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   Chapter 21 OUT OF THE FRYING-PAN INTO THE FIRE.

The Young Bank Messenger By Jr. Horatio Alger Characters: 7383

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Arrived at the opening, Ernest found that there was a trap-door which was ordinarily closed, but through some misadventure had been left open. It was, however, a serious problem to draw himself up so as to profit by what he had already done.

Twice he failed, and nearly lost his grip on the rope. Then he caught hold of the projection from which the rope depended, and by a supreme effort he succeeded, helping himself by means of the trap-door, in emerging from his subterranean prison.

Stretching himself, he took a deep breath, and realized joyfully not only that he was free, but that he had recovered the valuable bonds of which he had been placed in charge.

He began to look around him, and tried to conjecture in what direction he must go to reach Lee's Falls. He was quite at a loss, as he had been carried into the cave blindfolded. But help seemed to be at hand. He saw at a little distance, rapidly approaching him, a man of middle height, whom he concluded to be a resident of some place in the vicinity.

"Can you tell me in what direction I must go to reach Lee's Falls?" he asked.

The stranger paused and examined him sharply.

"So you want to go to Lee's Falls?" he said.

"Yes, sir."

"Where do you come from?"

"From Emmonsville."

"Direct?"

"No."

"I saw you just now coming out of some opening in the earth."

This alarmed Ernest. He felt that he might be called upon to explain where he had been.

"Who is this man?" he asked himself. "Is he one who is likely to be in the confidence of the outlaws? If so, I have only got out of one scrape to fall into another."

He studied the face of the man with whom he was speaking, and to his dismay noted a resemblance to James Fox, who had captured him. He began to suspect that this was his brother.

Whether it was or not, Ernest deemed it politic to say as little as possible of his experiences, and of what he knew about the cave and its occupants.

"Yes," he answered quietly; "there seems to be a cave underneath. I found the trap door open, and went down, but I regretted it, for I found it difficult to get out again."

His new acquaintance eyed him scrutinizingly, as if to see whether he knew more than he was willing to reveal.

"So there is a cave underneath?" he said inquiringly.

"Yes."

"Have you any idea what it is used for?"

"I don't think it is used at all. The room below seems empty."

The man regarded him fixedly.

"When did you leave Emmonsville?" he asked abruptly.

"Yesterday," answered Ernest in some confusion.

"How does it happen that you have got no farther on your way to Lee's Falls?"

"I stopped at the cabin of an Indian," answered Ernest, making the only explanation he could think of.

The man smiled.

"Young man," he said, "didn't you pass last night in this cave?"

Ernest saw that there was no further chance for subterfuge.

"Yes," he answered.

"I thought so."

"You were captured?" the other went on.

"Yes."

"Have you any suspicion by whom this cave is occupied?"

"I presume by the Fox brothers."

"Correct. I am one of them."

"I began to think so."

"How were you able to escape?"

"I was left with the little boy. He fell asleep, and then I began to explore."

"Where is my brother?"

"He went out quite early, I presume in search of you. You are John Fox, are you not?"

"Exactly. I suppose my brother heard that I was in trouble."

"Yes."

"By the way, the Quaker detective through whom I got into difficulty you doubtless know?"

"I do."

"I was put into jail at Crampton, but I managed to effect my escape. Are you connected in any way with the Emmonsville bank?"

"Yes.

"

"In what way?"

"As bank messenger."

"Did my brother take anything from you?"

"Yes."

"Money?"

"No; bonds."

"You are a sensible boy. You answer my questions freely. You are a smart boy, too. It isn't every lad of your age who would have managed to effect an escape from the cave. Do you remember the entrance?"

"No; I was carried into it blindfolded."

"I thought my brother would be prudent. So you couldn't find it again?"

"No; I don't think so."

"Still, I cannot run any risk. You will have to come with me."

"Where do you want to carry me?" asked Ernest, much disturbed.

"I will carry you back to the cave."

"Let me go free. I will promise not to reveal anything that I have discovered."

The outlaw shook his head.

"I am sorry, boy, but that is a request I cannot grant. You were made prisoner by my brother, and I owe it to him to prevent your escape."

It was intolerable to Ernest to think of having his captivity renewed. He determined that he would at least make an effort for free dom.

Accordingly he did not hesitate, but started to run, hoping that in this way he might save himself. He had always the reputation among his boy companions as a sprinter, and resolved to see whether this was a lost art with him.

"So that's your game, is it?" exclaimed the outlaw. "It will go hard with me if I don't catch you. Stop, or it will be the worse for you!"

But Ernest had no intention of giving up so soon. He only exerted himself the more.

The contest was not so unequal as might have been supposed. Ernest was tall of his age, and the outlaw was rather below the average height. So there was in reality only about an inch difference in their height.

On the other hand John Fox had, as might be supposed, more strength and endurance. He was not over weight, and therefore not scant of breath. Ernest got the start, and this was an advantage. One ran about as fast as the other, so it settled down into a contest of endurance. Whoever could hold out the longest would win.

The outlaw, however, was irritated at the unexpected difficulty of his undertaking. He had thought that Ernest would surrender at discretion.

"I wish I had my revolver," he muttered.

Had the outlaw been aware that Ernest had in his possession the packet of bonds which had impelled his brother to make him a captive, his zeal would have been increased. This, however, he did not suspect. He knew, of course, that the bonds would be taken from him, and he could conceive of no chance of the boy's recovering them.

They flew over the ground, maintaining the same relative distance. But there was an unexpected contingency that worked to the disadvantage of Ernest.

Directly in his path was a projecting root, which in his haste escaped his notice. He tripped over it, and as a natural consequence he measured his length on the ground.

The outlaw's face lighted up with exultation. Now the issue was no longer doubtful. At last he had the boy in his power.

Before Ernest could recover himself and rise to his feet, John Fox was upon him.

He flung himself on the prostrate boy, and clutched him in a firm grasp.

"Now I have you," he said. "You were a fool to run. You might have known that you could not escape."

"I came near it, though," gasped Ernest, quite out of breath. "Let me up."

"Will you promise to go with me without giving me any more trouble?"

"I will make no promises," said Ernest, stoutly.

"Then it will be the worse for you," said the outlaw vindictively.

What he proposed to do must remain unknown, for as he spoke a hand was thrust into his neckcloth, and he was jerked violently to his feet.

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