The boy’s breast swelled with pride and martial ardor. “Betcher life,” he said, and then: “If I get the news will I bring it here?”
Mr. Lichtenstein considered for a minute. Then shook his head. “I’ll be in Blicker’s drug-store between ’leven and midnight,” he said.
“If I don’t show up it’ll be because I can’t.”
Mr. Lichtenstein smiled encouragingly. “Don’t look on the dark side of the future,” he said, “but don’t take any chances, and don’t show a light till you have to.”
The night was hot, but the rising tide had brought in cold water from the ocean, and what with his excitement and trepidation it was a very shivery small boy that began to investigate the passage under Pier 31A. Mindful of Mr. Lichtenstein’s advice not to show a light till he had to, Bubbles felt his way forward very slowly in the inky darkness, unrolling, as he went, a huge ball of twine. It would be time to take the bearings of the place by compass when he had ascertained its general extent and whether it was free from human occupants. On this score he felt comparatively safe, since it seemed likely that the passage had been constructed with a view to emergency rather than daily use.
Having advanced a distance of about three short city blocks, it seemed to Bubbles as if the passage had opened suddenly into a room. If so, he had to thank instinct for the knowledge, since he could see but an inch in the blackness. He had the feeling that walls were no longer passing near him, and, groping cautiously this way and that, he found it to be fact and not fancy. During these gropings he lost his sense of direction, and, after considering the matter at some length, he concluded that the time had come to flash his torch. But first he listened for a long time. At last, satisfied that he was alone, his thumb began to press against the switch of his torch. A shaft of light bored into the darkness, and he saw two wildly bearded men, who sat with their backs against a wall of living rock and looked straight at him.
It was as if he had been suddenly frozen solid, so dreadful was his surprise and horror, but the men with the wild heads showed no emotion. They had a pale, tired, hopeless look; and though one was dark and one blond, this expression, common to both, gave them an appearance of being twin brothers. They had gentle soft eyes in which was no sign of surprise or agitation. It seemed as if they were perfectly accustomed to having light suddenly flashed into them. One of the men leaned forward and began to run his hand this way and that over the hard dirt floor.
“Lost something?” said the other suddenly.
“Dropped my plug,” said the first in a dull weary voice, and he continued to feel for and repeatedly just miss a half-cake of chewing-tobacco. Bubbles could see it distinctly, and another thing was clear to him: the men were both blind.