"Honest now, I believe you've hit the bulls-eye this time, Frank."
"Then you think they're windows, about after the same style as those holes in the rock where we climbed up the ladders to the deserted homes of the old time cliff dwellers?" asked the other.
"Sure they are; no mistake about it, either," replied Bob, and then he gave a low exclamation.
"What did you see?" demanded Frank, as if suspecting the truth.
"I don't know," came the reply; "but something seemed to move just inside one of those openings. It may have been a garment fluttering in the breeze that must be blowing so far up the heights; and then, again, perhaps some hawk, or other bird, has its nest there, and just flew past. I couldn't say, Frank; but I saw something, and it moved!"
Frank took the glass, and looked long and earnestly.
"Whatever it was," he remarked, "it doesn't mean to repeat the act. But all the same, Bob, I've got a hunch we've found the place, and that Echo Cave lies far up yonder in that beetling cliff."
"It's a fierce reach up there," remarked Bob, as he scanned the height. "How under the sun d'ye suppose that old professor could ever get up and down? Too far for him to have a rope ladder; and even if he had, how could he reach the place at first? Frank, all the way up, I can't see the first sign of any rock shelves, where ladders might have rested long ago."
"That's so," replied the other, reflectively. "The face of the cliff is as even and smooth as a floor. Nobody would ever look to find a cluster of cliff dwellers' homes up there; that is, nobody but a man like Professor Oswald, who has made a life study of such things, and knows all the indications. But something tells me we're pretty near the end of our long trail. The only question now is, how can we get in touch with the hermit of Echo Cave?"
As night settled down the two boys returned to the fire, still perplexed.
FINDING A WAY UP
That night they kept no fire going. Frank seemed to think it best that they remain quiet, so as not to announce their presence in the neighborhood. Though for that matter, it would seem that if any one were perched aloft in one of those slits in the face of the cliff, that represented the windows of the cave dwellings, the entire canyon below must be spread out like a book.
Nothing happened to disturb them. Once Frank thought he heard a distant shout, and this excited his curiosity not a little. According to what Charley Moi said they were now in a neighborhood where ordinary tourists never visited.
He thought of the two sheriffs and the lawless men they were pursuing. Could it be possible that they were destined to run across those desperate characters sooner or later?
The thought was a disquieting one. It served to make Frank wakeful, and his restlessness was communicated to Bob, although the latter did not know what caused it.
But if the fugitives from justice were loitering around in that particular part of the Grand Canyon, either hiding from the determined sheriffs, or looking for rich quarry, neither they or anyone else disturbed the camp of the saddle boys.
Again, in the morning, Charley Moi lighted a fire, and made ready to prepare a modest breakfast. As Bob had said, their supplies were running low, and unless something happened very soon the Chinaman would have to be dispatched to the nearest store to replenish the food.
Still thinking of the sound he had heard during the night, and which he believed must have been a human voice, rather than the cry of some wild animal, Frank, while they sat cross-legged around the fire, eating the scanty meal, addressed himself to the Chinaman.
"How many times have you come up this far, Charley Moi?" he asked.
The other commenced to figure on his fingers. Having no counting board, used so frequently by his countrymen in laundries, until they get accustomed to the habits of the white man, he took this means of tabulating.
"Allee fingers and this much over," and he held up the first and second fingers of one hand.
"Ten and two, making twelve in all," declared Bob. "Well, you have served the man-with-the-bald-head faithfully and long, Charley."
"And in all these times I suppose you've never known anybody to be around here?" Frank went on.
Charley shook his head in the negative.
"White man, no. Sometime Moqui come 'long, make for stlore down canlon get glub. See same two, thlee times. Charley Moi see old Moqui last night," the Chinaman replied.
"What's that you say?" demanded Frank, hastily. "That you saw a Moqui last night, and after we had come to halt right here?"
"Thatee so," grinned the other, as though pleased to feel that he was able to interest Frank so readily.
"Just when did this happen, Charley Moi?" pursued the other.
"Flank, Blob, down by river, make muchee look-look in glass," answered Charley.
"Now, what d'ye think of that?" ejaculated Bob, in disgust. "While we were away from camp for ten minutes, something happened. Why couldn't it have come about when we were on deck? There's a fine chance lost to get track of Havasupai; for I reckon you believe the same as I do, Frank, and that the old Moqui whom Charley saw was our Indian?"
"Seems like it, Bob," replied the other, "but don't cry yet. Perhaps it may not be too late to remedy matters. See here, Charley Moi, could you show me just where you saw this Moqui last?"
The yellow-skinned guide smirked, and nodded his head until his pigtail bobbed up and down like a bell rope.
"Easy do," he observed, beginning to get upon his feet.
"Come along Bob," remarked Frank. "We'd all better be present. Three heads are better than one when it comes to a question of deciding what's to be done."
"Do you think you can track him, Frank?" questioned the Kentucky boy, eagerly.
"I'm going to try," was all Frank would say; for he was very modest with regard to his accomplishments as a son of the prairie.
Charley Moi was as good as his word. He seemed to remember just where he had happened to spy the passing Indian when looking up from the making of the fire. The Moqui had paid no attention to him; indeed, at the time he was creeping past as though taking advantage of the absence of the two boys in order to make a circuit of the camp near the big cliff.
"Find 'em Frank?" asked Bob, after he had seen his chum bending down over the ground for half a minute.
"Yes, and they are the tracks of an Indian too, for they toe in," Frank replied. "Besides, they are made by moccasins instead of shoes or boots with heels. And if I needed any further proof to tell me our friend Havasupai made these tracks, and not a strange Moqui, I have it in the queer patch across the toe of his right moccasin, which I noticed when he was with us before."
"That's just fine!" Bob exclaimed, filled with pride over the way in which his chum seemed able to fix the facts so that they could not be questioned. "And will you start after him right away, Frank?"
"Watch me; that's all," came the reply, as Frank began to move away, still bending low in order to follow the faint traces of footprints on the rock and scanty soil.
