Frank Merriwell's Alarm: or, Doing His Best
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“Sure enough. They are here to find the girl.”
“To put her out of the way, perhaps!”
“It would be like that man. If he gets hold of her, some terrible accident is likely to happen to Mildred Morris. But they are not gaining; she is keeping the lead with ease.”
“Yes,” nodded Frank, satisfaction on his face; “she will not be taken.”
The boys watched the race with great interest, seeing the girl draw farther and farther from her pursuers, till, at last, they gave over the attempt in disgust, although they still paddled along after her.
She headed for a distant shore, and Frank and Harry did not cease to watch till both boats had disappeared in the shadow of the mountains and timber.
“There,” said Merriwell – “over there somewhere must be the present home of that girl. It is a wild region, for I was there once myself, and I know. We will go there and see what we can find.”
“But we must recover our wheels first.”
“That is right; and now we can remove our clothes to do so, without fear of being seen. Come on.”
It was no simple task to get the bicycles out of the lake, but the thought of the girl’s possible danger seemed to have restored Harry’s strength, and, between them, they succeeded, after many efforts, in accomplishing their object.
In the meantime their clothes, which had been hung where sun and wind would reach them, had partly dried.
“We can’t wait for them to get entirely dry,” said Frank. “We’ll put them on just as they are. Nobody ever gets cold around Lake Tahoe at this time of year.”
Harry did not object, but the garments were just wet enough so it was not an easy thing to get into them. This, however, was done, after a severe struggle and a small amount of startling and highly picturesque language from Rattleton.
“Woo!” said Harry. “If we had a fine road, we could get on our bikes and send them spinning at such speed that the breeze would soon dry us; but now – how do you propose to get over across this part of the lake, anyhow?”
“Well,” said Frank, “you heard me speak of Big Gabe?”
“His cabin was not far from here.”
“What of that?”
“He owned a sailboat.”
“Wheejiz – no, jeewhiz! that’s the stuff! That’s what we want!”
“I rather thought so. With the aid of a sailboat we can get across the lake easily.”
“Let’s look for Mr. Big Gabe without delay.”
Frank took the lead, and they went in search of the big hermit, trundling their wheels or carrying them, as was necessary.
The modern bicycle is so light, although it is strong and stanch, that it may be carried almost anywhere, and so the task of taking the wheels along was not as difficult as it might have been.
Within half an hour they came in sight of Big Gabe’s hut, which lay on the shore of the little cove out of which the girl had sped in the light canoe.
“It was from this very spot that I first saw that building,” said Frank.“I’ll never forget it. Bart Hodge was with me. When we drew nearer, Big Gabe himself came out and threatened to shoot us, thinking we were trying to steal his boat, or something of that sort.”
“Where is the boat now?”
“There it is, down where the tree overhangs the lake. See?”
They could see the single mast and stern of the boat.
“Good luck!” cried Rattleton. “With the aid of that, we won’t do a thing but make a lively cruise across the lake, for the wind is rising, and we’ll have a fair breeze.”
Frank was looking steadily toward the hut, and there was something like a frown on his face, which his companion observed.
“What’s the matter?” Harry asked.
“The hut looks deserted. The first time I saw it smoke was coming out of the chimney. Now the chimney is giving forth no smoke, and the door stands open. It doesn’t look as if any one had been around the place for a year.”
“That’s right,” admitted Harry, anxiously. “But the boat is there.”
“It may be in bad condition, else why didn’t Belmont and the dwarf take it?”
“There was no breeze a short time ago, and they could not have sailed it across the lake. Besides, they were in pursuit of the girl in the canoe, and they hoped to overtake her with the aid of a boat they could row or paddle.”
“Your reasoning is all right, my boy. We will hope the sailboat is all right, too. Come on.”
CHAPTER XIV. – THE HERMIT’S POWER
Around the shore of the cove the two boys went toward the hut. As they approached it Frank placed his hands to his mouth in the form of a horn, and shouted:
“Oh, Gabe! Oh, Mr. Blake!”
His voice came back in a distinct echo from a distant rocky steep, but that was all the answer he received. The rising breeze stirred the open door, seeming to wave it at the boys in derision, but the air of loneliness about the place was oppressive.
“There’s no one about,” said Frank.
“Not a soul,” agreed Harry.
They reached the cabin and looked in. It had not been occupied for two months, at least.
“Big Gabe is dead or gone,” said Merriwell, with sincere regret. “I hoped to find him here.”
“Well, let’s see if his boat is all right,” came anxiously from Rattleton. “That is what we want to know most.”
Leaving their wheels leaning against a tree, they hastened to the spot where the boat lay moored at a short distance from the shore.
