"Well, in order to get the whole story, we'll have to pretend that we are looking for them and can't find them!" George said.
"That's right!" laughed Tommy. "Give them plenty of rope and they'll hang themselves. We may as well have the whole story while we're at it."
Before preparing their beds for the night, the boys paid a visit to the shaft and made their way down to the rungs which had been cut. They found that they had been replaced by new ones.
There was still water in the lower levels of the mine, but it was slowly disappearing through the sump, and the indications were that it would be dry by morning. The boys listened intently for some evidence of occupancy as they moved up and down the shaft, but all was still.
"This would be a good place to tell a ghost story," Tommy chuckled as they moved back to their room on the first level.
"There's about a million stories now, entitled "The Ghost of the Mine!" declared Sandy. "Perhaps however," he went on, "one more wouldn't hurt."
"If I see a ghost tonight," declared Tommy, "it'll be in my dreams!"
Sandy and Tommy were sound asleep on their cots as soon as supper was over, and Will and George were getting ready to retire when the soft patter of a light footstep sounded in the vicinity of the shaft.
"Rats must be thick in the mine!" suggested George.
"Rats nothing!" declared Will. "Those two youngsters are prowling about in order to see what we are up to!"
As he spoke the boy arose, turned off the electric light and stepped out into the passage.
A MIDNIGHT ROBBER
There was a quick scamper of feet as Will stepped out, then silence!
"Where did he go?" asked George, joining big chum on the outside.
"Down the ladder!" replied Will.
"Why don't we go and see where he went?"
"That might be a good idea," Will replied. "Do you think it's safe for us to try to navigate that shaft in the dark?"
"We can stick to the ladders, can't we?" asked George.
"We ought to find out where the kids hang out," Will argued. "I'd like to get my hands on one of them!"
"I don't think we're likely to do that tonight," George answered. "It seems to me that about the only way we can catch those fellows is to set a bear trap. They seem to be rather slippery."
Will, clad only in pajamas and slippers, moved toward the shaft and looked down. It was dark and still below, and he turned back with a little shudder. The situation was not at all to his liking.
"Well, are you going down?" asked George.
"Sure, I'm going down!" Will answered. "I'm only waiting to get up my nerve! It looks pretty dreary down there. If we could use a light I wouldn't mind, but it's pretty creepy going down that hole in the darkness."
"Then suppose we wait until morning," suggested George.
Will leaned against the shaft timbers and laughed. "It'll be just as dark in here in the morning, as it is now!" he said. "I think we'd better go on down tonight and see if we can locate the fellows."
The two boys passed swiftly down the ladder, paused a moment at the second level, and then passed on to the third. The gangways leading out from the shaft were reasonably dry now. Lower down the dip they were still under a few inches of water.
"I don't see how we're going to discover anybody down in this blooming old well!" George grumbled. "There might be a regiment of state troops here an we wouldn't be able to see a single soldier!"
"We can't show a light, for all that!" declared Will. "We've just got to wait and see if they won't be kind enough to show a light."
"You guessed it," chuckled George, whispering softly in his chum's ear, "there's a glimmer of light, now!"
"I see it!" Will replied.
The boys left the ladder and moved out into the center gangway. They could see a light flickering some distance in advance, and had no difficulty in following it.
"That's an electric torch!" Will commented.
"Perhaps, if we follow along, we'll be able to track them to their nest," George suggested, "and, still, I don't care about getting very far away from the shaft. We might get lost in these crooked passages."
"Yes," replied Will. "Some one might head us off, too. I don't care about being held up here in pajamas."
The mine was damp and cold, and a wind was sweeping up the passage toward the shaft. The boys shivered as they walked, yet kept resolutely on until the light they were following left the main gangway and disappeared in a cross heading.
"That means 'Good-night' for me," whispered Will, "for I'm not going to get out beyond the reach of the rails. I guess we'll have to go back and invent some other means of trapping those foxy boys."
As Will spoke the light reappeared and moved on down the gangway again. Then, for the first time, the boys saw a figure outlined against the illumination. Will caught his chum by the arm excitedly.
"That isn't one of the boys at all!" he exclaimed.
"Well, how large a population do you think this mine has!" demanded George. "If it isn't one of the boys, who is it?"
"That bum detective!" answered Will.
"So he got in here at last, did he?" chuckled George. "Well, it's up to us to find out what he's doing in here!"
"Do you think that is the gink who was prowling around our room?" asked Will. "If he is, then our little trip in the country doesn't count for much!"'
"The fellow who visited us," George argued, "was light and quick on his feet. This bum detective waddles a lot like an old cow."
"Then we've passed the boy who called to see us, and failed to leave a card," grinned Will. "We may meet him as we return!"
"Here's hoping we bump straight into him if we do meet him," George exclaimed. "I'm just aching to get my hands on that fellow!"
"I'm not particularly anxious to catch him just yet," Will suggested. "I want to find out what the kids are up to before we pounce down upon them."
While the boys stood in the passage, whispering together, the light moved on until it came to a chamber which seemed to be rather shallow, for the reflection of the searchlight was still in the gangway.
"Now we've got him!" exclaimed Will. "I think I remember that chamber, and, unless I'm very much mistaken, it opens only onto this passage! While he's poking around in there, we'll sneak up and see what's he's doing!"
Before the boys reached the entrance to the chamber they heard the sounds of a pick. When they came nearer and looked in they saw the detective poking away at heap of "gob" which lay in one corner of the excavation. He worked industriously, and apparently without fear of discovery. Now and then he stooped down to peer into a crevice in the wall, but soon went on again.
"I wonder if he thinks he can find two boys in that heap of refuse?" laughed George. "I wonder why he don't use a microscope."
The detective busied himself at the heap of refuse for a considerable length of time, and then began further Investigation of little breaks in the wall. Using his pick to enlarge the openings he made a systematic search of one break after another.
"Looks like he might be hunting after some pirate treasure," George chuckled. "I never heard of Captain Kidd sailing over into the sloughs of Pennsylvania. Did you?"
"That tells the story!" Will whispered. "The fellow is here on some mission of his own. That story of his about being in quest of the boys is all a bluff! I reckon he had heard somewhere that two boys were missing and came here with the fairy tale!"
"Well, he's got a good, large mine to look in if he's in search of treasure," George suggested. "He can spend the rest of his days here, provided the operators don't get sore on him."
While the boys looked, Ventner turned toward the entrance to the chamber, and they scampered away. Turning back, they saw him pass out of the place where he had been working and into a similar excavation farther on. There he worked as industriously as before.
"You see how it is," Will suggested. "The fellow is hunting for something, and doesn't know where to look for it! So it's all right to let him go ahead with his quest for hidden wealth, or whatever it is he's after. When he finds it, we'll not be far away!"
"I like this walking about in my naked feet," George grunted in a moment. "I had my slippers on when I came down the ladder, but I either had to take them off and carry them in my hands or lose them in the mud."
"Same here!" Will said. "I'm going back to my little cot bed right now and go to sleep. I think we have the detective sized up and we can catch the kids some other night."
"Me for the hay, too," George exclaimed. "I don't think I was ever quite so sleepy in my life!"
"Now, on the way back," Will cautioned, "we ought to keep still and keep a sharp lookout for the person who was sneaking around our quarters."
"Whoever it was may be between us and the shaft," George suggested.
"If I thought so," Will argued, "I'd just stand around and wait until they pass us on the way in. I don't want to find those boys just now. There's a mystery connected with this mine which the caretaker knows nothing about, and which Mr. Horton never referred to when he sent us down here.
"We wouldn't be able to breathe if we didn't discover an air of mystery every fifteen minutes," George declared.
Half way back to the shaft the boys, who were walking very softly in their stockinged feet, heard a rattle as of a moving stone or piece of coal in the passage, and at once drew up against the side wall.
While they stood there, scarcely daring to breathe, they sensed that some one was passing them in the darkness. The tread was light and brisk, and they thought they heard a soft chuckle as the unseen figure breezed by them.
"I'll bet the lad who was listening near our door never came down the shaft until after we did!" George whispered after the figure had passed by.
"That's very likely!" agreed Will.
"Then he may have been poking around our quarters while we have been gone."
"That's very likely, too."
Believing the way to be clear now, the boys hastened on toward the shaft. Just as they reached the foot of the ladder they heard a sound which sent the blood throbbing to their checks.
"He's making fun of us!" exclaimed George.
"It looks like it," admitted Will.
The sound they heard was the low, complaining snarl of the Wolf.
"The nerve of him!" exclaimed George.
"Perhaps he'll answer now!" Will suggested.
Then followed the "slap, slap, slap!" of the Beaver Patrol.
No answer came from the darkness beyond the shaft.
"He's got his nerve with him!" declared Will. "When I get hold of him, I'll teach him to answer Boy Scout challenges!"
When the boys got back to their quarters they found Tommy and Sandy sitting in the darkness with their automatics and their searchlights in their hands. One of them turned on a finger of light as the boys entered but immediately shut it off again.
"What's coming off here?" demanded Will.
"Do you know what those fellows did?" asked Tommy. "They came here while we were asleep and stole about half our provisions!"
ONE MORE HUNGRY BOY
"We may as well turn on the lights!" Will said. "If any one comes in here to steal Tommy's necktie," he added with a wink at his chum, "we want to see what he looks like."
"Why didn't you stay here and watch, then?" demanded Tommy. "Why did you go off and leave the camp all alone? I heard people moving around, and I thought it was you."
Will and George sat down on the edge of their cots and laughed.
"Yes, you thought it was me!" Will said directly. "You never heard a thing! You'd better look and see if the midnight visitors didn't steal your pajamas. Or they might have taken your pillow."
Tommy threw a shoe at his tormentor and turned on the electric light.
"Now that I'm awake," he said with a sly grin, "I think that I'll get myself something to eat. Seems to me I'm always hungry."
While the boy rattled among canned goods and candled eggs to see if they were fit for a four-minute boil, Sandy turned to George.
"What did you find in the mine?" he asked.
"We found that bum detective nosing around. We've got his number now, all right," the boy went on, "and there's something in the mine that he wants to find and he doesn't know where to look for it. He isn't looking for Jimmie and Dick any more than we're looking for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. I don't believe he was ever sent here to make a search for the missing boys!"
"What was he doing when you saw him?" asked Sandy.