The others came close at his heels, Bob with a look of assurance on his face, because he felt positive that the game would now be tracked to its hiding place; and Charley Moi picturing his wonder on his moon-like countenance.
So the prairie lad led them in and out among the rocks, and the scrub that grew close to the verge of the river. Several times he seemed a little in doubt, as the marks faded entirely away; but on such occasions his common-sense came to the rescue, and, after a look around, Frank was able to once more find the trail.
"Here's where it ends!"
When Frank made this remark Bob could not keep from expressing his surprise.
He gaped upward at the bare-faced wall that arose for hundreds of feet, without any particular ledge or outcropping where even a nimble Indian could find safe lodgment for his moccasined feet.
"But, Frank, however could the old Moqui get up there to see Uncle Felix?" he asked. "D'ye suppose he made some sort of signal, and the hermit lowered a long rope with a noose at the end, which would draw him up? Wow! excuse me from ever trying to fly in that way! It would make me so dizzy I'd be sure to drop, and get smashed."
"You're beating on the wrong track, Bob," remarked the other. "No rope could be lowered all that distance; and even if it could no one man would be able to pull another all the way up."
"But there must be some way of getting to the place where the slits in the face of the cliff tell of windows. However do you think he did it, Frank?"
"Just because you don't happen to see a ladder, Bob, is no evidence there isn't a way to mount upward. One thing about this great cliff I guess you didn't happen to notice. That shows you pass things by. Look again, and you'll see that it seems to have been split by some volcanic smash, ages ago. There's a regular crevice running slantingly up the face of the rock. You see it now, don't you?"
"Sure I do; and I was blind not to take notice of the same before," Bob replied. "Fact is, I did see that uneven mark, but just thought it was a fault in the make of the cliff, as a miner would say."
"Well, that crack extends four-fifths of the way up to the top; and far enough to reach the place where we noticed all those dark marks, which we believed must be windows of the many rooms or houses of the cliff dwellers. Get that, Bob?"
"Sure I do, Frank, and after your explanation I can see what you're aiming at. But where does that ragged crevice start from down here, do you think?"
Frank stepped forward. Just as if he had it all figured out, he bent down, and with his hand drew aside the bushes that grew against the base of the cliff.
"Well, I declare, there it is for a fact!" exclaimed Bob, as he saw a rough opening before him, which came almost together five feet from the ground, leaving only a dark, uneven, slanting line that crawled up the face of the cliff like the photograph of a zigzag bolt of lightning taken with a snapshot camera.
"There you are," said Frank, with a broad smile. "Unless all signs fail, here's the entrance to the mysterious Echo Cave. We have been more than lucky to find it with so little trouble."
"Just to think of it," remarked Bob, as he bent over to look up into the gap as well as he was able; "here's where the queer old Professor has been hiding for all this time, and no one any the wiser. But Frank, however in the wide world do you suppose he found out the way to get up there?"
"We would have found it sooner or later, even if Charley Moi had not seen the old Indian moving along," replied Frank, with the confidence of one who knows what he is talking about.
"Y—yes, I reckon we would, after you'd prowled around a little, and had some chance to look the ground over. Then you believe he must have found the presence of those windows looking out of the cliff just like we did; by using a powerful glass? And, thinking that here was the very place for him to hide and study, he set about looking for the road up, and found it, very likely."
"He did it by using common sense, and applying all he knew about the ways of these people of the long ago," replied Frank. "And you can see that if he chose, he could have thrown that bottle out of one of the openings up there, so that it would drop in the passing current of the Colorado, to be carried down-stream until somebody saw it; and finding the message to my father, sent or carried it to Circle Ranch."
"Well," observed Bob, with a gleam in his eye, "now that we've found a way to get up to Echo Cave, have we the nerve to start in?"
FORTUNE STILL FAVORS THE BRAVE
Instead of replying at once to this question, as Bob undoubtedly thought his chum would do, Frank seemed to give a start. He dropped to his hands and knees, and seemed to be examining some marks on the ground.
If ever the fair knowledge of reading tracks which Frank possessed was called upon to do duty, it was now. Bob, of course, could not understand what possessed his comrade; but simply stood there and stared, wondering what Frank had found to cause him to exhibit such breathless interest, and all the signs of unusual excitement.
When finally the lad on his knees did look up, Bob saw a grave expression on his face.
"There's something wrong, Frank; tell me what it is?" he demanded.
"I've made an unpleasant discovery, Bob," replied the other. "Charley!" he added turning to the wondering Celestial, "go back to our camp, and bring our guns right away, both of them, see?"
"Yep, bloss, me unelstand. Charley Moi gettee gluns light away quick!" and as he said this the obliging Chinaman went on a run, his pigtail and blue blouse flying out behind him.
"Say, whatever does all this mystery mean, Frank?" asked Bob, almost helplessly.
"Just what you might imagine; that there's danger hanging about us, Bob."
The eyes of the astonished Bob sought the ground at the point where his chum had been so deeply interested.
"Then it must be something you just discovered there, and that's a fact," he declared; "because you didn't act this way three minutes ago."
"I happened to discover footprints coming from another quarter," Frank went on, calmly; "and they headed into this crevice, just as those of the moccasined Moqui did from that side. And they came after old Havasupai had gone up, for I found where they wiped out a part of one of his tracks."
"Footprints, and were they made by the old professor, do you think?" asked Bob.
"Not any. Fact is," observed Frank, as though deciding to have the worst over, "they were the tracks of three persons, all men!"
"Oh! my! three, you said, Frank; and that would mean Eugene, Spanish Joe, and Abajo, wouldn't it?"
"Just the very ones I meant," replied Frank.
"Then they must have been hiding some place near here, and saw the Moqui pass in?" suggested Bob, fully aroused by now.
"That seems to be what happened," Frank observed. "But here comes Charley Moi with the guns. See how he dodges about, so as to keep hidden from the view of anybody up in those windows above, which we can't glimpse from here."
When Bob eagerly took his repeating rifle from the hands of the Chinaman he exhibited all the evidence of great satisfaction; for he heaved a sigh of relief, and fondled his weapon in a way that caused his comrade to smile.
