Frank Merriwell's Alarm: or, Doing His Best
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In a short time the boys began to feel like themselves once more. Taking their wheels along, they sought for a spring, and were able to find one.
There they stopped and made a meal from the hard bread and jerked beef, which was washed down with clear water from the spring.
“Now I am all right,” Harry declared. “A feed was what I needed.”
They discussed matters a few minutes, and then, carefully observing the surroundings, decided to conceal the bicycles in the vicinity of the spring and seek for the mouth of the cave once more.
They found a good hiding place for the wheels, and there the machines were stowed away.
“We can’t be so awfully far from that cave,” Frank decided. “One man and a girl would not be able to bring us a long distance.”
But the cave was not easy to find, and the more they searched the more bewildered they became.
Meanwhile night was coming on swiftly.
“Hist!” warned Harry, suddenly grasping Frank’s wrist and drawing him down behind some bowlders. “Look there!”
“What is it?”
“Moving figures! I saw them distinctly over there.”
“The man and the girl?”
“Couldn’t tell. There they are again. Look!”
“I see! It is not the man and the girl. It is two men.”
“That is right – or, at least, a man and something that resembles a man.”
“It is Bernard Belmont and his gorilla man!”
“You are right, Merry, my boy; and they, too, are searching for the mouth of the cave. It will be a good scheme to watch them.”
CHAPTER XVI. – LOST UNDERGROUND
The boys followed Belmont and Apollo, being aided in doing so without danger of discovery by the gathering darkness; but they knew very well that, in a short time it would become so dark that they might lose track of the two.
Apollo seemed to be guiding his master to some spot, and they clambered over the rocks with haste that indicated a desire to reach the place without delay.
At last the dwarf paused and swept aside some matted vines from the face of what seemed to be a cliff of solid stone.
A black opening, large enough to admit a man in a stooping posture, was revealed.
Apollo urged Belmont to follow, and then they disappeared beyond the vines, which fell down and hid the opening again.
“It’s a cave, Merry!” whispered Rattleton.
“Yes,” nodded Frank; “it may be one of the many entrances to the great cavern of the ‘queer’ makers. This may lead into the cave occupied by Carter Morris!”
“Then let’s get in there quick!” exclaimed Harry, eagerly. “If we don’t, we may lose track of those men.”
“We must use something like caution, my boy. If we were to rush in after them, it might do us up, for they may be laying for us.”
So the mouth of the cave was approached with caution.
When they had reached it, Frank listened.
From a distance inside he could hear voices, and, peering through the vines, he caught the glimmer of a light.
“Come in quickly after me, Harry,” he directed.“Be ready to fight for your life if attacked.”
Rattleton’s heart was in his throat, and he felt that they were plunging into unknown and terrible danger, but he said:
“Go ahead. I am with you to the end.”
Gently and swiftly Frank made the opening in the vines larger, and then he quickly stepped through, holding them aside for his friend to follow.
The vines fell back into place, and the lad crouched close to the ground.
“There,” said Frank, “see that light? It is not a torch.”
“No. It seems to be some sort of lamp.”
“It is a miner’s lamp. Look – another is being lighted.”
A match flared up, and its bright glow revealed the pale and terrible face of the gorilla man, who was lighting the lamp.
The lamps were arranged to be placed in the hats of those who carried them, and this was what the two men did with them.
When everything was arranged to their satisfaction, Belmont and the dwarf started onward into the cave.
“We’ll follow them, Harry,” said Frank.
The light from the lamps made it a comparatively easy task for the boys to accomplish their purpose.
Deeper and deeper into the great cave went the two men. Once or twice they stopped and listened. Once the boys distinctly heard Apollo say:
“Master, I think I heard a step.”
“Nonsense!” returned the man, sharply. “You heard nothing.”
“I am sure I heard something,” the dwarf insisted.
“Then it was a rat, or, if there are no rats here, it was a piece of falling stone.”
“It may have been,” acknowledged Apollo.
Onward they went.
Frank and Harry had stopped and were listening. Harry’s hands grasped Merriwell’s arm, and he was filled with excitement. He drew a breath of relief when the men moved on.
“Jy bove – no, by Jove!” he gasped. “I thought the trick was up then!”
“Still!” cautioned Frank. “We must not alarm that dwarf too much. He has wonderfully keen ears.”
The passage, in places, broadened into great chambers, while in other places it narrowed till they were forced to make their way along one at a time.
“If we lose sight of those lights we may have some trouble getting out,” whispered Harry.
“That’s so,” confessed Merriwell. “I have seen other passages besides the one taken by them.”
The thought of being lost underground in that great cave was enough to turn them cold with fear.
