The Digger in the Garden

“This must be the place!”

Jim whispered it cautiously and the two shadows with him nodded
silently. Don and Terry crouched down beside him behind the high wall
which ran back of the home of Arthur Gates.

It was on the following night, and three cadets were there with the full
permission of Colonel Morrell. Jim, after his talk with his friends, had
gone straight to the headmaster with the story. The colonel had also
been of the opinion that it was the cup that Gates planned to bury. He
agreed that it would be best for them to watch the digging and to get
the object at once, before the time elapsing would give the ground a
chance to freeze. So the three cadets crouched behind the wall bordering
Gates’ place on this February night.

“You think this is the right spot?” Don whispered.

“Yes,” returned Jim. “What time is it?”

Terry consulted a watch with a lighted dial. “Just five minutes of ten,”
he replied. “We got here just in time.”

They had reached the property a few minutes before and had skirted the
wall, halting at the place which Jim had believed to be opposite the
spot where Gates and the man had conferred on the previous night. They
straightened up and Jim reached upward, finding that he was just able to
place his fingertips on the top of the wall.

“Give me a boost up,” he ordered.

Don cupped his hand and by the aid of this step Jim sprang onto the
wall. For a moment there was silence as he peered down into the garden
inside, and then he leaned toward them.

“This is the place,” he whispered. “Come on up.”

Terry formed the step by which Don joined his brother on the wall and
then they both pulled the red-head up. Jim then looked carefully back of
him.

“There are no lights back of us,” he said. “I’m pretty sure that no one
can see us.”

They settled themselves to wait and the minutes dragged by. It seemed an
age, though it was in reality only fifteen minutes when Terry hissed
warningly.

“Somebody is coming!”

They crouched low as they saw a bobbing light coming down the path
toward them. It was a man with a lantern and as he drew nearer they saw
that it was a short man, whom Jim recognized as the man who had talked
with Gates. Near the wall the man halted, and placed a wooden box on the
ground. Setting the lantern down, and without looking around him, he
dropped a pick and shovel from his shoulder. He took up the pick, raised
it above his head and brought it down with a thump on the hard earth.

The boys, when talking the situation over at school, were agreed that
Gates had received his idea from the newspaper account of the burying of
the silver plate by the Gannon family. When they saw the wooden box on
the ground they were firmly convinced that it held the disputed silver
cup, for it was just the right size.

The digger in the garden worked steadily at his task, breaking the stiff
earth with his pick and then shovelling it away with his shovel. He had
made a hole perhaps three feet deep when something wholly unexpected
happened.

There was a sudden flash of fire back of the watching cadets and they
were bathed in an embarrassing glow of light. Turning startled heads
over their shoulders they saw that a garage nearby had caught fire and
that a pan of oil was blazing up to the sky. The man working in the
garden looked up with a grunt of fright, but fortunately not in their
immediate direction, for the glare was spreading and he looked slightly
to one side of them. Seeing how things stood the three cadets dropped
from the wall swiftly and with as little noise as possible, crouching at
the bottom of the wall outside Gates’ property. The glare died down
abruptly.

“Did he see us?” questioned Don, eagerly.

“No,” whispered Jim. “But that was a narrow escape.”

“You bet,” agreed Terry. “There we were, sitting on the wall like three
chickens! That was a lucky escape.”

“We had better wait here until he finishes his digging,” Jim suggested.
“Listen; he has gone back to work.”

They could hear the man resume his digging. But it was unfortunate that
they could not see into the garden, for real trouble was coming their
way rapidly.

Arthur Gates, uneasy over the affair, had been standing at an upper
window when the flare had illuminated the sky, and clearly and
distinctly he had seen the three cadets on the wall. Uttering an
exclamation the man ran from the house and made his way to the digger.
Unknown to the boys a rapid interchange of words followed and then Gates
took up the box and went back to the house. The man who was doing the
digging dropped his shovel and waited a moment, until he was joined by
the caretaker of the property. Some whispering passed between them and
then they silently made their way to a gate in the wall.

The three cadets crouched there in the blackness of the night beside the
wall and waited. They strained their ears to hear continued sounds of
the digging but they heard nothing.

“He must be finished,” Terry whispered.

“I should think that we would hear him replacing the dirt,” suggested
Jim.

“Suppose you go aloft and see?” said Don, in a low voice.

Jim straightened up and Don gave him a hand to the top of the wall. Once
there Jim peered carefully over to see how far the man had gotten in his
work. But in a moment he was down again.

“The man is gone!” he told them, in wonder.

“Then he has finished,” concluded Don, but Jim shook his head.

“I don’t know why he should be. The lantern is still there and the hole
is open, but the box is gone!”

“Gone?” the others cried guardedly.

“Yes, and I don’t see a sign of the man,” Jim replied.

“Let me take a look,” Don directed briefly.

When he had been hoisted up he made the same observation that Jim had.
The three boys were puzzled.

“Confound that fire!” growled Terry. “If it hadn’t been for that we
would know what was going on.”

“It doesn’t look very good to me,” observed Jim.

They waited for a moment, undecided as to what to do. The only sound
that reached their ears was the sound of men in the nearby garage, who
had put out the unexpected fire and who were talking about it. They were
not near enough to cause the cadets any misgivings, however.

“Give me another boost,” said Don, but Jim caught his arm in a firm
grasp.

“Listen!” commanded his brother.

There had been a faint sound near them, along the wall, the sound as of
a small stick breaking. There was no further noise but they had heard
that one plainly. A suspicion leaped into Don’s mind.

“Maybe someone saw us and they are after us,” he whispered.

No sooner had he spoken than two distinct shadows loomed up before them
along the wall.

“Run, you guys!” cried Jim.

They dashed away from the wall as fast as they could go toward the open
field, the two men hard at their heels. Jim and Terry were slightly
ahead of Don and running swiftly, breaking their way recklessly through
the bushes that barred their way. Don had been a bit slower but was
sufficiently ahead of his pursuers to keep him out of danger. They ran
in the general direction of the school, trusting to luck to keep them
out of holes and other pitfalls.

But Don was the unlucky one. Jim and Terry veered to the right across
the fields but Don kept on going, failing to follow their lead closely.
When he noticed that they had changed their course he swung around to
follow them. There was nothing ahead of him, but as he ran forward he
felt himself flung back abruptly, to tumble breathless to the ground.
Before him was a long chicken run, with high chicken wire strung from
pole to pole to pole, and Don had run against this net in the dark, to
be playfully tossed for a considerable loss.

It proved to be a fatal loss. Just as he scrambled to his feet the two
men swooped down on him and two pairs of strong arms gripped him. He
struggled but the men held him fast.

“Let go of me,” he demanded, somewhat breathlessly.

“Nothing doing, bub,” growled the man who had been digging. “You come
along with us.”

“Where are you taking me?” Don asked, as they led him along.

“Back to the house,” replied the other, an older man. “We want to find
out what you were doing snooping around there. I’m caretaker at the
house and I can have you arrested for trespassing.”

Don had a pretty fair idea that Arthur Gates would not have him arrested
but he realized that he was in a tough spot.