"I feel better now," Bob confessed; "because, to tell the honest truth, when you broke the news so suddenly it nearly gave me heart failure, Frank, to think that if those rascals sprang out at us we would be next door to helpless. Now let 'em be careful how they play their little game. But what does it all mean, do you suppose, Frank?"
"I can only make a guess, and that may be wide of the truth," the other admitted. "By some accident they managed to get on the track of the Moqui. Though Havasupai thought himself smart, he was no match for such a cunning rascal as Spanish Joe, who is said to be the best trailer along the Arizona border. And they followed him right here."
"That was last evening, just when you and I stood there down by the river, looking through the glasses up at the windows of the rock houses above," remarked Bob.
"Yes. Perhaps they didn't go up right then." Frank went on. "I admit that I can't just make out how long ago these tracks were made. A better trailer might, you see, Bob. If Old Hank Coombs were only here now I'd be glad to turn the whole business over to him, and play second fiddle."
"But some time between dark and morning these three rascals went in here, and surprised the hermit of Echo Cave—is that it, Frank?"
"It covers the case all right," came the reply.
"Say, do you think they are up there yet?" asked the Kentucky lad, in an anxious tone.
"I think they must be, Bob, because all the tracks point one way, showing that the three men never came back. If they left the cave it must have been by some other way."
"No use asking why they would want to get in touch with Uncle Felix!" continued Bob, as if bent on finding out everything he could in connection with the case.
"We know what their reason was," Frank made answer. "When Abajo, hanging about the window of our ranch house, heard what we had to say about the message that came floating down the Colorado in that bottle, and carried the wonderful news to his employer, Eugene Warringford, he set the game going that must end right here. He has come with the intention of making Professor Oswald turn over that option to him; and he'll do it unless something we can offer prevents."
"But Frank, if the Moqui carried that note of yours to Uncle Felix, he would be on his guard, and absolutely refuse to sign away the papers?"
"I hope he will, but I fear that those three scamps are up there right now, trying to coax or bulldoze him into signing," Frank said, with a tightening of his lips, and a flash of his clear eyes.
"Then we go up, and put a spoke in their wheel, do we?" asked Bob, looking as if he were ready to make the start instantly, if his comrade but gave the word.
Frank glanced around him a little uncertainly.
"I've got a good notion to try it," he muttered as if talking to himself.
"What's that you say, Frank?" asked his companion, who had caught the words, and did not know what to make of them.
"I didn't tell you, Bob," Frank remarked; "but during the night I thought I heard a voice calling far away yonder. And somehow it struck me at the time that there was a familiar cowboy yell about it."
"Old Hank Coombs, perhaps, Frank?" suggested the other lad, quickly.
"That was on my mind, Bob. You know history often repeats itself. Once before, just when we seemed to need Hank the worst way, he came riding along as if he had heard us call. And I was wondering whether he might not be somewhere around here right now."
"That would be just prime, if only we could get in touch with him," Bob declared. "And, as your father wouldn't send Hank alone, there'd be one more cowboy along. That would make a party of four. Why, those three rascals would just shrivel, and throw up the sponge, if they saw us break in on 'em. But Frank, how about making the old range call?"
"D'ye know, I was just thinking it might do to try it," remarked the other.
"Then start in and give the whoop," Bob observed. "No harm done anyhow; even if they hear it up there. And while you're doing all that, I'll just drop on one knee here, and cover the crack in the wall. Suppose one of the lot should try and come out while we were off our guard. I'll make him surrender quicker than he can say 'Jack Robinson'!"
Presently there sounded upon the morning air the clear "cooee" of the range, particularly well known to every cowboy who had worked at Circle Ranch. Frank and Bob listened eagerly to learn whether there would come any response. If not, then they must take up the task of climbing that singular crevice by themselves; and finding out how affairs stood above.
Their suspense was short-lived, for quickly there floated to their waiting ears a responsive call. Turning toward the quarter from whence it seemed to come they saw a hat waving.
"It's Old Hank, sure it is!" exclaimed Bob, with a thrill of delight; for the burden of going up against three desperate characters was more than boy nature could stand without more or less uneasiness.
"That's Chesty with him," announced Frank, as two figures were discovered coming toward them. "Why, if we'd made all the arrangements ourselves we couldn't have done better, Bob. Here comes our reinforcements just in the nick of time. And if Eugene and his backers are still up yonder in the cliff dwellers' homes, they have stayed a little while too long, that's all."
In another three minutes the boys were shaking hands with Old Hank and Chesty; the latter with a cheerful grin on his face, as though he considered it quite a joke to break in on Frank's game at the finishing point.
Of course they were ignorant as to how matters stood. And Frank took upon himself the task of explaining all that had happened.
"Ther up yonder yet, then," announced Hank, after he had carefully inspected the footprints, and noted that they all pointed one way; "that is to say, if they ain't got an airyplane along as would allow of them flying off. An' Frank, when ye sez the word we'uns are goin' t' walk up this rock ladder t' see what sorter place the ole perfessor keeps."
"Then I say it now," declared Frank, anxious to have the thing settled one way or the other without further delay.
"Foller arter me, all of ye!" called the old plainsman, as he plunged into the gap.
"One thing, we won't need torches this time, Hank!" remarked Bob as he prepared to follow after the leader.
"I reckons not, Bobby," chuckled the veteran cowman, who knew that something about the situation must have recalled their entering that cave that day where sly old Sallie and her half-grown whelps awaited their coming with bared teeth.
Just back of Hank came Chesty, who was a very ambitious young fellow, and always to be counted on with regard to obtaining his proper share in every little excitement that happened. Then Frank filed along; and at his heels Bob climbed; while Charley Moi brought up the rear, bent on seeing all that might come to pass.
The crevice immediately began to mount upward, just as Frank had anticipated it would. There were times when the climbing was pretty steep, and Frank began to wonder what sort of agile man this old and stubborn Professor Oswald could be, to overcome such difficulties so often, while in the pursuit of his hobby.
