"Well, he must be a good lad if he's a faithful Boy Scout," Will suggested. "He certainly must be all right!"
"Indeed he is!" Seth answered. "He's a good boy, and I hope some day that he'll have the right to wear a badge like that," pointing to the Scoutmaster emblem on Will's hat.
"How many of these medals has he?" asked George, pointing to the Ambulance, Stalker, Seaman and Pioneer medals on his sleeve.
"Oh, I don't know," Seth laughed. "He comes home every day or two and says he's going to have a new one! Look here, lad," the man added glancing apprehensively back at his companions, "why don't you tell the truth and get out of this scrape in the easiest possible way?"
"We have told the truth," was the reply, "except that we didn't come out just for the fun of the thing. We came out for a purpose which we can't disclose at this time. We blundered on the train robbers, and have no more idea of where they went than you have."
"Look here Seth," the leader of the party exclaimed. "If you can't make those boys tell the truth, just cut out this conversation. We've got work to do tonight!"
"I think they are telling the truth!" Seth answered.
"Oh, I guess you know better than that!" laughed the leader. "You're interested in them because they claim to be Boy Scouts, and I suppose you're taking in everything they say."
"I think the boys are all right!" insisted Seth.
"It doesn't make any difference what you think!" replied the other angrily, "If they don't tell the truth, they're going to swing in less than half an hour!"
"I can't stand for that, Pete," Seth answered.
"Who's sheriff of this county?" demanded the man who had been called Pete. "I suppose you think you're boss of this expedition."
"I don't think anything of the kind," was the reply, "but I'm not going to see these Boy Scouts murdered without a hearing, and if you attempt anything of the kind, you'll never be sheriff of this county again! I can tell you that much."
The four other members of the party were now whispering together some distance away. As they whispered, they glanced furtively from the boys to the man who was trying to protect them.
"Look here, Pete," one of them said, as they all stepped forward, "we don't see any necessity for this halt in the proceedings just because Seth has a lad that belongs to the Boy Scouts."
"That's right," another member of the party declared. "Just you say the word and we'll string these boys up in a holy minute!"
"Not with my consent!" exclaimed Seth. "I'm not murdering babies! And if you fellows attempt anything of the kind, there'll be trouble!"
"Look here," the sheriff said, addressing Will. "You boys go off in a corner somewhere and talk this thing over. Here's a pretty decent kind of a fellow, a neighbor of mine, getting into trouble on your account. Now you go and talk the thing over, and see if you can't decide to tell the truth and help him out as well as yourself."
"Why can't you tell him the whole story?" asked Chester as the boys grouped themselves in a shadowy corner of the cave. "Why don't you tell him just why you came out tonight, and how we happened to come into the cavern. I don't believe they'll do us any harm if you tell the truth."
"Now, look here, kid," Will answered, "if we tell the cowboys that we came into the hills hunting for a demented man, they'll want to know who the demented man is, and why he came into the hills without any supplies. Can't you understand that?"
"If he does," replied Chester, "I'll tell him all about it."
"If you do," Will continued, "the cowboys will join in the search for your father, and when they catch him, they'll turn him over to the two detectives who are now in the hills searching for him."
Chester turned pale as death and shrank back against the wall of the cave. His voice was piteous as he asked:
"So you know all about that, too, do you?"
"Yes," answered Will, "and we don't want the officers to get hold of your father. If they do, it will spoil all our plans, because they'll take him back to the penitentiary, and that would make new trouble for our friend. We want to find him ourselves."
"But I don't understand—"
"I know that you don't understand," Will declared, "and this is no time nor place to give you the information you lack."
"But I'll see father taken back to prison before I'll see you two boys lynched!" insisted Chester.
"You'd better think the matter over carefully," Will advised. "The chances are that they won't believe anything we say to them now."
"Well!" the sheriff called out impatiently. "Have you boys reached a conclusion?"
"We have already told you everything which can possibly interest you!" Will answered. "We have nothing more to say!"
"Then bring out your rope, boys!" the sheriff shouted.
Seth threw a hand back to his pistol pocket and faced the sheriff angrily. The sheriff's eyes flashed vengefully.
"I protest against this murder!" Seth exclaimed.
"If you don't want to take a hand in the proceedings, get out!" ordered the sheriff. "We can do the work without you!"
"I don't propose to see these Boy Scouts murdered!" Seth declared.
Every member of the party now held a gun in his hand, and it seemed to the boys that a desperate battle must take place. They drew their own revolvers and stood side by side with their defender.
"Take those guns away from the kids," shouted the sheriff, addressing two of his men. "We ought to have attended to that before this!"
"Don't you try it!" Seth said calmly. "I'll shoot the first man that lays a hand on one of them!"
While the two parties stood facing each other, each ready to begin shooting at the slightest provocation, a volley of shots came from up the gorge. The angry men turned their eyes toward the entrance to the cavern and the sheriff threw up his hand in a command for an armistice.
"The train robbers may be out in the gulch shooting up some one now!" he exclaimed. "We ought to see about this!"
"Yes," Seth exclaimed, "there's no use of our coming to blows over this matter. If the robbers' hiding place can be found, we can make them tell whether these boys are mixed up in their affairs or not."
"That's right!" exclaimed another member of the party. "If the boys will give up their guns and promise to make no attempt to escape, we'll investigate this shooting and give them the benefit of every doubt there is in the case. Will you do that, boys?"
The lads handed their weapons to Seth and moved out toward the gulch. When the party passed out of the cavern they found no one in sight. While they stood listening and watching more shots came from the south and they all moved up in that direction. The moon was now shining brilliantly and the whole gulch was in view.
"Strange where that shooting is!" Seth exclaimed.
"It's in the caverns up to the north, and that means that the train robbers have been brought to bay!" exclaimed the sheriff.
As the party started up the gulch, Will drew Seth aside and whispered a few words into his ear.
ONE DANGER TO ANOTHER
"How do you know the bears are out there in the cave?" Sandy asked, as Tommy drew back into the smaller cavity.
"Just take a peek out, if you don't believe me."
Sandy did take a peek out, and sprang back with a face which looked as white as a sheet of paper under the rays of Tommy's electric searchlight.
"One of 'em took a swipe at me!" he said.
The boys turned their searchlights on the entrance and waited patiently for some moments for the bears to present themselves in the illuminated circle, but the animals seemed to understand that there was danger under the light, and remained around the angle of the wall.
"What are you going to do?" asked Tommy, presently.
"Blessed if I know!" answered Sandy.
"We might rush out and fill 'em full of lead," suggested Tommy.
"Not for me!" the other answered. "They'd get in one good crack at us before we could pull the trigger, and then it would be 'Good-night!'"
"How long do you think they'll stay here?" asked Tommy.
"The bear has the reputation of being a stayer," replied the other.
"Well, in time," Tommy said, "we'll have to make a break. We've got about enough provisions for breakfast, and after that, we'll be on the verge of starvation as long as we remain here. So far as I can see, we may as well make a break right now."
"I'm game for it," replied Sandy. "We'll dazzle their eyes with our searchlights, and fire a whole clip of bullets without stopping. Perhaps that'll bring them down or cause them to run away."
"All right!" Tommy agreed. "We'll round the corner together with our searchlights held in front and begin shooting."
"And don't make any mistake about shooting straight!" advised Sandy. "I don't want Will and George to know that we ever got into a mess like this. You know what they said about our coming away tonight, anyhow!"
"Sure, I know!" admitted Tommy. "And I'd rather have one of the bears bite off an arm than to have them know we got into a scrape we couldn't get out of without their help."
"Well, here goes, then!" cried Sandy.
Without waiting for his chum he sprang around the corner or the wall, his electric advanced, his automatic ready for instant use. As he turned the corner one foot caught on a loose rock and he half fell to the ground. As he did so, Tommy saw a hairy paw shoot out with vicious force and brush and scrape across the boy's shoulder.
Tommy heard the boy's coat ripping and tearing under the clutch of the great claws, and heard his chum utter a piercing scream as the wicked claws touched the flesh.
It seemed to Tommy that the figure of his chum, now lying prostrate on the floor of the cavern with the head extending outward, was being drawn away from him by the claw which still clung to the shoulder.
He raised his automatic to fire and pushed his searchlight forward. The bear's eyes closed for an instant under the strong finger of light, and the bullet caught him, exactly in the center of the forehead.
He dropped with a savage growl, scrambled, to his feet again and dashed toward Tommy, who fired shot after shot at the advancing animal, but apparently without avail. In a moment all three bears, doubtless excited by the smell of blood, sprang before the entrance to the little cave where Tommy stood. For the moment the animals paid no attention to Sandy, still, lying prostrate on the floor, blood oozing from the wounded shoulder. Tommy fired shot alter shot as the bears came on.
For the first time in his life Tommy realized that the next moment might be his last. He saw Sandy lying bleeding on the floor. He saw three savage, pain-maddened animals rushing upon him and worked the trigger of his automatic until the clip was spent. Then he hurled the useless weapon at the nearest animal and seizing Sandy by the feet, dragged him farther into the cavern.
"I guess it's all off now," he mused as the bears stood hesitating and apparently ready for a spring. "I wish we'd left a note for Will."
