Boy Scouts in the Coal Caverns, Or The Light in Tunnel Six
By Major Archibald Lee Fletcher
CAMPING IN THE BREAKER
"And so I says to myself, says I, give me a good husky band of Boy Scouts! They'll do the job if it can be done!"
Case Canfield, caretaker, sat back in a patched chair in the dusky, unoccupied office of the Labyrinth mine and addressed himself to four lads of seventeen who were clad in the khaki uniform of the Boy Scouts of America.
Those of our readers who have read the previous books of this series will have good cause to remember George Benton, Charley ("Sandy") Green, Tommy Gregory and Will Smith. The adventures of these lads among the Pictured Rocks of Old Superior, among the wreckers and reptiles of the Florida Everglades, in the caverns of the Great Continental Divide, and among the snows of the Hudson Bay wilderness have been recorded under appropriate titles in previous works.
The four boys were members of the Beaver Patrol, Chicago. Will Smith was Scoutmaster, while George Benton was Patrol Leader. They wore upon the sleeves of their coats medals showing that they had passed the examination as Ambulance Aids, Stalkers, Pioneers and Seamen.
Instructed by Mr. Horton, a well-known criminal lawyer of Chicago, the boys had reached the almost deserted mine at dusk of a November day. There they had found Canfield, the caretaker, waiting for them in a dimly-lighted office. The mine had not been operated for a number of months, not because the veins had given out, but because of some misunderstanding between the owners of mines in that section.
The large, bare room in which the caretaker and the Boy Scouts met was in the breaker. There was no fire in the great heater, and the tables and chairs were black with dust. A single electric light shone down from the ceiling, creating long, ghost-like shadows as it swayed about in a gentle wind blowing through a broken window.
"Well," Tommy Gregory said, as the caretaker paused, "you've got the Boy Scouts, and it remains for you to set us to work."
"And a sturdy looking lot, too!" grinned the caretaker.
"Oh, Mr. Horton wouldn't be apt to send a lot of cripples!" laughed Sandy Green. "He's next to his job, that man is!"
"I presume he told you all about the case?" suggested Canfield.
"Indeed he did not," replied Will Smith.
"Not a thing about it?" asked the caretaker.
"He only said that you would give us full instructions."
"That's strange!" Canfield observed thoughtfully.
"Perhaps he thought we wouldn't want to undertake the job if we knew exactly what it was!" suggested Sandy.
"It is a queer kind of a job," Canfield admitted, "but I don't think you boys would be apt to back out because of a little danger."
"I wanted to back out several times," laughed Tommy, "but, somehow, these others boys wouldn't permit me to."
"Go on and tell us about it," urged Sandy. "Tell us just what you want us to do, and then we'll tell you whether we think we can do it or not."
"You've got to find two boys!" replied Canfield.
"Mother of Moses!" exclaimed Tommy. "I hope we haven't got to go and dig up blond-haired little Algernon, or discover pretty little Clarence, and turn a bunch of money over to him!"
"I think these two boys may have money coming to them," the caretaker replied. "There must be money back of it or the friends of the lads wouldn't be giving me cash to spent in their interest."
"Where are these boys?" asked Will.
"I've heard the opinion expressed that the boys are somewhere in the mine!" answered Canfield. "I can hardly believe that they are, but it has been suggested that we may as well begin the search under ground."
"Where do these boys belong?" asked George.
"Anywhere and everywhere," was the reply. "Jimmie Maynard and Dick Thompson came here as breaker boys six months ago. They were ragged and dirty, and appeared to be as tough as two young bears. They worked steadily until the day before the mine closed down and then they disappeared."
"That's easy," declared Tommy. "They got tired of work!"
"That may be," answered the caretaker, "but they certainly didn't get tired of drawing their pay. They went away leaving about eight dollars the two of them in the care of the company."
"Then something must have happened to them!" Will suggested.
"Who's looking for these boys?" asked George.
"A New York lawyer," was the reply. "I know nothing whatever about the man. In fact, I don't know why he wants to find out where the boys are. He sends me money and tells me to continue my quest until the boys are found, and then to send them to New York."
"So you have entire charge of the search," said Sandy, tentatively.
"Yes," was the reply, "except for Joe Ventner. He's a detective sent on from New York by this Burlingame person, the lawyer to whom I referred a short time ago."
"What part of the world is he searching?" asked Will.
"He seems to think that the boys ran away because of some childish prank put on by them the night before. They broke some windows in a couple of shanties down by the tracks, or, at least, the other boys say they did, and Joe thinks they ran away because of that. He accounts in that way for them not calling after their pay envelopes."
"So he thinks they've gone out of the country, does he."
"Yes," was the reply. "He comes back here every few days to ask if I have heard anything regarding the youngsters, and then goes away again. If you leave it to me, I don't think the fellow is working very hard in the case. There's a half a dozen saloons in a little dump of a place about ten miles away, and my idea is that he puts in a good deal of his time there."
"You don't seem to take to this detective?" asked George.
"Oh, I don't know, as he's so much worse than the average private detective," replied the caretaker. "He's out for his day's wages, and the easier he can get them, the better it suits him."
"So you don't know who wants these boys, or what they're wanted for?" asked Will. "Lawyer Burlingame never took you into his confidence so far as to post you on the details of the case?"
"He never did!" answered the caretaker.
"Is he liberal with his money?" asked George.
"He pays all the bills I send in," was the answer. "And seems to keep this bum detective pretty well supplied with ten dollar bills."
"We may have to investigate this investigator!" laughed Sandy.
"Did Mr. Horton say anything to you about your lodgings while here?" asked the caretaker. "It's getting too cold here for me, and we may as well be shifting to warmer quarters."
"You said a short time ago," Will began, "that you rather thought we ought to begin this search in the mine itself."
"That's my idea!" answered the caretaker.
"Do you think the boys are hiding in the mine?"
"Well, there are some things connected with the case which point in that direction," replied Canfield. "For instance, there's a lot of queer things going on underground."
"Ghosts?" demanded Tommy.
"You're not steering us up against a haunted mine, are you?" asked George with a wink at his chum. "That would be too good to be true!"
"I haven't said anything about ghosts or haunted mines," chuckled the caretaker. "I'm only saying that there are queer things taking place in the mine. Now there's Tunnel Six," he went on, "I have seen lights there with my own eyes, when I know there wasn't a person within two miles of the spot except myself. And I've heard noises, too! These unaccountable noises which make a man think of graveyards and ghosts."
"But why should two healthy, active boys want to seek such a hiding place?" asked Will. "It certainly can't be very pleasant in the dark and damp tunnels! Besides, where would they get their provisions?"
"I'm not arguing the case, lads," the caretaker replied, "I'm placing the case in your hands without instructions. I only suggest that you look in the mine first, but you don't have to do that unless you want to!"
"I don't see how we can find fault with that arrangement!" laughed Will. "And now," he went on, let's arrange about our lodgings. In the first place, who knows that we are here on this job?"
"Not a soul, unless some one saw you coming into the breaker!"
"That's just as it should be," Will went on. "Now I propose that we camp out in the breaker. There must be a cozy corner somewhere, under the chutes, or in back of a staircase, or away up under the roof, where we can camp out while we are going through the mine."
"You won't find the old breaker a very comfortable place to live in," suggested Canfield.
"Well, we can line the walls of some little cubbyhole with canvas if necessary, and you can string a wire in so as to give us electricity for heating and lighting, and we can live as comfortable as four bugs in a rug. If we keep out of sight during the day time, no one will ever suspect that we are here."
"Have it your own way!" replied Canfield. "I'll see that you get plenty to eat and plenty of bed clothing."
"That'll help some!" laughed Tommy. "During the night we can travel through the mine with our lights, and during the daytime we can crawl into our little beds and sleep our heads off!"
"When do you want your first load of provisions?" asked Canfield.
"Right now, tonight!" replied Sandy.
"Well, come along then," Canfield said, rising from his chair, "and I'll let you pick out a spot for your camp, as you call it."
After quite an extended search through the breaker the boys selected a small room on the ground floor, from which one window looked out on the half deserted yard where the weigh-house stood. The room was perhaps twenty feet in size each way, and the walls were of heavy planking. The whole apartment was sadly in need of it scrubbing, but the lads concluded to postpone that until some future date.
"I can bring in cot beds and bedding," the caretaker announced, "and string the electric wire for heating, lighting, and cooking before I go to bed. That will leave you all shipshape in the morning, and you can then begin your cleaning up as soon as you please."
The caretaker was as good as his word, and before ten o'clock the cots and bedding were in place, also an electric heater and an electric plate for cooking had been moved into the apartment.
Not considering it advisable to go out for supper, Canfield had also brought in provisions in the shape of bacon, potatoes, eggs, bread, butter, coffee, and various grades of canned goods, so the boys had made a hearty meal and had plenty left for breakfast. While cooking they had covered the one window with a heavy piece of canvas.
"Now you're all, tight and snug for the night," the caretaker smiled, as he turned back from the door and glanced over the rather cozy-looking room. "If I'm about here during the night, I'll look in upon you again."
Canfield stepped out and closed the door behind him. Then he came back and looked in again with a big smile on his face.
"Do you boys know anything about mines?" he asked.
"Not, a thing!" replied Tommy.
"Then don't you go climbing down the ladders and wandering around in the gangways tonight," the caretaker warned.
"Say, there's an idea!" Tommy said to Sandy, with a wink, as Canfield went out. "How do you think one of these mammoth coal mines looks, any way?"
"Cut that out, boys!" exclaimed Will. "If I catch one of you attempting the ladders tonight, I'll tie you up!"
"Who said anything about going down the ladders tonight?" demanded Tommy.
THE CALL OF THE PACK
It was somewhere near midnight when the boys sought their beds. Will and George were soon asleep, but Tommy and Sandy had no notion of passing their first night in the mine in slumber. Ten minutes after the regular breathing of the two sleepers became audible, Tommy sat up in his bed and deftly threw a pillow so as to strike Sandy in the face.
"Cut it out!" whispered Sandy. "You don't have to do anything to wake me up! I've been wondering for a long time whether you hadn't gone to sleep! You looked sleepy when the light went out."
