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    Chapter 27

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    Chapter 28
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    THE TWO PRISONERS

    The three chums were right; the two persons who were approaching the camp on the mountainside so stealthily were Link Merwell and Job Haskers.

    They came on step by step, looking ahead and to either side, as if on the alert to flee at the first sign of danger.

    "What do you suppose they are after?" asked Phil, in a low voice.

    "Hush! We'll watch them and see," returned Dave.

    "Let us pretend to be asleep," advised Roger. "But lie so you can keep an eye on them."

    The boys had been crouching low, but now all followed the advice of the senator's son and fell back, as if in slumber. Then they rolled over and, with their hands on their weapons, watched the approach of the others.

    At last Merwell and Haskers were within fifty feet of those around the dying campfire. They had been talking in a low voice, but now both were silent, as if this had been agreed upon. Merwell was slightly in advance and he pointed to the outfit of the Morr crowd. This lay between some rocks and covered with a rubber cloth, so that the eatables might not be spoiled by the weather.

    Job Haskers nodded, to show that he understood, and both of the intruders tiptoed their way towards the stores. Noiselessly they raised the rubber cover and placed it on the ground. Then both commenced to pack the stores in the cloth.

    It was plainly to be seen now what the rascals meant to do. They were going to make off with our friends' stores, thereby perhaps making it necessary for them to give up the hunt for the mine and go back to the nearest place where more stores could be procured. For among those barren rocks but little could be found for the mine-hunters to eat. They might get a shot at some wild beast, but that was all.

    "What shall we do?" whispered Phil, who was growing impatient watching proceedings.

    "When I give the signal, jump up and cover them with your pistols," replied Roger.

    "Oh, I wouldn't shoot them," urged Dave, who dreaded to think of bloodshed under any circumstances.

    "Well, we'll scare 'em," returned the senator's son. "We'll teach 'em that they can't come near this camp."

    He waited until Merwell and Haskers were on the point of lifting the rubber cloth with the stores tied within it. Then he leaped up, and Dave and Phil did the same.

    "Hands up, you rascals!" cried Roger. "Hands up, or we'll fire at you!"

    "Oh!" cried Link Merwell, in consternation, and up went his hands.

    "Don't shoot me! I beg of you, don't shoot!" screamed Job Haskers, and he, too, dropped his hold of the bundle and sent his hands in the air. Then, catching sight of the pistols, he dropped on his knees. "Oh, Morr, please don't shoot! Porter, I beg of you, have mercy! And you, Lawrence, please point that weapon away! It--it might go off!"

    "This is a fine piece of business to be engaged in," said Roger, sternly. "Trying to steal our stores."

    "It--is--was--er--all a mistake," whined the former teacher of Oak Hall.

    "You won't dare to shoot," put in Link Merwell. "You won't dare!" He tried to be brave but his voice was shaky.

    "What's the row here?" burst in another voice, and Abe Blower sprang up, followed by Tom Dillon.

    "Hello, them two skunks!" cried Tom Dillon. "What do they want?"

    "They wanted to make off with our stores," answered Dave, and pointed to the goods tied up in the rubber cloth.

    "So that's the trick, eh?" bellowed Abe Blower.

    "First the hosses an' now the stores!" roared Tom Dillon. "Humph! Ye deserve to be shot full o' holes!" he went on, for he had lived in the times when the stealing of a horse, or of a miner's food, was considered by everybody a capital offense.

    "I--I beg of you, have mercy!" cried Job Haskers, as he got unsteadily to his feet. "I--I--this was not my plan at all--Merwell suggested it. We--we were not going to--er--to steal anything."

    "No? Then wot was ye goin' ter do?" demanded Abe Blower, sarcastically.

    "We were--er--only going to hide the stuff," stammered Link Merwell, and he glared at Job Haskers savagely for having tried to place the responsibility of the raid on his shoulders.

    "I don't believe a word of it!" came sternly from Tom Dillon. "You wanted to leave us to starve here, or compel us to go back to town--so you could hunt for that lost mine alone. I see through the trick. We ought to shoot you down like dogs!"

    "It's jest wot they deserve, consarn 'em," muttered Abe Blower.

    "We don't want anybody shot!" said Dave, to his chums. He saw that the two old miners were angry enough to do almost anything.

    "Let us--er--go this time and we'll never bother you again," pleaded Job Haskers. He was so scared he could scarcely speak.

    "Step over here, by this rock, and keep your hands up," said Tom Dillon. "We'll talk this over a bit further."