He heard the clatter of sharp claws on the rocky floor, saw the pig-like eyes of the animals shining red under the light, heard their spasmodic breathing, and was about to make a desperate rush forward when the outer cavern was flooded with a racing light which grew and grew as Tommy looked. Then he heard the sound of feet.
Next came a volley of shots, followed by the shouts of men and the call of a voice that he knew.
"Tommy!" the voice cried.
The boy did not answer instantly, for his eyes were fixed upon the squirming figures of the bears. They had fallen under the shots and were weaving about the floor, snarling and snapping at each other and at themselves in their blind rage.
Several more shots came, and then the animals lay still.
"Tommy!" came the voice again.
"That's Will!" said Sandy faintly.
"Cripes! Are you alive?" demanded Tommy.
"I wouldn't be talking if I was dead, would I?" asked Sandy, speaking in a very faint tone of voice.
"Sandy!" came the voice again.
"Hello!" called Tommy.
"Come on out!" cried Will.
"We're coming!" Sandy answered.
The next moment the flashlights carried by Will and George swept into the cavern, revealing the true condition of affairs.
The two boys sprang to Sandy's side and raised him into a sitting position. Sandy smiled weakly but said nothing.
"Where is he hurt?" asked Will, facing Tommy.
Tommy pointed to the boy's bleeding shoulder.
"One of the bears swatted him," he said.
The cowboys now gathered in front of the little cavern and gazed at the group with excited interest.
"What's coming off here?" the sheriff asked.
"This kid's coat's coming off, for one thing," answered Will, with a slight smile as he drew away at one sleeve. "He's been cut by the bear, and we want to see how badly he's wounded."
Seth stepped forward to assist in the removal of the coat, but the sheriff laid a hand on his arm and drew him back.
"If those two boys have guns," he said, "get them away from them!"
"What's that?" demanded Tommy, gazing at the sheriff indignantly.
"You're all under arrest," thundered the officer, "and I demand that you give up your weapons."
"You'll find my gun out there in the cavern somewhere," Tommy answered. "I threw it at the bears after the last bullet had been fired."
Will put his hand into Sandy's pocket as if feeling for a gun but found none there. "I dropped it in the cavern," the boy said. "There are no bullets in it, anyway. I shot 'em all at the bear."
Sandy's wound proved to consist only of several scratches in the flesh of the shoulder, but Will explained to the sheriff that it would be necessary to take him out to where water could be obtained in order that the injury might be properly dressed.
"Come along, then," the sheriff consented. "We've had enough of this underground hole, anyway."
Tommy looked longingly at the three dead bears as he passed out.
"I'm coming back here to get those rugs," he whispered to Will.
"And I'm coming back here and get some bear steak," George contributed.
"What are you boys talking about?" demanded the sheriff.
"Aw, what's eating you?" demanded Tommy, who did not at all understand the situation. "You want to keep your clam closed."
The sheriff turned back and eyed the boy with anger and amazement depicted on his rather heavy features.
"You're one of these Boy Scouts, I presume?" he snarled.
"Yes, sir," answered Tommy. "Proud of it!"
"Then perhaps you can tell me where those train robbers are hiding."
"I would if I could!" replied the boy.
"What are you kids out at this time of night for, anyway?" was the next question. "You ought to be in bed."
"We came out to gather a couple of bear rugs for a Boy Scout clubroom in Chicago," answered Tommy, with a slight grin in Will's direction.
"And what did those boys come out for?" the sheriff asked, pointing at Will and George and the boy in whose interest they had left camp.
Tommy had no means of knowing what stories the boys might have told regarding their presence in the mountains, and so he decided to dodge the question. This seemed the only safe way.
"Ask them!" he said after a short silence.
By this time the whole party was out in the gulch, standing full in the moonlight. The men conferred together for some moments, and then the sheriff turned to the other members of the party.
"Get your ropes, boys," he said. "We haven't got time to fool with these boys any longer."
"I protest against this action," shouted Seth. "You, Pete, are sheriff of this county, and it is your duty to enforce the laws. If you permit this lynching to take place in your presence, you'll be guilty of the crime of murder, and I warn you that you'll be prosecuted."
Tommy and Sandy looked at their chums questioningly. They did not at all understand what was going on. Will and George were binding up the wound with bandages which they had long carried for use on just such an occasion as this.
"I think I know my duty," answered the sheriff. "Wyoming officers are being made the laughing-stock of the whole world because of the frequency of these train robberies. In nearly every instance, lately, the outlaws have escaped, principally because of assistance given them by such people as we have here under arrest."
The men removed ropes from under their coat and began to unwind them. Seth drew his revolver and waited.
A WYOMING HOLD-UP
The four men stepped forward toward the boys with the ropes in their hands. The boys stood facing the crowd with unflinching eyes.
"I warn you!" shouted Seth.
"Wait!" Chester cried, stepping forward. "If you're doing this because my friends won't tell why they are in the mountains of Wyoming, and why they are out in the hills tonight, you may as well hold your hands. I'll give you all the information on the subject you desire."
Will stepped forward and caught the boy by the arm.
"You know what it means to—to some one if you speak," he warned.
"But I'm not going to see you boys murdered before my eyes!"
"No more fairy tales go!" shouted a member of the sheriff's gang. "We have an unpleasant duty to perform here and we're not going to shirk it. As the sheriff says, outlaws are flocking to Wyoming because they are hidden and protected by such people as you."
"But I can satisfy you as to the honesty of these boys," pleaded Chester, "if you'll listen to me for five minutes."
"Nothing doing!" shouted the sheriff.
Again the men advanced with the ropes and again Seth lifted his revolver in warning. The situation was a critical one.
During the second of silence which followed, a clatter of stones came into the gulch from the rocky summit above, and all eyes were instantly turned in that direction. As they looked the sheriff and his men dropped their weapons to the ground and threw their hands into the air.
"That's right!" came a hoarse voice from above. "Throw down your weapons and drop your belts at your feet. Now line up there in a row, you baby snatchers! Never mind that funny business, there, you man with the red whiskers. You'll drop in your tracks if you make another move! You are the cowboy sheriff of the county, I understand, but you ought to be training puppies for a dogshow. That's about your size."
In a moment every member of the sheriff's posse, including Seth, was unarmed. As they stood meekly in a row the boys were ordered to take their own weapons from the heap on the ground and walk away over the ridge.
"Can you see who they are?" asked Will, as the boys moved slowly along.
"I can see only the outlines of their heads and the gleaming barrels of their rifles," George answered. "Say," the boy went on, "didn't the cowboys drop their weapons quick when they saw those shining muzzles?"
"They knew the other fellows had the drop on them, and I don't blame them," Tommy cut in.
"Do you really think they are the train robbers?" asked Sandy, who was being assisted up the slope by Will and George.
"They're the train robbers, all right!" insisted Tommy. "I can't see their faces any more than you can, but I remember that voice! You remember the night he was at our camp, and we were getting something to eat? Well, I heard quite a lot of his conversation that night. Some of it I liked and some of it I didn't, but I'm sure the man whose conversation I heard that night is the same man who ordered the cowboy officers to throw down their weapons."
"But why should they do a thing like that?" demanded Will.
"I don't know," replied George, "unless it is because train robbers have a continual and perpetual grouch against officers of any kind."
"That must be the reason," Will admitted.
"Well, I'm glad they got us away!" said Tommy, as the five boys reached the summit and looked down into the little valley, "but they sure put us in bad with the cowboys from this time on. The cowboys, apparently with good cause, were accusing us of standing in with the train robbers, and now the train robbers have proven the point by butting in for our protection."
"It's too bad," Will answered, "but I don't see how it can be helped. It is particularly unfortunate at this time, because with the cowboys opposing us we won't dare search the mountains for Chester's father."
"We'll find a way!" insisted Tommy. "We'll be sure to find a way."
When the boys turned down the slope which led to their camp, not very far away, daylight was growing in the sky. They could see the figures of the men who had rescued them creeping away to the south.
Shouts and exclamations of rage were coming over the ridge, and the boys understood very well that in a short time the cowboys would be at their camp, with stronger motive than ever for their destruction.
"We've got our guns," Will said as they walked along, "and we've got to fight. That's all there is to it."
When the boys came to the side of the dying campfire they found two men who seemed to be entire strangers sitting calmly in one of the tents, dividing the contents of a great tin of roast beef, and also sharing a huge loaf of bread. The light was still dim in the tent, and so Will turned his electric on the rather domestic scene.
"What are you men doing in there?" he demanded.
"Eating!" was the calm reply.
"I didn't know but you were getting a hair-cut," grinned Tommy.
"Where'd you come from?" asked George, as the boys all gathered in front of the flap.
"Look here, kids," one of the men said easily, "we've been traveling two days and two nights, and we're hungry and sleepy. Just let us fill up on this chuck and we'll tell you all about it."
"We really ought to go to sleep!" the other intruder suggested. "But, as you seem anxious to know why we're consuming your provisions, I'll relieve your minds of anxiety by saying that we met John Johnson half way to Green River and he sent us in to tell you that he would arrange for reinforcements for you as soon as he reached Green River. He said he mentioned the fact to you when he was here, but you didn't seem to like it, and so he said nothing more about it to you."
