Archibald Lee Fletcher.

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"What's the use of shooting until I have to?" demanded George.
"They can come in here if they want to, if they'll only behave
themselves."

"If they try to come in here," declared Thede, "I'll go up in the
air about nine hundred feet."

Although they did not attempt to re-enter the cavern, the bears
kept close to the entrance. It was clear that only the light of
the electric kept them from attacking the boys.

"They'll stay right there till morning," exclaimed Thede, "and
we'll have to shoot them anyway before we can get out. They are
kicking themselves now," he continued with a grin, "because they
let us in here without a battle. I wish we understood bear talk so
that we could learn what they're saying to each other."

"Nothing very complimentary to us," George declared.

As the night advanced it grew colder and the boys moved about in
quest of a more sheltered corner. They could still hear the bears
moving about outside, but paid no attention to them.

"Look here," George said presently, as the search-light rested for
a moment on a break in the rock. "I wouldn't wonder at all if we
could get further under the hill. There's an opening here which
looks wide enough for us to crawl through."

"It's a wonder the bears didn't find it then," commented Thede.

"I'm going to see whether I can get through it or not," George
insisted. "It may be a warmer corner. Anyway, it'll give us
exercise, and that's what we need about this time."

Throwing the spear of light into the crevice, the boy glanced
keenly about. The walls of the opening seemed to be smooth, and to
extend only a short distance. Just below where the walls broke he
could see the brown floor of another cavern."

"I guess it's all right," he said to Thede. "You take the light
and hold it down and I'll scramble in. May as well break my neck
as to freeze to death."

"Let me take your hand, then," advised Thede, "so yon can be pulled
back if you don't like the looks of the new furnished room."

"I'd like to be in a furnished room on Washington boulevard just
this minute," George broke in.

"I wouldn't mind a good box in Gamblers' alley," said Thede.

When all was ready Thede gave one hand to George and lowered him
down to the full length of both arms.

"All right!" George cried in a moment, "I can feel my toes touching
the rock. Let go! You drop down now, and I'll steady you when you
light."

Both boys were soon in the lower cavern and a moment following
their arrival there, they heard the claws of the bears rattling on
the rocks above.

"I've heard Pierre tell about caves in this range of hills," Thede
said, "but I never knew that they had caves two stories high."

As the boy ceased speaking, George suddenly shut off his flash
light and laid a hand on the other's arm.

"What's that for - - -"

"Keep still!" whispered George. "Do you see anything?"

"Looks to me like a light," the other replied.

"Looks like a fire, doesn't it?" asked George.

"It certainly is a fire and there's a man sitting in front of it."

The fire showed at the end of a narrow passage, perhaps ten or
twelve yards away. It was blazing vigorously, and the cavern in
which it stood was well clouded with smoke. It was evident that
the watcher by the fire was as yet unconscious of the approach of
the two boys.

"I wish we could get to that fire!" George said with a shiver.

"And why not?"

"I don't think he'd be hiding here if he was keeping open house,"
replied George. "He may be an outlaw hiding from the police. And
in that case he wouldn't relish the idea of his underground retreat
being discovered, even by two boys who want to get warm."

"Anyway," Thede insisted, "I'm going to crawl up close and see what
I can find out. That fire looks good to me."

The boys advanced cautiously, with George a little in advance. The
man at the fire sat with his chin on his breast as if in sound
sleep.

"I don't believe he'd say anything if we walked right in on him,"
Thede declared. "If he does, we can hold a gun on him and invite
him to a more friendly mood."

The man did not move as the boys came on, and George was about to
call out to him when Thede caught him by the shoulder.

"Don't you dare make a motion!" the boy whispered. "Stand still
where you are and look to the little shelf of rock on the other
side of the fire."

George looked, and his automatic and his searchlight almost
clattered to the floor as his eyes rested on something which
glittered like gold in the red light of the fire. He turned to
Thede, and there was a tremor in his voice as he whispered in his
ear.

"Do you know what that is?" he asked.

"I think I know what it is!" was the whispered reply.

"It's the Little Brass God!" whispered George excitedly. "And I'm
going to sneak over there and lay my hands on it before that fellow
wakes up!"

"You never can do it!" advised Thede.

"I've just got to do it!"

