Read CHAPTER XVI - A WONDERFUL DISCOVERY of The Saddle Boys in the Grand Canyon / The Hermit of the Cave, free online book, by James Carson, on ReadCentral.com.

Bob opened his mouth to call out, and ask what was the matter, that his chum had seized upon him so fiercely. But he held his breath, for something came to pass just then that made words entirely unnecessary.

A huge rock seemed to slip from its notch up on the side of the cliff, and come crashing down, loosening others on the way, until finally the rush and roar almost partook of the nature of a small avalanche.

Charley Moi had skipped out in a lively manner, and thus managed to avoid being caught. Bob stared at the pile of broken rock, about which hung a little cloud of dust.

“Wow! that was as close a call as I ever hope to have, Frank!” he exclaimed, with a little quiver to his voice.

Frank himself was a bit white, and his hand trembled as he laid it on that of his chum.

“I just happened to be looking up, and saw it trembling on the break,” he said. “Only for that we might have been underneath all that stuff.”

“But did you notice the clever way Charley Moi avoided the deluge?” said Bob, trying to smile, though he found it hard work.

“Yes, it’s hard to catch a Chinaman napping, they say,” Frank went on. “Three times this very day I’ve heard the thunder of falling rocks, and that was what kept me nervous; so I watched out above. And, Bob, it seemed as though I must have seen that big rock just trembling as it started to leave the face of the cliff.”

“Well, all I can say then, is, that you jumped to the occasion mighty well. Some fellows would have been scared just stiff, and couldn’t have thrown out a hand to save a chum. But look here, Frank, you don’t imagine that thing was done on purpose, do you?”

Frank looked at his companion, with a wrinkle on his forehead.

“I don’t want to think anybody could be so mean and low as to want to hurt boys who’d never done them any harm,” he said; “but all the same I seem to have an idea that I got a glimpse of a man’s arm when that rock started to drop.”

“Whew! you give me a cold chill, Frank,” muttered Bob, gazing helplessly upward toward the spot from which the descending rock had started on its riotous tumble.

“Yes, and I hope I was mistaken,” Frank went on. “I don’t see anything up there now; and perhaps it was only a delusion. All these bright colors affect the eyes, you see. Then, again, it might have been some goat jumping, that started that rock on its downward plunge.”

“But you didn’t see any goat, Frank, did you?” Bob asked, anxiously.

“No, I didn’t,” admitted the other; “but then there may be a shelf up there, and any animal on it would be hidden from the eyes of those right below.”

They passed on; but more than once Bob craned his neck in the endeavor to look up to that spot, from whence the loose rock had plunged. He could not get it out of his head that foes were hovering about, who thought so little of human life that they would conspire to accomplish a death if possible.

The day passed without any further peril confronting them. Charley Moi seemed to fill the bill as a guide, very well. He also knew the different points of interest, and chattered away like a magpie or a monkey as they kept pushing on.

Bob became curious to know just how the Chinaman could tell about so many things when they were now above the trails used ordinarily by tourists, who gave two or three days to seeing the Grand Canyon, and then rushed away, thinking they had exhausted its wonders, when in fact they had barely seen them.

He put the question to Charley Moi, and when the smiling-faced Chinaman replied, Frank caught his breath.

“That easy, bloß,” said Charley, nodding. “Happen this way. Long time black me ’gage with sahib, like one know out in Canton. Think have samee big joss some bit up here in canlon. Me to bling grub to certain place evly two month. Him give me list what buy, and put cash in hand. Know can trust Chinaman ebery time. Many time now me do this; so know how make trail up-river, much far past same tourist use. Sabe, Flank, Blob?”

The two boys stared at each other, unable to say a word at first. It was as if the same tremendous thought had come to each.

“Gee whiz! did you get on to that, Frank?” finally ejaculated Bob.

“I sure did,” replied his chum, allowing his pent-up breath full play.

“Charley says he engaged himself to a gentleman long ago; perhaps it was as much as three years back, the time that the professor disappeared from the haunts of men. And, Frank, his part of the contract was to come to a certain point away up here in the Grand Canyon, once every two months, at a time agreed on, bringing a load of food, as per the list given him by this mysterious party.”