"He sent you in here just to tell us that?" demanded Will.
"Aw, tell him the truth," laughed the other.
"Well, then, I'll tell him the truth," replied the intruder, his mouth full of bread and meat.
"We met Johnson while he was on his way out, and he told us to look in on you boys as we passed and see if you were all right. He seemed to have a notion in his head that you'd be apt to get into trouble of some kind."
"Glad you came in," Will said, extending his hand, "I don't know how Mr. Johnson came to think of it, but your coming here just now is something in the nature of a miracle."
"Glad to be of any service!"
Then without explaining the purpose of their night mission into the mountains, the boys explained the situation to the two strangers, dwelling particularly on the fact that the sheriff's cowboys now had good cause for believing that the lads really were associating with the train robbers.
"I think the train robbers held the officers up more because they've got a grouch against all policemen than for any other reason," Will said. "I don't see why they should cut in order to save our lives. The sheriff will get good and even with them for that!"
"Just a grouch against all the officers in the world!" laughed one of the strangers. "All brigands feel that way."
"But you can see where it leaves us!" exclaimed George. "We can't have any fun in the mountains with those fellows chasing us all the time, and one of our friends is wandering around in the mountains nutty, with a broken head, and we can't even go out and find him if this hostile attitude of the cowboys continues."
"You think they'll follow you down to camp, do you?" asked one of the men. "Of course the outlaws wouldn't hold them very long."
"Yes, I think they'll follow us down to camp and they won't lose any time getting here, either," Will answered.
"Did you ever seen anything like it?" asked Tommy as, accompanied by George, he started toward the provision box.
"Like what?" demanded the other.
"Why, this lone mountain valley becoming the center of population of the United States!" exclaimed Tommy. "When we came in here, there wasn't a soul in sight in the valley. And then the robbers came, and the detectives came, and the cowboys came, and Johnson came, then we got next to Chester, and now these two strangers come butting in. If this isn't the center of population, I'd like to know where it is."
"It's a good thing we've got those old burros picketed out on the grass," George observed. "In about two days more, we'll have to set sail for Green River and load up with provisions. We've been running a public eating house ever since we struck Wyoming. I wonder how long these fellows are going to stay. If they remain more than one day, I'm going to charge 'em for board or send them out fishing."
"When you want any fish," Tommy exclaimed, "you needn't send any strange guys out to get 'em. I'll bring in all the fish you want!"
George chuckled, and Tommy threw an empty can at his head.
"When you go out fishing," George said in a moment, "just let us know, and we'll send a guard out with you."
"Oh, just because I had a little trouble up on Lake Superior and down in Florida, you think I can't catch fish!" complained Tommy. "You just wait until we get this rumpus with the cowboy officers settled and I'll show you whether I can catch fish or not."
"I wish we had some of that bear steak!" George suggested. "We're eating the ham and eggs all up, and we're right in the middle of a game country at that."
"Look here," Tommy suggested, "you go right on cooking ham and warming up those shoestring potatoes, and I'll sneak over the ridge and bring back about fifty pounds of bear." Besides, he went on, "I want to get those hides before the wolverines get them, or any one sneaks them off."
Just as Tommy disappeared up the slope the cowboy officers were seen rushing toward the camp, their weapons ready for use.
"I guess they think the train robbers are here," commented Will.
AN INTERRUPTED WIG-WAG
The boys gathered in a little group not far from the fire and awaited, with what excitement and anxiety may well be imagined, the arrival of the officers. Their automatics were in their hands. A short distance from the camp the cowboys paused as if for a consultation, although the show of weapons made by the boys may have had something to do with their quick stop.
As the boys stood ready to defend themselves if attacked, they noticed that the two strangers who had recently arrived at the camp were creeping farther into the tent, at the flap of which they had been sitting. The lads saw weapons in their hands, but saw no evidence that the fellows intended using them. Sandy gave Will a nudge on the shoulder.
"Do you think those fellows are all right?" he asked. "Looks funny to see them crawling out of sight as soon as danger shows!"
"It does look strange," Will admitted, "but look here," he added, pointing to the boy's bandaged shoulder, "you ought to be in one of the tents yourself. You're not fit to be out here if any fighting takes place."
"Huh, I guess this bum shoulder won't prevent me from shooting straight!" declared Sandy. "Say," he continued, "I've a great mind to go in where those fellows are and ask what they're hiding away for."
"I just believe," George cut in, "that those fellows lied when they said Johnson asked them to come here. You remember how they told two stories, don't you? One that they had been told to tell us that reinforcements would be sent in, and the other that they had been asked to stop and see us on their way into the mountains."
"We're certainly in a nice box if we've got enemies in our own camp," Will grumbled. "In that case, as soon as the shooting begins we'll be between two fires. By the way," he went on, "where's Tommy?"
"Gone after bear meat for breakfast," answered George.
"He's always dodging away without any one knowing what's in his mind!"? declared Will, rather crossly. "I guess he's got some idea above bear steak for breakfast, right now. Anyhow," the boy added, "if Tommy is well armed these cowboy fly-cops will also be between two fires when the battle opens. That will help some."
"Perhaps there won't be any battle," suggested George. "Those fellows don't seem to be in any hurry about starting in, anyway."
"Oh, they'll never swallow the bluff they got from the train robbers," Will insisted. "As soon as the story is told outside they'll be roasted by the whole state. Just think of it!" the boy went on. "They come in here to capture two train robbers and get held up the first thing. If there's a live editor in the state he'll print a faked-up picture of the six men with their hands up in the air and their guns lying at their feet."
"Perhaps they saw the two strangers come in," suggested Sandy. "In that case they may be doing a little guessing as to whether the newcomers won't help us in case of trouble."
"But these two men were here before we returned," suggested George.
"Well, they may have seen them sitting in the flap of the tent eating our good pork and beans and roast beef," Will went on.
"If they knew that the two strangers were hiding in the back corner of one of the tents," George commented, "I don't think they'd hesitate much longer. These two visitors may be all right, but they don't look it!"
"Why don't you go and ask them if they wouldn't like to have us dig a hole to put them in?" demanded Sandy.
While the boys were puzzling over the situation, Seth, the deputy who had defended the Boy Scouts when they stood in grave danger of being lynched, separated himself from the group of officers and advanced toward the camp. There was a smile on the deputy's face as he approached but the other members of the party were scowling heavily.
The boys dropped the muzzles of their automatics as Seth came up to the fire. The deputy stood for a moment glancing keenly around at the tents, the burros, and the cooking utensils before speaking.
"Glad to see you so comfortably situated boys," he said, "and I'm glad, also," he went on pointing to the pennants which showed at the tops of the tents, "to see that you're not ashamed to show your colors."
"We're proud of being Boy Scouts!" Will declared.
"And we're proud of the Beaver Patrol!" George cut in.
"That's right, boys!" Seth said "Stick to Boy Scout laws and teachings and you can't go very far wrong."
"What are those fellows going to do now?" asked Will, nodding toward the cowboy officers, who had now thrown themselves down upon the long grass of the valley. "They didn't follow us here just for exercise."
"If those train robbers really are friends of yours," Seth replied, "they have done you, perhaps unintentionally, a great deal of harm. It is an old saying, you know," the deputy went on, "that one fool friend can work a man more mischief than a dozen open enemies."
"I suppose you people think now," Will said, "that we really do train with that bunch of robbers."
"I don't!" declared Seth. "I know you to be honest Boy Scouts, and no counterfeits, and I don't believe such lads mix up with train robbers."
"We don't at all events," Will answered.
"Look here," George interrupted, "the train robbers saw a chance to rub it into the officers and they did it. That's all there is to that! They would have protected the detectives who were searching the mountains, or even a band of burglars, just the same as they did us. You know very well that such fellows have a perpetual grouch against officers of the law. The only wonder is they didn't shoot when they had the cowboys unarmed."
"Even train robbers are averse to committing murder," replied Seth.
"Well, what are they going to do about it?" Will insisted.
"They want you to come out to Lander with me and stand trial."
"And if we refuse?"
"But you won't do that!"
"You are mistaken there," replied Will. "If they want us, they've got to come and get us."
"That isn't good judgment," declared Seth.
While the two discussed the situation, the others listening intently, the two visitors came slowly out of the tent and approached the spot where Seth and Will were standing. Seth regarded the two men quizzically for a moment and then extended both hands in greeting.
"Glad to see you, Gilmore!" he said. "How long have you been here?"
"Only a short time," was the reply. "At the request of a personal friend, an officer from Chicago, we dropped in for breakfast and also to see if the boys needed any assistance."
"Boys," Seth said, turning to the astonished group of youngsters, "this is Sheriff Gilmore of Sweetwater county, and this," pointing to the other, "is Doyle, one of his deputies. They are both good fellows."
"Did you say you knew John Johnson well?" asked Will, after greetings had been exchanged. "Was it the truth you said about his asking you to call and help us out if we needed assistance?"
"True as Gospel!" answered Gilmore. "I knew John Johnson when he was on a ranch over here in the Sweetwater country. I'm taking a little excursion into Pete's country in search of the train robbers. I met Johnson going out, and he asked me to call on his friends, the boys."
