Brad and Dan watched in fascination as the paddle drifted away from the canoe.

At first it moved very slowly, then faster and faster.

Brad noted instantly that the paddle seemed to travel downstream much faster than the canoe and also at a quicker pace than other drifting objects nearby.

“It’s caught in an especially swift current!” he exclaimed. “I wonder what causes that fast water? An underground stream emptying into the river?”

“I’ve wondered myself,” Mr. Hatfield declared, keeping close watch of the drifting paddle. “Some time ago, Mr. Holloway pointed out to me that a fast current less than twelve feet wide moves along shore for a considerable distance. We never took time to trace it down or discover its origin.”

“The paddle is caught in that current now,” Dan nodded.

“I’d thought of the same thing myself,” Brad declared. “Fact is, I’ve wondered if maybe those two missing paddles didn’t float away.”

“I’m sure Ross never took them,” Mr. Hatfield said.

“This fast-moving current passes close to the beach,” Brad said thoughtfully. “Furthermore, each time the paddles disappeared, they’d been left lying close to the water’s edge!”

“Anyway, Brad, it’s a theory worth investigating. We can’t afford to lose another paddle. If we’re not careful, this one will get away from us!”

The paddle which the Cub leader had dropped into the water, was moving faster and faster. Pursuing it, Brad pushed the canoe forward with deep thrusts of the one remaining paddle. But with two heavy passengers, he could not make the craft spurt ahead.

“Want me to take over?” Mr. Hatfield offered.

Brad grinned and shook his head. “I need to build up muscle for the Saturday race. You and Dan keep your eyes glued on that paddle.”

As the canoe proceeded downstream, Mr. Hatfield outlined his theory regarding the disappearance of the paddles. He reminded the Cubs of the river’s close proximity to Lake James, only a half mile distant from their camp. Often on pleasant Saturday afternoons, the Cubs had hiked there for cook-outs.

“Now it strikes me that Lake James is at a somewhat lower level than this river,” the cubmaster went on reflectively. “Does that give either of you a clue?”

“An underground stream might connect the two!” Brad said promptly.

“That’s what I’m thinking,” Mr. Hatfield nodded, “Anyway, we’ll soon know. Notice, that floating paddle is moving toward shore again.”

“It’s traveling, too!” Dan exclaimed. “Almost as if it had a motor!”

“Even if the river did carry away our two paddles, that doesn’t explain what happened to the Navajo blanket or our cache of food,” Brad remarked thoughtfully. He shifted the paddle to the other side of the canoe so that his arm muscle might have a brief rest.

“No, someone deliberately took those things. It bothers me, too.”

“Indians?” Dan interposed.

“It could be.” Mr. Hatfield spoke rather guardedly, as if reluctant to tell the Cubs everything that was in his mind. “I’ve been trying to run into those strangers, to get a line on them. So far, I’ve had no luck.”

Since the Cubs first had discovered the carved clay face at the ravine, park officials had made several visits to the site. Twice they had noted that additional work had been done. But on no occasion had they found anyone in the vicinity.

“The park is too short-handed to assign a man to watch the ravine,” Mr. Hatfield said. “Eventually the culprit or culprits will be caught, but it may take time.”

“I think the one who is doing the work is hiding out somewhere in the woods,” Dan volunteered his theory. “And we’re likely to lose things until he’s found and put out of the park preserve.”

“Say, we’re going to lose another paddle if we don’t watch out,” Brad directed attention of the other two to the ribbon of current.

Despite his best efforts, the paddle again was moving faster than the canoe. It had swung in quite close to shore now.

The Cubs never had visited this particular section of the forest preserve. No trails had been built in the area, for the underbrush remained thick, particularly along the shore. Except for a narrow, sandy beach, sheer limestone cliffs rose to a height of more than a hundred feet.

Mr. Hatfield studied the wall of bushes overhanging the water.

“I think I see where that current goes underground,” he declared. “Quick, Brad! Bear down or we’ll lose that paddle.”

Brad took several quick thrusts of his own paddle. With a scraping of twigs, the canoe nosed into a tangle of brush.

Directly ahead, the truant paddle had snagged against a log which protruded from the water. Beyond, the swift-flowing current seemed to vanish into the cliff itself.

Barely in time, Mr. Hatfield reached out to snatch the floating paddle.

As Brad now held the canoe steady, the trio studied the face of the cliff with keen interest. The water here was very deep, flowing silently into the dense wall of bushes.

“Edge in a little closer, Brad,” Mr. Hatfield instructed.

Brad obediently steered the canoe deeper into the brush tangle. It was hard to keep the craft pointed downstream, for the current kept pulling the bow.

Mr. Hatfield pulled aside some of the heavy branches. At the sight before them, Brad and Dan sucked in their breath.

A torrent of water flowed silently, mysteriously into a great, arching cavern. The three amazed explorers could not see its end.

“A cave!” Dan whispered in awe.