"Poking around in worked-out chambers with a pick!"
"Did he see you?"
"You bet he didn't! Do you think we're going to walk six miles in from the country in order to dodge the detective, and then let him run across us in the mine?"
"Yes, but what's he looking for?" insisted Sandy.
"That, me son," George replied with a wink, "is locked in the bosom of the future! We may be able to find out what he's doing here when we find out who struck Billy Patterson."
"Don't get gay now!" grinned Sandy.
"Well, if you insist upon it," George continued with a smile, "Ventner was digging in refuse heaps for something which he didn't find!"
"Did you meet the boys who stole our provisions?" was the next question. "I wish you'd got hold of them!"
"We are certain that one of them passed us while we were returning," George answered.
"The nerve of him!" shouted Sandy.
"The idea of his coming here and swiping our provisions!" Tommy cut in. "If I ever get hold of that gink, I'll beat his head off!"
"You going back after than bum detective tonight?" asked George.
"Not me!" answered Sandy. "Me for ham and eggs."
"What's the matter with passing the ham and eggs around?"
Every one of the four boys sprang forward as the words came from somewhere just outside the door.
"That's one of those thieving kids!" declared Tommy.
"You've had your share!" shouted Sandy.
"It has now been nine day's since I've tasted food!" came the answer from the other side of the door, and the boys thought they caught a chuckle between the words.
"All right!" replied Tommy. "You go and sit in the deserted mine nine days more, and then we'll consider whether you have any right to be hungry. Go on away tonight, anyhow!"
"Not so you could notice it," came the insistent tones from beyond the door. "I'm going to stay right here until I get something to eat!"
"Eat the stuff you stole!" advised Sandy.
"You're in wrong!" came from the other side of the door. "I haven't had a thing to eat in forty or fifty days. Come on, now," he added, "be good fellows and open up. I'm so hungry I could eat a brass cylinder."
"Aw, let him in!" advised Tommy. "He'll stand there chinning all night if we don't! We've got enough to eat for the present anyway."
Will unfastened the door and a tall slender young fellow of perhaps seventeen stopped inside the room and stood blinking a moment under the strong, electric light. His face was streaked with coal dust and his clothing was ragged and dirty. Still the boy looked like anything but a tramp. Tommy eyed him suspiciously for a moment.
"Where'd you come from?" he asked.
"Off the rods!" was the reply.
"And I suppose," Sandy broke in, "that you were just taking a stroll by starlight and just happened to walk into this mine."
"Sure," answered the other with a provoking grin.
"Well, if anybody should ask you," Tommy continued, "you're the boy that had a mix-up with the tramp tonight, and ran away while we were trying to invite you to supper. What do you know about that?"
"Invite me to supper now and see if I'll run away!"
"If you boys will cut out this foolish conversation for a minute," Will suggested, "I'll try to find out what this boy wants. Do you mean to say," he added turning to Tommy, "that you bumped into this kid while returning to the mine from the tracks?"
"Didn't I tell you about that?" asked Tommy. "I thought I did. We found him in a mix-up with a tramp, and that's all there is to it!"
"And I told you at the time," the stranger interrupted, "that the tramp tried to rob me! That was all right, too. He did try to rob me, but I didn't have a blessed cent in my possession, so he didn't get anything! The tramp who got a hold of me night before last stripped me clean! And that, you see, is why I haven't got any money to buy provisions with. And also that's the reason why I'm hungry."
The four boys gathered around the stranger and began a systematic course of questions which at first brought forth only unsatisfactory answers.
"And also," the boy went on, taking up the speech he had begun some minutes before, "that's why two boys are hungry just about this time. I got rolled for my wad plenty."
"That's South Clark street!" laughed Tommy.
"That's Bowery!" corrected the other.
"What'd you say about other boys being hungry?" asked Sandy.
"I said that's why two other boys are hungry."
"They ain't hungry any more," declared Tommy with a wink.
"That listens good!" the stranger said.
"Because," continued Tommy, "they came in here about an hour ago and stole everything they could get their hands on."
"Brave boys!" laughed the other.
"You wasn't hiding behind the door when they gave out nerve, either!" declared Tommy. "Here, these boys come here and steal our grub and you seem to think they did a noble thing! What's your name anyhow?"
"Buck!" was the reply. "Elmer Cyrus Buck, 409 Lexington Avenue, N.Y.C. Member of the Wolf Patrol, Boy Scouts of America, and just about ready to scrap for something to eat!"
"Why didn't you say so before?" Tommy exclaimed, setting a great slice of ham and several freshly boiled eggs, together with bread and butter and canned tomatoes before the young man.
"How long since you've seen Jimmie Maynard and Dick Thompson?" asked Will. "You must have failed to connect with them tonight!"
"How do you know that?"
"Because if you had bumped into them, they would fed you out of the provisions they stole from us!"
"I haven't been looking for them tonight!" Elmer replied. "I tried to follow you to the mine," he added turning to Tommy and Sandy, "when you left me at the car. But, somehow, I lost track of you in the darkness, and when you finally got into the mine, I had to wait for things to quiet down before I could force an entrance. I don't think I could have got in at all if some one hadn't been ahead of me with a jimmy, or an axe, or something of that kind."
"That must have been Ventner," suggested Will.
"Mother of Moses!" cried Elmer. "Has that fellow got into the mine again? Does he know you're here?"
"He knew that we were here," was the answer, "but he thinks we've gone away! He's down in the mine now, hunting for a pot of diamonds in the refuse cast aside by the miners."
"Well, you've got him into the mine, at last," Will suggested. "What is the next move you are thinking of making?"
"After I finish my modest supper," Elmer answered with a nod at the great stack of food which Tommy had piled on his plate, "I'm going to give you boys the surprise of your lives!"
"You're pretty well done now," laughed Will.
"And I'm going to begin," Elmer resumed, "by fishing two members of the Wolf Patrol out of the mine and bringing them up here to apologize for stealing your grub!"
"If you'll do that," replied Will, "we'll forgive you!"
MINE RATS READY FOR WAR
"Wait till I destroy this hen fruit," Elmer said, "and I'll go down and bring those two foolish youngsters up with me. It's time we had an understanding with you boys. You're here looking for something, and we're here looking for something. Perhaps we would meet with better success if we talked over our plans."
"What are you looking for?" demanded Tommy.
"Keep it dark," grinned Elmer. "I'm not going to tell you a thing until I bring Jimmie and Dick up here so they can get next to the whole story! I guess you boys can work together without scrapping, can't you?"
"When we find the boys," laughed Will, "our job will come to an end!"
"You just wait till I go and bring up Jimmie and Dick, and I'll tell you all about it! I won't be gone more than a minute."
"So that's what you came down here after, isn't it?"
"Yes, we came here to dig two boys out of a mine."
"I don't believe it!" replied Elmer.
"We came here from Chicago for that very purpose," went on Will.
"Who sent you here?" asked Elmer.
"Then Lawyer Horton didn't tell you the 'whole story,'" laughed Elmer. "He held out on you boys just to see if you wouldn't get the story at the mine. Of course he didn't know where we were at the time he sent you down here, but he never sent you for the express purpose of finding us!"
"Then why did he send us?" asked Tommy.
"You just wait till I go and bring up Jimmie and Dick, and I'll tell you all about it! I won't be gone more than a minute."
"But hold on," cried Sandy. "You mustn't go chasing down into the mine now. That bum detective is there, and we don't want him to know that we're anywhere within a hundred miles of this place."
"He doesn't know that we're here, either," commented Elmer. "His notion is that he drove us all into the next state when he caused the mine to be flooded. He thinks he has the whole mine to himself, now."
"So he caused the mine to be flooded, did he?"
"Sure he did," was the curt reply. "The boys saw him digging away at the wall which protects this dry mine from the wet one next door."
"So you saw him doing it, did you?"
"I didn't, because I haven't been in the mine before any length of time, but Jimmie and Dick saw him.
"We've been told that he made the trouble," Will agreed, "but we weren't so very sure of it, after all. At least, we didn't have the proof. He ought to get twenty years for that!"
"Well, if you keep asking me questions all night," Elmer declared, "I'll never get the boys up here, and you'll never know why you were sent here! You can come along with me if you want to."
"But how about this detective?" insisted Sandy.
"We ought to be able to get the boys up here, without letting him know that we are in the mine," answered Elmer. "We needn't travel with a fife and drum corps ahead of us, nor even carry any lights down with us. He's probably working in some inside chamber."
"All right," Will answered, "we've had our trip through the mine tonight, so we'll let Tommy and Sandy go with you. Are you sure the boys will come if you ask them to?"
"Sure they'll come!" was the reply.
The two boys drew on their rubber boots with which they had provided themselves before taking up their quarters in the mine, and which they had been too excited to use on a previous occasion, and Will loaned a pair to Elmer, then they started down the ladders.
"It would be something of a joke if we should butt into that detective now, wouldn't it?" Sandy laughed, as they passed down from the second level.
"I shouldn't consider it much of a joke," replied Tommy. "We took a lot of pains to make him think we'd gone out of town!"
As the boys walked softly down the center gangway they heard a fall of rock which seemed to come from the passage next north. This passageway was connected by the main one with a cross-heading, situated perhaps three hundred feet from the shaft.
"I don't know much about mines," whisper Elmer as the boys stopped and listened to the clatter of the rocks as they settled down on the floor of the cavern, "but that sounds to me a whole lot like a fall from the roof. I hope the boys are not injured."
The boys walked faster until they came to the cross-passage and then turned to the right. Just as they left the main gangway, they heard the sound of running feet and directly the distant creaking the ladder rungs.
"Some one's making a hot-foot for the surface!" exclaimed Tommy.
"That's Ventner!" declared Sandy.
"How do you know that?"
"Because he wears heavy boots. We have rubbers, me and Dick, and Jimmie and Dick, who are down in the mine, are also wearing rubber boots!"
"The farther he gets away from the mine, the better it will suit me," Elmer broke in. "I wish he'd go away and stay for a hundred years."
"The chances are that he dug away one of the pillars and caused that drop from the roof," suggested Sandy.
"I guess that's all right, too," Elmer argued. "If he's been digging around here the way the boys say he has, he's certainly taking chances on cutting down more than one column. He ought to be fired out of the mine!"
The boys now came to a chamber across the entrance to which a great mass of shale had been thrown when the fall from the roof took place.