"Never was so wide awake in my life!" declared Tommy.
"Well, get up and dress," advised Sandy. "If we get into the mine tonight, we'll have to hurry!"
"Have you figured out how we're going to get into the mine?" asked Tommy. "It will be the ladders for us, I guess."
"Of course, it'll be the ladders!" replied Sandy.
"Do you suppose Canfield is coming here in the middle of the night to turn on the power?"
"I wonder how deep the shaft is?" asked Tommy. "I guess this one must be about five hundred feet."
"Is that a guess, or a piece of positive information?"
"It's a guess," laughed Sandy, drawing on his shoes and walking softly across the bare floor in the direction of the shaft.
The boys passed out of the sleeping chamber into a passage which led directly to the shaft of the mine. This shaft was perhaps twenty feet in width. It included the air shaft, the division where the pumps were operated, and two divisions for the cages which lifted the coal from the bottom of the mine. The pumps were not working, of course, and no air was being forced down.
One of the cages lay at the top so the other must have been at the bottom of the shaft. As the boys looked down into the shaft, Tommy seized his chum by the arm and whispered:
"Did you see that light down there?"
"Light nothing!" declared Sandy.
"But I did see a light!" insisted the other.
"Perhaps you did," replied Sandy, "but if there's any light there it's merely a reflection from our electrics. There may be a metallic surface down there which throws back the light rays."
"Have it your own way!" grunted Tommy. "You know yourself that the caretaker said there were lights in the mine which no one could account for and he especially mentioned the light in Tunnel Six.
"All right!" Sandy grinned. "We'll sneak down so quietly that any person who happens to be at the bottom of the shaft with the light will never suspect that we are within a hundred miles of the place. We may be able to geezle the fellow that's making the ghost walk around here nights."
The boys took to the ladders and moved down as silently as possible. Now and then a rung creaked softly under their feet, but they got to the bottom without any special mishap.
Tommy drew a long breath when at last they landed at the bottom of the shaft. He threw his light upward, then, and declared that in his opinion they were at least ten thousand feet nearer the center of the earth than they were when they started down.
"I remember now," Sandy said with a grin, "that the Labyrinth mine is only about five hundred feet deep. If I remember correctly, there are three levels; one at three hundred feet; one at four, and one at five."
"And which level is this?" asked Tommy. "Why, we're on the bottom, ain't we?"
"Of course," laughed Tommy. "I ought to have known that!"
"Well come along if you want to see the mine!" urged Sandy. "All we have to do is to push our searchlights ahead and walk down the gangway. We'll come to something worth seeing after a while."
As the boys advanced they found the gangway considerably cluttered with "gob," or refuse, and the air was none of the best.
"I wish we could set the air shaft working," suggested Sandy.
"Well, we can't!" Tommy answered with a scornful shrug of his shoulders. "We can't set the whole works going in order to give us a midnight view of the Labyrinth mine. What gets me is how are we going to find our way back? There seem to be a good many passages here."
"I've got that fixed all right!" Sandy exclaimed.
As the lad spoke he took a ball of strong string from his pocket and tied one end to the cage which lay at the bottom of the shaft.
"Now we can go anywhere we please," he chuckled, "and when we want to return, all we've got to do is to follow the string."
"Quite an idea!" laughed Tommy.
The boys proceeded along the gangway, walking between the rails of the tramway by means of which the coal was delivered at the bottom of the shaft. The experience was a novel one to them. The dark walls of the passage, the echoes which came from the counter gangways, the monotonous dripping of water, as it seeped through seams and crevices in the rock, all gave a weird and uncanny expression to the place.
After walking for some distance the boys came to a level which showed several inches of water.
"We can't wade through that!" Tommy declared.
"Well," Sandy suggested, "if we go back a little ways, we can follow a cross heading and get into the mine by another way."
The boys followed this plan, and, after winding about several half-loaded cars which had been left on the tramway, found themselves in a large chamber from which numerous benches were cut.
"Where does all this gas come from?" asked Tommy stopping short and putting a hand to his nose.
"There must be a blower somewhere," Sandy explained.
"What's a blower?" demanded Tommy. "What does it look like, and does it always smell like this?"
"It doesn't look like anything!" replied Sandy. "It's composed of natural gas, and they call it a blower because it blows up out of crevices in the coal and in the rocks."
"If I should light a match, would it set it on, fire?" asked Tommy.
"I wouldn't like to have you try it!"
The boys continued on their way for some moments, and then Tommy stopped and extinguished his light, whispering to Sandy to do the same.
"What's that for?" demanded the latter.
"Didn't you hear that noise behind the cribbing?" asked Tommy.
"Rats nothing!" replied Tommy. "Rats don't make sounds like people whispering, do they? Keep still a minute, and we'll find out what it is!"
"You'll be, seeing a light next!" Sandy suggested.
"I see it now!" answered Tommy.
Sandy saw it, too, in a moment. It seemed at first to be floating in the air at the very top of the gangway. It moved from side to side, and finally dropped down nearer to the floor. There seemed to be no one near it or under it. Its small circle of illumination showed only the empty air.
"What do you make of it?" asked Tommy.
"Is this Tunnel Six?" asked his chum.
"I don't know! If it is, we've seen the light the caretaker referred to. We'll have a great story to tell in the morning!"
The boys stood in the darkness of the gangway watching the light for what seemed to them to be a long time. Now the light advanced toward them, now it receded. Now it lifted to the roof of the gangway, now it dropped almost to the floor.
At intervals, the noises behind the cribbing to which Tommy had referred were repeated, and the boys at last moved over so as to stand with their ears almost against the wooden walls.
"There is some one behind the cribbing, all right!" Tommy declared. "I hear some one breathing."
"Aw, keep still!" whispered Sandy. "If there is anyone there, you'll frighten them away! I though I heard some one myself!"
"I'll tell you what I think," Tommy suggested in a moment, "and that is that either Will and George, or both of them, beat us to this gangway. They are hiding behind there on purpose to give us a scare."
"That's a dream!" replied Sandy. "We left them both asleep."
"Dream, is it?" repeated Tommy scornfully. "You just listen to the sound that comes from behind this cribbing, and tell me what you make of it!"
Both boys listened intently for a moment, and then Sandy switched on his light and moved swiftly along the cribbing as if in search of an opening. Tommy gazed at him in astonishment.
"You've gone and done it now!" he said.
"There's some one in here all right!" Sandy explained. "Did you hear the call of the pack a minute ago? There are Boy Scouts in there, and what we hear are the signals of the Wolf Patrol."
"That's right!" cried Tommy excitedly. "That's right!"
WHO CUT THE STRING
"Do you suppose he would understand the call of the Beaver Patrol?" asked Sandy. "I'm going to try him, anyway!"
The boy brought his hands together in imitation of the slap of a beaver's tail on the water, and listened for some reply.
"He'll understand that if he's up on Boy Scout literature," suggested Sandy. "He ought to be wise to the signs of the different patrols if he's a good Boy Scout."
There was a short silence, broken only by the constant drip of the water in an adjoining chamber and then the call of the pack came again, clearly, sharply and apparently only a short distance away.
"What did Mr. Canfield call those two boys we are looking after?" asked Sandy, after waiting a short time for the repetition of the sound.
"Jimmie Maynard and Dick Thompson," replied Tommy.
Sandy threw out his chest and cried out at the top of his lungs.
"Hello, Jimmie! Hello, Dick!"
The lad's voice echoed dismally throughout the labyrinth of passages, but there was no other reply. Tommy and Sandy gave the call of the Beaver Patrol repeatedly, but the call of the Wolf pack was heard no more.
"I'll bet it's some trick!" exclaimed Sandy after waiting in the chamber for a long time in the hope of hearing another call from the boys who were hidden somewhere behind the cribbing.
"What do you mean by trick?" demanded Tommy.
"Why, I mean that some of the breaker boys, out of work because of the stoppage of operations, may have sneaked into the mine on purpose to produce the impression that there are ghosts here."
"But ghosts wouldn't be giving signals of the Wolf Patrol, would they?" asked Tommy.
"Not unless they were Scouts," replied the other.
"Oh, well, of course the kids would want to test us, wouldn't they, seeing that we were only boys?"
"Well, we've discovered one thing by coming down here," said Tommy, "and that is that there really are people in the mine who have no business here."
"Then we may as well go back to bed," advised Sandy.
"Do you know how many corners we've turned since we came in here?" asked Tommy.
"About a thousand, I guess," replied Sandy.
"Yes, and we'd have a fine old time getting out if you hadn't brought that ball of twine!"
"Tell you what we'll do," Sandy said, as the boys turned their faces down the gangway, "we'll pass around the next shoulder of rock and then shut off our lights. Perhaps, the kids who gave the cry of the pack in there will then show their light again."
"That's a good idea, too!"
The boys came at length to a brattice, which is a screen, of either wood or heavy cloth, set up in a passage to divert the current of air to a bench where workmen are engaged, and dodged down behind it, after turning off their lights, of course,
"Now, come on with your old light," whispered Tommy.
As if in answer to the boy's challenge, the light showed again, apparently but a few yards way from their hiding place.
A moment later the call of pack sounding louder than before, rang through the passage. The boys sprang to their feet and switched on their lights.
"Why don't you come out and show yourselves?" shouted Tommy.
"I don't believe you're Scouts at all!" declared Sandy.
There was no answer. The boys could hear the drip of water and the purring of the current as it crept into a lower gang-way, but that was all.
"That settles it for tonight!" exclaimed Tommy. "I'm not going to hang around here waiting for Boy Scouts who don't respond to signals!"
"That's me!" agreed Sandy. "We'll go to bed and think the matter over. There may be some way of trapping those fellows."
"Suppose it should be Jimmie Maynard and Dick Thomson?" asked Tommy.
"Then we'd have the case closed up in a jiffy!" was the reply.
Before leaving that particular chamber, Tommy selected a large round piece of "Gob," placed it in the center of the open space, and laid another small piece of shale on top of it.
"What are you doing that for?" demanded Sandy.
"Don't you know your Indian signs?" demanded the boy. "This means, 'this is the trail.' Now I'll put one stone to the right and that will tell these imitation Boy Scouts to turn to the right if they want to get out."