And then, without the least warning, the lights in advance suddenly vanished.
“Down!” whispered Merriwell. “I believe they have discovered we are after them. Close to the ground and listen!”
Down they crouched, their hearts beating riotously in their bosoms.
Not a sound seemed to break the deathlike stillness of the cave.
“What’s happened?” whispered Harry. “Where have they gone?”
“Give it up,” answered Frank. “They have disappeared, but that is as much as I know.”
“Perhaps they are laying for us.”
But, although they waited a long time, not a sound could they hear save those sounds made by themselves.
“I am going ahead,” declared Merriwell.
“We may run into them.”
“Got to chance it, old man. That might be better than to have them run away from us. Come on.”
“I’m with you.”
Keeping close together, they crept forward slowly, not knowing but they might be attacked at any moment.
Of a sudden, Frank gave a gasp and cry. Harry tried to grasp his companion, and then he found himself slipping, sliding, falling.
Down they went, getting hold of each other, but being unable to stop their descent. It was impossible to see anything there in that frightful darkness, and that made their peril seem awful indeed.
Fortunately their fall was not always direct. There were times when they seemed to be sliding down a steep slope, while dust filled their eyes and mouths, and they were bruised and scratched and robbed of breath.
Finally, when it had seemed they would never cease falling, they stopped with a great thump and lay panting side by side.
“Great humping misery!” gasped Rattleton, weakly. “Are we diving or are we lead – I mean are we living or are we dead?”
“We seem to be living,” said Frank, “but we might be better off if we were dead. I think we are in a bad scrape.”
“What happened to us, anyway?”
“Or were we pushed?”
“There was no pushing about it. We took the tumble ourselves.”
“You don’t suppose the chaps we were following fell down here ahead of us?”
“Then what could have become of them?”
“They must have turned off into a side passage we did not see. That is the only way I can explain it.”
“Well, we may not be able to get out of this.”
“We’ll have to get out.”
“What if we can’t?”
“We mustn’t think of that.”
“All right; but I can’t help it.”
They sat up and felt of themselves, finding no bones were broken, although they had been bruised somewhat.
Harry was about to get on his feet, but Frank would not allow that till he had lighted a match, as there was danger of taking another mad tumble.
Frank always carried matches in a watertight case, and he produced and struck one. By the aid of the tiny blaze they first satisfied themselves that they were not on the brink of another descent, and there was no immediate danger of falling again. Then they tried to look around.
“Murder!” gasped Harry. “We are in it – bad!”
Frank felt that Rattleton was right; without doubt they were in a very bad scrape. But it was Merry’s policy to keep up his courage and put on a front, so he joked and laughed as if it were a matter to be made light of.
“I don’t know how you do it, old man,” said Harry, gloomily; “but I can’t laugh while we are in this sort of a hole.”
“We’ve both been in bad scrapes before. Keep a stiff upper lip. We’ll pull out all right. First, we must see if we can scale this place where we fell.”
Another match was lighted, and they made an examination. It was not long before they were convinced that it was utterly useless to think of trying to get out that way.
“Can’t be done!” groaned Harry.
“Not that way,” admitted Frank. “But we’ll find a way.”
“We came here to find the buried heiress, and now we are buried ourselves. That’s what I call hard lines.”
With the aid of their matches, they made their way along slowly, both fearing they might take another fall, and that it might be fatal.
“Perhaps it would be the best thing that could happen to us,” said Rattleton, dolefully. “It would be a great deal better than starving down here underground.”
Frank said nothing. He saw their matches were running out, and the thought of being left there in the darkness of that great cavern, with no means of procuring a light of any sort, was overcoming him and making it impossible for him to assume an air of carelessness and merry spirits.
Finally, when there were but a few matches left, Frank said:
“We’ll have to feel our way along and take chances, Harry. I am not going to use up all these matches, for there is no telling how valuable they may be later on.”
So, clinging to each other, they crept along inch by inch, lost in the Stygian darkness of the great cavern of the Sierras.
CHAPTER XVII. – BROTHER AND SISTER
“There’s a light ahead, Harry!”
Frank uttered the words in an excited whisper, after they had been groping their way through the darkness of the great cavern for what seemed to be many hours.
Rattleton was greatly agitated.
“It is a light, sure!” he panted. “Frank, we’re all right at last!”
For some time they had heard a strange puffing sound that seemed smothered and far away, like the panting breathing of some subterranean monster. This was accompanied by a singular buzzing roar that sounded very uncanny.
“What is it?” asked Rattleton, in awe – “what can it be?”
“Give it up,” confessed Frank. “Let’s find out. Come on.”