Bob was soon panting, but no less bent on "keeping up with the procession," as he himself put it. They had been going back from the face of the cliff pretty much all the time, so that there was really no chance to take an observation, in order to tell just how far up they had come.
Frank felt sure, however, after this labor had kept up for quite a long time, that they must now be getting near the top of the break, or where the crooked crack in the face of the rock ended.
He tried to picture what they would find. If Eugene and his reckless backers had been in possession of the place for some hours now, they must have tried all sorts of expedients in order to compel the professor to reveal the secret hiding place of the valuable document, and make it over to them. Nor would such heartless men hesitate long about adopting torture in order to force a confession from the unwilling victim.
Then Frank wondered if the three rascals would attempt any tactics looking to holding the attacking force at bay. They were well armed, no doubt, and having such a rich treasure hanging in the scales, it might be expected that they would hate to let it slip from their covetous grasp without putting up some sort of fight.
But all that could be left to Old Hank. For many years he had been the leading figure in all the affairs that centered around Circle Ranch. Did the rustlers run off part of the herd, the veteran was put in charge of the pursuing force. Sometimes the sly marauders got off scot free; but more often they paid dearly for their audacity in picking out Colonel Haywood's ranch as the scene of their foray.
Frank really had no fears as to the result, now that Hank had arrived on the scene to direct operations. The three schemers might give them some trouble, but they could not carry the day.
"Please let a fellow rest up a little, Hank!" came from Bob, finally.
The old cow puncher understood that the pace had been too warm for the tenderfoot; and he considerately halted. Perhaps none of the climbers were averse to a breathing spell before the final round. It would put them in better condition for the wind-up, whatever that might prove to be.
"Frank," whispered Bob, as he pulled at the trouser leg of his chum so as to induce him to bend down closer.
"What's the row?" asked the other, in somewhat the same guarded tone, as he managed to double over, and bring his face close to that of his friend.
"Charley Moi has just told me something," Bob went on. "You know we found out before now that he's got the greatest pair of ears ever for hearing things? Well, he says there's something or some one following us up this old crack!"
"Whew! that's nice, now. A regular procession, it seems," remarked Frank.
"Who d'ye think it can be; and would a bear or a mountain lion pick up our tracks this way?" continued Bob, who was trying to work his rifle around, so as to cover the rear.
"Wait! Let's all listen, after I send the word along to Hank and Chesty," remarked Frank.
When this had been done even the old cowman thought well enough of the idea to wait until they could find out the nature of the sounds that had reached the keen hearing of the wide-awake Chinaman.
It was only half light in the break of the rock, and the passage they had been following thus far was so very crooked that no one could see more than twenty feet down the trail.
Still every eye was fastened on that point where the advancing man or animal would first appear. Frank, too, had his rifle bearing on the spot; and taken as a whole the appearance of the little company, flattened out against the break in the mighty rock wall, was rather threatening.
All of them could catch the sounds below now. Whoever came up the rock ladder must be unused to negotiating such a stairway, for they rattled small bits of loose shale down at times; and Frank felt sure he could hear a panting sound, very much like that which tired Bob had been making a minute ago.
And, as he listened, Frank made a discovery that caused him to tighten his grip on that reliable repeating rifle. There were two of the pursuers! And he anticipated that the leader must come in sight ere another dozen seconds passed!
There was some sort of movement now, down in the region of the little twist where the steep stairway of the old cliff dwellers made a turn. Then a head and shoulders came into view.
Frank chuckled aloud. Just in almost that last second of time he had suddenly guessed the truth, when, in this clinging figure that was staring upward, as though filled with genuine surprise, he recognized an old friend.
It was Mr. Stanwix, the sheriff of the county!
He and his mate from the adjoining division of Coconino must have just had a glimpse of Charley Moi disappearing in the dark hole at the base of the cliff; and, being in pursuit of two shrewd law breakers, who had been known to appear in other dress than that of cowmen, perhaps the officers had concluded that here was something that ought to be investigated.
Frank immediately made a friendly gesture with one hand. He did not want to risk the chances of being fired upon by the officers of the law, who might take the little party for bad men. Then he beckoned in a fashion that the sheriff must readily understand to mean caution, and silence.
They saw Mr. Stanwix bend down as though he might be explaining to his fellow officer what an astonishing thing had happened. After that he came on, climbing the steep rock ladder as an exhausted person might. Yet his nature was like that of the bulldog; and once he had started to do a thing, nothing could make him stop.
When he arrived at a point where he could make his way alongside Frank, squeezing past Charley Moi and Bob, the sheriff of Yavapai County turned an inquiring look upon his young friend.
Whereupon Frank started in to tell him just who the other three in the party happened to be; and that they were bent upon foiling the lawless game of three rascals plotting for a big stake.
In return Mr. Stanwix intimated that they had suspected something wrong when they saw from a little distance two persons, and one of them a Chinaman, disappearing in a cleft of the rocks. Further explanations must await a better opportunity, however. They were now too near the series of chambers connecting with one another to hesitate longer.
Besides, who could say what might not be going on up there a little further, in those holes in the wall where, ages ago, the singular people whom Professor Oswald loved to study about, had their homes, and lived on from year to year?
Old Hank, when he once more started upward, seemed to have become much more cautious. Frank could easily guess the reason. There was a strong possibility that the three schemers might have learned of their presence in the vicinity ere now. And of course Eugene knew full well why Frank and Bob had come to the Grand Canyon from their ranch home.
Suspecting that sooner or later the two boys might discover the way up to the cliff house, they would be apt to lay a trap of some sort, thinking to catch them napping when they ascended.
Old Hank could not be taken unawares any easier than might the wary weasel that has never been seen asleep by mortal eyes.
Frank, keeping well up by the heels of the little cowboy's boots, was ready to draw himself upward at the first sign of trouble. He knew when Hank had reached the top of the singular stairway fashioned by Nature for the benefit of those who built their habitations near the top of the cliff, far beyond the reach of enemies in the valley below.
A few seconds of suspense followed, while Chesty was following the veteran into the first hollowed-out apartment. Nothing followed where Frank had been expecting all manner of evil things.