"I guess they can get out if they want to," suggested Sandy.
Thirty or forty feet further on, where, following the string, the boys turned again, this time to the left, Tommy laid another signal which showed the direction to be taken.
"There," he said with a grin, "we've started them on the right path. If they don't want to follow it, that isn't our fault!"
"We must be getting pretty near the shaft," Sandy said, after the boys had walked for nearly half an hour on the backward track.
"Pull on your string," suggested Tommy, "and see if it stiffens up like only a short length of it remained out."
Sandy did as requested, and then dropped to the floor with his searchlight laid along the extension of the cord.
"The other end is loose!" he said in a tone of alarm.
"Loose?" echoed Tommy. "How did it ever get loose?"
Sandy sat down on the floor of the passage and began drawing the cord in, hand over hand.
"I'm going to see if it's been cut!" he said.
Tommy stepped on the swiftly moving cord and held it fast to the floor.
"You mustn't draw it in!" he exclaimed. "As long as it lies on the floor as we strung it out, we can follow it without taking any chances. If you pull it in, then it's all off."
"I understand!" Sandy agreed. "I didn't pull much of it in."
The boys started up the gangway, one of them keeping a searchlight on the white thread of cord.
They seemed to make a great many turns and once or twice Sandy declared that they were walking round and round in a circle.
"I don't believe the passages run so we could walk around in a circle!" argued Tommy. "That ain't the way they run passages in mines!"
"I don't care!" Sandy insisted. "We've been turning to the left about all the time, and if you leave it to me, we'll presently come out in the chamber where we heard the call of the pack!"
"That may be right," admitted Tommy. "It does seem as if we'd been turning to the left most of the time. Besides," he went on, "we've been walking long enough to have reached the shaft three or four times."
"And yet," argued Sandy, "we've been following the line of the cord every step. It lies right in the middle of the gangway here, and we're going the way it points all the time."
This bit of reasoning seemed to give the boys fresh courage, and they walked on, expecting every moment to come in sight of the frame work which surrounded the shaft. At length, after a long half hour, Tommy stumbled over an obstruction lying in a chamber which somehow seemed strangely familiar. He lifted his foot and gave the obstruction a hearty kick.
"That's my Indian sign of the trail!" grunted Sandy.
"For the love of Mike!" exclaimed Tommy. "Have we been traveling all this time to come out in this same old hole at last?"
"That's what we have!" replied Sandy. "If we had paid no attention to the string whatever and followed the rails when we came to the main gang way, we would have been home and in bed by this time!"
"But we didn't," grinned Tommy. "We thought we had a cinch on getting out by way of this cord and so we followed that. I don't see, though," he continued, "how we came back to this same old chamber by following the cord. That looks queer to me!"
"I'll tell you how!" replied Sandy. "There's some gink been walking on ahead of us stringing the cord out for us to follow!"
Tommy sat down on the bottom of the chamber and wrinkled his freckled nose provokingly.
"We're a couple of easy marks!" he laughed.
"Easy marks is no name for, it!"
"Well, what'll we do now to get out?" Tommy asked. "First thing we know, it'll be daylight, and then Will and George'll be calling out the police to find us. We ought to get home before they wake."
"I'm willing!" declared Sandy. "I'd like to be in my little bed this minute! I've had about enough of this foul air!"
The boys passed along until they came to the second trail sign and then stopped. Tommy pointed down to it with a hand which was not quite steady and looked up into his chum's face with frightened eyes.
"That's been moved!" he said.
"How do you know it's been moved?"
"Because you had the side stone on the other edge."
"I don't think I did!" argued Sandy.
The boys puzzled over the situation for a few moments, and then proceeded down the chamber looking for the tramway rails.
They passed from chamber to chamber and finally came to a place where the slope was upward.
"I guess we've struck it at last!" Sandy exclaimed.
"But there are no rails here!" Tommy argued.
"Then we're on the wrong track again," admitted Sandy.
He bent down to the rock with his searchlight and pointed out evidences that the passage had once been laid with rails.
"When they strip a chamber or a counter gangway," he said, "they take away the rails. It seems that we are now in a part of the Labyrinth mine which has been worked out."
"I know what to do!" exclaimed Tommy. "I'll give the call of the Beaver Patrol and tell those ginks who have been giving the call of the pack that we're lost! That ought to bring them out of their holes."
The Beaver call was given time after time, but no reply came.
"Say," Tommy said after his patience had become exhausted, "I believe it's daylight. Look at your watch. I left mine in the bed!"
"I left mine in bed, too," answered Sandy. "I know it is day, because I'm hungry."
A SENSATIONAL DISCOVERY
When Will awoke he began preparations for breakfast before paying any attention whatever to his chums, whom he believed to be sleeping quietly on their cots. It was November, and quite chilly in the apartment, so his next efforts were directed to coaxing the electric coils into a cheery glow.
Presently George came tumbling out in his pajamas and sat down on a rickety chair to talk of the adventures in prospect.
"I wonder if the Labyrinth mine is so much of a labyrinth after all?" he asked. "It seems to me that we might find our way through it without danger of losing ourselves," he continued with a yawn.
"It's some labyrinth, I take it," Will replied.
"Well, we can make chalk marks on the walls as we move along," suggested George. "Besides," he added, "we can string an electric wire through the center gangway and turn on the lights."
"There are probably electric lights there now," answered Will.
"Then there's no danger of our becoming lost," George argued.
"I wish you'd go to the back of the room and tip over those two cots," grinned Will. "It's the hardest kind of work to get Tommy and Sandy to bed, but when you do get them in bed once, it's harder still to get them out of it. Just tip the cots over and roll 'em out on the floor."
George approached the two cots in a stealthy manner and made ready to give Tommy and Sandy the bump of their lives.
"Don't break their necks!" advised Will.
As soon as George reached Tommy's bunk he stretched forth a hand for the purpose of tangling the boy up in the bed clothing so that his fall to the hard floor might be in a measure broken.
As, he swung his hand over the cot, however, his eyes widened and he called out to Will that the boys were not in their cots.
There was a look of alarm as well as of annoyance on each face as the lads thought over the situation.
"The little idiots!" exclaimed Will.
"That isn't strong enough!" George corrected.
"There's no knowing how long they've been gone," Will suggested. "The chances are that they went away as soon as we went to sleep."
"In that case, they're in trouble!" George declared.
"In what kind of trouble?"
"The good Lord only knows!" replied George. "Tommy and Sandy can get into more different kinds of trouble in less time than any other boys on the face of the earth. They're the original lookers for trouble!"
"Do you suppose they've got lost in the mine?" asked Will.
"It may be worse than that!"' cried George. "They may have butted into some of the people the caretaker indirectly referred to last night."
"He did speak of strange noises and mysterious lights, didn't he?"
"He certainly did, and I've got a hunch that Sandy and Tommy have butted into some hostile interests.
"It does seem as if they would be back by this time unless they were in trouble!"
The boys prepared an elaborate breakfast in the hope that Tommy and Sandy, who would be sure to be hungry, would return in time to partake of it. A dozen times during the meal they walked back to the shaft opening and looked anxiously down into the dark bowels of the mine.
"Those fellows are always getting into trouble," Will said, rather crossly, as he stood looking down. "They have a way of running into most of their dangers at night, too. It was the same up on Lake Superior, the same in the snake-haunted Everglades of Florida; the same on the Rocky Mountains, and the same in the Hudson Bay country."
"They sure do keep things moving," grinned George.
"I think," Will suggested after a time, "that we'd better find Canfield and get his advice before we do anything in the way of setting up a search. I hate to admit that two members of our party got into a scrape on the same night we struck the mine, but I guess there's, no way out of it."
While the boys talked together, the door opened softly and the caretaker entered, accompanied by a short, paunchy man with a very red face and eyes which were black, small and suspicious. He was a man well past middle age, but he seemed to be making a bluff at thirty-five. His hair, which had turned white at the temples, and his moustache were both dyed black.
Canfield introduced the new-comer as the detective, Joe Ventner, of New York, and the boys greeted him courteously.
He accepted their proffered hands with an air of condescension which was most exasperating. He puffed out his chest, and at once began talking of some of his alleged exploits in the secret service of the government.
"How did you pass the night, boys?" ask Canfield.
"Slept like pigs," replied Will with a laugh.
"Where are the others?" asked Canfield.
"They're out getting a breath of fresh air, I reckon," answered George.
The boys did not take to the detective at all. There was an air of insincerity about the man which at once put them on their guard.
Had Canfield visited them alone, they would have explained to him the exact situation. In the presence of this detective, however, they decided to do nothing of the kind.
"Now then," the detective said after a moment's silence, "if you boys will outline the course you intend to pursue in this matter, I think we can arrange to work together without our plans clashing."
"We have talked the matter over during the night," Will replied, "and have decided to remain here only long enough to obtain some clue as to the direction taken by the boys in their departure."
"Then you think they are not here?" asked the detective.
"There is no reason why they should be here, is there?" asked Will.
"I don't know that there is," replied Ventner.
"Can you imagine any reason for their wanting to linger about the mine?" asked George.
"No," was the reply. "It has always been my opinion that the boys left the mine because they feared arrest for some boyish offense committed in some other part of the country, and that they are now far away from this place."
Both lads observed that the detective seemed particularly pleased with the statement that they proposed to abandon the search of the mine immediately. Somehow, they caught the impression that they would interfere with his plans if they remained.
"It might be well," Ventner said, directly, "to keep me posted as to any discoveries you may make. We must work together, you know."
"Certainly," replied Will, speaking with a mental reservation which did not include giving up of any information worth while.
"Well, then I'll be going," the detective said, strutting across the room, with his little round belly protruding like that of an insect. "You can always find me at the hotel down here, if I'm in this part of the country. Just ask for me ask for me and I'll show up."
Canfield was turning to depart with the detective when Will motioned him to remain. The caretaker turned back with a surprised look.
Will waited until the door had closed on the detective before speaking. Even then, he went to the door and glanced down the passage.
"Something exciting?" smiled the caretaker, noting the boy's caution.
Will answered, "There's something exciting. Tommy and Sandy disappeared during the night."