They moved toward the light, and soon they found themselves looking down into a round chamber of the great cavern from a height of many feet.
What they saw filled them with inexpressible astonishment.
The place was lighted with electric lamps, and down there in the chamber was a steam engine and a small electric dynamo.
The engine was running steadily, and the dynamo hummed with a sound about which there now was nothing uncanny.
Near the engine, watching it with interest, was the girl of the golden hair.
Harry clutched Frank’s arm.
“There she is!” he panted. “We have found her at last!”
They stood in silence for several moments, watching the girl, who looked very pretty beneath the light of the electric lamps.
Suddenly a cry came from Harry, and he clutched Merriwell’s arm with quivering fingers, pointing with his other hand.
“Look! look!” he exclaimed. “The dwarf – there he is!”
Sure enough, the crouching figure of Apollo was seen emerging from the darkness of a black opening and advancing toward the girl with swift, catlike steps.
The girl had heard Harry’s exclamation, and, startled, she looked up toward where the boys were standing.
Then the dwarf rushed upon her and clutched her with his iron hands.
A scream of terror came from the lips of the frightened girl, and rang in weird echoes through the cave.
The hand of Apollo was pressed over her mouth.
But that scream had been heard, and there was an answering shout from not very far away.
The girl struggled, but the dwarf dragged her along toward the dark opening.
“How can we get down there, Frank? We must take a hand! How can we do it? It is too far to jump!”
Rattleton was frantic.
Frank was looking for some way of getting down into the chamber.
Before either of them could discover a means of going to the assistance of the girl, Carter Morris, the strange old hermit, rushed into the cavern.
Morris sprang to the aid of the girl, but it seemed Bernard Belmont had been waiting for such a thing to happen, for he leaped out of the darkness and grappled with the hermit.
Then a savage battle took place before the eyes of the boys.
“Furies!” roared the man of the cave, writhing to break the grasp of his assailant. “Who are you?”
The girl got her mouth free from Apollo’s hand and screamed:
“It is my stepfather – it is Bernard Belmont!”
It seemed that those words filled the hermit with a mad frenzy. He struggled furiously, and Belmont was forced to exert all his strength to prevent himself from being overcome, although he was the assailant.
“We must go to the rescue, Frank – we must!” palpitated Rattleton.
The boys were determined to find a way of getting down into the round chamber, and Frank fancied he saw a manner of descending. It would be necessary to drop at least fifteen feet, but he started to make the attempt and Harry followed.
The battle between Belmont and Carter Morris continued with great fury, and Morris seemed to become perfectly mad with rage when he was unable to overcome his assailant.
Bit by bit the hermit dragged the man toward the buzzing dynamo, his eyes glowing with an awful purpose.
Suddenly he tried to hurl Belmont upon the dynamo.
Belmont realized the intention of the man, and a scream of fear escaped him.
A moment later both men went down upon the machine!
A second they seemed to cling there, and then they were flung off, falling upon the rocky floor of the cavern and lying still, holding fast to each other in death!
The girl screamed, and the dwarf seemed overcome with sudden fear. He stared at the contorted face of his dead master, seeming unable to realize what had happened in the twinkling of an eye.
Down from the heights above dropped two boys.
“Give it to him, Frank!” screamed Harry.
They rushed at the dwarf, but, for once in his life, at least, Apollo was mastered by terror, for, with a shout of dismay, he released the girl and fled, disappearing in a hopping, bounding manner into the darkness.
Rattleton caught the half-fainting girl in his arms, crying:
“Hurrah, Merry, we have found her, and we’ve saved her!”
But she had fainted.
When another morning dawned the two boys and the girl left the great cave and started for Carson City.
Already had Mildred explained to them how it happened that the steam engine and the dynamo were found in the cavern. The coiners who had occupied that retreat years before had discovered a valuable vein of ore, and they had devised a scheme of mining with the aid of electricity. The engine was brought there to run the dynamo. As a certain portion of the cave yielded coal in liberal quantities, it was not difficult to find fuel for the engine.
Carter Morris, being somewhat of an electrician, had put the abandoned machinery in running order when he took possession of the cave.
It had been his intention to protect himself from intruders by the aid of electric currents, and he had given Frank and Harry a frightful shock at the mouth of the cavern by means of hidden wires.
The electric current had caused his death when he fell upon the dynamo in struggling with Bernard Belmont.
The graves of both men were made in the cave, and Little Milly shed tears over the body of her mad uncle, who had sought to befriend her by “burying” her.
The hidden bicycles were found, and the sailboat was discovered where the boys had left it.
