“Tom. Tom. Tom.”
A hand gripped his leg. A voice whispered so low it was barely audible to him:
“That you, Jack?”
Running a hand over Tom Bodine’s body, Jack found his ear and, as he had done with Bob and Frank, set his lips to it. He explained his purpose to gain the entrance to the cave and prevent being bottled up. Tom nodded approval, and Jack was about to return to his companions when he suddenly thought of the radio room beyond, and its possibilities. It would never do to leave that unguarded. Their enemies could telephone the Calomares ranch. Then, even if the boys escaped, their identities would have become known at rebel headquarters. Their chances of rescuing Mr. Hampton would go glimmering.
Once more Jack set his lips to Tom’s ear and explained the situation.
“That’s right,” whispered Tom in return. “Tell you what. I’ll guard this here inner room from behind the rocks in this doorway. You three stop up the outer entrance, an’ well have ’em bottled.”
Jack made his way back to his comrades, and the three started crawling. They moved inch by inch, so as to avoid bumping into furniture—a number of heavy chairs had been seen standing about the great room.
Jack was in the lead, Frank at his heels, Bob bringing up the rear. Cautiously, tortuously, they made their way ahead for what seemed like ages, pausing frequently to listen.
After one such pause, as he again started to follow Frank, Bob felt a form brush against him from the side. Then an arm shot out and encircled his neck. Bob wriggled about to face his opponent and threw both arms about him in a mighty clasp.
As they fell to the floor, Bob heard a strangled cry from Frank and a grunt from Jack. They, too, had come to grips with the enemy. Their three opponents had started for the door with the same purpose held by the boys—that of bottling up the other side. The two crawling trios had brushed against each other in the middle of the floor.
Now three individual fights raged furiously on the floor of the cave in Stygian darkness. Every man fought for his very life. The sob of labored breathing was the only sound—that and the threshing about of bodies.
Tom Bodine was sick with rage at his helplessness, for he dared not shoot lest he hit one of the boys, and he could not see to take a hand. He decided to try to find that button in the middle of the floor of the outer cave which the enemy had used to throw off the lights. If not that, perhaps there was a wall switch somewhere. In his pockets was a box of safety matches. With these in his hands he started for what he thought was the middle of the room.
Recklessly Tom struck and lighted matches, searching the floor for that button, stopping after each match burned down to his fingers to listen to the panting, heaving struggle going on about him.