"So you can vouch for these lads, can you?" asked Seth, a smile of satisfaction coming to his face.
"I certainly can!" was the reply. "Johnson told me all about them, so I know what they're here for, and all about their movements."
Before speaking, Seth took off his hat and began waving it in the direction of the cowboy officers. Sheriff Pete and his deputies rose to their feet and walked toward the camp. Before reaching the fire, they recognized Sheriff Gilmore and came forward with extended hands. The situation was soon explained.
"Now see here, kiddo," Sheriff Pete said, as he drew Will to one side, "we don't know what you're in here for, but we know now that you're all right. We'll stand by you to the bottom of the deck if you'll just forget all about that little hold-up over in the other valley."
"That was funny, wasn't it?" Will said with a grin.
"I can't see anything funny in it!" said the Sheriff.
"Those train robbers looked pretty good to us just then," Will commented. "They came just in time!"
"You wouldn't have been harmed," said the sheriff, with a smile. "I was only putting in a little third degree work."
"All right," Will said, "you help us if it comes handy for you to do so, and we won't say a word about the hold-up."
The two sheriffs and their deputies discussed the situation thoroughly, and finally decided that the two train robbers were making for the Bad Lands in Big Horn county.
"If Tommy'd only come back now with that bear steak," Will suggested, "I could get all you boys a dinner that would put an inch of fat on your ribs! Seems to me it's pretty near time for him to be back."
"Suppose I go and hurry him up?" asked George.
"Go to it!" Will replied, "and I'll get out a lot of spuds and make a gallon of coffee, and we'll have a Sunday School picnic right here in the long grass! You've got to feed before you go away!"
"Everything looks mighty friendly here just now," Sandy answered, "but look up on top of the ridge, and see if you can tell what George is trying to say to us. That's Boy Scout wig-wag, all right!"
"Yes," replied Will, springing to his feet excitedly. "That's the Myer code, sure as you live, and he's got a big white pine bough he's using as a flag. Can you see what he is saying?"
"Sure!" replied Sandy, "He says he wants—now what do you think of that? He's stopped!"
As they looked the boy dropped to the ground
TOMMY GOES AFTER BEAR STEAK
Tommy started up the slope whistling gaily. At the summit he turned to look back at the camp. The cowboys were at that time standing some distance away and Seth was advancing toward the fire.
"That Seth is a good Indian!" declared the boy, "He'll fix things up all right, so there's no need of my going back. Gee!" he went on as he looked up and down the pleasant valley, warm and sweet under the morning sun. "It's a pretty good thing to be a Boy Scout! Here we find a man in the mountains of Wyoming ready to fight for us just because we are Boy Scouts. I should think every boy in the world would want to join!"
The lad stood for a moment watching the figures at the distant camp, and then hastened into the valley below. When he struck the rock-strewn gulch which lay to the south of the wide opening in the hills he paused and looked cautiously about.
"There may be plenty more bears here!" he mused.
But no bears or hostile animals of any kind were in sight, so the boy passed along to the cavern which George and Will had visited on the previous night—the cavern where the escaped convict and his son had made their home. Tommy glanced curiously into the opening in the rocky wall as he halted in front of it.
On the previous night he had passed this cavern in company with Sandy without observing it. At this time he was not certain that it was not the cave where he had met the bears, so he stepped inside after a moment's thought and advanced toward the rear wall.
A semi-twilight lay over the interior, and the boy brought out his searchlight. By its rays he saw a break in the rock of the north wall and stepped closer. The place was merely an alcove eight or ten feet in size, doubtless carved out by the action of water.
In the alcove the boy saw the embers of a fire. Then he turned about and inspected the outer cave more carefully. He saw the rude furniture which his chums had observed the night before, and the pitifully small supply of cooking utensils. Lying on the table was a generous supply of fresh meat, evidently taken from the carcass of one of the bears.
Tommy had heard little said concerning the cave which had been occupied by Wagner and his son, but quite enough to understand that he had stumbled upon the place.
What puzzled him now was the presence of the bear meat. He knew very well that neither Wagner nor his son had occupied the place since the disappearance of the father. He understood, too, that if there had been provisions in the cave at the time of the visit of his chums, they would have referred to the fact. Besides all this, the bear which had probably supplied the meat had been killed only a few hours before.
"I guess some one's moved in!" the boy mused.
He went into the alcove and examined the embers of the fire. It had been built of dry pine and spruce boughs and had evidently burned brightly an hour before.
"Now I wonder," the boy puzzled, "whether Wagner isn't hiding some where in the cave. It doesn't seem to me that any one else would take possession of the blooming old flat."
Resolved to return to the cavern later, the lad hastened outside and moved toward the south. He was not exactly certain of the location of the cavern where the fight with the bears had taken place, but he had no doubt that he could find it by peering into every opening he came to.
He had proceeded but a short distance when the face of Katz peered out at him from one of the minor caves. Cullen, the fellow's associate stood not far away with his cruel mouth stretched into a sardonic grin.
"Where are you going, boy?" Katz asked.
Tommy hesitated a moment and a twinkle of humor came into his eyes as he answered the gruff question of the detective.
"I'm looking after the train robbers you chased up last night."
The two men scowled angrily and drew nearer to the lad.
"I don't believe you told the truth about that train robber!" Katz said. "I was right on the ground and I saw no one."
"You beat him to it!" laughed Tommy. "You went one way and he went the other! You're both good runners, I guess, for you never came within a mile of each other," he added.
"None of your impudence, now!" snarled Katz.
"I think we ought to take this boy in out of the wet," suggested Cullen. "He's too fresh, anyway."
"You'd better confine your attentions to the train robbers, or the man you came in here to find," suggested Tommy.
"I don't believe there are any train robbers here!" declared Katz.
"Perhaps not," answered Tommy, "but about half the officers of Fremont and Sweetwater counties are loafing around these hills! Besides," he added, "I got a look at the train robbers last night."
The two detectives glanced at each other apprehensively.
"Was there a train robber at your camp last night?" asked Katz.
"Sure there was!"
"Is your camp headquarters for outlaws?"
"Not that I know of," replied Tommy, angrily.
"Don't you know that the boy who stole my property at your camp is connected with an escaped convict?"
"I don't know anything about the boy," declared Tommy, not telling the truth exactly. "He looks all right to me!"
"Do you know what I think?" Cullen demanded. "I think you boys came in here to set up a base of supplies for outlaws!"
"Aw, you don't know what you're talking about!" exclaimed Tommy.
"If you're not mixed up with this escaped convict," Katz demanded, "what are you doing here?"
"Early this morning," Cullen went on, "we found the cave where Wagner and his son had been living. That's it back there. The one you entered and looked over so carefully. Did you expect to find Wagner there?"
"Did you build a fire in there?" asked Tommy.
The detectives shook their heads.
"Did you take a big piece of bear meat in there?"
"We certainly did not!"
Here was another puzzler for Tommy. Who had built the fire in the cavern? Who had taken the bear meat there? The cowboys were not in that vicinity at the time the fire must have been built. The detectives declared that they had not built the fire, or carried in the meat.
"Did you find a fire burning in the cavern?" asked Katz.
"And fresh meat there, too?"
Another nod from the boy.
"What do you make of it, Cullen?" asked Katz, turning to his companion.
Cullen shook his head, and a thought which brought a smile to his freckled face crept into Tommy's mischievous cranium.
"I'll tell you what I think," he said. "We were in this gulch last night, and saw the train robbers. They were on the summit, not far from the Wagner flat, as we ought to call it. If anybody has been living in that cave this morning, it's the train robbers. Say," he went on, with the idea of giving the detectives a good scare, "those train robbers are the fiercest fellows I ever saw. We saw 'em hold up six armed cowboys last night!"
The two detectives looked at each other apprehensively.
"If they should see you standing here," Tommy went on, "and were wise to the fact that you are Chicago detectives, they'd pump in the lead until your heads looked like a pound of Swiss cheese."
"You seem to know quite a lot about those train robbers, lad!"
"He knows too much," Cullen declared. "We'll just take him along with us and hold him for a few hours!"
"If you do, you'll get in trouble!" declared Tommy.
"No threats, now!" cried Katz.
"I'm not making any threats," declared Tommy who really was rather anxious to have the detectives take him away to their camp. "I think you're a couple of cheap skates, anyway, and I don't believe you're Chicago detectives. I live in Chicago myself, and I never saw bums like you on the force of plain clothes men."
The taunting words did exactly what Tommy had expected them to do. Katz seized him viciously by the arm and started away down the valley. The boy was perfectly willing to accompany the detective, for he believed that by doing so he might find out what steps they were taking for the capture of the escaped convict, but he pretended to feel great indignation as he was hurried along over the rough ground.
As the three moved away George swung up the slope on the other side and came into view on the summit. The boy had cut a white pine climbing staff from which the small boughs had not been trimmed away, and Tommy saw that he was using this as a wig-wag flag. It was plain to the boy that George thoroughly understood the situation below.
The detectives growled out several vicious oaths as they saw the boy swinging his staff from the summit. They whispered together for a moment, and then Katz, leaving Tommy threatened by Cullen's revolver, moved toward the summit and the signaling boy.