"Disappeared?" echoed the caretaker.
"Yes," George cut in, "there was some talk of their visiting the mine just before we went to bed, and we are of the opinion that they went down the shaft shortly after we fell asleep, and failed to find their way to the surface again. We are considerably alarmed."
"I should think you would be!" replied the caretaker. "In the first place, the Labyrinth mine bears the right name. There are old workings below which a stranger might follow for days without finding the way out."
"Then we'll have to organize a search for the boys," George suggested.
"Besides,"' continued Canfield, "there are things going on in the mine which no one understands. I have long believed that there are people living there who have no right to take up such a residence."
"I'm sorry you said anything to this detective about our being here," Will said after this phase of the case had been discussed.
"As a matter of fact," the caretaker replied, "I didn't intend to say anything to Ventner about your being here, but in some way he received an intimation that you were about to take up the case and so pumped the whole story out of me."
"Perhaps he received his information from the New York attorney," suggested Will.
"I'm sure that he did not," answered the caretaker. "If the attorney had written to him in regard to the matter at all, he would have posted him so fully that when he cross-examined me such a proceeding would have been unnecessary."
"Has this man Ventner visited the mine often?" asked George.
"Yes, quite frequently."
"Does he always go alone?"
"Yes, he always goes alone," was the answer. "Once I accompanied him to the bottom of the shaft but there he suggested that we go in different directions, and did not seem to want me anywhere near him."
"I don't like the looks of the fellow, and that's a fact!" exclaimed Will. "He doesn't look good to me."
After some discussion it was decided that the caretaker would accompany the two boys to the bottom of the shaft and direct them down gangways, which they could follow without fear of losing their way, and the illumination of which would be likely to be observed by anyone wandering about the blind chambers and passages of the mine.
When they reached the bottom of the shaft, climbing down the ladders, as Tommy and Sandy had done some hours before, they gathered in a little group at the bottom while the caretaker gave them a few general instructions regarding the general outlines of the Labyrinth of tunnels, chambers and cross passages which lay before them.
"Did any one come down after us?" asked Will directly.
"No one," was the reply. "Why do you ask?"
"Because," Will answered, "there's some one skulking off down that passage, and it looks to me like that bum detective!"
THE FLOODED MINE
"What makes you think it's Ventner?" asked the caretaker. "Did you see his face? I don't think he is here."
"I didn't see his face," answered Will, "but I saw the shape of his shoulders and the hang-dog look of him."
"You're prejudiced against Ventner," laughed Canfield.
"I admit it!" replied Will. "He looks to me like snake in the grass. I don't think anything he could do would look good to me."
"Now," Canfield said, "perhaps we'd better be mapping out a plan of campaign. There are three gangways leading in three different directions. We'll leave one of the lights burning at the shaft, then we'll each take a light and proceed into the interior, making as much noise as we conveniently can, and flashing the light into all the chambers and cross headings we come to."
"How long are these gangways?" asked Will.
"Somewhere near a half a mile straight ahead," was the answer.
The caretaker went away swinging his electric searchlight, and Will and George pushed forward in their respective passages.
After proceeding a short distance, George heard Will calling to him.
"There's some one just ahead of me in the gangway!" Will declared. "I think we ought to go together!"
"Do you think it's that bum detective?" asked George.
"I certainly do!"
"Well, we can go together if you like," George said. "We can't cover quite as much ground in that way, but I guess we can accomplish more in the long run!"
The boys had proceeded only a short distance when they heard Canfield calling to them. A moment later they heard the caretaker's steps ringing on the hard floor of the gangway down which they were advancing. He came up to them, panting, in a moment.
"There's something mighty queer about this mine," the caretaker declared. "It was punk dry only two days ago, and now there are four or five feet of water where the gangway I started to follow dips down.
"And look there!" Will exclaimed holding his light aloft and pointing, "you can see plenty of water ahead! I guess all the gangways are taking a washing, and the water seems to be rising, too!"
"Is there any way by which the mine could be intentionally flooded?" asked George. "There may be some one planning trouble for the owners."
"There is only one way that I know of in which the mine could be flooded intentionally," replied the caretaker. "There is a large drain, of course, in what is known as the sump. Considerable water runs off in that way, and the rest of the drippings are taken out by the pumps. If this sump drainage could become clogged, the mine, of course, would become flooded though not to such an extent, unless the pumps were kept constantly at work."
"Then I guess you'd better set the pumps going," Will suggested. "We can't get into the mine in its present condition unless we swim."
"Haven't you got a boat?" asked George.
"Why, yes," replied the caretaker. "There's a couple of boats somewhere in the mine. The operators placed them here thinking they might come in handy at some future time, but I haven't any idea where they are now. Still, I think they're not far away."
"If you'll go and set the pumps in motion," Will advised, "George and I'll look around for the boats. We may need them before the pumps get under motion the way the water is pouring in now."
"I guess Tommy and Sandy don't come back because they're penned in by water," George suggested, as the boys began searching the vicinity of the shaft for the boats.
"If they're anywhere within hearing distance, they ought to answer us when we called out, hadn't they?" asked Will.
"We haven't tried that yet," George answered. "Suppose we let out a couple of yells!"
To think in this case was to act, and the boys did let out a couple of yells which brought the caretaker running back from the shaft.
The boys were listening for some answer to their shouts when he arrived, and so they paid little attention to his numerous questions.
"There is no time to lose," Canfield went on. "I'll go to the top at once and call an engineer and a couple of firemen. When you find the beat, take a trip down the main gangway here and stick your lights into all the cross-headings and chambers you see. But, above all," he continued, "don't fail to leave a light here at a shaft, and be careful that you never pass out of sight of it."
Canfield hastened away, climbing the ladders two rungs at a time, and soon disappeared into the little dot of light at the top.
The two boys searched patiently for the boat for a long time, but did not succeed in discovering it. At last, Will suggested that it might be in the mule stable and thither they went.
The boat was there, in excellent condition, and the boys soon had it swinging to and fro on the surface of the water which now lay several feet deep in the main gangway.
"Jerusalem!" exclaimed George, taking the depth of the water with an oar, "if the water is four feet deep here, how deep must it be at the middle of the dip?"
"About forty rods, I should think!" exaggerated Will.
The boys left a large searchlight at the shaft so situated that it looked straight down the passage they proposed following, and started away in the boat. The flashlights illuminated only a small portion of the underground place, but the boys could see some distance straight ahead.
Once they ceased rowing to listen, believing that they had heard calls from the darkness beyond. The sound was not repeated, and they were about to proceed when a sound which brought all their nervous energy into full swing reached their ears.
It was a bumping of an oar or paddle against the side of a boat. The blow echoed through the cavern as sharply as a pistol shot might have done. There could be no mistake in the cause.
"Now who's in that other boat?"
"Somehow," George grumbled in a whisper, "we always have propositions like that put up to us! There's always a mystery in every trip we take! We found one on Lake Superior, and one in the Florida Everglades, and one at the top of the Rocky mountains and one in the Hudson Bay wilderness."
"Yes, and we solved them, too!" grinned Will. "And we're going to solve this one! You remember about my seeing some one sneaking in here just ahead of us, don't you?"
"Yes," was the answer. "You thought it was that bum detective."
"I think so yet," replied Will.
"If it's the detective," asked George, "why didn't he give the alarm when he found that the mine was being flooded. He might at least have done that and saved the company a great deal of expense and trouble."
"Give it up," replied Will. "I might ask you," he went on, "why he was rowing away into a flooded mine which is supposed to be deserted."
"And I'd have to give you the answer you gave me," George declared.
The boys could now hear the strokes of the oarsman who was in the lead quite regularly and distinctly. Now and then he turned into crossheadings and chambers, as if to escape from their surveillance, but they kept steadily on after him, not taking into account the fact that they were leaving the light they had set at the shaft far out of view.
"Perhaps we ought to turn back now," George proposed, in a short time, seeing that they came no nearer to the boat in advance. "We left the main gangway some time ago, and we ought not to get too far away from it."
Will turned and looked back, facing only inky blackness.
"We should have stuck to the main gangway," he said. "I don't even remember when we left it. Is it very far back?"
"Some distance," answered George. "You see we followed this other boat without thinking what we were doing."
"Perhaps, if we continue to follow the other boat,' it will lead us somewhere. The fellow rowing must know something about the interior of the mine or he probably wouldn't be here!"
"I've been listening for a minute or more, trying to catch sound of the fellow's oars," George went on, "but there's nothing doing. I guess he's led us into a blind chamber and slipped away!"
"We don't, seem to be lacking for excitement," Will suggested with a grin. "We've lost Tommy and Sandy, and the machinery of the mine has been interfered with and the lower levels axe filling with water! Any old time we start out to do things, there's a general mix-up!"
"Aw, quit growling and listen a minute," suggested George.
The boys listened only for a moment when the sound George had heard was repeated. It was the call of the Wolf pack!
THE BEAVER CALL
"That's Tommy!" exclaimed Will.
"I never knew that he belonged to the Wolf Patrol!" George observed.
"He might give the call without belonging to the Patrol!" urged Will.
The boys listened, but the sound was not repeated, although they called out the names of their chums and gave the Beaver call repeatedly.
"I guess it was a dream," George suggested.
"Then it was the most vivid dream I ever had!" Will declared.
They rowed about the chamber for some moments, searching for the source of the call, but to no purpose.
"Let's go back to the shaft," urged George.
"I'm agreeable," answered Will. "The only question now is whether we can find the shaft. The water is so deep that all branches of the mine look alike to me!"
In passing out of the chamber into another passage the boys were obliged to stoop low in order to avoid what is called a dip.
After passing under the dip so close to the ceiling that the boys were obliged to lie down in the boat in order to protect their heads, they came to a large chamber which seemed to be fairly dry save in the center, where there was a depression of considerable size.
"Nothing doing here!" Will exclaimed as he flashed his searchlight around the place. "This chamber looks as if there hadn't been an ounce of coal mined here for a hundred years."
"Then let's get out," George proposed, "and make our way back to the shaft if possible. If we can't, we'll make noise enough to attract Canfield's attention and let him come and lead us out."