After setting sail to cross the lake, Frank touched Harry’s arm and pointed to an object that was floating in the water, at the same time pressing a finger to his lips and shaking his head, with a look toward Milly.
Harry looked and started, for he saw the ghastly, upturned face of Apollo, the dwarf, the scar on his cheek having turned a purplish blue.
The girl did not see this object, and the boys believed it far better to leave the dwarf than to horrify her by letting her see the body.
Carson was reached without further adventure, and there a joyous surprise awaited Mildred Morris.
Jack Diamond met the little party outside the hotel.
“Where are Toots and Bruce?” asked Frank, in a low voice.
“Standing guard, as you directed,” said Jack. “We have taken turns since you went away, and he has not been left alone a moment.”
“How is he?”
“Better – much better. The doctor says he thinks he’ll come around all right.”
Then Frank and Harry accompanied Milly to a certain room of the hotel. Browning and the colored boy were called out of the room, and Merriwell said to the girl:
“Go in, Miss Morris. There’s some one in there who will be glad to see you.”
He held the door open, and urged her gently into the room.
A moment later there was a cry of joy – two cries – a rush. Then, peering in at the door for a moment, the delighted lads saw Milly spring toward the bed and clasp her living brother in her arms.
Frank closed the door.
Immediately Toots danced a wild cancan of delight.
“Golly sakes teh goodness!” he chuckled. “Dat gal sho’ am a peach. I’d jes’ lek teh take dat sick boy’s place ’bout five minutes. Yah! yah! yah! Oh, mommer!”
The boy whom Mildred had rushed to meet was her brother, George, who was not dead, but had fainted at sight of his cruel stepfather and the dwarf. Belmont had thought the boy dead, and had left Carson without delay, much to the satisfaction of Frank Merriwell.
And now the doctor who was attending George said the boy had a fair show to recover.
“Say,” observed Diamond, suddenly, “the buried heiress is out of sight! I think I will – ”
“If you try it,” spluttered Rattleton, menacingly, “I’ll hake your bread – I mean I’ll break your head! I saw her first, and I have first claim there!”
“Break away, there, you chumps,” laughed Frank. “We have business first, you know. We must speed on toward California and bring this wonderful trip of ours to a successful finish. Onward is the cry.”
That afternoon they bade farewell to George and Mildred, and rode away, sorry indeed at the parting.
CHAPTER XVIII. – OLD FRIENDS
Through a California forest of monster trees our five boys were riding, and they sang as they rode, their voices blending beautifully and making the old woods echo with sweet music.
To them it seemed that all the perils of the trip were past and San Francisco was in view, although in truth, it was more than two hundred miles away by the route they would be compelled to follow.
It was a perfect day, with the sun shining from a cloudless sky, as it always seems to shine in California. It was warm, but not too hot for comfort, and the road through the forest was fairly good, winding to the right and then to the left beneath the shadows of the great trees.
“If this road wasn’t so crooked, we wouldn’t have to travel so far,” groaned Browning, his manner being so dismal that the others broke into a shout of laughter.
“You shouldn’t kick about this road,” smiled Frank. “I’ve seen a road much more crooked than this.”
“It must have been pretty crooked.”
“It was so crooked that when you started to ride on it you’d meet yourself coming back.”
“Yow!” whooped Rattleton. “That’s the worst I ever heard! A man should be put behind bars for perpetrating anything like that.”
“I don’t think I’d like to be put behind bars,” confessed Merry.
“Huah!” grunted Bruce. “There are others. Why, I know fellows who want to be in front of bars all the time.”
“You mean they drink incessantly?”
“No, I mean they drink whiskey.”
“Yah! yah! yah!” shouted Toots, his shrill laugh awaking the echoes. “Nebber heard Mistah Brownin’ say nuffin’ funny as dat befo’! Dat teks de cake!”
“I wouldn’t mind taking a small cake,” said the big fellow. “This California air makes me hungry.”
“Land ob wartermillions! yo’s alwus hungry, Mistah Brownin’, sar. Yo’s been eatin’ all de way ’crost de country.”
“That’s right,” was Browning’s confession. “And there was one strip of country where they didn’t seem to have anything to eat but corn beef and cabbage. I actually ate so much corn beef and cabbage that I was ashamed to look a cow in the face.”
“Well, we’ll soon be in San Francisco, the greatest city in all this Western land,” put in Frank. “There we can get almost any kind of feed we like. Why, I know a restaurant where we’ll be able to get ‘genuine Boston baked beans.’”
“You know a place?” questioned Diamond. “You know? Look here, Frank Merriwell, what is there you don’t know about? Have you been everywhere and seen everything?”
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