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CHAPTER VI THE CAVE ON THE MOUNTAIN.
 The foot of the mountain was seven miles from the dam and the going very rough especially through the gorge1 where they were obliged to leap from one big rock to another as they followed the bed of the stream.  
“Good thing Mr. Sleeper2 didn’t come if he’s got a game leg,” Jack3 panted as they stopped to rest a moment.
 
“Reckon he’d have found it pretty rough sledding.”
 
They soon started on again and about eleven o’clock reached the foot of Katahdin where they again stopped to rest.
 
“It’s going to be some climb on a hot day,” Jack declared wiping his forehead.
 
“We’ll take it easy, there’s lots of time.”
 
“What are you doing here?”
 
Both boys started violently at the sound of a strange voice. A few feet away, leaning against a big pine, stood a man only a few years older than Bob. He was dressed in a rough tweed knicker suit with a cap to match. His face, although pleasant enough, bore plainly the signs of dissipation; the eyes slightly bloodshot and puffed5 lids as well as the red nose evidenced the life he had led.
 
“I beg your pardon,” Bob said politely, “but were you speaking to us?”
 
“Who did you suppose I was speaking to?” the man demanded angrily.
 
“Well really, I supposed you were talking to us only I wanted to make sure, you know,” drawled Bob.
 
The man’s arrogant6 tone had maddened him and he put into his voice all the contempt possible.
 
“Don’t you get fresh.” The man took a step forward and Bob got up from the log on which he had been sitting. “I want to know what you are doing here.”
 
“What we are doing here,” Bob repeated slowly. “Well now that’s funny.”
 
“What’s funny about it?”
 
“Oh, just a thought I had. It really doesn’t matter, you know.”
 
Jack was having all he could do to keep from laughing as he heard his brother fencing with the stranger. He could see that the latter was rapidly losing control of his temper and knew that that was just what Bob was after.
 
“Are you going to answer my question?”
 
“Why sure, we’re just sitting here, that’s all. What are you doing?”
 
“That’s none of your business.”
 
“No?”
 
“Certainly not.”
 
“And might I ask you why it’s any more your business what we’re doing?”
 
“Because I choose to make it.”
 
“Oh.”
 
“I’ll ‘Oh’ you,” the man snapped taking a step forward with clinched7 fists.
 
But he evidently thought better of his intention when he saw that Bob also took a step to meet him and that his fists were also clinched.
 
“Are you going up the mountain?” he demanded, falling back to his former position.
 
“Maybe.”
 
“Well, you’d better not.”
 
“If not why not?” Bob tantalized8.
 
“Because I say so.”
 
“And you think that’s a good reason?”
 
“You’ll find out if you try it.”
 
“Thanks, I only was asking for information. Come on Jack, we might as well be on our way.”
 
As they turned to go Bob glanced back in time to see the man reach his hand back to his hip9 pocket but he evidently thought better of it for he drew the hand away empty.
 
“Nice pleasant fellow,” Jack said as soon as they were out of hearing.
 
“Very. Did you see his shoes?”
 
“Can’t say I noticed them, why?”
 
“Nothing only they looked as though they might have made that track in the sand we found yesterday.”
 
“But what do you suppose he’s doing away off here?”
 
“Ask me something easy. But unless he was bluffing10 we’re likely to find out unless we keep our eyes open.”
 
If the going had been bad so far it was worse now. The mountain was heavily wooded nearly to the top and there was a good deal of underbrush through which at times they had to literally11 push their way. Then, in places, it was very steep and they were obliged to pull themselves up by grabbing hold of branches. They had pushed on in this way for a half hour when Bob, who was slightly in the lead, stopped and held up his hand.
 
“Listen,” he whispered.
 
“I don’t hear anything,” Jack said after a moment’s pause.
 
“Perhaps I was mistaken but I was sure I heard a bush crack off there to the right.”
 
“A deer maybe,” Jack ventured.
 
“No, a deer wouldn’t have made just one crack like that. I’ve had the feeling ever since we left that fellow that we were being followed.”
 