“We’ll have to swim to get it,” said Frank. “It is plain that other boat in which we saw Belmont and the dwarf was used by Gabe to get from the shore to the sailboat.”
Frank stripped off quickly and plunged into the lake, although the water was cold, as he well knew from recent experience.
Out to the boat he swam, came up by her stern, and got in without difficulty, which was a very neat thing to do, as the average boy would have tried to crawl in over the side, with the probable result of upsetting the boat.
“How’s she look, Merry?” called Harry, anxiously.
“O. K.,” answered Frank. “There’s some water in her, but it is a small amount, and the sails are well reefed. They may be somewhat rotten, but we’ll be careful of them.”
“How are we to get our wheels on board?”
Frank stood up and surveyed the bottom, which he could do with ease, because of the unruffled surface of the cove, as the wind did not touch it there.
“There’s a channel leading up to that large rock,” he said. “I’ll bring the boat up there.”
“Look out to not get her aground so she can’t be brought off,” warned Harry. “That would be a scrape.”
“I’ll look out.”
Frank did not find it difficult to get up the anchor, and then, with the aid of a long oar, he guided the boat to the rock.
In the meantime, Harry had hastened to bring the bicycles down to the cove, and they were all ready to be taken on board. This was accomplished, and Harry followed them.
“Now away, away,” he cried. “We’ll set our course for yonder shore.”
“Of course,” punned Frank, and Rattleton made a grimace.
“Bad – very bad,” he said. “That habit has been the cause of more sudden deaths than anything else of which I know.”
Frank laughed, and they pushed the boat from the great rock.
Rattleton set about unfurling the sails and getting them ready for hoisting.
“Are you a sailor, Merry?” he asked, as if struck by a new thought.
“Am I?” cried Frank. “Ha! ha! also ho! ho! Wait a wee, and you shall see what you shall see.”
“Then you have been to sea?”
Frank gave the other boy a look of reproach.
“And you had the nerve to do that after saying what you did about the bad pun I made a short time ago!” he cried. “Rattleton, your crust is something awful!”
They made preparations for running up the sail, saw that the tiller was all right and the rudder worked properly, and looked after other things. The bicycles were in the way, but that could not be helped.
Harry aided Frank in setting the sail, and, with the aid of the oar, the boat was worked out to a point where they could feel the breeze.
“By Jove! this is rather jolly,” commented Rattleton, as they began to make headway. “With a fair wind, we’ll run over there in a short time, and then – then if we can find that girl!”
“My boy, your face is aglow with rapture at the thought,” smiled Frank. “You have been hit a genuine heart blow. Look out that it doesn’t knock you out.”
Away they went, making fair speed, although the boat was decidedly crude and cumbersome.
The mountainous region beyond the lake was wild and picturesque, but, fortunately, the boys found a cut that led down to the very shore of the lake.
They reached a spot where they could run up close to the shore, which enabled them to take their bicycles off without trouble.
The boat was made fast, the sails having been reefed once more, and then the lads deliberately mounted their wheels and attempted to ride into the cut.
This was not so difficult as might be thought, for they found what seemed to be an antelope “run” that led from the shore, and they pedaled along that path.
“It was somewhere in this region that we found the retreat of the gang of money makers when I was here before,” said Frank.
“What’s that? A gang that made money?”
“I suppose they had some kind of an old hut here-abouts in which they did the work?”
“They had a cave – a most wonderful cave it was said to be. That cave had never been fully explored, and – By Jove!”
Frank interrupted himself with the exclamation, a strange look having come to his face.
“What is it?” asked Harry.
“I have an idea.”
“Put us on.”
“That cave, my boy – that cave!”
“What about it?”
“It is said that Carter Morris, the queer old miner, lives in some sort of an underground place.”
“That’s right!” cried Rattleton, catching Frank’s meaning, and growing excited.
“He has some sort of mysterious mine.”
“Sure, old man!”
“And he wrote Bernard Belmont that Mildred Morris was buried from the sight of the world.”
“Now, you believe – ”
“I do – I believe it possible that man may be occupying the very cave once occupied by the counterfeiters.”
Rattleton was following Frank along the path, and he nearly ran Merriwell down in his excitement.
“You know the way to that cave?” he shouted. “You can find it?”
“I might be able to do so, although I am not sure of it. I can try. Even if we find the cave, we may not find the man and girl there.”
“It is a chance, anyway. It’s the best we can do.”
After they had proceeded into the mountains some distance, Frank began to look for a slope they could scale, so they might get out of the pass.
It was finally found, and, with their wheels on their backs, they labored to the top. Getting down on the other side was even more difficult, but they succeeded.
Then Frank led Harry a wild chase, till Rattleton was pretty well played out. His head had ceased to bleed, and he had removed the handkerchief, but he could feel that the blow had taken not a little of the stamina out of him.