"If that is the real Little Brass God, how did it ever get here?"
whispered Thede. "Strangest thing I ever heard of."

"Gee whiz!" whispered George. "We mustn't stand around wondering
how it got here. The thing for us to do right now is to get
possession of it. I believe I can get over there without waking
that fellow up."

"Let me take your gun, then," Thede advised, "and if he moves or
makes any funny breaks, I'll keep him under cover!"

George handed his gun over to the boy without a word and moved on
toward the fire. It was clear that the man was asleep, his chin
resting on his breast, his shoulders supported by a wall of rock.

The thing which glittered on the ledge, now almost within reaching
distance, was unquestionably the Little Brass God, the quest of
which had brought the boys into the Hudson Bay country.

George had never set eyes on the toy, but there was no mistaking
the crossed legs, the folded arms, the paunchy stomach, and the
misshapen, leering face. The boy heard a soft warning whispered
from the opposite side of the room and turned his eyes from a
greedy contemplation of the Little Brass God to the figure of the
man crouching before the blaze.

The fellow had lifted his head, and now sat staring at the boy with
a dumb wonder in his eyes. While the boy looked the expression
changed from wonder to alarm, from alarm to anger, and then the
doubled-up figure straightened and sprang forward.

The boy heard a pistol shot, sensed the acrid smell of powder
smoke, felt a muscular hand grasp the wrist which was extended
toward the shelf of rock, and then a million stars seemed to be
falling from the heavens. There was a roar as of an ocean beating
against breakers, and then a lull during which he heard another
pistol shot.

When the boy regained consciousness, daylight was creeping into the
cavern through an opening much lower down than the one by which the
boys had entered the upper cavern.

The earth outside was covered with a thick mat of snow, and the
trees and shrubs of the forest were bending beneath burdens of pure
white.

The fire had burned to ashes and it was miserably cold.

The Little Brass God was gone!




CHAPTER VII

AN EMPTY CAVERN

Perhaps a dozen yards from the fire, Tommy stumbled at a figure
over which the falling snow was fast drifting. He called out to
Sandy, who was only a short distance away, and the two lifted the
unconscious form in their arms and staggered toward the fire.

"Why, it's nothing but a kid!" Sandy exclaimed.

"Don't you know who it is?" demanded Tommy.

"Never saw him before!" was the reply.

"It's Thede Carson!"

"Not that little monkey of a Thede Carson who's always getting the
Beaver Patrol into trouble?" demanded Sandy. "What would he be
doing up here? I guess you're losing the sense of sight."

"Sure, it's Thede Carson," insisted Tommy.

"Well, I guess he's about all in," Sandy volunteered.

"Get busy then, with your first aid," Tommy ordered. "Get some of
his clothes off and get to work with snow, or his fingers and toes
will drop off as soon as they thaw out."

"I don't believe it's the cold so much as it is exhaustion," Sandy
ventured. "He seems to have been running a whole lot, for he's
still panting, I reckon he just dropped down when he couldn't run
any further."

"I guess that's about right," Tommy admitted. "He doesn't seem to
be very cold. It may be that wound on his head," the lad added,
pointing to a long gash in the scalp which, judging from the state
of the lad's clothing, had bled very freely.

"What do you think of coming away up here in the Hudson Bay country
and picking a member of the Beaver Patrol right out of the woods?"
demanded Sandy. "We seem to find Boy Scouts wherever we go."

The boys worked over the exhausted lad some moments, and then he
opened his eyes.

"Now for the love of Mike!" exclaimed Tommy, "don't look around and
say 'Where am I?' The correct thing to say in these modern days is
'Vot iss?' Do you get me, Thede?"

"Why, it's Tommy!" said the boy.

"Betcher life!" returned Tommy. "Did you run all the way up here
from Clark street? Or did you come up in an aeroplane?"

Thede sat up and looked about for the tents and the boats.

"Why, this isn't the camp!" he said.

"We haven't got any more camp than a rabbit!" declared Sandy.
"We're lost! We've got to wait till morning to find our way back."

"It's a good thing you're lost!" exclaimed Thede. "I don't think I
could have held out until I reached the camp. You see," he went on
with a slight shudder at the recollection of his experiences, "I
left George a long distance off."

"Left George?" repeated Tommy.