When, in a moment, George looked down the slope to the east, he saw the detective creeping stealthily toward him. The officer was some, distance away, yet the boy knew that he was in danger from the gun in his hand. He gave one last swing and dropped his staff.
"Come down here!" shouted the detective. "I want to see you!"
"Come up here, then!" answered George. "What are you doing to my chum? You're always butting in on us boys!"
"If you don't come down instantly," shouted the angry detective, "I'll fill your hide full of lead! I've got you covered!"
Seeing by the malicious look on the face of the detective that he was really in earnest, George dropped quickly to the ground.
A PAIR OF PRISONERS
Tommy saw his chum drop and, supposing that he had been injured in some way, started racing up the slope. Directly he found himself hampered by Cullen, who was clinging to the tail of his khaki coat.
As the boy drew up George rose from the ground and moved down the slope facing the east. Tommy saw that he was acting under instructions from Katz, who held a revolver in his hand.
In five minutes the boys, unarmed now, were walking along by the side of the detectives. A wink from George convinced Tommy that his chum had at least succeeded in attracting the attention of the people at the camp below. It might be that help would come before the detectives could lead them to a hiding place in the hills.
What the boys appeared to need just at that time was delay, so they asked all sorts of questions as they walked along, hoping that their captors would pause to answer them. However, the fellows plugged steadily along toward the opposite side of the ridge, and finally drew up on a shelf of rock from which the caverns to the west could be plainly seen. Here the officials sat down to watch and wait.
Directly a group of men came dashing over the summit and hastened down into the valley. The boys were certain that they recognized Will in the company. It was certain that Sheriff Pete was there, and the boys were positive that the two men who had been found in the camp on their return from the midnight expedition were also there.
The men separated at the foot of the slope and scattered up and down the gulch. It was clear that George's wig-wag signals had been seen, and that the men were in search of the two boys.
"Those signals of yours must be effective," snarled Katz as the members of the party across the gorge began exploring the caverns.
"You're right, they are!" answered George. "That's the Boy Scout wig-wag! You have to learn those things when you join the Boy Scouts!"
"What did you say?"
"I explained that we had been captured by the train robbers!" replied George, telling the untruth with a great deal of satisfaction as he saw the effect produced on the detectives.
"What'd you do that for?" demanded Cullen. "Because we want the cowboy officers to get hold of you fellows, and beat you up!" answered George. "They'll do it, too, if they lay hands on you! Those fellows are our friends!"
"Where's that boy who stole my property?" demanded Katz.
"He was down in the camp when I left," replied George.
"Do you think he's with that crowd on the other side of the gulch now? Or would he stay at the camp?"
"He probably would come out in answer to George's signal," Tommy cut in.
The detectives whispered together for some moments. Although the boys could not hear a word they were saying, they understood very well what all the whispering was about. They were discussing the possibility of capturing Chester and forcing him to lead them to his father's hiding place. They did not, of course, know that the father was wandering over the mountains in a demented condition.
After a time the party passed on down the valley much to the disgust of the two captive lads, and disappeared from sight. Then the detectives left the angle of the ledge which had concealed them and motioned the boys down the slope. The lads obeyed wonderingly.
Arrived at the bottom of the gulch once more, the detectives halted for another long consultation. Katz seemed to be in favor of following the party which had gone down the valley in the hope of getting hold of Chester, while Cullen was of the opinion that they might be able to capture the escaped convict himself by lingering around the cavern where the fire had been so mysteriously kindled.
While the two discussed, not without some show of anger, the situation, the two boys kept their eyes fixed on the opposite cavern. George knew positively that it was the one which had been occupied by the escaped convict and his son, and he believed that in time the father would return to it. It seemed to him that Cullen was clinging to an opinion which might cause himself and friends serious trouble.
"Gee!" he whispered to Tommy, "I wish we could get these flatties to follow the cowboys! I'm afraid they'll catch Wagner if they hang around that cave over there!"
"I'm afraid they will!" replied Tommy. "There's some one been there this morning, and it wasn't the cowboys or the detectives, either. It was either Wagner or the train robbers."
"Just as sure as you're a foot high," exclaimed George, "there's some one moving about in the entrance to that cavern now! I can see something moving, but I can't see any features."
"Well, don't look that way too steadily," Tommy cried. "If Wagner is over there we don't want to put these detectives wise to the fact. He's the man they're in here after, you remember!"
"Well, there's some one there, all right!" exclaimed George. "While you were talking, I saw a chalk-white face appear for a second at the entrance. I'll bet he's been hiding there ever since last night."
"He was with the train robbers last night," suggested Tommy. "At least we think he was, for there are only two robbers and we saw three men."
"He may be with the train robbers, now for all we know," George put in.
"Yes, they may be hiding over there," Tommy admitted. "If I thought they were, I'd steer these bum detectives up against them!"
"We'd better not take any chances!" advised George. "If Wagner is over there, he may be alone. In that case, these cheap flatties would geezle him and make for the Union Pacific railroad without stopping to say good-by to the hills. And once they get to the railroad, it's all off with the young man in Chicago who is soon to be tried for murder."
While the boys discussed the situation, Katz caught sight of the moving figure in the entrance to the cavern. The boys saw him pointing in that direction and about abandoned hope.
"There's some one over there," the boys heard Katz saying, "and we may as well go and see who it is. Have you got a pair of handcuffs with you?" he added, turning to his companion.
"Of course I have!" was the reply.
"Then use them on these two boys!" ordered Katz. "Tie them together so they won't be apt to go chasing off if we get into action."
Cullen did as requested, and the boys, unable to make resistance at that time, resolved that both officers should pay well for the indignity in the future. When the detectives started forward, they walked as slowly as possible, one of them frequently falling down, in order to give the person in the cavern, whoever he might be, plenty of time to observe the approach of the detectives.
"Gee!" exclaimed Tommy. "These fellows blunder along like a load of hay. If the man over there has any sense, he'll be a mile off before they get to the entrance! I hope the train robbers are there!"
"Well, I hope Wagner isn't there," George said.
There were no signs of light as the two detectives scrambled up the little slope which lay between the bottom of the gulch and the entrance to the cavern. The faint smell of burning wood reached their nostrils, but no one was in sight. They stepped inside boldly.
Following along behind, more as a matter of curiosity than because they felt obliged to do so, the boys saw the detectives standing in the twilight of the place looking about. Then they saw them drop their arms to their sides, heard the clatter of revolvers upon the rocky floor and realized that something unexpected was taking place inside.
Directly the detectives came out to the entrance and sat down on the hard floor, their backs against the south wall. The boys looked them over with pleased eyes, and Tommy went so far as to wrinkle his freckled nose at Katz, who frowned savagely but said nothing.
"Look here, you fellows," Katz finally blurted out. "I want you to understand that you're getting yourselves into trouble."
"Is that so?" came a hoarse and scornful voice from the darkness.
"I'm Detective Katz, of the Chicago force," continued the officer, "and I command you, in the name of the law, to return our weapons and let us depart in peace!"
"And I guess you don't know who we are!" came the voice from inside. "We're Red Mike of the Gulch and Daring Dan of the Devil's Dip, and we're out for blood! When we're at home in the Bad Lands, we feed on rattlesnakes!"
"Say," Tommy whispered to George, "that ain't so bad, is it? Those fellows know they've got the detectives buffaloed, and they're piling it on. I'll bet if we sat a little nearer, we could hear the detectives' teeth rattle!"
"The robbers certainly have a sense of humor," grinned George.
In a moment two muscular, bearded figures came out of the cavern and stood facing the two detectives. The boys at once recognized the men as the ones who had ridden so fiercely by their campfire on the night of their arrival. Tommy was certain that one of the men was the person who had been waiting for supper at the camp when informed of the presence of the detectives.
"Do you belong with this bunch?" one of them asked.
The boys held up their handcuffed wrists.
"Who's got the key?" demanded the outlaw.
Cullen held out a ring of keys and the robber promptly used one of them on the handcuff. When the manacles dropped from the boys' wrists, he threw the ring of keys into the gulch and tossed the handcuffs in the same direction.
"I've claimed all along that you boys belonged with these train robbers," Katz gritted as the handcuffs rattled down the slope.
"And now we know it!" Cullen cut in.
The two boys leaned against the north wall of the cavern and shook their sides with laughter. The fright of the two detectives was so absolute that it was pitiful.
"You certainly are a bum pair of detectives!" Tommy said.
AN UNDERGROUND CHANNEL
Following along behind the two sheriffs and their deputies, Will and Chester finally came to the cavern which by mutual consent the boys now called the Cave of the Three Bears.
"Tommy was headed for this place!" exclaimed Will. "It's a mystery to me where George disappeared to so suddenly. Of course, we didn't see enough of his wig-wag to know what he intended to say, but we understand there's something amiss."
"There are plenty of caverns here in which one may hide," Chester answered. "There is one just north of this which has several good-sized rooms. Father and I thought of moving to that one."
They passed into the Cave of the Three Bears and found that one hide had been partly removed, and that a huge piece of meat had been taken away.
"I guess Tommy's been here all right!" Will suggested.