“How long are you going to keep this up, Merry?” he asked.
“We must be somewhere near that cave,” declared Frank. “It is getting toward night. I hoped to be fortunate and find it before dark.”
“If we don’t – ”
“There’s another day coming. We have hard bread and smoked beef in the carriers, and we can find water here. We’re not nearly as bad off as we were on the Utah desert.”
“That’s right. That was a bad fix, but we pulled out of it all right. If our clothes were somewhat drier I could regard the approach of night with greater complaisance.”
“Our clothes are nearly dry, and they will be much more so in two hours.”
They continued the restless search, Frank seeming utterly tireless. Rattleton admired him for his resistless energy and unwavering determination and confidence.
Fortune must have smiled on them, for, as they were making their way along a narrow cut, they turned a short corner and beheld the dark mouth of a cave just ahead of them.
Both lads stopped and stood beside their wheels, uttering exclamations of satisfaction.
“Is that it, Frank?” asked Harry.
“It may be one of the entrances to the old cave of the counterfeiters,” answered Merry. “That cave has several mouths. This is not the one I saw, but – ”
“It is a cave, and it may be the one we are searching for. Come on!”
“What are you going to do?”
“We can’t go in without torches.”
“That’s right – dead right! Was so excited I didn’t think of that. But – hooray! – we have found it!”
“Don’t be so sure yet. We’ll go up and look in.”
They approached the mouth of the cave.
Suddenly, as they came near, there was a roar from within, and out of the cave rushed a man whose long hair and beard were white, and whose clothes were rude and worn.
The boys halted in amazement, staring at this man, who also stopped.
Frank spoke to Harry:
“It must be Carter Morris!”
“It is!” cried the old man, whose ears had caught the words. “How do you know me? What right have you to know my name? I am buried – buried from the world!”
“Crazy as a bedbug!” whispered Rattleton.
“Oh, crazy, am I!” sneered the man, much to Harry’s astonishment, for it had not seemed possible he could hear that whisper. “That’s what they think – the fools!”
Rattleton clutched Frank’s wrist.
“Look,” he panted; “she is coming! There she is!”
Out of the darkness within the mouth of the cave advanced the strange girl they had seen in the canoe. She was hatless, and she looked marvelously pretty with her golden hair hanging about her ears and reaching down upon her shoulders.
“Well, she is a fairy!” admitted Merriwell. “If you win that, you’ll be a lucky lad, Rattles.”
“Ha! ha! ha!” harshly laughed the man, without a trace of mirth in face or voice. “That is all they think of, the fools! That is what brings them here! They know you are rich, my dear – they know it! And they seek to win you! But you are dead to the world – dead and buried!”
“Mr. Morris,” said Frank, speaking quietly, “we have a message for the young lady.”
“Bah!” cried the man.
“It is from her brother,” said Frank.
“Bah!” repeated the hermit.
But the girl started forward, crying:
“My brother – what do you know of him?”
The man put out his hand and held her back.
“It is a trick,” he declared – “a shallow trick! They think to fool you that way. Don’t listen to them, child! Let me talk to them.”
Then he turned on the boys, his face dark with anger.
“Go away from here!” he cried. “Every moment you remain here your lives are in danger! If you care to live, go away at once!”
The girl looked frightened.
“We can’t go away till we have delivered our message,” said Frank, calmly, as he started forward.
“Back!” cried the strange old man, flinging out his hand with a warning gesture. “It means death if you advance another step!”
The girl looked more frightened than ever, and the boys halted again.
“The old pirate!” whispered Harry. “We must save her from him somehow, Frank! I know he is detaining her against her will.”
Again that harsh, mirthless laugh.
“You know a great deal,” sneered the man; “but you do not know enough to go away and save your lives! You do not know my power, but you shall feel it!”
The girl cried out and started to lift a hand. Then the man stepped to the right and touched the wall of stone.
To Frank and Harry it seemed that the mountains fell on them and beat them down with a great blow that stretched them helpless and senseless on the ground!
CHAPTER XV. – RECOVERY
With a feeling of numbness and pain in every limb and every part of his body, Frank Merriwell stirred and tried to sit up. His strength seemed to be gone, and he wondered at his weakness.
“What – what does it mean?” he asked himself, puzzled.
There was a cloud on his brain, and, for the time, he did not remember what had happened. He realized he was lying on the ground, and he wondered if he had been there long.
After a time he turned his head a bit, and close beside him he saw Harry Rattleton, stretched on his back, his arms outspread, his face ghastly pale.
A chill of horror seized upon Merriwell’s heart.
Why didn’t Harry move? Why were his eyes closed? Why was his face so white?
