It was not normal breathing surely, but it was the sound of breathing. He was certain of that. He thought it was over near the car.
THE TENTH CASE
The thought that there was a living presence in that spooky dungeon struck terror to Pee-wee’s very soul. He could not bring himself to move, much less to speak. But he could not stand idly where he was, and if he should stumble over a human form in that unknown blackness.... What could be more appalling than that? Was this uncanny place a prison for poor, injured captives? Was there, lying just a few feet from him, some suffering victim of those scoundrels? What did it mean? Pee-wee could only stand, listening in growing fear and agitation.
“Who’s there?” he finally asked, and his own trembling voice seemed strange to him.
There was no answer.
“Who’s there?” he asked again.
Silence; only the low, steady sound; punctuated, as it seemed by his own heart beats.
“Who—is—is anybody there?”
Then, suddenly, in a kind of abandon, he cast off his fears and groped his way with hands before him toward the low sound. Presently his hand was upon something round and small. It had a kind of tube running from it. He felt about this and touched something else. He felt along it; it was smooth and continuous.
And then he knew, and he experienced infinite relief. His hand was upon the spare tire on the rear of the car. The air was slowly escaping in irregular jerks from the valve of this tire, making that low sound, now hardly audible, now clearer and steadier, that escaping air will sometimes cause when passing through a leaky valve. The darkness and Pee-wee’s own thumping heart had contributed to the horrible illusion and he smiled in the utter relief which he experienced by the discovery.
But one other discovery he had made also which gave him an inspiration and made him feel foolish that he had not had the inspiration before. The little round thing that he had felt in about the center of the tire was the red tail light of the car; he realized that now. And this discovery reminded him that he could have all the light he wanted by the mere touching of a switch.
“That shows how stupid I am,” said Pee-wee. He was so relieved and elated that he could afford to be generous with self accusations. “One thing sure, it shows how when you hunt for a thing you find something else, so if you’re mistaken it’s a good thing.”
This was logical, surely, and he now proceeded to avail himself of the benefit of his chance discovery. Presently this dank, mysterious, spooky dungeon would be bathed in welcome light. Pee-wee climbed into the front seat and moved his hand across the array of nickel dials and buttons on the instrument board. There seemed to be a veritable multitude of little handles and indicators for the control of the Hunkajunk super six touring model. Not even a wireless apparatus, with which Pee-wee’s scouting experience had made him familiar, had such a variety of shiny little odds and ends.