At first they listened, fearful that they would hear voices of the lads they were in search of beyond the wall, possibly crushed under the weight of the of stone. Then they passed along for a short distance and peered into the chamber over the heap of refuse.
What they saw brought excited exclamations to their lips.
Jimmie and Dick stood in the interior of the chamber, hedged in by fallen debris. They were swinging their searchlights frantically from side to side, and, while the boys looked, they began the utterance of such yells as had never before been heard in that gloomy place.
"What's the trouble?" asked Elmer, showing his light at the narrow opening between the roof of the chamber and the pile of refuse.
"Oh, you're there, are you?" asked one of the boys. "We thought perhaps you'd gone back to New York and left us to starve to death."
"Well, you didn't starve, did you?" asked Elmer.
"Wow, wow, wow!" yelled Jimmie.
"Now, what is it?" asked Elmer.
"Rats!" yelled the boy. "Millions of rats! They're creeping out by the regiment from the cribbing where we were hidden!"
"That idiot of a detective," the other boy went on, "undermined a pillar and let about half an acre of roof down into this chamber. When the roof fell, it broke the cribbing and the rats began pouring out.
"They won't hurt you!" declared Tommy. "Only you mustn't go to picking a quarrel with them. They're fighters when they get their tempers up. Just let them alone and they'll let you alone!"
"Who's that talking?" demanded Jimmie.
"That's the relief expedition!" laughed Elmer.
"You ought to be fired out of the Wolf Patrol for not answering Boy Scout signals!" Tommy broke in. "We called to you more than a dozen times, and you never answered once!"
"Well, we had to wait until Elmer reported kind of fellows you were, didn't we?" asked Dick. "We couldn't go and make friends with you with knowing what you were here for, so we kept out of your way until Elmer could find a way to learn more about you."
"And instead of finding a way," Jimmie took up the argument, "he goes off and gets lost in a thicket about six feet square and never shows up with any grub for twenty-four hours! So we had to go and steal grub of the boys!"
"Yes, and we're going to have you pinched when you get out!" laughed Tommy. "You'll get ninety days for that."
"Where'd that bum detective go?" asked Jimmie. "When the roof fell, we heard him go clattering down the gangway running as though he had only about thirty seconds in which to get to New York."
"He's a long distance from the mine by this time," Elmer suggested.
"Well," Jimmie said, "I don't like the company of these rats, so if you'll kindly dig into the refuse on your side, we'll work from this side and we'll soon be out. These rats look hostile."
"You let 'em alone!" advised Tommy.
"Yes, I'll let 'em alone — not!" shouted Jimmie.
"You wait until I get an armful of rocks and I'll beat some of their heads off!"
"For the love of Mike, don't do anything of the kind!" yelled Tommy. "They'll climb onto you nine feet thick if you injure one of them!"
But it was too late! Jimmie acquired an armful of large sized pieces of slate and began tossing them into the huddle of rats in the corner.
For an instant the rats squealed viciously as they wore struck by the sharp edges of the slate, then they seemed to confer together for a moment or two, then they spread out like a fan and began moving toward the two boys.
"Now you've done it!" cried Tommy. "If you don't get out of. There in about a second, the rats'll eat your legs off!"
Without waiting for the boys to assume the offensive, the rats began screaming and springing at their feet.
The three boys on the outside of the barrier, understanding the peril their friends were in, crawled up to the top of the wall of refuse which shut the boys into the chamber and turned their lights inside.
It seemed to them then that the rats were two or, three deep on the floor. There appeared to be hundreds—thousands of them. They circled around the boys, becoming bolder every moment. They nipped at the rubber boots and left the marks of their teeth on the tough uppers.
"Now, boys," Tommy yelled, as they drew their automatics and leveled them over the wall, "shoot to kill! This is no Sunday School picnic! And while we're shooting, boys, you back up to this wall, and see if you can't work your way to the top. If you can get up here, we can manage to displace enough slate to let you through."
The boys fired volley after volley, but the rats came on viciously.
A STICK OF DYNAMITE
By this time Jimmie and Dick had their automatics out and were firing into the horde of rats. They killed the rodents by the score, yet for every one slaughtered a dozen seemed to appear.
Presently the chamber became so full of powder smoke, the air so stifling, that the lads were obliged to cease firing.
"Work your way up this wall," Tommy cried out to the lads as he heard them panting below. "Work your way up so we can catch hold of you, and you'll soon be out of that mess!"
"There's a dozen rats hanging to my boot!" cried Dick.
"And mine, too!" declared Jimmie.
The three boys on the outside continued to hurt refuse from the top of the wall into the chamber. This in a measure kept the rats back, and before many minutes Jimmie and Dick were drawn to the top of the barrier.
Their rubber boots were cut in scores of places by the sharp teeth of the rats, and even their clothing as high up as their shoulders showed ragged tears. A dozen or more rats hung to the boys' boots until the top was reached, then they dropped back screaming with baffled rage.
"Talk about your wild Indians!" exclaimed Tommy. "I never saw anything as vicious as that was! I told you boys not to open up an argument with those fellows! Mine rats are noted for their courage when attacked."
"How many bites did you get?" asked Elmer anxiously.
"I got half a dozen nips!" answered Jimmie.
"And so did I," Dick cut in.
"Well, you boys ought to get back to the room right away," Tommy suggested, "and have peroxide applied to the wounds. I've known of people dying of blood poison occasioned by rat bites."
"Have you got it in camp with you?" asked Elmer.
"We're the original field hospital!" laughed Tommy. "We never leave Chicago without taking with us everything needed in the first aid to the wounded line. We'd be nice Boy Scouts to go poking about the country with nothing with which to heal our wounds!"
"Boys," Elmer now said, with a mischievous grin on his face, "I want to introduce you to Jimmie Maynard and Dick Thompson. I've heard that your names are Sandy and Tommy, but that's all I know about it!"
"Green and Gregory!" laughed Tommy. "My name's Gregory. Sandy's name isn't Sandy at all but Charley. We call him Sandy because he looks like he'd been rolled in sand."
"Well, we may as well be getting back to headquarters!" declared Sandy after these original introductions had been made. "But hold on," he continued turning back to Jimmie and Dick, with a look on his face intended to be severe, "aren't you going to bring our provisions back?"
"The provisions," laughed Jimmie, "were hidden in the chamber where the rats were, and you're welcome to all you can get your hands on now!"
"Oh, well," Sandy groaned, "I suppose we'll have to buy more."
"One difficulty about passing in and out of the mine so frequently," Tommy stated, "is that this man Ventner is likely to catch us at it. There's no knowing what he'll do next if he finds that we're searching the place. According to Elmer, you know," he continued, "we didn't finish our job when we landed on you boys. He says the real game is now about to begin."
"He's right there!" declared Jimmie.
"Strange thing Mr. Horton didn't tell us all above it!" complained Tommy. "Where was the use of his sending us down here and making monkeys of us? He ought to be ashamed of himself!"
"He wanted to see whether you could find out what you were here for!" laughed Elmer. "Perhaps he understood that after you caught us, we'd tell you all about it. He's a pretty foxy guy, that man Horton, from all I hear about him. I'm going to Chicago some day to meet him!"
"Well, what is it we've got to look for now?" demanded Sandy.
"You just wait till we get to headquarters!" replied Jimmie.
"We ought to do that just as quickly as possible," Tommy ventured, "because there's no knowing when that bum detective may return. I'd give a whole lot of money right now to know what he is looking for!"
The three strangers regarded each other laughingly, evidently well pleased at the puzzled look showing on the faces of their friends.
"Wait till we get to headquarters and get a square meal under belts," Jimmie promised, "and we'll tell you what this bum detective's looking for. It won't take long to do it, either."
"You know, then, do you?" asked Tommy.
"Of course, we know!"
"Then why don't you tell?"
"Couldn't think of telling on an empty stomach!" laughed Jimmie provokingly.
As the boys walked along the passage, only a short distance from the old tool house, they heard a rattling and bumping on the shaft ladders and instantly extinguished their lights.
Presently they heard footsteps on the hard floor of the gangway, and then a light such as those being used by the boys flashed out.
"Now we're in for it!" exclaimed Tommy.
"For the love of Mike, don't let him see us!" whispered Jimmie.
"It'll spoil everything if he does," Dick submitted.
The boys crowded close against the wall of the gangway and waited impatiently for Ventner to pass along.
He was muttering to himself as he moved down the gangway, and his round, protruding belly and his little shapeless shoulders reminded the watching lads of the gnomes they had read about, living in underground cells and preying at night upon the fairies.
Only for a trifling accident the boys would certainly have been discovered. Just as the detective same to a position ten or fifteen feet from where they were standing, when he was in a position to see their faces by the rays cast on ahead by the flashlight, he partly turned his ankle in a stumble on the rails, and for a moment the rays of the light were directed downward. He hobbled along, raving and cursing, for a few steps and then walked briskly on again.
But the ever-watchful eye of the searchlight no longer struck upon the wall where the boys stood, and they realized that for the present they were safe from discovery. Ventner moved on down the gangway and soon disappeared in a cross cutting which ran to the right.
"That's lucky!" exclaimed Jimmie.
"Why didn't we geezle him?" demanded Tommy.
"Because we want his help!" replied Dick.
"His help?" laughed Sandy. "Yes, you'll get his help, all right! That fellow would get up in the middle of the night to do you a dirty trick, and don't you ever forget it!"
"That's the way he's going to help us!" laughed Elmer. "He'll get up in the middle of some dark night to do us a dirty trick, and before he knows what he's about, he'll be doing us a great kindness!"
"Suppose I slip back there and see what he's doing?" asked Tommy.
"Can you find your way back to headquarters alone?" asked Sandy.
"If I can't," asserted Tommy, "I won't be sending any wireless messages to you! If you think I'm likely to get lost, Dick can go back with me. He ought to know every corner in the old mine."
"Sure he does!" laughed Jimmie. "We've been traveling this mine for a good many nights now, and we know it like a book."
So Tommy and Dick started back down the passage, the intention being to hasten to the spot where Ventner disappeared from the gangway, and then return to their companions immediately.
"We can't stay very long, you know," Tommy explained, "because you've got to have that peroxide dope put on your bites. It doesn't pay to fool with wounds of that description!"
"We'll be back to the old tool room as soon as they are!" answered Dick. "It will take only a minute to run down there and back!"
