Hank Reese was so mad that he could hardly see straight. What was Tobe Turner doing sneaking into Sand Cave that way? He knew Tobe had been ordered to stay out of the cave, so Tobe must be up to mischief.
Hank watched the entrance of the cave for a minute; he was pretty sure Tobe hadn't seen him. Then he wheeled his bicycle around and headed for Perkins' store as fast as he could go.
The combination country store and gas station sat on the corner at a quiet neglected crossroads, but it did have a telephone. Hank was relieved when his friend's drawling voice came slowly over the line.
"What's up, Hank? Sounds like you're upset."
That's Bill Todd, thought Hank, never in a hurry. But he's got to hurry this time!
Hank quickly explained about seeing Tobe. Then he added, "Don't forget a thing. Extra candles and our rope and jackets and both flashlights. We're going to find out what Tobe's up to!"
"He's probably going to steal some mineral specimens to sell to the souvenir shop over at Big Cave," Bill said slowly. "Well, hang up, Hank. I'm on my way. Meet you at the cave entrance."
All the way back to the cave Hank's thoughts whirled as fast as his bicycle wheels. I've tried often enough, he thought, really tried to make a friend out of Tobe. Hank had even invited him to church. But he'd finally given up. Then when Tobe Turner and his gang had ambushed them after the teen meeting–well, that had done it for Hank and the other guys, too.
Some people you just can't help. It's no wonder the Reeses and Turners have always been bitter enemies, if all the Turners have been like Tobe, Hank thought resentfully. The rivalry between the two families went back all the way to the Civil War, when the Reeses had belonged to the Kentucky Cavalry and the Turners had belonged to the Home Guard. Kentucky had been mostly on the side of the North, but many of its people had fought for the South.
Hank and Bill belonged to a spelunking club and were proud to be cavers. They had explored Sand Cave many times and had never destroyed any of its natural beauties. But Tobe Turner and his friends had taken specimens and littered the tunnels so much that Mr. Randall, who owned the land the cave was on, had told Tobe never to go into the cave again.
Hank parked his bicycle at the entrance to the cave, a gaping maw beneath a limestone ledge. He studied the cracks in the soft sand and was pretty sure Tobe was still in there. We'll find out what he's up to and catch him at it! Hank thought. We owe him something, anyway, for the dirty tricks he's played on us so often.
Bill was panting heavily when he finally bicycled up the hill to the opening. The basket on his bicycle was full of the gear the teens always carried when they went into any cave.
"Hurry up, Bill," Hank hissed. "He's still in there, and I think he's alone. I didn't see anyone else go in with him."
"OK, OK. Let's check everything first." Bill portioned out the candles, flashlights, and jackets, and slung their nylon rope over his shoulder.
The two young men advanced carefully. Once inside they flashed their lights downward, watching for Tobe's tracks in the sand. There would be only one way for them to go for a while, through the main tunnel.
"This jacket sure feels good," Hank whispered.
"It sure does," Bill answered. "It's only 56 degrees in here, winter and summer." Then he exclaimed, "Hey, look at what Tobe's doing. He's been chipping samples of gypsum." His words trailed off in disgust.
"Up to his old tricks. He's a thief and a sneak!" Hank muttered. "Everyone knows we're only allowed to take pictures, never to destroy the natural growths."
"This is as far as I've ever been," said Bill after they'd been walking quite a while.
They had reached a place where the tunnel became considerably narrower, and they had to stoop sometimes to keep from banging their heads.
Hank knelt down and studied the floor. The sand had disappeared, and the surface was hard. He couldn't spot any footprints.
"I've been down this passage once, and it ends in a stream," he said slowly.
Bill was carefully studying a low horizontal fissure, or large crack, at floor level in the side of the tunnel. "This is only a crawlway, but it looks as if someone's moved this rubble around a bit. Maybe Tobe. Here's a large boulder that might have been pushed to one side."
"We'll try this way." Suppressed excitement made Hank's voice unsteady. Exploring a new place in a cave was always challenging.
The teens crawled into the narrow opening. The floor was solid travertine, and the roof was so low that Hank couldn't raise himself on his elbows without bumping his head.
"If we were any larger, this sure would be a tight squeeze," Bill complained as he wriggled along on his stomach.
"Be quiet and crawl," Hank ordered as he slowly pushed himself along.
The tight passageway sloped gently downward, then curved to the right. Soon the two of them squirmed through an opening into a larger tunnel. Bill flopped over on his back, sighing in exhaustion.
"Aw, come on," Hank urged. "We can walk now."
Hank and Bill kept their voices down as they walked, pausing occasionally to listen, hoping to hear Tobe's chipping hammer. They were descending all the time, and the floor of the cave became damp under their feet.
Suddenly Hank stopped and held up his hand. "Listen!"
He swiveled around just in time to see two small pebbles come slithering, rolling, bounding down the incline. The sound of raucous, hooting laughter echoed through the tunnel. Then dead silence.