“Think it’s he?”
 
“Maybe. You stay here a minute. I’ll be right back.”
 
Bob got onto his hands and knees and noiselessly disappeared in the thick brush. It was perhaps fifteen minutes before he returned as silent as he had gone.
 
“Guess I was mistaken,” he said. “I couldn’t find a trace of anyone.”
 
“Then I guess there was no one there.”
 
“Maybe not, but keep your eyes peeled. I have a hunch12 that there’s someone on our trail.”
 
Mighty13 funny there’s no path up this mountain,” Jack puffed a few minutes later, as he paused to wipe the sweat from his face.
 
“There probably is only we haven’t struck it,” Bob smiled.
 
For another half hour they pushed on, now climbing over rocks and the next moment forcing their way through heavy underbrush. Suddenly Bob, who at the time was a few feet ahead, stopped and held up his hand.
 
“What’s wrong?” Jack whispered as he crept up to him.
 
“Peep out there,” Bob told him holding the low branch of a tree aside.
 
Through the opening Jack could see the front of a rough shanty14 only a few feet away.
 
“Did you see anyone?” he asked drawing back.
 
“No.”
 
“Then why all the caution?”
 
“Better to be careful than sorry,” Bob whispered.
 
“Well, shall we investigate or go around?”
 
“What do you think?”
 
“I say investigate.”
 
“Come on, then, but keep your eyes open.”
 
As they crept forward they saw that the building, evidently many years old and constructed of rough boards, was built so that its back was close against a cliff the top of which reached thirty or more feet above the roof. There was no sign of life about the place and, as they drew nearer, they saw that the door was open a few inches.
 
“Looks kind of spooky,” Jack whispered.
 
They were close to the door and Bob, after listening a moment, pushed it open and entered, closely followed by Jack. A hasty glance about told them that the place was empty so far as living beings were concerned. And the same statement was nearly true as regards other things. An old table so rickety that it seemed about ready to fall to the ground, and the remains15 of two or three chairs completed the inventory16.
 
“Not much here,” Jack declared.
 
“Does look rather forlorn,” Bob agreed.
 
As he spoke17 his eye caught sight of a door at the back of the room.
 
“Wonder where this door goes to,” he said as he started across the room.
 
Unlike the rest of the building the door appeared to be of recent construction. The boards were thick and much newer than those of the shack18 proper and it was closed by a heavy bar across the middle.
 
“Take a look outside while I see if I can open it,” Bob said, as he placed his hand on the bar.
 
The bar fitted so snugly19 that it required some effort to remove it and Jack was back just as he succeeded in pulling it out.
 
“All quiet along the Potomac,” he announced.
 
The door dragged a bit on the bottom but they soon had it open. Stygian darkness greeted them as they looked in, but both had flash lights with them and in a moment were throwing the rays about. They were in what appeared to be a natural cave some thirty feet wide and twice as long as the roof being very irregular but averaging about ten feet from the ground. The place was entirely20 empty, so far as they could see.
 
“What do you know about it?” Jack asked.
 
“It would make a good prison,” Bob replied.
 
“I’ll say it would.”
 
“Looks as though there might be a passage in the back part there,” Bob said as he started for the back of the cave.
 
He had taken but a single step, however, when a startled exclamation21 from Jack caused him to wheel about. By the light of his torch he saw that his brother was struggling in the grasp of a man and as he sprang to his assistance he received a heavy blow on the side of his head which stretched him senseless on the floor.
 
When consciousness began slowly to drift back he was at first aware only of a severe headache. Slowly he opened his eyes but he might as well have kept them closed. It was so dark that he could see absolutely nothing. For a moment he wondered what it was all about, then memory came back with a rush and he whispered:
 
“Jack.”
 
There was no answer and he tried it again a little louder. This time he was relieved when his brother answered.
 
“Thank God, you’re alive, Bob. I was afraid they had killed you.”
 
“Where are you, Jack?”
 
“Over here, tied up.”
 
Then Bob realized that he too was tied. His hands were bound behind his back and his feet securely fastened together. A bit of straining at the bonds soon convinced him that whoever had done it had made a good job.
 
