Now that it was too late to recall the information so carelessly given, Red was distressed by his slip of tongue.

“What’ll we do?” he asked helplessly. “Can’t we stop those Indians?”

Dan already had rushed to the grocery store door. By this time the two Indians were across the street, walking very rapidly. He called to them, but they paid no heed.

“We’ve got to find either Mr. Hatfield or Mr. Holloway right away,” he declared. “If we don’t—well, Brad’s right—no telling what may happen.”

The three Cubs were deeply worried, for White Nose and Eagle Feather plainly were being driven by thoughts of revenge.

“What’s all this about anyhow?” Red demanded. “Why are you both so scared they’ll go to the cave?”

“There’s a lot you don’t know,” Brad shot back. “Furthermore, Dan and I haven’t time to explain things now. Come on! We’ve got to get out to camp right away or there may be no pow-wow today.”

Decidedly crestfallen to think he had made a serious blunder, Red said no more. The three Cubs quickly paid for the groceries, and with the sacks, started off at a fast walk for the Holloway place at the edge of the park preserve.

Enroute, Brad and Dan told Red of their fear that the man sought by the two Indians might be hiding in the cave.

“No one was there when we explored yesterday,” Dan admitted. “All the same, Mr. Hatfield found plenty of evidence someone had been living there recently.”

“What d’you think would happen if White Nose and Eagle Feather find the cave?” Red speculated uneasily.

“No telling,” Brad answered. He quickened his pace. “You heard that story they told about the stolen turquoise toad.”

“Gosh! You think the medicine man they’re after may be hiding in the cave?”

“We’re wondering, that’s all. If White Nose and Eagle Feather should come upon the fellow unexpectedly—well—”

“But if he stole the turquoise maybe he deserves to be punished,” Red argued.

“Maybe,” Brad shrugged. “But if I’m any judge, those Indians will do their punishing first and ask questions afterwards.”

“They had knives in their belts,” Red admitted with a shiver.

Reaching the Holloway home, the Cubs rapped on the door. Mrs. Holloway did not answer. Noticing that the garage door was open and the car missing, Brad deduced that the Den Mother had gone on a quick errand. But they did not have time to await her return.

“We’ll have to leave the groceries here on the porch,” he told the other two. “We’ve got to find Mr. Holloway. I don’t suppose Mr. Hatfield has come out to the camp yet.”

Depositing their packages, the Cubs hastened down to the river’s edge. The camp was entirely deserted. They saw that Mr. Holloway had been working there, however, for wood had been gathered for the ceremonial campfire.

Dan peered inside the hogan. The sand painting remained in perfect condition. In fact, the entire camp looked in readiness for the pow-wow. Yet no one was around.

“It’s too early,” he said. “Mr. Holloway probably went into town and the others aren’t here yet. We’ll have to wait.”

Brad paced nervously in front of the hogan, trying to decide what to do. As Den Chief, the decision rested entirely upon him. The safe, conservative thing to do, of course, was just to wait for Mr. Holloway or Mr. Hatfield and let them take over.

On the other hand, he was afraid that any delay might be serious. Although White Nose and Eagle Feather didn’t know the exact location of the cave, it wouldn’t take them long to find it, now that they had a clue upon which to work. If the mysterious occupant of the cave were to be warned in time, it would have to be immediately.

“I’m going to try to get to the cavern ahead of White Nose and Eagle Feather,” he announced with sudden decision. “With luck, I may make it.”

“We’ll go with you,” Dan insisted. “It’s not safe alone.”

Not wasting a minute, the three started off through the woods. They were a considerable distance from camp before they remembered that they had not left a note for Mr. Holloway or Mr. Hatfield to explain their absence.

“We may get back before they show up,” Brad said. “I hope so, but there’s no telling what we may run into. I sure hope we aren’t making a mistake starting off this way.”

In an attempt to take a short route to the cave, Brad chose an inland route. There was no marked trail. Every inch of the distance was a battle against the underbrush. When finally the boys emerged on the beach, not more than a hundred yards from the cave, they were worn from their struggles.

Dan suddenly reached out and jerked Red back into the bushes.

“Down!” he commanded.

Red ducked low and then demanded in a whisper:

“What’s the idea?”