"Perhaps they're asleep," was the new thought that flashed through his brain. He did not know what manner of man Uncle Felix was.
Now they were all gathered there in that outer chamber that might be called an ante-room of the various apartments running along the face of the cliff for some distance.
Even Charley Moi was there, full of curiosity, and willing to lend a hand after a fashion. Bob looked around; just as his chum had done as soon as he entered. He saw that some one had certainly been there recently. There were plenty of evidences to that effect.
Old Hank raised his hand with the forefinger elevated. It was recognized as a signal for absolute silence by all the others. Even Bob restrained his desire to ask questions; and every one listened, as if expecting to catch sounds.
Was that a human voice?
Frank started a trifle as the idea came to him. Still, it might only have been an additionally strong movement of the breeze; turning some angle that caused it to give forth a sound.
He turned to see if any of the others had heard, and judged from the way old Hank had his head raised that he, too, had caught the sound; also that it appealed to him as full of significance.
Again the veteran waved his hand. This time it meant not only caution, but an invitation to advance. Hank was about to pass into the next apartment, and wished the others to keep close at his heels.
Bob was quivering all over with the fever of suspense, as well as pent-up eagerness. He did not know just how much longer he could hold in; for he wanted to yell. Still, he did not do it. Since coming to this wonderland country of the Southwest he had learned many lessons in the way of self control; and every day he was gaining more and more of a mastery over himself.
Now Hank was in the second room, and still heading onward toward another hole in the wall, evidently the only means of communication between the various houses forming the little community.
When he reached this, voices were plainly heard beyond. Hank kept right on, heading for yet a third doorway; and whoever was doing the talking, he or they must be in that further apartment; so that in another minute Frank expected to have his curiosity fully satisfied.
THE LITTLE OLD MAN OF ECHO CAVE
"You admit you have carried the document with you, and that it's only a question of refusing to produce it, Professor?"
Frank recognized that drawling voice. He had heard his father's cousin, Eugene Warringford, speak many times, and generally in this slow way. But Frank also knew that back of his apparently careless manner there was more or less venom. Eugene could hate, and hide his feelings in a masterly manner. He could smile, and then strike behind the back of the one with whom he was dealing. And somehow his very drawling voice always made Frank quiver with instinctive dislike.
"I admit nothing, sir," came another voice, quick and nervous, yet with a firmness that told of considerable spirit. "You come upon me in my retreat without an invitation, and at first claim to be a warm admirer of my work, which you seem to have studied fairly well. But now you are taking the mask off, sir; and I can recognize the wolf under the sheep's clothing."
Frank had heard that the old scientist, though a small man, was full of grit; and he could well believe it after hearing him speak.
And Bob, who crouched close at the side of his chum, gave Frank a nudge as if to say: "What do you think of that for nerve; isn't he the limit, though?"
Eugene laughed in his lazy way at being accused of evil intentions. Apparently he had about made up his mind that there was no use in longer beating about the bush. He had the old gentleman cooped up in this isolated place, where no assistance could possibly reach him. And backed up himself by a couple of reckless rascals, no doubt Eugene considered himself in a position to demand obedience.
"Well, my dear old gentleman," he remarked, and by the sound Frank imagined the fellow must be lighting a fresh cigarette, for he seemed to puff between the words; "just as you say, what's the use of carrying the joke on any longer. Let's be brutally frank with each other from now on."
"Very well," replied the other, quickly. "Here's the situation then, in a nutshell. You suddenly appear before me, with a couple of men you claim are guides, but whom I have every reason to believe are low minions who are simply in your pay."
"Careful, Professor," Eugene broke in. "I'd advise you to go a bit slow. These men talk English, if they do look like Mexicans; and they may resent being called rascals."
"Let that pass," continued the hermit of Echo Cave, as though waving the matter aside contemptuously. "At any rate, you come suddenly into my habitation here, where I have spent many happy months in solitude, wrapped up in my studies of the people of the cliffs, who spent their lives in this very place, and who have left many traces of their customs behind. My work is almost finished, and in another week I expected leaving here for civilization, with a masterly book on the subject that has mystified the world for a century."
"Come to the point, Professor," broke in the man with the drawl; "and keep all this about your studies for those of your kind, who may appreciate them. We are concerned only about one thing; and that is a certain paper which you will presently take from its hiding-place, sign over to me, and then finish your labors here in peace. Understand that?"
"By good luck I was forewarned," the sharp voice went on; "and hence I made sure not to carry that document on my person. You have taken the liberty of searching every inch of these cliff houses since you arrived here, but without success. And allow me to inform you, sir, that you might hunt until the day of doom without the slightest chance of finding that paper. It will never be yours!"
"Oh! I am not worrying in the least, Professor," Eugene remarked, coolly. "You will see a great light presently, I imagine."
"I have already done so, sir," came the snappy reply. "I am awakening to the fact that too long have I been neglecting my daughter; and that since this investment of mine has turned out so happily, it must become her property."
"Very nice and thoughtful of you, Professor," sneered Eugene; "and while I dislike to spoil such delightful plans, I fear I must do so. It is my nature to persist in anything I undertake. And I have made up my mind to possess that document; or make you pay dearly for my disappointment."
"Now you begin to descend to low threats, sir," cried the scientist, who did not seem to be a particle afraid; which proved the truth of the old saying that courage does not necessarily need a big tenement.
"We have hunted high and low through this series of ratholes, and without any success," observed Eugene, beginning to bite off his words, as though unable to much longer keep up the pretense of being calm. "What have you done with that old Moqui who came up here ahead of us?"
"Ah! you saw him enter the hidden stairway, then, and that was how you learned the way to reach these cliff dwellings?" exclaimed the other, as though one thing that had bothered him was now explained.
"Yes, that was how it came about," answered Eugene. "We have followed him like his own shadow for days, and yet he knew it not. Age must have dimmed the sight and hearing of the warrior. After we saw him pass upward, on investigating, we found the stone ladder in the crevice, and we waited several hours for him to come down, for we wanted to make sure of him first. As he did not appear, we finally could stand it no longer, and began to creep up here, inches at a time. Then we surprised you, and announced our intention of stopping with you."