“Are you all right?” Jack asked anxiously.
 
“I guess so. Head’s a bit sore and it aches like fury, but I don’t think it’s broke. Can you roll over this way?”
 
“Guess so,” and a moment later Jack’s body bumped into him.
 
“What happened?” Bob asked.
 
“Can’t tell you much it was so sudden. I didn’t hear a thing, but a man grabbed me from behind and I tried to shout. Then I saw you go down and although I made things lively for a minute or two I was no match for the two of them and they soon had me trussed up.”
 
“Did you get a look at them?”
 
“Not enough to amount to anything. I wouldn’t know them from Adam but I don’t think I ever saw them before but I’m not sure. How’s your head?”
 
“Sore, but it feels a bit better.”
 
“Are you tied tight?”
 
“Sure am. How about you?”
 
“Got a little slack. I remembered your method and did the best I could.”
 
Bob was an expert in getting free from bonds. His hands were smaller than most boys when compared with the size of his wrists and long practice had enabled him to set his muscles in such a way that no matter how tightly they were bound together he could, on relaxing, get enough slack to free himself. But now, having been tied while he was unconscious, he was unable to obtain the least bit of slack.
 
“If only my hands weren’t so large,” Jack groaned22 as he strained at the rope. “I don’t suppose you can get a mite23 of slack.”
 
“Not a bit.”
 
“Then I reckon it’s up to me.”
 
Bob could hear him as he pulled and strained.
 
“Take it easy,” he cautioned. “It’s mighty easy to rub the skin off and that makes it harder.”
 
“I can almost do it but not quite,” Jack announced a few minutes later.
 
“Roll over here and let’s see if I can help any with my teeth.”
 
He found that Jack’s hands were tied with a piece of half-inch rope which seemed to be nearly new. At any rate it was so stiff that, although he worked until he could taste the blood from his gums, he could not make the slightest impression on it.
 
“I’m afraid it’s no use,” he said sadly.
 
“How about trying with your hands?”
 
“We’ll try it,” Bob agreed as he rolled over and hitched24 forward until he could touch the rope with his fingers.
 
“My hands are tied so tight that they’re numb,” he said after a few minutes of vain effort.
 
“Well, let me work at it again. I may do it in time.”
 
For a time the only sound to be heard was Jack’s grunting25 as he tugged26 at the rope. Bob hoped almost against hope that he might succeed and more than once he breathed a silent prayer.
 
“There, at last,” Jack grunted27. “And I don’t believe I peeled off more than about a yard of skin.”
 
“You got it?”
 
“Sure have. Just a minute and I’ll tend to you.”
 
“But suppose they come back?”
 
“Gracious, I never thought of that. I suppose we’d better play it safe and wait a bit.”
 
“I think so, but I do wish you’d see if you can loosen up this rope a trifle. It hurts like the dickins.”
 
After he had worked at the rope on Bob’s wrists for a few minutes he managed to loosen it enough to give him considerable relief. “It’s no wonder you couldn’t get free,” he declared as he slipped his hand back into the loop and stretched out on the floor.
 
All the time Bob had been listening for a sound on the other side of the door but had heard nothing.
 
“Did they search us?” he asked a moment later.
 
“I’ll say they did. Took everything we had I guess.”
 
“Then they got the radio?”
 
“Yep.”
 
“That’s too bad. If they’d missed it we could have called Mr. Sleeper.”
 
“And if wishes were horses beggers could ride,” Jack quoted.
 
For some time they were silent then Bob said:
 
“Do you know, Jack, there’s something funny about this business.”
 
“That just occurred to you?” Jack asked.
 
“No, but I’m serious.”
 
“Serious? I hope to goodness you don’t think I’m fooling.”
 
“Well, what do you make of it?”
 
“Just what do you mean?”
 
“I mean is there any connection between the fellows who’ve got us tied up here and whoever is cutting up monkeydidoes at the camp?”
 
“My, but you do have a wonderful faculty28 for asking easy questions,” Jack declared after a moment’s pause.
 