Chester stooped down and examined the carcass carefully.
"No," he said. "Tommy wanted the three skins for rugs. He never cut the hide like that to get at the meat."
"No, he wouldn't do that," Will admitted.
"Father may have been here," suggested Chester.
"We should have stopped at the cave where you two formerly lived," said Will. "For all we know, your father may be hiding there now."
"I know it," replied Chester, "but we came on so fast and in such a state of excitement that we didn't think of doing so."
"Well, we mustn't let the others get too far ahead of us," Will suggested. "They must be quite a ways off now!"
"Don't you think we can do a better job with them out of the way?" asked Chester. "They go roaring along like a herd of elephants."
"I presume we can," replied Will. "Anyway we can make an investigation of our own and then go back to camp. Sandy is alone there with his wounded shoulder, and almost anything is likely to happen."
"We'll go into the cave I spoke about a moment ago," Chester said, "and examine it thoroughly with the searchlights."
"What's the idea of that?" asked Will.
"Well, Tommy and George are in some one of these caves. They may be hiding from us or they may have been captured by the train robbers. If they are hidden away, they're quite likely to be in the large cavern I spoke of. It won't do any harm to look through it."
"Why, that must be the cave where we saw the three men last night!" Will exclaimed. "I have an idea that the three men we saw were the two train robbers and your father."
"That was my idea at the time," the boy replied, "but now I can't quite make up my mind that father would tie up with such a bunch."
"Bless your innocent soul," grinned Will. "Your father couldn't help associating with them if they insisted upon it! I can see no reason why they should want to molest him, but one can never account for the mental processes of train robbers."
"I believe this is the same place!" Chester cried as they stepped inside. "You know father often talked about moving to this cave, and I've got an idea that he knows more about the locality than I do."
"In what way?" asked Will.
"Well, I think he found some secret passage here. I believe he knows how to enter and leave this cavern without being seen. This whole ridge, you know, is honeycombed with caverns and tunnels. I have been told," the boy continued, "that the gorge and the valley to the east formed the basin for a great lake, hundreds of years ago, and that the water seeped through the limestone rock until there wasn't much left of it in some places. There are certainly plenty of caves here!"
"I should say so!" replied Will turning on his searchlight.
"Look here," Chester went on, "that would be a reason for the train robbers hanging to father, if they found him, wouldn't it?"
"I don't understand," replied Will.
"Why, if father knows a lot of passages and hiding places and empty river channels, in this section, he's just the man the train robbers would want to tie to."
"I understand now," Will replied. "And you remember, too," he continued, "how mysteriously the three men disappeared last night? Why, they got out of sight as quickly as if they had been painted on a slate and rubbed out."
"That's a fact!" replied Chester.
"There's one thing about it," Will argued, "the train robbers won't dare to go on into the bad lands, for they have no supplies, and their horses must be about used up. By remaining here, they may be able to steal supplies and, possibly get out to Lander and buy some."
"I guess we've got it doped out all right," Chester answered. "All we've got to do now is to go on and see whether we have or not."
The boys pressed on to the back of the first cavern and turned to the right into one which ran parallel with it. Their lights showed that a fire had been built in the tunnel connecting the two. There were also empty tin cans and cardboard food packages scattered about.
"This looks like population," grinned Will.
"Isn't this the spot from which the men disappeared?" asked Chester.
"Unless I am much mistaken," Will returned, "the three men were in front of a fire in this tunnel. Say, but they did get out of sight quick, didn't they? It was like the scene from the Black Crook."
"Then the passage they crawled into can't be far away," Chester volunteered, "at any rate, right here's where we want to make our search!"
"There's no knowing where this wrinkle leads to," Will said as the lights pierced the narrow channel. "If we get down there, we may never be able to get back."
"Father must have known of this place," Chester said, "and that's why he talked about moving our camp here."
"Well, if he used the passage, we certainly can!" replied Will.
"Are we going down now?" asked Chester.
"I'm game for it."
"Well, then, wait a minute!"
Chester ran to the entrance of the cavern and looked up and down the gorge and valley. When he returned there was a worried look on his face. He pointed to the dry channel and said:
"We may as well be getting down there. There's some one coming."
"Who is it?" asked Will.
"I couldn't distinguish faces," was the reply.
"Wasn't George and Tommy, was it?"
"No, two men. They're coming along fast, so we may as well get under cover. We don't know where we're going, but we're on our way," he smiled as he dropped down on his hands and knees and scrambled backward into what had once been the channel of a mountain stream.
Will followed in a moment and, after trying his best to draw the boulder into place, scrambled on after his chum.
"Did you get the rock fixed?" asked Chester as they came together on a little level place probably thirty feet down.
"Couldn't budge it!" was the reply.
"Well, then, we'll keep on going."
"Je-rusalem!" exclaimed Will. "I believe this thing runs clear through the ridge. And that would make it something like a mile long!"
"Of course it does," Chester answered. "This ditch was cut by water, and the water had to find an outlet somewhere."
"If your father knows all about this underground network of caverns and channels," Will said in a moment, "we'll have a happy old time finding him! He can dodge us here for a month."
"And those officers will have a fine old job getting the train robbers, too," Chester chuckled, "if they're acquainted with this underground system of highways. It strikes me," he went on, "that these train robbers have been here before."
"That may be!" answered Will. "In fact, it, occurs to me that your father searched out all these subterranean roads and rooms and showed them to the train robbers."
The boys proceeded downward for some distance and then stopped in a tolerably large chamber to rest and investigate.
"There's no use of our going on until we know whether the fellows you saw are coming in here," Will reasoned.
"I'm going up to the top again," said Chester, "and see what's going on there! The fellows I saw may be coming in."
Will waited for a long half hour for the boy's return, and when at last Chester slid down to him his face showed that he was frightened.
"They've got the combination to this channel all right!" he said.
CULLEN LOSES HIS STAR
"So these are the detectives, are they?" asked one of the train robbers, as the two men crouched against the wall of the cavern.
"That's what they say!" answered Tommy.
"What were they doing to you?"
"They had us pinched."
"They said we belonged to your gang."
The bandit laughed hoarsely.
"To our gang?" he said. "The perfectly correct gentleman of the road never has a 'gang'. He believes thoroughly in the old theory that 'he travels fastest who travels alone'."
"So they pinched you for being associates of ours, did they?" asked the other outlaw.
"That's what they said," replied Tommy.
"And that was the truth, too!" roared Katz.
"You seem to know all about these boys, and they know all about you. You've been seen at their camp, and one of the boys at the camp stole my property, too!" he went on with another roar of indignation.
"Chester stole his official star!" chuckled Tommy.
"That's a pious notion, too?" laughed the outlaw. "Have you got a star, too?" he asked, stepping up to Cullen. "If you have, hand it over. I don't think you're fit to wear a police badge!"
Cullen handed his star over with a scowl, and the outlaw passed it to Tommy. The boy put it in his pocket with a grin at the detective.
"Did you fellows have the nerve to come in here after us?" asked the robber.
"We came in after an escaped convict," was the reply.
"Did you get him?"
"Not yet, but we will get him."
"Well, I'd advise you both to go back home before the escaped convict comes up and steals your necktie. You're not large enough to be out alone after dark."
"We're going to take that escaped convict back with us," Katz boasted. "We'll get him if we stay here a year."
"We'll give you two days to get him," grinned one of the outlaws. "We'll turn you loose for two days. If you catch him in that time and get out, very well. If you don't catch him in that time, you'll get out anyhow. You stiffs are attracting altogether too much attention to this part of the country. It's getting so an honest train robber can't get a good night's sleep."
The outlaw pointed to the gulch below and motioned for the fellows to move along. They started but looked back pleadingly.
"Can't we have our guns?" Katz asked.
"And our badges?" pleaded Cullen.
"No," replied the outlaw. "You might injure yourself with the guns, and the badges are no good anywhere outside of Chicago. If you don't get out right now, we'll handcuff you to a tree and let the bears feed on you. You don't look good to us anyway."
"Look-a-here," Tommy said to the two outlaws as the detectives disappeared down the gulch. "Do you know that every person in the state of Wyoming will be believing that we really belong to your crowd if this thing keeps up? We're much obliged to you for bluffing the cowboys last night, and getting us out of the handcuffs just now, but you're getting us into trouble just the same."
"Any time we get a chance to bluff an officer out of a captive, we're going to do it!" laughed one of the outlaws. "We're not asking you whether you like it or not. We're pleasing ourselves in what we're doing."
"And here's another thing," the other outlaw said, with something like a scowl. "We've got the idea that you wouldn't be doing as much for us as we've been doing for you. The men who came in here to hunt us down make their headquarters at your camp. If you go back to your friends now, you'll tell them where you saw us, and describe everything that's taken place. Therefore, we're not going to let you go back to your camp right away. You're going to be our guests for a time."
"What's the good of that?" demanded Tommy.
"That's our business," replied the outlaw.
"We'll never mention you to our crowd," George added.
"Anyway," the outlaw insisted, "it's safer for us to keep track of you two kids. I'd rather have a dozen Chicago sleuths after me than three or four husky little Boy Scouts."
