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    Chapter 24

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    Chapter 25
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    Lost underground!

    It was a terrible condition of affairs to contemplate, and for an instant Dave's heart almost stopped beating and something like a chill swept down his backbone. What if they should be unable to find their way out of the rocky cave?

    "We'll have to go back," said Abe Blower, in a low voice, after a pause, in which the three of the party had gazed around at the walls of the cavern and at each other. "An' we don't want to lose no time nuther," added the old miner.

    "No, for the others will be wondering what has become of us," put in Roger.

    "It ain't thet so much, lad, it's the torches--they won't last forever."

    All gazed at the lights and saw that the old miner was right. The first ones they had lit had burnt out and the remaining lot were more than half consumed.

    Without further words they turned around, in an endeavor to retrace their steps to the point where they had made a false turn. Abe Blower led the way and the boys followed, all keeping their eyes wide open, to make certain that nothing of importance might escape them.

    On and on they went, seeing one spot after another that looked familiar. They even passed the spot where Dave had thrown away the end of his first torch. The bit of wood was still smoking.

    "Here's the split in the cave, I think," said the old miner, at last.

    They had reached a spot where the cavern widened out into a large, circular opening. From this point could be seen several other openings. Evidently they had taken the wrong passageway.

    "But which is the right one?" questioned Roger. "They all look alike to me."

    "Look putty much alike to me, too," returned Abe Blower. "If only I had thought to put down a few chalk marks!" he sighed.

    Dave said nothing but went around to the various openings, examining all with care by the light of his torch.

    "I believe this is the one we came in by," he announced, a few minutes later.

    "What makes you think so?" asked his chum.

    "Do you see that curiously-shaped rock over there? Well, I remember seeing that as we came along--it reminded me of a giant's face. Now, you can't see that rock that way only from here."

    "Perhaps you are right, Dave. I must confess I am all mixed up," and Roger sighed.

    "We can try it for a little distance," said Abe Blower. "Then, if we won't see anything we remember seem' before, we can come back to this place."

    "But our torches----" began the senator's son.

    "We'll use one at a time--that will make 'em last," said Dave.

    This was considered a good suggestion, and all but one of the flaming lights were extinguished. Then they walked down the passageway as quickly as safety permitted.

    "I--I don't see anything that looks like what I saw before," said Roger, after a bit. "The rocks look all alike to me."

    "An' to me," returned the old miner, and there was something of hopelessness in his tones.

    But they kept on. Dave had the torch and was ahead, with the others close at his heels. The single torch gave but an uncertain light and cast grotesque shadows on all sides.

    "Look!" cried our hero, a little later.

    He pointed to a series of small stones resting on the floor of the cavern. They were somewhat in the form of a circle, with a large stone in the center.

    "Oh, I remember those stones!" cried Roger, joyfully.

    "So do I!" put in Abe Blower. "I reckon as how we are in the right passageway now, lads!" he continued, in a more hopeful tone.

    "I am sure we are!" came from our hero. "But we have a pretty good distance to go yet."

    "Yes, an' be careful thet ye don't go down in none o' them pesky holes," cautioned the old miner.

    Quarter of an hour later they reached the spot where they had shot the lioness. Looking ahead, they saw a torch waving in the air.

    "Hullo! hullo!" came in the voice of Phil. "Where are you?"

    "Here we are!" answered Dave and Roger.

    "You've been a long time in here," went on the shipowner's son.

    "We got lost," announced Roger.

    "And we shot the mate of that mountain lion," added Dave.

    They soon reached Phil, and then the whole party quickly made their way out of the cave. Those who had been left outside listened with interest to what Dave and the others had to relate.

    "Well, that sure must be some cave!" exclaimed Tom Dillon. "An' as Abe says, we must come back and examine it more closely some time. There may be a lot of gold an' silver in it, an' maybe other metals."

    "Perhaps radium!" cried Phil. "Say, wouldn't it be great to find a radium mine!"

    "I don't think ye'll find any o' thet new-fangled stuff here," answered Tom Dillon. "An' anyway, gold an' silver is good enough for me," and he smiled broadly.

    Nightfall found the party still among the loose rocks that overspread the mountainside where the great landslide had taken place. Looking at the forsaken and desolate region, the boys could well understand why the search for the lost mine had been given up. There was nothing to be seen that looked in the least promising. Rocks and dirt rested on all sides, and that was all.

    "We looked over the rocks and the dirt putty well, too," explained Tom Dillon. "But there wasn't nary a sight o' gold; eh, Abe?"

    "Not enough fer to buy a plug o' tobaccer with," answered the other miner.

    As one spot was no better than another apparently, they did not spend much time in looking for a place to camp. In one place was a little rough brush and here the horses were tethered. Then a tiny fire was kindled in a hollow of the rocks, and over this they prepared their supper,--a rather slim affair, considering that every one was tremendously hungry.