“Well, of course—”
 
Bob started to speak but just then his ear caught a sound and he stopped.
 
“Someone’s at the door,” he whispered.
 
A moment later the door was swung open and someone stepped inside closing it behind him. For an instant a beam of light played about the cave until it rested on them, then the man came slowly toward them. When he was close to them he spoke and both recognized the voice as belonging to the young man they had met earlier in the day.
 
“Well, I warned you that you’d get into trouble if you kept on, and you see I was right.”
 
“That’s so,” Bob agreed.
 
“Your name’s Golden, isn’t it?”
 
“Yes.”
 
“And he’s your brother?”
 
“Yes.”
 
“I’ve heard of you.”
 
“Such is fame.”
 
“I suppose you’ve been wondering why we tied you up.”
 
“Naturally.”
 
“And you can’t guess?”
 
“Haven’t yet.”
 
“Well I’d save my breath if I were you.”
 
“Thanks, but it doesn’t take much breath to think,” Jack broke in.
 
“May I ask what you are going to do with us?” Bob inquired.
 
“Nothing, if you are reasonable.”
 
“And what do you call reasonable?”
 
“I mean if you’ll do as I say.”
 
“And what’s that?”
 
“Go straight home and stay away from this part of the woods and keep your mouths shut.”
 
“That’s some sweeping29 order,” Jack broke in.
 
“And suppose we don’t promise?” Bob asked.
 
“Then you stay right here, that’s all.”
 
“How long can we have to make up our minds?”
 
“Well, I’ve got to go up the mountain a piece and you may have till I get back, which will probably be in a half hour or so.”
 
“Thanks. We’ll have our answer ready by that time,” Bob assured him.
 
Before leaving the room the man examined their bonds and was apparently30 satisfied with their condition.
 
“I’ve heard that you couldn’t be tied so that you couldn’t get away,” he told Bob as he bent31 over him. “But I guess Skeets did the trick this time or else you haven’t tried.”
 
“Oh, I tried all right but he tied me while I was unconscious and that makes a lot of difference.”
 
“I reckon so. Well, talk it over and let me know what you decide when I get back. I really have nothing against you boys and have no desire to injure you, but I’ve got to look out for number one, you know, and just now it doesn’t suit me to have you around here.”
 
He went out and they could hear him as he slipped the bar in place.
 
“Wait five minutes and then free yourself,” Bob whispered.
 
At the end of the time they had heard no sound and Jack set to work and soon they were both free.
 
“How about those other two fellows?” Jack asked as he loosened the last knot about Bob’s ankles.
 
“That’s a chance we’ll have to take,” Bob replied. “I’m going on the assumption that they’ve gone off somewhere, but I may be wrong and if I am—well we’ve taken chances before.”
 
“Sure we have,” Jack agreed.
 
“It’s darker than the ace4 of spades,” Bob declared as they groped their way across the cave till they reached the side where the door was placed.
 
“We must jump him the instant he opens the door,” Bob explained. “He had a business like looking automatic in his hand when he came in and he’ll probably have it all ready this time.”
 
“Well, here’s hoping he won’t have a chance to use it.”
 
Slowly the time passed until they judged that he had been gone nearly an hour although they could only guess at the time as their watches had been taken away from them together with all their other possessions. But finally they heard someone enter the outer room and a moment later the bar was removed and the door pushed cautiously open. The man did not enter at once but threw the light from his flash into the cave. Knowing that he would at once discover their absence from the spot where he had left them, Bob did not wait but at once sprang for the opening. With a smothered32 cry the man tried to draw back but Bob was too quick for him and almost before he could make a move he had him around the neck and was bearing him down to the ground.
 
Bang!
 
The gun went off with a sound which nearly deafened33 them but the bullet fortunately did no damage and before he could again press the trigger Jack, had seized his wrist and with a violent twist sent the gun spinning several feet away. Feeling sure that Bob would be able to handle him now that he was disarmed34, he quickly retrieved35 the gun and then turned to watch the combat ready to help if his brother was in need of it. But, as he had thought, Bob was having no trouble in handling the situation. He had the man flat on his back and one hand was on his throat. In fact the stranger had ceased to struggle.
 
