The Boy Scouts of the Air at Cape Peril/Chapter 10
"Hang it! If we can't go in swimming I'm going out exploring the sand hills," proclaimed Cat after lunch. "What say, Jimmy?"
"Somebody else has got a say in that," interposed the prudent Turner. "I've got to stay here to look out for the wireless. Besides that shark skirmish gave me enough excitement for one day. And there's one thing, sure as shooting, I'm not going to let you youngsters go a-mooning over those treacherous sand hills by yourselves. First thing you know, you'd be buried with nothing but a leg sticking out to tell the tale."
"Great Gee!" snorted Cat. "Don't you reckon we can take care of ourselves. We're scouts."
"Scouts be scat! You're not going by yourselves. I don't care if you're Pathfinder and the whole Lewis and Clark expedition to boot."
The sight of Luke through the open door stimulated an idea in Jimmy's mind.
"Can't Luke go with us?" the boy begged.
Turner meditated a moment, reflected that he would like a few minutes to himself, interviewed the mahogany-hued cook, and settled it that the boys should have him as guide as soon as the dishes were washed.
A little later the three marched off, Jimmy provided with field glasses for scanning the ocean and Cat in possession of the house shovel.
"What's the idea of the shovel?" asked Jimmy. "Going to level off the sand hills?"
"Level the mischief!" retorted Cat. "Treasure, boy, treasure! Maybe my dream will come true."
"Great Golly, Cat, you talk like a ten cent whistle," Jimmy returned. "Why don't you put that back where you got it? "
"You grabbed the glasses, didn't you? Lemme carry what I darn please."
"Take the redhot kitchen range if you want to," consented Jimmy. "It's not my funeral, only I hate to see you act like a darn fool."
"This sho' is a lonesome place," Luke commented in an injured tone. "It sho' will trick you if you stay here long enough. I'm gittin' kinder mollygrubby already. I ain't seen no ladies for a month and I jes' natchelly languishes for ladies' sassiety, and I'm goin' back to town befo' this summer's out, sho'."
With this introductory remark, the mulatto proceeded to enlighten the lads on his charms as a lady-killer, and, with this entertainment, they headed for the sand dunes that lay in a direction opposite to that of Cape Peril. The trampers had to keep their way high up on the beach, for the surf, riding before the heavy wind, broke tumultuously on the shore, and at times a mountainous breaker would collapse into a sweep of bubbling water that ranged afar and sent the three scampering to a higher place of refuge.
From time to time the lads would stop to examine some strange shells or stranded fish, and the imaginative Cat, especially, was on the alert for a mysterious box or bottle that might bring a message from the deep, as happens so often in the story books. Through the glasses, first one and then the other would gaze over the face of the swelling waters, but nothing in the semblance of a yacht rewarded their search.
The three-mile walk covered, they reached the remarkable sand formations, the work of the winds, dunes to a height of thirty feet above the shore line. The boys climbed to the top of one of these hillocks, and, bracing themselves against the full sweep of the wind, gazed first inland upon sandswept groups of scrub pines, scraggy and wind-bitten, a scene stark in its desolation, and then, from their coign of vantage, turned their eyes upon the thrilling grandeur of the ocean in tumult.
While Jimmy was still looking at the sea, Cat's eager glance roved over the depression between their observatory and the next hill. It rested on a strange looking whitish spot in the valley and grabbing the glasses from his companion, he inspected the spot for a moment, handed them back, and without a word of explanation scrambled, shovel in hand, to the base of the sand dune.
"What's the matter with you, Cat?" yelled Jimmy. "Gone batty?"
Cat's only answer was a desperate fit of shoveling at the white spot. Jimmy and his guide held their ground for a minute as they watched the operation. Then curiosity got the better of them and they slid down to the scene of Cat's activities. In evidence there was nothing more exciting than a heap of oyster shells, apparently recently laid bare by a sudden shifting of the sands.
"What sort of fool doings is this?" sneered Jimmy as he watched his imperturbable companion plying his shovel amid the crumbly shells. "These ain't anything but oyster shells."
"That's all right," Cat condescended to answer as he dug away. "You wait. What are oyster shells doing way up here?"
"Reckon somebody just had an oyster roast," surmised the short lad.