"Here we go, then," cried Will, giving the boat a great push toward the dip. "We can't get out any too fast."
The boat came up against a solid projection of rock!
"I don't seem to see any way out!" George exclaimed.
"Well, it's there somewhere!" declared Will.
"I see it now!" cried George. "It's under water!"
"Under water?" repeated Will.
"Yes, under water!" answered George. "If we get out of this hole before the pumps get to working we'll have to swim!"
Will turned his searchlight on the dip and saw that it was now full clear to the down dropping roof.
"I guess we'll have to swim," he agreed.
"That black water doesn't look good to me," George exclaimed with a little shudder. "It seems to me that I can see snakes and alligators wiggling in it from here. Looks worse to me than the swamps of the Everglades! And there was a quart of snakes to every pint of water down there!"
"But we got to swim just the same!" urged Will. "In half an hour from now the air in this chamber will be unbreathable. There is no vent at all, now that the water fills the dip, and the coal gas is naturally seeping in all the time."
"That's all right, too!" admitted George. "But I'm not going to jump into that black water until I have to. If a rope or something should twine around my legs while I was in there, I'd drop dead with fright! Besides," he went on, "the chances are that Canfield will get the pumps going before long now."
The boys waited for a long half hour, during which time the water rose steadily. It seemed certain that the mine was about to be flooded throughout all the lower levels.
"Tommy and Sandy may have bumped into just such a situation as this," Will said, as he pushed the boat from side to side in the hope of coming upon some exit from the place.
"Serves 'em good and right!" exclaimed George.
Will chuckled to himself and held up a wet hand high up toward the roof of the chamber or passage.
"There's a current of air here!" he said.
"Then we won't smother to dead!" George grunted.
"And, look here," Will continued, as the boat bumped into a pyramid of shale which had been thrown up to within a few inches of the roof, "some one has been building this hill of refuse and using it for a refuge!"
"It does look that way," George agreed. "That shows that, at some time the water must have ascended to the very top of the wall. We may have to climb up there ourselves in order to keep from getting our clothing soaked in that ink down there!"
The water rose higher and higher in the passage, and it seemed to the boys that by this time most of the lower gangways were entirely impassible.
"It doesn't seem to me that the water in this blooming old mine could rise any faster if the whole Mississippi river were turned into it!" cried George in a tone of disgust. "If Canfield doesn't get his pumps going before long, he'll have a job here that'll take him all winter."
"I presume he's doing the best he can," Will argued. "For all we know, the boilers as well as the electric motors may have been tampered with. That would be just our luck!"
"I wonder what's become of that bum detective?" asked George after a short silence. "We heard him rowing along in front of us one minute, and the next minute there wasn't a single sound to indicate that there was another boat in the mine."
"As soon as I get out of this," Will stated, "I'm going to make it my business to find out whether that detective is regularly employed on this case. He looks to me like a crook."
It was dreary waiting there in the sealed-up chamber, and the boys found themselves dropping into long intervals of silence while they listened for the gurgle of the water which would indicate that the great pumps had been set in motion.
During one of these intervals of silence they heard sounds which brought them to their feet in great excitement. Almost unable to believe his ears, Will turned to George with a question on his lips:
"Did you hear that?" he asked.
"Of course I did!"
"I did, too, but I thought I must be dreaming."
"No dream about that!" replied George. "That's the call of the Beaver Patrol!"
"And that means that Tommy and Sandy are not far away!"
"We heard the call of the Wolf Patrol not long ago," suggested George. "I wonder if this blooming old mine is chock full of Boy Scouts of assorted sizes. There can't be too many here to please me!"
The boys returned the Beaver call but no answer came. At times they thought they heard whispers coming from the dark reaches of the cavern, but they were not quite certain.
"There may be real Beavers in here for all we know!" suggested Will.
"That's all you know about it!" chuckled George. "Beavers only operate in running water."
"Well, isn't that water out there running?" asked Will.
"No jokes now!" replied George. "I've got all I can endure now without standing for any of your alleged witticisms!"
While the boys sat in the boat, occasionally moving it from side to side, a shaft of light appeared directly above the point where the shale had been heaped up. It moved swiftly about for an instant and then dropped out of view. It was a moment before either boy spoke.
"That's some of Tommy's foolishness!" Will declared.
George repeated the Beaver call several times, but no answer came.
"That's a searchlight, anyway!" insisted Will. "And I don't believe these ginks in the mines have electric searchlights to lug around with them!"
Will unshipped an oar and struck the water with the flat of the blade several times, exerting his whole strength.
"Keep it up!" advised George. "That sounds exactly like a beaver's tail connecting with the surface of a stream!"
"Yes, keep it up!" cried a voice out of the darkness. "Keep it up, and perhaps some beaver'll come along and build a dam to get you out of that mess you're in! You're always getting into trouble, you two!"
"You've got your nerve with you!" exclaimed Willy, half-angrily. "Here you go out in the night and get lost, and we come out after you, and the mine gets flooded, and we get tied up between the solid wall and a bend in the passage, and then you blame us for getting into trouble!"
"Can you climb?" chuckled Tommy, throwing the rays of his searchlight on the boat. "If you can just mount up on that pile of shale and work your way through the opening between the two levels. This might have been used as a sort of an air hole a few hundred years ago," he went on, "but I'll bet that not one out of a hundred of the miners of today know that there is an opening here!"
Leaving the boat, the boys mounted the pile of shale and were soon making their way up the rugged face of the shaft in the direction of the level, which ran along above the one now being flooded.
"Can you find your way out of this dump, now?" asked Will as the boys stood with their chums at the end of the long passage.
A TREACHEROUS FOE
"There seems to be fewer twists and turns in this level than on the one below it," Tommy explained, "and I guess we can find our way out readily enough. If we don't," he went on, "I shall be obliged to eat a ton or two of coal to keep from starving to death."
"Serves you right!" declared Will. "You had no business getting up in the middle of the night and wandering off into the mine!"
"What did you do?" demanded Tommy.
"We waited until morning, and then enlisted the services of the caretaker," replied Will. "So far as I can remember, this is about the nine hundredth relief expedition we've been out on in search of you boys!"
"Seems to me," Tommy chuckled, "that you're the lads that were in need of the relief expedition. We found you boxed up in a chamber in a boat."
"But we wouldn't have been in any such mess if we hadn't started out to look you up!" George declared.
"We should have been back before you got out of bed this morning, if some one hadn't cut our string," replied Sandy. "We had a cinch on getting out, but some geezer led us a fool chase by cutting our cord and steering us around in a circle."
"Did you see any one?" asked Will.
"Not a soul!" was the reply. "But there's some one in here, just the same. We heard the call of the Wolf Patrol a long time ago and we've heard it several times since."
"What do you mean by some one cutting your string?" asked George.
"Why," replied Sandy, "we tied the loose end of a ball of twine to one of the shaft timbers and unwound the ball as we moved along, expecting to follow it back when we wanted to get out.
"How do you know some one cut it?" asked Will.
"Perhaps you broke it," George suggested.
Sandy took a piece of the cord from his pocket and passed it over to George with a shy chuckle.
"See if you can break that!" he said.
George tried his best to break the string, but it remained firm under all his strength.
The boys now fell into a discussion of the ways and means of getting out of the mine.
"I believe," Sandy exclaimed, "That if we follow the current of air which the rising water is forcing out of this old shaft, we will come to the entrance. As you all know, a current of air takes the shortest way to any given point, and this one ought to blow straight toward the shaft."
"Great head, that, little boy!" laughed Tommy.
After proceeding some distance the steady thud, thud of the pumping machinery was heard, and the boys understood that the efforts of the caretaker were at last bringing results. The sounds also aided them in direction, and in a short time they stood at the shaft on the second level.
When they came out to the timber work, Will, who was in the lead, motioned to the others to remain in the background.
"What's doing now?" whispered Sandy.
"There's a man working on the ladders," explained Will in a low whisper. "I can't see him yet, but I can hear the sound of a saw."
"He may be cutting the rungs," suggested Tommy.
"That's the notion I had," replied Will. "Suppose we all get around behind the air shaft and wait until we can find out what he is up to. It may be that bum detective, for all we know."
"What would he be doing there?" questioned Sandy.
"Sawing the rungs!" whispered Will. "He wouldn't cut them down, of course, but he might saw them so that they would break under our weight and give us a drop of a couple of hundred feet."
"It doesn't seem as if any human being would do a thing like that!" cried George. "It would be a wicked thing to do!"
While the boys whispered together, the sound of sawing continued. The man engaged at the task was evidently unfamiliar with such work, for they heard him puffing and blowing as the saw cut through the wood.
"He's cutting the rungs, all right!" Will said in a moment. "And that cuts off our escape until the cables can be put in motion and the cages started. I wish I had him by the neck!"
"We'll get him by the neck, all right, before many days," Sandy cut in, "if we can only get a sight of him so as to be sure of his identity."
Presently the man ceased working, and they heard him ascending the ladders, step by step. In a moment the saw which he had been using dropped from his hands and clattered to the bottom of the shaft.
Then they heard him springing swiftly forward, and directly they knew that he had reached the top. The boys all looked disgusted.
"And we never caught sight of him!" exclaimed Tommy.
Will now walked around to the front of the shaft and looked down. The saw which had been used lay shining on the lower level.
"I'm going down after that!" he said in a moment.
"Yes, you are!" whispered Tommy.
"I got to have it!" insisted Will.
"Well, go on and get it, then," laughed Sandy. "You've got to show me!"
"I don't think he cut the rungs between this level and the next one," George interposed. "It may be safe to use the lower ladders."
"I can soon find out!" Will declared.
The cutting had been done between the second level and the top. The ladders below seemed perfectly safe. After testing them thoroughly, Will trusted himself on one of the rungs and let himself down slowly, bearing as much weight as was possible on the standards.
He was at the bottom in a moment, and in another moment stood by the side of his chums with the saw in his hand.
"I don't think that's so very much!" Tommy exclaimed.
"Right here, then," Will explained, "is where you get your little Sherlock Holmes lesson! This is a new saw, as you all see. It probably never was used before. Now the man who did the cutting bought this at some nearby store. Don't you see what it means?"