“Our paddle would have been sucked in there if we hadn’t snatched it just in time,” added Brad. He grasped a tree branch with one hand, helping Mr. Hatfield hold the canoe steady.

“This explains what became of those first two paddles we lost,” Mr. Hatfield declared. “Undoubtedly, they were sucked into this cave. Furthermore, the underground current explains what’s happened to a number of things that have disappeared on the river. Mr. Holloway lost a life preserver last summer. He hunted for miles down-stream, but never could find it.”

“Doesn’t anyone know about this cave?” Dan asked, staring into the dark, silent water.

“Never heard it mentioned,” Mr. Hatfield answered. “The park people may have this underground stream mapped, but I rather doubt it. The preserve was set up only a little over a year ago, you know. Parts of the area never have been fully explored.”

Brad was impatient to investigate the cavern. The entranceway was very small, just large enough to admit a canoe, but not with its occupants sitting upright.

“Say, if we all lie down, we can get in there,” he estimated. “It will be a tight squeeze though.”

“And we wouldn’t know where we were going, or what we were running into,” Mr. Hatfield put an end to his plans. “I’d like to learn what’s inside the cave, but we’re not going to be foolhardy.”

“Then if we can’t shove the canoe in, how are we going to recover our lost paddles?” Brad demanded, disappointed by the Cub leader’s rejection of his proposal. “How’ll we ever find out where the stream goes or what’s in the cave?”

“Maybe we never will,” Mr. Hatfield replied. “We’re not taking risks, and that’s that.”

Actually, as he peered longer into the dim, dark cave, Brad lost much of his desire to explore. He could see that the current moved swiftly along the rock floor. Even if it were possible to get the canoe in for a short distance, it might be impossible to work it out again against the stiff opposition of the racing underground stream.

“The water is swift,” Dan observed, “but it doesn’t look very deep inside the cave.”

Mr. Hatfield had made the same observation. He instructed Brad to pull the canoe up onto the tiny stretch of beach close by.

“Then we are going to explore?” the Den Chief demanded.

“Not exactly. I want to probe the depth of the water at the mouth of the cave.”

Beaching the canoe, the Cubs searched and finally found a long, fairly straight stick which could be used as a measuring rod.

Following Mr. Hatfield, they inched their way along the cliff wall, fighting bushes all the distance.

The ledge was so narrow that only the Cub leader could peer into the cave opening.

“What do you see?” Dan demanded eagerly.

“Nothing but damp walls veering upward to a rough, low roof,” Mr. Hatfield answered. He had thrust head and shoulders into the opening, so his words were muffled. “I wish I had a flashlight.”

“Want me to go back for one?” Brad asked.

Mr. Hatfield turned down the offer, pointing out that the hour already was late. By the time Brad could return, it would be nearly dark.

Carefully, the Cub leader measured the depth of the water. At the mouth of the cave, it was nearly waist level. But a foot inside the entrance, the depth was six inches less.

“Unless I’m mistaken, the floor of the cave slopes upward,” Mr. Hatfield declared.

“Then farther back, you think the water might not be so deep?” Dan questioned.

“That’s the way it looks from here. I can’t see very far though.”

“Gosh, wait ’till the Cubs hear about this cave!” Brad chuckled. “And won’t we have it all over the Den 1 fellows! I sure wish we knew what’s back in there.”

Mr. Hatfield had completed his inspection of the entranceway. He now backed away to rejoin Dan and Brad.

“We might be able to explore it,” he said, dubiously.

“Today?” Dan’s voice became electric with anticipation.

“No, that’s definitely out. We’d need flashlights and lots of batteries, a good stout rope and maybe some other equipment. Besides, I’d want Mr. Holloway’s opinion before tackling it.”

“When can we do it?” Brad demanded. “Tomorrow night?”

“Possibly,” Mr. Hatfield conceded. “I’m making no promises though.”

Now that they could learn no more, the Cubs were eager to return to camp to tell their Den mates of the exciting discovery. Launching the canoe, both Dan and Brad paddled. However, it was hard work, moving against the current.

Nearly twenty minutes elapsed before the trio came within hailing distance of the camp.

“Perhaps it’s just as well not to mention the cave tonight,” Mr. Hatfield remarked. “I want the Cubs to know about it eventually. But if they learn about it too soon, it may get them all excited.”

“And take their minds off the pow-wow,” Dan added with a laugh. “We still have a lot of work to do around the camp before Saturday.”

As the canoe slipped in toward the beach, Chips and Midge came running down to help pull the craft up on shore.

“Gee, Mr. Hatfield,” Chips exclaimed in relief. “I’m sure glad you’re back!”

“Anything wrong, Chips?”

“Well, not exactly.” The boy lowered his voice. “But we’ve got visitors.”

“Nothing wrong with that is there?”

“Wait until you see ’em,” Chips muttered. “Our visitors are two Indians! Eagle Feather and White Nose. They’ve been giving the camp the once over and acting awfully queer about it. The Cubs want you to come quick, Mr. Hatfield!”

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