Luke had picked up some of the shells and was crumbling them between his powerful fingers.
"Them's oyster shells, all right," he announced. "I used to be a oyster opener, and I know these here ain't no new shells. Ain't no tellin' how old they is."
"See," exulted Cat, stopping his labor for a moment. "That's what I thought. These oysters are about two hundred years old. Blackbeard may have put 'em here to cover up some treasure, and then he hid 'em with sand, and they've been covered up all this time till the wind blew it off lately. Here's where my dream comes true, see?"
And back he went to his digging.
"Quit wasting your time, and let's go on home," urged Jimmy.
But Cat, vigorously plying his implement and sending the sand and shells flying in every direction, was not to be moved. Jimmy and Luke resigned themselves to looking on idly.
Suddenly the worker's shovel struck something hard, and the excited delver reached down and drew forth, not a treasure chest, but a piece of broken pottery. This he cast aside with a look of disgust and proceeded with his digging. A few moments of work brought to view a rotten plank, and when this was raised there appeared, to the amazement of all, charred bones and bits of charcoal.
"Bones," announced Cat as he picked up one of the fragments with a puzzled look and vague visions of ogres floating through his brain. "Babies. Must be the whole Blackbeard family."
Luke edged away superstitiously, or perhaps craftily, to avoid being called on to engage in unnecessary labor.
"Chicken bones," sniffed Jimmy contemptuously, as Cat dropped them and set to plugging away once more.
Suddenly the digger was on his knees, scraping with his hands in the moist sand and then sifting it through his fingers. A few moments later he was triumphantly holding up for Jimmy's inspection a small beadlike object. Then, under more scraping, several other pieces of broken pottery came to light, and finally, with a hatchet head of stone and several arrows, the revelation was complete. The Blackboard theory had exploded.
"Oh, shucks," wailed Cat. "Nothing but the grave of some old Indian. I was looking for blunderbusses and coins and here I light on beads and arrows."
Luke's eyes popped, while Jimmy burst into a roar of laughter, so droll was the look of disappointment on the face of the treasure seeker.
"I ain't goin' to stay here no longer," declared the mulatto, making ready to move off. "It's bad luck fooling 'round graves. No sir, I don't stay aroun' this place." And off he strode.
The boys lingered over their awesome find.
"Cheer up, Cat," encouraged Jimmy. "You've made a big find anyhow. I tell you what those little bones are. Don't you remember about reading that the Indians killed the warrior's dogs and buried them with him so they could be with him in the Happy Hunting Grounds? And when they ate dogs, they buried what was left, too."
"B'lieve I have," recalled Cat, still with a dismal look on his upturned face.
"Sure," proceeded Jimmy, "and they used to bury the chief sitting up and with him everything he owned, arrows, beads, wampum, tommyhawk and all his junk. They used to give dead people things instead of leaving things in their wills like we do now."
"Oh, ye-ah, I remember," Cat put in. "And they used to set a kettle of food on the grave with three weeks' rations. That's what that pottery was for."
Jimmy yawned and turned away.
"Well, where's the Indian?" Cat insisted. "'Spose he's down deeper?"
"After the three weeks' rations gave out he piked on to the Happy Hunting Grounds," jested Jimmy. "Now come on, let's get away from here or Luke will go bughouse."
"Well, I'm coming back and dig some more to-morrow," Cat declared, as he proceeded to gather up some of the relics and stuff them into his pockets.
This completed, the boys joined Luke, who was happily unconscious of the gruesome specimens Cat was carrying in his pocket. They made their way back to Seagulls' Nest by a road some distance from the ocean in order to avoid the high running surf.
Arriving at the house, they found Turner without news of the flyers, and then Cat proceeded to pour forth the story of his find, exhibiting his relics at the same time.
Turner listened with interest and inspected the miscellaneous collection with no little amusement.
"Sorry to disappoint you, boys, but. I don't think you are holding in your hands the remains of Powhatan or Sitting Bull or their squaws or papooses, but I do think you've struck what they call a shell heap, and you've got hold of some of the bones of the dogs and chickens and so forth they feasted on."
