate. Up came a bag of buckskin, small but amazingly heavy for its size.

"The gold!" he whispered, and thrust it into the haversack on his back. He put out his lantern, crept out of the hollow, listened a moment, then, as all seemed clear, raced away up the valley.

When he got to the stones he slackened his pace. He slipped in and out among the great boulders, stopping and listening every few moments. At last he reached the creek, which he crossed by jumping from rock to rock.

Now he moved more carefully than ever. The low roar of the creek among its stones drowned other sounds and Les was very nervous. As he climbed the slope towards the cliff foot a different sound came to his ears. It was a rattle of falling gravel.

He looked up, and his heart missed a beat, for the starlight showed a dark, thickset figure climbing slowly up the great rock face. It wasn't Ralph; it was Crundall.

Where was Ralph? Next moment Les saw him high on a ledge above Crundall. Crundall saw him too.

"Come down out o' that," he cried in his queer, high-pitched voice. "If ye don't I'll break every bone in your body." Ralph was not at all dismayed.

"The boot's on the other foot, Mr Crundall. It's you who'll break your bones if you come any higher. I've a pile of nice big stones ready to drop on you, and if one hits you you'll go down a lot faster than you came up."

Les nearly laughed. You could always trust old Ralph to keep his end up. He expected to hear a torrent of abuse from Crundall, and was surprised when the man said nothing but clambered away to the left. Next moment Les saw what he was about. Crundall squeezed in under a projecting rock and stayed there.

"You can pitch all the stones you want to," he sneered. "It won't do you no good. I know your brother's still in the gulch. I'll git him if I don't git you. There ain't no other way up the cliff.

"No other way," Ralph retorted. "That's all you know about it. Les and I took jolly good care to fix up our way out before we started. I'm going on up. Les will be there almost as soon as I."

"Ralph is bluffing," said Les to himself. "I'll lay he knows I'm listening, but I wish I was sure just what he meant."

Les could see Ralph but Crundall could not. Ralph was scribbling something on a bit of paper. He tied this to a small stone and dropped it. Then he began scrambling up, making a lot of noise.

Les got the stone. He carried it into a little cave at the base of the cliff, struck a match, and read the message.

"50 yards North. Easy."


It was quite enough. Out Leslie came and started to creep along the foot of the cliff. He got round a buttress and was out of sight of Crundall, and there in front of him was the way up.

It wasn't so easy as Ralph had thought, and the haversack with the gold hampered Leslie, but he climbed like a cat and was soon 50 feet up.

Suddenly came a high-pitched yell of rage. Crundall had seen him, and Les, glancing to the right, saw the man scrambling rapidly across the face of the cliff. The thief meant to cut him off.

Now it was a race. Crundall was higher than Les, and Les saw that the thief was bound to catch him if he himself kept to the straight climb. He looked to the left and saw a narrow, dangerous ledge. Anything was better than losing the gold. He swung on to it.

It was only a few inches wide and terribly steep. Les felt like a fly on a wall. One mistake, one slip, and he was done. He dared not look down, but, with eyes fixed on the rock, clawed his way onward foot by foot.

The ledge grew worse; he reached the end and could go no farther. He looked back. Crundall saw that he was trapped, but Crundall himself was evidently afraid of the ledge.

"Come back," Crundall called. "Give me the gold and I won't hurt you. You'll be safe. I swear it."

"I'd sooner chuck it into the creek," Les retorted.

"You'll go there yourself in another minute," snarled Crundall.

"Will he?" came Ralph's voice from above. A rope rattled down.

"Hang on, Les," cried Ralph. "I've tied it tight. Come on up. It's only a little way."

Les snatched at the rope and went up hand over hand. Another minute and he was safe on a broad ledge beside his brother. Ralph leaned over.

"Goodbye, Crundall. Next time we come to the valley we'll bring a policeman with us. If you know what's good for you you'll be somewhere else."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.