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CHAPTER XXII THE DEN
No sooner were the words out of Don’s mouth than a burst of flame came from the interior of the cairn and a shot whistled uncomfortably close to their heads. They made all haste to retreat, Ned dragging Jim aside somewhat roughly.

“He’s in there, all right,” said Jim, grimly.

“Yes, there must be a regular hiding place in there,” responded Ned. “The question is: how are we going to get him out? We certainly can’t rush him in there.”

“We can starve him out,” suggested Don.

“That will take too long,” said Ned. “However, if there isn’t anything else to do, we’ll do that.”

“I have another plan,” put in Jim. “We’ll smoke him out!”

“Smoke him out!” echoed Don and Ned.
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“Sure, why not? I doubt if there is any other outlet to that cairn, except maybe some small air-hole, so we can easily smoke him out. Let’s gather some of this green wood and set it afire.”

Keeping a vigilant lookout toward the mouth of the uncovered tunnel so as to guard against a sudden dash or shot the three boys gathered some fairly green wood, with which they mixed some dry dead wood, and after piling it near the mouth of the tunnel, pushed it into place with the butts of their guns. They knew that the tunnel was straight and not wide enough to allow the penned outlaw to fire on them unless they stood directly before the opening, so they took excellent care to keep out of range. When the wood was piled Ned leaned cautiously forward and lighted the pile.

The dry wood caught fire and blazed up, touching the green wood and causing it to smoke. The boys stood with guns in readiness to fire a shot into the entrance of the cave if the bandit tried to make a thrust at the fire with a view to scattering it. The flames mounted higher, causing a heavy pall of smoke from the green wood.

“Take off your hats and fan it down the opening,” said Ned, suiting the words by the action. All three of the boys fanned the smoke vigorously, causing it to go into the tunnel.
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They did not have long to wait for results. After a few moments they heard a violent coughing and then at last Sackett staggered out into the opening, still coughing and wiping his streaming eyes. Before he could use the gun which he held in his hands they were upon him and had disarmed him.

“Well, Squint Sackett,” said Ned, grimly, as they bound his hands with a piece of rope which was on his own horse. “We have you at last.”

The bandit replied by a fit of coughing that made him red in the face. Seeing that he was quite safe Don scattered the fire and stamped it out. The quest was now over and the bay pirate securely bound.

“You kids’ll pay for this!” the man said, hoarsely. “You can’t prove anything against me!”

“No, not at all,” said Don cheerfully. “Just stealing, breaking into a ranch, kidnapping, and a few other trifles. I guess we can put you where you belong this time. It was an unlucky day for you when you decided to attack Professor Scott.”

“Suppose we take a look through this cairn and see what it looks like before we go?” suggested Jim.

“All right,” agreed Ned. “But first we’ll tie this slippery gentleman up. He mustn’t be allowed to get away again.”
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Sackett was tied to a convenient tree and then the boys made a torch of a dry stick of wood. With this in hand Ned took the lead and they entered the mouth of the tunnel, bending low to keep from scraping their heads on the roof of the passage. They went down on a slight slope for a distance of about four feet and then came to a single cave-like room hollowed out under the rocks.

“I see the whole business now,” remarked Ned, as they peered about the little cave. “This place was evidently some pirate’s den years ago, and in some way Sackett learned of it. You can see that the place was built for no other purpose, and the slab outside is a plain blind.”

Ned was right in what he said. Some forgotten pirate had purposely built the cairn retreat for a refuge in time of storm, when the law was hunting him along the coast. The room was large enough to contain a blanket and a low table that had evidently been constructed in the place. Overhead there was a concealed opening between the rocks, so that air could get into the place and the inmates could breathe. Once inside it was an easy matter to place the rocks before the opening in such a way that no one except a careful observer would ever discover it.
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“It is a pretty clever hiding place,” remarked Don. “Anyone would have one chance in a hundred of finding it. I only stumbled across it because I was curious about the whole mound.”

“It pretty nearly stood Sackett in mighty good stead,” Jim said.

They left the cairn and went back to the thicket, to find the outlaw tugging frantically at his bonds, but when he saw them he sullenly ceased and became quiet. They untied him from the tree, leaving his hands tied, however, and helped him mount his horse. Then they left the thicket and started back for the ranch of the senorita.

Three miles from the ranch they were joined by the professor, the captain and Terry, who had become anxious because of their long absence and who had mounted and set out to find them. The meeting between the reunited friends was warm and they were glad to see that the author of all their troubles was taken at last.

“Well, Sackett,” said the professor, with a twinkle in his eyes. “It is certainly time that we took you. You had your inning at taking most of us and now it is our turn.”

“You won’t keep me long,” snarled the man.
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“No, we won’t,” struck in Captain Blow. “But the big house with the bars will hold on to you for a good long time, my bucko!”

“Who are you?” demanded the bay pirate. “I never did anything to you!”

“No, but your friend Captain Ryan took a couple of my sailors with him when he sailed on his last voyage. He’s taking another sail right now, down to San Francisco to the jail.”

“Tryin’ to be funny, aren’t you?” retorted the river pirate.

“All of your gang is in custody, Sackett,” said Professor Scott, quietly.

They went back to the ranch, to find the senorita taking care of four wounded men, all of whom had slight wounds in the legs or shoulders. The overseer was one of them and he pleaded for mercy with the boys. Jim and Terry were undecided but Captain Blow and the professor were not.

“Can’t let these fellows go, any of ’em,” said the old captain. “He would have left you two boys’ bodies out there in the desert without thinking about it, according to Terry’s story, so you can’t let him go. Maybe he wouldn’t ever turn up to harm you again, but he’s a potential murderer and he’s better off behind bars.”
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It was now late at night and the whole party accepted the invitation to remain at the ranch until morning, at which time they were to take the prisoners to Quito and see that they were taken from there to San Francisco. The night passed without incident and in the morning the whole party, with the wounded men in a wagon which belonged to the senorita, started for the sea coast.

The journey to Quito was a long one and all of them did not make it. The professor dropped off at the Scott ranch and the others kept on with the cargo of dangerous rascals. In due time they reached the town, made out the proper papers, and then waited two days for a government boat to come and take the prisoners away. When this was done they went back to the Scott ranch.

Subsequently Sackett, who was wanted for many types of crime, was placed behind the bars for the rest of his life and his crew of men each received all that was coming to them from their lives of dishonesty. The river pirates and bay pirate gang, of which Ryan and his crew formed the main branch, was broken up once and for all, and it was a good many years before any of them ever became free again.
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Captain Blow left a message at Quito for his mate and then joined the party that was going home. He had been invited to go with them on their gold hunt and was eager to do so. But this time all stories had been told and the boys in particular were impatient to go and dig for it.

“Well, now we’ll go have a look at that Spanish gold,” said the captain, as they started on the return trip. “And I want to have a look at that ship moored in the sand for so long! They say some of those old-timers were pretty good sailors, but I don’t think much of a skipper who runs his windjammer under the ground!”


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