    "Not a seven-course dinner," said Phil, with a sickly grin.

    "Never mind," returned Dave, cheerfully. "Just wait till after we have found that lost mine and get into Yellowstone Park. I'm sure the hotels there serve the best of meals."

    "O dear! now I am here, it doesn't look so easy--I mean to locate that mine," sighed Roger.

    "What, you're not going to give up so soon, are you, lad!" cried Tom Dillon.

    "Why, we ain't begun no search yit," added Abe Blower. "Time to git kind o' tired arfter ye have been here a week or two an' nuthin' doin'."

    To this none of the boys replied. But they could not help but think what a dreary time it would be, searching among those rocks and that loose dirt day after day, if the lost mine were not brought to light.

    The day's exertions had tired all hands, and they slept soundly throughout the night, with nothing coming to disturb them. When the boys got up they found Abe Blower already at the campfire, preparing a breakfast of his favorite flapjacks and bacon. He fried his big flapjacks one at a time in a pan, and it was simply wonderful to the boys how he would throw a cake in the air and catch it in the pan bottom side up.

    "It's the knack on't," said Tom Dillon, as he saw the lads watching the feat performed. "I know some old miners kin keep two pans a-goin' that way, and never miss a cake."

    "I'd like to try it," said Phil.

    "Not now--we ain't got no batter to waste," replied Abe Blower, with a chuckle.

    The morning meal at an end, the hunt for traces of the lost Landslide Mine commenced in earnest. Dave and his chums had come dressed for the work, and the whole party were provided with picks, shovels, crowbars, axes, and a couple of gold-pans.

    The whole of that day was spent on the mountainside, the various members of the party separating from time to time and then coming together, to relate their various experiences. The old miners had told the boys how to search and what landmarks to look for, so that they did not seek altogether blindly.

    It was hard, hot work, for the sun poured down all the long day. And added to that, water was scarce, for the nearest spring was well down the mountainside, and even this had a bitter taste which rendered it far from palatable.

    "Well, nothing doing so far," said Roger, as they came together in the evening.

    "Never mind, we may have better luck to-morrow," returned Dave, as cheerfully as he could.

    Several days went by, including Sunday, and still they found nothing that looked like a trace of the lost Landslide Mine. They had covered a tract of rocks and dirt several hundred feet in width and all of half a mile long. The only spot they had avoided was one where some loose rocks looked to be positively dangerous.

    "We might tackle that, but we'd be taking a big risk," said Dave.

    "Right you are," said Phil. "If those rocks tumbled on us, it would be good-by to this world!"

    "But the entrance to the lost mine may be under those very rocks!" sighed Roger. "And if so, just see what we'd miss by not searching there."

    "I've got an idee fer tacklin' thet place," said Abe Blower. "It will be hard work, but putty safe--if we are careful."

    "You mean to get above the rocks and roll 'em down the mountainside, one after another?" questioned Tom Dillon.

    "Exactly, Tom. We could do it with the wust o' the rocks that are loose--an' the rest wouldn't matter so much."

    "But we'd have to take care that we didn't roll the rocks on somebody's head," remarked Dave.

    "To be sure."

    The task of getting at the dangerous rocks was begun the next day. Stone after stone was sent crashing down the mountainside, into a desolate waste below. It was hard work, and the boys were exhausted by the time night fell around them. They had found a number of openings under the rocks, but none of these had proved to be the entrance to the lost mine.

    "And yet, somehow, I'm almost certain this is the spot where the mine was located," said Abe Blower, after another look around. "The scenery yonder looks jest like it."

    "So it does," answered Tom Dillon. "I feel that the Landslide Mine was just about here, an' my claim was over there," and he pointed to some rocks in the distance.

    Twice during the time that they were sending the big stones down the mountainside they had caught sight of another party among the rocks, once on horseback and again on foot. But the party had been too far away for any one to be recognized, even with the field-glass.

    "Maybe it's the Sol Blugg crowd," said Dave.

    "Yes, and maybe Merwell and Haskers are with them," added Phil.

    The wind had begun to blow strongly and the sun went down in a heavy mass of angry-looking clouds.

    "Up against a storm, I reckon," said Tom Dillon, after a careful survey of the sky.

    "Yes, an' when she comes like as not she'll be a rip-snorter," returned Abe Blower.

    Supper was hurried, because of the wind and the heavy clouds, and then the whole party withdrew to the shelter of some rocks, taking their horses with them.

    "Do you think it will be very bad?" asked Dave, of old Tom Dillon.

    "Perhaps, lad; some storms up here on the mountain are about as bad as they make 'em," was the grave reply.
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