Bill didn't need to be told what had happened. He turned, and the teens ran back to the tight passageway. Hank crawled into it first. One behind the other they wriggled through as fast as they could.
When Hank reached the end of the crawlway, however, his worst fears were realized. He lay there panting, suddenly warm in the coolness of the cave.
"Well, go on," Bill said impatiently from behind him.
"We can't." Hank's voice was dull, flat. "The entrance is blocked, probably by that boulder we saw. Our ‘friend' Tobe"–he swallowed and took a deep breath–"has walled us in here. We're trapped!"
We’ll take the other way out,” Bill said calmly. “Come on.” Hank almost asked, “What if there is no other way out?” but he bit his tongue and followed his friend back down the tight passage they had just explored. They both felt a little better when they reached the larger tunnel and could stand up.
“Mean as Tobe Turner is, I never thought he’d do a thing like that,” Bill remarked.
“I don’t believe he would let us die in here,” Hank said slowly. “He might come back and move that rock later on. He probably just wanted to give us a good scare.”
“Well, he’s succeeded, as far as I’m concerned,” Bill said.
The passageway curved ahead of them, seemingly endless. The teens noticed that the floor was getting wetter, and they were extra-careful not to slip. Then they heard water running.
“The stream!” Hank cried, and stepped up his pace. “Probably this route joins the main tunnel and goes beside the underground river.” Several more curves, and they entered another tunnel. Ahead of them the water sounded louder than ever.
“There’s a light!” Bill said. “Someone’s up ahead.”
They broke into a careful run. “Hey, Tobe, we’ve got you now!” Hank yelled as he recognized the figure. So this passage does join the original one, Hank thought exultantly.
Tobe heard them, turned and looked at them briefly, and then began to run. His light wavered and flickered on the rock walls.
“Careful, don’t slip,” Bill warned Hank, who slowed down. But not Tobe. He ran faster, turned a corner, and was out of their sight.
Then a scream split the silence of the cave. Hank and Bill rounded the corner. All they saw ahead of them were the rushing waters of the underground stream. Tobe Turner had disappeared!
They skidded to a stop. Bill yelled, “There he is!”
Tobe was in the water. As his head broke the surface, he screamed again, then was swept away by the current.
Hank would have prayed for help if he’d had time, but then perhaps his whole being was one large prayer. He knew only that they needed help—lots of it—if they were to rescue the drowning teen.
He ran along the bank of the stream for a short distance. Then the passageway widened into a large room, and the stream made its way across the far side of it. Hank hesitated for a moment. Then Bill was at his side, a coil of rope in his hand.
“Cut across! We can beat Tobe to the bend!”
One glance showed Hank the wisdom of Bill’s suggestion. The two teens streaked across the cave’s uneven floor, hoping to reach the curve of the river on the far side of the room before the current carried Tobe there.
At the edge of the stream Hank stopped and then worked quickly with the rope. They tied one end of it around Hank’s waist (he muttered, “I’m the best swimmer,” and Bill didn’t argue); they snagged it around a jutting rock; and then Bill wound the other end about his waist and braced himself.
They were not a moment too soon. At first Hank feared that Tobe had been swept on past their vantage point, but then he saw Tobe surface a few feet from them, his arms flailing, his face greenish-white in the glare of Bill’s flashlight.
Hank plunged into the water. It was deep and icy cold, and he couldn’t touch bottom. The stream was about eight feet wide at the bend. He swam strongly, praying he could reach Tobe.
Once he grabbed for Tobe and missed. Then he forced himself forward desperately in a mighty lunge and caught the other boy by the arm. Tobe fought him. By this time he had lost all reason, all sense of direction, and Hank thought surely Tobe would be torn from his grasp. But Hank hung on, and then he felt the grip of the rope tighten about his waist and knew Bill was pulling them to the bank.
Hank lay panting on the hard rock floor while Bill systematically worked over Tobe until he gasped and spluttered. Then all three of them lay exhausted, breathing deeply as they tried to recover.
When Tobe could finally speak, his first words were
“I—I don’t know what to say.” His face was shamed, and he couldn’t look straight at the others. He stammered, “I—I really wasn’t trying to kill you. I knew you could get out this end of the tunnel. I just wanted to scare you when I blocked it.”
He raised his face and looked directly into Hank’s eyes. “After all I’ve done to you, after the way your folks and mine have always hated one another, why would you come after me? Why would you risk your life to save mine?”
Hank hesitated. There was only one answer to that question, but before he could say it, Tobe said it for him. “Because you’re a Christian—is that it?” Both Hank and Bill nodded.
Hank said quietly, “I couldn’t do anything else.”
Tobe was quiet for several minutes, and neither of the other guys spoke. Finally Tobe got to his feet, shuffled over to Hank, and held out his hand. “Let’s shake,” he said gruffly. “All I can say—is—thanks. Things are going to be a lot different with me from now on.”
For the first time in a hundred years a Reese and a Turner clasped hands in friendship.