"That's a fact!" cried Tommy. "We can find out who bought the saw, and so discover the gink who tried to commit murder by sawing the ladders."
"And look here," Will went on, "do you see these threads hanging to the teeth of the saw? Do you see the color?"
"Blue!" replied the boys in a breath.
"That's right, blue. Now, what sort of a suit did the detective wear this morning? It was blue, wasn't it?"
"Sure it was!" replied George. "A blue serge! I noticed it particularly because it wasn't much of a fit."
"Well, these are blue serge threads!" commented Will.
"That's right, too," admitted Sandy.
While the boys still stood at the second level they heard some one moving down from the top. Will rushed around to the ladder and looked up.
He could not see the face of the man who was climbing down, but he could see that he did not wear a blue serge suit.
In a moment he called out to him, asking some trivial question regarding the action of the pumps. When the man looked down he saw that it was Canfield. The caretaker seemed surprised at finding the boys at the second level. He kept on descending.
"Wait!" Will called. "Stop where you are!"
"But I've got to find out what's the matter with the machinery at the bottom," the caretaker called out. "There's something wrong there!"
"Then you'd better take long steps," replied Will, "for if you put any weight on those rungs, you're likely to land at the bottom of the shaft. The rungs have been cut!"
"I can't believe that!" replied Canfield.
"Suppose you look and see!"
The caretaker advanced cautiously downward until he came to where a fine line of sawdust lay on one of the rungs.
"Do you know who did this?" he asked.
"We think we do," replied Will, "but this isn't any time for long stories. The first thing for us to do is to get back into the breaker and cook Tommy and Sandy three or four breakfasts apiece!"
"So you found them, did you?" asked Canfield.
"No; we found them," shouted Tommy.
"Well, how're you going to get out?" asked the caretaker.
"Get a rope," directed Will, "and throw it over the sound rung lowest down, and we'll climb up until we can trust our weight on the ladder."
This plan was followed, and in a short time the boys all stood, hungry and tired, in their room in the breaker. Tommy made an instantaneous dive for the provisions which had been brought in the night before.
"Nice old time we've had!" he exclaimed, with his mouth full-of pork and beans. "I guess we're some Boy Scouts after all!"
"I'm going to tie you up tonight!" Will declared.
While the boys talked and ate the caretaker darted to the door leading to the passage which ended at the shaft.
He returned in a moment looking both angry and frightened.
"The pumps have, stopped!" he said. "The line will probably be flooded before tomorrow morning. The very devil seems to have taken full charge here today. I never saw anything like it!"
"There are boys in the mine who will be drowned!" exclaimed Tommy.
"I'm not so sure of that," answered Canfield. "It was only a suggestion on my part that the boys we are in search of have taken refuge under ground. I think I must have been mistaken!"
"Do you know, whether these breaker boys belonged to the Boy Scouts or not?" asked Will. "Did you ever see any medals or badges on their clothing which told of Boy Scout experiences?"
"Sure they belong to the Boy Scouts!" declared the caretaker, "and that is the very reason why I sent for Boy Scouts to help find them."
"What Patrol did they belong to?" asked Will.
"If you had heard them howling like wolves around the breaker night after night," was the reply, "you wouldn't ask what patrol they belonged to!"
"Then they are in the mine!" shouted Tommy.
We all heard the call of the pack, but the funny thing is that they wouldn't show themselves.
"THEY WENT UP IN THE AIR"
"There's something funny about those boys!" exclaimed Canfield. "They seemed to be merry-hearted fellows, just a little bit full of mischief, but for some reason they never mixed with the others much."
"Where did they come from when they came here?" asked Will.
"The information in the letters I received from the attorney in charge of the case is that they came here from New York, not directly but by some roundabout way."
"Did this attorney ever inform you why he wanted the boys found?" asked Tommy. "Are we all working in the dark?"
"He never told me why he wanted the boys found. For all I know, they may be wanted for some crime, or they may be heirs to an immense property. My instructions are to find them. That's all!"
"Where did these boys lodge?" asked Will.
"They didn't have any regular room," was the reply. "They slept in the breaker whenever the watchman would permit them to do so, and when he wouldn't, they threw stones at him and slept in the railroad yard somewhere. But the strangest part of the whole business is the way they disappeared from sight."
"You didn't tell us about that!" exclaimed Sandy.
"I meant to," the caretaker answered. "The last seen of them here they were at work on the breaker. It was somewhere near the middle of the afternoon, and the cracker boss had been particularly ugly. The two boys were often caught whispering together, and more than once the cracker boss had launched such trifles as half pound block of shale at them. I happened to be on the outside just about that time."
"The boys didn't go up in the air, did they?" asked Sandy with a chuckle. "They haven't got wings, have they?"
"To all intents and purposes, they went up into the air!" answered the caretaker. "One moment they were on the breaker sorting slate and stuff of that kind out of the stream of coal which was pouring down upon them, and the next moment they were nowhere in sight!"
"Had any strangers been seen talking with them?"
"Now you come to a point that I should have mentioned before!" replied the caretaker. "Two days before they left a strange boy came to the mine and went to work on the breaker. He was an unusually well-mannered, well-dressed young fellow, and so the breaker boys called him a dude. He resented this, of course, and there was a fight at the first quitting time. These two boys, Jimmie, and Dick, stood by the new lad, and gave three or four of the tough little chaps who work on the breaker a good beating up."
"Now we've got hold of something!" exclaimed Will. "Were these three boys together much after that?"
"No," was the reply. "The new boy thanked Jimmie and Dick for helping him through his scrape, and that was about all. They might have talked together for five minutes that night, but they were never seen in each other's company again so far as I know."
"How long did this new boy stay here?" asked George.
"He quit the next day."
"He didn't go up in a pillar of fire, did he?" grinned Sandy.
"No, he walked up to the office and asked if he could get his pay for the time he had worked. The boss told him he'd have to wait until Saturday night, and he turned up his nose and walked out."
"And where did he go?" asked George.
"He said he was going down the river in a boat," answered the caretaker. "He bought an old boat, stocked it with quite a supply of provisions, and started on his way. The next day the boat was found bottom side up on a bar, and the lad's hat lay on the bank not far away."
"Do you think he was drowned?" asked Sandy.
"It would seem so."
"Drowned nothing!" exclaimed Tommy. "He sneaked those provisions into the mine under cover of the darkness and the three little rascals are feeding on them yet. You can see the end of that without a telescope!"
"Now, smarty!" exclaimed George. "You've told us where the boys went, and where the provisions landed, and all that, now tell us why these kids hid themselves in the mine. And while you are about it, you may as well tell why they gave the Wolf call and refused to reply."
"This story," replied Tommy with a grin, "is not a novelette, complete in one number. It's a serial story, and will be continued in our next issue. What did you say about the pumps stopping, Canfield?"
"They've stopped, all right!" the caretaker replied.
"Are you going to let the ginks flood the mine?" asked Sandy.
"While I was out a few moments ago," Canfield explained, "I notified one of the clerks in the company's office to send up a gang of men to repair the machinery. They ought to be here by this time."
"How long will it take to repair the pump?" asked Tommy.
"It may take an hour and it may take twenty-four.
"In the meantime," Tommy continued, "do you think you could send one of the county officers out to round up this bum detective?"
"You mean that you want him watched?" asked Canfield.
"Sure!" answered Tommy. "He sawed the rungs in the shaft, didn't he? He could get ten years for that!"
"All right," replied Canfield. "I'll send word out and have him arrested if you are positive that he is the man that did the cutting."
"We are positive that he's the man," replied Will, "but it'll spoil everything if you have him arrested. We want to give him a free hand for a time, and see what he will do. He's a crook, and he's bound to show it! And another thing," the boy went on, "we don't want anyone to know that he is under suspicion. We just want him watched."
"You're handling the case," smiled Canfield, "and I'll take any steps you advise. I can't tell you how sorry I am that I brought the detective in here this morning!"
"Well," Will said, "we put up a bluff about getting out of town and perhaps we can make that stick. We can take a train out and come back in on a lonely freight, and get into the mine without his knowing anything about it. The mine is the best place to work from, anyway!"
"That's why I wanted to know how soon the mine could be pumped out!" stated Tommy. "I don't care about wading around in a mess of water that's blacker than a stack of black cats."
"I think I can have the mine fairly dry by the time you boys get out of town and back again!" laughed Canfield.
"Well," Tommy said, "then you'd better got a couple of dry-goods boxes and fill them full of good things to eat, and drop 'em down to the first level. Perhaps you know of a cozy little chamber there where we can set up housekeeping."
"I know just the place," said the caretaker. "To the left of the old tool house there's a room where odd articles of every description have been stored for any number of years. The blacksmith and the fire-boss used to go there to smoke and tell stores, if I remember right."
"Does anyone ever go there now?" asked Will.
"Not that I know of," was the reply.
"Then we'll drop down there some time towards morning," Will decided. "And in the meantime," he added, with a wink at his chums, "we'll be looking for a boy tramp out in the railroad yards."
"What do you mean by that"' asked the caretaker.
"Oh, I've just got an idea," replied Will, "that there's a kid hanging around this part of the country whom we ought to interview."
"But I don't understand."
"You wait until we get hold of him, and you'll understand all right!" laughed Will. "We just need that boy!"
"But how do you know there is such a boy?" urged the caretaker.
"He gets it out of a dream book!" Tommy chuckled.
"Do you mean to say that there is some go-between the boys who may or may not be in the mine and some persons outside who are interested in them?" asked the caretaker.
"I didn't say anything of the kind!" replied Will.
"There are times," Tommy explained to Canfield, "when the gift of frank speech is taken away from Will, so you mustn't blame him for not answering. He'll tell you all about it when the time comes."
The caretaker went away with a puzzled look on his honest face.
WHO DISCOVERED THE LEAK?
"You've got to explanation me," George laughed as the caretaker left the room, and the boys began picking up their clothing, preparatory to the alleged journey. "I can't understand what you mean by saying that you'll watch out for a boy tramp in the railroad yards."
"It's a sure thing, isn't it?" Will asked, "that the boys we are in search of are in the mine? We don't know what they're in there for. They may be hiding there because of some fool notion they have in their heads, or they may have been sent here for some definite purpose."