When the boys reached the cross-cutting into which Ventner had disappeared, they saw his light some distance away. It seemed to be in one of the chambers connected with the cross-cutting.
As they looked, the detective stepped forward into the circle of illumination and began working with a pick.
"Is he always doing that when you see him?", asked Tommy.
"You bet he is!" answered Dick.
"What's he doing it for?"
"You'll have to ask Elmer that."
"But you know, don't you?"
"Of course I know, but I'm not going to tell, cause we all agreed that the story should never be told by any member of our party until Elmer gets ready to tell it. So you see you've got to wait!"
"If I had my way about it," gritted Tommy, "I'd go back there and geezle that bum detective and wall him up in a chamber until he got hungry enough to tell the story himself. Then we wouldn't have to go sneaking around the mine in order to keep out of his way!"
"That would be a foolish move," insisted Dick, "because every stroke of the pick Ventner takes he helps us along in the game we're playing."
"You're the original little mystery boy, ain't you?" said Tommy rather crossly. "All right, I'll get even."
The detective now moved farther along the cross-cutting and attacked a column of mingled rock and coal which helped to support the roof.
"The blithering idiot is going to try that trick again!" exclaimed Dick. "He'll have the whole mine down on our heads if he doesn't stop that business. He's always cutting down pillars."
"Just say the word," declared Tommy, "and I'll go stop him!"
"Let him go his own gait," replied Dick. "We'll manage to keep out of the way of the falls, and he can run his own chances."
Presently they saw the detective take something which resembled a stick of dynamite from a pocket and begin the work of setting it into the pillar. The boys moved hastily back.
"Now what do you think of that for a fool?" exclaimed Dick. "He'll have the whole mine down on our heads some day, just as sure as he's a foot high! I hope he'll be broken in two when the fall comes."
The boys stood some distance away watching the detective as he awkwardly manipulated the stick of dynamite.
CAUSED BY A FALL
In the meantime Sandy, Elmer and Jimmie reaching the old tool house, found Will and George very wide awake and doing the most extraordinary stunts of cooking.
"You said that your friends would be hungry," laughed Will, "and so we're preparing to feed them up fine. After that, you know, you've got to go on and tell us why we were sent down here without any real information as to the work we were to do."
"Where did you leave, Tommy and Dick?" asked George.
"They went back to see what the detective was up to."
"So he's in the mine again, is he?"
"Yes," replied Sandy, "and if I had my way about it, he'd go out so quick that he'd think he'd struck a barrel of dynamite."
"If he keeps fooling with dynamite, he's likely to do that anyhow," Elmer cut in. "The boys say that he uses dynamite in the search of the mine he is making. He doesn't know how to use it, either!"
"Then he's got to be fired out of the mine!" declared Will. "We can't have him around here carrying dynamite in his clothes, and dropping it on the ground. You might as well give a baby a box of matches and a hammer to play with. Some day there'll be an explosion."
"Aw, leave him alone for a few days!" Jimmie advised. "He's doing us a lot of good just now, and we don't want to lose his help."
"His help?" repeated Will.
"He's bully help!" shouted George, with fine sarcasm.
"I guess I'll have to tell you about the mystery of the mine," Elmer laughed. "Tommy ought to be here to get the story with the rest, but you can tell him about it later on."
"He ought to be here any minute now," Jimmie asserted.
"Oh, he'll be here all right!" George argued. "Go on with the story. It's been hours since you came in here with the suggestion that there was a story, and you haven't told it yet!"
"Yes," Will interrupted, "get busy and tell us what Mr. Horton neglected to say when he sent us down here; and while you are about it," the boy went on, "you may as well tell us whether you really became lost in the mine, or whether you were sent here to do the very things you did do."
"Also," George broke in, "you may as well tell us what the detective is doing here, and how he is helping you in trying to blow up the mine."
"The boys were never lost in the mine a minute!" replied Elmer, with a grin, "and Mr. Horton knew it. Mr. Horton received his instructions from Attorney Burlingame of New York, and I am positive that Burlingame gave his brother lawyer the whole story."
"Foxy game, eh?" laughed Will.
"I guess they wanted you to find out if we boys were of any account, and whether we were playing fair!" laughed Jimmie.
"Well, anyway, they expected you to find us and learn the story I'm now going to tell," Elmer continued.
"Jerusalem!" exclaimed Will. "Why don't you get at it. That story has been jumping from tongue to tongue clothed in mystery for hours and we haven't been favored with it yet!"
"The story opens," Elmer began, "on a cold and stormy night in October in the year 1913. As the wind blew great gusts of rain down upon such pedestrians as happened to be out of doors—"
"Aw, cut it out!" exclaimed Will. "Why don't you go on and tell the story? We don't want any more of that Henry James business! You know he always has a solitary horseman proceeding slowly on foot."
"Well, it was a dark night, and a stormy one!" declared Elmer. "If it had been clear and bright, Stephen Carson, the Wall street banker, wouldn't have received a dent in his cupola. In stepping down from his automobile his foot slipped on the wet pavement, and he fell, striking on the back of his head.
"What's that got to do with this mine mystery?" demanded George.
"It has a great deal to do with this mine mystery," Elmer answered. "Stephen Carson arose from the ground, rubbed the back of his head with his gloved hand, and continued on his way to a meeting of a board of directors. He appeared to be perfectly sane and responsible for his acts at the meeting of the board, and when he left in his machine there were no indications that he had suffered more than a slight bruise from his fall. He was not seen at home again for two weeks."
"Now you begin to get interesting!" declared Will.
"Where did he go?" asked Sandy.
"That is what his friends don't know," replied Elmer.
"But he must have been seen somewhere!" insisted Sandy.
"He was," answered Elmer. "He was seen in the vicinity of this mine."
"Wow, wow, wow!" exclaimed Sandy.
"What was he doing here?" asked Will.
"Wandering about the premises."
"Now I can tell you the rest," Will said with a chuckle.
"Go on, then," advised Elmer.
"From the meeting of the board of directors that night," Will went on whimsically, "this man Stephen Carson wept directly to a safety deposit vault where three or four hundred thousand dollars in the way of cash and jewelry were hidden. He took the whole bundle and disappeared. Is that anywhere near right, Elmer?"
"Go on!" Elmer replied.
"Then in two weeks time he comes back and says that he don't know where he put the jewelry, but that he thinks he hid it in this mine. And, as they can't find any place where he hocked the jewelry, or put it up to carry out some gigantic Wall street plan, they are forced to believe that he really did mislay the jewelry while temporarily out of his head. Is that anywhere near right?"
"If you'll amend your report so as to show that he went to the Night and Day bank and drew out something over two hundred thousand dollars which he had on deposit there, and disappeared with the entire sum, you'll come nearer to the truth."
Will gave a long whistle of amazement.
"Two hundred thousand dollars in real money!" exclaimed George.
"Yes, he took two hundred thousand dollars in real money away with him that night," Elmer went on, "and when he returned to his home again, he was penniless and in rags."
"Was he in his right mind?" asked Will.
"He seemed to be."
"Has he now recovered from the injury he received that night?"
"So the doctors say."
"Then why doesn't he tell what he did with the money?"
"That part of his life is blank. He was seen in the vicinity of this mine, yet denies it. He was seen loitering in the woods not far away, but insists that he never visited this mine except to attend meetings of the board of directors."
"Now I've got you!" laughed Will. "His friends think he hid the money in this mine and we've been sent here to find it!"
"That's the idea," agreed Elmer.
"And this bum detective is here for the same purpose!"
"Yes, though where he received his information is more than I know. Upon his return to his home, Mr. Carson immediately made good the two hundred thousand dollars taken from the Night and Day bank and employed detectives to look up the missing coin.
"Is Ventner one of them?" asked Will.
"I don't think so," replied Elmer. "We were sent here to look through the mine, with the understanding that you were to come on from Chicago in a few days. Mr. Horton recommended you to Mr. Burlingame and so you were employed."
"Then this detective has no right here at all?"
"None whatever, so far as I can make out."
"Then why not fire him?"
"Because he may accidentally run across the money some day."
"If he does, he'll get away with it!" declared George.
"No, he won't," answered Elmer, "He'll be watched every minute from now on. You may be sure of that!"
"But you didn't seem to know what he was doing tonight," laughed Will.
"But I knew enough to come to the right place for the information I desired," replied Elmer.
"Strange thing Tommy and Dick don't come!" Sandy exclaimed, stepping to the door of the old tool house and listening intently. "They should I have been here a long time ago!"
"Perhaps they've butted into Ventner," suggested Jimmie.
"They wouldn't do that," Elmer replied. "Every blow he strikes with his pick saves us the trouble of making one."
"You don't think he had any directions from anyone, do you?" asked Will. "You don't think he knows, where to look for the money any more than you do?"
"No, I think he just heard of the loss of the money and came down here on his own account."
"Well, if he's using dynamite in the mine," Will continued, "he ought to be turned out of it. If Mr. Carson really hid two hundred thousand dollars in currency in here, it's in some little pocket easy to find if we get into the right chamber. The use of dynamite might bury it twenty feet deep under a load of shale that would never be removed!"
"That's a fact!" cried Elmer.
The boys now stepped to the door and listened again, attracted by the sound of running feet.
"There's something doing!" exclaimed Sandy. "When Tommy comes home on a run, there's always something going on."
Directly the boys came panting up, stopping in the doorway to look behind them. They were both well winded.
"That bum detective back there," Tommy exclaimed as soon as he could catch his breath, "is putting in dynamite enough to blow up the whole mine. He's attaching a long fuse, so he can get out before the explosion comes. We tried to get down far enough to choke off the fuse, but couldn't do it. In just about another minute, you'll hear something like a Fourth of July celebration!"
THE SIGNS IN STONES
"We thought he'd send the shot off before we got up the ladders!" exclaimed Dick. "We're expecting to hear the roar of it every minute now!"
"Perhaps something went wrong," suggested Will.
"What part of the mine is he in?" asked Jimmie.
Tommy explained the location of the cross cutting and Jimmie gave a whistle of dismay. In a moment he asked:
"Was he cutting into one of the pillars?"
"Yes," was the answer, "he was getting ready to blow it down with dynamite. It's a wonder we don't hear the explosion!"
