Had Tom been outside, hidden and keeping alert watch over the surroundings, his content would have vanished into action.
In the deep darkness of the night, Dolph Gage glided about on the firm snow crust at the further side of the mine shaft. With him, looking more like two evil shadows or spectres, were his two remaining companions.
Most of the time since they had been seen last, Gage and his confederates had been within a mile or so of Reade’s camp. They had found a cave in which they had been passably comfortable. For food they had depended upon the fact that the commissary at the Bright Hope Mine was easily burglarized, and that no very strict account was kept of the miners’ food. Thus the three scoundrels had managed not only to hide themselves from the law’s officers, but to keep themselves comfortable as well.
“Now we can fix these youngsters, and slide back to our hiding place during the excitement,” Gage whispered to his two friends. “This crowd is broke. If we fix the mine in earnest tonight they won’t be able to open it again. With the dynamite we brought up from the Bright Hope on this sled we can fire a blast that will starve and drive Reade and Hazelton away from the Indian Smoke Range for good and all!”
DOLPH GAGE FIRES HIS SHOT
“Yes, if we don’t blow ourselves to kingdom come in the effort,” growled the man known as Josh.
“You’re talking bosh!” grunted Dolph. “Why should we blow ourselves up? Is this the first time we’ve used dynamite!”
“But there’s such a lot of the stuff,” grunted Josh. “We must have a hundred and fifty sticks on the sled.”
“All of that,” nodded Gage.
“If the stuff goes oh accidentally, when we’re near-----”
“Then our troubles will be over,” said Gage grimly.
“I’m not so all-fired anxious to have my troubles over that way,” grumbled Josh. The other man said nothing, but he looked extremely thoughtful.
“The best way to make the thing sure,” Gage went on, “is to get to work before some one comes prowling this way.”
“Who’s going to prowl?” queried Josh. “The camp is asleep.”
“Reade is up; we know that,” Dolph insisted.
“Humph! We saw through the window that he’s too drowsy to stir.”
“Don’t be too sure,” warned Gage. “He may be only a boy, but he’s a sure terror, the way he finds out things! He may be out at any time. Come, we’ll hustle, and then get away from here.”
“I’m ready,” said the third man.
“Then get on to the top ladder,” ordered Dolph. “When you’re down about fifteen feet, then stop and light your lantern. We’ll each do the same.”
Dolph waited until the other two had reached the bottom of the shaft and he could see their lanterns. Then he, too, descended, lighting two more lanterns after he reached firm ground.