"Yes," declared the scientist, bitterly. "First you pretended that you were sent out by a magazine to search for me, and get some points as to my great work here among the Zunis, the Hopis and the Moquis. But I soon discovered that you had another motive in trying to find Professor Oswald. You began to hint about your desire to possess stock in certain mines, and especially in one, the ownership of which I had carried in my hand for some years. Besides, I had been warned of your real intentions, and was on my guard."
"What became of that old Moqui Indian?" went on Eugene. "He climbed up, but he did not come down. We guarded that stairway closely every minute of the time. We have searched every room in this rabbit burrow that we could discover; but still he does not show up. Have you put him away in some place, the entrance to which is hidden from our eyes?"
The only reply to this question was a scornful laugh. As Bob would say, it was as if the defiant little professor had flashed out.
"Don't you wish you knew?"
"Well, as the document and the Moqui have both vanished mysteriously, there's only one thing I can conclude," went on Eugene, between his teeth; "and that is they must be together at this very moment. Produce the one, and the other will be found not far away."
"What a wise man you are, sir!" remarked the little scientist, with a sneer.
"Perhaps I may prove a more successful one than you imagine," returned Eugene, between furious puffs. "Now, all the time I have been turning this old lot of rabbit burrows upside down I've been thinking a whole lot, Professor."
"Bravo!" exclaimed the other clapping his hands vigorously; "it will certainly do you a great amount of good, sir, for I imagine you seldom treat yourself to such a luxury as a good hard think. And may I inquire concerning the result of your labors in that line?"
"First of all, I sized you up as a mighty stubborn little bit of humanity."
"Oh! thank you, sir. Really, I am disposed to accept that as a compliment; for you see, a man of my profession could never succeed unless he had mastered his inclination for an easy life, and had become a stoic. And what else did you happen to decide after this wonderful fit of thinking, may I ask, sir?"
"This: I made up my mind that once you declined to produce that document, to secure which I have come a great distance, and undergone considerable fatigue, that no threat of bodily harm would induce you to alter your decision!"
"It is really very interesting to hear you say this, sir," remarked the one who had lived in that lofty cave for many months, poring over the queer things that he unearthed from time to time in the ruins of the cliff dwellers' homes. "And after reaching such a conclusion as that, how comes it you persisted in trying to carry out your original intention?"
"Because I had another arrow in my quiver, Professor!" remarked Eugene, in a penetrating voice, that had a ring of anticipated triumph in it.
"H'm! torture, perhaps?" suggested the other; "but my dear sir, nothing of that nature could make me open my lips. I would die rather than submit to your proposals."
"But wait a bit, my old friend," chuckled Eugene; "there are two kinds of torture, that of the body, and of the mind!"
"I suppose you are right, sir," the little scientist remarked; "but honestly, now, I fail to understand the drift of your remarks."
"Then it shall be my pleasure to enlighten you, Professor," Eugene continued. "Pay attention to me now, and you will quickly have the cataract removed from your eyes. Is there anything in the world that you value above that document which you know by this time has suddenly increased in value many times over?"
"I can think of but one thing—my daughter Janice!" replied the other, quickly. "And she is far beyond your reach in the East."
"Ah yes, quite true, Professor," the schemer went on; "more's the pity. But I think you make a mistake when you say that your daughter is the only thing on earth you value above the million that has suddenly dropped at your feet. How about this, Professor?"
He evidently held something up, for the other immediately uttered a startled cry.
"The manuscript of my forthcoming book on the mysteries of the cliff dwellers of the Grand Canyon! The hard work of three long years of exile! A labor of love that I expected will place my name among the front ranks of scientists!"
"Exactly!" sneered Eugene. "Just keep back, Professor, please. My men are not in any too pleasant a mood, and I would not answer for what they might do to you if you made the first effort to snatch this thing from my hands. Sit down again, and let us reason together."
"You wretch! Now I begin to see your game. You would threaten to destroy all my precious work of years, in order to obtain a miserable paper."
At that Eugene laughed loudly.
"It may be all you say, Professor," he remarked; "but it represents a snug little fortune that I'd like to possess. The future would be mighty pleasant, once I made that fine hit. And if it appears like so much trash in your eyes, my dear man, there should no longer be any hesitation about giving it up to me. Think of the work you have done. It couldn't be replaced, Professor, I imagine? If now I should deliberately take a match out of my pocket like this, strike the same, and apply the busy little flame to these papers, the history of the Zunis, the Hopis, the Moquis, and their ancestors the cliff dwellers, would be forever lost to the world, wouldn't it?"
"Stop, you wretch!" cried the excited hermit, who was apparently greatly alarmed at seeing his precious manuscript in peril.
"Ah! do you then consent to open your mouth, and tell what I want to know?" demanded his tormentor.
"Is there no other way out?" asked the prisoner of the cave, hopelessly.
"None," replied Eugene, harshly. "My men are watching for the Moqui to show up every second, and with orders to shoot him on sight. So don't indulge in any hope that he can save you. There, the match has burned itself out; but remember, Professor, there are others, plenty of them, where that came from. I will give you one minute to produce that paper."
The scientist uttered a sigh that was plainly heard.
"I suppose I must yield to fate then," he said, dismally. "But you promise to return my papers to me after I have complied with your outrageous demands?"
"To be sure I will, and only too gladly," replied the other, eagerly. "I don't want to make the terms too hard on you, old man. Only you must choose now between losing either the fortune, or your work of years. And perhaps we'd find the document after all, too. Speak up; where is it?"
"Examine that rock stool on which you are seated, and you will find that it can be moved," the voice of the hermit went on, steadily. "There, now that you have over-turned the seat, you discover something in the cavity. Keep your word, and place in my hands my precious packet of manuscript. Threats of taking my life might not move me; but when you place in peril that on which my reputation as a scientist must be based, it is too much. Thank you, sir; I see you are a man of your word. And I will sign the papers just as you may wish to have done."