"If the spot where he's working is the place I think it is," Jimmie continued, "the gink stands a pretty good chance of finding something. We've been searching in that chamber, and just before you boys showed up tonight we thought we were on the right track. Whether the money is there or not, it is a sure thing that the walls of the chamber have been tampered with. We think, though, that the money is there!"
"Then we mustn't let Ventner get it!" exclaimed Will.
"It won't do him any good to get it after that stick of dynamite explodes!" exclaimed Tommy. "It'll blow him to Kingdom Come."
"Well, why don't we go down and see about it?" asked Will
"Not for me!" exclaimed Tommy.
"He may blow his own head off if he wants to," Dick put in, "but he can't blow off mine, not with my consent. I've got only one head!"
"I don't believe there's going to be any explosion at all!" exclaimed Elmer. "He wouldn't be apt to lay a fuse that would burn fifteen or twenty minutes, and you've certainly been that length of time coming up here, to say nothing of the time we've been talking!"
"All right!" Tommy exclaimed. "Perhaps he was loading up that pillar with dynamite just for the fun of it!"
"It would be a nice thing to have him blow that money out of the pillar and get away with it, wouldn't it?" scoffed Will.
"Come on, then," shouted Tommy, "I can take you to the firing line in about a minute. If you want to see an earthquake in a coal mine, just come along with me! You'll see it, all right!"
The boys left the old tool house without spending any more time in conversation, and hastened down the ladders to the lower level. On the way down the last gangway they heard some one moving about in the darkness, and then came a cry of warning.
"Stand clear! Stand clear!"
"That's Ventner's voice!" exclaimed Will.
"There's a blast going off in a minute!" the voice came again.
"Now we've gone and done it!" exclaimed Will. "After all the trouble we've taken to make that fellow think we've left the country, we've let him bump right into us. I wonder if he really has fired the fuse?"
"Stand clear! Stand clear!" shouted the voice. Almost before the words had died out, the explosion came, tearing more than one pillar out of position and dropping a great mass of slate down on the floor of the cross-cutting.
For a moment the gases which filled the chambers were overpowering. The only wonder was that they were not ignited. The electric lights carried by the boys shone dimly through the smoke of the confined place.
"There goes Ventner," whispered Will, pointing to a figure moving swiftly through the half-light of the place.
"He's going to see what the shot brought down!" suggested Tommy.
The Boys rushed forward in a little group. When they gathered at the scene of the explosion, the detective was not there.
"If he got hold of the cash, he knew what to do with it all right!" exclaimed Tommy. "He got away with it before we got a chance to see what he had. Now we've got to catch him!"
"May as well look for a needle in a load of hay!" grumbled Sandy.
"Look here," Jimmie exclaimed. "There's away to keep him shut up in the mine if we do the right thing. This cross-cutting runs out to a gangway on the north, and that, in turn, leads, of course, to the shaft. Now, one of you boys duck out to the shaft and see that he doesn't get up. You'll have to go some on the way there, because a man with two hundred thousand dollars in his pocket will put up some running match!"
"I'm off!" shouted Tommy. "I know I can get to the shaft before he can! He's too fat-bellied to run, anyway!"
Tommy started away at a swift pace, and the other boys closed in on the gangway, Will alone stopping at the scene of the explosion.
"This gangway," Dick explained, "runs back into the mine for some distance, but there are no cross passages. I guess the coal wasn't very good here. At least, they never spread out the drive."
"Then we've got him bottled up unless he got out of the shaft!" declared Sandy. "We'll soon know whether he got out or not!"
"I don't believe he would try to get out," suggested Elmer. "The chances are that he'd make for the back of the mine, thinking to hide away with the plunder, provided he had any plunder to hide away with."
"I'm afraid he found the hidden money," Will said, taking a scorched ten-dollar bill from a pocket. "I found this back there, where the pillar fell. I guess he found the cash all right!"
"And that's a nice thing, too!" exclaimed Sandy. "You boys kept saying that Ventner was helping you find the coin. You were right about that, for he did find the coin. And now the trick is to get it away from him!"
"I'd like to know whether Ventner got up the shaft or not,"' suggested George, "and I believe I'll take a run up there and see."
"That's a good idea!" advised Will. "If he didn't get up the shaft he's surely imprisoned in the gangway. He may be between this cross-cutting and the shaft, or he may have gone further in!"
"It'll take a long time to find out about that," suggested Jimmie.
Directly Tommy and George were heard returning from the shaft. They came through the gangway flashing their lights in every direction.
"He never went up the shaft!" Tommy exclaimed as they came near. "We've got him canned in the mine all right. If he's got the money, we'll take it away from him! He wouldn't know what to do with it anyway!"
"First," suggested Will, "we'd better make sure that the fellow got the money. The bank note I found may have never been in the possession of Mr. Carson. And even if it was, it may be the only one to be blown out of its hiding place by the explosion. It strikes me that we'd better give the place a thorough search before we waste much time looking for Ventner. If, as Tommy says, he never left the mine by way of the shaft, we've got him blocked in, all right!"
The boys now began a careful examination of the cross-cutting where the explosion had taken place. As has been stated, more than one pillar had been blown out. There was a great heap of debris on floor, and this the boys attacked with a vim.
Tommy and George were now standing guard at mouth of the cross-cutting so that no one could pass down the gangway toward the shaft.
"Suppose that fellow did get the money?" asked Sandy, as the boys cleared away the heaps of slate, "what then?"
"Then we'll have to take it away from him."
"We'll catch him first."
"We've got him blocked in, haven't we?" asked Sandy.
"Oh, we know that he can't get out," Dick cut in, "but we know, too, that there are a lot of shallow benches along that gangway. We can't walk in and pick him out in a minute. Besides," the boy continued, "when we find him, we may find his pockets empty."
"That's just what we will do!" Elmer agreed. "He'll hide the money in another place, and swear that he never found it!"
"I wish we'd kicked him out of the mine!" exclaimed Sandy.
The boys continued the search until daylight, and then, leaving Tommy and George still on guard, they went up to the old tool house for breakfast. The lads were by no means elated over what had taken place. They believed that Ventner had succeeded in finding the money, and were certain that, even if located in the mine, he would deny any knowledge of it.
"I guess we got you boys into a mess by insisting on having the detective roaming around," admitted Elmer, as the boys were eating a hastily prepared breakfast. "I guess we should have listened to you in regard to that. There is no knowing how much trouble we have made!"
"He may help us find the money after all!" laughed Will.
"Yes," cut in Sandy, "it may be easier to get it away from him than to find the place where it was hidden."
"Oh, yes, if we could lay our hands on him and order him to give up two hundred thousand dollars, and he, would say: 'Yes, I've been waiting to find the owner,' that would be all right, too! But the thing isn't likely to turn out in that way! He'll hide the money, and swear he never found it! Then, when everything quiets down, he'll sneak back and get it!"
This from Jimmie, who seemed to a take a rather gloomy view of the situation. The boys remained at the old tool house only a short time. Their minds were fixed so intently on the work in hand that they hardly knew whether they had had any breakfast at all.
As they passed down the ladders to the lower level, they heard something which resembled a shot, and almost tumbled over each other going down into the gangway. Will and Elmer were first to reach the cross-heading where the explosion of dynamite had taken place.
They called to Tommy and George, but received no answer. They walked for some distance down the gangway without hearing any sound indicating the presence of their companions, or of any one else.
"Now that's a funny thing!" exclaimed Will. "I don't see why those boys should go rambling about the mine at a time like this just for the fun of the thing!"
"They never did!" replied Elmer. "You remember the shot we heard?"
"It might not have been a shot!" suggested Will.
As the boy spoke he bent over and pointed to stones lying on the floor of the gangway.
"There!" he said. "The boys have left a record. They not only point out the trail, but warn us that there is danger in following it!"
TWO HOLD-UP MEN
"That's Boy Scout talk all right!" exclaimed Elmer.
"Yes, the three stones, piled one on top of the other, mean that there is danger in following the trail. I don't understand exactly what kind of danger can be threatening us, and so the only thing we cart do is to go on and find out," Will said with a glance backward.
The other boys now came up and a short consultation was held. It was decided to leave Sandy and Dick at the point where the explosion had taken place, while Will, Elmer and Jimmie followed on down the gangway.
"Now whatever you do," warned Will as the two boys were left behind, "don't leave this gangway for a minute. If Ventner isn't out of the mine now we don't want him to get out. He may money or he may not. That is one of the things no fellow can find out at this time, but whether he has or not, we want him to give an account of himself before he leaves the Labyrinth. He's got several important questions to answer."
The boys promised to watch the passage faithfully, and the others passed on down the gangway, flashing their lights in every direction and making no pretense of moving quietly.
"Look here," Jimmie said after they had proceeded some distance into the mine and discovered nothing of importance, "I have in my possession a great idea! Want to hear about it?"
"Sure!" laughed Will.
"We're making too much noise."
"Making too much noise in order to attract the attention of a couple of lost youngsters?" asked Elmer.
"'They're not lost!" insisted Jimmie. "They've been lured away or dragged away! We don't know how many men were in the mine with Ventner?"
"Well, produce your idea!" Elmer exclaimed.
"Well, my notion is that I ought to go on ahead of you boys, walking as quietly as possible and without a light. If there are people waiting to snare us, they'll naturally think we've bunched our forces and are all coming along together. Then, you see," he continued, "I'll be right in among them before they suspect that we have a skirmish line out."
"That's an all right notion, kid!" answered Will.
"Then I'll be on my way," Jimmie replied. "And if I need help at any time, I'll give the call of the pack!"
"But you mustn't do that unless you have to," Wilt cautioned, "because, the minute the cry is heard, everybody within eighty rods would know what's going on. Have you matches with you?"
The boy felt in the pockets of his coat and nodded.
"Well, then," he said, "if you want to signal, wet your hands and rub the phosphorus off the matches. Turn your hands, palms in our direction, so no one can see from the other side and wig-wag."
"That will be fine!" exclaimed Jimmie. "I've got this wig-wag system down pat. I guess this Boy Scout training is pretty poor, ain't it, eh? The darker it is, the better we an talk!"
Jimmie darted away, while Will and Elmer remained stationary for a short time in order to give him an opportunity to get out of the range of their lights. Directly they heard him whispering back and listened.
"There's another stone cairn here!" he said. "I guess I knocked it over, for I can't tell exactly what it is. You can learn that when you come up with your searchlights! I think there are three stones."
