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首页 » 经典英文小说 » The Mercer Boys on a Treasure Hunt » CHAPTER XI THE UNDERGROUND PASSAGE
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The scratching sound continued to come as the professor listened, and he got up and bent his head close to the wall. It sounded to him as though someone was scraping the rock wall on the other side of his cell, and he was puzzled over the circumstance. There was a measure of hope in the sound, perhaps the boys had arrived and were trying to break through to him. But as he continued to think it over he realized that it could not be so. The dungeon was deep in the earth and it would be impossible for them to get down on a level with his cell. The only other thing he could think of was that there was a prisoner in a cell next to his.

It might easily be possible that Sackett, in some of his other dishonest games, had taken someone else prisoner and the man was trying to break through to him. In that case it behooved the professor to try and help whoever was coming through the wall of his dungeon. He took the cigar lighter from his pocket, made it flash and then looked at his watch by its brief blue flame. It was now one o’clock in the morning.

Continuing to make flashes the teacher watched the wall and after a time found the rock upon which the unknown man was working. It was a large block in the very center of the south wall, and under the soft blows of the man on the other side it was already slightly loose. The professor could see it move. He took out a knife which he had and began to pick at the edges on his side, chipping carefully and as noiselessly as possible. It was evident that the person on the other side knew that he was helping for the scraping stopped abruptly but after a moment it was resumed.

They worked on in silence, the professor listening for sounds from upstairs, but none came. The men were evidently asleep or they had left the place altogether, for he heard no movement and he was not interrupted in his labors. He found that the soft and rotted material between the stones was easy to dislodge, and his mysterious helper was pushing as he worked, so that the huge stone was beginning to move toward the cell of the professor. Only a fraction of an inch at a time, but it was enough to give the teacher hope, and finally it was far enough out to allow him to get the tips of his fingers under the rough edge of the stone.

By working it back and forth the professor at length got it loose. It came out with a rush, nearly bending him double with the unexpected weight. At the same time a light flared in his eyes and he hastily deposited the stone on the floor of his dungeon. When this was completed he straightened up and confronted his companion.

It was Yappi, the mestizo. He held a torch of pitch wood in his one hand and a keen knife in the other. He had evidently worked hard at the stone, for his hands were dirty and so was his mouth and forehead, showing that he had stopped more than once to wipe them with his dirty hands. The professor was glad to see the man but more than astonished at what he saw back of him. The ranchman was standing in a vaulted underground passage, which ran back a distance that the professor could not make out.

“Yappi!” cried the professor, in a low voice. “How did you get here?”

“I followed you, senor,” said the old man, simply. “It was somewhat hard work, for my feet are not so swift to run as they once were. But when I knew that they had carried you off to this castle I laughed inside, for I knew this castle very well.”

In one sense Yappi was a mystery. He was an ordinary mixture of Spanish and Indian, and yet not ordinary in other ways. He possessed a dignity and his English was perfect. Ned Scott could never learn where he got it. Except for rare periods when he became sulky or falsely sensitive he was always steady and reliable. The professor had greatly misjudged him when he had thought him a coward, and later on apologized, an apology which was very graciously accepted.

“What is this underground passage?” whispered the professor eagerly, forgetting his situation in his interest.

“It is as old as the castle, senor, and I have known of it since I was a child. Many times I have played around these ruins. But come, we waste time and must be going.”

The opening that the removal of the stone had made was not a big one and the professor had a hard struggle to get out, in fact Yappi was compelled to haul him through bodily. Of a necessity the professor squirmed out and landed on his face, grumbling at the man who had made him resort to so clumsy a method of action. Once in the passage he looked around, finding that it was made of stone and arched overhead, the entire height being about seven feet. Consequently they were not compelled to bend over, and they hurried through the passage in comfort, the ranchman in the lead.

“What was this passage ever made for?” the professor asked.

“I do not know, senor. It may be that once that room was not a dungeon, or it may be—but who knows? Only I happened to know of the passage and knew that they would put you in that cell, so I have been at work for some hours on the stone.”

