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18. Don Meets the Colonel
Don stepped into the room, his eyes and nerves alert for whatever emergency which might arise. He found himself facing a short and slightly stout man, who was standing beside an easy chair, a newspaper in his hand and a curved pipe in his mouth. The pipe seemed to have gone out and the man was staring toward Don intently.

The room was furnished with a bed, a table upon which rested a few books, and a large armchair. An iron stove took up one corner of the room, and a fire had been lighted and was crackling in it. Two small high windows gave light in the room, and the windows had been heavily barred. Don took in the room in a sweeping glance and looked once more at the man.

An expression of mingled relief and anxiety was on the man’s face and he stepped forward, dropping his paper.
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“Who are you, boy?” he asked, his voice slightly hoarse. “What are you doing here?”

“Are—are you Colonel Morrell?” gasped Don, a flash of inspiration sweeping over him.

“Yes!” replied the man, eagerly. “Have you come to rescue me at last? Is the story out?”

“I’m sorry to say that I may not be able to help you much, colonel,” returned Don, closing the door behind him. He looked searchingly at the colonel, the subject of so much thought and conjecture for the last two months. “I’m a prisoner here myself, and I just escaped from a room on the second floor. I guess I stumbled on their game and they took me in, too.”

“Just the same, I’m very glad to see you,” cried the colonel, seizing his hands. “What is your name, my boy?”

“Don Mercer, sir. I’m a fourth class man, and we’ve been greatly concerned about your absence at the school. Have you been right here all along, Colonel Morrell?”

“Every bit of the time,” nodded the stout colonel. “Clever piece of business, wasn’t it, that of hiding me where no one would have thought of looking for me?”

“It certainly was,” Don agreed. “Shall we try and make a dash for it, Colonel Morrell?”

But the colonel shook his head, running his hand through his thick gray hair. “I’m afraid it is no use, my boy. That old man’s never left alone, and we would waste time by trying it. Let’s think up a better plan. Have you had anything to eat?”
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“No,” said Don.

The colonel hurried to the center table and opened a drawer, from which he took a sandwich wrapped in paper. “Here is a sandwich that was left over from my supper,” he said, handing it to Don. “Sit down here and eat it while I talk to you.”

Don sat down in the arm chair and gratefully ate the sandwich. The colonel seated himself on the arm of the chair.

“Of course all you boys wondered what had become of me,” he began. “I’ll tell you the whole story. Some years ago I was in business with Major Tireson and a man named Morton Dennings. I never cared for Dennings, who was a close friend of the major’s, but we got along fairly well and things went smoothly. We all bought shares in some mines in the west in those early days, but they turned out to be worthless and I filed my papers away. I didn’t think anything more about them until this summer, when Major Tireson called on me and asked me to sell him my share in the mine.

“As I had thought the mine absolutely worthless I naturally wanted to know why he was so anxious to buy, and he told me that he and his partner wanted to hold the land for future speculation. I knew that there was some flaw in the story somewhere and refused to sell to him, although he did get pretty warm about it. I determined to have the place looked up and reported upon, but I let the summer slip by without attending to it, and so I lost a valuable opportunity.
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“I had wired Tireson the date of my arrival here and he put his plans together well, the scoundrel! I was just about to board a train at my home town when a messenger boy ran up to me and gave me a brief note. It was from Tireson, asking me to stop off at Spotville Point and see this man Dennings, who lives there. So I dropped off the train at that town and went up to the home of Morton Dennings. He entertained me all evening, and just before I was ready to go to bed late in the night I heard an automobile drive alongside the house. Dennings and two men promptly seized me and told me that I would be kept a prisoner until I turned over my share in the mine to Tireson and himself. I told him that I would be a prisoner forever before I would do that. They took me out of the house and to my surprise brought me here, where I found these quarters fitted up for me.”

“And you have been here, right under our noses, while detectives have hunted for you all over the country!” said Don.

“Oh, yes, that was the point of their idea. No one would think of looking for me right at my own school. Tireson has been here time after time, trying to make me reveal the hiding place of my papers, but he hasn’t arrived any place yet. He isn’t going to, either. But they are both getting tired of the game, and I’m afraid they are planning some new move with me.”

“But what can they do?” inquired Don, anxiously. “They can’t turn you loose and they can’t keep you a prisoner forever.”
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“No,” said the colonel, getting up and pacing the floor. “But there is always violence and the possibility of dragging me off on some ship and dropping me in some Far Eastern port!”

“They won’t dare resort to violence!” flashed Don.

The colonel shrugged his shoulders. “We don’t know what they will do. Remember, they are pretty deep in this thing right now. To allow me to get loose and tell a few things would ruin them both. They can’t afford to mince matters.”

“I must get out of here somehow and get help,” cried Don.

“We’ll see about that,” returned the colonel, returning to his seat on the arm of the chair. He dropped one arm around Don’s shoulder. “Let me hear how you came to be mixed up in this business, Mercer.”

Don related everything from the beginning and the colonel was an interested listener. He was able to explain something that had puzzled the boys.

“Dennings didn’t come here himself, as a regular thing,” he said. “He made the old farmhouse his headquarters and waited there for news. I guess one of the men used a mirror to flash his ‘No progress.’ There never was any progress. Major Tireson has pleaded and coaxed and threatened, and he finally did admit that the mine had turned out to be one of the best of its kind and that he and his partner were determined to get my share of it. That time we had the fire was when the cook, the old man, left a lid off the stove and a curtain brushed over it. I thought something might come of that, but they had someone watching me all the time and I couldn’t make any signals.”
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“Was there no way of signalling out of that window?” asked Don, nodding to one of the two in t............
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