“Look out on the river and you’ll see!”

Red and Brad both peered through a gap in the foliage. Some distance upstream, but well within their range of vision, White Nose and Eagle Feather could be seen paddling close to shore in a red canoe.

“They’re searching for the cave all right!” Brad observed. “If they see us now, it will be a dead give-away.”

The Cubs knew that their best bet was to lie low and wait. Accordingly, they flattened themselves on the earth, at intervals raising up briefly to survey the slowly moving canoe.

“They’re starting the other way now,” Brad observed in relief. “They haven’t found the cave entrance yet, and they may miss it.”

“Think it’s safe to duck in there now?” Dan asked.

“Let’s wait a little longer,” Brad cautioned. “Until they get around that bend in the river, we’ll be exposed, once we come out of hiding.”

The Cubs waited, nervously aware of how fast time was passing. By now the sun was well up over the treetops, beating down mercilessly upon their backs.

“We won’t have too much time, you know,” Dan reminded his companions. “The pow-wow starts at eleven sharp. Mr. Hatfield will be chewing his fingernails if we don’t get back in plenty of time.”

Brad remained silent, his gaze on the canoe. Now that they were near the mouth of the cave, he wondered if he had been rash to propose entering it without Mr. Hatfield or Mr. Holloway along.

Even in broad daylight the cave looked forbidding, and this time the Cubs were not supplied with flashlights or candles.

“We can give it up and go back,” he suggested. “After all, White Nose and Eagle Feather haven’t found the entranceway. They may miss it entirely.”

“No chance of that, if they come back this way,” Dan said significantly.

“The mouth is well guarded by bushes.”

“Yeah,” Dan agreed, “but look sharp and tell me what you see.”

Both Brad and Red peered intently toward the cave entrance. At first they noticed nothing unusual. Then they noted a thin wisp of black smoke issuing from the jagged mouth.

“Someone’s got a fire in there!” Red exclaimed.

“And that smoke can be seen out on the river,” Brad added in alarm. “This settles it! We’ll have to go in there and warn the guy. I’ve got a hunch Mr. Hatfield wouldn’t want us to get mixed up in this business, but what else can we do?”

Neither Red nor Dan were eager to enter the dark cave, yet they agreed with Brad that the occupant should be warned of his danger.

“Let’s get on with it,” Brad said briskly. “You two can wait here and I’ll go in alone.”

“Nothing doing,” Dan rejected the proposal. “We’ll stick with you. Won’t we, Red?”

“Sure,” the latter agreed, though without enthusiasm. “Lead on!”

By this time the canoe bearing White Nose and Eagle Feather had rounded the river bend and was out of sight.

Rolling up the trouser legs of their Cub uniforms, the boys removed shoes and socks, hiding the latter in the bushes.

Then with Brad leading, the three scrambled over the jagged rocks to the cave entrance. As they stood there a moment, gathering courage, a little puff of black smoke issued forth.

“Someone’s in there, all right,” Brad muttered. “You fellows follow behind me, and try not to make any noise. We want to find out what we’re running into before we reveal ourselves.”

The swift-moving underground stream felt icy cold as the boys stepped into it. Red, who never had been inside the cave, felt especially nervous. He kept close to Dan, occasionally bumping into him.

Without a light to guide them, the Cubs could neither see nor be seen. However, the bright mouth provided dim illumination for a short distance. After that, they were in complete and rather terrifying darkness.

Brad, who kept ahead of his companions, found the smoke increasingly unpleasant as he moved deeper into the tunnel. He covered his face with a handkerchief to ward off any inclination to cough.

Approaching the inner rock ledge above the stream, Brad signalled his companions to be very cautious.

The smoke had become thick, and ahead he could see the faint glow of a fire. From the odor of the smoke, he knew that game was being cooked.

Fancy was not playing a trick upon him, for as the smoke cleared, he distinctly made out the figure of a man crouched over the fire.

The problem of how to make themselves known to the stranger solved itself most unexpectedly. Red tried to smother a cough and could not do so.

In the silent cave, the sound echoed loudly. Brad, Dan and Red flattened themselves against the rough limestone wall. Too late!

The man crouching over the fire had heard the cough. He started up, staring into the darkness, directly at the three frightened Cubs.

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