"You bet they've been sent here for some definite purpose," George replied. "They never came here to work on the breaker without having some well-defined motive. Boys answering to their description don't accept such jobs as they accepted here!"
"Well, the boys are in the mine," Will continued. "As stated, we don't know what they're there for, but we know they're there. Now, this third boy comes to the mine and works just long enough to get in touch with the other two. Then he disappears."
"Buys a lot of provisions and goes down the river to leave his hat on the bank!" laughed Tommy. "I guess that was a pretty poor imitation of a suicide or a drowning accident, either!"
"But this boy didn't get to be intimate with the two breaker boys," contended George. "He talked with them about two minutes after the fight, according to Canfield, but paid no further attention to them after that. If he had any secret understanding with them, he must have done a whole lot of talking in a mighty short space of time."
"The right kind of a boy can say a good deal in a minute and half!" laughed Tommy. "But suppose we let Will go on and explanation us about that boy tramp in the railroad yards. I think I know what he's getting at, but I'm not quite certain. Go on, Will, it's up to you."
"In order to make the connection," laughed Will. "I will state for the third time that we know that the boys are in the mine. It may also be well to state, once more, that we are reasonably certain that this other boy came to the mine for the specific purpose of communicating with the other two. Now this boy didn't drop into the river. He dropped the provisions he bought for the boat into the coal mine, and left them there for the consumption of the two boys inside. That's reasonable, isn't?"
"Fine deduction, as Sherlock Holmes would say to Watson!" laughed George.
"But this third boy," Will went on, "doesn't go into the mine. He stays outside to serve as a means of communication between the boys who are hiding in the mine and some interested person or persons on the outside. That's perfectly clear, isn't it?
"That'll do very well for a theory," replied George.
"I'll go you a plate of cookies," argued Sandy, "that Will is right, and that this third boy is hanging around taking messages from the two boys in the mine and also to the two boys in the mine."
"Didn't I say it was all right for a theory?" chuckled George.
"Now, the point is this," Will continued. "What are those boys in the mine for? What do they want there? Why didn't they answer our Boy Scout challenge when we replied to their call of the pack?"
"If you don't ask so many questions, you won't get so many negative answers," Sandy advised. "We're here to find the boys, and I don't see that it makes any difference to us what they're in there or not."
"But we've found the boys now," contended Tommy. "We haven't got our hands on them yet, of course, but we know they're in there, and we know it's only a question of time when we get hold of them."
"Well," Will insisted, "I'm going to find a motive before I quit the case. I'm going to know who sent those boys here, and all about it, before I make any report to Mr. Horton."
"Go as far as you like," laughed Tommy. "My bump of curiosity is growing half an inch a day, and will continue to spread out until I find out exactly what those boys are doing burrowing in a deserted mine."
"Now, we'll get back to the point we started from," Will explained. "This boy who is undoubtedly doing duty outside the mine in the interests of the persons who sent the two boys in, furnishes the clue to the whole situation! When we find him, and find out what he's up to, and trace any communications he may make back to their original source, we'll have the whole case tied up tight!"
"That's right!" declared Tommy. "We'll have the case tied up tight if we succeed in getting hold of this third boy."
"Oh, go on!" laughed Sandy. "We'll be picking third boys and fourth boys and fifth boys out of the air the next thing you know. We never went away on a Boy Scout expedition yet that we didn't find all manner of kids hanging around on purpose to be discovered. We found them on Old Superior; and in the Everglades; and on the Great Continental Divide; and up in the Hudson Bay country, we began to think we had stumbled on the center of population so far as Boy Scouts were concerned!"
"There's just one thing that's likely to make us trouble," Will resumed. "And that is the fact that Canfield very foolishly slopped over to Ventner when explaining the purpose of our visit here. That bum detective knows now that we're here to search the mine. Of course he might have received, as Canfield says, most of his information from outside sources, but the caretaker should have thrown him off the track instead of telling him exactly what our mission here was."
"But Ventner came here to search for the boys himself!" George broke in. "At least, he says that he did."
"There's a mystery about the whole matter," Sandy declared, "and I'd like to help clear it up from beginning to end!"
"We're likely to have a chance!" laughed Tommy.
"What are we going to do all the afternoon?" George asked.
"Wander around town," smiled Will, "and find out about the evening train, and ask fool questions about the pumps and the mine, and laugh at the idea of anybody living in there. That'll give Ventner the idea that we're going for good, I reckon. He's a pretty bum skate to pose as a detective!"
"I'll tell you what I'm going to do most of the afternoon!" Tommy declared. "I'm going to the hay! I never felt so bunged up for want of sleep in my innocent life."
"Haven't you forgotten something?" asked Sandy.
"Sure!" shouted Tommy. "I'm forgetting to eat!"
"And you're forgetting something else!" insisted Sandy.
"Nix on the forget!" declared Tommy. "When I forget my eatings and sleepings, the world will come to an end!"
"You forgot to read a chapter in your dream book!" said Sandy.
"Never you mind that dream book," Tommy replied. "Whenever you want to find the answer to any puzzle, you look in that dream book!"
After eating another hearty meal the boys, having already packed their wardrobes, locked the door of their room and addressed themselves to slumber.
They were awakened about five o'clock by a loud knocking on the door, and presently they heard the voice of Canfield calling to them.
"Wake up, boys!" he cried. "I have good news for you!"
"All right, let her go!" shouted Tommy.
"The pumps are working, and the water is lowering in the mine!"
"That's nice!" laughed Sandy.
"And we've found out what caused the sudden flooding," the caretaker went on. "It seems that a partition, or wall, between the Labyrinth and the Mixer mine unaccountably gave way. The Mixer mine has been flooded for a long time and, as it lies above the level of the Labyrinth, the water naturally flowed into our mine as soon as the wall was down."
"But what caused the partition to fall?" asked Will, opening the door for the admission of the caretaker.
"No one knows!" was the answer.
"If you look about a little," Tommy suggested, "I think you'll find traces of dynamite. Who discovered the break in the dividing wall?"
"A gang under the leadership of Ventner, the detective!" was the reply.
The caretaker was very much surprised and not a little annoyed at the effect his answer had upon the four boys.
"I don't see anything humorous about that!" he said as the lads threw themselves down on the bunks and roared with laughter.
"It looks funny to me!" Tommy replied. "It we had never showed up here, the mine wouldn't have been flooded. As soon as we start away or promise to leave the district, which amounts to the same thing, this cheap skate of a detective finds the break, and all is well again!"
"Why, you don't think that he had anything to do with the trouble at the mine, do you?" questioned the caretaker.
"Oh, of course not!" replied Sandy. "Ventner had nothing to do with cutting the ladder. That fellow will land in state's prison if he keeps on trying to murder boys by sawing ladder rungs!"
"I had forgotten that,' said Canfield.
"Well, don't forget that this man Ventner is playing the chief villain's role in this drama!" Tommy advised. "And another thing you mustn't forget," the boy continued, "is that you're not to say a word to him that will inform him that he is suspected."
"I think I can remember that!" replied the caretaker.
The boys prepared a hasty supper and then, suit cases in hand, started for the little railway station. There they inquired about the arrival and departure of trains, bought tickets, and made themselves as conspicuous as possible about the depot.
"Keep your eye out for the third boy," George chuckled, as the lads walked up and down the platform.
"Don't get excited about the third boy," Will replied. "We'll find him when the right time comes!"
"There's Ventner!" exclaimed Tommy as the detective came rushing down the platform. "Of course the good, kind gentleman would want to bid us farewell!"
"I'd like to crack him over the coco!" exclaimed Sandy.
"I'll bet he's got some kind of a fake story to tell," suggested Will. "He looks like a man who had been working his imagination overtime!"
"News of the two boys!" shouted the detective as he came up smiling.
THE BOY IN THE "EMPTY"
"Didn't I tell you," whispered Will, "that he is there with a product of his imagination? If you leave it to him, the two boys we're in search of are somewhere on the Pacific slope!"
"He must think we're a lot of suckers to take in any story he'll tell!" whispered Tommy. "A person that couldn't get next to his game ought to be locked up in the foolish house!"
"I've just heard from a railway brakeman," Ventner said, rushing up to the boys with an air of importance, "that the two lads you are in search of were seen leaving a box car at a little station in Ohio. I don't just recall the name of the station now, but I can find it by looking on the map! It seems the lads left here on the night following their departure from the breaker, and stole their passage to this little town I'm telling you about."
"Good thing you came to the depot," declared Will. "We should have been out of town in ten minutes more."
"Where is this town?" asked George, thinking it best to show great interest in the statement made by the detective.
"It's a little place on the Lake Erie & Western road!" was the answer.
The detective took a railroad folder from his pocket and consulted a map. It seemed to take him a long time to decide upon a place, but he finally spread the map out against the wall of the station and laid his finger on a point on the Lake Erie & Western railroad.
"Nankin is the name of the place. Strange I should have forgotten the name of the place. They were put out of the car at Nankin, and are believed to have started down the railroad right of way on foot."
"But you said they were seen leaving the car at Napkin!" Tommy cut in. "Now you say they were put out of the car!"
"Well, they were chased out of the car, and that covers both statements," replied the detective somewhat nervously.
"Thank you very much for the information!" Will exclaimed as the train the boys were to take came rolling into the station. "The pointer is undoubtedly a good one, and we'll take a look at the country about Nankin."
There was a crossing not more than six miles from the station where the boys had taken the train and they were all ready to jump when the engineer slowed down and whistled his note of warning. It was quite dark, although stars were showing in a sky plentifully scattered over with clouds and, as the boys dropped down out of the illumination of the windows as soon as they struck the ground, they were not seen to leave the train by any of the passengers.
In a moment the train rushed on, leaving the four standing on the roadbed looking disconsolately in the direction of the town.
"Now for a good long hike!" exclaimed Tommy.
"It's for your own good!" laughed Sandy.
"I can always tell when something is for my own good," Tommy contended.
"You don't look it!" chuckled Sandy.
"When anything's for my own good," the boy continued, "it's always disagreeable! It makes me think of a story I read once where the man complained that everything he ever wanted in this world was either expensive, indigestible or immoral."