TURNING THE TABLES—CONCLUSION
"Come on in, boys!"
Old Hank Coombs had stood all the while this intensely interesting dialogue was going on, as though glued to the spot. Indeed, not one of the party in the adjoining apartment of the cliff dwellers' cave but who had kept drinking in the conversation as though it fairly fascinated them.
But when the old cow puncher realized that to all appearances the outrageous scheme of Eugene had worked only too well, and that the precious document was even then in the hands of the smooth-tongued plotter, he suddenly awoke to the fact that perhaps they had waited a little too long.
Through the opening that served as a doorway between the apartments he jumped, followed immediately by Chesty, the two sheriffs, and finally the saddle boys, with Charley Moi bringing up the rear.
Of course their unexpected coming created quite a breeze among those whom they thus surprised. The little man who wore the goggles seemed delighted, and immediately started to place himself, and his precious manuscript, in a position where he might be covered by these welcome allies.
Spanish Joe and Abajo had started to draw their weapons; but when they discovered that they had already been covered, and recognized several among the newcomers as old companions on Circle Ranch, they promptly elevated their hands.
Eugene looked just as ugly as he felt. The prize had apparently been about to fall into his hands, like a ripe apple, when this change of front had to occur.
He kept his wits about him, however, and like the shrewd fox that he was, played the game to the limit for his own safety.
"Keep your friends back, Professor Oswald!" he shouted, as he managed to interpose what looked like a stone table between himself and the two sheriffs, who had their hungry eyes on him. "See here, unless you promise on your word of honor not to proceed against me for this little game that didn't work, I'll tear this paper that's worth a million into little bits, no matter what happens to me afterwards! Do you hear, Professor?"
Frank caught his breath. After all the hard work which he and Bob had put in to save that precious document for Janice, was it to be lost?
He wanted to fly at the man, and snatch it from his hands; but did not dare; for only too well did he know that at the first hostile move Eugene would proceed to put his threat into execution.
To his intense surprise the little man with the big glasses seemed to be shaking as with a convulsion of laughter. It did not seem as though he worried about the fate of the document Eugene held so rigidly, while awaiting an answer to his demand.
"Do just as you please about that, my friend," chuckled the scientist. "If it would afford you any enjoyment to destroy the paper you are holding, I wouldn't cheat you out of it for the world."
"But—" stammered the defeated plotter, "it would render void all your right to taking possession of the San Bernardino mine, if this document were destroyed!"
"Oh! dear no, not at all," exclaimed the other, cheerily. "The fact is, that paper is even now on the way to the nearest post office, addressed to my friend and relative, Colonel Haywood, and is to go by registered mail."
"That Moqui Indian—" gasped Eugene, falling back helplessly.
"Exactly, he carries the packet, with orders to let nothing divert him from his one purpose," observed the scientist; while Bob nudged his chum in the side, unable to restrain his delight over the wonderful outcome of the knotty problem.
"How did he get out of here?" asked Eugene. "We watched the stone stairway every minute of the time, and he didn't go down that way."
"Oh! well, in my prowling around here, month after month," explained the hermit, "I managed to find a way the old cliff dwellers had for reaching the summit of the rocks, in case of necessity. The Moqui possessed the nerve required to crawl along the face of the cliff on a narrow ledge, and make the exit. He is miles away by now, and my daughter's inheritance is safe!"
"But—this paper here," asked Eugene, faintly; yet with curiosity governing his actions; "it seems to be a legal document, transferring a majority of the shares of the San Bernardino mine over to you if the further conditions are fulfilled within a certain time?"
"To be sure," laughed the other, "that was the first copy, you might say. There was some little defect about it, which we discovered after it was signed; so a second copy was made. If you had examined that one closer you would have found that the stamp necessary to make it legal was lacking. Somehow I happened to keep both copies, never dreaming how valuable this bogus one might prove."
Eugene threw the paper angrily to the floor.
"I'm done!" he cried, shaking his head. "Come on, Mr. Stanwix, if you are after me, and put the irons on; though I don't think you've got any show of convicting me of any unlawful game. I claim to have come here to interview this famous old gentleman about the wonderful discoveries he has made connected with these people of the cliffs. I expected to make a big sum in selling the article to a magazine. Perhaps you might give me more or less trouble if you cared; but then it's another thing to show proof. And the professor wouldn't like to stay out here long months, waiting for the case to come on."
"That's where you're right, my tall friend," chirped the little scientist; "and as my work is almost finished I do not mean to let anything detain me from getting my book in the hands of the printers."
"Hear that, Mr. Stanwix; he says we're going to get off easy, and you might as well wish us good day right now?" exclaimed Eugene, nodding to the Yavapai sheriff, whom he appeared to know.
"Well, there's no hurry," remarked that official, pleasantly. "On the whole, my opinion is that it would be good policy to keep you locked up until we know that the document has reached the hands of the one to whom it was sent, and who is, I believe, the father of our friend, Frank, here."
"I agree with you, Mr. Sheriff!" declared the old hermit of the cave. "Because if he were set free I fear he would chase after the United States mail, if a single hope remained of stealing my property. Yes, kindly keep him by you until I come around with news."
Then he turned to the two cow punchers, who had stood moodily by, listening to all that was being said.
"I have no use for either of you men," he remarked, shaking a finger at them; "so the sooner you get down out of this place, the better. And while I continue to remain here a few days, I'm going to ask these brave lads to keep me company as a guard of honor. I've many things to show that may interest them. And I want to accompany Frank to his home a little later, if possible."
And so it was arranged. Old Hank and Chesty declared that their orders had been to stay as long as Frank and Bob did; so they also took up their quarters in the apartments that went to make up what the little old gentleman had called Echo Cave.
The two sheriffs took their prisoner away, to place him in some secure nook while they continued their search for the pair of scoundrels whom they had hunted so long, and were determined to get this time.
As they will not be seen again in this story it may only be right to say that Frank afterwards read an account in a paper of how the sheriffs finally rounded up the Arizona Kid and Big Bill Guffey, arresting them after a warm resistance in which all of the participants were wounded. And in due time doubtless the bad men who had so long defied the law, paid the penalty for their various crimes.