"Say," Tommy asked with a grin, "do you remember those plays where a shrinking maiden would be in the center of the stage one minute and be grabbed by the villain the next, and be grabbed back by the hero in the next, and be grabbed back by the villain in the next, and be grabbed back by the hero for the final curtain?"
"I remember something like that," said the outlaw with a laugh.
"That's us!" grinned Tommy. "That's George and me! We're here to be captured by cowboys, and bum detectives, and bearded train robbers, and I don't know what form our imprisonment will take next."
"When we get back to Chicago," George went on, whimsically, "we're going to write up a story of our capture by two bold, bad men who gave their names as Red Mike of the Gulch and Daring Dan of the Devil's Dip or something like that."
"Say," Tommy cut in, "when you called those names out of the darkness you certainly did have those detectives buffaloed!"
"You're a pair of nervy kids, anyway," laughed the outlaw.
"Oh, this is all right," laughed Tommy. "This will be one more experience. We've been chased by smugglers over the Pictured Rocks of Lake Superior, and we've been chased by alligators in the Everglades of Florida, and now we've been geezled by the bold, bad men who held up the Union Pacific pay car."
"How do you know we did?" demanded one of the outlaws.
"That's the dope that's been coming to us right along."
"Well, come on," the other outlaw said rather impatiently. "We've got to get out of sight! We can't expect to remain in the open in broad daylight without being seen by some one."
"Move along, boys," ordered the other.
"Where?" asked Tommy.
"But where are you going to take us?"
"Oh, you'll know all about that soon enough," was the reply. "We've got a place over here where we can keep our friends in seclusion."
"It seems the place keeps you in seclusion," grinned George. "You've been in here about as long as we have, and we've been captured numerous times and you've never been taken at all. But you'll get it up your neck one of these days," he added.
"When we're captured," one of the men said grimly, "it won't be by a lot of tin-horn detectives from Chicago."
They all walked along for some distance, and then Tommy turned back and faced the two outlaws.
"If we've got far to go," he said, "I wish you'd stop in at some lunch counter and order something to eat. I haven't had anything this morning only wind sandwiches. I came out to get a piece of that bear meat for breakfast, and I'm here yet."
"And I came out to hurry you up," George cut in, "and I'm here yet!"
"All right," laughed one of the outlaws, accepting the humor of the request. "If we run across a free lunch sign anywhere, well take the two of you in. We're hungry ourselves."
"Have you got anything to eat in this secluded retreat of yours?" asked Tommy. "If you have, we'll hurry up."
"Not a thing!" was the reply.
"Then we'll walk slow!" declared George.
"Look here!" Tommy advised. "Why don't you go back and get some of that bear steak. It's only a little way back to the Cave of the Three Bears, and there's enough meat there to last the four of us a week if we can only keep it from spoiling."
"That's a bright idea," said one of the outlaws, stopping suddenly. "Suppose we do go back and load up with fresh steak."
"I'm for it!" answered Tommy, rubbing his stomach.
They all walked back to the Cave of the Three Bears, and when they left each carried quite a load of fresh meat.
"Have you got a place to cook it?" asked Tommy.
"Have you got any coffee?" asked George.
"I think we'll have to let you boys go pretty soon," one of the outlaws grinned. "If we don't you'll be apt to eat us out of house and home."
"We're some on the eat!" Tommy announced.
After a time the four came, without further incident, to the chain of caverns which Will and Chester had entered some time before.
They paused for a moment in the connecting tunnel, where the fire had been built on the previous night, and inspected the boulder, which lay a short distance from the opening to the dry channel.
"He's been here and gone on in," one of the outlaws said.
"Perhaps some one else has been here," the other suggested.
"The man who showed us where to enter this labyrinth is the only man in the mountains who knows anything about it!" declared the other. "I'm not certain that we didn't leave the stone out of place when we left this morning. But, if we didn't, our friend is certainly down stairs at this minute! I'll drop down and see, anyway!"
"Push the boys in first," advised the other.
"What do you think of this for an elevator?" demanded Tommy as he backed into the opening. "These fellows seem to be foolish—like a fox!"
George followed Tommy into the tunnel as the latter dropped down, and then the figure of one of the outlaws blocked the opening.
For only a minute, however, for the boys heard a succession of pistol shots, and then the sound of voices rang into the cavern they had just left.
The next instant the outlaws crowded into the tunnel, but instead of dropping down, waited near the entrance, weapons in hand.
A MEETING UNDER GROUND
"Some one's got the combination to this channel, all right!" Chester repeated as he joined Will in the larger cavern.
"Did you see them?" asked Will.
"Can't see anything," was the reply, "it's too dark!"
"Then how do you know there's some one coming?"
"We saw them coming toward the cave, didn't we?" asked Chester.
"Look here," Will exclaimed. "Did you see any one entering the mouth of this tunnel?"
"When the mouth of the tunnel is clear," Chester replied, "there's a faint mist of light visible. While I lay up there watching I heard whispering voices and the entrance was blocked."
"Perhaps they've rolled the boulder in front of it," suggested Will.
"You don't like the idea of being caught like a rat in a trap any more than I do," Chester said, "but I really believe that if we ever get out of here alive, we'll have to head toward the west and make our exit on that side of the range."
"I'd like to know how many people know about this hiding place!" Will grumbled. "If people walk out of the valley and drop down here, there may, for all we know, be others in hiding further down."
"That's a fact," Chester admitted.
"I wish we knew who the people are who are entering the tunnel," Will said. "It may be the robbers, or the detectives, or the sheriffs. It may even be your father, for all we know."
"Well, shall we move on down to see if we can find an outlet?" asked Chester. "That seems to me to be the best thing to do."
"It strikes me that that is the only thing we can do."
The boys were moving on down the almost level floor of the chamber in absolute darkness, for they did not consider it safe to show their electrics when they heard a chuckle in the darkness.
They drew up instantly and listened.
"That's Tommy!" declared Will.
"It can't be," replied Chester.
"Don't you suppose I know that chuckle?"
"Well, the boys weren't with the men I saw near the mouth of the cavern," declared Chester.
The boys listened again for some moments, and then caught sight of a finger of light far up the slope of the tunnel.
"That's a searchlight!" declared Chester.
"It surely is," agreed Will.
While the boys stood in the darkness, waiting and listening, they heard a voice which they had no difficulty in recognizing as that of Tommy.
"This is some basement stairway," the boy said.
The next moment George's voice was heard.
"We must be about nine stories under ground by this time," he said.
There was silence for a moment and then Tommy was heard to ask:
"What's become of our chaperons?"
"There's something doing out in the lobby," the boys heard George say, "and I guess they went back to defend their home and fireside."
"I hope they'll get a couple of bullets in their domes!" declared Chester. "They've helped us out several times, but they've never done it because they wanted to do us a favor!"
"Keep still a minute," Will suggested. "Let's hear what those boys are saying. I'd like to know who they're talking about."
"I haven't got much use for the detectives," they heard George saying, "but I hope they'll get these train robbers and get them good and plenty!"
"So it's the train robbers!" exclaimed Will.
"I don't believe the detectives will ever get within a mile of the robbers," the boys heard Tommy say. "If anybody catches the outlaws, it'll be the sheriff of Fremont county."
"The man at the head of the cowboys?" they heard George ask.
"That's the fellow!" Tommy replied.
"He hasn't got 'em yet," George declared.
"Oh, he's had hard luck, all right enough," Will and Chester heard Tommy say, "but he's a nervy sort of a chap, and he'll take them out with him when he goes."
"That's the fellow that wanted to lynch us!" George grumbled.
"That was a bluff!" Tommy said. "That's the kind of third degree business they go into out in the mountains. I guess that was all a by-play, anyhow. You don't catch no western sheriff lynching his own prisoners. And this sheriff of Fremont county will just get even with those train robbers for that hold-up!" the boy added.
The boys listened intently for a short time, not daring to show their light yet. From the conversation they had heard they understood that their chums had been placed in the tunnel for safe keeping, and they feared that their captors might appear at any moment.
After a time two shots came from the cavern end of the dry channel, and the close air of the place became almost stifling with the smell of powder smoke. Then the two watchers heard George and Tommy scrambling down to the place where they stood.
Will flashed his light but instantly closed it.
"Did you see that?" they heard Tommy ask.
"Sure I did!"
"What do you think it is?"
"I give it up!" replied George.
No one spoke for an instant and then the call of the Beaver came out of the darkness.
"Slap, slap, slap!"
"Do you mind that, now?" asked Will.
"I don't see how I could fail to recognize that!" Chester said.
"Of course not," Will agreed. "That's the call of the Beaver."
Will answered the challenge, and presently Tommy and George came tumbling down the tunnel into the larger opening and landed almost at the feet of their chums. In their joy at the meeting, the boys almost hugged each other, which they would not have done in daylight!
"So they got you, too, did they?" asked Tommy.
"I should say not," answered Will.
"But you're here, ain't you?"
"Yes, but we came here of our own free will," Chester cut in.
"How'd you ever find it?" asked George.
"Just blundered into it," was the answer. "We were looking for father, and thought we might find him in the cavern where the three men were seen around the campfire."
"So that passage out there is really the place where the mysterious disappearance took place? Where the three men went up in the air?"