“Might as well let him up now, Bob,” Jack told him. “I’ve got his gun.”
 
“Better see if he’s got another one first,” Bob suggested.
 
The man said nothing nor did he make any resistance as Jack searched him.
 
“All right, you can let him up now. He has no other weapon.”
 
They were just outside the door of the cave and it was fairly light in the room although there was but a single small window. As the man got to his feet he seemed perfectly36 composed, a fact which gave Bob a feeling of insecurity.
 
“We have decided37 not to give that promise,” he told him.
 
“So I judged,” the man smiled. “It would seem that, for the moment, the tables are turned, as they say, and I guess it’s my turn to ask what you are going to do with me.”
 
“I’m afraid we’ve hardly got that far in our plans. First would you mind telling us where you have put the things you took from us?”
 
“You’ll find them over in that corner,” nodding his head toward one of the corners farthest away from the cave.
 
“See if they’re all there, Jack.”
 
“All here including the lunch,” Jack announced a minute later.
 
“Good.” Then turning to the man he said: “I don’t suppose it will be any good asking you what you’re doing up here and why you tied us up.”
 
“I’m afraid not,” the man smiled.
 
“I thought not. Well ‘what’s sass for the goose’s sass for the gander.’ If you’ll get that rope we’ll give him a taste of his own medicine,” he said turning to Jack.
 
The man made not the slightest objection while they bound him securely. Rather he seemed inexpressibly bored with the proceeding38.
 
“I don’t know how expert you are at getting a rope off,” Bob said as soon as they had finished, “But I rather think that will hold you for awhile.”
 
“If you are satisfied I guess I’ll have to be,” he smiled.
 
Grabbing him by the shoulders Bob dragged the man into the cave and then returned to the outer room closing the door behind him. After he had slipped the bar in place he turned to Jack.
 
“Well, what’s next?”
 
“Lunch,” Jack declared without hesitation39.
 
“All right, but let’s make it snappy.”
 
“Is there any rush?”
 
“I think so. Didn’t you notice anything queer about that fellow?”
 
“Only that he didn’t seem much worried.”
 
“That’s it exactly. Why didn’t he?”
 
“You mean he expects those other fellows to show up soon?”
 
“Exactly.”
 
“I reckon you’re right.”
 
While they were talking they had been eating and they made a hasty meal of it.
 
“Now let’s beat it,” Jack proposed washing down the last mouthful with a drink of water from a small thermos40 bottle.
 
“I don’t quite like the idea of leaving him here,” Bob said slowly. “Suppose he was only bluffing and they don’t come. He might starve to death.”
 
“Well, how about taking him with us?”
 
“I hardly like to do that. Wouldn’t it be better to take the bar away and fix those ropes so that he can work them off after a bit?”
 
“All right.”
 
Bob removed the bar and threw open the door at the same time flashing the light onto the floor of the cave where he had left the man.
 
“Guess he’s been doing some rolling,” he said to Jack, who was just behind him, as he failed to see him.
 
“Well, he can’t be far,” Jack declared as he stepped into the cave ahead of Bob. “Well, what do you know about that?” he asked a moment later after the beam of light had searched the entire cave and had failed to disclose the man.
 
“He’s gone!” Bob gasped41 as he realized the fact.
 
“But it’s impossible.”
 
“I know, but it seems to be a fact nevertheless.”
 
A hurried search of the cave gave them not the slightest hint as to the manner in which the man had made his escape. The place, at the back of the cave, which had appeared to be a possible means of egress42 proved only a short cul-de-sac and so far as they could see there was no other opening save the front door.
 
“If you want my advice we’d better beat it right now while the beating’s good,” Bob declared after they had made a complete circuit of the cave and were once more in the outer room.
 
“You said it. Come on.”
 
Quickly they gathered up their belongings43 and, a moment later, started off down the mountain as fast as they could go.

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