“I certainly appreciate your hard work, Yappi,” said the professor.

The mestizo made no reply. The professor noted that the passage was sloping upward somewhat, and before long he felt cool fresh air on his cheek. Near the entrance Yappi extinguished the torch by grinding it under his heel and they proceeded in the darkness, until the mestizo stopped and grasped his arm, pointing silently ahead.

The end of the passage was before them, and lounging there, a rifle in his hands, was the mate Abel. They could make out the lines of his body plainly as he stood near a mound, totally unconscious that he was within five feet of a secret tunnel. The professor could see that the mouth of the secret passage was screened in some dense bushes and that it curved right up from the ground. But in spite of all their brilliant work Abel suspected something, and for the time being at least they were halted.

They held a council of war right there, speaking in whispers. It was evident that the mate had heard something or had the feeling that all was not well, for he stood on his guard, the rifle held slightly forward. Yappi was for rushing him and fighting it out, but the professor opposed it firmly. The man was armed and Yappi was not, and the ranchman was old and none too strong. Beside all that, the professor had another thought.

He asked the old man if he had heard the bell tolling and the mestizo replied that he had. Professor Scott then went on to tell him how it was done, and to propose that he steal back and ring the bell, thus puzzling the men and taking Abel away from his most inconvenient post. The mestizo gravely approved of his plan and together they retraced their steps until they came to the hole in the wall.

Knowing where the bell rope was even in the darkness the professor insisted upon being the one to go back into the dungeon, so with Yappi’s help he once more pushed and puffed his way through the hole. He landed on the other side pretty well mussed up.

“Confound these fellows,” he growled inwardly. “I’ve lost several pounds squirming in and out of these holes!”

He had regained his feet and was tiptoeing toward the bell rope when a warning hiss from Yappi reached him. He turned toward the hole.

“What is it, Yappi?” he whispered.

“Come back! Light coming!”

Surely enough, at that moment a light flashed on the winding steps and began to descend. The professor made a wild dive for the hole and then stopped with a groan. It would take him several moments to worm his way back into the passage, and already it was too late for that. Sackett was coming down the stairs with the lantern, and he was now in plain sight around the last turn.

For an instant the professor remained rooted to the spot as though paralyzed. The leader of the gang was approaching the door, holding the lantern before him, his eyes squinted more than usual as he tried to see into the cell. Yappi had disappeared somewhere, and the professor felt suddenly alone and miserable.

Sackett looked in the dungeon and his eyes fell on the block which had been removed. With a snarling oath he saw the hole in the wall and turned red and angry eyes on the professor. But the old teacher had decided on his course of action.

Without fully realizing why he did it the professor stepped to the bell rope and pulled it with all his strength. The bell in the tower pealed out with a terrific clash, sending the tocsin booming out over the mountain side. Sackett saw the move and a great light swept over him.

“So!” he shouted, above the clanging of the bell. “You’re the one who is ringing that bell!”

Swinging the handle of the lantern over his arm he dived viciously into his pocket for the key to the padlock. As he did so there was the sound of running footsteps over his head and Abel’s voice reached them.

“That bell is ringing again, Sackett!” the mate cried, his voice showing his alarm.

“Yes, and here is the bird that is ringing it!” roared the leader. “Get down here right away, Abel! Where is Manuel?”

“He ran away, scared to death,” replied the mate.

“Get down here and help me choke this old one,” commanded Sackett, thrusting the key into the padlock.

But Abel called down once more, and there was a new note in his voice. “Never mind him, Squint! Get up here as fast as you can! Here come a whole rescue party, with all them blasted kids in it!”

The professor gave the bell one last pull of triumph and then let the rope go. Sackett hesitated for a moment, muttering savagely to himself and holding onto the padlock and key. Then he turned and ran up the steps, dashing the lantern against the wall in his hurry, causing the glass to break and go tinkling down the stone steps.


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