"I couldn't bring him with me," answered Thede, with a slow smile,

"Where did you leave him?" demanded Tommy.

"Why didn't he come with you?" asked Sandy.

"Because," replied Thede, "just as he was reaching up to the wall
of the cavern to take hold of the Little Brass God, he got a tunk
on the coco that put him out for the count."

"What do you know about the Little Brass God?" asked Tommy.

"I've seen it!" answered Thede. "It sat up on a shelf on the face
of the wall, with its legs crossed, and its arms folded, and its
wicked face telling me where I could go whether I wanted to or not."

"I guess something's gone to your head!" declared Sandy.

"But I'll tell you we found the Little Brass God!" declared Thede.
"George came to the cabin, and we started out to find the camp, and
got lost in the storm, and brought up in a cave inhabited by two
bears."

Sandy regarded Tommy significantly.

"And we found a basement floor to the cavern, and went down the
elevator and found a man asleep in front of a fire with the Little
Brass God winking at him. Funny fellow, that Little Brass God!"

"You for the foolish house!" cried Tommy.

"Honest, boys!" Thede declared. "George came to the cabin and I
started home with him after Pierre left us alone together. The
storm chased us into a cave, just as I told you, and we kept on
going until we came to the place where the Little Brass God sat up
on the wall making faces at a man asleep at the fire.'"

"Go on!" exclaimed Tommy, at last understanding that the boy was in
his right mind. "Tell us about it!"

"And George said he would get the Little Brass God without waking
the man up. So he gave me his gun, and I was to shoot in case the
man made any trouble. Then, just as George was reaching for the
little Brass God, the man woke up and shot at him, Then the man
shot at me, and I shot at him, and then he got my gun away from me
and I ran out to find you."

"And you left George there in the cavern?" asked Sandy.

"I just had to!" was the reply. "I couldn't do anything with that
giant of a half-breed, and I didn't have a gun and so I ducked.

"Can you take us back to that cavern now?" asked Tommy.

"Sure I can," was the reply.

"Oughtn't we to let Will know where we are?" asked Sandy.

Tommy looked at Thede questioningly.

"Can you tell us how to find the cavern?" he asked in a moment.

"What for?" demanded the boy. "I'm going to take you where it is."

"You're about all in," declared Sandy, "and you ought to go to camp
and rest up and tell Will where we've gone."

"You couldn't find this cave in a thousand years," declared Thede.

While the boys talked the wind died down, and the snow ceased
falling.

Presently a mist of daylight crept into the forest and then the
boys crept out on their journey toward into ridge of hills.

"Wasn't that a dream about your seeing the Little Brass God?" asked
Tommy as they walked along.

"Sure not," was the reply, "we both saw it, didn't we?"

"Well, whoever told you anything about the Little Brass God?"
demanded Sandy. "How did you know there was a Brass God?"

"Old Finklebaum told me. He said he'd give me a hundred dollars if
I found it, so I started in to earn that mazuma."

In as few words as possible the boy repeated the story he had told
George on the previous evening.

"I guess you boys came up here looking for the Little Brass God,
too, didn't you?" the boy asked, shrewdly, after a moment's
hesitation.

"We came up to hunt and fish!" laughed Tommy.

"To hunt for the Little Brass God and fish for the man who bought
it of the pawnbroker, I guess," laughed Thede. "You boys never
came clear up here just to chase through the snow after game when
there's plenty of shooting three hundred miles to the south."

"You say you think that Pierre is the man who bought the Little
Brass God of the pawnbroker?" asked Sandy, as the boys stopped for
a moment to rest. "Is that the reason you followed him here?"

"That's the reason!" was the reply.

"He seemed perfectly willing to have you come?"

"He welcomed me like a long lost brother!"

"Then it's a hundred to one shot Pierre never got his hands on the
Little Brass God! Don't you see how suspicious he would have been
if he had had the little brute in his possession?"

"I didn't think of that!" replied Thede. "Look here," the boy
continued, "I'd like to know what all this fuss is about, anyway.
Why should any one in his right mind give old Finklebaum a thousand
dollars or five thousand dollars, for that piece of brass? That's
what gets me!"

Tommy and Sandy looked at each other significantly but made no
immediate reply. In a moment Thede went on.