“It must be Professor Oswald!” exclaimed Frank. “I’ve been wondering all the time how under the sun he could have supplied himself with food these long months if he’d cut loose from the world, as he said in that note he had. Now the puzzle begins to show an answer. Charley Moi is the missing link. He has kept the professor in grub all the time. Did you ever hear of such luck? First we run across that old Moqui, who has been in touch with the man we want to find; and now here’s the one who comes up here every little while to deliver his goods, and get a new list, as well as money to pay for the same. It’s just the limit, that’s what!”

He turned to the Chinaman, and continued:

“Did you happen to notice, Charley, whether this party you are working for is a bald-headed man? Has he a shining top when he takes his hat off; and does he bend over, as if he might be hunting for diamonds all the time?”

The Chinese guide smirked, and bobbed his head in the affirmative.

“That him, velly much, just same say. Shiny head, and blob this away alle time,” with which he walked slowly forward, bending over as though trying to discover a rich vein of gold in the seamed rock under his feet.

“Shake hands, Bob,” said Frank. “We’re getting hot on the trail. Now we needn’t have any doubt at all about the choice of the eastern route. It’s the right one; and somewhere further on we’re just bound to find Echo Cave.”

“Then all we’ve got to fear, Frank, is the work of Eugene and his crowd. Let us keep clear of that bad lot, and we’re going to succeed. Any time, now, we may glimpse our old Moqui, returning with a message from the professor, if he sees fit to reply to your appeal. He may, though, be so set and stubborn that nothing will move him from his game of hiding. Then we’ll have to get that paper, with his signature, and save the mine for his family.”

“That’s what I mean to do,” replied the other, with grim determination. “If he’s so wrapped up in his scheme that he just won’t come out, we’re going to do the best we can to save his fortune in spite of him. There’s his daughter Janice to think of. Above all, we mustn’t let that schemer, Eugene Warringford, get his fingers on the document.”

That night they made camp in a little cave that offered an asylum. The boys rather fancied the idea for a change. And they passed a very comfortable night without any alarm.

Once, Bob being on duty near the mouth of the opening, heard a shuffling sound without. He could not make out whether it was caused by the passage of a human being, or a bear. Half believing that they were about to be attacked by some animal that fancied the cave as a den, he had drawn back the hammer of his rifle, and watched the round opening that was plainly seen at the time, as it was near morning, and the small remnant of a moon was shining without.

But he waited in vain, and, as the minutes passed without any further alarm, Bob heaved a sigh of relief. It was all very well to think of shooting big game; but under such conditions he did not much fancy a close battle.

When morning came, and he had told Frank about it, the other immediately went out to look for traces of the animal. As he came back Bob saw by the expression on his chum’s face that Frank had made some sort of discovery.

“How about it?” he asked.

“It was no bear,” replied the other, decidedly.

“But sure I heard something moving, Frank, and I was wide-awake at the time, too,” Bob protested.

“I guess you were, all right,” Frank admitted. “A man passed by, not far from the mouth of the cave. He even stooped down, and looked in, though careful not to let his head show against the bright background. Then he went off again up the canyon.”

“Since you know so much, Frank, perhaps you could give a guess as to who he was,” said Bob, eagerly.

“No guess about it,” came the reply. “I’ve examined his track before, and ought to know it like a book. It was Abajo, Bob!”

“Then ten to one, Spanish Joe and Eugene were close by!” declared Bob. “Say, do you really believe he knew we were in here?”

“Of course he did,” Frank asserted. “Perhaps they saw us enter. But Abajo also knows that both of us are fair shots. He did not dare take the chance of trying to creep in. It would be more dangerous than our going into that wolf den.”

“The plot seems to be thickening, Frank. It won’t be long now before something is bound to happen. If we could only run across the old Moqui now, and hear that he carried a message in answer to your note, that would clear the air a heap, wouldn’t it?”

“Well, we must live in hopes,” replied Frank, cheerfully. “And now, after a bite which Charley Moi is getting ready for us, we’ll be off again, and tackle the roughest traveling in the whole canyon, so he says. But he knows the way, because he was led up here by the old professor, and told to come back every two months.”