"Blame it then!" exclaimed Cat disgustedly, at the same time throwing the bones on the floor. "I wouldn't mind carrying a Big Chief around to show to all the girls, but blessed if I'm going to tote any chicken bones around."
"What'd I tell you?" said Jimmy. "Thought you knew more'n I did. Told you it warn't anything but dogs' bones."
"That's all right," encouraged Turner, "he's made a big discovery anyhow, and he'll get a write-up in the paper. This is what the reporters call a scoop. Wait till I show you something in an Indian book I've got upstairs."
Jimmy continued to joke Cat about his bone find till Turner appeared with a book.
"Listen here," he said opening the volume, and then he began to read: "'Many ancient sites have been discovered along the streams of tidewater Virginia, marking the positions of villages indicated by Capt. John Smith. In some localities, banks of oyster shells, intermingled with bits of pottery, implements of stone and bone, and fragments of bones of animals which had served as food, alone mark the position of some ancient settlement.' Now, as long as I've got the book," he continued, "I'll read you what the historian Strachey said about the Indian villages in these parts."
"'Their houses or towns are generally by the rivers, or not far from springs, and commonly built on a hill or rise of ground so that they may overlook the water and see everything that stirs on it. The houses are built far apart and there is no pretense of a street. All the houses, including the chief's house, are exactly alike. Round roofs are made of young twigs thatched with mats thrown over them. The walls are made of the bark of trees.
"'In the middle of the house, there is a smoke hole, through which the smoke from the fire below can get out. Every house has two doors—one in front and one in the rear. The doors are never bolted, but simply hung with mats, which are raised or dropped at pleasure. The houses are usually built under great trees to protect them from the winter winds and the summer sun. They have no windows. All the light comes through the doors or the smoke vent. The Indians eat, sleep and cook all in one room.
"'Their beds are made of short posts driven in the ground around the sides of the wigwam, a foot high, with poles laid along and reeds cast across them. They sleep on a mat which they roll up on arising.
"'In March and April, they net fish and hunt turkeys and squirrels, and in May they plant out their corn. In the hunting season, they leave their houses, gather together in companies, and with their families, go to the most deserted places up near the mountains where there is plenty of game. The huts in which they live during this hunting season are flimsy cabins, with mats thrown over them. These mats the squaws carry when a move is made. They likewise carry the corn, acorns, mortars, and all the bag and baggage.'
"Now to prove to you they ate dogs, listen to what Henry Hudson said about the Algonquin Indians on the Hudson:
"'I sailed to the shore in one of their canoes with an old man, who was chief of a tribe consisting of forty men and seventeen women; these I saw there in a house well constructed of oak-bark, and circular in shape, so that it had the appearance of being built with an arched roof. It contained a great quantity of maize, or Indian corn, and beans of last year's growth, and there lay near the house for the purpose of drying, enough to load three ships, besides what was growing in the fields. On our coming into the house, two mats were spread out to sit upon, and immediately some food was served in well made wooden bowls: two men were also dispatched at once with bows and arrows in quest of game. Soon after they brought in a pair of pigeons which they had shot. They likewise killed a fat dog, and skinned it in great haste with shells which they had got out of the water.'
"There's your dog feast," said Turner, "and it's all a matter of taste. If you'd been brought up on them or rats or what not you smack your lips over 'em."
"I'll take the what not," declared Cat, "but excuse me from Chink's grub."
"You know," said Turner with a smile, "the Chinese used to think that pig wasn't fit to eat till a young Chink fingering around in the ashes of a burnt-down house stuck his thumb in the cremated family pig and then stuck it in his mouth to cool and got the taste. And, when he spread around the news of what a dainty it was, every Chinaman in the neighborhood burnt down his house with the pig in it so as to pleasure himself with that wonderful taste. They'd been doing that for a thousand years before they discovered you could roast a pig without burning a house down."
"Where'd you get that from?" inquired Jimmy.
"That's from Lamb on Roast Pig."
"Lamb on Roast Pig!" laughed Cat. "What are you giving us?"
"I mean," drawled Turner, "a fellow named Charles Lamb wrote the dope."
"Must have had some dope to write that fool stuff," surmised Jimmy.
"That'll do," commanded Turner. "Now chase yourselves out with that truck, and let me work."