There was something horrible and awe-inspiring about those rigid limbs and that ghastly face.
“He is dead!”
He succeeded in speaking the words aloud, although his voice was weak and faint. The sound startled him, and, with a mighty effort, he lifted himself to one elbow.
“Harry!” he panted, thickly – “Harry, wake up!”
Still no stir.
“Harry, Harry, are you asleep?”
Rattleton remained motionless.
Holding himself thus, Frank watched, but he could not see that the bosom of his friend rose and fell at all – he could not see that Harry breathed.
Surely that pallid face was not the face of a living person! It had the stamp of death upon it!
“Merciful goodness!” whispered Frank, as he dragged himself nearer. “I know – I am sure some frightful thing has happened to us! But I do not seem to remember.”
He paused and stared about. Sunset light was on the snow-capped peaks of the Sierras, and away up there they were dazzling to the eye; but there were deep shadows below – black shadows in the heart of Frank Merriwell.
“The mountains!” he faintly murmured – “they are all around us! This is not the desert – no, no! We were not overcome by hunger and thirst. Something – something else struck us down!”
He lifted one hand to his head, which was so numb and felt so lifeless. What was the trouble?
Concentrating all his faculties, he forced himself to think. Then he seemed to remember.
“The girl!” he faintly exclaimed – “we were searching for her! We were trying to find the cave, and – we found it!”
He remembered at last. He remembered the appearance of the old man of the white hair and beard; he remembered that the girl had come forth from the mouth of the cave; he remembered the warning of the strange man and the frightful shock that had followed.
“Jingoes!” he said. “I believe we were struck by lightning! I’m not completely knocked out, but Harry seems to be.”
Then he reached Rattleton and touched his face, felt for his pulse, sought to discover if his heart beat.
Close to the breast of his friend Frank placed his ear, and what he heard caused him to utter a cry of satisfaction.
“Not dead!” he exclaimed. “He still lives! There is a chance for him.”
The thought that Harry’s life might depend on his efforts aroused him still more. He loosened Harry’s sweater and the collar about his throat, he chafed his wrists and temples, he fanned him, called to him, sought in many ways to arouse him.
At last he saw signs of success. Rattleton’s breast rose and fell, and he gave a great sigh.
“That’s right, old man!” cried Frank, with satisfaction. “Just open your peepers and let us know you are recovering.”
Harry opened his eyes.
“Where – what – why – ”
He seemed unable to ask the questions that sought for utterance.
“I was thinking the same things a few moments ago,” said Frank. “We were knocked out in the first round with the old hermit.”
“Hermit – what hermit?”
“That’s it,” nodded Merry. “You’re as bad off as I was. Why, Carter Morris, the uncle of the girl with the golden hair, who has hit you so hard.”
A light of understanding came to Harry’s face, and he revived with wonderful swiftness.
“I remember it all now!” he faintly exclaimed. “But I do not know what happened to us. It seemed to me that something struck me.”
“What was it?”
“I don’t know, but something knocked us both out. You remember that the old man warned us not to advance another step – said it would mean instant death if we did.”
“Yes; but I thought the old duffer was bluffing.”
“So did I. I have since decided that he wasn’t.”
“You think he gave us the knock-out?”
“How could he?”
“Some way. He has some mysterious power, with the aid of which he guards the mouth of that cave.”
“And that power must be – ”
“It’s a dead-sure thing!” cried Harry. “We were given an electric shock. When the man touched the wall with his hand, he turned on the current.”
“I believe it.”
“But how did the shock reach us?”
“Don’t know. I saw no wires.”
“There must have been wires.”
“I presume so.”
“Well, where are we now?”
They looked around, but there was nothing about their surroundings that they remembered having seen before.
“We are not in front of the cave,” said Frank.
“No, we are not where we fell, that is sure.”
“We must have been removed to this spot.”
“The bicycles – where are they?”
With no small difficulty they got upon their feet, and then they saw their wheels leaning against the face of a black rock near by.
At first their legs seemed scarcely able to support their weight, but they grew stronger as the moments passed, and they approached the wheels.
Then it was they saw something drawn with white chalk on the smooth surface of the black rock.
It was the representation of a human hand, with the index finger pointing in a certain direction.
Beneath the hand were these words:
“THIS WAY – GO!”
“It is a warning!” cried Frank.
“You boot your bets – I mean bet your boots! It tells us to git.”
With that word Frank turned on Harry sharply.
“You may go if you want to,” said Rattleton; “but I never knew you to run away. You are not easily scared.”
“How about you?”
“I am here to find that girl, and I am going to stay till I find her or croak! That’s how about me!”
“Good stuff!” cried Merry, approvingly, as he grasped the hand of his comrade. “We’ll both stay till we find her.”
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