"All right!" Will whispered back.
When the boys came to the spot from which the voice had been heard they found three stones lying side by side on the floor of the gangway. It was plain that they had been placed one on top of the other, and so they accepted them as another warning of danger.
"I wish we had some intimation of the kind of trouble we are likely to get into," Elmer suggested, as they passed along. "I don't like this idea of boring a hole in the darkness with a little bit of a light and anticipating an attack at any minute."
"I don't like it a little bit myself," replied Will. "A person so inclined might shoot us down without ever showing himself," declared Elmer. "In fact, the only protection we have lies in the fact that Jimmie is on ahead, and would not be likely to pass any one lying in wait for us. Bright little boy, that!"
"There he is now!" exclaimed Will. "He's using the phosphorus, all right, and I can begin to understand what he's trying to say? There's a 'W', and an 'A', and an 'I', and a 'T'. That means that he wants us to stay where we are. The system works fine, doesn't it?"
The question now was as to whether the lads should extinguish their lights. That, of itself, they understood would be suspicious in case they should be in sight of their enemies. It would simply proclaim their knowledge of the danger they were in, whatever it was.
"I think we'd better keep the lights going until we hear something more," said Elmer. "Jimmie will talk again in a minute."
The boys waited patiently for some moments, and then the wig-wag figures came again. Will read slowly:
"There's a 'V', and an 'E', and an 'N', and a 'T', and an 'N', and an 'E', and an 'R'," he said. "Now the boy's starting it again. He says, 'Ventner is here.' Now wait a minute, there's more coming!"
"The next words are: 'With two others.'"
"It's only a question of time when that detective will get next to the wig-wag game," Elmer declared. "This gangway smells like a match factory already. I wonder how far Jimmie is away from them."
Directly Jimmie began talking the wig-wag tongue again. This time he said that Tommy and George were not in sight, and had evidently been surprised and taken prisoners. He advised Will and Elmer to come on softly with their lights out.
The boys did as requested, but they had advanced only a few paces in the darkness when Canfield, accompanied by Sandy and Dick came running up, showing both lack of breath and profound excitement.
"Boys," Canfield called. "Boys!"
"Will!" yelled Sandy.
"I guess they're going to bust up the whole combination!" declared Will rather sourly. "I wish I had them by the neck!"
"They may have important news," suggested Elmer. "Anyway, we'll have to turn on our lights and meet them. If we don't, they'll keep on yelling all down the gangway!"
Canfield and the two boys came up as soon an Elmer showed a light, and stood for a moment looking cautiously about.
"I don't think you boys ought to go any further into the mine," Canfield exclaimed, breathing heavily from the long chase down the passage. "I have just received word that two of the most desperate hold-up men in the country have taken refuge here. There's no knowing how they got over to the mine, but it is a sure thing that they did get here, for couple of breaker boys saw them climbing into the breaker."
"What time was this?" asked Will.
"Oh, I don't know," replied Canfield. "The matter was reported to me early this morning. I couldn't find you before, or you should have had the news sooner. It isn't safe for you to go into the mine!"
"Your information," grinned Will, "comes a little bit late, but it's all right, just the same. Ventner is in there, and there are two men with. It's a mystery how they made their way in without being discovered, but it seems that they did so."
"What are you going to do?" asked Canfield.
"We're going on into the mine."
"In the face of my warning?"
"It's just this way," answered Will. "We left two of the boys on guard in this passage, not so very long ago, and they have disappeared. We suspect that Ventner and the two men to whom you refer have good reason to know something of their whereabouts."
"They won't injure the boys!" pleaded Canfield.
"We don't mean to give them a chance!" insisted Elmer. "We're going to jerk those boys out so quick it'll make their heads swim!"
"But it's positively dangerous!" urged the caretaker.
"If there wasn't an element of danger in the situation, we wouldn't be here!" replied Will, "I don't see as we need to run away from two hold-up men, anyway," the boy went on. "Here are five boys and one full grown man in the gangway. We ought to give a pretty good account of ourselves, in case some one starts anything!"
"Where's the fifth boy?" asked Canfield. "It seems to me that you're getting quite an accumulation of boys in here!"
"Two of the boys are Jimmie Maynard and Dick Thompson!" answered Will. "You know you informed me quite positively not long ago that the I two lads were hundreds of miles from this place by that time."
"You might barricade the hold-up men and starve them out," suggested Canfield, "that is, if you're sure they're in there!"
"We have just had a wireless from the interior," Elmer answered. "There are three men in there, all right!"
"Well, it won't take any longer to starve three out than it would one!" declared Canfield.
"Yes," Elmer cut in, "and about the first time the hold-up men got good and hungry, they'd be sending out Tommy's ears or one of George's fingers just as a warning to us not to meddle with their appetites."
Before long Jimmie began wig-wagging again, but before any words could be formed the waiting boys heard a distant scuffle, a short, quick cry of alarm, and then the phosphorus-covered palms disappeared from sight.
"They've got Jimmie!" Elmer said in a tone of dismay.
"Well, what are we going to do?" demanded Sandy. "We've got to do something right away, and that's no story out of the dream book!"
"I don't suppose it would be of any use to rush them," suggested Elmer.
"They'd mow us down like rats!" declared Dick.
"It strikes me," Sandy said, "that we'd ought to get back further and keep out of sight until we can decide upon some definite plan of action."
"I've got an idea wandering around in the back of my brain," Will said. "If the situation is exactly as I think it is, we may be able to get the best of those hold-up men after all."
THE MONEY IN SIGHT
"Not while they have possession of the boys," Canfield declared dolefully. "They'll murder those boys if we shut off their supplies!"
"Oh, I don't know about that!" suggested Dick. "We've been mixed up in a great many awkward situations but we always managed to save our necks. We'll get the boys out in some way!"
"Look here, Mr. Canfield," Will said, "how well do you know this mine?"
"Every inch of it!" was the reply.
"Every inch of every level," asked Will.
"Yes, sir!" replied the caretaker, rather proudly. "I can go into any part of it without a light!"
"Then look here, Dick," Will directed. "You chase back to the old tool house and bring back a long rope. And when you return, stop at the second level. Some of us will meet you there."
"I hope you don't expect to pull these boys up through fifty or a hundred feet of shale?" asked the caretaker.
"I don't know whether my scheme will work or not," Will answered, "but it's worth trying! We have to leave at least two here, well armed and take the others with us. You'll have to act as guide, Mr. Canfield, and we'll meet Dick when he comes down to the second level with the rope. As soon as we get the boys out of their trouble, we can leave the three outlaws in full possession of the mine. If we watch the shaft at the old tool house, they can never get out without our knowing it!"
"I don't understand what you have in mind," faltered Canfield.
Leaving Sandy and Elmer in the gangway from which the wig-wag signals had been shown, the others hastened up the ladder to the second level. Then Dick ran away to bring the rope, while Will questioned the caretaker regarding the fall between the two levels.
"You remember the old shaft, cut through years ago, and doubtless deserted when the vein ran out, which at one time connected the two levels, don't you?" asked the boy of the caretaker.
"There is such a place," replied the caretaker.
"Can you find it?"
"Of course I can."
"Does the fall open into the system of chambers in the center or to the north? You understand what I mean! Is it possible to enter any of the benches or chambers connecting with the north gangway on the lower level by means of this deserted shaft?"
"I am not quite certain about that," replied Canfield, "but my idea is that the north benches and chambers can be reached by means of that opening. I am glad you thought of that," he went on.
Dick now returned with the rope, and the three proceeded down the second level until they came to a confusion of passages and benches which would certainly have bewildered any one not familiar with the mine.
"Unless I am very much mistaken," Canfield went on, "this passage, the one straight ahead, runs almost directly over Tunnel Six. If I am right in this, the deserted shaft is here."
"And Tunnel Six is the haunted corridor, isn't it?" asked Dick.
"That's where the lights have been seen!" replied the caretaker.
"You never believed in the ghost stories told about Tunnel Six?" asked Will. "I should think you'd begin to see now that the alleged ghosts were pretty material things."
"Well, I don't know about the ghosts," replied the caretaker, "but I really was getting a little bit nervous when you boys arrived. You know," he continued, "that we all feel a little shivery when we butt into anything which we can't understand."
"Well, suppose you follow this passage to the end and see if you discover anything like the deserted shaft," suggested Dick.
"You're not going to venture into the lower level again, are you?" asked Canfield. "I don't blame you boys for wanting to rescue your companions, but, at the same time, I don't want to see you throw your lives away. Those are desperate men in Tunnel Six!"
"If my idea is worth anything at all," replied Will, "we'll get the boys out without ever letting the hold-up men know that we are within a mile of them. You know we had very little difficulty in getting out of the chamber where we left the boat."
"Trust you boys for inventing ways of doing things!" exclaimed Canfield.
"Of course," Will said hesitatingly after a time, "it may be that this deserted shaft doesn't connect with Tunnel Six, but even if it doesn't, we'll find some way of getting to our friends from the new position. We can only try, anyway!"
"I'm pretty certain that it connects with Tunnel Six," replied the caretaker. "But you mustn't show your light when you approach the old shaft," he went on, "because if it does connect with the chamber we seek, and the chamber in turn connects with the north passage, the robbers will see what we're doing."
"That's a valuable suggestion!" replied Will.
"I'll go on ahead," Canfield continued, "and find the old shaft. Then you can follow on with the rope, and one of you boys can drop down and see what can be discovered."
"It's dollars to apples," chuckled Dick, as the boys trailed along after the caretaker, "that we, find the three kids trussed up like a lot of hens ready for the market in the chamber where you came so near getting wet. I hope we do, at any rate!"
"There's one thing we overlooked," Will said as Canfield whispered to them that he had found the deserted shaft, "and that is this: We should have directed the boys in the gangway to have attracted the attention of the outlaws by a little pistol practice while we are communicating with our friends. They may be all packed away in the chamber together."
"Yes, we should have attended to that," replied Dick. "Perhaps I'd better go back now and tell them to get busy with their automatics."
"We may as well investigate the situation here first," the other answered.
The boys heard the caretaker creeping about in the darkness, and presently a piece of shale or coal was heard rattling down the old shaft.