    There was no help for it, for Merwell and Haskers were now virtually prisoners. They stepped to the position mentioned, with their hands still upraised.

    "Go through 'em, Abe," went on Tom Dillon. "Take their shootin' irons away from 'em."

    "See here----" commenced Merwell, when a stern look from the old miner stopped him. Haskers said nothing, for he was still fearful of being shot.

    In a few minutes the two intruders were disarmed by Abe Blower. While this was being done Roger whispered to Dave.

    "Don't you think we ought to search 'em thoroughly?" he asked. "They may have something belonging to me--some map of the lost mine, or something like that? I don't exactly remember what I had in that suit-case Merwell got from the porter on the train."

    "Certainly, we'll have them well searched," declared Dave, and spoke to Tom Dillon about it. As a consequence, despite their protests, Abe Blower turned out every pocket of the prisoners.

    "There is one of my letters!" cried Roger. "It tells about the Landslide Mine. I had forgotten it," and he put the communication in his pocket.

    But little else of value belonging to Roger was found, and their own things the prisoners were allowed to retain, all but their weapons. Those, even to their pocket-knives, Tom Dillon confiscated.

    "What are you going to do with us?" asked Link Merwell, surlily, after the search was at an end.

    "We'll tie 'em up for the night," said Tom Dillon. "Boys, get a couple of ropes."

    "Tie us up!" exclaimed Job Haskers, in new alarm.

    "Exactly."

    "And in the--er--morning----?" faltered the former teacher of Oak Hall.

    "We'll see what we'll do with you after breakfast," answered the old miner, briefly.

    "Say, wot did ye do with them other fellers?" demanded Abe Blower, while Dave and Phil were getting the ropes.

    "We left them in camp."

    "Is Staver with 'em?" asked Tom Dillon.

    "No, his hand hurt him so he went back to town to have a doctor look after it," replied Merwell.

    "Is he coming back here?"

    "He said he thought not--at least, not for the present."

    "Do you think those others will come here to-night?" asked Dave, as he came with a rope, followed by Phil with another rope.

    "We'll stand guard, lad, and see," answered Tom Dillon.

    Much against their will, Link Merwell and Job Haskers were bound, hands and feet. Then each was made fast to a rock not far from the campfire.

    "We'll take turns at guarding the camp," said Tom Dillon. "Two hours each every night after this;" and so it was arranged.

    Now that he was sure he was not to be shot, Job Haskers was very indignant over being bound.

    "It isn't a bit gentlemanly," he said, to Dave.

    "We won't argue the point," returned our hero, briefly. He was disgusted with both Merwell and Haskers, and he wished they might both go away and that he would never see them again.

    As he was so restless, Dave said he would be the first one of the party to stand guard, and, accordingly, the others turned in as before, dropping off to sleep one after another. Merwell was inclined to talk and argue, but Dave would not listen.

    "I am done with you, Link," he said. "And I am done with Haskers, too. All I want you to do is to leave me alone in the future."

    "You let us go, or it will be the worse for you," growled Link Merwell.

    When his two hours' guard duty came to an end, Dave called Roger, who in turn called Phil. The shipowner's son was still very sleepy, and he yawned deeply as he arose.

    "As soon as two hours are up you call Abe Blower," said Roger.

    "I sure will!" declared Phil. "I'm not half slept out yet!"

    Roger was tired himself and was soon in the land of dreams. Phil walked around the camp several times, to keep himself awake, and then sat down on a rock to rest.

    Alas! that rest was an ill-advised one for the son of the rich shipowner. As he sat there, Phil's chin sank lower and lower on his breast and presently his eyes closed and he fell asleep! And thus over two hours passed.

    "Hello!"

    The cry came from Abe Blower, as he turned and sat up. It was growing light in the east and the old miner thought it was time to get up.

    He directed his cry at Phil, who was huddled up on the rock. Phil did not budge, and the old miner leaped up and shook him.

    "I say----" commenced the youth, and then stared around him in astonishment. "Why I--I must have dropped asleep!" he faltered.

    "You sure did!" cried Abe Blower. He gazed around swiftly. "Was you on guard?"

    "Yes, and the prisoners----"

    "Are gone!"

    "Oh!"

    Phil's cry awoke all the others in the camp. One after another looked at the youth and then at the spot where Merwell and Haskers had been tied to the rocks. The ropes lay there, but the two former prisoners had vanished!
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