"'Spose this should be a Little Brass God stolen from some temple
away out in the wilds of India. Suppose a delegation of East
Indians should be sent here to get it. Wouldn't they murder a
score of men if they had to in order to get possession of it?"

"They probably would," was the reply.

After an hour's hard walking, the boys came to the foot of the
ridge of hills and looked upward. Thede pointed to the cavern
where the two bears had been discovered.

"There's where we went in," he explained, "but the cavern where the
fire and the Little Brass God were is right under that one."

"How're we going to get to it?"

"If you want to take your chance on meeting the bears, you can drop
down through the opening from the floor above."

"But isn't there an opening to this lower cavern?"

"Sure there is! That's the one I ran out of! Say," he continued,
"that's the one we saw the man by the fire run out of, too. You
can see the tracks of his moccasins in the snow. He must have left
after the storm ceased. My tracks were filled."

"In we go, then!" cried Tommy, advancing lip the slight slope to
the Up of the cavern.

"Watch out for bears!" cried Thede.




CHAPTER VIII

A TRAPPER'S TREACHERY

When Will, watching at the camp, found that Tommy and Sandy had
disappeared, he had no idea that they would remain more than an
hour or so.

The long night passed, however, and the boys did not return. When
daylight came, Will built up a roaring fire and began preparing
breakfast.

It was his idea at that time that the boys had come together in the
forest about the time the snow began falling, and had sought in
some deserted shack temporary protection from the storm.

"They'll be back here in a short time, hungry as bears!" he thought.

Presently he heard some one advancing through the snow-covered
thicket, and turned in that direction with an expectant smile.

Instead of his chums he saw a half-breed in leather jacket and
leggins and a fur cap approaching. When the fellow reached the
camp he made a quick and rather impertinent inspection of the tents
before approaching the spot where the boy stood awaiting him.

"Good morning!" Will said, not without a challenge in his voice.

"Where are the boys?" asked the visitor.

"Who are you?" demanded Will.

"Pierre!" was the short reply.

"Why do you ask about the boys?"

Pierre explained in broken English that one of the boys who
evidently belonged to the camp had coaxed his companion away.

"Who is your companion?" asked Will, "and why do you come here
looking for him? Who was it that visited your cabin?"

Pierre laboriously explained what had taken place on the previous
evening, and Will listened with an anxious face.

"And you left them there together, and when you returned they had
disappeared? Is that what you mean to say?"

Pierre nodded.

"He coax my boy away," he said sullenly.

"Is this boy you speak of your son?" asked Will.

"Chicago boy!" was the reply.

"Why don't you go on and tell me all about the boy and about
yourself?" inquired Will. "What's the use of standing there
grunting and trying to make me understand nods and scowls?"

Pierre explained that he had been in Chicago to see the sights, had
fallen in with Thede, and agreed to bring him into the forest with
him. His explanation was not very clear as he talked more mongrel
French than English, so Will was not very well informed at the end
of the recital. Pierre looked suspicious as well as disappointed.

"Well," Will explained to the half-breed after a moment's
deliberation, "I suppose you'll turn in now and help me find the
boys!"

Pierre nodded and pointed toward the campfire.

"Build him big!" he said. "Boys come cold."

Accepting the hint, Will piled great logs on the fire while the
half-breed looked sullenly on. The boy then dressed himself in his
warmest clothing and the two set out together.

"Have you any idea which way to go?" asked the boy.

Pierre pointed away to the south.

"Wind blow that way," he said. "They follow the wind."

Numerous times, as the two tramped through the snow together, Will
caught the half-breed looking in his direction with eyes of hate.

After proceeding some distance, he fell in behind Pierre, and so
the two traveled through the wilderness, each suspicious and
watchful of the other. After walking an hour or more they came to
a place where Tommy and Sandy had built their fire on the previous
night.

There the half-breed read the story written upon the snow like a
book. Pointing here and there, he explained to Will that two boys
had been caught in the storm and had built a fire. He showed, too,
that a third boy had come plunging through the snow, nearly circled
the camp, and came back toward the fire from the north. Then he
showed the tracks of three heading off to the south.

"Do you think one of those boys was your companion?" asked Will.

The half-breed answered that he was sure of it.