"Where the three men came down into this dry channel!" corrected George.
"Who were the three men?" asked Will.
"If they leave it to me," George replied, "two of them were train robbers and the third was Chester's father."
"That's about the way we had it sized up," Will agreed.
"By the way, Tommy," asked Chester with a slight chuckle, "where's the bear meat you left the camp to get for breakfast?"
"I've got it out here in the cavern!" replied Tommy.
"Is that right, George?" asked Chester.
"We sure have a lot of it out in the vestibule!" agreed George.
"Let's see," Will said, nudging George in the ribs, "you went after Tommy to bring him back, didn't you?"
"Sure I did," answered George. "And I brought him back, didn't I?"
"You didn't bring him back to camp," Will answered.
"And you're the fellow who wig-wagged to us to come and escort the two of you home," continued Will, addressing George with a laugh.
"Sure I wig-wagged," replied the boy.
"Then why didn't you stay there until we came up and tell us what you wanted. You're a fine boy to wig-wag!"
"Circumstances over which I had no control intervened," replied George. "I got pinched."
Then the story of the adventures of Tommy and George were told and Will told of the doings of those who had left the camp in answer to the call for help.
"Then the sheriffs and their men are not far away?" asked Will.
"Why, they must be in the cavern," answered Tommy. "When the train robbers chucked us down into this dry sewer the sheriffs were entering the audience chamber on the outside."
"And where did the detectives go?" asked Will.
"I don't think they've got done going yet!" replied Tommy. "The train robbers took away their badges, and gave 'em two days in which to get out of town. Gee!" the boy continued. "That sounds like Harrison street station, don't it? Give 'em two days to get out of town. They make me sick!"
"So they're all centering around this little old ex-aqueduct," George said. "In about five minutes the two sheriffs'll be crawling into this old drain and taking the train robbers by the scruff of the neck."
"I'd rather the sheriffs would lug the detectives out of the country," Chester observed. "They're the people who are looking for father."
"You want to keep mighty quiet about any one looking for your father," Will advised. "We are sure to bunt into these two sheriffs before long and if they know that your father is now regarded as a fugitive from justice, they'll get him and ship him back to Chicago, all right!"
"The sheriffs got held up by the train robbers," Tommy went on, "but they can't be blamed for that, and they tried to put us through the third degree when they thought we were in cahoots with the robbers, but they're game all the same. If you ever see those fellows in action you'll know there's something going on."
"And we're going to see them in action right now!" cried George.
A succession of shots came from the entrance to the old channel, and the boys heard the defenders scrambling down toward the chamber where they stood.
THE FINDING OF WAGNER
"Good night!" cried Tommy.
The heavy footsteps came on faster than before. The ping of bullets was in the air, and the old channel was filling with powder smoke. Now and then the flash of a gun lit the passage.
"Me for the tall timber," Tommy went on, springing up the tunnel.
"Here! Where are you going?" shouted Will.
"There's a hiding place up here!" answered Tommy. "We saw it when we came down! Me for the hiding place."
"That's a fact!" Will exclaimed turning to Chester. "You remember the old channel running in from the southeast?"
"We'll have to get somewhere right soon!" Chester answered. "Perhaps that is as good a place as any."
Bullets singing down the narrow passage indicated that the sheriffs and their men had already entered the subterranean channel from above.
The train robbers were defending the passage heroically, but the officers were coming bravely on.
Directly the boys came to the lead which cut the south wall of the main channel into the shape of a "W." They passed on up this dry channel just as the train robbers, retreating step by step, came to the entrance.
"Shoot to kill!" the boys heard one of the outlaws saying.
"Do you know the way to the other end?" asked the second outlaw.
"I've been told how to find it," was the answer, "but I never made my way through it. Those sheriffs are game to come crowding into a hole like this in front of two armed and desperate men."
"You get up against the real thing when you strike a Wyoming sheriff," the other outlaw declared.
"Throw up your hands!" a heavy voice came from above.
"Come and take us!" was the only answer.
Another storm of bullets was followed by a groan of pain.
"They got me!" the boys heard one of the men say.
"They got me, too!" said the other. "It's a wonder we haven't been cut into ribbons before this!"
"All we can do now is to lay down and shoot as long as we've got ammunition," the first speaker advised.
"You may as well surrender, boys!" They heard Sheriff Pete's heavy voice saying. "I'm coming down there after you!"
The only answer from the outlaws was a volley of bullets, punctuated with oaths. Tommy turned to Will with a low chuckle.
"This seems to be a nice quiet Boy Scout excursion, doesn't it?" he asked. "We come up on the mountains to have a pleasant vacation, and we butt into a scene that wouldn't be admitted to the stage of any theatre because the critics would say that it wasn't true to life!"
"We certainly do strike life in the raw!" replied Will.
"Are you going to surrender?" shouted the sheriff from above.
"I'll bet they don't," whispered George.
"You're on!" Tommy shouted. "I'll bet they do."
The boys listened anxiously for the reply.
"I'm coming down there now!" they heard Sheriff Pete say.
"There isn't one man in a million who would dare walk into a trap like this," Will mused. "I wonder if this sheriff we've been finding fault with will have the nerve to do it."
"You see if he hasn't got the nerve to do it," Tommy answered.
The outlaws fired once more, and then the boys heard their weapons clattering down the tunnel.
"That's the stuff, boys!" the sheriff said.
They heard him sliding and scrambling down the channel, and turned on their flashlights. The sheriff paused with an exclamation of surprise, but came steadily on in a moment, his deputies not far in the rear.
"Throw up your hands there, you with the light!" cried the officer.
"I ain't going to throw up my hands," Tommy called out with a chuckle, "but if it'll give you any satisfaction, I'll throw up my job as a man-hunter. I have no further use for it!"
"That must be the Boy Scouts," the voice of the Sweetwater sheriff said. "I wonder how they got here."
As the officers came on under the rays of the searchlights, the boys having now stepped into the main tunnel, the outlaws stumbled to their feet and stood leaning against the wall. They were wounded in several places and blood was flowing quite freely, but their jaws were set in lines of determination.
The sheriffs glanced keenly about and smiled as their eyes took in the boys grouped together in the tunnel.
"What about it?" asked Sheriff Pete.
"That's a long story," Will answered.
One of the outlaws now stepped forward, although he still held himself upright by one hand on the wall.
"You're a nervy chap, Sheriff," he said.
"Turn and turn about is fair play!" replied the officer. "It isn't so very long ago that you held me up."
"Any man can hold up another when he has a loaded gun in his face," said the outlaw.
"It strikes me," the sheriff said, "that you'd better be removed from this hole as quickly as possible. Your wounds probably need attention."
"We're not sobbing about the wounds," was the reply. "The only kick we've got coming is that our ammunition gave out."
"You would have been taken in time!" was the reply.
"I guess that's right, with a man like you on our track, I've been in a good many tight spots but I never saw a man walk into a storm of bullets and appear to like it as you have done today."
"Never mind that now," the Sheriff cut in. "We're going to get you out so you can do a little work for the state before you die."
"Say," Tommy exclaimed as the officers and prisoners started to climb the steep tunnel, "when you get to the top have one of the men start a big fire. I'm so hungry that I could eat my way out of this rock like it was cheese."
"What you going to cook?" asked Will.
"Bear steak," replied Tommy.
"That's a joke!" declared Chester.
"Joke is it?" exclaimed Tommy. "You wait till we get out there and see whether it is or not. I went out after bear steak for breakfast, didn't I? Well, I got it, didn't I?"
"Breakfast!" repeated George, rubbing his Stomach. "It must be afternoon, and I'm hungry enough to bite a corner off the Masonic Temple."
"One o'clock!" said Will, looking at his watch.
"Are you boys really going to cook breakfast in the cavern?" asked the sheriff. "Why not go to the camp?"
"Because we can't walk to camp without first acquiring sustenance!" chuckled Tommy. "I'm empty from the top of my head to the end of my big toe!"
"If you'll ask your men to gather a lot of dry wood," George suggested, "we'll have a lot of bear steak ready to eat in about ten minutes."
"But we haven't got any salt!" objected the sheriff.
"Don't you think we haven't got any salt," Tommy replied. "You never saw a Boy Scout go out into the woods without plenty of salt and matches. And don't you think we don't know how to build a fire with one match and broil a steak over coals in ten minutes."
"All right!" laughed the sheriff. "You boys seem to be able to take care of yourselves."
"You didn't seem to think so a few hours ago," Will answered.
"There's one thing about you boys I really like," the sheriff returned with a hearty laugh. "The third degree makes about as much impression on you as it would on the Sphinx or on the Goddess of Liberty in New York harbor."
"That was the third degree, was it, then?" asked Will.
"Do you think I'd string up a lot of babies?" demanded the sheriff.
"Run along, now!" Tommy exclaimed. "Run along, Mr. Officer, and tell your men to bring up a lot of dry wood."
The officers made their way out, followed by George and Tommy, but Will and Chester still remained under ground.
"Did you hear anything in this tunnel?" asked Chester.
"I thought I did hear a moan, but the sheriff was talking in that voice of his at the time and I wasn't certain."