The saddle boys certainly did enjoy the few days they spent with the queer little hermit, while he completed his odd business in the rock dwellings of the ancient cliff men.
They found the echo which had caused him to give the place its name, and spent many an hour amusing themselves with its astonishing power to send back sounds.
Finally Havasupai made his appearance, bearing with him a receipt, which proved that the precious packet had been sent by registered mail to Circle Ranch.
And then the professor announced himself as ready to take his departure from the scene of his two years' labors as a hermit, working in the interests of science.
"It's a wonderful old place," Bob declared as they took their last look at the Grand Canyon from the bluff in front of the hotel, ere mounting their horses and starting back home across the many miles that lay to the south and east before Circle Ranch might be reached.
"Yes, and we'll never forget what we've seen here," added Frank.
"Not to speak of the adventures that have come our way," remarked Bob. "Tell you the truth, Frank, I'll be mighty sorry when our trip is over, because I reckon it'll be a long time before we have another chance for such a great gallop."
But although of course he did not know it just then, Bob was very much mistaken when he made this prophecy. It happened that events were shaping themselves at that very hour in a way calculated to call upon the saddle boys to make another venture into the realms of chance, and mounted upon their prized horses too. What these events were, and how well Frank and Bob acquitted themselves when brought face to face with new adventures, will be found set forth in the next volume of this series, under the title of, "The Saddle Boys on the Plains; Or, After a Treasure of Gold."
Old Hank and Chesty accompanied Professor Oswald by way of the railroad to a point nearest the ranch, where a vehicle would be awaiting them. He had been greatly interested in hearing how one of the bottles that he had thrown into the swift current of the Colorado had been eventually picked up in far distant Mohave City; and thus his note came into the hands of his relatives.
Of course Frank and his chum enjoyed the return gallop even more than when on the way to the Grand Canyon. They no longer had anything weighing on their minds, since the plans of Eugene Warringford had been broken up. And besides, the recollection of the astounding wonders they had gazed upon in that great canyon were bound to haunt them forever.
The little professor was waiting to see them at the ranch, before starting East to join his daughter, and get his wonderful book under way.
"I owe you boys more than I can tell," he declared, when he was saying good-bye; "and you needn't be at all surprised if a nice little bunch of gold mine stock comes this way for each of you, just as soon as my deal goes through, which will be in one more week."
He was as good as his word, and when the mine came under his authority he did send both Frank and Bob some stock, on which they could collect dividends four times a year.
Frank looked in vain for the coming of the old Moqui. Charley Moi did indeed turn up a little later, anxious to again meet the boys whom he had served in the Grand Canyon. But Havasupai came not to Circle Ranch; and remembering how he had apparently been fleeing from the wrath of his people at the time they first met him, Frank and Bob could not but wonder whether the old warrior had gone back to his native village only to meet his fate at the hands of his people, according to Moqui law.
Here we may leave our two young friends, the saddle boys, for a short time, enjoying a well earned rest. But the lure of the great outdoors was so strongly rooted in their natures that it may be readily understood they could not remain inactive long; but would soon be galloping over the wide reaches, following the cowboys as they rounded up the herds, branded mavericks and young cattle, and picked out those intended for shipment to the great marts at Kansas City.
But while new scenes would likely interest Frank and Bob from time to time, they could never forget the magnificent views that had been stamped upon their memories forever while in the Grand Canyon of the mighty Colorado.
* * * * * *
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Bomba lived far back in the jungles of the Amazon with a half-demented naturalist who told the lad nothing of his past. The jungle boy was a lover of birds, and hunted animals with a bow and arrow and his trusty machete. He had a primitive education in some things, and his daring adventures will be followed with breathless interest by thousands.
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One night a strange old miner almost dead from hunger and hardship arrived at the bunk house. The boys cared for him and he told them of the lost desert mine.
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The boy ranchers help capture Delton's gang who were engaged in smuggling Chinese across the border.
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BY CLARENCE YOUNG
12mo. Illustrated. Price per volume, $1.00, postpaid
THE MOTOR BOYS or Chums Through Thick and Thin THE MOTOR BOYS OVERLAND or A Long Trip for Fun and Fortune THE MOTOR BOYS IN MEXICO or The Secret of the Buried City THE MOTOR BOYS ACROSS THE PLAINS or The Hermit of Lost Lake THE MOTOR BOYS AFLOAT or The Cruise of the Dartaway THE MOTOR BOYS ON THE ATLANTIC or The Mystery of the Lighthouse THE MOTOR BOYS IN STRANGE WATERS or Lost in a Floating Forest THE MOTOR BOYS ON THE PACIFIC or The Young Derelict Hunters THE MOTOR BOYS IN THE CLOUDS or A Trip for Fame and Fortune THE MOTOR BOYS OVER THE ROCKIES or A Mystery of the Air THE MOTOR BOYS OVER THE OCEAN or A Marvelous Rescue in Mid-Air THE MOTOR BOYS ON THE WING or Seeking the Airship Treasure THE MOTOR BOYS AFTER A FORTUNE or The Hut on Snake Island THE MOTOR BOYS ON THE BORDER or Sixty Nuggets of Gold THE MOTOR BOYS UNDER THE SEA or From Airship to Submarine THE MOTOR BOYS ON ROAD AND RIVER or Racing to Save a Life THE MOTOR BOYS AT BOXWOOD HALL or Ned, Bob and Jerry as Freshmen THE MOTOR BOYS ON A RANCH or Ned, Bob and Jerry Among the Cowboys THE MOTOR BOYS IN THE ARMY or Ned, Bob and Jerry as Volunteers THE MOTOR BOYS ON THE FIRING LINE or Ned, Bob and Jerry Fighting for Uncle Sam THE MOTOR BOYS BOUND FOR HOME or Ned, Bob and Jerry on the Wrecked Troopship THE MOTOR BOYS ON THUNDER MOUNTAIN or The Treasure Box of Blue Rock
CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY. Publishers New York