"Then that leaves one of the boys still unaccounted for," Will
mused. "It looks to me," he went on, "as if your friend and George
started away together and got lost. Then your boy came back and
found Tommy and Sandy and started away with them toward the place
where he had left George. Is that the way you look at it?"

The half-breed grunted some sullen reply, and the two walked on
together following the trail which led toward the range of hills.

Instead of directly following the trail left by the boys, however,
Pierre turned frequently to left and right, explaining that if
enemies were about it was a trail which would be watched.

They came to the cavern at last, and stood by the dying embers of
the fire. There was no one in sight. Will examined the sloping
surface of snow in front and found no tracks leading outward.

"They must be in here somewhere!" he exclaimed.

Pierre nodded his fur cap vigorously, and the two began a careful
examination of the underground place.

They found many little caves opening from the larger one, but no
trace of the boys. After a time a shout from Pierre drew Will to
his side. The fellow was peering into a crevice, in the rocky wall
which seemed to lead for some distance under the hill.

"Do you think they are hidden in there?" asked the boy.

Pierre explained in his barely understandable dialect that he
thought the boys might have escaped into the inner cavern and
started to make their way out in another direction.

"Then I'll go in after them," Will decided.

Before entering he called shrilly into the cavern, but only the
echoes came back to him. By considerable squeezing, he managed to
make his way through the opening. He then found himself in a
passage-like place, sloping upward. As he threw his light about
the interior, he heard a chuckle in the outer chamber where he had
left Pierre.

He turned in time to see the half-breed rolling great stones
against the mouth of the narrow opening by means of which he had
entered.

"Hah!" sneered Pierre. "You bring me trouble!"

"What are you doing that for?" demanded Will.

The half-breed peered into the opening with eyes that resembled
those of a snake, so full of malice and hatred were they.

"You steal my boy!" he said.

"So this is a trap, is it?" Will demanded.

The half-breed answered by a chuckle of laughter."

"If you don't take those stones away," Will threatened, "I'll fill
you full of lead when I do get out!"

The half-breed patted his gun stock significantly, but made no
reply.

The boy heard him rolling rocks along the cavern floor and against
the opening, and turned away hoping to find some other means of
egress.

It was clear to him that the half-breed thoroughly understood the
situation in the hills. He had no doubt that he had planned to
bring him there for the purpose which had developed. He
understood, too, that if there were other openings to the cavern,
Pierre knew where they were, and would block them as soon as he had
effectually blocked the one by which entrance had been effected.

It was cold and damp in that underground place, but the
perspiration actually broke out on the boy's brow as he considered
the fate which might await him in that dreary place of detention.

He had, of course, no means of knowing the whereabouts of any of
his chums. In fact, it seemed to him possible that they, too, had
been inveigled into a trap similar to the one which had been set
for himself.

The motive for this brutal action on the part of the half-breed
was, of course, entirely unknown to the boy. It will be remembered
that he knew nothing whatever of Thede's suspicions that Pierre
actually had the Little Brass God in his possession.

It was black as ink in the passage, but the boy's flashlight had
recently been supplied with a new battery, and he knew that it
would not fail for many hours, so he walked along with confidence.

In perhaps a quarter of an hour the boy came to a blank wall.
There appeared to be no way in which the journey could be extended
under the hills. The nearest lateral passage was some distance
back.

Realizing that no time should be lost, the lad hastened thither and
advanced to the south end of the cross passage. Here, too, he came
upon a blank wall. While he stood listening a heavy, rumbling
voice came to his ears. There were either crevices in that rocky
bulkhead or the wall was very thin.

Presently the heavy voice ceased speaking, and then a lighter tone
was heard. At first Will could not distinguish the words used, but
directly his heart almost bounded into his throat as he listened to
Tommy's voice saying:

"I'll break your crust, you old stiff, if you come near me!"

So the boys were still in a position to defend themselves! Will
beat frantically on the wall and threw his light hither and yon in
search of some opening through which his voice might be heard.

Directly there came an answering sound from the other side.




CHAPTER IX

TWO HUNGRY BEARS

The Little Brass God was gone!

George, still lying upon the floor of the cavern, stretched his
legs and arms, to see if he was all there, as he mentally commented.

After a time he arose to his feet, clinging desperately to the wall
because of his weakness, and called to Thede, who, as the reader


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