"Well, get on the hike!" laughed George. "You can stand here and moralize till the cows come home, and it won't move you half an inch in the direction of the mine!"
"And look here," Will exclaimed as the boys started up the grade, "when we get within sight of the lights of the station, we must scatter and keep our traps closed! We can all make for the mine by different routes. Ventner thinks we are out of town now, and the chances are that he'll be plugging around trying to accomplish some purpose known only to himself. For my part I don't believe he is employed on the same case we are! He's working for some outside parties!"
"That's the way it strikes me!" George agreed. "If the detective had been honestly trying to assist us, the mine wouldn't have been flooded, the pumps wouldn't have broken down, and the electric motors would have been found in excellent working order."
"Did you notice the suit he had on when he stood talking with us at the station?" asked Will. "That was a blue serge suit, wasn't it?"
"It surely was!" Tommy declared, quick to catch the point. "And there was a tear down the front of it which looked as if it had been made by the scraping of a saw! I guess if you'll inspect the shreds we found on the saw with the breaks in that coat front you'll find where the saw got in its work, all right!"
"And there was a cut on his, hand, too!" Sandy observed. "Looked like he had bounced the saw off one of the rungs on top of a finger."
"Oh, he's a clever little boy all right!" Tommy cut in. "But he forgot to leave his brass band at home when he went out to cut into that ladder! If he does all his work the way he did that job, he'll be sitting in some nice, quiet state's prison before he's six months older."
When the boys came within a quarter of a mile of the station lights, they parted, Will and George turning off from the right of way and Sandy and Tommy keeping on for half a dozen rods. When the four boys were finally clear of the tracks they were walking perhaps twenty rods apart, and at right angles with the right of way.
"Now, as we approach the mine," Will cautioned his companion, "keep your eye out for Ventner and this third boy. They are both likely to be chasing around in the darkness."
The route to the mine, taken by Tommy and his chum crossed a network of tracks, led up to the weigh-house and so on into the breaker. As they came to a line of empty cars standing on a spur they heard a movement in one of the empties and crouched down to listen.
"There's some one in there!" declared Tommy.
"Some old bum, probably!"
This from Sandy who had recently bumped his shins on a pile of ties and was not in a very pleasant humor.
"It may be the boy we're looking for!" urged Tommy.
Sandy sat down on the end of a tie and rubbed his bruised shin vigorously, muttering and protesting, against railroad yards in general and this one in particular as he did so.
Tommy made his way under the empty and sat listening, his ear almost against the bottom of the car. Presently he heard a movement above and then it seemed to him that something of considerable weight was being dragged across the floor. This was followed in a moment by a slight groan, and then a shadowy figure leaped from the open side door and started away in the darkness.
Now Sandy had been warned to hang onto the third boy like grim death if he caught sight of him. He saw this figure bounce out of the car and start, away. Therefore, he promptly reached out a foot and tripped the unknown to the ground.
He fell with a grunt of anger and pain and lay rolling on the cinders which lined the roadbed for a moment without speaking. In the meantime, Tommy had crawled out from under the car and stood ready to seize any second person who might make his appearance.
Almost immediately a second body came bouncing out of the empty.
Instead of starting away on a run, however, the second person stopped where Sandy stood beside the wiggling figure and looked down upon it.
"Hand him one!" he said in a boy's voice.
"Who is it?" asked Sandy.
"Don't know!" was the reply.
"What was he doing to you?"
"He was trying to rob me!"
"I don't think a man would get rich, robbing people who ride in empties!" laughed Sandy. "I shouldn't think their bank rolls would make much of a hit with a bold, bad highwayman!"
"There's men riding the rods," was the reply, "who would kill a boy for a dime! If I wasn't opposed to cruelty to animals, I'd give this fellow a beating up right now. He tried to drag me from the car by the leg and nearly broke my ankle!"
"I heard him dragging you across the floor!" Tommy said, coming up to where the two stood. "Can you see who it is?" he added.
"He's just a tramp!" the other replied. "I saw him sneaking around the empties just before dark."
"Why were you sleeping in an empty?" asked Sandy.
"Because I like plenty of fresh air!" replied the boy with a chuckle.
While the boys talked the tramp arose and sneaked away, limping over the ties as if tickled to death to get out of the way of the three youngsters.
As he disappeared in the darkness Tommy turned to the boy who had dropped out of the car to ask him a question.
The boy was nowhere to be seen.
"Now we've gone and done it!" cried Sandy.
"I guess we have!" agreed Tommy. "We've let the third boy get away from us! And we couldn't have done a worse thing!" he went on, "because the boys in the mine will know that we are still in this vicinity!"
While the boys stood blaming themselves the sharp call of the Wolf pack came to them.
A KNOCK AT THE DOOR
When Will and George came to the back of the weigh-house they heard some one moving about at the front.
"That's probably the caretaker, taking his last look for the night," suggested Will. "He pokes around all the outbuildings every night before he goes to bed. At least, he is supposed to."
"But this fellow hasn't got any lantern," urged George.
"The plot deepens!" chuckled Will.
"Can you crawl around there and see who it is," asked George, "or shall I go? It may be a thief, or it may be Ventner, or it may be this boy we're looking for. Anyway, we want to know who it is!"
"I'll go!" Will suggested, "and don't you make any racket if you hear something doing there. The one thing to do at this time is to keep our presence here a profound secret."
Will moved cautiously around the angle of the weigh-house just in time to see a figure leaving the side of the building and moving toward the breaker. There was a little side door in the breaker not far from the weigh-house, and it was toward this that the prowler was making his way.
Half way to the little house the fellow stumbled over some obstruction in his path and fell sprawling to the ground. He arose with an impatient oath and moved on again, but not before the watcher had recognized both the figure and the voice. Will, turned back to where George stood. "That's Ventner," he said.
"Are you sure?"
"Dead sure!" There was a short silence. "What can we do now?"
"I don't know of anything we can do, unless it is to watch the rascal and see where he goes," answered the other. "The chances are that he's trying to get into the mine!"
"That shows the fellow is a crook!" Will contended. "He has full permission to enter the mine at any time he sees fit."
"Of course, he's a crook!" agreed George. "What would he be sneaking around here in the night for, if he wasn't engaged in some underhand game? You just wait until we get into the mine," the boy continued, "and we'll give him a ghost scare that'll hold him for a while."
As Ventner approached the little side door leading into the breaker, a light flashed in the window of the room which the boys had occupied, and directly Canfield's voice was heard asking:
"Now if he's on the square, he'll answer!" whispered Will.
There was no reply whatever, and in a moment the caretaker called again, this time rather peremptorily:
"What are you prowling about the yard for?"
The detective dropped to his knees and began crawling away.
"If I see you around here again," the caretaker shouted in a braver tone now that the intruder was taking his departure, "I'll do some shooting!"
Evidently giving over the attempt to enter the mine at that time, the detective arose to his feet as soon as he gained the shelter of the weigh-house, and walked away, passing as he did so, within a few feet of where the boys were standing.
"That settles that bum detective, so far as we are concerned!" Will said to his chum, in a whisper. "We knew before that he was playing a rotten game on us, but we didn't know that, his plans included such surreptitious visits to the mine."
After making sure that the detective was not within sight or sound, Will and George tapped softly at the little door and were admitted by the caretaker. Five minutes later they were joined by Tommy and Sandy.
"Were you boys out there a few moments ago?" asked Canfield.
"Nix!" replied George. "That was Ventner. We saw him from the weigh-house. He was trying to sneak his way into the mine!"
"But he has full permission to enter at any time he sees fit!" urged the caretaker. "It doesn't seem as if he would attempt to steal his way in during the night. You must be mistaken!"
"Yes, and perhaps we were mistaken about the sawing of the ladder, too!" Tommy broke in.
"Yes, we may all be mistaken about that."
"Not so you could notice it!" declared Sandy.
"If you look at the thief's coat, you'll see that he didn't do all the sawing on the rungs of the ladder. We've got him too dead to skin!"
Without any lights being shown on the surface, the boys were conducted down the ladder to the first level. There they found a room very cozily furnished, indeed. A lounge from the office, a couple of good sized cupboards, and a large table had been brought down, together with a serviceable rug and numerous chairs, and the apartment presented an unexpectedly homelike appearance.
The current was on, and two electric lamps made the room as light as day. The cooking was to be done over electric coils so that the presence of the boys would not be disclosed by smoke. One of the ventilating pipes which supplied the offices in the vicinity of the shaft with fresh air passed through the room, so there was no lack of ozone.
"Have we got plenty of eatings?" asked Tommy.
"Plenty!" was the reply. "I have arranged for fresh meat, milk and vegetables to be brought in every evening."
"Talk about your bull-headed, obstinate men!" exclaimed Tommy, as the caretaker finally took his departure. "That fellow takes the cake! He knows very well that we caught Vintner in the act of sawing on the ladder, and he knows, too, that we heard Wolf calls while we were in the mine. Still he shakes his head and says that he don't know about the boys being there, and don't know about that bum detective being crooked. If you could get a saw and operate on his head, you'd find it solid bone!"
"You'll feel better after you get supper!" Sandy declared.
"This isn't any grouch!" insisted Tommy. "This is the true story of that man's life! If I had a dollar for every time he doesn't know anything, I'd be the richest boy in the world!"
"Are you thinking of going down the mine tonight?" asked George, with a wink at Will. "We might try another midnight excursion."
"If you kids go into the mine tonight," declared Will, "I'll send you both back to Chicago on the first train!"
"Aw, how are you going to find these boys if you don't go into the mine?" demanded Tommy. "I suppose you'll want us to wait till daylight when the owners will be looking around to see if any damage was done by the inundation. The best time is at night!"
"Look here," Will argued, "we've got to do more than lay hands on the boys! We've got to find out why they are hiding in the mine."
"That's the correct word," agreed George. "Hiding is the word that expresses the situation exactly!"
"There is no doubt," Will continued, "that the boys were sent here by some one for some specific purpose. They are hiding in the mine with a well-defined motive. I have an idea that we might be able to find them in twenty-four hours, but what is more important, is to find out what they are up to."