"We'll have to get that blundering caretaker away from there," whispered Will. "If we don't, he'll notify the hold-up men that we're getting ready to do something! I've heard that about three-fourths of the people in the world object to doing anything unless they can take a brass band along, and I guess it's true."
"Say," Canfield whispered, calling back to the lads, "when that stone dropped down, I heard something that sounded like a paddle slapping down on the water. That room can't be wet yet, can it?"
"The Beaver call!" whispered Will.
"Right you are!" replied Dick. "The boys are there, all right!"
"Now the next thing to do is to find out if those highwaymen are watching them," declared Will.
"I'll tell you that in a minute," Dick whispered.
As the boy spoke, he passed one end of the rope to Canfield.
"Hang on to it, whatever takes place!" he whispered, "and I'll drop down and see what's going on."
"You must be very careful," warned Canfield.
"That's all right," answered Dick, "but we can't stand here all day figuring out precautions. We've got to know right off whether there's anyone in that chamber watching the boys!"
"What a joke it would be to put on a ghost in Tunnel Six!" laughed Will in a decidedly cheerful frame of mind now that rescue seemed so near.
"Don't try any foolishness!" advised Canfield. "Let's rescue the boys if possible and make our way out of this horrible place."
Will crawled to the edge of the shaft with Dick and whispered as he lowered him into the dark opening below:
"Remember, that Ventner may have discovered the money. If so, we must secure it before we leave the place! It will be just like him, to stow the bank notes away in some chamber like the one you are about to enter. When you strike bottom, if there is no one in sight except the boys, turn on your searchlight and take a good look over the interior of the chamber.
"We were in there not so very long ago, but at that time we weren't thinking of making a search there for hidden money. You'll have to use your own judgment about turning on the light, of course. The outlaws may be out in the gangway, some distance from the entrance to the chamber, or they may be within six feet of where the boys are held as prisoners."
"Tommy ought to be able to tell me the minute I strike the heap of shale whether the outlaws are close by or not!" Dick suggested.
"Of course!" answered Will, "if he knows. If the men are not in sight, and he doesn't know where they are, you'll simply have to take chances. If you get caught in there, you'll have to shoot, and shoot quick!"
Dick dropped down into the old shaft and directly the anxious watchers above heard the rattle of shale as it dropped from the pyramid under the opening. Will, still clinging to the rope, lay on his stomach and peered downward, watching with all anxiety for some show of light, or some sound which might indicate the situation below.
Directly Will felt a soft, steady pull at the rope, and knew that one of the boys was ready to be hoisted to the top.
Dick came up first, chuckling as he landed on the edge of the break in the rock, and was immediately followed by Jimmie.
"Where's Tommy and George?" asked Will in a whisper.
"They're down there looking for the money!"
"Looking for the money in the darkness?"
"Sure!" was the reply. "You see," he went on, "those ginks tied us up, good and tight, and then threw the money around promiscuous like!"
"So the money is there?" asked Will.
The news seemed too good to be true!
"It was there when we were first thrown into the chamber," replied Jimmie, "but I have an idea that Ventner sneaked in and removed it so as to prevent his mates getting any share."
A light flashed out from below, followed immediately by a pistol shot!
SANDY IS DISCHARGED
Elmer and Sandy, guarding the gangway variously called the North section and Tunnel Six, presently heard voices coming from the direction of the shaft, and the latter moved back a few paces in order to inspect the new-comers. In a moment he saw three rather pompous looking men approaching him, their footsteps being directed by a man clothed as a miner.
"Here, boy!" shouted one of the pompous men. "Can you tell me where Canfield, the caretaker of the mine may be found?"
"He's up on the next level," replied Sandy.
"I was told he was down here," growled the speaker, who was very short and fat, and very much out of breath.
"He was here a little while ago," answered Sandy.
"What's the meaning of this show of firearms?" demanded the fat main, after glancing disdainfully at the automatic in the boy's hand.
"We've got three robbers cooped up in the mine," replied Sandy.
"That's the old, old story!" exclaimed the fat man. "I don't know that I ever knew of a mine that wasn't haunted, either by ghosts or robbers! Mysteries seem to breed in coal mines!"
Sandy walked back to the place where, he had left Elmer, and the three men and their guide followed him. When Elmer caught a view of the fat man's face and figure, he gave a sharp pull at Sandy's sleeve.
"That's Stephen Carson!" he said. "I guess I'd better keep out of sight, because I don't care about getting into an argument with him. He's the most contrary person I ever saw in my life, and never fails to get up an argument about something or other with yours truly."
"You seem to know him pretty well," whispered Sandy.
"I ought to," returned Elmer, "he's my Uncle!"
"The two tall men in the party are my father and the cashier of the Night and Day bank. I'll take a sneak, and that will shorten the session."
Accordingly, Elmer strolled along the gangway and came to a halt some distance from where the three men had drawn up.
"My boy" Carson went on, looking condescendingly at the youth, "will you kindly run up to the second level and tell Mr. Canfield that his presence is required by the president of the mining company?"
"I'm not allowed to leave this place, sir," replied Sandy, taking offense at the man's air of proprietorship.
"All persons in and about this mine," Carson almost shouted, "are subject to my orders. Run along now, you foolish boy, and don't make any trouble for yourself!"
The man's manner was so unnecessarily dictatorial and offensive that Sandy found it impossible to restrain his temper. He was not naturally a "fresh" youngster, but now he had passed the limit of endurance.
"Aw, go chase yourself!" he said.
"You're discharged!" shouted Carson.
"You didn't hire me!" retorted Sandy. "You haven't got any right to discharge me! I'm going to stay here until I get ready to leave!"
"If you don't get out of the mine immediately, I'll have you thrown out!" shouted Carson. "I never saw such impudence!"
"If I do get out," replied Sandy with a grin, "you'll wish I hadn't!"
Carson turned to Elmer's father and the bank cashier, and the three consulted together for a short time. Then Elmer's father came closer to where Sandy was standing.
"Why do you say that?" he asked. "Why do you think we will wish you had remained in case you are sent out of the mine?"
"Because I was left here to prevent robbers getting out of the gangway. They're further in, and have captured three of my chums."
"All nonsense!" shouted Mr. Carson breaking into the conversation impatiently. "These breaker boys never tell the truth!"
"Are you Mr. Buck?" asked Sandy, speaking an undertone to Elmer's father. "Because if you are, you'll find Elmer just a short distance ahead. He's on guard, too. He didn't want his uncle to recognize him, because he says he's always getting up an argument with him."
"I'm glad to know that Elmer is attending to his duty," Mr. Buck answered. "Somehow," he continued with a smile, "Stephen Carson always rubs Elmer the wrong way of the grain."
"What's he butting in here for?" asked Sandy, while the cashier of the Night and Day bank and the miner stood by waiting for the peace negotiations to conclude.
"Why, he came in to get his two hundred thousand." replied Mr. Buck. "He thinks he knows now right where he left it."
"Does he often get foolish in the head like that?" asked Sandy with a grin. "If he does, he ought to hire a couple of detectives to keep track of him when he is wandering out in the night!"
"Oh, Stephen is usually a pretty level-headed sort of a fellow!" replied Mr. Buck. "He is out of humor just now because he has always denied that he visited the mine during his two weeks of absence. He is one of the men who dislike very much to be caught in an error of any kind."
"So he knows where the money is?" asked Sandy.
"He says he can find it if he can secure the services of Canfield, the caretaker. He remembers now of getting in the mine, and of hearing footsteps in the darkness. His impression at that time was that robbers had followed him in, so he unloaded the banknotes in a small chamber which he is now able to describe accurately but which he cannot, of course, find."
"Was the money hidden on this level?" asked Sandy.
"Yes, on this level."
"In this gangway?"
"He thinks it was hidden here."
"Right about here, or further on?"
"Right about here," was the answer, "he seems to remember something about Tunnel Six. He thinks he hid the money there! As soon as he finds Canfield, the caretaker will probably be able to tell him exactly how Tunnel Six looks."
"It looks all in a mess right now! I can tell you that," grinned Sandy.
"What do you mean by that?"
"I mean that there's been doings here!" replied Sandy.
"Are there really robbers in there?"
"Sure, there are robbers in there!"
"Then perhaps we'd better bring in a squad of deputies."
"If you'll just let us boys alone," Sandy said, "we'll bring the money out if it's anywhere in the mine, but if this man Carson goes to butting in at this time, he'll have to dig out his own money. He won't believe there's any robbers in there, and he wants to fire me out of the mine, so I guess we'd better let him go his own gait a little while."
"He'll do that anyhow no matter what you say!" replied Mr. Buck.
"Look here!" shouted Carson, starting forward with his stomach out and his fat shoulders thrown back, "what's all this conversation about? Why don't some one go up and get Canfield, and why isn't that young rowdy thrown out of the mine? I won't have him in here!"
"Say," Sandy broke in, "Mr. Buck says that you're looking for Tunnel Six. If you are, I can show you right where it is!"
"Do so, then!" shouted Carson.
"Go straight ahead," Sandy directed, "and when the robbers begin to shoot, you command them to throw down their weapons in the name of the law! They'll probably do it, all right, if you tell them to but you'll be lucky if they don't throw them down your throat!"
"Do you mean to tell me," screamed Carson, "that there are actually robbers here, and that they have taken possession of Tunnel Six?"
"That's the idea," replied Sandy.
"Why, that's where I put my—"
"That's where you put your money, is it?" Sandy went on.
"I never saw such impudence!" roared Carson.
"Well, go on and get your money!" advised Sandy. "Just go straight down the gangway until you come to a face of rock and then switch off to the left, and you'll find yourself in a chamber used at present by robbers and hold-up men as a winter resort."
"Oh you can't frighten me!" declared Carson. "I believe that you're here in quest of the money yourself!"
"That's right!" admitted Sandy. "Go on in, now, and tell the robbers to give up your hoarded gold! Just butt in, and tell 'em what you want them to do! They'll probably do just as you tell them to!"
"I never saw such imprudence in my life!" roared Carson, wiping his perspiring forehead with a large red silk handkerchief.
"I don't see where the impudence comes in!" replied Sandy. "You said you wanted to find Tunnel Number Six in order that you might locate your money. I'm telling you where it is, and what to do to get it!"
"Old Stephen never took a bluff in his life!" chuckled Mr. Buck. "Now see if he doesn't go stalking down that passage and declaring himself in the name of the law!"
