Read CHAPTER XXI - DOWN THE OLD SHAFT of The Outdoor Chums / The First Tour of the Rod‚ Gun and Camera Club, free online book, by Captain Quincy Allen, on

“He’s gone!” cried Will, aghast.

“What sort of a trap has he dropped into?” exclaimed Frank.

He was a lad of action, and throwing himself down flat he crawled to the very edge of the gaping hole.

“Hello, Jerry!” he shouted.

“I’m all right, fellows; only bruised a little, and my feelings considerably hurt.  I deserve something for forgetting this hole,” came a voice from out of the depths.

Frank looked down.  His eyes being accustomed to the sunlight he could not see anything but darkness there.  But even as he was trying to pierce this, a match flamed up, and he discovered his chum kneeling on a pile of dirt, holding up his improvised torch as though curious to look around.

“What is this place, Jerry?” demanded the one above.

“Why, Will must remember if he once gets his mind off that miserable old camera of his.  It’s the shaft of what was intended to be a mine,” replied Jerry, with disgust plainly marked in his tones.

“A mine-and here?  I never heard of it!” echoed Frank.

“That’s because you are a newcomer in Centerville.  Years ago-oh!  I couldn’t say how many-a crank lived in the little hut close by, now occupied by the family of a lumberman.  He believed there was gold in this region.  For nearly a year he dug down and made this shaft.  Then he died in his cabin, and no one else ever had faith enough in the thing to continue the work,” said Will, chiming in.

“What! do you mean to say this hole in the ground has gone all these years as a trap, ready to swallow any pilgrim who walked along this trail?” demanded Frank.

“Why, of course not.  The boys from town often used to come up here.  Will has been down in this hole, and so have I before.  It was covered with heavy planks then.  Somebody has removed those boards and laid a fine trap.  Just like we were over in Africa, among the wild-beast catchers.  And I fell in, worse luck,” grumbled the boy at the bottom of the shaft.

“I see.  And you think those fellows in the other camp had a hand in it?”

“Don’t doubt it at all.  You know yourself it would be just like that Pet Peters.  If I’d only thought of the blooming old thing in time, I might have investigated.  Talk to me about your Alpine climbers, I thought I was going into the crevasse, all right.”

“But how are you going to get out?” asked Frank, always practical.

“A fellow can’t climb out.  I know that, for we used to try it.  Somebody always had to put down the long pole that we made into a ladder,” declared Will.

“Is it around here now?” continued Frank.

“Wait and I’ll give a look.”

Will very carefully placed his camera with its accompanying case of films.  He made sure that it was out of the way, so that no one might incautiously step on the same, and ruin his heart’s delight.  Then he passed into the bushes to scour the immediate neighborhood.

Meanwhile Frank bent over the edge again.

“I’ve examined this covering up here, Jerry, and there’s not the least doubt but that it was made with a distinct purpose,” he declared.

“I reckon it was, and it got me, all right.  It looked just like the rest of the trail, and I never suspected a thing until I found myself going down.  Speak to me about that, will you?  To think that I was caught by such a shabby trick.  If it had been you, now, it wouldn’t seem so bad, because you never saw this hole before.”

“But what object could those rascals have had in constructing the trap?” pursued Frank, seeking more light.

“That’s hard to say.  I imagine, though, they expected to just badger us from time to time until finally we all set out in full chase of the crowd.  Then perhaps they meant to lead us along this old trail, avoiding the pit themselves, and having us tumble in pell-mell.  It was a clever dodge, but a mean trick all the same.”

“But if that had happened it might have been serious.  One of us could easily break a leg or an arm in such a tumble,” expostulated Frank.

“Huh! little those fellows care about that They’re a rough lot, you know.  That Pet Peters thinks everybody is made of iron, like himself.  Say, I hope Will finds that old ladder we used to play with.  I’d hate to lie in here waiting for you to go all the way to camp and get a rope,” grumbled the imprisoned one.

“I hear voices, and I reckon Will must have met some one.  Yes, there they come.”