The banker did exactly what Mr. Buck had predicted. He went storming down the passage, giving notice to all intruders to walk out of his mine in a peaceable manner. Mr. Buck followed along until he came to where Elmer was standing with his back against the wall, and then the two paused and entered into conversation. The cashier of the Night and Day bank and the miner started back toward the shaft.
"What's the matter?" shouted Sandy. "Why don't you stay and see the fun? There'll be shooting here directly!"
The miner and the cashier now took to their heels and were soon of out of sight. Every moment the boy expected to see a flash of fire in the gangway. Carson was now very near to Tunnel Six, and it seemed certain that the outlaws must soon open fire on him.
"Come back, Stephen!" shouted Mr. Buck. "Don't make a fool of yourself!"
"This is all pure bluff!" shouted Carson. "There are no robbers here at all. This is a scheme to keep me out of Tunnel Six, where I believe my money to be hidden!"
They saw Carson halt in his rather clumsy passage down the gangway, and draw an automatic from his pocket.
There was a quick shot and the banker rushed ahead!
"I TOLD YOU SO!"
Directly Elmer, Sandy and Mr. Buck heard the banker shouting at the top of his lungs and dashed on toward the mysterious tunnel.
"He'll get his head shot off in there!" exclaimed Sandy.
"I don't care if he does!" declared Elmer.
"Your uncle isn't such a bad old fellow, after all," Mr. Buck exclaimed. "He has plenty of courage, at any rate!"
"But I don't understand why they don't open fire on him!" exclaimed Sandy. "The robbers certainly were in there not very long ago. We heard the scuffle when they geezled Jimmie."
"Who fired that shot?" asked Mr. Buck.
"Uncle Stephen did," replied Elmer. "I saw the flash spring out from the spot where he stood!"
"Well, what do you know about that?" exclaimed Sandy. "The old chap is actually making his bluff good! He's getting into Tunnel Six single handed and alone! I guess we'll have to advertise for those three outlaws if we find 'em in here! He's a nervy old follow, isn't he?"
The three now followed fast on the heels of the banker, and soon came to where he stood swinging his searchlight at the end of a short drift which ended, after sliding under a dip, in a chamber which, at first glance seemed to be piled high with a with a mass of shale.
While the three looked on, Carson dropped on his knees beside a crevice in the wall and began an eager exploration of the opening.
Directly he sprang to his feet with rage and disappointment showing on every feature of his face. He raved about the cluttered chamber for a moment, almost dancing up and down in his anger and chagrin, and then sat limply down on the pile of shale.
"It's gone!" he said. "The money's gone!"
"So it wasn't hidden back there in that cross cutting at all?" asked Sandy. "We thought sure we had a cinch on the coin several hours ago!"
"It was hidden here in this chamber!" declared Carson wearily. "The minute I entered the place I remembered where I had hidden it. And now it's gone! I've had all my trouble for nothing."
As he ceased speaking, he glanced suspiciously at Sandy. And Sandy, in turn, made a most provoking face.
"I believe you know something about my money!" Carson said.
"Sure I do!" replied Sandy.
"Then where is it?"
"The robbers got it!"
"That's a nice story to tell," howled Carson. "If you think I'm going to be defrauded out of my money in this way, you're very much mistaken!"
Without paying any further attention to the threats of the banker, Sandy stepped over to Elmer's, side and pointed up the deserted shaft.
"There's where the robbers went," he said, "and they doubtless took Carson's money with them. I don't understand why Will didn't stop them."
"Will and George probably released their friends and went away," complained Elmer. "I don't think they showed very good judgment in doing that, either. The result is that the money has disappeared entirely. A short time ago, Uncle might have reclaimed it."
"We don't know whether the money has gone beyond recall or not," replied Sandy. "I don't believe Will and George ever left the old shaft unguarded. They are still somewhere in this vicinity!"
Carson now blustered up to Sandy and pointed an accusing finger into the lad's face. Sandy regarded him with indifference.
"Now that your story of the robbers has been disproved," Carson shouted, "you may as well tell me who took my money. If I had not the courage to make this investigation in person, that cheap story of the robbers would have held good for all time!"
"That's a horse on me, all right!" admitted Sandy. "I don't know where the robbers are, unless they went up through that old shaft, and it doesn't seem as if the boys would permit that!"
"Too thin! Entirely too thin!" declared Carson. "A moment ago you tried to tell me that the money wasn't hidden near Tunnel Six at all, but was hidden back there near the cross-cutting."
"We had good reason to believe it was hidden there!" replied Sandy. "We found a burned ten dollar banknote there just after a dynamite explosion had taken place."
"That would naturally lead to the supposition that the money had been hidden there!" Mr. Buck exclaimed.
"Come to think of it," Sandy went on, "I believe that was one of Ventner's tricks. I believe he blew down those pillars and burned the banknote for the express purpose of making us search two or three weeks in the wrong place. I guess we have underestimated that fellow's ability. He's a keener man than I supposed!"
"I don't quite see the point to that," Elmer suggested. "When you say that Ventner probably caused you to dig in the wrong place, you admit that he must have known something about the right place. Now, how could he have known anything about where to look for that money?"
"I don't know," replied Sandy. "But when you say that he might have known exactly where to look, you set him down as a fool, because he has been searching a long time and never came upon it until today."
"I think I can understand that," Mr. Buck said. "This man you speak of probably knew where to find the money provided he could discover the right drift, bench, chamber or tunnel. Like Mr. Carson, here, he could doubtless go straight to the cache if directed into the right apartment."
While the four stood together at the bottom of the chamber, their searchlights making the place as light as day, an exclamation came from the shaft above, followed by two pistol shots.
Carson dropped to his knees and began twisting at his automatic, which had in some way become entangled in the lining of his pocket.
"There are your robbers!" he shouted. "Put out your lights!"
"Don't you do anything of the kind!" argued Sandy. "Get out of range of the old shaft and keep your lights burning so you can shoot any one who drops down! I guess we have them hemmed in!"
"It's a scheme to get away with my money!" shouted Carson.
"I wish you had your old money chucked down your throat!" exclaimed Sandy. "I'm getting sick of the sound of the word!"
All members of the party now drew back toward the dip, where they were entirely concealed from any one in the old shaft.
Directly there was a rattling of shale and slate, and then the lights showed the figure of Tommy sitting astride the peak of the pyramid.
"What are you fellows trying to do down there?" he asked.
"We're looking for Carson's money?" replied Sandy.
"Did you get it?" the boy demanded.
"That's the boy that's got my money!" shouted the banker.
"Money's a good thing to have!" grinned Tommy.
"What have you done with the highwaymen?" asked Sandy.
"Why continue this senseless talk about highwaymen?" demanded Carson, "when you know just as well as I do that there are no robbers here other than yourselves! Mr. Buck," he added, turning to Elmer's father, "I call upon you to assist me in restraining these robbers until the proper officers can be summoned."
"Where did that fat man come from?" asked Tommy.
"You impertinent rascal!" shouted Carson.
"Sure!" answered Tommy. "But where did you say you came from?"
"I'm president of this mining company!" screamed Carson, "and I'll have you all in jail if you don't produce my money!"
"Is this the gentleman who went batty and lost two hundred thousand dollars?" asked Tommy, sliding down from the slate pyramid and standing beside Sandy.
"That is believed to be the man!" laughed Sandy.
"Believed to be!" roared Carson.
"Does he know where he left the money?" asked Tommy.
"Sure I know where I left my money, you young Jackanapes!" declared Carson. "I pointed out the exact hiding place only a few moments ago!"
"You found it empty?"
"Yes, I found it empty!" roared Carson.
"Then," Tommy suggested, "we've all got to get busy."
"What do you mean by that?" demanded Carson.
Before Tommy could reply, Will came sliding down the rope and landed within a few feet of where the little group stood.
"Look here, Will," Tommy said, "Are you sure we made a good search of those three ginks? They've got the money all right!"
"How do you know they did?" demanded Will.
"That fat man over there who looks as if he was about to bust," Tommy grinned, "is Mr. Carson, the man who hid the money and couldn't find it again. He's just been looking in the place where he concealed it, and it isn't there! We've got to get busy!"
"I don't understand this at all," Mr. Buck interrupted.
"It's just this way," Will said, facing the speaker, "we caught the three men who were wandering about in the mine. We rescued our chums first, and then when the outlaws heard your party advancing they scrambled up the old shaft and took to their heels supposing, of course, that we had lost no time in getting out of the mine."
"And you geezled them all?" asked Sandy.
"The whole three!" replied Will. "All we had to do was to stretch a rope across a passage, trip them up, and do a little winding around their graceful forms before they could catch their breath. They are all tied up good and tight now."
"And you searched them for the money and didn't find it?" shouted Carson.
"And we searched them for the money and didn't find it!" repeated Will.
"I don't believe it!" shouted Carson. "You'll be telling me in a moment, when I ask you to produce your robbers, that they have broken their bonds and escaped!"
At that moment, George's voice was heard calling down the shaft:
"Break for the main shaft!" they heard him saying. "Head those fellows off. They cut their ropes and got away!"
"I told you so!" thundered Carson.
"Bright boys up there!" exclaimed Will, as the unwelcome news of the escape of the robbers came down the old shaft.
"Me for the elevator?" shouted Tommy.
All four boys, Will, Elmer, Tommy and Sandy started in a mad race down the gangway. As they carried their searchlights with them, and as Mr. Carson and Mr. Buck moved at a slower pace, the latter gentlemen were soon feeling their way through the dark tunnel.
"We've just got to head 'em off!" grunted Tommy as the boys passed along at a pace calculated to break the long distance running records.
"I don't believe they'll make for the main shaft anyway," Sandy panted.
"I don't believe they will, either," Will declared, "but if we get to the lift first, we'll be dead sure they don't got out!"
Will was in advance as they swung into the lighted space about the shaft. The first thing be observed was that one of the cages was just starting upward. He sprang to the push button and almost instantly the cage dropped back to the third level again. The power was on in honor of the visit of the president of the company.
"Pile in, boys!" he shouted. "We'll stop at the second level!"
The man at the top responded nobly to the quick signals given to start and stop, and in a very short space of time the elevator stood at the second level. The bar was down, but Will threw it aside and stepped out into the passage. There he saw the bank cashier and the miner standing cowering against the wall only a few feet from the shaft.