“With the ladder?” demanded Jerry, eagerly.

“They seem to be carrying something between them.  Why, I ought to know that fellow.  As sure as you live, it’s Andy Lasher,” declared Frank, somewhat surprised.

“Then it’s all right; I’m satisfied,” said Jerry, resignedly.

The others came forward, and as Frank had said they bore between them a long, slender tree upon which many slats had been nailed by the boys.  This formed a rude but effective ladder, upon which one might ascend and descend when desirous of seeing what the interior of the abandoned shaft was like.

“I came across Andy down the trail.  Only for him I guess I’d never have lit on the ladder, for they’d carried it some distance off, and hid it,” cried Will.

Andy looked Frank straight in the face, and the latter explained: 

“It’s mighty funny, but you see I remembered about this here trap the boys had set, hopin’ some of your crowd would take a tumble.  I told ’em I wouldn’t stand for it after what had happened; so a bunch o’ us was on the way out here to put back the planks, when we heard shouts, and guessed somebody had fallen in.  The rest dodged into the bushes, but I commenced to run this way.  Then I met Will, here.”

“And we got the ladder.  He was only too willing to help,” went on Will, plainly fully believing in the change of heart on the town bully’s part.

“Say, that’s all mighty interesting, but talk to me about it after you get a fellow out of this black hole.  I thought I felt a snake right then.  We used to kill ’em in here, too.  Poke the ladder down, boys, please.”

“That’s a fact.  As the drowning boy said:  ’Save me first and scold me afterward.’  Let me give you a hand, boys,” remarked Frank.

“Hey! be careful there about getting too close to the edge.  The whole bunch of you will be in on top of me if you don’t look out.  I had a crack on the head from a rock right then.  And be careful how you poke that ladder down, or you may stick it through me like a lady’s hatpin.  Now I’ve got hold of the end, lower away, all.”

So under the directions of the boy who was in the hole, and in a position to see how things lay, the single-pole ladder was placed in position.

“I’m coming up now, fellows; don’t let the dirt crumble in on me,” called Jerry.

“It does beat all how the adventures crowd you, old man.  Here the rest of us just go along in an average way, and nothing happens to anybody to stir the blood.  Hang it, I say it’s hardly fair,” remarked Frank, in pretended chagrin.

Jerry began to appear in view, clinging to the ladder, for it was a rather rickety affair, and threatening constantly to turn around, so that he had to fasten both knees and hands to the pole as he mounted.

“Keep her straight, Andy; you understand how hard it is to hustle up this old beam.  I’m getting there all right, and don’t you forget it,” he kept saying, with a broad grin on his happy-go-lucky face as it came into plain view.

“Oh!  Jerry, please hang there for just twenty seconds!  You don’t know what a splendid picture you make.  I’d give almost anything to snatch it off.  Oblige me like a good fellow, won’t you, please?” shouted Will, waving his hands entreatingly.

“Talk to me about nerve!  You beat all creation.  I’m holding on by the skin of my teeth, and you want me to wait till you get your measly old camera adjusted, and snap me off in this ignoble position.  Well, I’m waiting, but it’s to get my second wind, and not to oblige a crank,” gasped Jerry.

“Oh! thank you, Jerry, thank you.  It will only take a few seconds, I’m sure, and the result will be a constant source of delight to every member of the club.”

“Yes, I’ve no doubt they’ll go into spasms of laughter every time they look at the human ape hanging to his limb.  Hurry up, plague take it; I’m getting weary of posing to suit your convenience.  Why don’t he, come back and finish?  I declare if I can stand this any longer.  I tell you I’m coming up, Will-picture or no picture.”

“Here he comes; just hang on a bit longer,” said Frank, soothingly.

Will came dashing up, showing the most intense excitement.  His eyes fairly bulged from his head, and he was quivering all over.

“What ails you, man; are you sick?” demanded Frank, in real alarm.

“Sick?  No, but I’m broken-hearted, that’s what.  It’s gone!” shouted the other, wringing his hands, “some wretch has stolen my camera, and films!”